What happens when you’ve been practicing for years and your yoga practice starts to “slip away”?
I know I’m not alone in my yoga journey, surely others have traveled a similar path. Starting out reluctant and skeptical, then ambitious, practicing 5-6 times a week. Doing two classes in one day. The advanced series on the weekends. And then slowly, life got in the way and my yoga practice started to slip through my fingers. In hindsight, perhaps I started to take it for granted.
When I first came to my yoga practice I was on an unhealthy road. I drank regularly, and a lot. I ate junk food late at night after tending bar. I rarely cooked or exercised. I was creeping closer to 200 pounds.
Starting my yoga practice was like breaking a wild horse. I was angry, I hated the heat, I struggled tremendously, I fought with my mind, body and the teacher, and for some reason I kept coming back.
I often left class thinking “I’m never going back here” only to show up two days later. Somewhere, deep down inside I knew I needed this yoga practice in my life.
And then came years of practicing regularly. I feel in love with practicing yoga. Five to six times a week I’d take a 90 minute Bikram yoga class. My inflexible hamstrings started to open up, my practice evolved as did my diet, mind, focus and strength.
I would go to bed early in order to prepare for class the next morning. I’d skip going out with my friends since I didn’t want to drink alcohol and feel bad in class the next day. Yoga was a core part of my life and I lived in a constant state of preparation for my next yoga class.
I even trained for the regional yoga championship, an opportunity to present your yoga practice—where it is in that moment—to the world. On somewhat of a fluke, I qualified for the national yoga championship in Los Angeles and had an experience, one that is uniquely mine, that gave me an appreciation for the mental discipline needed to practice yoga deeply.
The ballroom had around 200 people, it was pitch black, a row of ten judges sat at the front, and Bikram Choudhury himself sat in the front row. There was complete silence.
And in that dark and silent three minutes, I shared seven yoga postures with that room.
I knew that if I could stay in Standing Head to Knee in that moment, a mental exercise above all, I could do anything.
And then I came home from that transformative experience and started dating someone. During this time I was faced with the choice to take class or to spend time with a new and fun person in my life. I chose both, but taking class six times a week was no longer a priority.
I started to find a healthier balance between living for yoga and allowing my yoga practice to live my life more fully. For years my postures were beautiful, “advanced” and deep, and yet I was living my days for a 90 minute yoga practice. The tides had changed and I started to let all the wonderful transformations I earned from inside the yoga room (mental and physical health, an ability to be more open to the world and people in it) outside of the yoga room.
And that meant practicing less.
Lucky for me my boyfriend at the time already practiced yoga and took class with me, but my practice wasn’t as regular. And that felt good.
In the last six months I really scaled back on my practice, for various reasons. I moved, traveling for work, you know… life.
And so in taking class this morning and over the past few weeks I’ve felt as though I’m “losing” my yoga practice. For the first time in seven years, I am feeling what it’s like to lock your leg in standing head to knee without the proper inner thigh strength. My inflexible hamstrings and back prevent me from getting deep into the postures like I used to.
My postures don’t look like they used to.
This process has made me realize that even though my postures were advanced and deeper than they are now, I was attached to the vanity of how the postures looked. Now I’m faced with no longer being the “Lindsay with good postures”, and it bugs me. The egoic vein part of me wants to identify as the “Lindsay with good postures”.
The ebb and flow of my yoga practice continues to teach me lessons. This idea of “losing” my practice has made me look hard at why I loved when my postures were advanced. Was it the health benefits that came from those postures – which is what I told myself at the time? Or was it the vanity of it all?
If yoga has taught me one thing, it is that nothing is “lost” and my practice certainly is not. So as I travel back to my home studio in Minneapolis for the holiday break and practice among my loving original yoga family, I will work hard not to judge myself and worry about what my friends are thinking about what “happened” to my postures.
Instead I will try to use this phase in my yoga practice to recalibrate, focus on practicing 3-4 times a week while still allowing time to actually live my life. As I rebuild my inner thigh strength for Standing Head to Knee pose, I will focus on the structure of the posture and executing it for the sake of my health and the mental lessons that come from that, rather than creating a posture that looks beautiful.
This won’t be easy. We are vein creatures.
Like a wavering scale, my yoga practice has teetered back and forth over the years, a natural part of the process.
What I originally thought was lost, was just a transition for new insights to be gained.