You don’t have to spend very long in the yoga community before you start hearing about breakthroughs. It seems like every article, every video, every tweet is discussing them, promising them through this or that technique, describing them in intimate detail.
“I was in downward dog when it happened…suddenly I felt completely alive and connected and had this powerful surge of energy.”
“It was the end of class. I was laying on the floor and all of a sudden this feeling came over me. I got warm and felt white light emanating from my heart.”
It’s gotten so prevalent that you would expect you could walk into any yoga studio in the world and every other student would be having breakthroughs every day. And for many people practicing yoga it leads to a natural question: “Hey, where’s MY breakthrough?!”
Well, here’s the thing: in the real world, breakthroughs are hard to come by. For most of us, most of the time, the experience of yoga is about getting onto your mat, fighting off your physical and mental resistance to getting started, and then slowly working into a groove. Maybe you start to feel a little better, a little warmer, a little clearer. You breathe more effectively and feel more awake. You push into a few tight spots and nurse a few sore spots and challenge a few strong spots and you begin to slow down your frenetic mind. Eventually, you start to feel like pushing through the initial lethargy or anxiety was worth it. You begin to play, and move, and have some fun. Maybe you do a little extra meditation at the end, or maybe you don’t, and then you roll up your mat, take a shower and go on with your day (or go to bed, depending on when life lets you practice).
And that’s it. No beams of white light shooting from your eyes. No levitating. No flash of insight about the oneness of all things. You usually feel better, and crisper and happier for having done it. You’ve at least paid attention to yourself for a little while, and nurtured yourself a bit. Every once in a while, you may experience something else and it can feel magical, but then you grasp for it and it’s like grabbing at smoke. It’s gone. Over time, maybe you teach yourself how not to grasp at it and to keep it around for a little longer. But at the end of the meditation, or the asana, or whatever practice is bringing you to this point, you still roll up your mat and go on.
Arguably, one of the most valuable parts of a regular yoga practice is revealed through the daily struggle with distraction, lethargy and expectation. Over time, we demonstrate to ourselves that an overemphasis on outcomes ties us to this rollercoaster of pride and disappointment. Even worse, the disappointment tends to linger longer than the pride. On the other hand, when we can let ourselves be fully immersed in the process of that day’s practice and let go of the need to achieve some external goal, the whole thing starts to feel a lot better. Even the difficult days don’t carry the burden of failure and seem a lot more manageable.
If you approach your yoga practice as an easter egg hunt for breakthroughs, you’re going to get frustrated pretty quickly. Instead, try expanding your capacity to take pleasure in feeling better at the end of your practice. Enjoy the process of watching your tight, tired muscles come to life, strengthen and lengthen. Watch your mind begin- ever so slowly- to focus and settle, and when it scatters watch it begin to settle again. Teach yourself to enjoy the process of yoga more than the achievement of a breakthrough, or of a pose for that matter. If you can let it be sweet, it will be sweet. And that will really be a breakthrough.
(Yoga to break through inertia – A traditional warm-up to your potential breakthrough.)
(A little bit of a different kind of breakthrough…but if this is what your breakthrough looks like, lucky you!)
Kevin Collins is a yoga instructor from Northern California and the owner of Groove Yoga in Berkeley. He thinks yoga is hard, but has had absolutely no success in talking himself out of it. A partner in a large consulting firm, owner of a small business and curator of potentially the least updated active blog anywhere on the internet, Kevin has come to the conclusion that it will surely all fit together seamlessly in retrospect.