I see beginners all the time.
I watch them cautiously enter the room, unroll their mats and wait for class to begin.
Sometimes I have to remind them to take off their socks.
Sometimes it is not until I see them awkwardly lifting their hips into downward dog that I know that they are new.
I see students lay, exhausted and at ease in savasana and I know they are thinking to themselves, “Ah, finally. This is the best part of class.” Yes, yes it is, and that will never change.
I watch these students progress. They come back hungry for more. Their bodies become more competent, more fluid. The transitions between poses flow and I can see and hear them breathe. I witness them coming into wheel for the first time. They come up to me after class and tell me about it. “That is so awesome,” I say, “keep coming.”
And they do.
But it’s after that initial rush, those first few months and years of excitement, of conquering, of learning, of transforming that I wish to speak to—because what happens then?
There is the feeling of finishing a class, the groggy high that comes after breathing into forgotten joints and unwinding the relentless stress that follows us through life like a shadow we cannot shake until we unfurl it onto our mat.
That feeling never leaves.
Sometimes it is more, sometimes less, but it is there. Perhaps that keeps us coming back.
I have now traveled through years of coming to my mat out of obligation.
It benefits me more than my words here could describe because the benefits are even beyond my own knowing, I am sure. But even so, knowing something is good for us is not always—or ever—enough.
I am a teacher, so I must practice. That is a rule that cannot be avoided. If I am not in my body, I cannot teach.
But somewhere along the way, the excitement of practice quieted.
No longer do I conquer poses. I simply do the ones I can and don’t do the ones I cannot. No longer do I talk about my practice—about making “progress” or about things I hope to accomplish.
I used to feel emotion well up to the point of tears when I would move deep into my hips. I would touch something so deep and settled within me that I would feel inspired and poetic and beautiful—alive.
I felt important.
Somewhere along the way something shifted, and now I simply practice to practice. I still feel, but the feelings are far more subtle.
And perhaps that is in and of itself the gift of a long practice.
Years of existing in our bodies will inevitably wear away any emotional stagnation that may reside in the joints. We learn to listen closely to our bodies, our hearts, and discriminately listen to our minds on our mats and this becomes not just the language of our mats but of our lives.
We then create less resistance in our lives and therefore do not feel it well up as much when we move into double pigeon. The sensations may very well still be there, and in my case, they may have even amplified over time, but the heartbreak and the coming undone will not be so easily found.
It is not me or my practice that has dulled over time because I no longer feel like crying in class or conquering a pose.
It is not that my practice is not as strong as it once was, though it certainly has changed.
There is simply no disconnect between me and my practice, and that, I believe, is why I always come back.
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Robert Bejil / Flickr