Yoga doesn’t work—at least not the way we as humans, especially adult humans, expect it to.
When I started school, I started in grade one. Then, eventually, I finished primary school and landed on the doorstep of high school. When I graduated high school I joined the military, and now I’m dabbling at university while I work. The point is, our education system is designed to be linear, to be progressive. The system isn’t designed to miss big chunks or circle back around.
In just about every endeavour we participate in, this linear and progressive approach applies. Like that time I learnt Zen Do Kai, those years I learnt to speak German, and what about the semester I took Psychology? We always start at the start and end up at the end.
What disturbs this linear flow is the unexpected task of revisiting. I don’t expect to have to relearn English once I learn German. Now that I’ve mastered how to speed clean a weapon in the military, I don’t expect to have to ever relearn it.
However, if the need to revisit does arise, it’s usually because the circumstances are traumatic. If you have a car accident and end up paralysed, you’ll need to relearn to walk. If you’re a scientist and suffer a brain injury, there’s a fair chance you’ll need to relearn the periodic table. If someone in your close circle dies, it’s highly likely you’ll need to relearn emotional stability.
Yoga doesn’t work this way. It isn’t linear. I remember my first class, when I was 14. The ingredients in my life at that time must have been perfect, because I was the definition of mindfulness. I assumed that a linear and progressive system would then deliver more mindfulness to me in every future class, given I had clearly “mastered” it.
Not the case—I’m still trying 18 years later.
A linear system would mean once I’d mastered bridge pose, I would expect to progress to wheel pose. If my handstand was perfect yesterday, I expect it will have the same level of perfection tomorrow. It can be frustrating when the system doesn’t deliver on these expectations, and cause us to miss the point entirely.
So if yoga’s not linear, then what it is?
It’s refreshing, that’s what it is. It’s refreshing because there’s no end point. It’s refreshing because you don’t succeed or fail. Goodbye pressure, hello just because.
So if it’s not linear, how have I progressed over the past 18 years?
By building a toolbox. The toolbox contains a bit of flexibility along with a bit of strength. It contains a collection of deep inhales for the morning and slow exhales for the evening. It has a generous amount of awareness so you don’t fall victim to the same injury twice. Amongst all this, there is acceptance and tolerance for its non-linear approach. It provides opportunities to work through frustration and observe expectation.
Finally, the toolbox comes into its own when you start to use it away from the mat.
What’s helpful in non-linear progression?
- Showing up. You don’t get anywhere in life by doing nothing.
- Curiosity. How it felt yesterday will be different to how it feels today.
- Savasana. Aim to find an essence of savasana in every pose. The job of yoga is to make the postures hard, your job is to make them easy.
- Sustainability. Engage in a practice you’re happy to return to every day.
What’s not helpful?
- Comparing yourself to someone else. The person beside you may have just buried a loved one or not pooped in two weeks. That sh*t will effect their energy levels. It will effect how they do their poses. Why on earth would you compare yourself to someone who has entirely different energy levels?
- Activewear. It has no bearing on being active and comes with varying degrees of success.
- Force. Knee replacements are expensive.
Author: Paige Enright
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Lena Bell/Unsplash