“I don’t even know where to begin.”
How often have you said that when confronted with something new? Whether it is learning a new language, learning how to play a musical instrument, or learning how to use your new laptop, it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. Many people feel the same way when they consider starting a self-practice in Ashtanga Yoga or some other form of yoga.
The prospect of doing the entire Primary Series is daunting. First, you have to learn all of the postures. Then you have to be able to jump through and jump back, like a hundred times, and we all know that your arms are grossly shorter than your torso, and your legs are filled with lead. And then there are those other students who are just flying through the sequence like they’ve been taking gymnastics since they were six, and don’t forget that the teacher is probably judging you for your utter lack of strength and for your petrified hamstrings. 👹
You really don’t know where to start. What can you do?
It is really quite simple. Start at the beginning. Take it one step at a time.
Often we are loath to admit that it is this simple, because, deep down, it is not the complexity of the system that baffles us. It is the resistance of our egos getting in the way of learning the system.
We don’t like to make mistakes. We don’t like to look unskilled in front of a perceived authority figure. We don’t like to fall on our face from a failed bakasana or on our bums from a failed bhujapidasana.
But we all have to start somewhere. Often the teachers you admire the most are the teachers who had to earn every single posture. Nothing came easy to them. Even the more flexible teachers struggle with their own issues. After all, it really hurts when your head smacks into your shins in every seated forward bend. Those cursed with loose hamstrings have to learn to hold back.
And at the end of the day, we all have to struggle and to put in the grunt work to learn anything. Every great pianist started with learning chords and keys. Every great writer started with learning how to express their inner voice on the page. Every yoga student started with some simple postures. What differentiates these people from you is merely time invested in their activity and a relentless pressure to keep coming back to the practice.
So that being said, how can you succeed in starting a daily practice?
- Schedule your practice session. Commit to practicing something three times a week. Either Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Or some combination of those.
- Set your practice at the same time every day. Schedule it for a time that you know will be yours and yours alone. Don’t just say you might practice that day. Set the exact time.
- Start with the Surya Namaskara A and B. Do three to five rounds of each salutation. I feel that sometimes we discount the sun salutations as being just the warm-up or less complex than the rest of the series. But in fact, you learn a lot in the Salutations, including breath-movement synchronisation, abdominal and hip control, and shoulder strength, not to mention the basic method of stringing each posture on the breath in a flowing sequence.
- Give yourself permission to fail. It is more important to do something imperfectly than it is to do it perfectly. You can make adjustments as you go along. Your patient grunt work will give you context for your teacher’s comments to make sense.
- Make it mundane. Asana practice is no more spiritual than flossing your teeth. You are making the body limber, stretching out tight muscles, and building strength. There really isn’t anything spiritual about that, unless you accept that all things are spiritual. Anyway, you brush your teeth and floss your teeth every day because you know your teeth would rot out and your breath would stink if you didn’t do it. So approach asana practice with the same attitude. It is something you do for your health and your well-being. Stop making it something it isn’t.
So, if nothing else, commit to the following practice every day. If you want more, seek me out at Rogue Ashtanga.
- Surya Namaskara A, 3 to 5 times
- Surya Namaskara B, 3 to 5 times
- Padmasana (or some variation), 10 breaths