Long-Term Fulfilment - A Lesson In Mastery
Lately, lots of people have been contacting me asking for advice and guidance on starting Yoga, developing their practice and plateaus. While it may be challenging to create an all-encompassing guide, I find my journey has been insightful into the process of learning but also to the dedication that is required to set oneself firmly on this path. The practitioner before you now was not seen in my wildest dreams when I began, nor has the road been easy and smooth. Photographs and videos capture a moment of stillness or the execution of a refined movement but do not reflect the hours, days and weeks spent and the energy invested that culminated in that visual piece. It is my hope that in reading this some may take heart in their own journey, that it can be slow and fast at the same time, but that perseverance will bring its own rewards in both unexpected and marvelous ways.
Yoga was not something I was interested in growing up, it was off my radar and I don't think anyone in my town in the Shire had done any. It was seen as someone else's thing to do. Interest grew in gymnastics but was not met in any way. There just was no facility for it, so I grew up without any physical exercise base to call my own and no practiced dexterity to base my skills. I was very musical and academic, the physcial world looked lovely, but it was not my own. While attending university I developed awareness of pain and grinding in the joints of my legs which led to a rather painful demand for surgery. Over the course of 6 months both of my legs had been operated on leaving a staggered rehabilitation that left my back and hips in a maelstrom of pain and confusion. Deep into my right groin was cut and this area still snags and pulls to this day. Yoga was suggested to me by my partner at the time as something "easy" that I might be able to do as the sports centre was right next to where I lived. Enjoyment was not what I would associate with the experience. I felt so much shame for my ability, disgrace at the ruin of my legs and the ridiculous lack of mobility that I found something unexpected. There is a stubborness in me (just ask my husband about that) that surfaced its head. "Yoga is easy," it said. My inner growl responded with"Fine, I'll show you..."
I began attending a class once a week sometimes twice but I struggled. I was frequently the only male the room and would get so anrgy and frustrated but that was found endearing by the other students and horrified the teacher. Slowly but surely I began to find some pleasure in the ritual of attending a class. Once the initial lack of familiarity with the terminology was passed, I began to relax a little more and apply the information. It was like a puzzle or research paper. I took this information and technique and applied it elsewhere and it usually worked. That was until I pushed so hard that I tore the muscles in my low back. I freaked! I thought I would lose the only thing I was able to do. After a lot of rehab physio I started doing some 20 minute audio classes at home. Little bits that I could manage under my own schedule. This daily practice was maintained all through exam season and holidays strictly. I knew the audio files inside and out and even started to sound like them! Oh, Dawnelle, you were the sound for my early 20's! Having no fixed destination I began to enjoy what the practice brought to me and was mystified by hurdler/scissors and handstands and all the moves that you really need a teacher for! I self taught for about 2 years from then.
Following my studies I hit a bit of a rut. I maintained a practice, upping my practice to about an hour a day if not more. With my academic life aside, something dark began to lurk. I started practicing Ashtanga and was being urged by my teacher to push to "get the next pose." The addictive and compulsive part of me thrived on this and my practice became rather fanatical. My ego mutated with the practice. I saw virtue in injury, honour in the pain of practice and my ability to feel nothing. I twisted the Sutras with deft precision to be the shackles I needed. I am freaky good at mental gymnastics, I pulled apart people's criticisms with ease as I defended myself. I read the Sutras every day. Wrote them out every day. Punished myself when I felt emotions and prided myself on being still and blank. I call this my "Dark Side" times. I thought I was so masterful, practicing alone and when I attended class being the most accomplished (but had I practiced anywhere else I would have looked like a skilled Beginner). I was deeply unhappy and alone but these feelings were unacknowledged.
Then I met Ana Forrest.
I travelled down to Newcastle to see her and did my usual arrogant Ashtangi thing and put my mat down right in front of her. I could see her looking me over like an eagle perched on her mat. I remember how she tilted her head at my while I cast my eyes down from her. It felt like I had just met a predator. Through the workshop called "Taming the Pain" she whispered to me about staying in my body and set gentle hands on me, nothing like the viscious assists I had in pervious classes. It began to pull something down. At the end of the class we broke for lunch. I waved my friends away and stayed sat on my mat while Ana and her assistants gathered their bags. She looked over her shoulder as she left and asked, "Are you alright?" No words came out, I just shook my head, my hair coming down over my eyes as hot tears stung them. She walked over and set her hand on my shoulder and told me to cry and sleep. I did. The second workshop I went to with a will and with thrill. In contemplation afterwards I described to a friend what it felt like happened. "I feel like I had put myself in a bottle and told myself that all I needed to do was grow to fill it up and I would be happy," I told my friend Joel, "She took that bottle and shattered it, showing me the world outside that I still had to fill. I cry because I feel so small and because there is so much I don't know." Boy was that the truth!
From then on I practiced Forrest Yoga, bought DVDs, did workshops and eventually the training. It gave me the gift on top of my other teacher trainings of connecting and moving in a new way. It became a daily practice of setting an intent, moving and connecting to myself, Asking what I NEED every day rather than going through the motions. Since finding this path my progress has been exceptional. I am lit up. I am integrated, or rather I am an integrating work in progress!
There is a known rule in our house that I MUST do a Yoga practice to function. This is no longer seen as a selfish indulgence but as a necessity. Without this connecting, I lose myself and I tatter. It is my lifeline and keeps me deeply passionate about. I see a small 20-minute practice on a tired day as a practice. I see doing some restorative poses when I am sick as practice. I see repeating the same moves every day as a practice. On the road to mastering any given task, there is a plateau that can bring down even those with the strongest willpower. It becomes difficult to even listen to the teacher as you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. This is a choice point that comes up frequently on the road of mastery and is frequently met with a lot of dejection and bad medicine. This isn't true of physical activity alone but also any form of learning,
On the road to mastering any given task, there is a plateau that can bring down even those with the strongest willpower. It becomes difficult to even listen to the teacher as you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. This is a choice point that comes up frequently on the road of mastery and is frequently met with a lot of dejection and bad medicine. This isn't true of physical activity alone but also any form of learning, research and development.
On a developmental level, all people born without serious defects are born geniuses. Our brains radically process information with amazing efficiency. We have an almost unlimited capacity to understand language, facial recognition, and emotional nuance. We can create associations with almost unrelated groups of information seemingly instantly. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief burst of progress. After these quantum-leaps there can be a backslide that is a little higher than the previous one. I can relate to this. When I make a breakthrough in asana practice, I find that I suffer in my body in understanding basics, everything goes through a time of absolute flux and my usual go-to poses don't seem to work. My body has to relearn and reconfigure. My handstand teacher (I went on a handstand specific training for a week a few years back) said that it was light forging a blade. When the information is coming in the blade is getting hot, ready to be shaped but that it is useless at the time. It takes a lot of tempering, folding, reheating and repeating to develop the strength in the blade. So to be sharp, repeat, repeat and repeat.
All learning occurs in stages. A stage is marked to have ended when the body has absorbed the new skill into a habit. This is when thinking about the task and putting effort in is no longer such an ordeal. When this happens, the task that was once impossible can be performed without thinking of it as a separate task. This became apparent in how I taught Vinyasa Yoga. I deliver a lot of complex information to people in every class. Students would come up and say "I have heard you say that at least one hundred times and today I finally understood what to do." They couldn't have until the new skills had settled. In my own experience in asana, poses that once seemed impossible now are at my call with ease. The definition of asana as a steady place makes sense now in a way that seemed only something you write down but never happens. The road may be fraught with struggle, but it is worth it. So I encourage you if you are practising. get on your mat today. Hold space for whatever happens, even if you have done it 100 times already. Go deeper, my friends.