Practice Never Perfect…Thank Goodness By Laura Mills
My first yoga teacher suggested I practice balance daily, even if only to lift one foot an inch at a time. But at the beginning of my yoga life, I barely practiced anything outside my once-a-week class. I tried to fit in a little balance here and there, but only after many random and frustrating foot-lifts did I successfully incorporate it into every day. Eventually, as my yoga life progressed, I understood that balance isn’t something to be learned once and then mastered, like tying a shoe, but instead is a process that continues throughout one’s life. As is yoga itself, so much more than a “thing to do” on a daily basis. I still get frustrated on occasion—with balance as well as other aspects of yoga—but now I recognize those frustrations as merely steps along the way on which I travel.
When I consider my own yogic frustrations, my heart goes out to my students, both beginners and seasoned yogis alike. Occasionally I notice a look cross a face; I know the look well, and I wonder what particular frustration causes it. Perhaps it’s frustration with a constantly-chattering mind or a certain pose. Speaking from my own experience: very likely.
On such occasions I wish I could tell the student my own yoga story, but in a 60- or 75-minute class those details have little place. If time allowed, though, I would share how I’ve always struggled to quiet my mind, and that even now both on and off the mat I often can’t do it. I would share how I couldn’t always touch the floor in Forward Fold or bend my knee 90 degrees in Warrior 2, and how even now on some days doing either of those seems impossible. And, while many students have already heard about my tight hamstrings, here I would add how last year those hamstrings forced me to pull back from my practice and learn modified techniques while they healed from an injury. I would also divulge that I haven’t taught Handstand yet, since I just did my first one less than a year ago, as well as that no student should expect to learn Headstand from me since in anything beyond Tripod I have yet to lift my feet off the ground.
But still, while frustrations occur, the difference between me at the beginning of my yoga life and me now is I understand that no end point or final level exists, and as a result today I am much more content in my practice. Though I continue to struggle with certain aspects of yoga, I realize that doors open and roads unfold constantly—as long as I keep practicing.
I’ve been wondering, then, how best to teach the yogic process to my students. We already convey the idea when we teach preparatory poses before full or more challenging versions, for example, or when we focus on one particular sutra or limb out of many as a class theme. And we always encourage students to “begin where they’re at” and move forward from there. Little by little, even as frustrations occur, all dedicated students grow in their practices. But in the midst of chattering minds and challenging poses, do they realize they are growing? I didn’t realize it, at least not right away.
But, thanks to my first teacher, I started to learn.
And I’m still practicing…balance, and everything else besides.
My best teaching method might then be to continue being myself—as I believe my first teacher was, and as I believe most of my teachers since have been. Like them, I am someone who adores sharing yoga with others and someone whose life yoga has changed. I have faith in yoga, and its process, with my entire being. And with this faith I practice; alongside my students, I grow while doors open and roads unfold.