When thinking about what to write for the newsletter this week, all I could think about was some of the frustration I have been dealing with over the course of the last month. There are many reasons for it, which I won't expound upon, but it has been a very persistent and present "friend" on my shoulder the last several weeks. I think much of it has to do with my regular, yearly frustration with winter: the dark mornings and evenings, the cold days, my incessantly dry skin, the typical worsening tightness in my body from the cold air, and the list goes one. There has also been frustration in my practice. I have been tired, tight, cold, dry, weak and I feel so so so frustrated about it! Yet, in many ways, I know I have no control over these elements. I only have control over how I choose to respond to my frustrations: Head down the path of negativity by dwelling in them, or choosing the path of positivity and trying to overcome and/or learn from them.
I've seen this frustration in my students' faces from time to time as well. Frustration that they can't balance; frustration that they can't bind; frustration that an area of their body has suddenly "tightened up" and won't release; frustration that yesterday they bound but today they can't; frustration that they feel weak or sluggish; frustration that everything is taking so damn long to change in their bodies...and the list goes on.
Ah, yes. I'm quite familiar with each and every one of these feelings, and still experience them in my own practice. I get frustrated that my hip flexors remain so tight despite all the work I'm putting into opening them. I get frustrated that my endurance in third series remains poor. I get frustrated that my recent IT band injury is taking so long to heal. And my list goes on.
This is, however, one of the lessons of the Ashtanga yoga practice. While the practice remains constant, every day within the practice our bodies, minds, and environment are different. If we set an expectation that every day should be the same, or each consecutive day that we practice should only be better and better, we set ourselves up for a boatload of frustration! Expectation feeds frustration. Antonio Banderas himself stated that "Expectation is the mother of all frustration." So true for me!!! If we choose to dwell in this intense sensation, our bodies will only tense up more, our minds will close up more, and we will only go backward on the mat.
It is important to remember that building strength and opening within the practice takes TIME. A LOT OF TIME. Months. Years. Multiple lifetimes. We cannot force the practice onto our physical bodies. We must ease into it day by day, minute by minute, with diligence and patience. So yes, it is natural to feel frustrated when you have been working on trying to bind Marichasana D for 6 months and you still can't do it without an assist! But it is important to reflect on not what you can or cannot do in the moment, but rather the path you have taken to get where you are today. Look back and you will see, progress has been made because of your dedication to the practice. (or not made due to lack of commitment ha!)
I think it is important to feel frustrated on the mat. It forces us to ask questions: why is today different than yesterday? how is this feeling affecting my practice today? what can I learn from this? how can I grow from this experience?
Whoa. Small questions and their small answers become enlightening. For example: Oh, I drank quite a bit over the weekend.....is THAT why I feel so stiff today? Wow, maybe if I want to make more progress I'll party less hard next weekend. Or another example: Why is that student next to me breathing so LOUDLY? Why can she just be quiet? Oh, there I go letting myself get distracted and upset. This is my time on the mat, I need to stay here and not concern myself with what is going on around me.
There is no doubt in my soul that progress can be made if you practice diligently. There will be days when the yoga fairies visit and you will magically jump back without touching and then "poof" the fairies abandon you, and you are left to toe touching and feeling frustrated that you can't do it again. In yoga, you will take some steps forward, then many steps back. This is part of your growth process, just like life! I mean how many times have you thought, "okay, i'm back on track, things are going well again!" and then BOOM life sends you a set back?
When you feel frustrated on the mat, acknowledge it. Don't dwell in it. Acknowledge it, process it, redirect yourself, and move on. Learn from it, rather than letting it drag you down. Progress will be made, and you eventually, some day, won't need those yoga fairies to help you maintain that progress! I promise :-)