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  • Yoga Lili

Chasing Unicorns


Have you mastered Unicorn Pose yet?

Have you tried it? Have you even seen it?! No?! What do you mean NO? What kind of Yogi/Yogini are you?

Good question.

So. Actually, there is no Unicorn Pose (well somewhere out there, in galaxy not far away, some bendy gymnast or ambitious Insta star is no doubt giving birth to it now but until then…).

But you’d be ok in thinking or assuming that there was.

With the move to BIGGER BETTER FASTER MORE & some Yoga classes that are like big sweaty loud bootcamps, a Unicorn Pose would fit right in. In those 'pack-em'-in, rack-em'-high' franchise places, with achingly-cool curated play-lists, expensive crystal-infused bottles of water & the latest-superfood snacks, Unicorn-Asana would be like so in dude.

Unicorn Pose epitomises this current widespread mindset. An intricate asana (pose) - check. Has to also be super difficult - check. And look effortless but really would only be possible for most actual adult typical humans IF you’ve been doing Olympic-level gymnastics & weight-training & ballet since well you started walking. Check Check Check.

Extra EXTRA Challenging Yoga poses have so become a ‘thing’. A phenomenon. Also almost a prerequisite. And it’s trickled down into just about every class & every expectation that people bring with them to class. Despite ourselves.

Despite the real crucial reasons we first brought us to class & onto our mats. For stress relief, helping overcome injury or illness, for fostering a sense of community, to meet

like-minded people, to switch off, to enhance our mental health, to become a bit more flexible, for fun, for relaxation, to build strength in slow sustainable ways & so on.

If I’m not pressing to Handstand & holding it while chanting a mantra & rocking my latest LuluLemon pants, am I really a ‘Yogi’?

If I’m not flinging my limbs up & down my mat like a dancing dervish doing turbo-fast Vinyasas, how solid is my practice?

If I’m not binding fully into the deepest pretzel-ish twist while ALSO rocking a beatific smile & breathing softly like a napping newborn lamb, am I still 'worthy'?

What gives Yoga people? When did an ancient holistic multi-faceted mind-body-spirit practice become a substitute for a run? An alternative for an ACTUAL gym-based true aerobics class? For a game of footy or tennis or any other SPORT? All of which are GREAT pursuits - in their place - on the track, in the gym & on the playing field.

I recognise the often nutsville-level of busyness that so many people feel overwhelmed by. I understand having limited time. I appreciate that sometimes, we really really WANT to get more from something than is what is usual. Or even advisable or possible.

But it’s leading to unbalanced expectations; which leads to disappointment with the practice; when then leads to disgruntlement & frustration with either ourselves, our teacher or Yoga in general.

There are people trying Yoga for the first time who, too soon, either run away because it’s too 'hard' or scuttle off because SOME of it is too ‘easy’. There are people who try Yoga say three times & throw in the towel because they think either they're 'no good' at it or that Yoga is no good for them.

In the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text, the basis from which flows so much of our real lasting true Yoga (not just Insta-asana), its author, Patanjali, defines Yoga as

“Yogah Citta-Vrtti-Nirodhah - the ability to direct &

sustain mental activity without distraction

Furthermore, Patanjali directs those on the path of Yoga, in relation to Asana (Yoga physical poses - just ONE of the EIGHT limbs of Yoga), that we are to attain the ability to

be able to take a doable seat (for meditation, for Pranayama or Yoga Asana), that is

"Sthira Sukham Asanam - to be able to attain & maintain

a steady, comfortable seated posture"

And how does Patanjali suggest we do this? One of the many suggested ways is through

"Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah - embracing the value

of practice & detachment from results/outcomes"

Ironically, sometimes the harder we try , the more we push & strive, the further away outward 'success' may seem. While steady, somewhat easier (less ahem 'swish') practice, done regularly will eventually allow us to go places in our practice than we ever thought possible. Whether that's in meditation, in our ability to be still, to quietening down the Monkey Mind, to holding Plank for longer than half-a-second (!) or just feeling simply but magically more at ease in ourselves, in body, mind & spirit - that is 'UNION' that Yoga is all about.

If you've ever heard the expression 'practice makes perfect', well there's some element of truth to that. As regards Yoga though - there is NO perfect. So, skip the 'perfection' part & replace it with 'ease'.

And also remember, that, according to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to attain 'expertise ' - put in Yoga terms, if you practice an hour a day, EVERY day, well, then you'll be an adept Yoga in 27 YEARS! 😉

Puts things in perspective eh? And sounds about right to me... But please don't get hung up on the actual time factor; as Malcolm Gladwell says himself:

"There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in

(his book) Outliers. It doesn't apply to sports. And practice isn't a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years & I'll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge

investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately,

sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation."

In practical terms it may seem like some people just have it easier, doesn't it? We all see them in class. They make some poses that frustrate the bejaysus out of a lot of us look like a walk in the park!

Take someone with hyper-mobile joints; yes, they will find certain poses ‘easy’.

But two important caveats to that. Over-stretching joints that are already easily ‘dis-placed’ from their safe home, from their correct ‘range-of-movement’ doesn’t make someone an ‘adept’ Yogi - it is merely someone going further into ‘dysfunction’ - not a safe place to go.

This same person is then also pretty much always skipping using their muscles, 'hanging' out of their joints. And thereby totally missing the strengthening part of practice.

So it’s actually a double-negative whammy.

Some ‘bendy’ people are writing Yoga Pose cheques with their joints

that their future body will just not be able to keep cashing...

The good news? Well, for you extra-‘stiff’ people out there - take heart - it’s actually ultimately a safer place to be practising from long-term 😀.

Someone of my acquaintance recently decided they need a more ‘challenging’ practice. I didn’t tease out this description. There really wasn’t any point. Plus they’re not one of my students. And also, unless specifically asked, I’m not into giving advice.

What’s interesting about this person is that the level & type of Yoga that they were practising holds all the limitless challenge that they could ever desire.

But they are impatient. They want to bypass the fundamentals. They want to skip to the ‘hard/cool’ stuff.

Right now, this person cannot hold their standing leg firm & straight in a straightforward accessible balancing pose for more than a second or two, but hey, they want to FLY!

They don’t turn up on time to class. Or at all!

But they want more challenge. Sigh. They also confessed that they cannot rest still in Savasana. Or allow their breath to become easy, steady & deep. Go fly my pretty…

One of the hardest challenges for us all is COMMITMENT. Turning up on our mats at home. Turning up to class. Turning up on time. Turning off our phones. Tuning out the Monkey Mind. Being ok with discomfort. Being ok with slowing down. Being ok with catching up with ourselves. And what that means - noticing all the good, the bad &

the in-between.

BEING PRESENT. BEING OPEN. BEING RECEPTIVE. BEING PATIENT.

Knowing our favourite (ahem usually an ‘easy-for-us’) pose isn’t going to crop up every week. Being ok with that tough pose we grumpily tolerate but really kinda always resist (that is usually the asana or pose that we truly NEED, not want & would benefit most from).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel accomplished; to wanting to gain more knowledge & expertise. To feeling like we are making progress. But if we only do what we are ‘good’ at, it will only further unbalance us as it is pure EGO leading us.

If Yoga is about ANYTHING, it as about balance; inner & outer, physical & mental, & emotional & even spiritual. Balancing too our ego, knowing that yes we need it but that

we don’t serve it.

I recently had the great pleasure of attending some Yoga Teacher training with the marvellous & mischievous Amy Ippoliti of 90 Monkeys. It was a 4 day intensive session. And yes, there was some fab advanced Yoga going on sometimes, as you'd expect with a room full of experienced Yoga teachers.

But we also spent a LOT of time in our 'bread & butter' Yoga - that is where the real work, the real practice & the real magic of Yoga lies. Getting on our mats, embracing the foundations & fundamentals & then adding in the spice & fun of the more challenging asana. It's like the icing the cake - you really do need the cake 'majority' to support the icing 'minority'!

Owning up to all our frailties & stories, strengths & weaknesses, anxieties & successes on & off the mat is a big part of our practice. Cultivating awareness. Embracing the tough hard ‘workaday’ parts. Being ok with where we are now while being hopeful about getting stronger - in ALL ways, not training just our back muscles!

There are no shortcuts to practice. To progress. To deepening our Yoga, whatever that means to us.

One of my favourite (from-a-distance) Yoga teachers, Donna Farhi, gave a great speech late last year at the IYTA 50th anniversary conference at Sydney Town Hall (I’d encourage you to check it out, even if you’re not a Yoga-Nerd 😉). She said:

“The path of acquisition, which fits in very well with our Western culture (to acquire) is about getting things – getting the foot to the back of the head.

You know, I don’t really care if you can chant the Vedas, or you can get your

foot to the back of your head, or whether you can blow vapor out of your bottom. I don’t really care, unless through your practice you’ve managed

to become a decent human being. If you haven’t managed to become

a decent human being, I’m not interested.”

Have a think about your practice. And about what it means to you. What it is that you are demanding from both it and from yourself? Can you allow Yoga to be Yoga?

If you can, and if you are willing, over time, Yoga will bring a host of benefits far greater than you ever thought.

Yours in Yoga

See you on your mat soon

Yoga Lili x

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