Livestream on SustainabilityJul 11, 2019
One thing I think about a lot, both for my own practice and for the practices of my students, is how to really make sure the practice is as sustainable as it can be. Sustainability is one of the hardest and most important things in Ashtanga. And when we look closely, the things that keep a practice sustainable are also the things that strengthen and deepen it.
For me personally, the past year has been a big lesson in sustainability. With one injury after another, I have watched a lot of poses I worked very hard for disappear. I constantly remind myself that yoga is an internal practice, and there are still many ways I can practice.
Here are some of my thoughts on sustainability.
Dedicate One Day a Week to Primary. A piece of practical advice for keeping a practice sustainable is to dedicate one day a week exclusively to Primary Series. This helps to keep your practice sustainable for a number of reasons. To begin with, it’s a great way to keep yourself returning to the fundamentals. Going hand in hand with this, Primary is incredibly grounding from an energy standpoint: When you dedicate a day to Primary, you’re literally re-dedicating that practice and honoring the person that you were the first time you stepped on the mat, and the time after that, and every time since. Returning to Primary can return us to the Beginner’s Mind. It can be a good way to close out the week to do this on Friday, but ultimately the important thing is that you pick a day and dedicate it to primary. Dedicating a day to Primary Series can also help us to pump the breaks on our practice, which brings us to our next topic!
Go 70%. I’ve always advocated for going 70% on your practice. In so many things, people talk about going 100% and giving things your all, and that can be great for things that are a one-shot deal. But yoga isn’t that, and Ashtanga certainly isn’t that (that’s what this whole post is about, after all), and honestly the best thing you can do to keep a practice going is to not give it 100% all the time. Practicing at 70% of your capacity gives you room to grow and prevents burnout. Practice is a long-term pursuit, and it’s in the long-term that we give it our all. It’s in coming back day after day and week after week that we put in our all, and it just isn’t possible to do this if you’re pushing yourself to your limits every single day.
Make it Work for You. Ultimately, sustainability is about making your practice work for you. I was talking with a student recently who was saying how her practice took her two hours and she has two kids and a busy life and just didn’t know what to do - her practice was becoming too impractical in her life, and she was worried about it becoming unsustainable. My suggestion was just to spread things out differently over the week. You don't have to do everything everyday. Maybe do primary, primary + 1/2 second, 1/2 second on an alternating schedule. They are all YOUR practice, just different variations of it!
Returning to the long- versus short-term thinking, it really doesn’t matter whether you fit a certain set or number of asanas into the designated amount of time for one practice. What matters is that you do all of them over whatever span of time they require from you, and keep doing all of them, and keep coming back. A practice - even a disciplined practice - that can’t accommodate the needs of a human life is not a sustainable one. We talk a lot about how this journey isn’t a straight line, and this isn’t just about our time on the mat. Accommodate for what life throws at you.
Sutra I.13. All of this reminds me of one of my favorite sutras, which roughly says that the practice is vigilance in remaining. Abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyaṃ tan-nirodhaḥ. Maybe that rough translation is an interpretation, but it’s one I like if so.
Prioritize Sustainability. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that sustainability comes from prioritizing sustainability. Make your practice work for your life, and do what you need to do to keep yourself coming back. This is the work of sustainability, making sure your practice is something you can keep coming back to and that you want to keep coming back to. It’s not always easy. But it’s always worth it.
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