The mentality of a professional athlete
Today in my blog I want to talk about my ideas regarding the way we approach the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. I regularly see people coming to our school and looking for change. Change in the physical, mental or emotional health. What I often see lacking, is the understanding of the dedication required to get the results they are looking for. I want to use an example of the athletes that are trying to qualify to the Olympics or even better, trying to win gold. Before I go there, I need to make one the clear. Yoga is not a sport and I'm not talking about making it that, I'm talking about the mental qualities needed to be a great athlete.
What is required to win the gold? A huge amount of hard work. If you are not willing or capable to do more training (quantity) and better training (quality) than your competitors, you will not go home with the gold. A pro athlete knows what it takes to get in the top and they are willing to do it. When they are hit down to the ground, they get up again.
So let's come back to our yoga practice. The system of yoga that I practice and share with others, is a life transforming practice. This is the case when you know what is required and you are willing to do what it takes. Also, because life does sometimes throw some challenges on our way, it's important to learn the skill and attitude of "getting back up again". So what is required?
1) Dedication. Those who are getting the results you are looking for, are the people who are dedicated. They are the people who are willing to rearrange life in a way that supports their goals. An example. If my goal is to become stronger and more flexible in my body, and I know that a daily practice will give me that, I choose to get up every morning to do my practice. For me to be able to do it, I'm required to change my evening routines so that I can get to bed earlier. If I'm dedicated enough, this is not a problem.
2) Discipline. Discipline is a muscle. A muscle that can and should be trained. Discipline is the power that will help you on your bad day. It gives you strength to get out of bed when you really don't want to. But if you don't want to, should you? In most cases, yes. When you practice yoga for a long time, you learn to differentiate between truly being tired and just being lazy. :) Sometimes it's better to rest, but often it's more useful to get up and do a light practice. That is if you really want the results you are saying.
3) Patience. The process for getting the results you are looking for, is often slow. If you have used the majority of your life in walking in one direction, it takes awhile to get back. For most people the physical, mental and emotional health has not really been one of the top priorities. There were many things, like friends, relationships, studies, work, money, power, etc., that were much more important. These are not always aligned with the health goals. In today's world, everyone seems to be excepting results right now or even better, yesterday. It's just how the human mind and ego works. More, more, more... Now. What happens to the athlete who has that mentality? He will break down and never reach the top. Patience is the key. Be willing to do what it takes, for a long time.
4) Daily practice. There is not really much to say about this. It just works. In sports you have training and recovery days, in yoga it's different. We learn how to do it everyday, gradually shifting ourselves from one place (tight, weak, sick) to another (flexible/open, strong, healthy), one millimeter at a time. It's a lot more useful to do an easy practice every day (Saturdays and moondays resting) than one or two practices a week with full power. When you learn the system of daily practice, you will automatically learn about patience and discipline. My suggestion is this. Try it out for yourself. Try it out for a whole year and you will certainly understand what I'm talking about.
I'm writing this post as Christmas is closing in. There is a reason why I'm doing it now. Professional athletes train, when the rest of us are enjoying our Christmas break. Nothing bad in taking it easier during the holidays, but I just want to motivate you to keep the break from your practice minimal or maybe just skip it altogether. The shorter the break, the closer are the results you are looking for.
I talk about results in this blog post because most of us have some goals we would like to reach. This is ok, but I also need to briefly mention that the practice is also a process. A process of self discovery. And the more you start to discover who you really are, beyond the many layers of ego, you might notice that some of the goals you had are not really that important anymore. An example. When I started practicing Ashtanga Yoga, I wanted to learn cool tricks like standing on my hands. As I got into the daily practice and kept doing it for a extended time, I realized that the handstand didn't motivate me anymore. I learnt how to do it, but it didn't give me any feeling of superiority, which is one of the feelings the ego wants to experience. Ego is not an enemy, it's often even a great source of energy. Use that to get you going and then gradually let it go. Practice with your heart, not your ego.
I hope you have a great time during the holidays and I wish you all the best for 2014. Maybe it's a year of yoga for many of you. Find the dedication and I will be there with you, to support you in the process. Do as I did. I chose to dedicate one year to the practice. To really see if it works or not. It did.
Ps. If you struggle with a pose today, it's ok. Have patience. See this video of this mature yogi. If you just keep practicing, not for one year but let's say 10... 20... 50 years. Do you really think the situation will stay the same?