Refining your practice I: Finding the sweetness

Summer has well and truly hit these British shores and with it comes warmth, that beautiful all encompassing warmth that can’t be recreated by central heating in the colder months. This is easily my favourite time of the year to practice in – partly as I love being able to just slip into my flip flops after practice and not have several layers of clothing to take off and put on in the changing rooms, but also as my body responds so well to the warmth and later the heat created during the practice. Summer is about incredible growth and change as everything around us soaks up the rays of the sun (I know I’m being slightly idyllic here about British summers but I’m optimistic about this one) and channels it into blossom of one kind or another. The same for practice… the warmer months for me being about physical shifts and openings, change, extroversion; the colder months about being introverted, softening and looking inward, and consolidating and integrating the growth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the evolution and refining of one’s practice recently and decided to split the many notes I jotted down on my iPhone into a series of short posts, each with a different focus. In this post, I want to talk about finding the sweetness in your practice…

This origins of this post actually started last year during a conversation over some very good coffee with my teacher and friend, Eileen. For reasons I can’t quite remember, and at the risk of making us sound like total yoga geeks (we actually talk about clothes and fashion more than yoga, I’ve gotta say) we were talking about the difference between dukkha and sukha. Both are Sanskrit terms and their approximate translations are: sukha – sweetness, bliss, ease; and dukkha – suffering or stress. I said that I often saw practitioners of Ashtanga look like they were literally dragging themselves through the practice, their breath so aggressive and loud that the people at reception could probably hear them – in other words, it looked like pure dukkha. Then ensued some very sweet words from Eileen about finding the sweetness in your practice – finding the sukha, which was in fact the name of the yoga studio Eileen was the founder and director of.

The concept of finding the sweetness within my practice has stayed with me since that very day. The practice of Ashtanga is challenging for sure but it needn’t be a struggle, something I touched on this in this blog post last year. Try to find the sweetness within each pose, within each transition, within the practice as a whole. Recognize when something is being really difficult and recognize how much of that is coming from you – when you realize that you’re tensing your shoulders (and your butt and your face) and that you’re experiencing the very opposite of sweetness, try to tone it all down a bit, try less hard, find the bits that feel good and operate from there. Practice is supposed to feel good – if it doesn’t, why do we do it? Doesn’t it then just become a form of self harm and masochism? If that is there, try to scratch the surface and work out what may be driving these tendencies? Do you push yourself in your life outside of the mat? Are you highly critical of yourself (and others) and place unrelenting standards on people in your life, particularly yourself?

Find the ease, the sweetness, the softness, and I assure you things will change dramatically. When you have the sukha as the foundation of your practice, the breath automatically becomes softer and less strained, the body automatically becomes lighter, and change organically occurs where and when it needs to. It can’t be forced. As the softness takes over the suffering, the mind eases off on itself, being less hard and maybe even quiet.

ENJOY your practice!

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