This interview was inspired by the students who have been recently writing me questions about the role of enjoyment in their practice. Enjoying your practice is a crucial component to maintaining a lifelong sadhana and so I hope what you read below will help you capture Ananda (bliss) daily on your mat.
A couple announcements:
- There are still spaces open for my Jan 1-3rd New Years Tapas and Bhakti Bash in Philadelphia. You can register here.
- Now is the time to begin purchasing your airfare for my Mysore intensive in Kovalam, India. You can find more info on the month long mysore intensive on my website.
Joy: There are a lot of different reasons why a person may not enjoy their practice, correct?
Joy: I’d like to try and hit on a few of them.
David: Actually, no. There’s only one reason.
Joy: Wow! Okay. What is it?
David: And its going to sound trite but I’m going to say it anyways and I’m going to say something after that. The only reason why someone fails to enjoy their practice is because they are not truly in the present moment and the statement that follows is this…PEOPLE UNIVERSALLY UNDERESTIMATE HOW RARE AND CHALLENGING IT IS TO SIMPLY BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.
David: And every yoga technique is designed to put you in the present moment and being in the present moment is bliss. You can’t divorce those two. They are inseparable.
Joy: Bliss and present moment?
David: Yep! You can go to these extreme examples of people in concentration camps…you can try anything to squash a person’s spirit but if they manage to stay immediately present you can not do it.
Joy: If you aren’t enjoying your practice what do you suggest to turn it around?
David: There are a lot of variables and we touch on it often but we never go deeply into the allies but I want to give you some concrete answers about the allies.
#1) Foundation: If you’re foundation is unsound you will not enjoy yourself. Its just that simple, so that is one clue. Where are my hands, feet, body in relation to foundation? Through attending to your foundation you can enter into a profound experience of the immediate moment.
#2) Central Axis: Remember the anatomy of the body is part of the equation. I’ll give you an example. There was a man who asked me a question and it was, “Can I use enjoyment to create a state of meditation even though I’m so stiff? Can I use ananda to create meditation?” He’s so stiff that he doesn’t know how to enjoy downdog? If you’re in downdog and your pelvis is tipped backwards or forwards in relation to neutral then the central axis will be distorted and that is one of the allies that will be out of whack and therefore there will not be enjoyment. Therefore you must alter your position in order to constellate, to draw forth each ally. That is how you can extract enjoyment out of the ally. It’s a very practical thing. If you aren’t enjoying then you have not constellated the allies.
#3) Bandhas. Let’s look at Down Dog again, if you’re pelvis is not situated properly and your shoulders are not aligned along the diagonal central axis then you will not be able to do uddiyana bandha effectively and agreeably. Doing uddiyana bandha has the power to bring instant enjoyment. That’s true of all bandhas. When there is a bandha there is enjoyment. So if you aren’t enjoying then look at your center.
#4) Dristi. Again the senses, dristi is about fixed gazing but it is also learning to be concerned with what every sense is doing. If you aren’t enjoying your postures perhaps it is because your senses are going outward and not inward. As soon as you turn your senses inwards there will be enjoyment because you will begin to relate to this moment in an authentic and interactive manner.
#5) Breath. This one is obvious. Go into your breath and enjoyment is there.
David: So the five allies that’s one area to look at in order to start enjoying. Number two, return to the basics, meaning Sun Salutations, standing postures and finishing postures…get DYNAMIC WITH THEM. Go right back and remember that you chose Hatha Yoga to get in the present moment. So you have to use it and then that self-assertion has to come forward. Grab on to the techniques and use them unabashedly, without reserve, without feeling there’s some policeman over your shoulder who is going to put you in jail because you broke this rule or that rule. Or that they’re going to exile you, kick you out. ITS YOUR PRACTICE. USE IT. GRAB IT. Coming into the present moment is a much more rare experience then you think, and exactly in the same vein, becoming skilled in each important technique is also more rare then people think.
Joy: Oh man that is so true. Just practice for more then 7 years and compare yourself to the first year. Shake your head at your ignorance.
David: HA! Remember if you are in pain and its chronic then something is wrong. You have got to practice differently. That is the first step to acknowledge your lack of enjoyment and to know that enjoyment is to be found somewhere.
Joy: And dig it!
David: That’s right, acknowledging that you aren’t enjoying your practice is not a judgement. Its an assessment of facts.
Joy: You know how people say Ashtanga is hard…well…its more like Hatha Yoga is hard.
David: Another tip, if you are in pain you also want to value the meditative aspect of the practice more…the breathing and the meditation. Do less postures and explore stillness. Let your body rest but keep your mind fully engaged in tapas.
Joy: Do you think that there is a responsibility on the teacher to see, find out, discover, investigate if their students are enjoying themselves?
David: To me that’s the second tier. And as a student if you don’t enjoy your practice then its partly your teacher’s responsibility to help you enjoy it. Part of the reason that you go to a teacher is to learn to enjoy your practice. And so the teacher has to look at your postures, look at the way your practicing to assess that very quality that we’ve talking about, the humble self assertion. I call it the Tom Sawyer effect. For me when I see a student do what their doing I think, “are they causing me to want to do what they are doing?” If a student is enjoying themselves there’s this natural response inside of me that says, “oh I want to do that!” And believe me this has nothing, no relationship to advanced asanas. It could be the way the student is standing that makes me want to stand that way. It could be the way they swing their leg up to Utthita Hasta Padagusthasana and grab their toe that makes me want to do that. And so as a teacher you are trying to lead that student into lasting enjoyment as opposed to temporary enjoyment. And to stear them away from the ways they are perpetuating their pain. And it is quite a dance.
David: Exactly. Remember how I said that the hatha yoga techniques require high skill?
Joy: Yes, why is that?
David: That’s because of how challenging it is to identify the steps in the learning progression. And what I’m talking about are the steps that go from standing all the way through to the final position of each posture. There are all these mini versions that are along the way to the final posture. And a lack of enjoyment comes when you are either behind or ahead in the steps of learning that lead to doing the asana. As a student you’re not expected to know those steps for several years. It is the job of the teacher to help you identify which step is right for you and how to work on it and when you find the right step enjoyment comes. And there’s a balance between challenge and ease. It has to be challenging but it also has to be easy enough. If its too hard no enjoyment, if its too easy no enjoyment. And then we each have physical and mental limitations that factor into it. And so the step you’re working on has to be appropriate to your limitations.
Joy: I think that’s something that has been really hard for me and probably for you since you’re my teacher. My ego has always wanted to do more then I can or I’m ready for.
David: You’re not alone!
Joy: And so for years and years I didn’t enjoy my practice because I was doing too much. I wasn’t ready for the step of the progression that I wanted to do but I persisted because I’m really stubborn and I just wound up practicing in pain and therefore not enjoying my time on the mat.
David: Its very hard for people to admit when they want more then they’re ready for. It can be difficult to accept the step in the progression that is right for you, especially when the steps ahead look so good (to the ego). We even resist seeing the pain that this misplaced wanting is causing. And again you have to turn it back around into trust. Trust that the step that fits for you really is appropriate for you. You have to trust that there will be enjoyment for you there.
But you must understand that commitment, sacrifice and devotion to your practice are essential to ENJOYMENT AND TO BEING ABLE TO NEGOTIATE THE DIFFERENT VARIABLES THAT PREVENT IT.
Joy: What do you mean?
David: Think about it. How will you trust that you are in the right stage of the progression if you aren’t dedicated? Its going to be dang hard to tell yourself that you’re in the right place for yourself when in the back of your head you know you haven’t put enough dedication, enough sacrifice, enough love into your practice.
Joy: That really is true.
David: And you don’t want to use these words such as dedication or sacrifice to bully yourself, to create more judgement or self-criticism. Right? We’re talking about a positive bent, we’re talking about being dedicated, passionate, in love and being in relationship with yourself through practice. Because the subject is ENJOYMENT AND THAT IS SO NATURAL WHEN YOU LET THE OBSTACLES TO THAT GOD GIVEN BLISS FALL AWAY.