Beware! Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?


Before I leave for a week long holiday break in New Mexico with family I wanted to share my latest article with you.  I wrote this article with many specific students in mind (hmmm…are you it?)

A couple reminders before you decide if you’re the tortoise or the hare.

1) Over New Year’s I am teaching a New Year’s Tapas and Bhakti Bash in Philadelphia. I hope some of you can join me! More info on site.

2) I leave Jan 17th to teach in Kovalam, India. There is still time to purchase your ticket.

3) My new Second Series dvd is out and it has been receiving amazing review after review from students around the globe – thank you!

You can find all the details on my site.

I hope you have a great time over the holidays.  I will be resting.  Hari Om and I’ll see you in the new year.




Curiously the word alchemy aptly describes an important, even magical part of what happens as you go through this at times torturous process of acquiring yoga knowledge.   Alchemy is defined as “a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way”.

Tapas, the concentrative friction and body heat that you cultivate on your mat, is a form of alchemy, a heating that causes a transformation of one material into another.   In the case of yoga the transformation is of material to spirit, a realization that your body, thoughts, senses, perceptions do not define you.  Rather these are simply materials that are meant to help you reveal the spiritual Self that you are.  Success in this realization requires that you stick to the fundamental yogic recipe, and that is to conduct long term practice with religious regularity, without interruption, and with great enthusiasm (YS I-14).  Remember the three essential ingredients to the alchemical recipe:  1) long term 2) consistent 3) with great vitality and ardor.

And the recipe works; I have repeatedly witnessed alchemical transformations in those who truly dive into ashtanga and wholly submit themselves to its guidelines.  When transformations happen they can seem to happen as if by magic, to come all of a sudden, to sneak up on you from out of nowhere.  The changes in your body or the new ability to swiftly and skillfully concentrate your mind can surprise you even though you have worked so hard to win these powers (siddhi’s).  It can happen that one day your back bend felt restricted or your jump back felt heavy and the next day there came an unknown freedom or a surprising new strength.

You look up for a moment, take your head out of the toil, and you find that you are stronger than you were, perhaps stronger than you have ever been.  Or your back now bends like never before.  These transformations are not at all limited to changes in the body and in your ability to perform asana’s.  You also come to transform your perceptions, your self limiting thoughts and behaviors, self identity.  You enter into new relationship with both your inner and the outer worlds.  You find that you can do, think, create, and be what you never dreamed possible for you.

But this feeling that magic happened to create these transformations can be a slippery slope that you must not fall down.   An illusion is ultimately a false appearance made to look real, the conjuring trick of a magician.  And when your practice begins to yield many such transformations you can unsuspectingly fall into the illusion that these are prizes for your ego or that it is magic that is creating these changes instead of grace combined with your hard work.  Progress, positive change or success does not come from out of the blue, but rather from a lifetime spent in the tedious, painstaking work of repeating.  With each small victory along the way you return to the same practice that you did before, and you return to the challenges of feeling that you are not getting anywhere.

And thus when change finally comes, when you definitively experience that you have won something bodily and/or internally significant to you,  there is a brief moment of acknowledgement and a bowing down.  But this is not the time to think that you have finally arrived, not the time to rest.   And this is true no matter if you are just beginning to learn first series or have completed fourth.   Rather it is important for you to remember how your success came, and also to remember the pure reasons that you have chosen to undergo this strict discipline and training.

You must acknowledge your progress and also endeavor to continue to apply the techniques carefully in order to reach the next more subtle stage, and there is always a next more subtle stage, a new, internal, more central soulful, illuminative horizon.  Even the most momentous, seemingly large shifts and improvements, the ones increase your physical and mental capacity are mostly only small benchmarks along the way to the most important internal mastery of realizing So Ham (I am That).

The yoga sutra’s list as one of nine obstacles the failure to maintain a stage that you have attained (YS I-30 ).   It defies logic how swiftly and irrevocably the powers and openings that you win can vanish if not tended to with proper respect, care, and humility.  If your breathing improves, your back opens or new strength comes to you remain thankful, intense, earnest and devoted to your practice.  That way you will ensure that you will have these gifts in your arsenal to use in long term, in your gradual preparation to strike the internal target that is ever in your sights.

And the sutra’s also stipulate that the siddhi’s, powers that you develop through the magical alchemy of practice become obstacles to progress if they are merely enjoyed superficially or taken too literally (YS III-37).  It serves you to remember that ultimately you are not practicing to get strong muscles or a flexible spine.   Sure getting stronger or doing a deep back bend can be fun and helpful.  But accessing the internal world that becomes open to you through these hard won powers is infinitely more satisfying.

When your back begins to open, or you can finally bind well in Marichasana D or you begin to develop the strength of an elephant you remain humble and endeavor to curb your ego.  You learn to chuckle at and see through the wily, pompous inner Mr Toad who wants to claim honors for your great victory.  Instead  become even more introspective, keep your sights on the more important targets of Self knowledge, being in harmonious relationship with yourself and other, generosity, and expressing your true original creativity.


Here I am reminded of the story of the slow plodding tortoise vs the fast, nimble overconfident hare.   Being satisfied with attaining some minor powers and thus losing your commitment to serious practice or falling into mindless repetition is symbolized in the hare.  He has all confidence that he is going to crush the painfully slow tortoise.  To the hare the race is nothing more than a cruel joke being played on the tortoise.  And of course he jumps out to an impressive seemingly uncatchable lead.   But his cockiness and pride lead him to become overly tamasic, to lose energy and focus.  And over the course of the race he decides he needs and deserves a big, fat nap.

The tortoise eventually triumphs as he makes his way to the finish line slowly passing the hare who sleeps in the bushes next to the road just short of the goal.  And oblivious of defeat the hare wakes up too late.   The tortoise represents the one who yokes him self to the system, accepts his limits, accepts the long plateau’s, the seeming interminable phases of inertia, withstands the nearly continual feelings of failure and of not measuring up.  He endeavors to work for success by remembering to appreciate and savor the small victories, using thoughtful, constructive repetition, and by plodding along progressing inch by inch without forgetting the straight forward practice ingredients that bring success.


Are you the tortoise or the hare?



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8 Responses to Beware! Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

  1. caroline holt-casey says:

    What a wonderful message. The continual play between effort and complacency is the journey of yoga and of Ashtanga, in particular. To the novice, Ashtanga is “just the same old postures over and over…boring”. To those of us who stay with this practice through all of the peaks, valley and long flat plains, we see the truth and beauty in the sameness. How glorious it is to watch these postures evolve within us. Thank you, David. Wonderful article…a gem.

  2. Nuno says:

    I think the experience of yoga is really different for each person. I started ashtanga more than 1 year ago and I do not remember even 1 day where the practice was boring. Even with a fixed sequence each practice is different with all sort of challenges one could imagine.

  3. john greenaway says:

    I am with Nuno on this one. As a novice I find that the pattern of the practice is the shelter and not a collection of boring ” same old postures “. What I mean is that every practice can be a challenge and a victory if we submit to it, without ego of course !!

  4. Lou-Lou says:

    I really love this. I’m just starting to see this development and I feel sometimes that I take a couple of steps back too, so reading this is helping me accept that its all part of my over all progress.

    If I can say this next bit without meaning any condescension – I’m a writer too, so from one to another: you don’t need apostrophes to pluralise a word that ends on a vowel. So, siddhis, asanas, sutras are all fine and make perfect sense, just with a ‘S’ at the end. An apostrophe is to show possession; something belonging to the subject you are apostroph-ising. Reading ‘siddhi’s’ made me think ‘siddhi’s what?’ which detracted from your message – it took me a while to decipher and so I lost the flow of your lovely piece. :)



  5. Lisa T. says:

    I loved this. I love how you write–so real, honest and insightful. I always feel absorbed with your writings and need to read a few times. I have a few of your articles or paragraphs from your articles written down which I read throughout the day for inspiration and guidance. Of course I could identify with both the Tortoise and the Hare. I am detemined to be the Tortoise. Thanks for this!

  6. I think, yoga postures is not boring as I have started ashtanga more than 1 year ago, and found it very interesting and much benefited for the various health problems.

  7. Excellent site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to
    find quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate
    individuals like you! Take care!!

  8. Hi momof4, happy new year to you too! Sounds like you have some goals set – yeah! My first bit of advice – take it slow! If you haven’t been dieting or working out in the last year consistently, then build up slowly. The people who actually stick with programs the longest are the ones that don’t shock their systems. I’ve read about this & seen it on CNN / Today Show a lot. If you are really serious – set some short & long term goals! :-)As for a step – step is a more high impact aerobics and the ball is a bit more strength & stretching. I have worked out on both, but have found that neither fit my lifestyle at the moment. With that said, everyone on the DVD/Home Workout board loves THE FIRM. You can buy a firm step & DVD’s/Videos at,, or on as well as at Target (& some Walmarts). There is the firm 1, 2, or 3. Everyone loves all three so if I were you, I’d start with either #1 or #3 because #2 definitely requires the special stick as wekk as the step.As for the ball, it might be a nice addition, but you might think about other possibilities: pilates, yoga, etc. are great places to get more stretching & strengthening. I’ve done ashtanga yoga (power yoga) and I can say from experience that it’s a bit costly & doesn’t really lead to weight loss unless you do it a lot (which may mean more trips to yoga classes & then more $$). So if it is weight loss you are after, maybe think about encorporating these in to the program eventually.So, weight loss through working out & eating? I’m on that path myself. I started working out with DVD’s about 1.5 years ago. Initially, I worked out 15 minutes a day, three days a week – and even that was a big committment for me back then. I just wasn’t used to working out! There’s great videos that offer “quick fixes” like 10 minute solutions, etc. and although there are no quick fixes in life (didn’t lose weight really), it definitely got me to start working out on a regular basis. This past summer I stepped it up to 30 minutes, 2 to three times a week. Now I’m to an average 45 minutes a day, every day. Next for me is to work on diet. Building slowly with working out & then focusing on diet once the workouts were going well has seemed to be working for me. I bought a book on emotional eating & I think that has helped me more than any “light” recipe. You can make light recipes, but how much will you eat then? I’d love to hear what you end up deciding to do, so keep us posted!

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