Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Progression vs Regression.
For the first 10 years of my Ashtanga Yoga practice, which began after years of having practiced other yoga forms, I thought the whole idea of yoga was to progress, to keep moving forward.
There are six series in Ashtanga Yoga. The first series is already very physically demanding, but my goal was always to progress to series two, which includes some very deep backbends, and beyond. I did not realize until my my second decade of practicing Ashtanga that I would never get to the point where I could do some of the deeper backbends.
One day in class, one of my friends complimented someone who had achieved those very poses, and the person receiving the compliment said, “Yeah, and it’s a lot of work!”
Having heard that statement, I thought for one hopeful moment that, maybe, if I did enough “work”, I too might be able to bend like a piece of bamboo! However, for some of us, myself included, no matter how much work we put in, we will never be able to physically progress to that point.
After a few more years, one other factor besides the athletic-but-not-bendy body type I was born with, started to creep up on me — AGE!
Some of the yoga poses I had worked hard to attain stayed with me. But when one part of my body — my shoulders — totally changed, I was no longer able to do things I had naively assumed my body would always be able to do. On top of that, old injuries, combined with the wear and tear of an active life, started to have a larger impact on my ability to move.
After a lifetime of yoga practice — I was going backward!
I will share 2 comments from teachers that have helped me and that I have shared with students:
- The person who is getting the least far in the pose is getting the most out of it.
- Perform your practice at your condition and situation in life. The fancy poses are not important.
In fact it all boils down to this: YOGA IS NOT A COMPETITION! Yoga’s ultimate value is as a tool for self-awareness.
I should mention another type of progression I’d counted on. I thought that if I won the battle with my mind by getting up early enough to practice and chant enough, like the yogis I admired, I would automatically become more spiritual and enlightened! That didn’t happen.
So after a while I chose practices that didn’t leave me exhausted. Yes, my spiritual and physical practice became self-prescribed, because no one knows my body and mind as well as I do.
I have learned from so many great teachers. I still do. My 85-year-old teacher — who, by the way, will often demonstrate an extreme pose and then brush it off with a sincere, “It’s not important” — has told me that as we age yoga requires even more fierce determination that we thought we were giving it in our younger years. That is so true!
So, no, in the final analysis, my practice has not regressed. My body has changed, but as I observe my body’s changes, I don’t let myself slack or slide. I still push myself hard, because I know that yoga’s eternal benefits will be with me as long as I am breathing.
Progression vs Regression. It’s all a matter of perspective and practice, so don’t worry too much about it. Enjoy your yoga practice and do the work with an open heart. That’s the best progress possible.