On the first day of yoga teacher training, we went around the room to introduce ourselves and share a little of our journey to this training.
A common phrase repeated by most of the women in the training (we are all women) was the intention to “deepen my practice.”
What exactly does this mean?
What Does It Mean to Deepen In Your Practice?
When we think of “deepening” in any discipline, we often think in terms of: how can I take it further?
At one point in my own practice, this was my aim.
How can I get a deeper stretch or a more vigorous workout?
How can I clean it up and make it look better?
How can I build more strength and flexibility in my physical practice?
My Shift in Perspective
In my yoga journey, I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful teachers who illuminated for me that the practice of yoga is not about the physical poses.
Asana, the physical practice, is only one of the 8 limbs of yoga. On the 8-step path, it’s level 3.
The function of the poses is to prepare the body for meditation and to be a tool for exploration of the body and the mind.
Understanding this context radically shifted my approach to my yoga practice both on and off the mat. I began to realize that deepening my practice was less about violating my body’s limits by stretching further into a pose, and more about accepting where I am on any given day.
What Deepening My Practice Looks Like
What I learned from my teachers even before this training is that deepening in my practice happens through listening to my body above all other voices — including the voices of my comparison queen and the ego.
On the mat, this may look like working side angle pose with my elbow on my knee and my hand on my hip, focused on opening through my chest, while everyone around me takes the bind with one arm under their thigh and the other wrapped around their back.
Maybe one day I’ll feel ready to take the bind, or maybe that will never been in my physical practice.
My practice is to release the self-judgment and comparison, or the urge to force myself into a position because that’s what the teacher tells us to do.
My practice is to listen to my inner wisdom and the truth of my body.
My practice is to accept where I am and be at peace with it.
Deepening in my practice is not about doing more, but about doing less.
Life is about patterns. What happens on the yoga mat reflects what happens in life.
The practice in life is the same: I must listen to my inner wisdom and not force myself to do something just to keep up with others around me. Learning to follow my own rhythm and pace. Accepting where I am.
As I’ve deepened in this practice of doing less on the mat, applying this off-the-mat has become easier. I have seen this in my work and my business, and it has come up in this teacher training — on and off the mat.
I see the other women twist into poses that are not available to my body. And I watch them fit in two or three yoga classes a day outside of training — while I go to physical therapy and give myself space for self-care. As the voice of comparison tries to tell me that I’m not doing enough, I remind myself: this is the practice.
The Deepest Practice of Yoga
Doing less doesn’t sound like “deepening,” but if you’re a chronic over-achiever, over-doer, and over-giver, you know that doing less is hard work. It’s a lifetime practice.
What makes doing less a “deepening” of our practice is that it exposes the belief systems that lie beneath over-doing, over-giving, and over-achieving: that through doing, achieving, and giving more we prove our worth to others and ourselves
Doing less unravels that story and shows us the essential truth:
You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. You are enough as you are.
Embodying this belief is the deepest practice of yoga, on and off the mat.