Love the Practice, Not the Result

Everyone’s heard that we’re supposed to enjoy the journey, not the destination. It’s trite to repeat it, but somehow that phrase has never done it for me. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, or maybe the words just don’t sound right in my brain. But the sentiment is 100% crucial for growing in positive direction. For me, it’s much more useful to think of it in terms of practice and results. Love the practice, not the result.

My biggest experience with this recently is with yoga. Yoga is nothing but practice. That’s all there is. No goal. Let’s face it, we’re probably not making it to samadhi/nirvana/ultimate reality in this lifetime. Maybe it’s cool to be able to do a handstand or put your foot behind your head, but yoga isn’t the fastest way to achieve those goals either. It’s a way to slowly improve the mind and the body, and the pleasure is in the daily experience of the action.

The same is true of art, writing, anything creative. If I ever think about painting in terms of “I need to paint something awesome that people are going to love and put in a museum and make me rich,” I’m never going to paint. I’ll be stymied with fear of failure, because not reaching that goal would be failure if that was my only reason for doing it. Instead, I sit down to paint because I love the feeling of painting. The brush moving over canvas, leaving a bright color in its wake. Sometimes it evens ends up being a piece I like to look at when it’s done. Not always, but often enough, and more often the more I practice.

You’re probably saying, “Yeah right, but some of us have jobs” (that’s fair, but sometimes I do have a job, too). There are definitely times when we need to put the nose to the grindstone, get some hard work done just for the sake of finishing it. Doing your taxes, final exams, the presentation for a client meeting tomorrow. That’s all well and good, and we do need to find the energy to make it happen. But for the bigger things in life, the ones that take up most of our time and most of our emotional energy, we need to enjoy the daily practice. There’s no reason to try to be a professional musician if you hate to sit down with your instrument and hammer away at etudes for hours a day. If three hours of yoga practice everyday sounds like the most boring and/or exhausting thing ever, maybe yoga teacher is not the right direction for you. And it turns out that loving the practice does lead to being great at something. It takes time, and sneaks up on you while you’re busy focusing on the thing itself, not the goal.

What do you love to work on? Art? Writing? Programming? Some people love Python, and that is awesome, go for it. Sharing your knowledge with others? Helping people make ends meet? Brewing beer? What can you sit down to do, be fully present in the act of the practice, yet removed from some distant outcome? I believe this is one of the most important components in a life lived consciously. I certainly have a way to go to answer these questions, but it’s a journey worth being on.

Yoga Teacher Training Complete!

As of two days ago I am officially a certified yoga teacher! The last two weeks of the training flew by. Week three was the most physically demanding, with at least four hours of practice a day, plus prep and teaching everyday. I had a few “yoga firsts,” which is fun. First drop-back to wheel pose from standing, first jump-through to dandasana from downward dog, deepest twists and binds I’ve had in ardha matsyendrasana. By the end of the week my body was feeling the strain, but still happy.

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India: Yoga Teacher Training Week 2

Week two of my yoga teacher training is over, the course half-way done. It’s going great, in mind, body, and spirit. I’ve heard the hardest parts are still to come. We’ve continued to practice between 3 and 4 hours a day, but the classes this week felt a little bit easier than the first. We didn’t do quite as much core work, and we’re all stronger. A few people have had some back and joint issues, but I’m feeling great.

Today is our day off, and a few of us decided to start the day with 108 sun salutations (an auspicious number). It got to be difficult by the end, but I felt totally energized afterwards. It took about an hour, a little more with our rest in savasana. One of our teachers told us about a time he did 108 sun salutations every day for 108 days, in addition to teaching and the rest of his practice. This guy is awesome: totally humble, authentic, and kind.

Which is to say that the yoga at this training is really honest. We spend a lot of time chanting and meditating and resting and sweating. It’s all with the goal of knowledge, purification, mindfulness, and compassion. It feels different from most of the yoga in the west. In my experience, most of the classes in the states are exercise-focused, and somehow the ones with a more spiritual perspective seem a bit wishy-washy. The Om-Shanti Express. Maybe it’s due to the fact that yoga tends to be isolated from the rest of our lives, while here it is all we do and think about. If you only have one hour to focus on your spirit, you can’t get very far in before you need to run off to the next appointment or obligation. A lot of that seeking takes a big chunk of quiet time and space. I’ve had enough space to explore that I’ve been getting back to painting, using the watercolors I brought with me. It has been flowing easily and naturally, and feels wonderful.

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Our teachers have been guiding us in meditation after each of our classes. In the past I’ve done unguided breath awareness meditation, but here it’s nice to have a bit more direction. Mostly because the teachers really know what they’re doing. Each time it sounds like they’re reading from a script that’s been labored over for clarity and flow, but actually they’re just speaking from the heart, improvising, taking us to places they care about and know we can learn something from. I really enjoyed our last session, which I’d summarize with:

Don’t let your successes go to your head, don’t let your failures go to your heart.

This resounded with me, especially with the creative work I’ve done. We are all going to fail a lot in anything we do seriously, and it’s wonderful be able to find the lessons in that without being discouraged. It’s so easy to overthink things that go wrong, to use them as excuses not to try again. I don’t mean to say that we should be hard-hearted, but instead maybe that we be clear-hearted enough for the negativity to pass through without causing damage

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One other big point that we’ve been working on is the fact that everything we’re doing here is a lifetime (or more) of work. Yoga is for the entire life, and we should keep that in mind with our bodies. It doesn’t matter how flexible we are right now, but it does matter that we keep our bodies and minds healthy for years to come. This is hard for me. I like to push myself and explore my limits, but I think there’s a place for that without going to the point of damage. I’m excited for this coming week, and curious to see how it affects my state of being. More intense practice along with a deeper look inside. Sounds perfect.

Be well!

India: Yoga Teacher Training Week 1

I’ve just completed the first week of my month-long hatha yoga teacher training in Kovalam, India. Taking a very much appreciated rest day today. The training has been fantastic so far, but it’s already starting to fly by. Days blend together, as they tend to when following a strict routine.

We wake up at 6 AM for our 6:30 practice. It’s a hatha (pose-focused, rather than flow-focused) practice for about an hour and a half, then a half hour of breathing and meditation. We have breakfast at a local restaurant, then take a few minutes break before class starts at 10. There is an hour and a half of theory (philosophy, anatomy, etc), an hour of in-depth study of the poses, then an hour of practical teaching in small groups. We have a three-hour break in the afternoon, which I usually fill with lunch, swimming, and playing ukulele on the beach. At 4:30 we have a faster vinyasa practice, which is more cardio and muscle focused than the morning. At 6 we chant for a half hour in a big group, have some dinner, relax and study until bedtime. I’ve been falling asleep around 9:30 PM, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for either.

My body has been pretty tired the whole time, but once we get into a practice I’m always ready for it. I feel stronger already, especially throughout my core. Beyond the soreness I’m pretty sure my flexibility is increasing. My tendons and ligaments feel a bit softer than usual, and especially by the end of the day I’m able to get into some pretty extreme positions (for me). It’s kind of hard to explain how the flexibility feels, but it’s as if every part of my body is a little bit closer. My toes aren’t so far away, it’s a little bit easier to reach an itch in the middle of my back. There’s less restriction in all my movements, even just walking or sitting. It’s pretty cool.

The core strength also feels great. I’m pretty sure having a strong core makes everything better. This is something I really want to keep up when the training is over – I think it will help me stay healthy and stable in all the activities I do, from running and climbing to washing dishes and grocery shopping. Eventually, in getting old.

The changes I’ve been feeling in my body make me think of this: just as the eyes adjust to the dark, the body adjusts to an exercise routine, and the brain adjusts to just about everything. I’m exercising 4 hours a day and it’s totally doable. After a bit more of this, I could probably do 6 hours and be fine, as long as there was nothing wearing on the body in an unhealthy way. My brain is getting used to some of the harder parts of being in India: the beggars, the trash (It’s everywhere. This is depressing in lots of ways and apparently has become a much bigger problem in the last 10-15 years as more western corporations have started taking advantage of the emerging market), the constant bombarding from street vendors, the stares and requests for photos. But we get used to everything. An unfulfilling office job, an overly long commute to work, inadequate communication in our most important relationships. Also the positive experiences: sunsets, the way the wind plays with a tree, sex with a long-term partner.

A major part of my yoga and meditation practice is focused on keeping these experiences fresh and staying present in all situations, no matter how routine. When we sink into the routine, we are blinded to the beauty around us, and to the negativity which is slowly creeping into our bodies. Ignorance is not bliss, it just postpones and repackages difficult emotions to lash out later on in unexpected ways.

Aside from the physical experiences, I’m loving the theory and teaching practice as well. A lot of the core practices of yoga are totally lost in the American-style studios, which tend to be 90-100% about the exercise. If I have my own studio some day, I’d love to incorporate Karma Yoga (basically community service) and some of the philosophies on mindfulness and morality. Nothing preachy or weird, mostly just basic community center-type events that bring people together and encourage everyone to live well. Kind of like church without the blind faith. So far we’ve only been teaching a couple poses at a time for a few minutes, but it has reminded me how much I like to teach and share. It brings me all the way back to my public speaking class in high school. That’s probably one of the most valuable and widely applicable skills I’ve learned.

I’m excited to see how all this will change as the course continues. I’ve heard that the second and third weeks tend to draw powerful experiences out of the body. I’m not sure what that means, or if it will happen to me, but I’ll definitely let you know if it does.


India: To Kovalam, Yoga Teacher Training

So far so great. I recently traveled south from the rock climbing/bouldering-heaven of Hampi, India, to Kovalam for my yoga teacher training program. We’re on day 3 of 28, and my body is already feeling new things. This is going to be a wild experience.

My trip down to the beach went pretty smoothly, although it took over two full days. I hopped on an auto rickshaw from Hampi to Hospet where I grabbed an overnight bus (booked ahead of time) down to Bangalore. From there, I’d take an overnight train the following night, getting me pretty close to my final destination. Before I left Hampi, I happened to sit next to another traveler at dinner, Daan from the Netherlands, who was heading the same direction, and who happened to be booked for the bunk next to mine on the train ride the following night.


About 300 stairs leading up to the Monkey Temple in Hampi


A typical sunset view in India – there are temples everywhere

We decided to meet up in Bangalore to explore for the day – a long day in a foreign city is quite a lot easier with a companion. Bangalore turned out to be wonderful. It seems to be a lot more organized than Mumbai, or at least not as big and crowded. There streets are very clean by the standards I’ve become accustomed to, and the parks are wonderful. We had a full day of wandering and checking out the gardens, coffee houses, and local art galleries.


A big government building in Bangalore. The city was pretty chill and made a lot more sense than Mumbai

From Bangalore, we boarded our train south. Daan’s ride was about 12 hours – down to Cochin – and I stayed on another four until Trivandrum. I hadn’t been able to check email for a few days, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to get to the yoga training, but I was pretty sure it was supposed to start the night I was arriving. I got to Trivandrum pretty tired and dehydrated, but got some water and started looking for the bus stop. The rickshaw drivers are really aggressive here, but there give you really bad prices compared to locals. One offered me a ride for 250 Rupees (about $5, also just barely less than I paid for the 16 hour train ride), but I decided it was time I tried the city bus, which costs 30 Rupees. It took about 45 minutes of wandering and constantly asking directions to find, but it was a great ride, and cheap. I got off the bus in Kovalam and asked around for the hotel that was listed on the website for my yoga teacher training. Eventually I found this:


The Yoga Shala for my teacher training in Kovalam

Except it was full of people, and they were starting the opening ceremony for the program. After over 48 hours of travel and without knowing my exact destination, I arrived exactly five minutes late to my program. Wild. This seems to be how things happen in India. As long as you’re relaxed, it’ll work out perfectly.


The beach outside the yoga shala. This is my view everyday for the next month

And now that I’m here, it’s pretty easy to be relaxed. The yoga training is hard, but I love it so far. My body is sore, my mind is engaged and my spirit is full. It’s definitely going to get harder, too. It’s only been three days, but already I love the teaching aspect of the class. I think this is something I might really enjoy when I’m back in the states – teaching and honing my communication style. I already have all sorts of thoughts about this, but it will have to wait for another post. I’ve got 15 minutes until our afternoon session and still need to purify some water. Until next time,

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.