How to Work Through Frustration in Yoga Practice
It is easy to feel frustrated in practice, whether during asana or pranayama, when we have been working toward a pose, or poses, working with the same practice for a long time. We know intellectually that we are not going anywhere, and we cannot tell progress by how many poses we are able to do or what our retention count is in pranayama. Yet from both the learning and the teaching point of view, we feel we need to progress somehow, continue through whatever series we are working on, continue to increase the count and ratio in pranayama, etc.
Anyone who says they have never been discouraged before is either lying, not honest with themselves (ignoring or suppressing the feeling), or not working hard enough! We have all felt frustrated at one time or another, and maybe the practice was intentionally set up as a slippery slope, getting increasingly difficult – as we get older and less inclined to do more! — in order to bring this up in us. Maybe it is an opportunity to observe and question our tendency to grasp at impermanent objects.
Here are a few questions we can all ask ourselves, in order to keep us on the right track, in order to help keep things in perspective.
- Since the Hatha practices (pranayama, asana, kriyas, etc.) are all for the purpose of Raja Yoga, to channel the mind, and are meant to have the effect of withdrawing the senses, does the practice help you to turn your awareness inwards, or is it pulling you further out to the sense world? Does the practice help you still and more objectively observe the mind, or do you get overly engaged in the mind’s drama and stories as you practice?
- Since Hatha practices are also meant to balance the nervous system, do you feel more or less balanced from practice? Do you feel it supports you in your life and makes things physically and mentally easier, or do you feel weakened by the practice and somehow off – shaky, overly tired, irritable, overly emotional, etc.?
- Are you working? If the practice is tapas, having this element of heat that can shift and transform, it should not be easy. So even if we do not see change externally in the form of acquiring a posture, etc., if we are working then for sure there is something happening internally. Change is inevitable, even if the shift is simply bringing up new emotions and sensations for us to watch and let go of. Then that is where we need to work.
- Is the practice helping us confront raga-dvesha (attachments-aversions)? Regardless of whether we like a pose or not, can we continue? Regardless of our irritation, can we keep practicing, something? And that doesn’t mean forcing or pounding away at our full asana practice six days a week if that is not appropriate for us. But can we simply carry on, regardless of how our practice develops?
- Practicing is an ever-evolving relationship we create with ourselves. And that is arguably the most important relationship we will ever have, as it affects all of our other relationships, and we are the closest person we will ever know. Can we be as accepting, loving, and compassionate with ourselves as we are with other loved ones? Can we treat ourselves in the way we would like to be treated by others?
In Buddhism there is the idea of dependent origination. Everything we experience is constantly changing, due to ever evolving conditions and factors. Our body, mind, environment are never the same, and each morning when we sit down or step onto the mat, we witness something anew. Can we stay present throughout, can we keep moving through practice, through life, regardless of the outcome? Can we do our best in the given moment, with all of the various factors at play?
Ultimately, if we believe in this dependent origination, there is no point A and no point B (origin and destination). Things are constantly shifting and developing as we speak, and nothing is ever fixed or predetermined. Our karma is constantly in a state of flux. It is impossible to say because of x, the outcome must be y. It is never that simple. We can influence some things, but at least as many factors are out of our hands. Only one thing is certain: nothing is static.
In spite of it all, can we keep moving?