Practice Makes Perfect?

By Martha Marcom

For me, asana practice is never perfect. Here is the gold standard of perfection as elucidated by Richard Freeman: a perfect practice would be one in which you were conscious of every breath. I happily embrace this ideal of perfection--that the practice is elevated by breath, not some idealized, even intellectual version of asana. I’d hold that perfection of asana is not even possible, given that every day our physical bodies are different, our emotional and energetic patterns shift, the stars in heaven are aligned differently, and a different planet rules. This is not to undermine the importance of learning wise ways of being physically in postures! I would plead that it is essential for any serious student to have guidance and information regarding his or her personal asana practice. Having a teacher is the time-honored method. For all of us, there is always more to learn about alignment, and awakening the body more and more deeply.

Richard Freeman shares another practice guide line: the breath is the vehicle of the intelligence. So if we can be in asana with a continual awareness of the breath, the breath could take us into a meditative state. The breath could also teach us to embody the asana in the most therapeutic way for each day, each asana, each inhalation and exhalation. Building this subtle awareness on top of an aligned body may indeed approach perfection. Perhaps the breath would take us to unexpected places if we were to surrender to its wisdom.

If we could just effortlessly ride that vehicle of intelligence to the mat each day…some days it is such a long way to the mat for me. Practice does approach perfection though in the sense that, if we practice regularly, we are truly on the yogic path and stand to receive its huge benefits. I’m thinking peace and freedom and delight here! can feel like perfection when one finishes one’s practice early in the day. Or in the case of evening classes, how sweet is sleep, knowing the effort has been made to practice, the vow has been kept, the commitment honored.

Here is something to try if you’d like to explore how the breath can guide you: Move easily toward Marichasana C,a hard pose to breath in! Can you be in Revolved Sage Pose it in a way that allows a full relaxed breath? So often we desire more of an asana than is optimal for the breath or the body. Try Mari C in the most dialed back way, left leg extended and grounded on your mat, right leg folded in with the heel moving toward the right sit-bone and that right foot planted, second toe facing forward. Take the right arm behind you and use that arm to support length in the spine. Bring the left arm across to hold the right knee. Cast your gaze softly to the right. Find your breath here. Then observe what arises. Does your body invite you to go a bit deeper? Or wait, was that your mind putting forth its agenda? See what the breath has to say. Follow the breath as the vertebral column lengthens and begins to spiral exquisitely along that length. Let the breath inform you when to look forward and release the pose. Then try the other side, which could be different!

Yoga has to be experienced! Practice is required! Here are some strategies that may help you come to your mat to practice.

Richard Freeman’s technique is to tell himself he only has to do one Surya Namaskara, one Sun Salutation, as the practice. If you try this you may find yourself not wanting to stop with just one!

Lilias has said that she takes herself firmly by the ear and leads herself to the mat.

Pattabhi Jois was a big advocate of coffee and has been quoted as saying “No coffee, no prana”. Coffee might not be for everyone, but drinking a warm beverage such as tea or lemon water can definitely get you started in the right direction, elimination-wise.

I like to light a candle if it’s dark while I practice, to evoke the sacred nature of the practice, to give light and to indicate to myself, now is the time!

Get an eye pillow or a blanket or anything you use for Savasana ready and within sight--to remind yourself of where you are going.

It can be helpful to organize your yoga clothes and equipment well in advance of your practice or the time to depart for class.

If you are going to add an hour or two to your day by including a practice, that time has to come from somewhere. It might be that you’ll need to get to bed earlier, for the whole day to work properly.

Commit along with a practice buddy, or if you are really ready to step into the fire, join the morning Mysore club for an early ashtanga practice.

Sign up for a pass or a course. The change of the seasons towards fall can be an optimal time to begin. Or begin again.

Here’s what I’m trying lately to get myself promptly to the mat: fire up that vehicle of intelligence, my breath, and let it transport me to the mat.

One last Pattabhi Jois quote, “Practice and all is coming!”

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2 Responses to Practice Makes Perfect?
  1. Jennifer

    Beautiful and inspiring. I love how you validate the breath as this is so important for those that certain poses are impossible but to focus on the breath.

  2. Martha

    A breath-based practice can be very liberating! Thank you for your comment, and joyfull practicing to you!