I’ve heard that 50% or more marriages in North America end in divorce these days. That seems super effed up to me. Also, I would theorize that more than 50% of yoga practices end in divorce! What I mean to say is – more than 50% of students who practice yoga regularly (3+ times per week) for a year or more eventually quit or significantly reduce their practice. I blame boredom for this. But let me be clear: yoga is not boring; you’re boring!
As Jenna wrote in another yoga blog post, I Fell in Love with Yoga Again in Vancouver, every yoga practice has a honeymoon phase but also runs the risk of falling into the dangerous phase of monotony and boredom. The blooming flower pedals wilt into collapsed muscles and the smiling happy faces turn into somber, slightly annoyed business faces. All too often the solution to these problems from a student is to quit their yoga. It’s like when your 10th grade girlfriend told you: “I love you but I’m just not in love with you.” Ugh!
In the yogaverse the conversation of boredom in yoga is all too common. Amusingly to me, this same conversation happens in every group of yogis from students to studio owners, teachers to desk staff. Student boredom is one of the largest fears of studio owners, yet many of them are guilty of a boring practice themselves. Teachers all too often tell their students to maintain consistency in their practice when they themselves are lazy about getting in the room. And students often cancel their membership, complain of feeling apathetic, or in the worst cases hurt themselves by not paying attention, all due to boredom in the yoga room.
Boredom is contrary to the natural state of growth. In terms of the mind and what makes us human, we’re talking about frontal lobe stimulation. There are multiple ways to stimulate the frontal lobe including repetition, problem solving and emotional response but often our default when searching for stimulation is novelty! In the romantic period of any relationship finding novelty is easy. But as time passes and routine sets in, the excitement of feeling something new dictated simply from the act itself, wears off. Yoga practice is a relationship – a relationship with yourself. In traditional yoga practices, we often do very close to, if not the exact same, routine of asanas every time, the result of which often leads to boredom with our practice. Once you can participate in the entirety of the class, the initial challenge, and therefore stimulation of the practice, is gone. But trust me, there’s more.
In traditional yoga, beginners practice the same sequence of postures in the same order every time. It’s important to understand that repetition in yoga is pure brilliance. The consistency allows the body and mind to reinforce the aspects of change from the previous classes resulting in a potent accumulation of effects. It allows for the opportunity to discover and know oneself more fully by giving a reference point. Repetition also creates an environment where a student learns more easily and focus on the smallest details. Ultimately, it can become a moving meditation and lead to the practice of both pratyahara (control of the senses) and dharana (cultivation of inner perceptual awareness).
The problem which causes boredom in a yoga practice though, is not the repetitious nature of the practice itself; it’s that the student actually does the same thing every time they practice. The difference between these two things is huge!
The purpose of a Hatha yoga practice is to reveal to you your current human condition, to show you where you may be resisting your own natural state, and to aid in maintaining or returning your body to that natural state. What your yoga practice is not tasked to do is keep you happy, entertain you, or make you feel special or all warm and fuzzy.
The partner in your love relationship is similar. They may choose to do things that make you happy because they love you, but ultimately your happiness is not their responsibility, it’s yours.
Yoga is not boring, you’re boring! Or rather you’re being boring. If you’re bored in the yoga room you must not be paying attention! All students at one point or another fall into autopilot mode. You go in and simply go through the motions. You do the posture the same way you did yesterday and the day before, you do the posture “your way.” You use your injury from 5 years ago, your stiffness, age, weight, hydration level, whatever you can think of as an excuse why your practice is what it is and that’s good enough. Sometimes your body moves through the postures, but your mind wonders about what you’ll make for dinner, how the guy next to you is annoying you, it’s hotter than yesterday, or off in to la la land. You rationalize why you won’t push any further or try the posture in a different way and then come out of class complaining that you’re not getting “enough” from “this” practice or that you’re bored. “I feel like I should just add in some vinyasa right now” or “my chakras need a more yin energy based class” or “can I chew gum in class because I find it moves too slowly for me?”
Being bored in your yoga practice or your relationship is probably an indicator of complacency! This is the natural enemy of curiosity. Curiosity leads to novelty – remember that frontal lobe stimulation? When we get complacent we all too often look outward for a solution, for something new. We blame the things external from ourselves rather than doing the work to go inward and stoke the fire. The essence of real yoga practice is exploration. The difference is that instead of exploring outer space we are exploring inner space. Yoga helps us to go within. Instead of cheating on your spouse, why not turn into the relationship and find something new, something vulnerable and exciting, something deeper? In your yoga practice why not do something different? Hold the posture longer, focus on controlling your breath better, relax more, contract more, go deeper, back off. You could read books on the subject, talk to your teachers, take a seminar, increase your practice frequency, or go on a yoga retreat. Just do something! It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it, and the intention behind it. You have to be curious about yourself, interested in yourself, be willing to learn about yourself. Here’s the thing though: this will require that you’re not lazy, that you pay attention, that you let go of your self-fear, that you’re honest with yourself, that you take responsibility for yourself, that you love yourself! You have to risk discomfort in order to find new brilliance. But I promise you this – you are way more interesting than you think.
Photos courtesy of Bikram Yoga SE Portland