Identification with the fluctuations of mind is stopped by practice and non-attachment.
Abhyasa means practice, it refers to the commitment and time we put in. It is the tuition fee that we pay to learn.
It is very common that after a yoga class, a student would approach me and say, “I can’t do a headstand” or an arm balance or some other pose. I would usually explain that many of the movements we do in yoga feel unfamiliar in the body because we are simply not used to it. I would then ask the student how long they have been practicing, and I’ll get some variation of “it’s my first class” or “I’m on my first week” or “I’ve been practicing on and off”. Mystery solved. Who among us was able to nail every single pose in the early days of our yoga practice? No one. Because it is precisely that— it takes practice.
According to a TedTalks by Josh Kaufman, it takes 10,000 hours of investment to learn something and get on a level of expertise. This means, if you’re playing an instrument, you would be performance level, if an athlete competitive level. But what about the number of hours needed to go from a baseline of zero to being able to do something fairly well? Not expert level, not perfect, but pretty decent. Apparently, it takes only 20 hours. Not that much time at all! But these 20 hours must be used a certain way to maximize learning. And these are the tips:
1. Deconstruct- This means we learn to break things down. Instead of seeing one giant obstacle, we break it into smaller digestible pieces and we deal with these small pieces. We know this to be true for our yoga poses. Say, an inversion may feel overwhelming at first, so we break down the elements such as hand position, core engagement etc.
2. Give ourselves the space to self-correct- I like that self-correction is a given, because it clearly shows that mistakes are part of the learning curve. How many times have we beaten ourselves up for doing something “wrong”, forgetting that it is part of the process of learning and getting better at something? We cannot learn if we are too afraid to make mistakes.
3. Minimize distractions- In the context of practicing yoga asana, we can use this as a reminder to focus on our own practice, to avoid looking around and comparing, to refrain from using excuses to avoid doing something. On a practical level, looking around gets us out of alignment and does not help us in getting into the asana at all. So, stay focused.
4. Put the time in- There are no other shortcuts. Show up, time and time again, even if it means all you do in a particular hour is mentally prepare for what feels physically impossible. Put the hours in, and this includes the logistical parts like registering, preparing the appropriate clothing to wear, etc. The time that we put in will reap its results.
Keep in mind when you practice yoga asana that it’s okay not to be able to do an inversion or an arm balance or any other pose. Remember, we have to put in the hours, and we can learn to deconstruct, give ourselves the space to self-correct, and minimize distractions. That takes care of abhyasa. As for the vairagya component of practice, it is to let go, to not attach, to not cling. It is by this way of practicing— one part abhyasa and one part vairagya— that we can attain peace in the actions that we take.