Lots of people tell the story about how they were dragged to yoga class and hated it at first. They either begrudgingly continued on or didn’t try it again for years. At some point they felt a shift, things clicked, and yoga made sense to them and seemed good for them. That is not my story.
After my first yoga class I went home, plopped onto my bed, and told my boyfriend of that tender decade that I would be a yoga teacher some day. I bought all the books from Barnes and Noble I could find within the first month and spent countless hours in the studio practicing, bugging my teachers for extra help, and trying to build a home practice so I could more quickly progress. Many workshops, several certifications, and a few yoga conferences later I discovered that I was tired and stalling out on my growth trajectory. Exhaustion and even a sense that I didn’t fit into my practice correctly took hold. It was time for a change.
15 years later I can confidently report that the yoga practice is an integrated part of my life, which is inseparable from the rest of my experiences. The changes I can report are vast. The effects of a long and measured practice are staggering as I reflect back over the years. Here is my best advice for working through burnout and carving a personal path in the often standardized and limiting post modern commercial yoga world.
1. Recognize that the rose colored glasses of new love wear off.
If you choose the yogic path as a life path you will inevitably come up against the reality of a committed relationship or a marriage of sorts. In other words, the magic and specialness shift into a new normal and then the work of yoga begins.
Eventually you must come to look at the asana/pranayama/meditation practices as housekeeping for a larger exploration of your whole life. There are two Niyamas of the 8 limbs of yoga to consider here: Tapas and Svadyaya.
Tapas means heat, discipline, and dedication to the aims of yoga. Discipline isn’t always pleasurable and neither is scrubbing your floors. I always encourage students to practice finding the sacred within the mundane. Holiness in dailiness is an ongoing practice of yoga.
Instead of seeking out more and more extreme experiences in yoga, we have to get more and more willing to be intimate with the small normal moments of life.
Svadyaya means self-study and study of the context or philosophy of yoga. Burnout is a sign that you are ready to expand. It means the next layer of yoga is just around the bend!
2. Return to the place you started and know it for the first time.
If you love yoga asana and found yourself inclined to pursue a physical practice that focused on lots of gymnastic variations, chances are, you skipped over some of the really important “basics.”
Foundations are not just understanding the alignment of familiar poses. Building the foundations of both physical and conceptual yoga should happen together. The concepts, postures, and coordinations arise together so it is probably time to take some basic classes again and tend to your connection to the ground and your breath as you move.
Reach out to a trusted teacher and schedule a private session to work on your foundations. It will cost you, but it will be worth it. Drop in Yoga is not the best way to glean insight and gain guidance.
3. Expand your definition of Yoga practice.
Burnout may be an indication that the style of movement you were initially attracted to isn’t serving you. That isn’t uncommon. Many of us start in a system that mirrors our tendencies, likes, and dislikes. We choose a movement pattern and dogma that reinforces our natural patterns. Over time this creates imbalance. Shifting to different movement patterns and styles might be necessary. It was for me.
I’d also encourage you to look at therapy sessions, acupuncture, bodywork, journaling, and volunteer work as yoga practice. Again the practice of Svadyaya ( self-study) can be expanded very broadly as long as you are consciously choosing these things and seeing them as yoga.
4. Establish a working definition of Yoga and the goals of yoga.
You would think this is easy but people have been grappling with these questions for thousands of years and the inquiry is part of the practice. Ultimately yoga is not something quantifiable from the outside. It is a personal and ongoing exploration of the self, an uncovering of truth and freedom.
Studying up on The Yoga Sutras and some of the later Tantric texts can be helpful but look for a teacher and a community to study with.
I hope this advice inspires you to widen and deepen your connection to yoga if that appeals to you.
Know that if you leave the practice behind, you are not failing at anything. Your value is inherent and you don’t need permission to exist and thrive.
That luminous awareness within me
sees and honors that clarity within you.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Yoga is a discipline, a series of actions and inquiries done with consistent effort and attention.
It is easy for the western mind, raised on the false idea that we are broken,to fixate on the external practices as a way to prove and earn our worthiness.
Practice doesn’t earn you grace. Grace is your birthright.
Practice allows you to get in touch with that truth and loosen the stranglehold of attachment and aversion.
~ Kelly Jean Moore
Excerpt from Desert Notes by Barry Lopez:
“Explanations will occur to you, seeming to clarify; but they can be a kind of trick. You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing.
Feel how still it is. You can become impatient here, willing to accept any explanation in order to move on. This appears to be nothing at all, but it is a wall between you and what you are after. Be sure you are not tricked into thinking there is nothing to fear. Moving on is not important. You must wait. You must take things down to the core.”
Growth is the currency of the yogi these days.
Not just internal growth but also outward expressions of growth such as projects and skills. I hear from students, friends, and even from my own thoughts, a regular desperation at wanting something to manifest immediately, and the struggle of not seeing it come to fruition.
Think of your life as a gardening experiment. In order to succeed at gardening, you must do more than plant and water.
You must understand the seasons. There is a time to plant and harvest but there is also much waiting and no guarantee of useable crops. The will of circumstance does have a way of undermining your plans. Soil matters as does the amount of sun your patch of land gets. You have to work with what you’ve got.
If you are tired, my advice is to stop pushing and listen. Instagram and your great creations can wait. Not moving on or moving forward but settling in….. In and down towards your roots is the appropriate action.
Naturalness is the opposite of cleverness according to Taoist teachings. You don’t need to “hack” your life so much as see it and engage with it more clearly.
Learn the qualities and rhythms of our seasons and obey the natural flow and you will struggle less in general. Fall and Winter are more Yin (simplify and rest) where Spring, Summer and Late Summer are more Yang (Play and produce).
See your life also in seasons. Are you in an incubation period? What is the biggest pull of your energy from day to day? Example: If you have children under the age of 5, you are in survival mode and fighting against that will only exhaust you further and leave you feeling disappointed in yourself.
If you can identify your season, you can stop fighting yourself and instead support what needs to be supported.
Seasonality, patience, curiosity, and appropriate action yield the best results.
Happy gardening everyone!