giving up….going deeper.

Over this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to be a student of authorized teacher Greg Nardi.

He is quite charming and very knowledgeable.  On Friday evening I attended his lecture on the Yoga Sutras.  There were two things he brought up (actually not directly connected to the Sutras, but about the practice itself) that have been marinating in my noggin ever since.

The first thing: When discussing dedication and purpose of practice, Greg humorously said something along the lines of “…and one day you stop yourself and you wonder – why in the world am I doing this? I’m going to bed way too early, I don’t have any friends anymore and my body is always in pain?!? What’s the point?!”

And that is when you either QUIT or learn to SURRENDER.  He said “You will never beat this practice….you will never conquer it…it’s not designed for you to ever complete it…that’s not the point.”

Perhaps (especially if you don’t practice Ashtanga) you are thinking right now…. Well, what is the point of it? That practice sounds miserable, why would someone want to torture oneself like that??

You might think…. Sounds like a pleasure-denying, body-condemning, hyper-controlling, uptight and obsessive practice.

You might wonder…But isn’t yoga all about feeling good and doing what feels gooood and being really sweet and unconditionally accepting of all people and things??

Umm….well…… yes!…. kind of….and NO!

I will not lie –  Ashtanga is freakin hard sometimes!!!  It makes me angry and ouchy and annoyed at times.

But it also makes me feel like superwoman!!!

My body feels strong and light like I could simply jump up onto the rooftop in a single bound.  I face my fears in my practice and it makes me feel courageous.  I work hard to observe myself and improve in any way possible – so my practice teaches me self-awareness and perseverance.  It gives me a reason to hold myself to high standards and be proud of who I am.  It also tosses me around and shows me how dumb I can be and how there are so many things beyond my control – so I must be humble and have faith in a power greater than little me.

For me, one of the purposes of my practice is that it gives me a sense of purpose.  My practice supports me to be the best that I can be.  This, in turn, helps me to be a better friend, partner, teacher, student, employee, healer, and hopefully one day, the best mother I can be.

The second Greg inspiration: When discussing how some of his students ask him what it is they need to DO to “get” a pose, he said that he often responds, “It is not what you need to DO, but rather what do you need to GIVE UP in order to go deeper.”


Giving up?  That sounds defeatist, that sounds denying and limiting and scary!  What does that even mean!?

So, I’ve been thinking non-stop about this idea.  Here are a few of my thoughts and the experiences in practice with this in mind:

I’ve been modifying my left side Janu C since the beginning.  Originally because I fractured the tip of my tarsal bone, but also because of my knee pain.  I realized that I haven’t even tried it without modification since the first time I even learned it.  So yesterday, I decided to GIVE UP the idea that I had  to modify.  Instead I just went right into it as if it was my “good” side.  I totally surprised myself, I was pretty much able to do it!  It hurt my toe a little too much so after 3 breaths I backed off, but even so, I was glad a gave it a shot.  It was liberating!

I’ve been struggling again recently with my lower back in dropbacks.  So, I’ve been pondering, what to I need to GIVE UP in those.  I realize that in this hard learning process of Ashtanga practice sometimes I try to convince myself that the practice isn’t “right” or “good” for my body.  I tell myself that every body is different and maybe mine just isn’t right for this type of yoga.  Well, I keep on getting this point proven wrong.  Backbends have been one of my main surprises in this regard!  But, still, whenever I start hurting in my backbends (and normally this happens when I start doing more, or going deeper, so it’s an inevitable step on the strengthening/opening path) I start wallowing in this fear/assumption that doing this practice is “wrong” or “bad” for my body.

So today, I decided to GIVE UP my fear that what I was doing was “dangerous” or “wrong” for my body.  I reminded myself of the thousands and thousands of people who have gone through this process of Ashtanga and reminded myself to have faith in my teachers and in the system itself.  Well, this morning, I did 5 backbends, stood up, did 5 drop backs by myself, my teacher said they looked integrated and good and so why not do more….so I did 5 more!  Then I did handstand, 5 supported drop backs with crossed arms and then I touched my heels, much to my astonishment!

Wow – so this giving up thing really works!

Other theoretical examples about giving up:

Maybe you are tired and feeling lethargic and heavy in the morning and this prevents you from practicing hard at Mysore.  Maybe you need to GIVE UP eating a heavy dinner or even better, eating any real food in the evening. Try a smoothie or a juice and some tea!  Maybe you need to give up staying up late to see friends or go out.  Maybe you need to give up drinking if that’s still a part of your life.

Maybe there’s too much in the way for you to get a good deep twist and bind in Marichi C and D, but you really want to be able to do the pose.  What then?  Maybe you need to give up dessert or second portions for awhile.  This is not to condemn you for having extra weight, but a realistic example of how sacrifices need to be made sometimes in order to excel.

If you put your practice first, what else does that change in your life?

Lots to ponder…..

What do you/have you needed to GIVE UP in order to take your practice to a deeper level?



With GRATITUDE to all my teachers and fellow yogis,





4 thoughts on “giving up….going deeper.

  1. Great post, Frances! I have had a few experiences about giving up and then, quite ironically “getting” more in the course of my Ashtanga practice. But it’ll take up too much space to write about them here. Maybe I’ll write a post about this soon…

    There’s something you said here that got me thinking:

    ‘So today, I decided to GIVE UP my fear that what I was doing was “dangerous” or “wrong” for my body.’

    Last year, my left SI joint acted up really badly; the muscles around it also became inflamed, making deep forward bends and leg-behind-the-head postures and chakrasana impossible to do without intense pain. I pretty much did what you did with Janu C; I did the offending postures to the “edge”, to the place where discomfort (and I’ll even admit, sometimes pain) became too intense; and then I’ll back off. I continued to do this for a few months. After some time, I sort of became resigned/surrendered to the idea that this pain isn’t going away anytime soon. Or, to use a very woo phrase: I decided to just be with the pain as much as I could. And then, some funny things happened: One day, I did chakrasana, and realized there was no more pain. Another day, I decided, on a whim, to try putting my leg behind my head. There was a little “off” sensation in my left SI joint, but no pain. Since then (knock on wood…) the pain has not returned, although my SI joint area still feels sore whenever I have been sitting at a computer for too long.

    I don’t know why I deal with fear and pain the way I do; it’s probably a mixture of stubbornness, pride, and ego on my part… well, I guess a story like that will never make the pages of Yoga Journal, or any of those illustrious yoga publications out there 🙂 But I thought I’ll share it here, FWIW. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really give up the fear; rather, I kind of try to be with the fear that I will be crippled/never be able to do Ashtanga again, go into it, and see what comes out at the other end. A bit scary, right? Well, I did say this is not a Yoga Journal-type story…

    • Thanks for sharing your story Nobel! Also thanks for sending so many readers my way 🙂
      Learning to accept or “be with” pain/fear is really a valuable lesson…in life and in yoga… Pain is often inevitable in this life and sometimes resisting it only makes it worse. It’s so interesting and affirming when one’s practice illuminates a life lesson such as this.

  2. Great post. I remember a time about 8 years ago when I more or less gave up yoga for quite some time, simply because I was looking for a “point.” Now that I’m older and hopefully a bit wiser, I’m learning to let go, bit by bit. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

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