How do we improve at yoga?

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I started calling myself a writer in my mid twenties. Sure, I’d been published as early as 5th grade and studied writing in college, but it wasn’t until I was earning my living through writing that I used the title. Of all the benefits I’ve received from being ‘a writer,’ though, money has been the least important.*

I’m not sure I’ve gotten any better at writing, really, after all this time. But I’ve gotten much better through writing. Even today, writing this, I’ll get better. Writing is a way to give myself over to a creative process, to be with myself and my life simultaneously fully present and one step removed. Yoga is the same. It permits me to be the yogi doing the pose while at the same time the witnessing consciousness, observing the waves of sensation in my body.

I come back to Natalie Goldberg’s work, Writing Down the Bones, nearly daily. It is my writing guide and my yoga guide. On every page, she tells us to write. She often uses the word practice in place of write. How fitting that these words interchange. Specifically, she says it’s not enough to simply set the timer and practice. We have to keep writing, but we have to do so in all earnestness, pouring ourselves into the experience with our energy aimed at improving. She even says, “Be willing to put your whole life on the line when you practice.”

This is a bit dramatic. She’s a writer.

As I read through the page this morning, though, and planned a class sequence, I wondered whether I should use Goldberg’s words or Patanjali’s words, as he has said much the same thing. In Sutra 1:14, we are instructed: Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.

We don’t actually improve at yoga or at writing, but we do improve through these things. You can improve through any practice. Whatever you are practicing today – yoga, writing, parenting, partnership, or simple hygiene – stay with it in all earnestness. No matter the task, it is the attendance and earnestness that leads to improvement.

* Of course, I’ve never actually earned much money through writing …