How do you view progress? In yoga, do you feel like bigger is better and what about life? Read on to find out how Kate Walker found that sometimes progress lies in simplicity.
My view on progress has changed dramatically from when I was younger to today. Just like my view on what success is, what happiness is, what ‘enough’ is – I’ve reevaluated it all. When I started yoga in my teens, and throughout my 20’s, I was after the ‘party-trick poses’ – the impressive looking fancy poses. I pushed hard to make my body contort and wouldn’t give up until I could do something physically and visually impressive. I strived to get to the next pose, and the next, and the next. It went alongside my desire, at the time, to push for bigger and better things, to carve out my place in the world. However, it felt (although I didn’t know any different at the time) somewhat emotionally and energetically empty.
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the wise man calls the butterfly
I injured myself. I subluxed a rib and found breathing painful. I had to reevaluate my practice, and my teaching as I had been demonstrating strong vinyasa classes that had creative ‘choreographed’ (and not particularly sensibly sequential) sequences. To make it easier for students to understand my verbal cues without physical demonstration, I had to simplify. At that time, I found my teacher, Max Strom, whose sequences were simple, slow and incredibly emotionally powerful. It was eye opening for me. I focused, in my own practice and in my classes, more on synching the breath and movement in straightforward and inclusive sequences, and found I could get into a moving meditation more deeply that way.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
As my London classes got busier and busier (I was one of the busiest teachers at triyoga and taught over 500 people a week), I worked hard to refine my verbal cues, to simplify my sequences and allow the students to find in their yoga what I loved about my own practice – a journey within, a moving meditation. Only then did I realise that what I had thought was ‘progress’ of doing a bigger and better pose, was no longer true for me. Progress had become going deeper within, more truthful and pure, more honest and balanced.
What is progress?
I witness students thinking they have to push and pull in order to ‘progress’. But I’ve come to believe progression in yoga is often about learning to listen to the body more intimately and carefully, learn when to rest as well as when to explore a deeper version of a pose. The wisdom, patience and humility that comes from a more ‘advanced’ yoga practice sometimes means taking more of a level 1 option over level 3. This, to me, is similar to the wisdom, patience and humility that often (although not always) comes with age in life – I’m much more willing and able to enjoy sitting and listening to birdsong without thinking that’s a ‘waste of time’ as I probably would have thought in my early 20’s.
In Classes Now
When teaching now, I specialise in offering different options throughout a practice, empowering the student to mix and match their choices at every turn. Thus, being able to honour how they feel that day, that moment, during that breath. I often invite people to listen to the sound of their own breath to learn how to gage what is too much, when they are pushing too aggressively. Hopefully, by learning their habits on the safety and sanctuary of their own yoga mat, they will learn about their habits off the yoga mat too, and the can develop compassion towards themselves and their own bodies that can serve throughout their lives.
So be patient. Work towards creating balance in body, mind and spirit over working towards touching your toes. Work towards a deeper sense of contentment and joy – this is progress, in yoga as well as in life.
More about Kate Walker:
Kate Walker specialises in teaching multi-option flow combined with restorative yoga to students of all levels. She creates simple, progressive sequences which allow her students to flow with an attention to both their physical alignment and breath. She links You can find out more about Kate and her work on her website.