'Through repetition, the magic is forced to rise'
I often think about what it might feel like to practice yoga for the first time. I think about this for my students - to meet them where they are, and to offer generously and spaciously to their needs. I also reflect about this with the nostalgia that comes from memory: the quality of thrill and struggle I felt when I did my first few Sun Salutations, will never be again. At least not in the same way.
Being able to look back to the beginning of something, also means looking back at what has changed, and what has enabled those shifts. In yoga, like in many activities that require practice, the transformation is gradual, oftentimes subtle or inconspicuous, and not without commitment or moments of discomfort. In other words, lots and lots of repetition.
I've recently been reminded of this, not so much from my yoga practice; but from starting to play a new instrument - the beautiful hand-pumped organ used in some yogic traditions, known as the harmonium.
Being a beginner again has brought me closer to a childlike innocence, to playfulness and to curiosity. I'm also reconnecting to that quality of thrill and struggle that feels honest and humbling.
What I have learned over the last seven weeks of learning the harmonium is that building a practice responds to a narrative arch that moves from the uncomfortable to the more comfortable, from the unfamiliar to the more familiar, from the hard to the less hard, from the mysterious to the awe-inspiring. It also seems to me that the vessel moving me through this journey of discovery is - repetition: revisiting the same melodies, the same sequences or the same postures over and over again, until, as Sharon Gannon says, 'the magic is forced to rise'.
Think about the last yoga posture, sequence or other skill that you recently conquered, or at least one which has felt more accessible than it had in the past. For me, the classic one is Plank Pose. The first time I attempted a high plank, my shoulders, core and breath, buckled in the first five seconds of stillness. Over time, the pose has begun to feel easier and I've been able to exceed the five-second hold. I have also experienced other feeling nouns like strength, steadiness, confidence and overall badass-ness.
What seems true to me from the arch (or art?) of repetition is that its magic lies, in part, in the opportunities for growth and expansion that it unravels. I would also argue - and learning the harmonium has helped me see more clearly - to repeat the same thing over and over again puts us on the path to discovering our unique expression and individuality.
Once the notes and the melody are memorised and integrated; and once the alignment and anatomical positions are felt and understood, then the practice becomes embodied. When this happens, repetition transforms from the vessel that enables learning, to the container for our self-expression. It is our pose, it is our song. Our voice and our bodies speak from the depths of our truths. At last, it is then that we seem to forget what it was like at the beginning and begin to feel into who we are, underneath the mechanics of function.
Photo credit (plank pose): Elle Lorean