You may be doing the wrong practice, or doing the practice wrong….
…Or you may just need to be patient.
As any experienced practitioner knows, progress in yoga is not linear. Often, we feel stuck in our practice simply because we have reached a plateau, and while progress is not outwardly visible, underneath the surface, the practice is still working and, at some stage in the future, will bear fruit.
Assuming that you are practicing regularly, this will generally mean that after weeks or months of apparently fruitless struggle, things will start to become easy again. You can expect a few days or weeks of “yoga bliss” when everything seems to be working exactly as you want, before, probably, reaching another plateau and possibly feeling stuck again. In this case, which is probably the most common reason why people feel stuck, patience (one of the ten perfections in Buddhism) is all that’s required. Curb your ambition, enjoy your practice, and, as Patthabi Jois would probably have said “all is coming”.
But there may be other reasons why you are not progressing in your practice.
One reason is that you may be doing the practice wrong.
This should be checked with an experienced teacher, well versed in the style of yoga you are practising. This is one of the main reason why it is not recommended to practice without a teacher. A good teacher will know that you are practising wrong, and help you get your practice back on track, where, left on your own, you would be wasting time or even injuring yourself.
However, another, and potentially more serious reason could be that you are doing the wrong practice.
We once had on one of our residential courses a very dedicated ashtanga practitioner who hadn’t progressed much passed first series in her many years of practice. Her back bending was poor and her teacher (rightly) wouldn’t let her go pass ustrasana, which she was struggling with.
She was clearly a very ambitious and somewhat aggressive woman, a typical Pitta temperament to use the terminology of Ayurveda, and as far as both of us could judge, a heating practice like ashtanga was not (or was no longer!) what she needed to remain in balance. Unfortunately, she also seemed to be very attached to her ashtanga way, and found it difficult to switch to a softer practice such as yin or meditation, which was probably all what she needed to do, at least for a while.
Dedicated practitioners often get attached to their practice, turning it into a habit long after it has stopped being helpful. In yoga, as in life, it is quite common to see people stuck into old practice (job, relationship, habits…) that no longer serve them. And unfortunately, if you are stuck in the wrong practice, talking to your usual teacher probably won’t help. If the practice that they are teaching you is the wrong one for you, they may not have the insight or the integrity needed to know and let you know this. They, too, could be stuck with the same practice, or simply won’t want to loose a dedicated student.
Talking to another experienced teacher in a different style may however help you untie that knot. In his book “A Path with heart”, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield mentions the case of a student who practised sincerely under a great Kundalini yoga teacher, but whose practice was making him more tense, agitated and scattered. In desperation, he asked a Tibetan lama what was wrong, and, after careful questioning, the lama concluded that the student had been given the wrong practice. Quite surprised, the student said that his teacher only taught that one practice! Wrong teacher. This student was lucky to find a knowledgeable lama, most of us have to figure that for ourselves.
So, to sum it all up, what do you do when you feel that you are not progressing in your yoga practice?
1) Be patient and keep practising.
2) Talk to your teacher (or a teacher experienced in the style of yoga you are practising) to find out if you are doing anything wrong.
3) And finally, talk to another experienced teacher to find out if that practice is right for you.