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The Daunting Work Before Us

Is it just me or did 2011 feel like a complete wash? Nothing particularly horrible or great stands out. The small triumph of not letting daily mundane tribulations get the best of me may not rank high on a scorecard but I am nonetheless grateful for having managed to get through relatively unscathed.

An ever-increasing work load that has yet to yield exponential fruits has created an eerie sense of foreboding that makes it difficult to be optimistic. I simply can’t bear any more dashed hope.

This season usually brings with it a strange mix of good intentions, capitalistic undertones and some sort of promise for the future. January is always the biggest attendance month for yoga centers as everyone becomes resolute to do more. I too am usually inclined to take advantage of a turn in calendar to bolster a rosier-colored lens.

Not this year. Idealism has its limits and if the last year is any indication of the rate of change and prosperity going forward then I think we need to prepare ourselves for a long haul. I plan to keep expectations low and bide my time until pleasant surprises are forthcoming.

Recently, I had a dialogue with a fellow yoga teacher who questioned the wisdom of suggesting that we “not push ourselves.” She comes to yoga from a more structural anatomy standpoint and her contention was that this measured sentiment amounts to avoiding “hard” work that needs to be done.

The capacity for yoga practice to effect anatomical change is an interesting topic for another post, but what is relevant here is that attempts to impose anatomical restructuring on a body, divorced from the life situation that is its context, is largely a futile effort.

No amount of strong asana is going to bring in some more money or magically rework the family budget so that my wife and I can explore having a second child without feeling irresponsible. The careful refinement of alignment that I have cultivated for so much of my adult life doesn’t unclench my jaw while I sleep at night.

Right now, most of the folks I meet are working harder than ever before. They don’t need a kick in the ass. They just need to catch a break, which seems to be in awfully short supply these days.

So many of us are already totally over-extended. We keep unreasonable schedules and then blame ourselves when we are not able to do all we want. Something has got to give.

I am a proponent of consistent practice. Given all the experiences that we have no control over but that shape our lives, the benefits of a skillful means to affect our own system favorably are invaluable. I don’t know how I would be getting through without my breathing and moving exercises.

I just think it’s important to be clear about where the real work is, and keep the role of physical practice in perspective. If we make Yoga practice about poses instead of about people then we miss the whole point.

Of course we want to make every effort to encourage change and fashion things more to our liking; however, there is only so much effort that is actually useful. If our efforts are untimely or misdirected then we end up just banging our heads against a wall.

Maybe this year, instead of blowing whatever new years motivation we have in one desperate push that barely makes it to February, let’s keep that motivation close to the chest and dole it out incrementally.

At the intersection of innermost wishes and life’s stark hardship is where the daunting work before us lies. The “hard” work of yoga takes place wherever life is most pressing, when we are confronted by that enigmatic obstacle to a sense of harmony despite the uncertainty.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy.  Visit his website at yogijbrown.com

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maybe it's just you

I though 2011 was extraordinary, and I'm full of optimism about what may come -- not that it will be rewarding financially or will bring fame but that there will be a relaxation, that enough will be fine.

so much potential. what will we do with it?

you sound tired. I recommend sleep. lots of it.

I think 2011 brought some

I think 2011 brought some energy to life (or together?) that will change our world much for the better. In that sense, to me, it has been an extraordinary year, especially in the last 3 months. May this be so.

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