On the Intelligence of Practice

For the first time in nearly five months, I practiced yoga yesterday with a teacher. I walked away from the experience marveling at my persistent idiocy.

Let me explain.

I fell in love with yoga when I bought a ten session pass at a Cebu-based studio way back in 2007 when I first returned to the Philippines from Singapore. I didn’t know anything about yoga then—didn’t even know which particular form of it I was learning at the studio (it was ashtanga)—and I simply assumed that it was just like any other routine physical activity: you memorize a fixed sequence of movements and you do it again and again as a fitness regimen.

Inspired by the stunningly cheap idea of not having to pay for future classes, I secretly memorized the sequence of movements the teachers used (I never learned their names and I frankly didn’t care), and as soon as my ten sessions were over, I literally spent the next four plus years practicing the same movements on my own. I never attended another yoga class and I never bought a single yoga book (I still haven’t, to be honest).

The four years of solo practice had its merits, not least of which was giving me the time to develop a good amount of strength and a fair amount of balance. On the other hand, it was also extremely “unintelligent” practice, because I was doing the poses without understanding what they were supposed to accomplish, why they were arranged a certain way and how best to perform them in order to prevent injury while maximizing benefit.

So when I finally took the yoga teacher training in Boracay last May, I was just . . . stunned (dear God, the poses have a philosophy???). And just a few weeks of (finally) intelligent practice allowed me to do things I couldn’t do (and wouldn’t have even attempted to do) for more than four years.

And then I left Boracay—and I went right back to doing my own thing.

Not surprisingly, my practice stagnated. I started doing things mechanically again and I didn’t progress much beyond the progress I’d made during the teacher training.

And then yesterday, after much insistence from Abbey, I finally returned to a proper yoga shala and—surprise, surprise—in little less than two hours, my teacher corrected a problem that had been plaguing me for months.

All of which simply goes to show that while more practice is necessary, it only works if you’re practicing right.



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