In Yoga Thoughts

When we stay both hungry and humble, there is nothing that we cannot do.”

Earlier this week I included handstand in one of my yoga classes. For the students in class that day, it made sense to have them work on this challenging and exciting hand-balance at the wall. As we came back together afterwards, one student asked, “What’s the end game in that posture? Where are we headed?” I described the evolution from a handstand against a wall into a free-standing handstand in the middle of the room. My student smiled and gave me the perfect yoga response:

“Well, I sure have a long way to go between here and there, but it’s good to know where I’m going.”

Why was her response perfect? Because it crystallizes a concept in yoga called desireless practice. To engage in desireless practice, does not mean that we do not want to eventually get “there.” Not at all. It means that we are perfectly content to be at each step along the way between “here” (where we are right now) and “there” (to borrow my student’s expression, the posture’s end game). Desireless practice is a way to find the sweet spot between being hungry and being humble.

When we are hungry, we are willing to do the hard work required of us. Blood, sweat and tears? Sure. Elbow grease? Absolutely. Go the extra mile? Happily. Our hunger has us fully engaged and inspired. Our hunger gives us heaps of hope and a sense of possibility.

When we are humble, we are willing to try. We are willing to accept less than perfection because we know that we are decidedly less than perfect. When we are humble, we are willing and eager to learn. We are, in other words, exceedingly teachable. When we are humble, we are forgiving with ourselves. We are also gentle – not so gentle that we’re not trying hard, but gentle enough that we don’t beat ourselves up when we don’t succeed.

Desireless practice is the balance between hungry and humble. When we are engaging in desireless practice, we allow our destination – the full expression of the posture in yoga – to inspire and to guide each of our attempts. We also trust that each of our attempts is perfectly enough. Even the tiniest of baby steps is progress, after all. And if we don’t take a step forward, that’s OK too. Trying has served to solidify what we’ve already learned.

Desireless practice is profoundly liberating because it frees us from the bondage of our desires. So, you might be thinking, if I still want to get “there” eventually, isn’t that a desire? Maybe, but desireless practice transforms your desire to get “there” from a mindset that makes anything less than success a disappoint into a perspective that recognizes progress as the “win” that it is. How freeing is that?

Whether you’ve decided to learn to stand on your hands, or to write a novel, or to plant a vegetable garden or to play a Mozart sonata, pause for a second and consider what desireless practice would look like for you. How do you find the sweet balance between being hungry and being humble? Can you imagine your “end game” being inspiring rather than daunting? Can you imagine specific baby steps that you can celebrate?

If you can, you are well on your way. For when you are both hungry and humble, there is truly nothing that you cannot do … one day.

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