incremental changes on my hatha yoga practice

small changes one day at a time

I’m standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), arms relaxed at my sides, shoulders back, legs rooting into the earth as shafts of early morning light play on the carpet beneath my bare feet. I can hear my breath, and, just below the open window, the bright chatter of birds at the feeders.

On most days I lift my arms to the sky to begin my practice and fold over into a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). But this morning, feeling adventurous, I move into a Standing Twist, shift my weight to my left leg while raising my right knee, then place my left hand on my knee and twist to the right.  I cast my gaze over my right shoulder, surprised that I can see a little more of the room than I could see a month ago.

Slowly, I lower my knee, shift my weight to my right leg, raise my left knee, and twist in the opposite direction. Again, my view is broader, more expansive, taking in more of the room than I expect to see. As I move deeper into the twist, I think about the changes in my hatha yoga practice over the past year and how each change has come in barely noticeable stages.

Before I started practicing hatha yoga, I was impatient and expected changes–such as feeling at home in a new city or feeling comfortable in a new job–to occur almost immediately. At the end of the year, I’d try setting new resolutions, only to find myself feeling disappointed weeks later when the changes didn’t occur.

Since practicing hatha yoga, though, I’ve learned to accept that each millimeter’s extra twist in my poses, each change in my life, requires time and patience.  My practice has helped me see that small changes are the steps that lead to bigger changes. No longer do I expect to feel at home in a new city or new job after only a few weeks. Nor do I expect to do an advanced pose like Upward Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana) before my arms, legs, and back muscles gain the strength to allow me to push up into the pose. Time and practice have taught me to work toward change gradually, to understand that change comes not in huge steps but in small, almost microscopic measurements.

Changes in my practice and in my life are almost invisible at times, but they lead to parallel changes in my perspective and in my emotions. No matter how small or seemingly inconsequential the changes in my body””just like the small changes that I noticed in my twists this morning””the recognition of the slightest change brings about a subtle, incremental shift in my perspective for the better.

My hatha yoga practice has taught me this: our bodies change from moment to moment, and over the year our attitudes and perspectives change, too. Each increment of change brings with it a new and deeper understanding of who we are””and what we’re capable of””in each moment. What matters, I remind myself as I list new resolutions for the coming year, is making the effort, and noticing the increments of change as they unfold.


Bruce Black is the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press). He lives in Sarasota, FL with his wife and daughter. You can follow more of his work at his yoga blog: Writing Yoga with Bruce Black.

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