“I have lost the spark for my practice. I have been feeling this way for some time now, about a year, and have tried so hard to remedy this. I don't know what else to do to fix this. I just feel so stagnant and I think I need something new. I feel torn. I just can't commit myself to the practice the way that I should.”
The above statement is part of an email I received recently from a dear student. I’m sharing this because unfortunately, at some point, maybe even now, experiencing a “loss of the spark” for your yoga practice is actually quite normal. What?! Yes, it is normal to sometimes go through times when the practice just feels hard and the motivation for practice is low. Over the past two decades of practice, there have been times when I’ve lost my spark for practice. So, what is “the spark”, my personal description is:
The Spark! You have fun, you enjoy yourself during practice, you can’t wait to practice again. The practice feels alive, energetic, moving, flowing – oh yes alive! It feels like you're swimming in air, peace is possible, everything and everyone is connected, life makes sense and is worth living. Deep gratitude, understanding, caring, inward, without boundaries, yummy . . . BLISS!
When I’ve lost the spark in my practice I . . .
know it! Practice feels hard, heavy, painful. This last year and a half has been one of the most challenging times for my personal yoga practice and my spark had fizzled to a tiny ember. I lost my dear friend, someone who I considered my sister, from alcoholism. I didn’t know she was an alcoholic. When I found out it was too late, she was actively dying. As I went to say my goodbyes I will never forget the feeling of dread, vulnerability and regret. When she passed away the pain felt unbearable, Iike I was being swallowed up and falling into a dark hole. My grief felt magnetized every time I practiced yoga. It felt like my heart was splitting open, my body was retracted and stiff, there was literally immense physical pain almost everywhere, even though I had no injuries. Two months after her death, I had two surgeries back to back. I had to take time off of asana practice to let my body heal. So, I took practice in a devotional way. I spent time studying sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras and chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. I also focused on breathing, just simple breathing. As I was released to start asana practice again, I was dealing with both grief and a recovering body. Gone was third series, second, and even primary. Nothing felt good. Nothing. But I kept practicing. I took it one day at a time and slowly, I started to feel good again. Then, unexpectedly, I had another death in my family, a woman who was like a mother to me. The grief hit like a ton of bricks. I was at square one – physically and emotionally. Gone was any “progress” I had made. So, I did a slow practice again. I focused on breath, I focused on my body, I focused on the life of these two women and how much I loved them, the lessons they shared with me, the memories I’d witnessed sharing their lives. I learned to have deep gratitude for the solitude of my practice, the sadness of my heart, to go deep into the pain. I learned that emotional pain actually created a deep physical pain for me everywhere. I’m sharing my personal struggle not because I want sympathy, I’m sharing because I know that all of you have your own struggles and that whatever they are, no matter how “big or small” are challenging and can wipe the wind out of your sail. I know what it feels like to want to give up because the pain of facing the pain is not fun, is scary, and well . . . it’s painful. This is true for any struggle; injury and illness, grief, depression, problems with personal relationships, an overscheduled calendar or feeling like there’s not enough time in the day, lack of sleep, or even boredom in practice, plateau in practice, impatience and/or frustration with the practice not evolving. These are all life experiences that trigger the spark to lose its fire.
So . . . what kept me going?
To be honest, I did not want to keep practicing, it was a daily source of pain for me. But, what got me through was something my teacher, David Garrigues, told me years ago and is the backbone for my asana practice. David said that you must have one of two things in your practice at all times 1) value and 2) joy (this is what I call “the spark”). You might not always have both but you must have at least one.
I stayed on my mat for the simple reason that I value my yoga practice.
I have faith in the yoga system and its lessons to help connect me to all of the aspects of life. I believe it is good for me physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, without a doubt.
BUT what did my practice look like?
It was the little things that I focused on like grounding my feet, breathing in, breathing out, softening my gaze, sometimes closing my eyes. I would sense the body, sometimes there were tears, sometimes laughter. I broke a LOT of Ashtanga “rules” – meaning I didn’t care what series I did or the order. I went deeply into the very foundation of the practice – the sun salutations and close out. They were life saving for me. I used lots of props, I’d mix it up and got creative. And, there were days that I chose not to practice asana but instead went to my study of the texts and chanting. Let me tell you as a devoted Ashtangi, it takes years of practice to not judge yourself for not practicing! I spent a lot of time upside down in the inversions of the finishing sequence. Somedays I would really challenge myself, others I would be very, very soft and make everything as easy as possible. I would touch my heart as often as possible. I felt the need to hear my teachers voice so I practiced several days each week to David’s videos so I could be led. I began to see by practicing this way the beauty of bearing witness to the unfolding of what “is, is”. One movement at time, one day at a time, I learned to allow myself to just be whatever I needed to be. There were moments of deep sadness, then feelings of unfairness, anger reared her angry head many times, and in the middle of some still moments I felt glimmers and glimpses of a little bit of joy, hope and gratitude for life. I noticed the pain was not as constant as I thought it was, it seemed to sometimes melt away, as if the tears were allowing me to cleanse my being like the rain cleanses the Earth. So, the deep use of the sacred texts, finding my voice with the harmonium, and finding a way to practice that made me feel alive is where I went. Over time by practicing this way, my spark slowly started to rekindle and grace - the elegance and beauty of the exploration of everything that you are and the connection to everything that is - was remembered.
I know this lesson will repeats itself over and over again until somehow, I can clearly “see”; until then, I have a plan for when I forget.
Have YOU lost your spark?
If you’re experiencing a “loss of spark” right now, I encourage you to consider:
What do you value from your yoga practice? Why do you practice yoga?
What might help you feel more joyful in your practice? What might need to change?
Ask for help. If you are lucky enough to have the support of a teacher, it is important let your teacher know. Our job as teachers are to be your resource and support you. If your teacher is remote, I recommend traveling to take a workshop or an immersion with your teacher. If your teacher is in the same town as you, in addition to taking their weekly classes, go to any community talks they give or workshops they teach, or consider asking for a private lesson.
Try stimulating your spark by devotional practices like reading a sacred text, learning a chant, or starting a gentle breathing practice.
My hope for you and your practice
Remember, you are not alone in your struggles, no matter what they are. If you believe in the yoga practice and value it; have faith, never give up! Be creative, be kind to yourself, and be patient.
Love and peace,