Recently a student stopped and chatted with me after class. He coaches college athletics and, in his view as a trainer of sport, wondered about the repetitive nature of a yoga practice. At the moment, I didn’t have a great answer, and he wasn’t asking a question but instead making a statement. Nevertheless, this conversation stuck with me. Inside, I knew there was a difference, yet I couldn’t find words to clarify what I felt.
I like clear and straightforward answers. Over the years of my yoga training, so much of it has been instrumental in how I do everyday life. I’ve come to learn that I don’t really know something if I can’t share it in its most clear and simplistic form.
The difference between practice and training was what we were missing in the conversation after class that day.
What is Training
Training as a verb means to develop and improve, whether physically or mentally. Training is a learning experience gained through instruction or practice. In training, one pursues a goal of enhanced performance, culminating in a future moment. You train for something: the big game, the finals, the championship.
What is Practicing
One practices yoga.
Using practice as a verb, an action, means to observe the teaching and rules, in this case, of yoga. There is no final, future, someday moment. Rather, practice is a moment-by-moment phenomenon. Practice happens in a right-now moment; then it’s over. Then there is a new right-now moment, and another, and another…unending.
I didn’t get this for many years of my yoga practice until I learned we are practicing principles, not poses.
How did I miss that for so many years?
Suddenly, the pose itself doesn’t matter the way it once did.
The pose is necessary in so much as it reveals the mysteries of the principle. Breath is a fundamental principle of any style of yoga class. I often hear short breaths, holding of breath, and constricted exhales as students muscle and push their way through poses with no principle evidenced in practice. What is left is performance and not a very trained one.
In yoga done as practice, you could never get injured, never push too far. It just isn’t possible.
Injury happens when practicing poses only. When practicing principles, breath by breath, you get more deeply connected to every part of yourself, resulting in a sense of wholeness and balance. It’s why yoga has been around for 6,000 years.
Despite ourselves and a tendency to focus on the external, it has a way of pulling us into the right-now moment, even when we aren’t helping it to do so.
Now that you know to practice the principles, not the poses, you have the power to generate results beyond what was otherwise possible. What is left is to discover new principles throughout a lifetime of practice. And, even if you only ever practice the principle of breath, you can expect a lifetime of discovery and new awakenings!
Written By Lisa Taylor: Female Business Owner, World-Class Yoga Instructor, and Owner and Founder of Evolution Power Yoga