Present, Patient Practice

I came across an article in this morning’s sports section of the newspaper that highlighted the Tampa Bay Buc’s quarterback Jameis Winston. He is likely the hardest working player in Tampa Bay, up at 5:30 every morning in order to arrive early for practice, with a daily routine that schedules and accounts for almost every minute until day’s end at 9 p.m.. While certainly an admirable work ethic, that’s not exactly what caught my attention.

Winston believes that “progress is made in the little things, the tiny details.” He tracks all aspects of his practice carefully so at the end of each day he can trace whether it was successful, measured by his improvement in processing necessary information. He scrutinizes daily films evaluating areas of progress. He reminds himself that there are 31 other quarterbacks with similar goals and work ethics and asks himself daily what he is doing to make himself better than those other 31.

The main way he ensures that he is, is by resisting the urge to look ahead to the future imagining big games, playoffs or Super Bowl rings. Instead he stays focused on “what’s now.” The current drill, film session, healthy meal, current weight workout etc.. His coach helps reinforce this by instilling the mantra “patience.” As a companion mantra, he also emphasizes “understanding the situation that we’re working with in any moment, what the practice is that particular day and how he has to subtly adjust his game accordingly.” Sounds like yoga to me!

The practice of yoga, most readily accessible in the asanas or poses, is one of being present and accepting of “what is” in the moment. Our body/mind shifts constantly, always subtly and sometimes more dramatically and we must develop the maturity to tolerate the changes. As we become more dedicated and advanced practitioners, our powers of observation and awareness must keep pace. It’s not enough to simply progress to more challenging or impressive poses much like it’s not as helpful for the football players to simply practice play after play, they have to know where they are in the game. We as yogis need to know where we are in our “game”; the game of inhabiting ourselves, fully supported, truly aligned, moving with intelligence and integrity. We have to be honest that perhaps the lumbar flexibility of our present may or may not allow for all the backbending poses of our yesterday but if we are discerning, creative and adaptive in attitude and practice we can always discover alternatives. When we develop the awareness to notice the placement of our right big toe relative to the left, the effects of our habit of engagement for one shoulder blade compared to the other or how by moving the  skin of the hand from the outside edges inward creates a more evenly balanced  dog pose, we are on our way to subtle yet deeply profound change. Our ability and tenacity to integrate the necessary adjustments is what leads to transformation. That requires patience and long, uninterrupted, unceasing practice.

Winston’s coach allows that the player seems to be getting better at this business of patience, characterizing it as “slow and steady progress.” Winston himself says things are slowing down for him, in a good way. “Patience is a way of controlling everything. To be an effective game manager I always need to be calm, cool and collected. Everything can be going fast for others but it has to be slowed down for me. I have to be the person that brings everybody together and puts us on ‘chill mode.'”

This wisdom isn’t the byproduct of age, he’s 23. It comes with putting in the work, the intelligence of that work and the unceasing practice and patience sustained over long periods of time.

B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that there is a great difference between just practicing and sadhana. He says, “Sadhana is the way of accomplishing something. That something is by correct execution, the achievement of the real. What is real must be true and so lead us toward purity and emancipation. This is yoga sadhana and not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice. The end of yoga sadhana is wisdom. Here he is translating yoga sadhana as ‘the yoga pilgrimage’ as it is a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice. ” Hmm… words to practice by.  Namaste


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