When I was first learning Ashtanga yoga, I often challenged myself to focus on different aspects of the practice. Sometimes it was a one-day challenge, sometimes a weekly challenge. I might focus on breath or bandhas or a certain transition.
The first challenge for new practitioners, of course, is to get to the shala and put down your mat for practice. If that’s your current challenge, go ahead and pick out three days that you will come to the shala this week. Specific days, and specific times. And then do it. When those days come, do not entertain any internal discussion about whether you should or shouldn’t come to the shala. Just get up, get out of your house, and get to the shala. NO THINKING ABOUT IT! Seriously. That’s the discipline: not to think about whether to go.
If you’re killing it on the “get to the shala” challenge, you might be taking the “memorizing the sequence” challenge. If you are focused on memorizing the poses in your practice, take some time each day (or a few times each day) to go over each posture in your mind. It can be especially nice to do the review as you lie in bed before going to sleep. Plus, the nightly review will get you psyched for the next day’s practice when you get to try it in real life!
If you are good with getting to the shala and have your poses memorized, here’s an exercise you can do that will help you for the lifetime of your practice. It’s called “DO NOT THINK AHEAD.” This is a concept that is addressed in the Yoga Sutras, and it’s pretty much what meditation is all about. If you find yourself thinking about your practice as a daunting mountain of poses, you aren’t practicing “do not think ahead.” Here’s how you do the exercise: Roll out your mat. Take your first breath. DO NOT THINK AHEAD. Be in the pose you are practicing. With each next breath, DO NOT THINK AHEAD.
Controlling your mind, which Sharath says is the whole point of the practice, means you are making no mind motions. If you pay attention to your mind, you’ll find that it is busy obsessing about stuff from the past, or busy projecting into the future. You can use the DO NOT THINK AHEAD technique in your practice to shut that stuff down! Once you do your practice this way for a good while, you’ll discover that your mind is much more stable and focused. It won’t freak out about new challenges, because it won’t default to fearfully projecting into the future, obsess about past failures, or think about how difficult the challenge might be.
Diligent daily practice confers an invisible but very powerful super power: the ability to stay focused on the current moment. If you think ahead to the big practice ahead of you, it might seem impossible. If you just take that first breath and then stay with each subsequent breath, WITHOUT THINKING AHEAD – you will be able to comfortably accomplish anything.