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It’s been referenced and quoted because it’s true and it’s awesome. Anyone practicing Ashtanga Yoga should listen to Master Yoda.

Just in case you were abducted by aliens and spent the last thirty years in deep space, there is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back in which Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force. As usual, Luke is whiny, impatient, untrusting, and frustrated. When Luke weakly says that he’ll try to do something, Yoda replies, “do or do not. There is no try.” Here’s the youtube clip of said scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqOQLl7qmw8&NR=1

Luke misses Yoda’s teaching, completely. Luke is so hung up on the result of lifting the x-wing out of the swamp that he fails to see that he’s put in what I would consider a very strong first attempt. After all, up to that point, he’s been levitating rocks, backpacks and R2D2.

Luke doesn’t believe that he can lift the x-wing and doesn’t understand that his first attempt is the start of a process that will lead in time to being able to do it. Luke cannot see that Yoda’s abilities are the product of his many years of practice and gradual mastery. I imagine Guruji, if he was instructing Luke, saying with his loving grin, “Today lifting stones. Tomorrow, whole fighter. No Problem.”

In yoga practice, there is no difference between folding forward to touch one’s head to one’s knee or putting one’s leg behind one’s head. If there’s a difference, it’s only a matter of degree and intensity and it’s the process of taking practice that allows one to move from one to the other.

I was unbelievably stiff when I started practicing ashtanga yoga and most elements of the asanas seemed impossible. In those first few years, I was perpetually confronted with things I couldn’t yet do that others in class had mastered. Over time, my body opened and my mind opened to the process of unlearning the word “impossible”. Each difficult asana that I slowly became able to do fully gave me faith in the practice and courage when I confronted the next new ‘impossible’ asana.

It’s easy to sympathize with Luke. It genuinely seems like he’s being asked the impossible. He looks at the rocks and the x-wing and rightly, from a particular point of view, wonders if Yoda’s got to be joking. But, if I had had the same reaction to my stiff body as Luke to the x-wing, I would have quit practicing within the first week or may have walked out of my first class.

I contend, that if Luke were more patient and had more faith in the process, he’d be less frustrated. If he kept in mind all the ‘impossible’ things he had learned since the beginning of his training, his attitude would be quite different. What if instead of throwing a tantrum, he returned to the edge of the water each day, sat down and practiced lifting the x-wing. What if he approached lifting the fighter like he had the rocks? In this case, he wouldn’t be trying, he would be doing, even if he only began by lifting 1% of the fighter for days on end.

It also cannot be overestimated how important trust and faith are when it comes to yoga practice. We have to have faith in the process of practice and trust that difficult asanas will improve even when doubts and frustrations emerge. We have to believe even when faced with what seems “impossible.” Yoda gives Luke a very large dose of tough love when he says that his lack of belief is why he fails. Harsh but true.

Patanjali asserts practice becomes consistent and (we can infer evolves) only if done for a long time without interruption and with devotion (“Yoga Sutras” I:14). When we get on our mats daily, and have patience and faith in what we’re doing, there is no “try”. We are in the process of doing. 1% of 1% becomes 100% in the long run and those who waste their energy “trying” and forgetting the process usually quit due to frustration or burn out.

Those who quit often abandon practice because they lack the faith in the process required to persevere. Guruji always told us “all is coming” but it only comes if we do the work and have faith simultaneously. “There is no try” because trying results in an action devoid of belief and process. Trying implies that the result is all or nothing and leads to feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure. It causes us to throw up our arms and give up like Luke. Yoda tells Luke his lack of belief is the cause of his failure. With belief and practice, we can “do” with the proper attitude and 0 becomes 1%, becomes 50%, becomes 100% in time.

– thanks Rachelle for your helpful suggestions, patience and proof-reading

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