The 1 Thing That Matters Most For Learning Yoga – Ekaminhale
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The 1 Thing That Matters Most For Learning Yoga

What is the most important thing you should focus on when starting or continuing to learn modern postural yoga?

The first thing that pops into my head and probably you as well is how to do the postures. 

I disagree. 

The asanas (postures) are important but not the most important

The Focusing Question

“What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” - Gary Keller, The One Thing

This question is used to harness the power of the 80/20 principle.

Vilfredo Pareto's observation of a natural law that 80% of outcomes are a result of 20% of inputs. 

The focusing question takes it further. 

It attempts to zero in on the 1% of inputs that will produce 99% of desired outcomes.

From what I’ve observed is that for new students (less than 5 years of practice) overcoming difficult asanas is not the 1%.

And if you focus on what is it will make the asana's not unnecessary but definitely easier. 

So what is the one thing? 


The repetition of showing up to practice and repeating what you have already been taught. 

Seems simple right? Then why do so many people fall off?

Obstacles to Repetition

Modern life is more demanding than ever. Demanding of two limited resources. 

Time and energy. 

Not only do we have physical responsibilities like work, family, chores & hobbies but now we have our online world to deal with - email, messages and the optional but highly addictive social media.

When the initial enthusiasm of a daily practice wears off and then life responsibilities increase the first reaction is often to skip a practice or two. Then a week. Then before long they stop coming altogether. 

If you find the practice so physically demanding that you don’t have energy for anything else after then what is a person supposed to do?

Here is where a simple misunderstanding leads to a missed opportunity. 

An opportunity to show up to your life's responsibilities with energy and mental clarity and deepen your practice. 

It just takes a slight shift in perspective. 

 Practice vs Workout 

The distinction between these two words is extremely important because one leads to learning yoga and the other leads to burning out, getting hurt then quitting. 

When we practice something the purpose is to cultivate a skill. 

The more you practice, repeat the same thing, the better you get. 

Working out is different. It works against getting better because stops repetition.

"workout is a relatively new word in the English language -- only about 100 years old. It supposedly originated in boxing jargon. It is formed, in my opinion, on the pattern of 'run out' or 'play out', in both of which the word out is added to indicate "all the way", "to completion", "exhaustively", or "until nothing is left". Hence, a workout is the expending of effort (that is, working) until no further work can be done. The exhaustion of the body thus forms something like a parallel with the exhaustion of, say, supplies." - Mark Werner, Longtime student of exercise physiology

Let me illustrate this point with some simple numbers 

The Workout Approach

If I think "I want to be able to do all asana's right now and if I just work extra hard then I will be able to do them faster"

Seems like it might work except - the supply of physical energy is limited.

If I take this approach and give 100% effort in my practice on day 1 it leaves nothing left for my practice the next day. I'm exhausted and out of supplies. 

I also have nothing left for all the responsibilities in my life.

It will take me 2 or 3 days to recover which means 1 time practicing in 3 days.

3 out 7 days a week equals 12 practices a month which equals 144 practices in a year. 

The Practice Approach

I think to myself "mastery of a skill takes practice and repetition and the body needs time to recover as I adapt and change so I will be patient"

With this in mind I do 50 to 70% effort each day so I can come back the next day, then the next, then the next till I have my rest day.

Following the Ashtanga system I’ve got 6 practices in 1 week with no Moon Day.

Lets say the second week there is one Moon day so I do 5

In two weeks thats 11 practices. 

In a month 22. 

In a year 264 practices. 

120 X practices!

In 10 years that is 1200 X more practices. 

So you get more energy for your day, more time practicing and better results.

That solves the energy issue but what about having no time?

Depth Beats Breadth

"It's rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill setDepth beats breadth, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential." - Josh Waitzken, The Art of Learning

The basic skill set? Ekam inhale, dve exhale, trini inhale..... 

Sun Salutations with focus on the breath.  

Another seemingly logical assumption to make about yoga is that progression in practice means a longer with more and more new asanas.

It's another example of the W.Y.S.I.A.T.I. bias - What you see is all there is. Meaning you don't consider what you don't see. 

Like many aspects of yoga there is a lot more than just what is visible.  

Making more shapes with your body is one direction for progressing but there is a more valuable one.

Inward. Deeper. 

The more times you repeat the same asana the more it reveals. Reveal what?

The rarely explored internal environment of our own bodies. 

After 15 years I can't believe how much I keep learning in Sun Salutations. 

What they can teach is like a bottomless well of knowledge if you pay attention.

Through repetition of these same movements I keep refining the detail of the inner map of my own body. 

You become an inner explorer and next thing you'll be wearing a Sri Yantra tank top

Through this practice of repetition the student develops an awareness of their own being and biology that ultimately leads to a greater understanding of nature and life itself.  


The One Item Check List

The one action that will result in 99% of the outcome you want from yoga is showing up each day to practice. 

When you do this one thing it will set up your mind and your body to meet the day with more clarity and insight.

For this reason it is the most important thing I do each day. 

Years ago I designed this app to make sure it got done. It's a one item checklist and I do first thing every morning. 

Ekaminhale Practice Tracker 

To learn how to download the app for free click here

One single check mark that you click or don't click. 

Many people tell me it helps them get their practice done just to get the checks. 

Once you decide to complete this step then you will begin to get 80% of the results.

Completing this task will take care of a lot of the learning but not everything


The Obstacle is the Way

Overcoming obstacles in practice is what I've been doing for the last 15 years. I'm not one of those people who could do the practice easily. It took me 9 years to get do Primary Series.

14 before I could do it without modifications. 

I went through almost every injury - both knees, back, elbow the list goes on. 

Growth creates new limits. 

What matters is learning how to get through them. 

How I got through these injuries and what I learned is what I teach in the Strong Foundations email list.

Its my way of documenting my journey and personal learning experience to achieve two purposes. 

1. Clarify my thinking so I can speak the truth to the best of my ability.

2. Help anyone else who's interested in what I have to say so that it helps them  in their yoga practice.

To get on that list click here. 

Till then, 

Keep practicing.



  • Jill

    Thank you. I needed to hear this. I too have been stuck on Primary for years. I have to remind myself that outward “progress” is not the whole picture.

  • Lisa

    Thank You❤️

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