May 2022: On Maintenance

what to do if you find yourself in the plateau

Today, 7am on 11 May 2022

Sooner or later, in life, you reach a plateau. The novelty wears off the new house, the relationship, the practice. The honeymoon phase wanes off and a routine sets in. This is where I am right now with my physical yoga practice. I call this the maintenance mode. It is not the first time I find myself in it, for the whole world is expansion and contraction.

In the Yoga Sūtras , Patañjali tells us that we obtain the state of yoga, the stilling of the movements of consciousness, through practice and non attachment. Non attachment to what? The outcome of our actions. So we act for the sake of it, the action itself, not to get anything from it. Like most things in my life, yoga is often attached to the idea of progress. If I do this, I will get better at it. Is this why one should do anything? Can I renounce the outcome, reconcile what I do with what is in the present moment (not with what I want it to be in the future), with joy and still turn up day after day?

In his book Mastery, George Leonard writes: ‘sooner or later we must come to the realisation that a good life is one lived in the plateau’. Maintenance in an acceptance of the appropriateness of the circumstances, in my case, accumulated tiredness and a resistance to the world as it was before the pandemic. Injury, illness and the limitations of my body (ageing, anatomy, stress) also have a tendency to bring this home to me. Life is full of instances where the need for maintenance is made apparent. This is why we sleep, why we have circadian rhythms. This acceptance can be hard work: it is in the plateau of maintenance that I profoundly understand why the most sacred of Yoga texts, The Bhagavad Gītā, happens in a battlefield.

When evidence of progress is not visible, it presents a conflict. This makes me think that perhaps my idea of progress is skewed. How can I embrace the plateau wholeheartedly and with loving presence rather than become frustrated by it, demoralised, stuck? How do I practice for its own sake and not in the hope that it will yield something? How can I be in this present moment and not believe that something better is happening elsewhere?

I have been re-reading Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceand it has reminded me this maintenance mode I find myself in is indeed an art. He calls it the most important aspect of all because ‘caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted’. Maintenance is repair, healing, but it is often seen as dull, awkward, dirty, heavy, oppressive and ugly, like the mechanical maintenance Pirsig considers. He juxtaposes this mode to the romantic which tends to be frivolous, irrational, shallow, of no substance, interested primarily in pleasure-seeking. This made me laugh because of how accurately it describes my yoga practice:

Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue what one sees because of commitment to previous values. In motorcycle maintenance, you must rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values makes this impossible.

So I have to look again, with fresh beginner’s eyes, at what I do, what I have done for many years. This time, softening the gaze, without expectations. The plateau is daily life, the plateau is living. We keep brushing out teeth, sweeping the floor, cutting our nails, rotating our meals, washing the dishes. We don’t tend to see the limitations of our teeth brushing technique until we are unable to do it. We just do it and let it go. This is the most difficult type of effort: effortless effort, peaceful effort.

What I have been reading

Adam Keen writes about the plateau in a post about beginners, which I found very comforting:

Getting stuck on the Plateau
… beginning very quickly comes to be related to continuing. For this reason, we need to understand how to deal with the plateau. For, at the start, we seem to progress incredibly quickly, almost daily progress can be seen with our own eyes. However, when this progress slows down, which it inevitably does, we enter onto the plateau with yoga …

This means that we have to use every method and trick in the book to keep us at it … all of these are around consistency … yoga in the end, becomes enmeshed into our very lifestyle – yoga as a lifestyle. Then, it is harder not to do it than to do it, for it is part of our daily routine.

So, how do we make this happen?
·      Try to pick the same time and place to practice each day. Regularity helps us with motivation. We build strength through habit and familiarity is a big part of this.
·      Use online resources carefully for motivation. A little can help, a lot, or the wrong type can be dispiriting.
·      DO NOT beat yourself up if you can’t face doing ALL of it. Instead, roll out your mat anyway and do what you can. …

Don’t let the great get in the way of the good.
·      DO NOT judge yourself. Sometimes, you just have to put your mind to it and not look to the left or the right.
·      Watch for any little sign of something you did better today
·      Get your information clear. There is nothing like doubt and uncertainty to make you inconsistent in your approach to what you do …

It is your practice from day 1 and that there is no level of expertise better … than a beginners’ mind … On the other hand, you also have to build on this carefully. Go slowly, and allow the suck it and see methodology into your approach. If it works, keep it, if it doesn’t let it go. Which means, one has to work pragmatically and with the long-haul in mind. Remember, nothing is worthwhile that came to easily, and few things that came too easily prove to be truly sustainable or worthwhile in the long-term.

What I have been practicing

As an ashtanga practitioner, I have a long and demanding physical sequence which at times of maintenance, gets in my way. Then, I love to practice David Swenson’s short forms, bringing attention to a few postures done with presence, or my teacher Sudhir’s 7 asana, which work on the glands and the 6 movements of the spine. When I practice like this, I don’t do ujjayi breath, I often close my eyes in the poses and I try to rest the mind from counting, turning all my senses inwards to notice what needs to be maintained.

Sudhir’s 7 asana practice
David Swenson’s 15 minute practice. In his book Ashtanga Yoga The Practice Manual, he also has a short form of 30 minutes and 45 minutes.

What I have been dreaming of

Sandra Schultze captures the magical mountain practice. Watch her video of our retreat.

I complicate life too much sometimes. I suppose we all do. And this often shows up in my practice. Then it reaches a point where flow is hard work and I need a re-set. Just like at times my body needs a massage, or some wholesome food. This re-set is my time with Kia in the Spanish mountains. My practice gets stripped of all the silly things I pile on top, physically and mentally, and it becomes once again what it should be: medicine.

2 spots just opened for this yearly Retreat to the Mountain Shala in Spain August 1-13th. This is the session Yotam, Sandra and I will be assisting! If you want to find a sustaining practice or come out of maintenance more, do join us.More info here:

In preparation, I have been listening to the sound journey Yotam and Kia have created from our time last year. Walks, breath, teachings, songs, parties, friendships … When we are there, we have it all!


There are only a handful opportunities to join me in practice before September, as I go away to study pranayama with Sudhir, teacher training with David Swenson and to my beloved mountains to spend a month with Kia. While I am away in June, Kat will cover my love Thursday morning Mysore class. You know how wonderful she is from her Saturday class. Join her on these rare weekday, early morning sessions!

ONLINE | Pranayama | £5
Tuesday 31 May, 07.15 – 08.30, optional Q&A until 09.00
Tuesday 21 June,
07.15 – 08.30, optional Q&A until 09.00

LIVE at the Arlington Baths | Yoga (Mysore) | £11/£9
Thursday 02 June, 07.15 – 09.00
Thursday 23 June, 07.15 – 09.00

I will also be covering Judi Farrell at Merchant City Yoga on her legendary Counted Primary Series on Sunday 29 May, 12.30-14.00. There are live and online spots available. Book here.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland classes will be running until Friday 3 June (students) and Monday 6 June (staff).

Staff: Mondays, 1 – 2
Students: Wednesdays, 5 – 6 / Fridays, 1 – 2

Contact HR for details if you are staff or check RCS sport’s facebook page if you are a student.