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I am getting back to a daily asana practice.  It has been hit and miss for a while, life having had its say and all.  A while back, I attended classes in a local Ashtanga studio, where I was immediately humbled and happily re-discovered beginner’s mind.  After trying some other classes around town, I am returning to that same Ashtanga studio.

Ashtanga yoga is a vinyasa style practice, meaning the poses flow in a sequence, following the breath.  Within the Ashtanga tradition the flow follows a very specific series of poses.  There is a warm up sequence, a standing and balancing sequence, then the pose series you happen to be working on (primary, intermediate, advanced) followed by a closing sequence.

Most people I know (who know anything about Ashtanga yoga) either love it or hate it.  Athletes tend to be drawn to an ashtanga practice because it requires you to be strong  (and if you are not, you will be if you keep at it).  It also seems to attract driven, goal oriented people. This is not your wishy-washy-whenever practice.  It requires a high level of commitment.  I’ve also noticed that when I read bios of Ashtanga teachers, it seems like they all say something along the lines of  “I knew after my first class it would be my life practice.”

I did not have that love-at-first-pose reaction. I am still just a bit lukewarm about Ashtanga practice.  That could change, however.  Here’s my baseline (quick and biased) summary of my experience so far:

Likes:

  • I do love the idea of being strong. And I still love a good challenge. Had I discovered Ashtanga yoga back in my bodybuilding days, I believe I would have loved it immediately.
  • Flexibility is a given.  If I do this every day, not only will I be strong, but I will be more flexible.  Strength, flexibility, stamina.  All built right in.  I ask a lot of my body in this context, and my body responds.
  • I love the jump-backs, and the jump-forwards.  I can’t do them well, and I can’t jump through to sitting yet, but I love the idea of learning to fly. That alone is motivating.  I will get these.
  • I love how it all strengthens the core.
  • I really like the Mysore style of practice.  The room is open for personal practice, and instructors are there to help you as you need it, but everyone works at their own pace and level.  It is nice to work in a silent room, with everyone focused intently on their own practice while taking advantage of a group focus.  It’s like meditating in a group – easier to stay with it.

Dislikes:

  • Um, where are the other limbs? Ashtanga means Eight Limbs, and is known as the eight fold path of yoga.  So far, in the class setting I’ve seen emphasis on the asana practice with very little attention to the actual philosophy of yoga.  Why, for example, THIS particular sequence of poses? What is the rationale of having this pose follow that one?
  • And what is with the extreme focus on achieving a particular form?  Where are the prep poses that will help me get there?  You want me to do WHAT??
  • Memorizing the sequence of poses takes my attention away from being in any given pose in that particular moment.  I find myself thinking always of what comes next instead of focusing on the breath, and being totally present.  In fact, I find myself frequently forgetting to breathe.   (I am sure that will change as I learn the series.)
  • It is HARD.  I am TIRED.  Mysore practice starts at 6 a.m. Ugh.  My body is fatigued and emotional, and I just can’t focus. (All of which has to do with me at the moment, and my own judgements, and not the practice at all.  I whine alot.  Suck it up, lady.)

And the Pretzel Poses:

  • Because they are here, and worth mentioning.  You know those poses we all point to as beginners and say lets do that…. and then laugh hysterically at the impossibility of the idea? Ah, yes, those.
  • Marichyasana A,B,C and D.  Ok, I can do A and B.  C and D?  argh.  They look easy in the picture.  Trust me, they are not so.  Not for this body. (“This will be so easy for you very soon,” she exclaimed as she pulled my arm forward and pushed back on my leg with her foot in order to twist me into an impossible pretzel shape.)
  • Bhujhapidasana, and all of those variations that follow, and
  • Kurmasana.  um, can you say claustrophobia? I got stuck in this one.  I won’t even mention supta kurmasana. (Ok, if you are really curious, here’s a video of bhujapidasan through supta kurmasana…. and this is PRIMARY series!)
  • … those are just samples.  :0

Well, there is always a struggle with beginning something new.  The only way to get good at anything is practice, practice, practice.  It’s all about creating new habits.  And I have to admit it: the pretzel poses are kind of fun.  Er, well, the idea that I might someday be able to do them is kind of fun.  It’s like anything… you gotta start where you are, and if you never start you will never change.  So just do it.

Yesterday I purchased the book Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy by Gregor Maehle.  I am hoping a bit of reading will help me understand the philosophy behind this traditional style of yoga practice.  I will take some time in future episodes of this blog to explore some of this philosophy, and take a look at the other eight limbs of yoga as I come to understand them.

I wasn’t looking for Ashtanga yoga when I started looking for classes here,  but Ashtanga is what I found.  Sometimes, the universe speaks, and you just gotta listen.  So as I walked into Mysore practice this morning, I made a choice.  No more whining.  No more complaining.  I am here because I want to be here, and the best I can do is give it my entire focus.  Sure, I don’t feel so great in the mornings, but I do feel better after yoga.  Sure, my body has a lot of pain right now, but making it stronger and more flexible is going to change that. Yes, I am an emotional wreck with morning migraines lately, but this too will pass.  To change anything, you have to do something.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois says:   “Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory.”

Practice, practice, practice.  That’s what life is.  One big practice.  You want to be good at something?  Yoga? Writing? Running? Singing, dancing, laughing?  Start right where you are.  Right now.

If we want to change anything or be anything, we just need to do it.  One step at a time, one breath at a time, one day at a time.  All we have is now.

🙂

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