There are many qualified teachers in the Ashtanga system and I happened to find myself in the company of Boulder’s finest. Here is what the website says about them, “Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, the Yoga Workshop, which was established in 1987, is the one of the oldest and most well established Ashtanga yoga studios in the United States.” I also thought I saw something about it being unassuming and welcoming and so peaceful but perhaps that is my spin on it.
Being from the East Coast I certainly had to adapt. Anyone who has taken a class with Richard or studied with him can understand the concept. I tried to soften enough to fit in, slow it down, enjoy the time there and my practice. Although Richard was not present you could certainly feel his prescence. The first time I met Richard I was so excited to practice. Little did I know what I would be in for. On the first inhale I was out of breath long before him and I realized then that he would be different and that his focus was different. At the time, I did not have the patience nor the experience with the practice as I bring today. So looking back I have to laugh at my immature thoughts of what he was trying to teach us. I knew little of bandhas and breath in the beginning and had enough strength to “just do it” if you know what I mean.
Since my first meeting with Richard, I have attended workshops and classes and have worked to understand his teachings and methods. Putting them into practice is not easy. Things are different but things are the same. I know the sequence, I teach the sequence, I’m working on what I need to work on and meeting myself there. So in this room of practitioners who float, fly and bend (well some anyway), there are also those who are new to the practice, new to the system, stiff and unable to bind, bend or balance. They used the wall, props and had really little assistance to “get into” the asanas. They came to practice what they need to work on and seemed to be meeting themselves there.
I’m grateful to be able to find places to practice the method like the original in Boulder and to also be a holder of a space, a shala, a studio in Montclair, NJ where people can come and meet themselves on the mat and am honored to be holding the space for them to do just that. I love being a student of the system always and passing on the knowledge that I learn from being a student.
The hills and valleys of the practice. Do you know them? Can you sort of feel where you are? I remember when I was biking through the hills of Tuscany some time ago. It was a really cool trip and I there were these rides that we would set out to do everyday. We did not know the routes and they were different every day but you knew there would be hills to climb. I don’t want to get into that here but I was thinking about Ashtanga and the journey it takes, those hills and then being in the valley or just going straight and riding along sort of enjoying the scenery.
This Ashtanga journey, or lets say ride for fun, is different for everyone and then again there is a lot that we all can relate to. Right now for me practice is exciting. I figured out how to breathe better (thank you netti pot) and I feel ready. I feel ready to sort of see where it goes without expectation nor fear. You see I have these spots in the practice that I would like to gloss over and those spots I come up every day and I am trying to figure out how to get the fearing out of it. So attention to my breath and the asana that I am on, in other words, staying in the present, seems to be working for me. Oh yes and being mindful of my drishi and for me I have to M.Y.O.B This last thing is pretty helpful as well. These days I’m feeling an ease with the practice and a certain ease with the spots in the practice, those asanas, that I thought I could do without. They are becoming my sweet spots in practice, they are becoming my friend.
I know the valley very well too and the times when you are tired and you can’t breathe any better and you can’t do any better and you just want to feel better and more at ease with it, with practice, with life even. I’ve been frustrated, annoyed and angry with practice, with circumstances, with myself and others. It is not easy. It is not easy to stay with something and ride it out especially something that you could say I’ll do it tomorrow or maybe I just won’t even do this anymore and then the mind starts this justification process. The mind is pretty powerful and will convince you that what you are thinking is right! What’s is all for anyway? I am not going to go into the standard things we tell ourselves, that’s been written before and is nothing new. What I love about this and practice is that you can relate this to other things happening on your life journey.
I see people in the valley and I see people at the top and all in between. Just like life we have to ride this out. For me the answer is in getting on the mat and feel where you are, experience where you are and accept where you are, the circumstances . . . everything. Acceptance is the key as without this you cannot move beyond anything and that’s when we get stuck. So for now, know that for every uphill ride we make there is a downhill and go slowly on the downhill, pay attention and enjoy the ride for:
“Chi va piano va sano e va lontano” . . . (that’s italian for “one who goes slowly, goes healthy and surely over a long time” – anyway that’s my translation for it)
I’ve been feeling very grateful these days and I am starting to feel what it may mean to fully embrace Ashtanga yoga. For one thing it does not seem to be so easy, but surely this is worth every effort. I raised my kids while I tiptoed on the path, diving in at times and then feeling that I could only do what I could do, pulling back just enough to make it right. It was a delicate balance back then and this was before I knew about the layers I would start to peel away. What would it mean to “embrace Ashtanga”? To put it simply, it’s getting on the mat, doing your practice and letting go. It means learning very day when you are on the mat and off the mat. It means facing the difficulties in the practice in a way that this yoga is teaching me to do and then bringing it into your life.
These days I have become aware of what is possible with what I’ve got and to also find ways to change and grow. Embracing Ashtanga is to be patient with oneself, to be persistent in what you want to do, not be be hard on yourself and to bring your best self to the mat every day. It is a practice that does not lie to you and surely there are no shortcuts. There is a community that is more like family these days and a built in oneness among practioners.
Today I came up against what I could do and what I wanted to do. I worked very hard to stay in the present and stay with the breath. I would like to skip those things that are difficult and cause me to stumble. I also know that it is through the stumbling that I can continue to grow and continue to embrace the practice. I love the poses and there are days when I love going to the edge. It is that edge that can keep moving as you grow. It just does not stay the same and for that I am grateful. I faced something today in practice that is difficult to fully express into words. I stayed with it, faced the mind stuff and have a sense of coming right up it. I figure if I don’t go right up to it, I will never get through it and so I get to the edge, embrace the practice and its teachings and then life off the mat seems so much easier. This perhaps is the lesson.
When it comes to practice we have choices. We know the sequence; we know what we are setting out to do. We are teachers and we are students. We seek out other yoga practitioners and flock to a Mysore room to do our practice. We go across the country to practice for a weekend or go across the world to practice for a month. Who am I?
I’m an Ashtangi. When we enter a space to practice with a teacher or on my last experience a group of teachers and they happen to be the pioneers of the system you stand tall. You want to do your best and you want to practice with all the best intentions. You want to make every breath count, flow through the sequence, stay focused and tap in to the source. You have someone watching. You have teachers teaching. You have this talented group of lineage holders watching you to see how they can impart something of the teachings to you and have it touch you and have it make a difference.
Turns out we are human. When we are in the Mysore room we just want to do our best. Someone is watching, someone is there perhaps to help or to support us with our struggle. No one is there to do anything for you; instead they are supporting you in your personal endeavor to do the practice. There is a shared energy in these rooms that most of the time is very helpful with doing your own practice. It is just natural to bring everything you have to the practice in the Mysore room.
When we think about practice, it sometimes can be a big undertaking. It’s overwhelming on your own and the system has built in support around the world. Today I practiced, alone, and not even in my own home. I was glad to take practice and yet feel so much gratitude for the Mysore room that I call home at AYM and for the practitioners who share their energy and come to do their best no matter where in the world we gather.
Namaste to that and see you on the mat!
It is interesting to me to think how far I have come in the process of thinking positively and trusting in the universe. This is a practice in itself for sure and I thought this seems so simple but has to be shared. In reflection on my life, I have had a lot of fear and mostly the fear that I have felt and that continues to rise it’s ugly head (I know that’s a judgment) would always go back to my inability to control a situation or disappointment in an outcome not going my way. Mostly the fear and anger would come from not being able to control something or someone else.
Practice has been and continues to be a very useful tool for me. My abilities to let go and let God are practiced daily on my yoga mat. Bringing this into my daily life is something else. Here as well, it is interesting to see how far I have come. Recently I wanted to escape one part of my life that I have been doing for some time and wanted to have someone tell me that this was no longer serving me. Then it would be easy for me to justify this planned escape. But alas no one would go there, no one would back me up. These thoughts were mine and mine alone and I would have to work through whatever I had to work through on my own. My mind and me. The mind is so powerful and will really convince you of anything either negative or positive that you want to set out to do. The mind will tell you have you are happy, sad, angry, fearing and will convince you of your likes and dislikes. It has a preconceived notion of what is good or bad for you and what you can or cannot do. I’m taking about that monkey mind. I remember when I first heard that term and did not really grasp how or what monkeys and the mind have in common. I quickly figured it out and could picture what this terminology referred to and I started to experience this for sure. I pictured my thoughts hopping like a money from topic to topic never finishing what it set out to figure out. I understood the power of mind and why I needed my yoga practice and why it is necessary to be quiet so you can figure things out.
Since no one would give me license on the planned escape I secretly wanted to orchestrate, I recently decided to change my attitude and this goes back to my original concept of the power of positive thought. I practiced this from time to time for fun and sure enough if I thought negatively, then things just would be crappy and I would not feel at ease, feeling like I was swimming upstream or something. Fighting the current so to speak. With positive thoughts and positive energy around whatever I was doing or attempting to do, even if the outcome did not appear to produce, with positive thought I felt better and then I would figure that was the way of the universe and not something I could actually control. This came at a very good time before me and my minds sabotaged any of the gifts and benefits I was receiving. I thank my yoga practice, sitting in my attempt to meditate, reading and delving deeper so that I am able to hear, able to be present and able to swim with the current and trust, trust, trust . . . that I am right where I am supposed to be right now.
I was thinking the other day how we all just want to get it. Patience and grace are traits that sometimes do not come naturally to me personally and it is something that I observe in myself given the opportunity. For which, I might add, are many. Life has a way of testing us and testing our limits. Testing how we handle situations, circumstances and relationships and when we handle these things with patience and grace we sort of feel like we handled it well. When you catch yourself breathing through those certain situations that cause us to pause that is when the yoga is working in our life. We may even feel like we are evolving and give ourselves a pat on the back. So be it, it is well deserved.
The thing is, life is always changing. People around us change, circumstances change, weather changes and we grow, we age and we evolve. When I get on the mat, I know that all I can bring to my practice is what I have that day. No matter how much experience one has, it is the same thing. It is an evolution and every day we are learning more about ourselves and trying to find the peace within or just trying to get through. The thing is that you have to keep showing up for it and showing up for life. I mean you don’t say okay I get this life and now I can go on and do something else. You keep living right? You keep having these experiences, through the joys as well as dissappointments and just keep on keeping on to see what is on the other side. Yoga practice seems to be my metaphor for life.
I think that practice is about enjoying the evolution of the practice. In Ashtanga, there are obstacles that are put in front of us, just like the tree or the live wire you sometimes have to step around. You know that that tree that is blocking the road or the live wire will not always be there. I started yoga on this day some years back not knowing how taking that fork in the road would play out. I looked at it as a sign when the class started on a milestone birthday those years ago. I remember the blockages, wondering how I could achieve the asanas that were put in front of me or even how I could possibly keep showing up for this. I had my obstacles that’s for sure. It is interesting to look at the evolution and ponder the years passed but then feeling like it was only yesterday that I could not stand on my head. I keep showing up for practice and more importantly I keep showing up for life. I don’t feel like I have to get it in one practice or on one day but if I keep at it, all is coming and what more do I need.
I notice the struggle these days more and more and instead of feeling paralized by it, I am encouraged to work throught it. I have to say this is not always easy and it is surely not meant to be, otherwise I suppose it would be called something different. We can hear a word and put anything to it as we have these samskaras that remind us of how we are to be and how we have always reacted to thought, emotions, words or actions. Just like a record we can choose to repeat these patterns and feed the thoughts or emotions or we can try not to deepen the groove and move toward other patterns of reacting.
I am practicing letting go both on the mat and off. I got emotional today when I reflected on the struggle. Not my own today, although I did struggle, but that of others. I reflect and only try to pray and send good energy and thoughts. I still feel amazed when I see the energy shift. I still say the word coincedence even though I am starting to believe there is none.
I have a practice and so many times I bring that struggle to the mat only to let it go through my breath and through the various asanas that I am presented with. I love the blueprint that I have in my pratice to help me through whatever difficulty I may face. I am grateful for the time to struggle through and to sometimes find the freedom in whatever I am doing. Nothing is really easy for me and I know that people are struggling all over the world. In my little world I think about my partner, my kids, my extended family, my friends, my students and even business associates. It is sincerely the ebb and flow of life I imagine and what keeps me even is my practice. There is no second thought for me these days as I am seeing what practice does and how much I can take a step back and have faith and trust that what I do on the mat centers me and gives me space if I let it. I allows me to tap into my God and my higher self again if I let it.
Sometimes the struggle is so difficult, whether it is pain in the body or in our emotional bodies, it can be very hard. I remember hearing from a friend who was struggling to let the tears wash you clean. I think about that and I am grateful for tears. I myself have used them a lot but I think less and less as I get older and get more grounded in practice. My faith has helped with this and trust in God that I am starting to see just about everywhere.
I sort of bumped into Sharath on the last moon day that I was in Mysore. It was outside the Shala on the street. Here is the thing, a lot of what we do starts there and even on the moon day where we are supposed to be taking rest, this is a perfect place to meet or have a car pick you up for an excursion. So instead of describing where you are and giving directions we make it easy by saying something like, meet you at the Shala. However this is also where our teacher lives. I mean we all flock down there and wait to enter every day starting around four o’clock in the morning and students keep coming till everyone has practiced. So knowing that this was where Sharath would be resting on the moon day and may not want to greet students, seeing him outside his house took me off guard or just sort of made me think, now what, what do I do? Do I say hello, make some small talk or give him his space?
I certainly did not rush in and start babbling. For once, I took a minute to pause and breathe and think. This has been helpful and if you are in the habit of reacting, practice helps to bring the attention to your breath in any situation and let the mind clear. I am sure we are all familiar with the feeling of saying to yourself I should have waited a second or it would have been better if I thought about it just for a second first. It is nice to be able to use the tools that we practice every day in our lives off the mat. Focus on the breath makes everything better.
I certainly wanted to give him his space and I also could not ignore the fact that I was waiting there so I went over and said hello. I told him I would be leaving Sunday. This was a perfect opportunity to share that connection and I explained that I had to get my son back to school and mumbled something about my affairs. I must have had in my head something that I saw in my computer with regards to Yoga and I had thoughts dancing in my head along the lines of the meaning of yoga and how we like to add the word yoga to everything from walking, lifting weights, dancing or maybe even eating chocolate. I wanted to express to Sharath that I truly feel like I am finally getting it and that I so much enjoyed my stay and his teaching and the conferences and my yoga sutra class, the chanting classes, sanscrit classes and the course on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Don’t worry I did not go into all that and could only get the words out that I really liked it in Mysore, really liked his teachings and practice and how I will be back. I made reference to my thoughts as to how the word yoga is overused and came back to the teachings on this practice. He said something like, yes, everyone wants to do yoga but no one wants to struggle. You see in order to grow and evolve you have to move through difficulty. It could be mental, physical or a little of both. And you know, the struggles that I may have had at one time are in the past and new things come up but if I work with the tools that I have learned somehow we get through both on the mat and off the mat and whatever struggle I have today is something that I will get through . . . eventually.
It must be that my practice, the yoga and maturity, help with your own moon swings and more importantly that of others. It’s been a long time to spend with my son and I would say we can name the times and the instances when we had a little discord between us and really it was mostly about his mood swing. You see, he is 17 and it is just bound to happen. I have trusted myself and come up with activities for us to share and many times this had to be handled somewhat delicately. Meaning without emotion, without pushing and without too much controlling tactics.
He is counting days, counting practices and I am just sad and feel like I have unfinished business with regards to my practice. The thing with this practice is that you are never done. Every day you come to the mat you are different no matter where you are. Each practice here has been different. Now I want to put them all together, all the good things, all the times I felt connected to something deep inside me and all the times I was really focused. I have run out of time to do this here and I am sad to be leaving this place and this routine of what I have become accustomed to. It is not easy here. The practices around me in the early slot are awesome. Practicing with authorized and certified teachers around the world as well as people who have been practicing here in Mysore for over a month who seem to have evolved in my eyes, all sharing the energy of the Shala and with Sharath holding that energy. I try so hard not to be distracted and to focus on my practice. I know that I will continue my journey back to AYM and leave Mysore behind in a few days. I have Led Primary tomorrow and Sunday and by the time conference comes I will have to get ready for the emotional roller coaster ride of saying goodbye. I wonder if it just is all about unfinished business and that what we are doing here is never finished, complete or perfect. It’s a practice and I am thankful for that. It is all a practice of letting go. I am thankful to be able to practice and for being able to let go.