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.
Friday is Primary Series for everyone and it is busy. There are just two groups so the 4:30 am is now packed and you are ready at the gate when Prakash opens. You have to remain like a yogi, no pushing, and just shuffle along and wait for your turn to slide on in to get your space. I have not been sliding out of my shoes so easily and in the brief hesitation I get further back from entering. A brief panic can set in if you let it. No fearing as it doesn’t matter. Everyone is going to practice and you will find the comfort level that you need. It’s all part of the experience and if you have any preconceived notions of where you would like to practice, you had better let it go now. You see, it is all a practice from the moment you wake up to when you retire for the night. On the mat we just get to have the time to really center and focus and practice being a yogi.
In the led classes you are taught not to hurry and not to worry. Sarath’s led class is solid, intense and calming at the same time. He is doing the counting, he is setting the pace and our job is to do the practice with the proper vinyasa. You are reminded to breathe at each count. As you tune in and let yourself be taught and led it makes sense to focus on what you can control which is really only your breathing. You want to balance when that comes, you want to stay in headstand till you are told to come down and you want to lift when you are told to lift. The mind plays the funny trick of wanting you to think about something other than your breath. So you play the little game with it and just like in meditation, have the thought, let it go and come back to the breath. Otherwise you come down or out of the asana that requires holding. Today we held. We did not come down.
It’s nice to finish and feel the prana pulsing through the body. I have heard this before but when you come to the final three it is really put there as a gift so you can have a time to just breath and loose yourself. It really is what you have worked to get to. Then comes Utpluthih and you are ready because you know the mind is going to try to win but you don’t come down, something keeps you up and you just don’t come down. Sometimes the only way to loose yourself is to push yourself and let go of the chatter that says you can’t. You do!
I realize that talking about one’s practice is like talking about your dreams . . . no one really cares. You come to the mat and like a student of mine said just the other day in a post making reference to daily practice and how amazing it is that one day you can’t do something and the next day, well you do it. Whatever it is, I am sure most practioners can surely relate as that’s what daily practice teaches you. You keep showing up, keep applying what you know, what your teacher tells you and you come to learn what is expected of you.
Here in Mysore it is expected that eventually you stand up from your back bend and then to top this off you drop back. I have been practicing long enough to know this and that is the scary part. This is something in the back of my mind always and I have stood up before only to just go back to my old tricks the next day which is not to stand up properly at least. To be clear, properly for me, is not dropping to my knees as I habitually do. So today as I started my practice I felt good, centered and asanas being connected like dots . . . almost. Jump backs improving or at least feeling fine with a little lift. I felt like it was about trusting myself for once that when I came through on a jump back I would not fall on my face or chest and that I could hold it. I mean, seriously, I have been doing this long enough. Besides all this will help me at the end where it seems to count here. If I take shortcuts and avoid stuff, I am only hindering my personal development. I mean I can get through the practice just fine and today I felt like, well let me do this practice and find the yoga and my back bend. Come back to the dristhi when there is a distraction and there was, or bring that awareness back to my breath and there were times I had to tell myself breath here. Are you inhaling and are you exhaling?
All around me practitioners know what is expected and they stand up, they drop back. You may have some preconceived notion or a plain old judgement about someone and then they are doing it right next to you. Some pretty, some not so pretty, but they are doing it. Also getting close to the heals seems to be some key element. Sharath standing in front of me after I did my backbends. This was after I had one feeble attempt to stand and then the one that seemed like okay that was good enough, I’m up. So he says, “you dropping back” and I said no and just shook my head, and said “I have some fear” and left it at that. I think I knew what was coming so I maintained my breathing and I happened to turn my mat over minutes before as it had some moisture. So I go and I landed it, walk it in and up again. He was there each time with a minimal amount of assistance on the front body at the hips. I did this three time and he says, “You can do it.” I have heard this before from Chuck so this is familiar. I have also learned in just 8 days that Sharath does not talk much and only says what needs to be heard so I am listening. I’m shaking at this point and during the halves he tells me,”relax,” but I can’t, but I try. No words. I go back down and then here it goes again. Walk it in, straight arms, walk it in again, straight arms and again. I come back up and he says . . . “one inch” and makes a motion with his hands.
I took the longest rest and felt the prana pulsing through every inch of my body seeming to know exactly where to go, needing no direction from me. This series of events leading up to my backbend is what I personally need to work through as my journey in this practice evolves some more. No avoidance, no shortcuts and glossing over things that I thought it were just good enough. Maybe there is some Mysore magic here after all.