Although the focus of my yoga practice may appear to be on the physical asanas of the practice, there is a deeper, more spiritual, level to the practice. The Ashtanga Yoga system is built upon the “Eight Limbs of Yoga.” (the word ‘ashta’ means ‘eight’ and ‘anga’ means ‘limb’). When I first began my yoga practice, it was very much about the shapes of the asanas. But, over time, the philosophical and spiritual components began taking precidence over the shapes. That said, it is very easy to lose sight over the reason for the practice. As I age and my body’s ability to perform the physical asanas as well, or as easily, as I once did, the 2nd Niyama becomes more an more important.
“Samtosha, or contentment, is a pure and exellent form of happiness that spontaneously arises when we free ourselves from the mind’s constant nagging about unfullfilled desires. This is really the secret to moving on with our lives rather than being stuck in and trapped by a specific situation. Samtosha arises when the mind lets go of its iron grip of a situation long enough to let us simply observe with great interest but without drawing conclusions or making judgments and assumptions. Letting go, we automattically tap into an endless reservoir of kindness and compassion that lies within.” – The Art of Vinyasa; Awakening Body and Mind through the Practice of Ashtanya Yoga by Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor.
This past weekend, I awoke feeling a constant ache and soreness from an 8 mile, hilly trail run. Adding insult to injury, so-to-speak, it was raining and dark outside. I should just go back to sleep, I thought, my practice won’t be any good anyway. Pushing that aside, I decided to show up for my yoga practice anyway. I would do what I could and try to be satisfied with whatever that was.
Let’s start with the “some”
I have some news. As of June 4th, BTY (the studio where I teach) members and guests will have the ability to practice in the yoga studio for all six days of our Ashtanga yoga practice. This assumes our schedules allow for us to practice there. If it doesn’t, no problem; the online option still exists.
As for me, I will continue teaching mysore on Monday mornings but will no longer be teaching on Tuesdays. It’s a good thing for me as Tuesday seems to be the most popular day for my morning work meetings and I was having to get a sub more and more. In addition, on the 1st Sunday of each month, I will be teaching mysore.
Now, to the AWE part
The schedule change also means that I can attend to my own practice — which is exciting as I have quite a few poses with which I am struggling. Durvasana (shown here) is one of them.
This pose, as I have read, is a test of our devotion to both our practice and the Sage Durva. It is believed that this great sage was the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He was wise, knowledgeable, and apparently had a wicked temper. On a physical sense, this asana tests the practitioner to remain calm, steady, and firm in their root and breath. Quite literally, you must root to rise up from the ground despite the weight of your the leg you carry upon your shoulders.
On the day these photos were taken, my teacher shared the burden of the load I was asked to carry so that I could stand up for the very first time in the center of the room. I kid you not, the feeling was AWE-mazing! I am actually looking forward to trying it again.
I’ve been struggling to produce a unique response to the yoga studio’s prompt for the teacher spotlight for Spring. The prompt, “What’s new in your practice?” seems like a simple question. So, why am I three weeks late on coming up with a response?
The simple answer is nothing. I have not been given any new poses for over 6 months. I have been showing up for class faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic — even when I knew that being on camera would mean that my broken heart would be seen by all. The practice has it’s way of revealing the raw parts on us, whether we like it or not.
But, it’s not that simple. As the anniversary of my husband’s passing, Spring spotlights the deepest, saddest parts of me. I don’t go looking for these feelings, they bubble up regardless of attention. Trying to distract myself from it is like ignoring an injury (such as a broken toe) while practicing yoga; the pain makes you take notice.
Instead of going about my every day activities, I’ve made point of giving myself the space to feel what ever comes up during this time. In past years, my answers to the Spring teacher prompts were bathed in a melancholy of sorts. I didn’t want to repeat that this time. Instead, I asked for more time.
Additionally, I took time off from work and asked another teacher to sub for me on the anniversary day so that I could have my yoga practice at the usual morning time.
Interestingly, my asking for more time, as well as getting coverage for my class, is exactly the thing that is new for me.
I’ve spent my life giving to others — sometimes at my own expense. Lately, however, it’s taking a toll on me. My body is unhappy and my mind frazzled trying to be in two places at once and please everyone — all with the expression on my face on display for all to see. As the pandemic wears on, I have come to realize that I just can’t do it all.
On my mat, I pull my attention back to myself, the prescribed dristhi, and the sound of my own breath (instead of the computer). I have also been more conscious of conserving my energy when it is low. After all, this is the practice as it was meant to be done.
Yet, during the past couple of years, I have found myself grasping to contribute and hold space for a community-feel amidst the pandemic-driven online environment. While this sounds like a good thing, it has it’s drawbacks for both me as well as for the members of my yoga community. It’s time to zip my lips and continue to contribute simply by showing up for practice. And if we want to chat it up, well perhaps there will be time for that too (outside of practice, that is).
When I first started practicing Ashtanga Yoga (exclusively), I often wondered if I really needed to honor the moon days. I mean, we are taught to practice independently, to our own breath, and without a teacher calling out the movements. So, even if the Mysore Room at the studio was closed, we all know our practice. So, what would be the harm?
Back then, my practice was relatively short (< 1 hour) and I was slowly learning how to manage my energy. Each day, I balanced the two ends of the energy spectrum. A tug-o-war of: How Not To Push Too Hard With My Athlete’s Mentality vs. How Not To Let My Chronic Back Pain Stop Me From Seeing Where My Practice Could Go On Any Given Day (rather than giving up without even stepping on my mat). Additionally, in these early days of Ashtanga, being a single mom, I had a hard enough time getting to the studio for my Mysore Practice. I guess I didn’t feel like I earned OR needed a rest day.
Fast forward 10 years and my view of the Moon Days is quite different.
- First off, my daily (6 days per week) practice is generally 1 ½ to 2 hours long.
- Secondly, my body seems to know that it’s time for a break from practice. It is just as important to let the body recover as it is to practice consistently.
- Finally, it’s tradition — a beautiful one at that.
During my evening walk, I look up a the full moon in the sky and smile. I try to capture the beauty that I see before me with my phone, but it’s no use. At bedtime, I look out the window to take it in one last time before going to sleep. Then, I crawl into bed without setting my alarm.
“Good night stars. Good night air. Good night noises everywhere” – Margaret Wise Brown
…and good night to all my fellow Ashtangis:
- Sleep in.
- Rest well.
- I’ll see you on the mat on Thursday.
It is very important to me to maintain consistency in my own practice as a student. Not only do I learn about myself (through this self-study practice), but I feel that I am better able to teach my students if I have explored the asanas for myself (even if my body is different).
On the days when I am not teaching, I enjoy practicing with my community as one of the students. Not only does this let the students know what I can and cannot do, I believe it also shows the community how dedicated I am to our Ashtanga Program. I don’t just teach; I rely on it for my own development.
Well, my own sanity too.