Ashtanga 100 – Six Months Deep

Six months ago, I began a journey towards deepening my yoga practice through a 100-hour ashtanga intensive teacher training. This training was open to those who planned to teach and those who had no desire to do so. For me, it would serve to expand my practice (asana, pranyama, spirituality and knowledge) and provide me with valuable information I can use if ever I decide that teaching is right for me.

The program consisted of:

  • A LOT of reading
  • Monthly writing assignments
  • Weekend training sessions x 6
  • Hands-on adjustment clinics
  • Semi-private lessons x 3
  • Monthly one-on-one sessions with my teacher

The best part of the experience was that I got to hang out with these really cool people.

Ashtangi 100

If I ask myself what has changed in the past 6 months, the word “awareness” quickly comes to mind. It is what I have gained and also what I need to work on.

We’ve studied on alignment, breathing, having an open mind, energetic factors such as mirror neurons, and anatomy, just to name a few of the concepts. All of this new growth has made me more aware of how much more I have to learn in my practice. The focal concept of One eye in; one eye out (not two), is a huge take away for me. More so than staring at the tip of my nose or over my shoulder, is the need to keep my attention from drifting past the nose to the goings-on in the room but also on staying connected to what is going on inside of me. This has always been hard for me but, now more than ever, seems like the next logical step.


Sadness in savasana

Lying in savasana,  at the end of a fast-paced Led Primary, I visualized myself lying on my late-husband’s death bed. This image is not unfamiliar to me. I have often revisited his death as the one who was dying. Today was different, however. There was no one at my bedside holding my hand; I was all alone.

Every other time I have visited this scene, I have been surrounded by loved ones (reasons to rage against the dying of the light). What could it mean to have nobody at my side during my last breath? Was this my destiny? It didn’t feel good. It felt lonely without love. This was an add contrast to the reality of my true existence (being in a room filled with my Ashtanga yoga community). And yet…

I could not hold back the tears.

Room for Improvement

We are taught that maintaining a daily practice may serve us as we navigate the ins and outs of daily life. You might think “this sounds all well and good” — yet question whether it is really true. Certainly, I notice the lack in ability to remain calm on the days where I am unable to spend some quality time on my mat for a morning practice. These are the days when I seem unreasonably demanding and impatient with others – namely those whom I love most. In contrast, on the days when I am afforded the luxury of working through the discomfort I feel each morning and settling into a peaceful easy breathing pattern the challenges of the day do not completely unsettle me.

There are tools, which at first seemed only to be symbolic of getting through life, which are now in my arsenal of tools to handle life’s stressors.

Some examples of how these tools are working include:

  • The ability to maintain a slow and steady breath throughout my daily practice (no matter the intensity) trains me to find calmness amid the storm.
  • A self-directed, daily practice, done at my own pace provides me with the ability to work and problem-solve independently – seeking guidance only when necessary.
  • Each day, as I note the waxing and waning in my physical strength and flexibility, I come to appreciate the ups and downs occurring daily in these same attributes mentally and emotionally. There isn’t always a parallel between the physical and mental; it’s just the overall examination of the good day: bad day experience and how one helps provide you with a greater appreciation of the other.
  • More than ever, I am grateful for the ability to overcome the discomfort that is ever-present each morning upon waking. Not all too long ago, I was often sidelined with back pain which was so overwhelming there was room for nothing else.

Then there are Moon Days and Ladies Holidays, when the Ashtanga tradition advises us to take rest from our daily asana practice and focus on the meditative side. To be honest, I have yet to embrace the complete rest. However, I am slowly learning how to be okay with simple a few cat-cows, a downdog-updog or two, some sort of spinal twist, sphinx pose, and happy baby or child’s pose.

This is all good, however, I have NOT yet been disciplined with is taking the time to just sit quietly in meditation. I guess, I should work on that.

Indeed, there is always room for improvement.

Less is More

Garbha Pindasana (side view)

My practice has changed considerably in the past few months. I have managed to consistently, as Peter Sanson noted in a workshop at YiY in October,  “complete the circuit” in poses that I could not previously catch my fingers to bind. I have found new movement and awareness in my spine, hips, shoulders, etc. The change feels amazing.

Still, lifting up to jump back and jumping through skills have yet to be acquired. Furthermore, I still encounter a restrictive uncertainty in dropping back on my own – and cannot come back up when I am successful in dropping back on my own.  And while I am capable of keeping up with the Led class, I take much longer in my day-to-day practice. Too long.

I sometimes think that my slow pace prohibits me from getting new poses added on. Yet, I know that is no reason to change my practice. I have spent a lifetime pushing, trying to keep up with other’s timelines (rather than my own), and basically trying to prove that I am “good enough.” This pattern/tendency has been one which I have been trying to break free of. Whenever I catch myself longing for the go ahead to start Second Series, I call upon my memory of Peter Sanson telling us to “Be present” and not always be in a hurry for the next posture. It appeases me… to a certain extent but never completely.

Then, this past weekend, I practiced behind a young gentleman who seemed to be getting a considerable amount of second series poses at once. At first I marveled — and wished that I was getting a few of them too.  But as I noticed he was getting one after another after another, I began wondering what the rush was to give this yogi so many new poses at once.

Obviously, I don’t have a complete picture. Perhaps this yogi already had these poses but, after a long absence from second series was having to relearn them. Only he and the teacher know the complete story. There is likely a valid reason, and who am I to pass judgement; I witnessed several other practitioners, at this same studio, leaving after completing small segments of varying lengths from the primary series.

Bringing my attention back to my practice, which is where it should have been all along, I counted my blessings. Perhaps, I considered, less is more. (Less poses, that is — with more mastery before being allowed to move on.) Either way I am more appreciative that my teacher(s) don’t hand out the postures with such freedom.  I want to earn them, one by one – when I am truly ready.

economy of energy

Off BalanceI decided to join an IG challenge that my yoga studio is putting on. Having enjoyed the virtual connections I’ve made in my recent participation in a few of the yoga-based IG challenges, I thought it might be fun to connect with some of the members of my real-life yoga community. By the time I found out about it, I’d already started the LetsGetFlexy challenge, MysoreAsana Challenge, and another daily photo challenge which I like to participate in with the hopes of balancing out my IG page with non-me, non-yoga photographs.  I quickly abandoned the MysoreAsana challenge and took on the new BreatheFirst challenge. As the month has worn on, I have found the three is getting to be a little too much. I’m already planning to back off, or take a break all together, next month.

In the meantime, Vrksasana is one of today’s poses of the day. Vrksasana and I have a history together; it’s sort of a love:hate relationship because it requires me to find balance and balance is something I am forever struggling with.

I am not just talking about my asana practice, although anyone who has practiced beside me has seen this first-hand, especially when I move into Vrksasana or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. If you are one of these people, I apologize for falling into your physical space and challenging your ability to hold your dristi. Finding balance in life, especially as a single mother, has been a learning process whereby one could say that I have been a slow learner.

In late August I posted a FB status update announcing that I was getting back to work in preparing to teach my asana class and finally get certified to teach yoga. I asked for volunteers to help me find my confidence and the right words to articulate my sequence (which has been laid out for almost a year now). Much to my surprise, a number of volunteers came forward with an overwhelming openness to roll out their mats for my benefit.

Then life’s demands picked up. My son got sick with pneumonia and fell way behind in school. In an effort to support him, I let him off the hook on his chores and stepped up my efforts to support his studies in every way that I possibly could. Although tutoring would be an obvious addition, his football schedule is not conducive to this. I *want* to allow him the time and space to continue the one thing that motivates him to stay up into the wee hours of the night putting in the work. For as much as my own yoga practice serves to keep me whole, I can see that football does the same for him.

At the end of the day, or in the few free hours I have left in the middle of the weekend, the last thing on my mind is teaching. The obvious truth is that I haven’t the time or the energy to expend on other things right now. It’s all about insuring the basic needs of the family (aka work, shopping, & paying bills), supporting my relationships, and attending to my own needs.

In a recent interview, Dave Robson talked about the economy of energy. He said, “There’s no denying that there’s an economy of energy for each person and there’s limits to how much can go out. Of course, I want to do more and more all the time and there’s some people that are amazing that way in that, they can do so much. They seem to do a lot of it really well, but I’m not one of those people.” Like Dave, I am also not one of those people.

I watch my boyfriend stay up late and get up extra early to develop his class playlists and search the internet for more ideas to spice up his class sequences. And I think to myself, “I don’t have that kind of energy to give right now. I just don’t.”

Joy & BalanceOne day, I hope that I will – but that time is not now. Will it be after football season has ended? I don’t know. I really WOULD like to finish what I started – if only to set an example for my boys in not leaving things unfinished.

In the meantime, I will do my best to manage my own “economy of energy” and prioritize (or balance) what-must-be-done with my long list of what-should-be-done’s.



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