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.
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).
Just over 2 years ago, my yoga teacher sat down beside me on my mat to have a heart-to-heart with me. She is a very intuitive and caring person and saw that I was closing off. The backbends that I had worked so hard to develop where losing their beautiful arch and you could see that I was holding back. She wanted to help me find openness in my heart center, not just in my physical backbends but deep within. As much as I trusted her to hold space for me to do the work, I also knew that the timing just wasn’t right. I was working through a huge heartbreak and felt the need to protect my heart.
In the year that followed, she held space for me to work through it. If I broke down in tears after back bending, she didn’t make a big deal out of it. Because if emotions come up in this practice and our mat is a safe place for us to work through it. Within the Mysore Room of my yoga studio, I felt safe to let the sadness, anger, frustration, and other emotions go right there on my mat, with my fellow practitioners nearby. Meanwhile, my teacher continued her work in the room, helping the students just as before. I appreciated that.
By the time COVID-19 had us all staying within the walls of our homes, an entire year had passed. And although, I thought I’d be on the other side of the loss by then, sheltering-in-place uncovered a different level of pain for me. A pain that showed up on my computer screen in an in-your-face, take-THIS sort of way. At times, I felt as if all the work I had done was a lie; I felt those protective walls thickening and my heart closing off once again.
Recently, the yoga studio sent the teachers an email asking us to respond to some questions about our journey through the first year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The request was to write a few sentences, answering one or all of the following questions
- What have you learned over the past year?
- How has your practice changed, on or off the mat?
- How have you learned to care for yourself and/or others in ways you haven’t before?
My responses to the three questions was somewhat tarnished with negativity as I was navigating some new territory in my grieving process coupled with a few unfortunate events. [I’m being intentionally vague; this is not the place for that stuff]. The studio owner decided to go with my response to Question #1.
Although I have lived my life trying to put on a happy face for others to see, I didn’t think that I could capture a realistic smile for the post in real time. So, I pulled stills from the class recording of the final session with my Intro to Mysore students that ran in January to accompany the IG post. I was on a high that day – feeling the joy of sharing the practice I have grown to love with 7 beautiful souls. It showed on my face.
The fact that many of our members are going through a lot of struggles right now, it was decided that my response to Question #3 may have been a bit too honest for the BTY IG. Still, I wonder if comfort could be found in knowing that, although I show up wearing my best “happy face”, I too am struggling.
“There are days when I wake up and no amount of coffee or makeup can mask the loneliness and pain that sometimes overwhelms me. I tell myself that I’m not the only one feeling this way and just show up as is. As a result, I help myself by showing up for others.”
I wrote those words, yet was hesitant to do my part and “show up” for this morning’s mysore practice. I rolled out my mat and began my practice offline with only Kobe, my slumbering puppy, in sight and classical music softly playing. The practice wasn’t any easier. But when I met up with kapotasana, the tears had already begun to surface and I had no reason to bury them. I acknowledged the painful emotions and asked [my] God if he/she would keep me safe if I were to shed my armor and allow my heart to open more fully. The tears fell as if to the music: gently, with ebbs and flows all the way through kapotasana and supta vajrasana. Then, Kobe did something cute as I did my bakasana. And I laughed out loud. This short bit of laughter was enough to signal my readiness to show up for my community. So, I joined the mysore zoom.
You see, although for the past year, I have made a point to bury my emotions so that I could show up for my community, I am learning that it’s equally important to take some time to care for myself. This seems especially true right now, with all that I am navigating mentally and emotionally. I’m still here for my family and friends, but I need to grab that oxygen mask and breathe in a few slow, deep breaths so that I can think clearly and be wholly present. If you are going through something similar, I recommend the same to you.
“We can’t share with others a resource that we lack ourselves.” – Johnson, W and Humble, A (2020)
Thanks for reading. Now, it’s time to get on my mat. I wish you all a beautiful day.
Practitioners of the ashtanga yoga are accustomed to working on their “given” poses until their teacher feels they are ready to add the next pose. A lot goes into this assessment. It’s more than just a mastery of the poses they’ve already been practicing daily. It’s an assessment of dedication, concentration, prior injuries, and overall endurance – among other things. Depending on the next pose, the practitioner may be eager to move on OR they may be hesitant. It is not unusual to be stuck on trying to master a given pose for many years.
It is also not unusual to be stuck on the fact that you haven’t been given the next pose.
While you may fear that you may pass on before being given poses later in the sequence you are working on, one may ask, “Why does it matter?” If you die without ever getting to practice the 7 handstands at the end of intermediate series (aka “the 7 deadlies”), people won’t think any less of you. In fact, they may be less likely to think of you as that crazy lady who used to put her legs behind her neck and do a bunch of funny headstands.
“Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction” – Krishna