Becoming an Ashtangi
‘Come and try a class’….said the teacher who has since become a good friend. I shuddered at the mere idea of attending a MYSORE class. Mysore classes are for advanced students I thought. I couldn’t have been further from the truth!
For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in matters of health and wellbeing and yoga was always at the top of my list of activities to achieve. So I tried it out; different classes and different places. Did I enjoy them? Most definitely. Did I stick with them? Unfortunately not. Perhaps I was still not ready. In theory, I understood all the wonderful benefits that yoga could bring into my mental, physical and spiritual health. What I didn’t understand was that in order to reap those benefits, I had to commit.
Finally, after months of talking and thinking about it, my curiosity got the better of me and I showed up for my very first Ashtanga class. By the end of it, I was exhausted, drenched in sweat but very, very satisfied. I felt as though I had really learned something of value – knowledge I could literally take home and put into practice immediately! I was excited. I was motivated. I was also aching. Very very badly!
That first class challenged me in a manner before which I had never experienced. It was tough! But it wasn’t impossible. Suddenly the whole ‘going at your own pace’ thing seemed like a brilliant idea. Working with the poses you have been given until you get more proficient at them before being given more by the teacher made perfect sense and facilitated the safe (but not necessarily swift) progress of my practice.
At that point in my life, I had time to spare so I was on the mat almost every day. Nevertheless, progress came slowly for me. I was weak, stiff and overweight. All the fitness expectations that I had for myself, I did not fulfill. My motivation started to wane. I started to question and doubt, “Why am I trying so hard anyway? It’s not like it’s helping me lose weight or anything!”
Just about that time, my schedule got busier and I was not able to spare as much time and energy as I was before, which was just as well, since I was getting impatient with the practice anyway. And because my practice and I were not seeing eye to eye, we became distant for while. I attended classes infrequently, maybe once a week, maybe once a fortnight.
My life chugged along as per normal, with the exception that I had a bit more time on my hands; time that would have otherwise been spent at practice. I felt fine and happy, or so I thought. Until one day it hit me that I was missing something. Myself. I missed the time I spent on the mat working with and on me! I missed the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I always felt while laying down and easing myself into a peaceful state of rest after 90 minutes of breathing and moving, moving and breathing. I missed the quiet instruction and encouragement that came from my teacher when I least expected it. I missed the courage that emerged from within from being challenged to attempt a posture but at the same time knowing that someone was there to guide me to do it safely. I even missed the sense of dread I would always feel just before embarking on my first sun salutation, wondering, “Can I make it through this today?”
So, I went back on the mat, faced my own self, and got reacquainted with that old friend, my practice. I realized that yoga was not an activity to ‘achieve’. It was a lifestyle to adopt. In order for it to work, I had to create space for it my life. I realized that yoga was not just a means to get in shape and get that yoga belly or butt. Yoga was a means to overall good health. And by overall, I do mean OVERALL. Physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and some even say energetically.
Since then, my relationship with Ashtanga yoga has gone through numerous highs and lows. It has also SEEN me through just as many highs and lows. I often faced moments where I didn’t have time for it, I was too stressed out for it, it caused me too much pain, I was too lazy for it, or I just plain lost faith in it. But I inevitably always went back to it. And it was always patiently waiting for me. I love it, I hate it, but here I am, a decade later, still not done with it.