Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Ashtanga Mirror
In an Ashtanga yoga class you are doing the same poses in the same sequence every time. It is the Primary Series. So rather than the poses or sequence being different with each practice, the difference is you. As you put yourself into the same poses/sequence every day you can begin to detect differences in your body’s day-to-day energy. You might feel fatigued on one day and king or queen of the world the next. You will notice differences in flexibility. On one day you will break all previous records with a super-deep practice, and then the next day you might feel tight in the same set of poses. The breath is easy on one day, and hard the next. On one day you might feel in love with yourself and your practice, and on another be totally self-loathing. When the sequence is set as in the Primary Series, it highlights the changes that we go through every day. Ashtanga yoga becomes a mirror of observation for our selves.
Last week I took Bill Shapleigh’s Tuesday night Ashtanga class at YogaView. His class is done according to the traditional way. He calls out the poses, counts out the breaths, and adjusts students (with permission). There is almost no instruction about the poses. It is not a class for beginners, but it is a great class for those with experience who want to practice Ashtanga. This time I felt like a totally different person from the last time I had practiced the Series. In the last few years I haven’t been as committed to this style of practice as I once was, but I do appreciate it’s ability to tell me how I’m doing relative to the last time I did it. This time I felt more confident and sure in my body. A friend who was doing Ashtanga around the time I started yoga said she remembered when I first started how my legs would shake like a newly born foal in down dog. And now my legs feel sure like they are drinking healing sap from the earth. I was strong during the practice, and strong after it.
The biggest difference I noticed after doing Ashtanga yoga for a few years is that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. The healing balm of yoga worked. Then, after three-plus years of this practice, my emotions became difficult to process. I was going through a difficult break-up and making the first real decisions of my life. I eventually slowed down my practice, studied Iyengar yoga, and started to teach yoga. And now I have come into a better balance with myself spiritually and emotionally. And I still like Ashtanga!