Updated: Feb 19
Tumultuous times are rocking my yoga boat and I am scrabbling to process and keep up...
I am finally questioning how and why I use asana and the Ashtanga Vinyasa method
My belief systems and the world outside are in turmoil and here I am trying to do Kapotasana and then turn myself inside out so that my legs go behind my head?! Why am i doing this? Why do I keep on doing this? Well times are changing as we accept that yoga is both a spiritual and self help tool and will never be quite the same again after we all started exploring it a deeper and deeper depths. Are we losing our faith in asana? Are we mistrusting tradition in yoga? Or is this a natural evolutionary process just sped up because of so many changes are happening at once?!
Lockdown three is so very hard and we are all facing so much struggle, isolation and mental churning as we question more than ever what is this yoga, how we are using it and WHY it becomes our own more and more as we make our own way and continue to personalise and make do with whatever we need. Everything is up in the air within the ashtanga global community and I personally feel a certain resistance and confusion toward show I teach this inward spiritual process when much of the world perceives yoga as yoga postures… truth is many of us established practitioners seem to be falling out of love with the yoga postures and deeper and deeper into the yoga! The postures are just the playground, the clay, the tangible material..
Is it me or is there a bigger divide than ever between those who know this and those who do not? I struggle as a teacher who wants to teach yoga among students and even younger teachers who are obsessed with asana ... At this point my classes have dried up and the ones i have are poorly attended, I see this as a failure to either connect with the correct students OR as a success that I have inspired the students to self practise! Another answer would be that as yoga became virtual teachers are instead of being grouped together under studios, now all in it for themselves and the market is saturated with offerings and it has all become overwhelming! And so are yoga teachers now self promoted business owners? This whole idea of having to sell yoga and compete in the industry makes me feel giddy.
After so much reading and practising of surrender, letting go and acceptance the binds that used to tie me to my physical practise are thinner than before, looser, more organic, I have come to a place where i need the yoga but dont need more postures, I am finally realising that those postures that are next on my to do list are not like the ones before, but make huge demands on my physical body and perhaps it is best to let them go too, to stop here, to be content with what I have…
We come to the mat and gain flexibility, mobility, strength, lightness and health of body but surely we don't have to keep going until we have a body that makes every shape possible and perhaps even performs what many conceive to be the impossible?
Let's say strength is good as it means we have a body that supports itself that is less prone to wear and tear and injury but in terms of flexibility surely once we have a body that can sit, stand and manoeuvre with ease we shouldn't keep opening our joints until in fact we reverse this as the body actually becomes unstable!
We all know that hypermobile bodies are less stable and yet we aspire to be like those bendy ones in class, I often say ‘god bless the stiff yogi’, or was it someone else said that? For that body reaches the inner work of yoga sooner in their postures.
Hips are a big one. Sure let's open our hips so that we can sit comfortably on the floor as we ought to as humans but why persist until we can drape our legs around our necks? My hips refuse to budge much more and I refusing to accept this I still spend so much time working towards leg behind head range of motion? Why!!!!!? Now I never thought I would be saying any of this, I defended my chosen practise always, it empowered me and transformed me into a better person, how could it be anything but perfect!? I took the AV series as gospel for 4 to 5 years and worked according to the book, trusting the order and the process, I am someone who didn't even do Shalabasana, a simple backbend that even beginners can get a lot of good out of until I had worked diligently on my Primary Series for about 4 years. I was so afraid of breaking the rules! I am ashamed now!
Truth is, in my case I should have been working backbends all along, they would have ironed out my posture, forward sloping shoulders, tight chest and even brought me out of my tendency for low self esteem and confidence! Thing is I found out the hard way, only after practising the same damn thing for many years did my body, perhaps more knowing than my stubborn mind, show me that I was being unfair on my body. My body would seize up and be sore for days, I pushed without knowing I was pushing and many times even my Lifeforme mat seemed too heavy to carry home!! I must admit this is partly because I was my own guru, with nobody to watch over me, advise me or pace me, and I am pretty hard-headed. Only after my hip started clicking in all the flexion poses did I start to worry, or rather panic, and I was forced to start to tentatively and fearfully consider that perhaps what I was doing may not be kind to my body! I was so blind but why?
Even in this picture of me in Mary C it is clear that i am sacrificing height and the most important component the TWIST to hold that bind in place, in fact fighting to keep that bind is screwing up my whole alignment, ease and state of yoga within this posture right? Why did it never occur to me it is better without?
Because somewhere along the lines, somewhere near the start I had come to understand that the sequence is learned one by one posture and we do not move on until we have mastered it. We see these beautiful example of the Full Primary Series on Youtube and we foolishly presume that it isn’t that hard, nowhere does it say on Youtube that you should learn slowly and steadily with a teacher, ( remember the hatha yoga texts all warn that you must practise with a guru), and nowhere does it say this class, or demo, (because they are often identical) is being performed by a someone who has been doing it for decades!!!!
Of course there is great genius methodology in the series but i believe that if you do not practise 6 days a week,a s many of us modern day practitioners do not, it will take us a very long time to progress through the series, and we end up spending too much time on the same stuff, in my case 4 years! Truth is although full of safety measures and important strengthening, grounding and breathing work, the true counterposes of the Primary Series lay awaiting in the beginning of the Second Series. I now work and teach these postures in all classes to all levels, through experience I have learned that the second series isn’t some wild futile animal to be feared until your teacher says you are ready.
Then there are the postures that always feel a struggle, even thought you are doing them correctly have we ever stopped to think that perhaps our anatomy, our proportion, our actual skeleton might not be suited to doing this thing? Answer is probably no! It was only after I reached a certain practise plateaux that I started to go back and reassess and play, yes play! With postures and take my mind back into what it does best- thinking, that I began to get more intelligent and knowledgeable with what I was doing to my body by doing a load of the old postures new ways and adding tonnes of research poses into my practise!
I think it is very important to say here that I fully appreciate the AV sequence method is designed to lead us away from the mind towards transcendence which is a beautiful process, but every now and then we must practise with the mind, with discernment, with logic and understanding. We must workshop ourselves and our bodies if we want this practice to be sustainable and life- long! It doesn’t mean we have to abandon our path to transcendence, nor that we are bad ashtangis!
Remember too that those advanced practitioners are in fact athletes! They probably have a bodily constitution that suits the practise, a firm mind and a will to sacrifice much to continue the practise of Series. It is also said that ‘hard times need hard therapy’ some crave the tapasic element and it works for them to get over their stuff. Most of us are not willing to spend hours on the mat each day, tailor our diets, our social loves and daily patterns to facilitate this dedicated and strong practise. If it works for them I am happy. We must be careful not to get too much satisfaction from zealous postures attainment though for that is a trap, and only serves to raise up the ego.
We all get told to listen to our bodies, but at the same time we want more, more postures, more stretch, more challenge, more trophies… The ego is a good thing because it keeps us showing up but how difficult it is to have no attachment to results when at the back of your mind you know that there are exciting postures waiting ahead and you are on a definite path towards them. ‘All is coming’ only comes when you detach from wanting them, and it is the understanding of yoga itself that is coming! How hard to forget about the goal and be humble when you have seen these postures already! Imagine for a moment that you had never seen pictures of them! That your practise was all you knew, that you had never seen how the postures develop, you would be quite content!!!!
Thanks for reading. This is a very confusing and tumultuous time but I think you will agree that it is wonderful that we are all questioning right now! Evolution is a response to change and the speed at which changes are coming has picked up and so perhaps we are all scrabbling to keep up!
Good luck finding your own way through!