I'm piggy backing on Nobel's recent post today as he ponders, "Why do Ashtanga?"
Here's an excerpt from his post:
"Lately, I've been thinking about the nature of the Ashtanga practice, and how and why I came to practice Ashtanga. There are many questions that come up in the course of my reflections, questions such as: Do all Ashtangis go through the same experiences and processes in the course of encountering and starting the journey of practice? Are there common themes that run through all such encountering-and-beginning-Ashtanga stories? Or is every practitioner's story very different from every other practitioner's, so that there are no commonalities at all? Is Ashtanga for everyone? If it is not for everyone, what kinds of persons is it for? "
Great questions!...and Nobel's blog is a great one for keeping me thinking...
I dabbled in yoga classes of various styles from the time I was 16 until age 23...a bit like dating really...or something like an encounter with the 3 bears. I liked yoga in general, but no particular class was just right.
I went to my first Ashtanga class and that was it. When the time came to move to a new city, I went looking for yoga classes in the Ashtanga style. I wasn't interested in anything else.
...but why Ashtanga??
The one word answer for me is relationship.
As Nobel pointed out, within this yoga practice is structure. That structure let me dig one hole deeply. I've spent the past nearly 10 years digging just a little bit deeper to see where it would take me.
I'm not the first person to point out the similarities in the way Ashtanga practitioners relate to their practice and the way we relate to actual human beings. I've heard my teacher refer to the reasons that he is still "in love with the practice". I have "good practice days" where understanding seems to flow freely and I have "difficult practice days" where the practice and I seem, for the moment, to be at cross purposes.
...but it is that day to day digging within, that results in one deep hole. The path to depth has asked for more patience and commitment than dabbling with a little of this and a little of that, but it has also produced more steadiness, clarity and compassion. If I am going to attempt the same seeming impossibilities daily, I'm going to have to learn to cut myself some slack!
The daily relationship with a set series of poses done in a particular way (with breath, bandha and driste) have provided great opportunities to wrestle with surrender.
Nobel has this to say about surrender:
"All is coming. The practice, by its very nature, demands surrender within effort and effort within surrender: One tries one's best at every posture (effort), and if one doesn't "get" a particular posture today, there's always tomorrow's practice (surrender)."
The Ashtanga practice is subtle this way. What appears to be the same sequence of postures is never really the same twice. If I surrender to the practice as the ultimate teacher and to the guidance of my human Ashtanga teacher, then my understanding of both the practice and of myself evolve continually. As soon as I think I understand, there's more.
This process of meeting seemingly the same practice daily and frequently being startled by something new, is exciting, sometimes intense and often humbling. I don't know nearly as much as I momentarily might think I do and the practice always knows more.
To provide just one person's thoughts on Nobel's questions:
Yes, I think there are commonalities in what practitioners find within the Ashtanga practice, although of course each person's story is their own.
No, I don't think Ashtanga yoga is the technique for everyone. I think everyone could do it, but not everyone will want to....and that I think is key. This is just one path to the center. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra mentions several ways in. The important part according to Patanjali is that we choose the technique with which we can maintain a relationship...whatever that practice may be. Practice consistently, over a long time, without a break and all is coming.