Friday, May 20, 2011

Ashtanga Yoga: A Root-Centered Practice

I haven't posted much for a couple weeks...I've been filling up my time with other things and haven't had anything in particular that I wanted to write about.

I've still been reading my favorite blogs around the Ashtanga yoga blogosphere though and a few days ago, one of Nobel's posts especially caught my interest.

Nobel asks: Is Ashtanga practice by itself sufficient for a core-centered practice?

The real answer to any good question is, of course, "that depends".

On a pretty good day, I realize that there is not going to be a point in life when things stop changing. I thought for a long time that things would settle down, be steadier, when [insert next personal milestone here] happened...when I finished grad school, got a job, got a better job, moved to a different town.

I credit my Ashtanga practice for the few clear moments when I realize that steadiness doesn't come from having just the right life situation. It comes from the inside out. I make steadiness happen or I don't as the case may be.

Nearly everyday I feel like there is some uneven ground beneath my feet. Many steps I take are uncertain ones and some feel more like giant leaps into the what to do and where to go when the ground opens up underneath you?...back to the practice.

My short answer to Nobel's question in the comments to his post was this:
Yes, Ashtanga yoga is enough for a core-centered practice, as long as you're not in a hurry. If we are talking specifically about the physical strengthening of the core muscles, I think the time it takes to develop core muscles depends somewhat on body type....just like some people increase upper body strength faster than others, the core muscles develop more quickly in some bodies than others. I watch students in my Mysore room work diligently at practice, but some still develop strength and lightness sloooowly.

...But is that really what we mean when we ask about Ashtanga as a core-centered practice...just really awesome abs?...or just the ability fly our legs through our arms and land? If this is it, then Pilate's or some time at the gym might be a better match.

...But as I've watched practice change me over the years, I've watched it provide access to a true source of steadiness that gets stronger over time even as life events shake up the ground underneath me. The longer I practice, the less I'm concerned about whether my core muscles are physically strong enough to do any one pose or transition in particular.

Nearly 10 years of practice and I still can't lift up and clear the floor with my toes when I jump back....But amid crazy busy schedules and all kinds of changes this past year, I'm still standing. It leaves me with no doubts about the core-centeredness of the Ashtanga practice.

...Or maybe core-centered is not really the right phrase. Maybe we should call it a "root-centered practice" Steadiness starts from Mula bandha, the root lock and as Nobel puts it in a recent post, like a root for a tree "it [yoga] sustains you" .

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