Friday, February 3, 2012

The Tool of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

...just coming off a string of weeks of low energy, anxiety, and irritability. I've kept quiet on the blog in an effort not to dump much of that here.

The odd and sudden drop in energy and surge of irritability was accompanied by tightness surrounding my right hip...think of the feeling of having the right hip wrapped in immobile steel bands...ick!

This strange tightness has come and gone a couple times a year or so for at least the last 5 years of my practice. I don't know where it comes from and I don't know where it goes. It pops up suddenly, with no warning that I'm aware of and it goes just as suddenly.

This morning it was gone. Practice this morning was smooth, light, and full of energy...ahhh. :)

...which brings me around to something that has been tossing around in my head for a bit. What is the Ashtanga practice for then? Why do it when it feels uncomfortable?

My personal answer to this question has evolved over the life of my practice and I expect it will continue to do so as more years of practice go by.

There are any number of cliches, rumors, and labels put on both the Ashtanga practice and on the practitioners. I've heard that Ashtanga is too "hard" (both as in challenging and as in opposite of soft). I've heard that Ashtangi's are too "type A". I've heard that Ashtanga is "about the poses".

It's interesting to me that I've heard all of these things from people who do not have a consistent, long-term Ashtanga practice. what does my Ashtanga practice do then?

It is slowly teaching me how to breathe in any situation. It is a tool to get into the mind and slow down time long enough to take a conscious breath. Hopefully, in that breath, I see the situation a little more clearly and react out of a more open, steadier place.

I suppose from the outside, it might be hard for those looking in on a Mysore room to see that. It is easy to get distracted by the movement on the outside and miss where that precision, control, ease, and effortlessness come from.

The longer I do the practice, the more aware I am of how versatile a tool the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is. The practice itself does not have the qualities of "hard" or "soft" or "type A". The practice itself is a tool; it is neutral. How I use the practice generates the particular qualities. Anyone who has maintained an Ashtanga practice for a number of years knows that the quality of your practice changes daily. The longer I do this practice, the more I learn about how to use this tool for what I need it for at any particular time. It's a tool that helps me meet myself, both the light and dark aspects whatever that is at any particular moment....and when that meeting happens the practice enables me to keep breathing.

It's interesting to me that I often run into people who have never done yoga who have the idea that a class or two of yoga will make them always "calm".

I'm not sure exactly when this continuous "calm" happens, but I suspect it comes at some point AFTER you've done the work of meeting every last aspect of yourself.

When I've seen all there is to see of myself and am no longer afraid of it, appalled by it, and can still breath with it, perhaps at that point there is true calm. In the meantime, I'll continue to be grateful to have found this practice where I'm learning to how keep breathing no matter what happens. In that breathing practice, opening, steadiness and calm begin.


  1. Thank you Christine for your post. I really identified with what you shared and find it true in my experience with the practice as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the comment! I'm still mulling over other thoughts along these same lines....might write more on this topic soon. :)