Each of us has a form of expression that we are personally drawn to, sometimes from a very young age. It may be a sport, a musical talent, maybe dancing or singing. It is usually something that invokes emotion, connects us to our bodies and challenges us in ways that make us want to come back to learn more about ourselves. By allowing the time to enjoy this activity with regularity, we can become conscious of some deeper levels of our being than before. In my case, it was dance when I was young and then transitioned to yoga as I got older. I want to share with you the story of how my “thing” has helped me be a better me and how I think yours does too.
There is an insurmountable benefit of having a daily practice with the intensity and vigor that Ashtanga may bestow. The truth is really no secret, I Love Ashtanga! It is so diverse and paradoxical in its very existence. I am continually enchanted by the depth and breadth of what it steadily offers to my body, mind and soul. It was created to be challenging, not just in a physical sense, but one which envelops your entire being.
Ashtanga begins with a Sanskrit mantra chant and the meaning is beautiful. The feeling of this mantra comes from the sounds of the Sanskrit words for me. Overall, it prepares my mind to focus on my asana, my moving meditation. Then I activate my breath, in and out through the nose rhythmically, with a slight sound. Then the fun begins with the vinyasas and postures. My daily practice is the same sequence every day, except the day before rest. The practice here is the primary series only. It sounds like it could be boring and uneventful, but don’t let that be the judge!
I love how I feel on a daily basis with such a physical practice to strengthen and lengthen my body. On days that I can’t practice or on rest days, there is a notable difference in the overall connection I feel with my self. While I practice, my breath and heart are working, I am sweating, feeling into muscles that were once sleeping to my awareness. Movements are controlled yet graceful. There is nothing but somatic harmony. My more difficult poses require the most concentration. Emotions and other parts of my mind become intertwined into the process. It feels complex, sometimes I feel a super connection! Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and need to be more cautious or take it easy. The physical part teaches me about my strengths and weaknesses in a more convoluted way. It is not the same each day, but it’s the same each day. Something new comes up one day and then disappears the next. It is very interesting to watch these daily changes.
Some poses elicit emotions that I didn’t see coming. I have felt emotionally broken in supta kurmasana, or the sleeping tortoise pose (pictured below). I came out of the pose with a gasp of anxiety and claustrophobic feelings. I had not experienced that before in this pose and haven’t since. In back bending, I feel intense freedom. I have experienced feelings of fear and angst in the past as well. The practice is like a little look-book into some deeper places within my psyche. A portal to some of my other dimensions. I love all that the physical practice has to offer. I am strong. I am healthy. I feel good.
Getting into poses can drudge up some interesting deeply set emotions in the little hidden parts of your mind and sometimes it can come as a bit of a shock. I feel so grateful afterwards because I wonder, how would these come up for me if not through my practice? Some could be locked away indefinitely or build to an unhealthy level without an outlet.
Mental changes come from doing the practice over time. The observances of how I feel each day about even getting on the mat reveal something about my mindset. The daily witnessing of where I am inside my head helps me to know myself. I can look to find the root of my discontent and work with it. Or I can bask in the feelings of focus and synchronicity that is radiating from my being that day. I feel like this part can come from any sort of mindfulness practice. I also notice these types of things in my evening meditation. Sometimes it is like torture to try and focus on what I am doing. Those are the times when I know not to push it, rather to let it play out and think about it later. Every practice is not going to be amazing and feel like I am connecting more deeply. Sometimes I just get through. What feels right about that, is my ability to recognize this truth. It is okay for things to be out of sorts to some degree. It brings me peace to remember that when I am experiencing turbulence in my mind.
My particular favorite discomfort that rises from my yoga practice is when I am confronted with something that is challenging to me. It is not until after I have endured the challenge that I feel gratitude. As Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. Each time I try a new pose or do one I am working on, it can be rough and jagged. I might fall out of it or feel fearful and stop. It’s kind of like the last mile of a portage or a run. It can be tough to get through, but you can do it. It’s the obstacles we encounter that cause us to change and adapt in life. In Ashtanga, it is the same. The more difficult the pose, the more emotional and mental defiance that may accompany it. I love that about Ashtanga. It helps me grow, become more confident, listen to my body, become more content with any arising mental perplexities, and overall it helps to create a better version of me.
Everyone has something they connect with….maybe it is baking or crocheting, or running or playing an instrument. At the end of the day, these channels are meant to open up aspects of ourselves and turn the gaze like a mirror towards us for our viewing pleasure. Take time to indulge your personal form of expression. Watch what it brings to you. Search out and read the secret messages it can teach you. We all have the ability to do this in such a natural way. Find your version of yoga.
That is why I love Ashtanga. It is my teacher, I am forever a devoted student of life.