Five Years of Ashtanga Yoga
Today I continue a tradition of reflecting on my Ashtanga yoga journey each year. It’s been a useful exercise to take a bird’s eye view of my practice on occasion and I hope these musings may also benefit others on their journey. I changed the name of the post this year, taking out the words Mysore Style, as life circumstances have caused my practice to include more teacher led classes and home practice. Though it’s been fun to experiment, I’m not sure about the consequences yet and I am doing my best to adopt the perspective of a curious observer, allowing the practice to evolve without judgment. You can read my reflections on previous years here and you can read about year six here.
Ashtanga yoga offers a unique opportunity to connect with inner experience because the series of postures are always the same. The practice becomes like a blank canvas upon which our dispositions, mental and emotional patterns, and behavioral traits come into stark relief. As David Garrigues said during a recent ashtanga workshop, when we free ourselves from distractions, lots of things start to become apparent – information once lost in the whirlpool of mental fluctuations rises to the calm surface of awareness and what was once hidden or ignored is revealed. Some of the things that float up aren’t much fun, but at least we have a chance to face them and either accept them with dignity or make changes.
In 2019, I was so fortunate to start the year with a week in Costa Rica with my husband practicing Ashtanga yoga under the tutelage of Kathleen Kastner and Wade Mortensen. We practiced Mysore style each morning in the huge shalas overlooking the jungle or the ocean, traveled the dirt roads to the beach during the day, and then came back to the retreat center to meditate in the evenings. We will be joining them there again in 2020. This experience reminded me of how much I enjoy practicing yoga with my husband and recently the stars aligned so that it made sense for him to join my studio. What a luxury it’s been to practice together more often.
Travel for a couple of funerals and a bout of vertigo resulted in the longest breaks in asana practice that I’ve experienced since I began this journey five years ago. I was reminded how much having like-minded folks in my circle who respect and honor time for practice is important – and how hard it is to persist without that support – especially in emotionally charged times. It has reinforced the importance of the work Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness (MAM) is doing building a supportive practice community in the midwest. I was also reminded that my ability to practice in the way I have is impermanent – may I nurture and appreciate it while it’s here and gracefully let go of it when it ceases.
Late nights teaching and taking care of the MAM practice space have made it more difficult for me to get up and going before dawn. So, I have found myself doing more home practice or taking classes at other times of the day – or at other studios, which tend to offer general vinyasa instruction. It has been fun and challenging to move my body in different ways and at different times of the day. I am grateful to have a practice that lends itself so conveniently to practicing independently.
This year, I had the pleasure of taking instruction from a number of very accomplished ashtangis. I participated for the second time in workshops with David Swenson and David Garrigues. I also was able to practice for a week with the current lineage holder of Ashtanga yoga, R. Sharath Jois in Miami, Florida. The energy of practicing the primary series with over 300 people in unison was incredible! It was also very inspiring to see such a master in action – I thoroughly enjoyed moving to the quality of effortless, straightforward and concise instruction that only years of dedicated yoga teaching experience can produce.
In June, I left for my annual silent meditation retreat – this year in the woods of North Andover, Massachusetts. This was the first retreat of its kind that I’ve attended that included daily yoga instruction in the mornings – a slow, gentle mindful movement practice. I very much enjoyed this opportunity and found this a very comfortable retreat experience. As is my habit, I scoped out a place suitable for my personal practice as soon as I arrived and every day over the lunch break I practiced primary series in the basement. Just as my yoga practice has skillfully served my meditation practice, I often discover the opposite is also true on these retreats. There is an openness and an ease to my practice that I often don’t encounter at home among the distractions and frenetics of everyday life.
My home base yoga studio, Maya Yoga, has undergone a number of transitions including two changes of ownership, an expansion, and a contraction back to its original form. It has been a lesson to cultivate equanimity amidst the changes. I am proud to announce they have become a partner studio with the Trini Foundation, a 501c3 non‐profit organization founded by Taylor Hunt dedicated to teaching the transformational practice of Ashtanga yoga to individuals battling drug and alcohol addiction. I look forward to seeing how this good work unfolds.
This year I have been teaching more yoga, leading a weekly Recovery Friendly Ashtanga Yoga class at MAM. Teaching regularly scheduled classes has offered me the opportunity to refine my understanding of the postures and watch returning students develop and grow. It’s a very inspiring, humbling and fulfilling experience and I hope to continue as long as the fates allow. May our practice, fueled by our deepest intentions and highest values, be the vehicle that carries us to the furthest shore with courage, compassion and wisdom.
One of the trickiest things about the development of certain qualities in practice is that they tend to very rarely reveal themselves in practice. They reveal themselves in our lives. The changes we want – more balance, more graciousness in letting go, clarity, wisdom – reveal themselves in our lives… the place you want to look to see if its worth pursuing is your life, because that’s where the results will show. – U. G. Krishnamurti
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