I didn’t know if I’d be writing about year seven, yet here we are together. I’ve been reflecting on my Ashtanga yoga journey each year since I committed to this form of practice back in 2014. You can read about past years here.
Last summer my asana practice was disrupted by a mysterious illness. I’m very fortunate that through experimentation, I was able to remedy my blood count irregularities and lack of vitality through a change in nutrition. However, this change created a bit of a spiritual dilemma in which I had to decide whether I was going to elevate my own health and wellbeing over the lives of other sentient beings. My understanding of ahimsa has been challenged in this process and I’m still feeling some dissonance around it. Yet, this discomfort has also been an opportunity for learning and insight. I don’t know where I’ll ultimately land, but for now I’m feeling healthy and well, and for that I’m thankful.
The long process of figuring out my health concerns and healing resulted in about a year-long hiatus from ashtanga yoga during which my physical practice consisted of bits of the series, or gentler vinyasa yoga and walking in nature. Once I was fully vaccinated, I began to contemplate returning to the shala, but I was feeling very apprehensive for a number of reasons.
I knew it would be hard work and I worried a bit about being able to approach my practice in a way that didn’t entrench me in unhelpful habits. In yoga and in Buddhism, kleshas are unwholesome mental states, such as ignorance, attachment, and aversion that can result in harmful actions. Ashtanga yoga can be quite challenging and invites the progressive accomplishment of increasingly difficult postures. Could I find a wholesome balance this time around, or would I surrender into the inner and outer magnetism of over-striving?
I was also feeling a little disillusioned by the very same schisms we’re seeing in society at large showing up in our yoga community. Its been hard for me to understand how yoga teachers, who project a commitment to the eight limbs and seva, or selfless service, rationalize beliefs and actions that may feel self-serving, but contribute to collective harm. My own challenges with ahimsa have helped me find some humility and a beginner’s mind about this – I really have no idea what might be underlying others’ choices and beliefs. How can I know what’s truly in another’s heart? Ultimately, I had to ask myself, am I ready to invite folks with such (apparent) views into the most intimate and sacred space of guiding or sharing my spiritual practice? My response to myself was one of my favorite mantras presently; “Well, let me just see…”
Stepping back into the shala was both nourishing and humbling – like coming home – or like taking a long cool sip of water, being surprised at how parched I’ve been, and yet knowing that thirst of the body/mind can never be permanently quenched. When I first encountered Ashtanga yoga I threw myself into it with idealistic enthusiasm. Now I’m returning to it with more appreciative discernment. Interestingly, I think this is also my journey with everything in this life; as on the mat, so off the mat – reminding me of an often-quoted phrase (in spiritual circles) from Hermes Trismegistus in the Emerald Tablet, “That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.”
May all be well with humankind
May the leaders of the Earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path
May there be goodness for those who know the Earth to be sacred
May all the worlds be happy
Peace, peace, perfect peace
–Mangala Mantra, English translation of closing practice chant