Why practice Ashtanga yoga?
When I began practicing, I had a goal. I had a purpose. It was clear. I wanted those toes. I wanted my fingers locked around those guys. (I was reaching to the mid-shin area at best)
I asked different teachers, they all said the same thing.
I wasn’t, nor am I now a believer in Mercury in retrograde. I’m uncomfortable sitting in circles and chanting, kumbaya. I like whiskey and Jay-Z. I like to ride a fixed gear bike. Independent coffee shops, hot showers, and skinny jeans.
I don’t buy into the woo. The sewage, mysticism, hippy talk outside of rational science.*
The idea that yoga was more than the asana I practiced for 90 minutes once a week to compliment my running practice, was a bunch of tomfoolery.
There was a time when I practiced to get physically stronger.
I don’t know when the feeling changed, when it all softened. I would give a different answer for why I get up in the AM to practice now. The answer seems to have changed over the years.
I know at first it would have been easy to answer . . . I’m practicing to stretch and get stronger. And as they say, ‘careful what you wish for.’ Those things happened, but not what I had intended.
My anger grew stronger. My jealousy got stronger, and my ability to hold onto those feelings stretched out longer.
During the free time of practice between asana, ‘mind-wandering’ behavior can occur. If we are not clear on the focus, the purpose for our practice, when the mind is lost in free time, some of us daydream, focus on to-do lists, or get stuck in a negative loop. ^1 At the very least in the Ashtanga yoga method, we have 5 breaths to count. We keep moving to prevent the mind from wondering, overthinking an asana.
There was a time when I hated myself and my life, and practice was a form of punishment. A punishment worthy of the crime I felt I had committed. Getting up in the AM to be alone on the mat was part of my penance. I was, Doing Time. Doing Mysore.
I was stuck in a negative feedback loop. There was a lot of darkness. Anger was there, resentment, jealousy, disgust, and hate. Each of those guys showed up with me on the mat and didn’t leave. Oftentimes they grew stronger because of the practice.
I was jealous of students getting new asana, jealous of their ability to move a certain way. That jealousy boiled and tormented me each day, and then it would show up again the next day. It was in my face. It was below the surface of my skin, erupting like boils. I hated my practice.
Like I said, I’m not sure when it softened and I began to love my practice. There wasn’t a specific moment, a particular asana, a life changing epiphany. It changed slowly, so slowly in fact, that it didn’t register.
I do recognize that it changed. That I’m not the same person I was. I recognize that the practice is responsible for that awakening. I also recognize that it would have been set off in a less controlled environment and potentially caused more harm to myself or others.
The beauty of these feelings being contained to practice was that I was able to work through my crap. Examine it, dissect it, experiment on it, and own it.
I get to do it every morning.
I look forward to the experiment most mornings. About 90-95% of the time.
I don’t look forward to waking up at 4am to practice before teaching, but the results are worth it.
The results will vary. Indirectly related to practice, I’ve traveled to almost every continent, reconnected with my childhood dream of living on a sailboat, worked abroad, prevented diseases, and allowed myself to be fully happy with who I am.
Ashtanga Nurse Rx:
Get real clear about WHY you practice. If you need to meditate, do asana, take a walk in nature, sing the woo, whatever. GET REAL CLEAR ABOUT WHY YOU PRACTICE. How you get to practice and what you practice will all be influenced by your WHY. Simon Sinek has an inspiring and persuasive TED talk about why the WHY matters most.^2
When the WHY is answered there are no excuses that can substitute for being more important than you doing for you.
I believe that this practice allows the light inside me to shine. I believe this practice heals dis-ease and the is answer to owning a full and happy life. There are other ways that work, but this works for me. That’s why I wake up at 4AM and go to sleep at 8:30 many nights. That’s why I teach. That’s why I share this method with students every morning. That’s what inspires me.
If you get stuck in a negative loop, focus on the breath and not what the asana looks like. 5 breaths and move on.