While I've practiced yoga for years, I had never been formally introduced to Ashtanga Yoga until I started my yoga teacher training in February.
My teacher trainer, Laurel, begins her curriculum teaching us Ashtanga, the foundation of yoga as we know it today. And... I mean... the woman has studied with THE K. Pattabhi Jois, who developed the Ashtanga Yoga system and founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. So... no big deal (hair flip)... she knows her stuff.
Anyways, I have placed all my trust in Laurel and Mary Ellen (my other awesome trainer) and thus have taken a deep dive into the Ashtanga practice, fully immersing myself in this first module of our training.
Ashtanga is a set series of postures. You cycle through the same poses (asanas) in the same order linked to very specific breath cues and focus points (drishti). You keep practicing the Primary Series until you master it. Then you move on to the Intermediate Series, and then the Advanced...
I'm not going to lie, at first glance, Ashtanga seemed a little strict and rigid, and I wasn't so sure about it... I was so used to doing different vinyasa sequences every class... and a big part of me loved the element of surprise: what was coming next? We're going from Warrior 3 to WHERE? Oh.... hey flying pigeon. That just happened...
But, I was committed to the process. So, I signed up for the Led Primary Series at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus (AYC). Laurel had highly recommended AYC's studio owner, and overall Ashtanga badass, Taylor Hunt.
(Note, a 'Led' Ashtanga class is where a teacher actually cues you through the series, you do it together as a class, like you would in a 'typical' yoga class. Why I'm explaining this will make more sense... just keep reading).
So, with a group of my fellow teacher trainees, we set our alarms well before the sun would rise and walked into the studio at 5:15am that Friday morning. We were all kinda like woaaaa... what did we just enter into. Then, we rolled out our mats (in the BACK row) and gave it a whirl (*note: we had already had a dabble in Ashtanga at that point, we had done a modified primary series in our training).
Well... I gotta say... By the end of class, I knew I was hooked. I mean reel me in and fire me up on the grill, because hot damn this chick was hooked.
As the sun rose, I drove home feeling liberated. I felt this sense of lightness that came from this inner joy, no doubt cultivated from the practice. I felt like my energy had been unlocked in new ways, and I had a serious case of yoga drunk.
I realized the beauty and intelligence of the sequence. What at first seemed rigid, now seemed like a wonderful structure, a path that would lead me to a meaningful, strong, fun, adventurous practice... the element of surprise of 'what post will come next?' that I loved in a vinyasa flow class evolved into, 'what will my mind and body be able to do today?'
And that's a pretty damn cool surprise.
A central idea in Ashtanga Yoga is that of surrendering to all that the practice has to teach us on and off of the mat. It's about showing up. It's about practice: tons and tons of practice. It's about paying careful attention to what is happening in your mind and body each day, each practice. It's also about practicing without attachment to achievement; and, instead practicing with intention and devotion to each step along the journey. It's about appreciating where you are in that moment.
I love that. I love every bit of it.
So I went back to AYC. I signed up for another Led Primary Series, on another early Friday morning. And I went back again, for a third Led class.
While I was loving the studio and the practice, I was still a little scared of going to the Mysore class... which is traditionally how you practice Ashtanga.
Ok so hold up, what's Mysore?
It's basically like an open gym for yoga. You go in, roll out your mat, and start going through the Primary Series on your own (or Intermediate series, or Advanced A/B, you know depending on your level). Instructors are then there to help you remember the sequence, assist you deeper into poses, or help you find ways into new ones.
Well, I'm happy to say that in this the year of facing my fears, I sucked it up and signed up and went to Mysore.
I walked into the studio with a nervous stomach: I felt like an Ashtanga pup going to hang out with the big dogs.
That nervous stomach went away pretty quickly, I'm happy to report, because immediately, studio owner and instructor, Taylor, welcomed me in and got me started. Once I started moving, it just felt good to do my thing. At that point I knew the sequence of the primary series pretty well, and then Taylor helped me fill in the missing pieces when I forgot which asana came next.
What was so fantastic was to get to mindfully focus in, really feel and pay attention to my body, just be on my mat, not worrying about what others were doing. The practice came to life in a new way. When I got to some challenging poses (i.e. supta kurmasana, which in my head I call kermit the frog, and marichyasana d, which in my head I call arch nemesis), Taylor helped get me deeper into them. Actually, marichyasana d, I honestly thought I would just never be able to do. I thought my body just wouldn't ever physically allow for it.
But then Taylor came over, sat down, and was like bam pow, grab my shoulder, do this, breathe deeply, twist there, pull here: you can do it.
And I did. (With lots of help.... but I did, I twisted around and bound!) That pose is one big 'holy shit.'
It's pretty cool when someone else can see capability in you that you never knew you had. Talk about empowering and really freaking inspiring.
Mysore is like doing a personal, home practice, but it is enriched by a proven, traditional yoga system that I'm then assisted with one-on-one. That means I get to really deepen my practice. I'm not just going through the motions, I get to ask for help, I get to have a dedicated, trained, Pattabhi Jois-Approved (and certified) yogi share his knowledge for the human body and the practice with me and help me advance at my own pace.
It's freaking awesome, people. It's like getting private yoga training... in a class setting.
Say what? Yeah. It's a yogi dream.
What I REALLY love is the atmosphere and energy of the space. I love the sense of purpose and peace. Looking around me, I noticed all of the other yogis just doing their things, each one of us at a different part of our own unique yoga journey.
It is so inspiring to see some of the 'advanced' yogis working through postures in the Intermediate and Advanced Series (which... are INSANE). I felt myself watching them with total respect, out of this place of admiring their dedication and devotion and practice. I thought to myself, 'that's pretty damn cool.' I also thought to myself, 'man am I just loving my journey right here and now.'
I am just going to keep practicing. I'm just going to keep deepening, dedicating myself to the process, one breath at a time.
Then, maybe one day... I'll be the yogi working on the Intermediate Series... doing something like dwi pada sirasana...
Whatever comes my way, I'm just going to enjoy the practice.
"Keep practicing and all is coming." - Pattabhi Jois