On morning Mysore and why it's the best thing that has happened to my yoga practice in a long, long time.

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...

Maybe.

Whatever comes my way, I'm just going to enjoy the practice.

"Keep practicing and all is coming." - Pattabhi Jois

 

 

On what yoga is to me...and what this section of the blog will be about.

"'A further meaning of the word yoga is 'to attain what was previously unattainable.' The starting point for this thought is that there is something we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga... Every change is yoga... when we find a way to bend the body forward and touch our toes... or gain more understanding of ourselves and others through a discussion, we have reached a point where we have never been before. Each of these movements and changes is yoga."

-- T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

The truth is, there are a lot of meanings to the word yoga. Lots. The above text just happens to be one of my absolute favorites.

We experience yoga everyday, when we simply do something that we couldn't do or haven't done before. I say simply, because it doesn't have to be a huge life-altering thing. 

Like Desikachar says, every change is yoga. Yoga is happening all the time if we're open to seeing it. In fact, the most meaningful yoga typically happens far beyond the mat. The physical practice is actually only one aspect of yoga (there are eight parts... but more on that in a future post). The real yoga happens when we learn how to control our minds to live more presently in each moment, soaking up every sensation we feel, smell, see, hear, taste.

Small changes that move us closer to mindful living, is yoga.

So please, I beg you, don't stay away from yoga because you think you're not "flexible enough," or "strong enough," or "hippie enough" or "hipSTER enough" or "skinny enough," or "insert-adjective-here enough," because it is NOT about any of that. It's not even about the fun pictures, that yeah, I'll end up posting here. 

Yoga is so much more than a pose. Actually, I know some pretty amazing yoga teachers who are like, "meh, yeah I just really don't care about doing 'said-super-"impressive"-pose'... and it's not like doing this pose is going to make me a better person sooooo... whatever!" YES! I love that. It's so true: why do you go after a certain pose? If you want to, that's why. It's that simple. But nobody said you have to be able to do a headstand to be a yogi; and, being able to do a funky arm balance certainly doesn't make you a "good person."

And yoga is actually about being a good person. Whaaa!? Yeah! Yoga is about discovering our own truth and living it out fully. Yoga is joining the mind and body and spirit; yoga is linking breath to movement. This allows us live more fully focused in the here and now. Which in turn, makes us more attentive and loving to ourselves and those around us. Which in TURN makes us better people.

BAM POW! If a=b and b=c then a=c : transitive property (shout out to the WJHS math department), people.

Now about that physical practice. 

If it's the physical practice that scares you off... I think it's important to remember that every yogi started somewhere.  Hah, the thought of someone magically showing up to a mat and being like "HEY LOOK I CAN PUT MY FOOT BEHIND MY HEAD AND STAND ON ONE TOE! DAY ONE, AWESOME! I ROCK!" -- while, is a pretty cool thought (actually, I hate that thought, because let's be real I'd be SO JEALOUS of said magical person), this idea is actually totally insane, right? That happens to like... NOBODY. Maybe circus performers. Yeah, maybe them, maybe.

Maybe.

Yogis practice. One day, they decide to roll out a mat and try. And then they keep trying. And then they experience tons of little tiny changes like Desikachar talks about. Then, all of those little changes add up, and soon the girl who quit gymnastics when she was 11 because she was too scared to even attempt a back handspring WITH a spotter can hold a scorpion pose. Because little-by-little, she grew stronger: mentally and physically. She learned not only to build the strength and flexibility to get there... but she learned the discipline of practice, and she learned how to overcome her fears of all the plethora of possible things that could potentially go wrong as a result from falling (oh wait, that's me)!

The physical practice is what first drove me to yoga, and I'll end up writing a lot about it, as it has taught me so much about myself that has translated into incredible internal growth off the mat.

And I guess that's also why I want to share my yoga journey. Because thinking back to the Little J who quit gymnastics because she was terrified of basically EVERYTHING; and, the Little J who coached a handful of Silver Lake nuggets to do back flips off the diving board from her throne, er, I mean life guard chair, but who never actually even attempted a back flip herself, because, obviously, she was DESTINED to hit her head on the board, drown, and DIE... this same J is now doing that pose pictured above. WHAT?!

I was that person that looked at yogis doing crazy things, and thought I could never do that.

I was too scared. I just thought: no way, no how.

And yet, I decided I wanted to at least try. And I've dedicated lots of time, tons of time, to trying. And falling. And laughing. And trying again. And I keep trying. New things, different ways. I practice. And in the past few years it's like woa, I can do this? Me the one who fears? Say whaaaa? I honestly feel like if I can, you can... if you want to.

So that's why I'm writing.

But please always remember: yoga is so much more than any one, single pose. Yoga is more than going to a class and "doing it."

Yoga is to attain what was previously unattainable... in whatever form that takes for you, and it can have NOTHING to do with a mat and/or touching your toes. 

Yoga happens when we breathe and focus in on what is happening inside of us, right now. 

Yoga has taught me so much. And it keeps teaching me. And it'll never stop teaching me.

So on this blog, this section will provide not only stretches that feel good after we cycle and glimpses into my physical practice -- but really, it's a space where I'll share with you those amazing moments of small change and discovery, when yoga steps into my life and says, "Hey J, get a load of THIS."

And maybe you'll decide to give the whole yoga thing a try. And if you do, you better freaking share your journey with me, too! Instagram that shiz, people, I wanna see you rock. #PedalAndFlowHereGoes

Ok. I'm done now.

Namaste, ya'll.