For the past 5 years I’ve had a steady Ashtanga Yoga practice. This has had many parallels to my music practice and many subtle life changing moments.
Firstly, I started yoga as I was curious and I had done a handful of classes of different styles over the years. I did have a friend recommend that I do Ashtanga yoga and I started doing an 8 week course but didn’t finish it. I liked it but it just wasn’t for me at the time.
Fast forward a few years and a new neighbour moved into our apartment building who is an Ashtanga Teacher, Aaron Early. We got talking and Aaron encouraged me to come to class. 2 months later I did. I did a couple of classes then decided to commit to a 10 class pass. I finished my 10 classes over a 10 week period and was proud of that but needed some inspiration still so I bought a fancy yoga mat to keep me going. After each class I did feel good both physically and mentally. My wife noticed pretty quick how less moody I was and how more positive I had become. I then bought another 10 class pass and would just go to a class once a week. I was progressing through the Ashtanga sequence slowly. It was both inspirational and disheartening. I was inspired by the other students but thought I’d never be able to do some of the asanas they’re doing.
I finished my 20 classes and throught to myself yeah that’s enough. I like it but maybe I could do something else. However the guilt of having my neighbour going to teach each morning kept me going. I sense that he knew that I liked it but didn’t love it.
I kept up the classes and about another 5 classes something clicked. I felt I had “got it”. Not the asanas that I couldn’t do, but something in my mind changed.
It’s now been 5 years since then and I’m getting deeper into my practice. There’s still some asanas in the Primary series that I use props for and I’ve started working on the intermediate or secondary series.
My practice is consistent but it varies from day to day. I will do a full routine at least 4-5 times a week and sometimes I might skip a couple of asanas like Marichyasana B or C…or something similar because of time . Aaron said early on to do a backbend every practice. So even on days when I only do 5 Sun salutes I’ll try and finish with a back bend.
There’s a lot of stuff out there about Ashtanga and everyone has their own take on it. I’m getting use to this being a good thing. The way we practice is personal so that process and practice will be personal.
Some of the biggest things I’ve learnt are to deal with my own ego and self. Doing these poses everyday (mostly) has taught me that while the pose is the same each day it’s not. I can do some poses that I thought I’d never do but now I don’t really care about the ones I can’t do or the ones that I use props for.
I realise that it’s about just getting up and doing it. I read in a blog that you don’t need to do every pose at 100% effort and one of the big gurus of Ashtanga David Williams mentions that you shouldn’t stretch to when it hurts. Getting up a doing it already shows 100% commitment. I started to adopt a bit of this mentality and take some pressure off my practice. This made it easier and but also encouraged me to get up and do more and more regularly.
I recently tried to do one of the poses (paschimottanasana; seated forward bend) without my prop and I couldn’t so I just got my block and used it again. I’ll try again in a couple of months. What was good is when I went back to the block I could feel where the stretch was in my thigh and I paid more attention to correcting my posture than worrying about how deep I can go in it. This was a turning point in my ego as I wasn’t disappointed with a lack of progress in the asana but was actually proud that I became more curious and positive about the asana itself.
Yoga and the Mind, Body, Spirit thing is mystical but not a myth. The body part is easy to understand, do the asanas. The mind, is a little easier in that you have to mentally prepare yourself and mentally understand that there’s some things you can and can’t do. The spirit part is more the mystical part (for me). I feel that a little part of my spirit gets broken each practice. Whether it be 5 sun salutes or a full routine for over an hour. This part of my spirit getting broken is a good thing as I feel that it has peeled away my ego. Not to the point that I don’t have an ego, but to the point that I feel confident in who I am, what I am and what I can do (on and off the mat). I think that breathing through each asana is what taps into the spirit. Whatever is running through my head (work, life, family, friends) in each asana by the time I’ve got to the next asana that thought has gone. As the practice moves through the sequence my thoughts disappear quicker to sometimes I don’t think I’ve been thinking much or anything for a few poses.
I know that my body is in the best shape it has ever been and at the age of 46 I see friends around me who’s bodies are stiff and so are their minds. I wish I had got into it earlier but it’s not a regret as I’m grateful for having my practice. I have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea and had a breathing machine while sleeping. I no longer require this and have the best sleep and dreams that I ever had as an adult. I use to get hay fever regularly but haven’t had it in 3-4 years.
Yoga has taught me a lot and I have much more to learn. Yoga has cured me physically and helped me grow mentally.
I can only recommend to get into it as it will improve your life. Just stick to it and commit. It took me pretty much 6 months to actually get it. It might take you longer or less…I recommend Ashtanga Yoga as it teaches you to have your own practice at home.