So..it has been a little over a year since I began a true Ashtanga journey, and what a year it has been….
I began knowing only a smidgen of Ashtanga yoga, not even aware of its long and rich heritage (despite many years dabbling on other disciplines of yoga), associating bandhas with bandages, for example, and feeling thoroughly exhausted after completing just the fundamental standing asanas. How can one do more? I thought. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the thought of going to Ashtanga yoga twice a week…and hearing my own doubtful thoughts when Andrew or David said that the best cure for soreness was practicing more days a week! But I remember feeling so wonderful after practice that I kept on going, and I gradually got to a point where I went to the shala four days a week. At 5 days I felt that my body was at its maximum, and wondered how others can practice 6 days a week (according to the traditional Ashtanga philosophy). This week, after over a year, I finally got up to a practice of 6 days a week, and my body has forgiven me thus far. It actually feels odder not to go to the shala than to venture there on dark or cold mornings, when my body is protesting, because I know how good I will feel afterwards.
There was a phase when I got caught up in the mindset of, I’m going to master or progress to that pose! That was the ego talking, and of course, ego still lurks about a bit, but at least I am conscious of it now. There was the challenge of Supta Kurmasana, and Garbha Pindasana. How I sneakily watched others do those poses and wonder how in the world I would ever get there, while actively reminding myself that it is not the pose that matters, but where the mind goes.
There was also the milestone of finally completing the Primary Series, and having the honor of practicing with Saraswathi Jois when she visited our shala. Finally, I was facing the frightening challenge of the drop-backs and coming back up…after landing on my head two times on the floor.
Now, I have worked up to Kapotasana in the Second Series, and noticed something different with my mind, more than what my body is able to do. There is more awareness of the bandhas and drishti…and less of a grasping to the next pose…maybe because the poses of the Second Series are harder and I found myself thinking for the first time, “Uh, maybe I can wait on that,” and feeling OK with the waiting.
Finally, there is an awareness of the subtle psychological alchemy in yoga, and I still am not sure how that transformation takes place. I can go into Mysore class at my most frustrated and agitated state, but always feel as if I emerge a new person, with a clear mind and quiet heart. What frustrates me is still there, but it no longer possesses me like it would before. And so, in this stage of yoga, I am more aware of the effect of yoga on the mind, even though my body has changed drastically also. I am amazed by how this ancient tradition of a few thousand years still exerts such an effect on the modern mind, and still retains its numinous mystery…