Someone asked me last night how long I’ve been been practicing Ashtanga. I’m not sure when to start the count. I probably took my first led Ashtanga class about 10 years ago, but I was a flibbertigibbet for some time. And I had already begun teacher training in a style of vinyasa yoga.
I’d say the real starting point, when it became a more or less a daily practice, was in the Summer of 2011 when Sue P. and I went to Burlington Vermont for an intensive teacher training week with David Swenson. Still a baby practice to be sure.
Don’t even ask me how long I’ve been practicing yoga, I probably won’t give you an honest answer. Decades.
Which sounds all braggart, I confess. But not to worry, I’m solidly back in first series after a series of Unfortunate Events (sorry Lemony Snickett). First there was Lyme’s disease, which didn’t turn chronic but did lead to a 5 pound weight gain, and just as I was recovering from that I lost my only sister to drug addiction in the midst of the worst winter of my life. Perhaps I will write more about Chris later. If I seem to gloss over it here, it’s more out of a lack of readiness and a sense of rawness as I approach the one year anniversary of a profound loss that has affected every aspect of my life.
No, I’d much rather write about the awful winter, pounded by snowstorm after snowstorm and ice dams and roof leaks and broken down old snowblowers and a husband who went to China 25 times in one month. Or at least it felt that way sometimes. You have no idea, or maybe you do if you’re from New England, how very grateful I am for this mild winter, and that some days I’m tempted to kiss the bare asphalt of my driveway, just for being there, un-iced.
Five pounds turned into 20 and I was never a skinny Ashtangi anyway, I started losing poses. Or rather, I never got back to 2nd series after putting it aside for a while after the Lyme’s diagnosis. Then even first series poses like Marichyasana D became difficult, then impossible. A hip injury surfaced, and, to my horror, stayed, until I eliminated backbends from my practice and left my teacher.
Which is another loss. A big one, losing a teacher. I loved my teacher, but we came to a parting of the ways. He is an amazing teacher, so all I will say is that his teaching stopped working for me. I am still grateful for everything I learned from him, and the meticulous attention to the details of the practice, the exquisite refinement he instills in the students who study with him for a long time.
I am grateful, so very grateful, for Sue’s new mysore program at New England Yoga. I can’t even tell you how walking into that room makes me feel, and how after barely 4 weeks of practice there I feel at home in a small group of familiar faces, many of whom are already dear to me. I could kiss the floor of her studio, although I probably won’t considering the number of feet that tromp around that space. I am in love with this quiet, accepting space.
The point, if I have one, is that the practice isn’t always linear. Oh sure, when you’re first learning, particularly if you’re somewhat in shape, it grows by leaps and bounds and there’s always that next pose on the horizon. At some point in a maturing practice there are bound to be setbacks, injuries, life events that force you to stop relying on the next pose for sustenance and inspiration. This, of course, has been written about before. But perhaps it’s good to hear again. Sometimes I watch other people struggle on their mats (which reveals more about my lack of focus than their practice) and I want to tell them to relax, to let go of the struggle. Of course I want to say that to them, because, right now at least, it’s what I most need to hear. My daily goal in the mysore room is to focus on my breath and let whatever happens happens. David Swenson once said that Ashtanga is like a knife, you can use it to hurt and you can use it to heal. Right now, I’m just working on the healing part. The flying, binding and heel grabbing bits can wait.