“I quit!”, he said as he stormed out of the Yoga Shala. – Well, not quite. But the other day I did have another one of “those” bad Ashtanga days.
So, I am 57 in a couple of days and, as a result of various accidents one of my legs is shorter, I have a replacement hip and several other bits of metal in my leg. So, yes, of course, I find Ashtanga really hard, right? Right?
Err, no, actually. My problems are just problems, like everybody else’s problems. And my sore legs are not deserving of any more pity or attention than anyone else’s sore legs.
And you know what, EVERYBODY has bad Ashtanga days.
So why is it SO hard sometimes?
The first thought I had in that hissing fitty moment was “so where the fuck is the steadiness and ease?” See, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, THE text on Yoga, doesn’t really talk much about Asana practice, the sutras certainly don’t go into any detail or instruction on poses, etc. But the one thing they do say is: “sthira-sukham āsanam” – which roughly translates to “Posture should be steady and comfortable.” And I felt all but steadiness and CERTAINLY no bloody comfort.
Thank goodness I have a excellent teacher. After patiently listening to my “I am not sure Ashtanga is for me” routine, Judi smiled, pointed out that we all have those days and handed me, once again, the key to a good practice. “Today”, she said with a smile “I want you to slow down and REALLY focus on the breath, forget everything else and make sure you initiate ALL movements with the breath, also, be mindful of the correct breath count.” My practice that evening was pleasant, pretty steady and, yeah, quite comfortable.
I love Ashtanga but it is a bitch, it really is. It plays with your ego, it lures you into wanting achievement and tempts you to try and go places you’re not ready to go. And that is one of the great teachings of this practice. The discipline, the perseverance, the humbleness and the patience – lots of patience.
Ashtanga has a fixed series of postures, and you are meant to make your way through the sequence, one posture at a time, only approaching new ones when you are ready and have built the foundations for them with the previous ones. When you start you might just do sun salutations and then slowly and, erm, steadily, move on from there.
When practiced properly Ashtanga can be the perfect antidote to this rising culture of ego driven Instagram contorsionism.
Pattabhi Jois placed a huge emphasis on the breath. He also stated that “when yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time”, one can rid themselves of the six poisons in our heart “these are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth”; perhaps unsurprisingly these are some the things that often trip you up in Ashtanga:
Desire – to achieve certain postures
Anger – when you don’t get what you want
Delusion – about the goals of your practice
Greed – wanting it all, NOW
Envy – look at him/her, she started after me and can do Marychiasana!
Sloth – which can set in when you lose your focus on what matters
It really doesn’t matter what level of fitness you’re at or whether you can touch your toes with your nose, the postures are but a vehicle, a means to a higher end, NOT the goal of Ashtanga. My favorite quote from Guruji goes:
“Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga.”