Re-acquainted with Ashtanga yoga: My return to the Ashtanga mat
This is an exploration of attachment versus non-attachment. After a one-year break from Ashtanga Mysore-Style yoga, I have reflected on my daily practice which has changed so much over the past year: I have since restarted my ashtanga practice, stopped again, and restarted again. I share my reasons about why I stopped and my insights and revelations that have brought me back to stepping on the mat in a Mysore self-practice class. This is for any ashtanga yoga practitioner reflecting on and observing their own practice, and navigating through the waters of what it means to practice yoga in the first place.
I visited an old friend this morning; a friend who really propelled me on my journey of self-discovery, spirituality and peace some 4 years ago; a friend I have left to the side, unsure for some time of whether or not to reconnect: my friend, Ashtanga yoga. After having a dedicated practice since I began 4 years ago, it's been 5 months since I stepped onto my mat in an Ashtanga Mysore class. I have still had a fairly solid routine of practising some form of yoga most days, whether asana, pranayama, chanting or just meditation. But my Ashtanga practice? We have been on a big journey over the years - highs and lows - as I physically and mentally navigate my way through this complex yet liberating practice that always brings me back to observing and reflecting on my own inner self and mind. But this 5 months is the longest break we've had.
I went through some bigger things this time - exploring what such a 'dynamic' form of asana practice means to a woman; do the set sequences honour my body and cycle as a woman? Are these poses 'designed' for a woman's body? As I have delved deeper into an exploration of womb-honouring yoga for women's well-being, and connecting with Shakti (feminine) energy, I have been unsure about where I sit with Ashtanga yoga. Most of my teachers have been women, so this has definitely shown me that it has the potential to be supportive of women. But it hasn't been enough for me. So this break was necessary for me to reflect on my yoga practice and what it has meant to me over the years and what it means to me now. In doing so I was called to lay to rest and release some deep emotions and attachments that were linked to my practice. I could see that they were linked with the idea that I had unlocked a door to happiness and a feeling of inner freedom, but for me it came with physical costs sometimes - of overdoing it, not always honouring (or understanding) my cycles as a woman or my physical abilities in my body, and becoming attached to the physical practice in order to maintain this feeling of happiness. I know these approaches are by far the exact opposite to the real purposes of yoga. But I know I'm not the only one who has these experiences, because we are human and it can be easy to fall of this path. Too easy sometimes! This reflection made me re-explore moving in an even more embodied way and seeing if I can apply this more feminine, honouring approach to my ashtanga practice, which evidently was previously approached a little differently.
So how and why have I come back to practising Ashtanga in this way? I never felt completely finished with Ashtanga, and I have noticed changes in my physical, mental and emotional health, whereby I see how my practice has been such a grounding and stabilising tool for me. I have noticed that Ashtanga really strengthened my ability to cope with stressful situations and the general ebbs and flows of life. I want that back. So my big realisation is that where I stand on Ashtanga yoga has been more about my own state of mind, than the Ashtanga practice itself. The asana is just a physical method of meditation and awareness: what matters is the approach to which you practise. What affects our experience are our intentions. A truly beneficial asana practice is embodying more than the physical poses: the 8 Limbs of Yoga are a great place to start - the yamas and the niyamas - first, Ahimsa: non-violence; do no harm.
What I can see is that my uncertainty has come from a reflection of my ashtanga practice over the years. During this break, and with the deeper incorporation of more Trantric lunar-style feminine practices, my own consciousness has been developing a greater awareness of myself and how I used to practise yoga, versus how I practise now, and how I want to practice in the future. Our practice is always changing; our bodies change, our minds and emotions go through so many changes. So it's about flowing with that and accepting it. I am ready now to explore whether I can practice Ashtanga yoga in this way. It reminds me of the beauty of the paradoxes of yoga: we must resist attachment to our practice and allow all changes to happen, but the way to maintain this non-attahchment is through a dedicated practice. Ah the irony! And this is why I am still connected to Ashtanga yoga.