A few months ago, I wrote about my love affair with Ashtanga even though it doesn’t always love me back.
Many have asked me why I stick with it. The truth is, like a lot of great loves in my life, that loving feeling ebbs and flows. Some days I come back from a practice vowing that I am never going to go back again. Sometimes, I take a break. However, I always return.
Because like most great loves past and present, Ashtanga has taught me so much about myself. A lot of that stuff hasn’t been easy to take in. I always say that if you think you are past that pesky ego stuff, then a week of Mysore practice will change that perception pretty damn quickly. The truth is, I need Ashtanga to help put that ego in check.
I like to think of myself (and to a large degree I present myself) as a humble person, but the truth is, I really am not. I like praise just as much if not more so than the next person. I seek attention even though I am covert about it. Ashtanga reminds me that not only do I not need it, but it’s good for me not to have it at times. In a day and age where everyone is praised for the most mundane accomplishments—often times starting when they are just children—Ashtanga resists that. I am not going to get a trophy just for showing up on the field. A good instructor is going to tell me where I need improvement or—heaven forbid!—if I am doing something wrong.
Likewise, there is no one else to blame if I have a bad practice. I am responsible for how much or how little effort I want to give.
Also, Ashtanga has allowed me to overcome some of the body image issues that I still carry. As a teenager, I shuddered at the mere thought of all of the following: sweating in front of someone, wearing anything shorts or anything tight that would show off the overdeveloped calves I inherited via my father, and worst of all, looking like a fool if I did something wrong with my body.
Today I don’t care as much. When I was single, I used to joke that it was a good thing that I was not trying to meet a man at practice and that the shala did not have mirrors, because I certainly don’t look my physical best when I am practicing. Whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the car mirror after practice more often than not the face that stares back at me is sweaty and flushed while my naturally frizzy hair has managed to come out of its ponytail and is pointing in every direction. Still, I don’t care. In fact, I usually run errands afterwards if I have the time.
Lastly, Ashtanga makes me feel good in a way that nothing else never has. While a cynic may say it’s merely the endorphins that are being released post-practice, I believe it goes deeper than that. It is the only thing that has ever come close to quieting my monkey mind and while I have no scientific proof to support this, I believe that practicing Ashtanga before and throughout my pregnancy helped me to go through a 20-hour labor completely sans painkillers because I knew that the sensations would eventually end. (Lest anyone think I am implying that it was pain-free, let me state for the record that it was not. It hurt, but it was not unbearable. For the first time, I really knew what it was like to completely focus on my breath.)
Still, I know that as I conclude this piece that it is inevitable that Ashtanga and I will have another falling out in the future. There may come a point when it is no longer my primary practice. However, that is okay. I know that we will always welcome each other back and like most love stories, it will never really end.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel