This morning in my 5:30am Mysore Ashtanga practice, I had one of those days where my body went on strike. Everybody has those days, where technically we can and have done all (or most) of these postures with grace and ease, but today… not so much. My muscles fought back in even the simplest forward bends, my spine wouldn’t loosen up, and in result, my inner-monologue was…well, let’s just say it was less than yogic.
Asana practice has two real main functions in the yogic tradition: to prepare the body to sit and meditate, and to open and balance energy lines in the body to facilitate personal development (so one can be comfortable in meditation internally). Typically on these days of physical ‘strike’ I’m left to contemplate in my Savasana what in my body/emotional patterning is so out of whack that it causes my entire physical being to seize up.
The beautiful thing about practicing yoga is that it can be anything to anybody: we have dozens of styles of yoga spanning from extremely exercise-y and non-spiritual to extremely spiritual with minimal postures. We have classes with very little talking or music and classes that resemble a Krishna Das concert. And if Asana isn’t your thing, you can still be a yogi – you can chant, meditate, practice Bhakti or Tantra. You can practice in a studio, at an ashram, at home, in the park. There’s something for everybody.
But the one thing yoga is NOT is all smiles, hugs, and chanting ‘Hare Krishna’ all the time.
Yes, sometimes it can be those things. That’s how American culture got the stereotype of the flowery yogini dressed in vibrant clothes, a headband, sandals, and hugging everybody she meets. And yes, those people are out there – but yoga is not that way all the time.
Yoga is difficult in oh so many ways – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s a constant process of breaking down to build up, letting go to create space – and inevitably yoga WILL make you take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and make you face all those things we’ve been holding on to and avoiding for years.
Yoga isn’t designed to be an easy practice; and it certainly wasn’t designed to be a happy joyful practice all the time either. Yoga is a parallel to life, and both of them are a bitch to participate in (but we must).
I sat with my discomfort this morning for an extra long time, and in my meditation afterward (after the 20 minutes of complaining in my head about how ‘unsuccessful’ today was) I realized that today’s practice served me more meaningfully than the last 20 graceful fluid practices before it.
Alexander Webster is an Ashtanga Yoga & Restorative Yoga teacher; the founder/owner of Urban Village Healer in the Denver Highlands (a grassroots Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine clinic), a therapist specializing in Yoga Therapy, Ayurveda, Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki, and Chinese Medicine. He is also a Hindu Studies speaker for several colleges & universities across the United States. Alik has a Political Journalism background with The Washington Post, Politico, and MSNBC, and is currently a freelance Digital Marketing Consultant specializing in non-profit marketing, website design, copywriting, and public relations and an On-Air Digital Analyst for 9News KUSA Denver. In his free time Alik is an avid marathon runner, triathlete, cyclist, rock climber, and vegan foodie.