January 15, 2013

I Almost Quit Ashtanga Yoga. ~ Peg Mulqueen

I realize I’m not about to make any friends with this disclosure.

Because even though I changed my mind, I must first lay bare the parts that nearly sent me packing.

First off, any practice so goal-oriented, linear, and bound by  rules is apt to be challenging—if not, down-right contest driven.

We practice at a certain time, have rigid rules and standards, and require mastery to move along in the practice instead of the other way around.

Ashtanga is not for the faint hearted as it actually prides itself in being a more rigorous, physical, and demanding practice. There is a high degree of athleticism inherent to the ashtanga method, which unavoidably leads to some level of competition—even if only within the student alone.

The ego is not only apparent, but some might argue necessary.

I’ll be the first to admit that ashtanga has brought a great deal of discipline into my life. It has left me more grounded, stronger, and definitely more humbled.

Problem is, as of late, I’m not sure it’s offered me a great deal of kindness.

What is “correct method?”

You see, I’ve followed the rules and abided the standards for quite some time now. I’ve experienced the resentment of being held back and the pride of being moved forward—followed by the admonition of feeling both. I have practiced through pain and rested with guilt.

And though my body is more flexible, I fear my mind may be more rigid. Somewhere lost in all this “correct method” has been my compassion, some ease, and certainly balance.

Too much sthira (steadiness) and not enough sukha (softness).

But that’s when a good teacher steps in. Not the ones who use their dogma the way my grade school nuns used their rulers to keep  students in line.

A good teacher is one who focuses on the practice not the poses. One who greets me with an open mind and open heart. Because a good teacher understands that correct method is less about whether I exit a posture without my toes touching down, and more about how I can enter my life a better person.

This system is larger than its parts.

Postures are just postures. They hold no keys to the gates of heaven. But when linked together, they do offer us a path towards developing strength and health in the body and mind. That’s all—nothing more, nothing less.

So, thanks to my teachers, I’ve come home to my practice a little softer and more forgiving.

And that’s my correct method . . . for now.



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