Finding My Inner Teacher: An Ashtangi Confession. ~ Marya Roland

Via elephant journal
on Mar 8, 2013
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Photo: Lululemon Athletica

There are days when I am a crow, a horse or a fanning peacock, and I am filled with joy and connection to these wonderful creatures.

As a cultural Catholic, I am also ready to concede real or imagined transgressions at the drop of a yoga mat. So the question of whether I should be posing as a great warrior or a turtle is a topic that has crossed my mind—but not for the reasons you might suppose.

In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition to which I belong, there is a superb wisdom in the sequence of becoming a rooster, camel, little thunderbolt and pigeon.

One pose prepares the body for another, bhekasana before bakasana; kurmasana before kukkutasana—frog before crow; turtle before rooster. (Don’t they sound better in Sanskrit?)

Ordinarily an Ashtangi does not progress to the next pose in sequences until he or she, in my words, finds the pose (some say, master it.) Before proceeding to the second series, one is also expected to stand up from a backbend and drop back into it.

This order of asanas, or poses, made absolute sense to me both intellectually and physically during my first two years of practice. Then about a year ago, I experienced my first yoga injury—a hamstring connection tear, followed almost immediately by a painfully stressed quadratus laborum muscle that is still affecting my entire lower back.

In addition to these issues, Naomi and John, my dear teachers, departed for a more Ashtanga friendly city.

Left to my own yoga devices with a led class once a week, a touchy back and five days of solitary home practice, I quickly morphed into a masterless yogi-samurai, a ronin, a maverick Ashtangi.

In the unvarnished truth of the quiet mornings with my mat, my cat and sore back, my first no-no was adapting the sequence of poses. Seated forward bends from first series were killers, whereas backbends and most second series poses felt great, even if I couldn’t do them well. By omitting poses, adding others (and buying a new mattress) my back began to heal.

The slow, contemplative practice also gave rise to new awareness. I found poses that previously eluded me and felt a true affinity with others—rooster, frog and camel—as animals, not mere poses. Later, I strayed further by adding asanas that rewarded me with joy and satisfaction, even though they had not been given to me by my teachers. For me, crow and feathered peacock elegantly balanced the awkward strain of boat and the goofiness of arm pressure pose.

I am not suggesting that I or anyone else should have an exclusive home practice or that one should take mindless liberties with it, only surprised and pleased that my experience has been positive.

I admit, I seriously miss the independent togetherness of the Mysore style class.

I want the steamy, driving energy of practicing with others, where there is no time for daydreaming or other lapses, such as having to scratch my cat’s chin.

I confess to times when I am a slug—whose deepest thought is wondering what the word slug is in Sanskrit—and I feel defeated by little thunderbolt and finishing backbends, neither of which seems to have improved during this year.

Progress or not, backbends still make my back feel great, and I am often filled with gratitude for the practice and compassion for my back and my age.

Oh, my age. It seems I am older—much older—than most Ashtangis, but maturity does have a few benefits. It probably gives me a sense of urgency, guts and a confidence in the suitability of my practice at this particular point in time.

I even think the Ashtanga powers-that-be might approve.

So my daily practice, right or wrong, has become more inner-directed, and my body awareness—more acute. Delighted by the discovery of an inner teacher, I believe when I have finally moved through the pain, as I am currently doing, I will have greater strength, renewed flexibility and an uninterrupted practice.

I’ll also be so ready for a live Mysore teacher!

When that teacher materializes, to direct me in the way he or she deems appropriate, I will be grateful, relieved and happy.

I fan my feathers and bow deeply to all my past, present and future teachers.

Vande Gurunam!


Roland_headshotMarya Roland is a visual artist who has been practicing Ashtanga yoga for about three years. She explores living in a creative, thoughtful present and is investigating the uncharted territory of her body, age and spirit in relation to Ashtanga practice. Some of her observations are shared in a blog, SixtyniYogini.


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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing
Ed: Brianna Bemel


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2 Responses to “Finding My Inner Teacher: An Ashtangi Confession. ~ Marya Roland”

  1. Penny says:

    Thank you, Marya, for your article! I am the frustrated ashtangi operator of a 12 month old rotator cuff injury. The whole process has, at times, been very frustrating. I love your perspective (from a mature ashtangi student, I'm 51, and a late starter as well)! I will continue to read your blog if I can figure out how to maintain the link to it! 😉

  2. Marya Roland says:

    Thanks, Penny.
    Hope you will find adaptations and poses that heal your injury. It seems at some point – to be a process of observing and trusting one's self, even if that means seeing an MD.
    Also hope older Ashtangis (that probably means over age 30! ; -)) can pool and share their body wisdom. Please share your journey again when you get a chance. –