A few weeks ago the universe conspired and blessed me with the opportunity to study with one of Shri Pattabhi Jois’ most senior students.
Until the teacher training started, I was very sceptical hearing that “he is more Iyengar than Ashtanga.”
Being the borderline Ashtanga fundamentalist that I am, and a pragmatic who chooses to practice at home rather than spend a few hundred bucks monthly on an unlimited studio pass (what more a teacher training course), I took that leap of faith and signed up for what turned out to be the most eye opening Ashtanga Yoga workshops I have ever attended.
While I’ve had some epiphanies in the past that have brought me deeper in my yoga practice (see article Confessions of a Drug-Turned-Yoga Junkie), the 100 hours that I spent with this dude completely wreaked havoc in my brain—in a nice way, that is.
While I’m still chewing on all the information I’ve acquired, I’ve come up with 10 things that I have realized, as of today.
1. Yoga is for everybody.
I don’t know how much more this should be reiterated amidst all the ongoing yoga wars. We don’t need trademarks, nor need we make divisions between ourselves. We are all in this together.
2. The body responds better to kindness.
Treat it with respect and it’ll probably respect you back. Hit it hard and it will hit back tenfold. Yamas and Niyamas—ring a bell?
During the teacher training course, I was privileged to be surrounded by teachers and students, seasoned and beginners alike. And all of whom I was paired up with (meaning the other 32 attendees—the absentees and the senior Ashtanga Yoga teacher) noticed that my spine was a little too flat in all positions that needed it to be in neutral. Short of the long is my uber-bendy twists and backbends are apparently more harmful than doing nothing at all.
For a moment I thought I saw my yoga practice crumble before my eyes. This made me think of my intentions for my practice.
I am an Ashtangi, and as much as I am in love with challenging poses, I have seven other limbs of yoga to pay attention to. We don’t need injury to wake up to our truths, nor is pain a sign of an opening or any good thing for that matter (and I don’t need to catch my heels in Kapotasana to prove my loyalty to the practice.)
3. Having talked about lesson number two, I conclude that there really is no measure of accomplishment in yoga.
Note to guilty self: Yoga is not a series of attainments, but, ironically, a process of letting go and letting God.
4. In order to be able to apply number two and number three, it is important to approach things with a beginner’s mind.
Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Guruji said, “Why you rush ahead? Go back…” Then Guruji’s senior student said, “Go back to Sama,” or “Sama Vinyasa. Breath, roots, core.”
Only when the entire class was made to stand in Samastitihi for a good 20 to 30 minutes did I humbly accept it as the root of all postures. And if I wasn’t getting a posture right (whether a primary or second series) it was probably because I hadn’t worked hard enough on my Samastitihi.
In essence, Samastitihi means to stand in our authentic truth. But with all the samskaras, we are far behind it. Thus, yoga becomes a tool for observation and clearing these conditions.
And accepting that reality takes a lot of humility and un-knowing or emptying of your cup.
5. Keep the practice organic.
Unless you are training for a freak show where everyone should be in sync and contort themselves the same way. It is your responsibility to the world to be your own self and hopefully your truthfulness will send a pranic message to the people around you and give them the license to be themselves as well.
6. Yoga practice and philosophy is one.
Both should influence your life. And so—
7. Real yoga is effin’ hard.
It’s almost like taming a serpent and teaching it to do tricks!
It is about taming the ego; not by killing it, but by understanding and tempering it with compassion.
Yoga is also about letting go of all that is transient and material things, such as the new pair of Lululemons that made a debut last Tuesday. And the endless list just begins here.
8. Ashtanga Yoga is not dead.
Why institutionalize it? I feel that Guruji would love for his students and his student’s students to keep the practice alive. And it is our role to take the tradition as our own and to share it from our authentic selves. Not Guriji’s, Sharath’s or the senior teacher’s.
As the great Krishnamacharya once said, “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.”
9. Don’t believe everything that your teacher tells you.
It is still your voice.
Does that make sense?
10. Last, but definitely not the least, I learned that I am not ready to teach yoga for a living.
It is such a privilege to be a student; to receive information and of course, adjustments. And while I would love to share what I know through teaching, I would hate to look at my students as paychecks to cover my bills.
So what now? What does one do when the parampara has been passed on and the teacher has gone away? I’m not really sure. As of my last article, I’m still in pursuit of finding that thing that would light me up. What I know is that it is my dharma to know my dharma, and I’m starting by going back to the very beginning and approaching my difficulties with ahimsa.
I think I’ll start with the easiest (yet, most neglected)—my body—because without it, I wouldn’t have any place to stay while I fulfil my mission.
She is an Ashtanga junkie and an aspiring yogi, in the real sense of the word. Email her at [email protected].
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~ Assistant Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna/Kate Bartolotta