May 8, 2013

Diary of a Baby-Ashtangi. ~ Tanja Hoch

The wonderful world of humbleness.

Well, here I am, writing for elephant journal, feeling great and inadequate at the same time.

What would I have to say about yoga? I haven’t even practiced yoga for a full year.

But still, it has changed my life in ways I was not expecting. It has transformed and healed my mind and my body and continues to do so every day.

One day, about half a year ago, I attended my first Ashtanga yoga class because my power yoga teacher told me that the style might suit me. I did not know much about Ashtanga, I did a sloppy job researching it on the internet. The only thing I knew was that it was a vigorous, flowing form of yoga.

During the class I could not do anything else but trying to keep up, trying to breathe and trying to understand how I was supposed to intertwine my limbs. After the class my body was exhausted but my mind was awake. I like this, I thought.

The next two days I could barely move. I felt like my spine had been broken several times. Still, I wanted to come back.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Garbha Pindasana

A few weeks later I found out that the class I was attending once a week was called ‘half primary series’, led by the teacher that told me to check it out. By then I also did some proper research on Ashtanga and found Kino MacGregor’s yoga channel on YouTube such a blessing.

I started a home practice and discovered an Ashtanga shala in my town where I could practice Mysore style. I read about the eight limbs of Ashtanga and started transitioning to a vegetarian diet. I am planning a trip to Mysore next winter, the home of the Ashtanga yoga tradition. I am trying to be compassionate towards any being which I find to be a very hard task. I ditched a few parties just so I could practice on Sunday mornings without being hungover (I admit, some Sundays I practice in the evening, trying to get rid of a hangover).

All along the way I asked myself multiple times: Am I taking Ashtanga too seriously? Am I extreme? What magic is going on here, making me undertake such drastic changes in my life? Is this style of yoga truly right for me?

I also had to cope with a few injuries, caused by my ego trying to push too hard in certain postures. Tweaking knees for days on end, a weird clicking shoulder that hurt badly for more than a week, wrist-pain. Luckily, the practice has humbled me to some degree and I have become a careful listener to my body.

I find the answer to my doubts mentioned above every time I practice.

When I’m on my mat, my mind settles, my body moves, my breath is becoming steadier and steadier. My self-worth and body image have increased exponentially and I have had so many bouts of bliss and deep peace caused by the practice of Ashtanga.

When I think back to the day I attended my first led half primary series, I see myself, weak like a wet rag, entering the gate to a happier and stronger life.

I think the humbling aspect of the practice is what has changed me the most.

I have become incredibly strong within the short time span of six months. I can do things now that I wouldn’t have dreamed of. Only yesterday I managed to jump through for the first time (it was not perfect but it left me beaming with joy for the rest of my practice).

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Virabhadrasana A

Physically, I am so strong that the yoga postures (asanas) in other Vinyasa/power yoga classes aren’t very challenging anymore. I want to become a yoga teacher one day, so the realization of how ‘easily’ I can follow along in these classes is dangerous and could contribute to inflating the ego.

At a quick glance I seem to meet all the criteria to become a yoga instructor: steady home practice, some knowledge and experience of the spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga and a few people have even asked me to help them create a beginner routine to practice at home.

But when I return to my mat to practice Ashtanga, I am reminded every single time of what a baby I still am. I am so far away from having collected a strong foundation of experience.

In Ashtanga, I don’t belong to the physically strong. In Ashtanga, I have such a long journey ahead of me. I have only just left the porch of my home.

Ashtanga is slowly dissolving my ego as my mind is getting stronger.

Without Ashtanga, I wouldn’t have come this far in my yoga practice and without Ashtanga I might have become so full of myself to truly think that I am teacher material already.

I feel many people rush into teacher training programs nowadays.

Through the humbling aspect of Ashtanga I can say: I have no need to hurry and so much experience to gain, but I will walk the path of becoming a yoga teacher one day because it is a dear wish of mine. I can carry on my journey in peace.

Tanja Hoch, 22 years young, is currently studying Media Science and History of Art in Switzerland while committing more and more time in her life to following the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga. The rest of her time she tries being an adult and doing everything that makes her happy.

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Ed: Elysha Anderson/Kate Bartolotta

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