Like any substantial relationship, my journey in Ashtanga Yoga depicts an unresolved love tale, hateful discourse and a glorious undying revelation of my true self.
When tenacities stretch thin and I waver on the verge of giving up, in the end, it is the principles of Ashtanga Yoga that propel me to find my way back on the mat every single day.
Originally taught by Krishnamacharya, Ashtanga Yoga was wildly spread to North America by his faithful late disciple Pattahbi Jois in the 1970’s.
Consisting of three series and subdivided into six groups of postures, Ashtanga Yoga is a systematic method derived from the ancient text called the Yoga Kurunta. With emphasizes on Tristhana—posture, breathing and gaze—this method is believed to heal any injuries and calm the most tumultuous mind.
Disciplined Ashtanga yogis practice six days a week at the crack of dawn and only rest on Saturdays and moon days. Day in and day out, the set sequences are to be repeated until one advances all the postures before moving on to the next series.
In truth, Ashtanga Yoga seems to have a bad rep in the yoga community. Whether it be too rigid, too vigorous, too demanding or simply too repetitive, the list continues onward.
I was first drawn to Ashtanga Yoga by its acrobatic moves. Like most people, oblivious to the spirituality of yoga, I hailed to the overpriced hot pants, exaggerated eco-friendly yoga mats and subjected to non-lineage ‘thigh-sliming’, ‘hot-yin’ and ‘reggae-hippie’ yoga classes. Well, that all ended fairly fast after I completed my yoga teacher training.
Having spent a month in a blazing Thailand jungle, it all became clear that what we exerted physically meant absolutely nothing if there wasn’t anything being done on the inside.
Here are a few reasons why I’ve chosen Ashtanga Yoga:
1. It is all science.
Well don’t get me wrong. I’m not a science person. In fact, I’m a soulful artist rooted in a society where truth can only be told through science. So here we are.
Yoga, especially Ashtanga, is more scientific than anyone could imagine. Let’s take a hypothesis: Ashtanga Yoga creates a calm mind.
Our controlled variable is the set sequence. Assume we practice at the same place, same time and with the same teacher (if applicable). That leaves the mind as our uncontrolled variable. Our mind is a fascinating creature and runs on its own accord. Nobody I personally encountered can control his/her own thoughts.
When the alignment of the posture and breathing are done correctly, the practitioner has nothing left to do but to observe his/her own mind. Eventually, unexpected feelings and thoughts start crawling out of the woodwork. Here is when the science reveals.
While practicing detachments by observing these rendering thoughts, one soon realizes that nothing is permanent. We are not our physical discomfort, our guilt or accomplishments. We’re pure consciousness encased in our Samskara (past conditioning).
Essentially, Ashtanga is mind yoga. When practicing the same sequence everyday, Ashtangis step onto their mats and confront head on with their minds. It took me numerous infuriating practices to finally surrender to the present moment.
In conclusion, when the uncontrolled variables (mind activities) are minimized, the Ashtanga method will deliver tranquility to the mind. Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field.
Then the seer rests in its true nature. – Yoga Sutras 1.2-1.3 of Patanjali
2. It tears down the ego and humbles (a lot).
I used to be a dancer. My duty was to master some contortioned/acrobatic/seemingly impossible dance moves and performed them to an audience in the most nonchalant yet graceful way. So I applied that to my yoga practice. How wrong could I be?
First and foremost, yoga is not for an audience. Regardless of what your yoga teacher tells you or shows you, yoga is for you and only you. Nowadays, prevalently in North America, yoga has become this trendy show, where people ‘perform’ one impressive handstand to the next creative animal-named inversion—all in the name of yoga.
Well Ashtanga Yoga doesn’t tolerate show offs, because once you can master a particular asana, another more difficult asana is presented to you. Every Ashtangi, regardless of how advanced, has a posture in progress. This system not only works on opening tight hips and hamstrings, it also keeps the ego at bay.
3. It helps find harmony in relationships.
To me, showing up for the Ashtanga set sequence everyday is a beautiful metaphor of showing up in my relationships. You sure cannot cultivate a harmonious and long lasting relationship if you keep seeking for the next yoga class or boy/girlfriend.
Eventually the next trendy thing will become not so trendy. The ability to devote my mind and body to one practice takes a whole lot of commitment. Even when I cannot suffice an ounce of physical or mental energy for the practice, I show up nonetheless.
Through Ashtanga, I’ve developed consistency and accountability to my own actions. When I have an argument with my fiancé or a miscommunication with my family, I don’t blame/dismiss my loved ones. Instead, I consistently show up with love and compassion. In return, harmony is created and harnessed by the anchor of trust and accountability.
So there, these are the primary reasons why and how Ashtanga Yoga anchors me.
Ashtanga is not for everyone, but if and when you do try, I encourage giving it time as the true magic will be revealed!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Annie Au