When I first stepped into a large room with half-naked people who were making sounds like steam locomotives, I felt anything but inspiration and sense of belonging. There was no teacher leading the class and everyone seemed to follow their own track. But my sister, who was already addicted to Ashtanga at that time, had told me it would do me good and I stayed.
There are different categories of people who start yoga practice. Some begin with yoga to find the best way to exercise and stretch their muscles, others are looking for stress relief and relaxation, some are searching for spiritual experience and many just pass by a convenient fitness studio schedule and follow a trend. I have always belonged to the first group, considering yoga to be an available tool to make my blood flow in all parts of the body, even in those I had no idea about.
Even though I wouldn’t have admitted it publicly, my main initial motivation for Ashtanga was to finally learn how to do a handstand. As my mom had been practicing hatha yoga for a long time, I was exposed to its basics, but to my shame I never found enough motivation to build on it. Ashtanga attracted me for being dynamic and physically demanding and I thought I would give yoga just one last chance to become a part of my routine.
It took me about two months of regular practice to start understanding why I never felt comfortable enough with any previous yoga classes. I practice Ashtanga in a traditional Mysore style, which means that a class is not led by a teacher, and students are exercising in their own rhythm, all in one class. A teacher watches students and gives individual instructions. In this way, as a teacher is not involved in demonstrations, each student receives plenty of attention and a private consultation for her own posture alignment.
Surprisingly to myself, I realized how much difference it made to me to be a part of a group where everyone is exercising at their own pace without any temptation to compare themselves with others. We all have different physical abilities and a different level of fitness. Someone’s left leg can be really stiff, and someone’s right hip too sensitive to twists. It is the way we are born and developed and it might take just a little bit more time to achieve the same result in physical activities. When we are put in one group with people with different physical abilities and follow the same instructions, we tend to dangerously “overdo” positions or get demotivated, if I takes too long to “get there”. Moreover, as Ashtanga yoga is a flow of asanas performed synchronized with the breath, there is no other way to complete the flow till the end without a complete concentration on your body and breath. If we concentrate on our bodies, we can finally hear them.
As a result of 4-times-a-week classes, probably the most surprising result of a 1 year practice became not an ability to seat on my own shoulders. The most surprising finding was that a level of concentration and self-discipline, which I started developing through a regular practice, was transferred to the other sides of my life and became my main achievement of the past 12 months. In our intellectual society we tend to learn how important it is to work on our brains, often ignoring our physical health. However, our brains, souls and bodies are interrelated in a way we have almost no idea about.
Photo Credit: Pedro Moura Pinheiro