ashtanga yoga, mysore style

24 Aug

Published on Elephant Journal, June 2012:

The moment I stepped into a Mysore class for the first time will stick with me forever. The beautiful and haunting sound of 40 Darth Vedas struggling with a nasty cold, was overwhelming and to say I was daunted was an understatement. I stood there wide eyed, watching a sea of bodies moving between postures, each creating something different to the next. ‘How do they know what to do?’ I thought to myself, thinking about my own disastrous attempts at self practice.

Before long, out from amongst the limbs, my new teacher approaches and motions for me to sit. I do so awkwardly as she folds gracefully into lotus. ‘So what brings you here?’ she asks. I mention that a friend had suggested Ashtanga, as I was looking for something a bit stronger than my regular Hatha class and implied stupidly that I was quite experienced and had been practicing for a long time.  This, I immediately regretted, as a perfectly toned body, on the nearest mat, stands tall with one leg resting behind his head. My teacher smiles knowingly, seeing my embarrassment. ‘One step at a time,’ she says.

After explaining how the system works, with the occasional ‘Mary, gaze at your nose’ or ‘left foot pointed, John’, directed somewhere into the room, I am led to a spot that can barely fit my mat. ‘Today, we will work through the Sun Salutations.’ I feel my heart sink. ‘I know how to do a Sun Salutation,’ Im thinking, ‘I want to try to get my leg behind my head like that dude’ but I stand at the end of my mat and close my eyes, as she asks.

A moment or two passes and my impatience grows, so I open one eye and look around. I can’t see my teacher but I hear her behind me, from across the room. ‘Close yours eyes, Helen.’ I quickly close my eye. ‘How could she see me?’. Soon, she is back. ‘Patience is one of the greatest lessons we learn in this practice.’ I feel silly….but still impatient.

Over the next forty minutes, or thereabouts, she takes me through Sun Salutations A and B, in more detail than I thought possible. Each posture was held until I felt and understood exactly where it needed to be and by the end my arms were shaking and I was unable to lift myself into up dog. The sweat dripping off the end of my nose was mortifying and I had no towel to mop it up, as who expects a waterfall to fall out of each pore in a Yoga class? ‘Has it been raining?’, my other half asks when I arrive home.

Fast forward four years, I am a different person. I can’t stand up with a leg behind my head yet but I often practice next to some who can. Instead of looking on with jealousy and frustration, I feel excitement of what is yet to come. In life off the mat, I apply this to seeing others already with the things I am striving so hard for. No envy, only acceptance and admiration. Every practice, I hit moments of difficulty and sometimes even panic but the practice teaches me to breath and relax into it. In life, I aim for the same. Being upset and frustrated will never make the situation better, so they are pointless emotions. I have learnt to keep a clear head and breath through life’s challenges and I find positive solutions come to me with much more ease.

Every day I learn patience, by not forcing my body into postures they aren’t ready for or being frustrated when they don’t come as easily as some. I transfer this patience into my day to day living, by applying it to relationships, namely my partner when he leaves the loo seat up and I splash down in the middle of the night. I may be in a slow moving queue or watching someone do something I know I can do faster but instead, I wait patiently or offer genuine help.

But one of the most beautiful things that I learn each morning, is that if you truly practice something, dedicate yourself to achieving it, it will happen. That moment when you lift up, or grab hold, or balance for the first time is truly magical and you have to fight every sweaty thing in your body not to poke the person next to you and tell them what you just did. If you’re lucky, you might even get a congratulatory nod from your teacher, who’s keeping an eye from afar. Its a moment of giddy excitement, just as finally achieving something in your off-the-mat world, that you have been working on forever. Dreams do come true, if you practice, believe, practice, believe.


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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Yoga


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