Mysore Practice: Day Three

We're three days deep into Ashtanga yoga training. I still have mostly no idea what I'm doing, but I've managed to memorize the primary series up to Bhuja Pidasana, which is the one where you bend over, put your hands on the ground, shimmy your thighs way up high on your shoulders, then sit your butt on your triceps and cross your feet in front of you. Are you getting the picture? Intermittently, I stop to peek around the room just to see what everyone else is up to and make sure I'm keeping good track of time. I see legs folded into lotus posture, guys doing backwards somersaults, and women rocking themselves around the mat in a shape that looks like somewhere between a pretzel and a long-legged turtle that got turned on its back. What nonsense have I been wasting my time with for the past ten years?

Ganesha

If yoga is a metaphor for life, I am thankful for my ability to keep going when the view of progress is clouded and still laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. My friends who told me about this training share stories from their Mysore classes, which are famous for not using blocks or other props. “Your suffering is a prop!” one of their teachers screamed at them. “Don't flex your muscles,” cued our leader today, “Use the muscles to support the bones!!!” I'm hysterical and exhausted and she's teaching me to lift myself up on my hands and float my feet back, and I'm rolling my eyes at her because that is just not going to happen today.

It's all such a silly mind game. We feel the frustrations of not being able to unlock certain poses. We celebrate successes only to be knocked down by our areas of weakness. We eat burgers after class because we're not real dedicated Ashtangis so maybe that's why I'm not able to lift my hips/butt/feet into the air, then we rinse and repeat the next day. Something has kept us coming back. I see the beauty, too. I've been doing this practice for so long and it's never ceased to be amazingly interesting to me. I am grateful for the flow, the repetition, the finesse, and the way I've felt led to certain teachers or how a pose that I once found overwhelmingly challenging comes easily to me at the right time.

Yoga is “to attain what was previously unattainable”, says Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya, in the book I'm reading at the moment. I hope that that's true, I think, as I look around at everyone folded flat in Paschimottanasana or with their legs tucked neatly behind their heads. But outside of this room and this training that I was, perhaps, not wholly prepared for, I know that it is. Yoga has carried me across many state lines, transformed me from an atheist (or very agnostic at best) to a spiritual believer, and convinced me to do many things I was previously very afraid of doing. I've laughed, cried, sweated, struggled, but have never given up on the mat. I'm still here.

Mysore Practice: Day One

How did I end up here? I'm wondering as we're doing the 100th jump back of this afternoon's class. I feel like a kindergartener in a fifth grade classroom. I also feel like I shouldn't have eaten so many french fries during the first few days of this trip. I look around the room, and it seems like everyone is able to hold themselves up with their hips off the ground in a cross-legged seat. I'm hot and humbled. My hips are firmly rooted on the mat.

Body Mind Life Bondi Beach

One of the main reasons I came to Sydney was to participate in an Ashtanga Mysore yoga intensive. It was an interesting choice considering I've hardly taken any Ashtanga classes in my ten year stint as a yogi. I've checked it out a few times, but never really got hooked or felt like I could figure out what I was doing enough to feel comfortable. I've recently become more curious and have been feeling like my usual practice could benefit from the consistency and discipline of the Ashtanga method.

If you're reading this saying, “What the heck is Mysore/Ashtanga and how is that different from any 'normal' yoga class?” I would say that Ashtanga yoga is a very traditional sequence of postures and the practice can be pretty intense. There are three series or levels of poses, so you always start and end with the same opening and closing sequence, but what you do in between depends on your level of ability. Mysore means that you're basically conducting your own solo practice in a community room, and the teacher will come around to offer one-on-one advice. Usually, you won't add variations or more difficult poses until you 've mastered the ones earlier in the series. The style of yoga that I practice is more varied, flowing, and (I think) forgiving. But it can be easier to develop bad alignment habits when you're not getting the same strict level of individualized attention. In Ashtanga, I'm learning that there can be a bit of an ego check when you realize you can't just fake it and slip through the cracks, even though, like in any yoga class, you're meant to be accountable only to yourself.

I was relieved to hear that the first day of class would be led by our teacher, Maty, the famed instructor I've heard so much about. That didn't make practicing any easier, but at least it wasn't so apparent that I don't know the correct order of the sequence. I've realized that by only attending classes with familiar teachers and in teaching my own classes, I've managed to avoid a lot of the poses that are hard for me or that I don't like. I realize this while I'm attempting to hold my leg out in front of me and, impossibly, trying to reach my forehead towards my shin. I try to find the silver lining in the struggle. A new experience with an amazing teacher! I'd better get some sleep so I can survive the rest of this thing.

500 Hours

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but last month I finished a 500 hour teaching training with YogaWorks here in LA. It feels surreal to be done, since it had been a goal of mine since 2016 when I finished my first 200 hour training in Austin. It even feels a little anti-climactic because I’d been attending intensive workshops every weekend since August, spending 8 hours in the studio studying topics like anatomy, Ayurvedic diets, practicing with chronic illness, and prenatal yoga. Now that I have my freedom back, what was it that I used to do on the weekends anyway?

YogaWorks teacher training

The end to a training is always bittersweet. You’ve been spending so much time getting to know your fellow trainees and experiencing teaching transformations together as a group. You go through the highs of realization and grasping certain concepts and the lows of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion and simply not wanting to unroll your mat that day at all. Then, suddenly, it’s time to say goodbye and graduate, and you’re sent on your way with a paper certificate to remind you that you spent the past six months actually doing something.

The feelings are a mixed bag. Some days, there’s immense gratitude for having had the time and space to study with highly trained teachers. At other times, there’s the sense of fear and loneliness that comes with having achieved a step in your plan. There’s less of a road map and no more hand holding, you’re off on your own now.

I’m taking time to process and digest all of the information we’ve been soaking in during the training. What kind of teacher do I want to be? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Where do I still have more to learn? Am I there yet? Will I ever be?

In the meantime, I’d like to share my final project for the 300 hour program. I worked with my friend, Amie Leigh, to develop a series of yoga videos for people who have ostomy bags. This idea has been close to my heart ever since I learned Amie Leigh’s story and heard about her growing interest in yoga. I’m happy with the results and I hope it ends up helping someone. Please share if you know anyone with a similar condition who might benefit from beginning a yoga practice.

Namaste!