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?
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.