Is Ashtanga a breath practice, a flexibility challenge, or something deeper?
During a recent practice, a person adjacent to me spent a lot — I mean, a lot — of time trying to bind in one of Ashtanga’s trickier poses.
By a lot, I mean I managed to do two sides of a seated pose while this student struggled with the pose. I don’t know how many breaths that works out to be, but it is certainly more than what Nancy Gilgoff suggests.
(I, of course, shouldn’t have noticed this, but it was tight quarters and so the struggle was happening mere inches from me, and right in my line of sight [pre-Dristi] as I moved through my pose.]
And so I wonder this basic question, or series of questions:
How long do you, should one, struggle to get into a “full expression” of a pose?
What should be the higher goal: a bind or the breath? Is it a breathing practice or a flexibility practice?
I’m tempted, immediately, to say “it’s a breathing practice” and suggest that after a certain amount of time — a few breaths at most — it’s time to give up and accept how far you are getting. Find your breath, find your bandhas, find your Dristi and then move on.
But that misses a certain crucial something about the practice, right? You have to push sometimes, take extra time getting beyond your body’s limit, to advance in the pure asana sense. Plus, there will be those times when a teacher is there, and the normal progress of breaths might be out the window.
And so, like so much else with the practice (and life — which is how it always works out, no?), there is a precious balance to be found, a balance that is never the same. It won’t always be four breaths, tops, and then move on. One day it might clearly be worth those few extra breaths when you can feel that it will do something to benefit you. Other days, it won’t.
And that brings us back to a core of yoga practice: knowing yourself. Which changes every day, or even more often.
Posted by Steve