Today’s humbling Ashtanga lesson is brought to you by Saraswati

Normally, I’d expect any humbling lesson from Ashtanga to come courtesy of Shiva.

Today’s, though, is actually all about Saraswati.

I was standing in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana — my stickiness for sure keeping me from folding forward — and looking at our household altar (pictured below) and my eyes wandered toward the statue at left of Saraswati.

Yes, yes, bad man. Forgetting my dristi. I know. That’s the least of my worries.

For whatever reason — the stillness, the flickering flames, the face on the statue — I was struck in that moment by just how completely wrapped up I am, still am, in the yoga’s most superficial benefits. You know the ones.

A better body. Stronger limbs. Thinner waist. Maybe the ability to cheat a little on the raw, no-wheat diet.

That’s what gets me up before 5:30 a.m. every morning. I could fool myself — and more importantly, you! — and say otherwise. I could talk about how I’m working on these deep levels, exploring the silence of a moving meditation, investigating the daily changes to body and mind. But it would be a lie.

Probably the closest to that — to those actually meaningful reasons — is that I do get on the mat, in part, because of the calming effect of the practice. I’m sure it’s helped with blood pressure and all those types of things. But that just seems like a side benefit of all the asanas. It’s not why I get up and on the mat.

Thinking back on this moment, it’s one of those that seem to stretch out in time; it’s just a second, maybe, but you can remember A, B, C and D all happening clearly.

My eyes fell on Saraswati.

I thought about how I wasn’t folded forward, how far away some basic poses remain.

I knew if I was practicing Ashtanga for the right reasons (as flawed and filled with problems that phrase is) then I wouldn’t worry about how open my hamstrings are or how tight my shoulders remain. I’d be breathing, focused, still. I’d see something more in the Saraswati statue.

I thought about what the “all” that should be coming might be and how I may be as far away from “it” as ever.

And then I finished up my breaths and moved on to Utkatasana. Not much else to do, right?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Today’s humbling Ashtanga lesson is brought to you by Saraswati”

  1. I think Dena Kingsberg has a really good take on this. She said in a workshop I went to once that everybody goes through different stages in their practice where they’re motivated by different things – how their bodies look, getting the foot behind the head, enlightenment, or whatever, and it just keeps changing. I’ve noticed that myself, and was very relieved that she thought that was totally fine and normal, because so many seem to think it’s somehow not correct to be motivated by the physical. But ultimately it’s a very physical practice and an important part of it is after all to make our bodies function well and be healthy – because finally, whether we’re looking for unity with god or something else, we won’t be able to enjoy that without a healthy body. So I find that what motivates me to get on the mat is a complex and changing mix including weight management, wanting to tie my own shoelaces at 90, a love for the acrobatic element in Ashtanga, and some sort of elusive inner peace and calm. When the going gets tough though, health and weight management are good motivators – it’s just so much more tangible for a sleepy, reluctant brain than anything else. Whatever works!

    1. Thanks — I am trying to wrap myself in some soft coat of “whatever works.” I’m practicing, at least, right? And we know nothing will come if I’m not.

      It’s still a little shocking when your basest emotions appear before you, though. Sigh.


  2. Thank you for sharing with such honesty. I can relate to every word in this post. At least we get up and practice and I do have my moments of depth in the practice, as I’m sure you do as well. This very post is proof of that. Maybe in time they will come more often and last longer 🙂 Namaste

  3. Y’know, something just occurred to me!
    If our practice is meant to bring us closer to ‘self/enlightenment/God’ ,then why worry about our motivations for doing the practice. Why not just embrace with total acceptance that my reason for practicing today is because it may give me a good body or that yesterday, the reason was clarity of mind, last week, it was for the joy of jumping through. Surely, none of these reasons are wrong or base if God is to be seen in all things. They are what they are! And God is in them! And if I’m too proud of my quiet mind today, surely thats ego trying to assert itself……..but never mind, quiet mind today becomes monkey mind tomorrow! And if I chastise myself for enjoying the physical benefits of yoga and say I should be aiming for a deeper practice, surely thats ego up to its tricks again saying I should be better than what I am at this present moment. But then, my ego is part of me, and ultimately I must accept that too. And maybe when I can really really accept that God is in my ego too………then all will be coming………

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