The two main things I’ve learned from my Ashtanga practice

At least, as of today. Because these lessons seem to love to leapfrog each other, so one is suddenly the top, another falls down three or four places.

How to be calm in a trying moment

The lucky thing about being stiff is that almost every pose offers you a quick opportunity to get into a trying, uncomfortable position. Two days ago, this happened with Pada Hastasana. You know, that pose you probably haven’t given much thought to in, oh, years. I managed to get fairly deep down and into the pose, padas mostly on top of my hastas, and it was unpleasant. And my breathing went right to quick and shallow before I could wrangle it, slow it down, stretch it out and stay there, semi-calm for all five long, slow, controlled (or controlled-ish) breaths.

That’s the lesson on the mat. But if that lesson doesn’t operate anywhere else, what’s the point?

A few weeks back, I got to enjoy an uncomfortable conversation at work that, I realized after, should have had me much more nervous, sweaty, discombobulated. But it didn’t. I’d remained remarkably placid throughout. It wasn’t anywhere as gripping as that Pada Hastasana was.

Yes, you might call that a quieted mind, but that’s giving me too much credit.

Patience and perseverance

I think I’ve learned this elsewhere, too, but right now I’m of the opinion that it’s sticking best through the ongoing Ashtanga practice. Others, lots of them, have longer-lived practices than I, but I’m plugging along still after six or seven years, and it isn’t as though I’ve blown through First, Second and Third Series. (See above.) And it isn’t by force of the will of a teacher every day or a shared shala space. (There’s definitely lots much different when you’re practicing all alone, and at home.) I’m not expecting breakthroughs or big rewards that come nicely packaged with bells, whistles, balloons and candy. I think I’m hoping for stability, which when everything else might be regressing (hi! aging process), is its own from of progress. I’ll take going from a stiff 40-something to a nimble and healthy 80-something.

I may in some ways be too patient, in fact. But that’s a part of the balance (ahem, the yoga) I’m seeking.

And if I can persevere and be patient, I might find it. And then I’ll be super calm.

Posted by Steve

Praising an important place: the shala

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.

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I always feel a pang when I hear a shala is closing; distance is no matter, so the closing of a Jois studio makes me sad for the students.

My very first Ashtanga class was at Yoga Path in Irvine, California–across from where I worked. I blundered into the Ashtanga class by accident; the Iyengar class was full. I had flirted with yoga off and on for a few years. Suddenly I found myself in a class unlike anything I’d been in before. I was totally lost. I couldn’t do any of it. I didn’t understand the Sanskrit. I was in love.

After that, I went to Ashtanga classes exclusively, and never looked back. A short while later, I bought a special annual membership to save money. It was the most I’d ever spent on such a thing.

The next time I went to class, I found the door locked and the lights off. A sign on the door informed me that Yoga Path was closed, had filed bankruptcy, and suggested I go to 24 Hour Fitness.

I was crushed, and panicked. I had just begun to feel some hope: A way out of constant pain. Even that this practice might offer me a higher study, a philosophy.

A quick search revealed that a YogaWorks close to home offered an “Ashtanga Prep.” So it was that I met Shayna Liebbe, who all by herself, with limited time and resources but unlimited energy, gave me my first sense of what the word “shala” means, and why it’s so important.

I thought I’d take a minute and reflect on what I miss in a shala, or school, for Ashtanga, now that Steve and I are practicing at home.

Number one, I miss the directed study. After my first class, Shayna handed me a little packet of information. It had all the poses (both in diagram and listed in Sanskrit with translations), the opening and closing prayer (and translation), the role of breath, what the bandhas are, what drishti does, and so on. I left with homework. Shayna, in other words, was a teacher–she used to make us recite the yamas during navasana and do backbends to the niyamas.

Small, focused workshops, weekend intensives, Sanskrit and diet classes—Ashtanga shalas have these. All supervised by an experienced teacher. One experienced teacher. And connected to the daily practice.

South we went!

Most of all, I miss Tim. That 100-mile trip sometimes seems more like a million. I wish I were one of those lucky folks who can roll out their rugs in Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Center every morning, those that use their practice to contribute to Tim’s ongoing research.

Research. I miss growing and learning with an enthusiastic teacher, who knows my practice, and will adjust according to the progress of my learning, or even how things seem that day—the adaptable teacher.

Of course, there’s also the community (Diana Christinsen, whose shala I called home for two years, uses a Buddhist term: sangha). There’s something really comforting about practicing next to someone you see every day, yet have barely spoken to, but still find solace in the shared experience of the practice.

So I hope the Ashtangis that found a home at Jois find a new home soon…the home that is a shala, and its teacher.

Posted by Bobbie