Most of us want to start a yoga practice so that we can grow stronger and be more flexible but unwind and find time and space in our busy lives. So, the last thing we probably want to hear when we are signing up for yoga classes is that we need to commit to a near impossible regiment of daily yoga practice.
As a mom of a small child, I now realize how that can be a very big ask for most. It’s taken time (and this is a continuing process) for me to find equilibrium between yoga and motherhood, these two giant forces in my life. I’ve had to make some adjustments–both physically and mentally. But here are some thoughts on why I think this method does in fact work for me as a mother and, actually, as a human, as well.
First of all: there is no actual “ashtanga police.” This idea is largely made up, partly a joke, like the Bogey Man to keep the yoga kiddos in line. And while there are those who take up the informal mantle, be assured that there is no actual centralized body that polices any irregularities in the method. Mostly, the essential bits of ashtanga yoga are preserved through an honor system, the efficacy of the practice itself creates trust in the method (and also the teacher). For those who stick to the rules long enough, consistently enough, the benefits are self-evident. And, so, for the most part, things are passed down the way they are because they work.
I see the ashtanga method a lot like the English language, which has a grammatical order to it, but also a lot of exceptions. The method is centered and steady but also flexible like the yoga that it represents. That’s not to say that guidelines are not important, they are there to keep things from crumbling into chaos, but they also bend when necessary.
Second: We can practice as much or as little as we are able. We often call the method after the city in India where it was developed, Mysore. But the actual thing is called “self-practice.” which means it belongs to us, practitioners. We animate the practice. We can decide how much time we can devote to it. If you ask me as a yoga teacher, I will still tell you that I recommend up to 5 days a week (many will say 6). But the reality is that it’s up to each individual how many days to practice; ultimately, whatever one can manage is the perfect amount. (If you are a beginner, don’t worry, self practice doesn’t mean you are on your own, one to one help is on hand and actually personalized).
Third: the way in which we practice is up to us, whether its with earnestness and gravitas or with ease and lightheartedness. Usually, a combination of the two would be ideal, but as we don’t live in an ideal world, we are allowed to practice in a way that is appropriate for us. If you can’t do a long sequence, then just do standing and finishing postures, is that’s still too much, then just sun salutations and just breathe through the three final seated postures. I’ve had students come in to class and they just can’t do any of it and so they lay down to rest. Everything is practice.
So, if it’s as easy as that, why doesn’t it always feel that way? I’ve met a few special yoga practitioners who always managed to keep the practice light and breezy. I used to always think of them as the anomaly, they seemed little affected by the mania of mysore, they were content to flow without too much effort, they were willing to go the distance but didn’t feel the need to kill themselves doing it. The rest of us… well, maybe you see where I’m going here. Human nature comes to play and so we strive. But the practice is just a mirror. If it feels tough, perhaps because it is simply reflecting back our toughness or the intensity of our expectations.
That’s not to say that the practice isn’t difficult. It can be, and there are definite moments where particular challenges can come up. But many of the challenges come at the time when we are ready. Sometimes we don’t believe our own readiness and so that feels tough mentally. Sometimes, we struggle to get it just right. But the “toughness,” that’s something we often bring into the practice ourselves.
This yoga practice, it’s amazing, it’s a wonderful series of postures, each one preparing us for the next one. It has numerous physical and mental benefits. It is a kind of fitness for the mind, body and soul. And when we start form the beginning, we work in a way that suits each student. It’s not tough. It’s not easy either. It’s thoughtful. And it works!
Classes restart after Eid holidays on Monday, May 1. Our regular schedule is Monday to Thursday mysore style self-practice, 7:30 to 10:30am with led classes on Fridays 8am and 9:30am. All levels are welcome! We are having a 2 week intro starting May 15, which will be led by Yasmine Seoud, who has been assisting for us now for a glorious year!