I love being able to learn yoga from multiple sources, multiple teachers with subjective and unique viewpoints. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to progress through various yoga traditions without injury.
Lots of the yogis here are injured, in one form or fashion. I’ve seen taped toes, adjustments, heard about knee tears, ankle injuries, wrist pain. This is the pitfall of advanced practice, injury is more prevalent when you are exhausted, too tired to breath, or simply disconnected from your body. I notice this almost exclusively with my breath, it is what guides my practice.
Using breathe to guide practice is the only way. I am extremely fortunate to have learned this from Rusty Wells, Bryan Kest, and many of my other teachers before arriving here. It is how I stay sensitive to the soft spots in my body, the places that are not normally touched. It is how I open my hips, by drawing my breath deep down into my abdomen and activating my lower abdominals to twist, open, and externally rotate. I can feel what is too much, or not enough because I am in tune with the fluctuations of my body. Each exhale is pushed out with ease and each inhale fills my torso and lengthens my spine. When there is too much pain, I can feel it is too much, but when it is good pain, I can breath through it, feel my body opening and making space for less. The power of the primary series and the Ashtanga practice is undeniable, no matter which series or whatever you are on.
I can’t imagine doing Ashtanga then resting for the rest of the day. I walk heavily and practice Yin, as well as static Hatha style poses to compliment the imbalance of the primary series (there is no doubt that it is powerful, but it is not necessarily optimal for a 25-year-old. Why? My knees need to be strengthened simultaneously, my hips need to be stabilized, and my mind needs the softness of moving slow. Forwards folds, child’s pose, lunges, Baddha Konasanas, happy babies, goddess poses, half pigeons, and cow-faced pose are all a part of my practice outside of the studio and they are absolutely allowing me to go deeper, faster, but honestly I don’t care about where I am in the series anymore.
Over the past week, I have talked to many people about the politics of the Jois Shala. Of course there are politics, these are humans we are talking about; however, it does seem that there is a certain mindlessness about the Shala. My personal observation is that the art is quite as respected as it once was and it now mass-produced so that everyone can experience the Jois Shala. Apparently, this morning there was fighting at the gate to get into the Shala because people wait outside for hours before the class starts to get a good spot. So it’s a lot like the freeways in America now.
I always remember Rusty saying, “try not to act like you are the only one.” And its true, there are more people in the world right now than there ever has been, so we all need to act accordingly.
Last night, I met a man from Israel whose name I can’t remember, but he practiced with Patthabi Jois and we got into a lively conversation about the ego and what series you are on and what yoga is truly about. Happiness. He said he had met zen Buddhists that had never even practiced yoga and were the happiest men he had ever met. We also talked about how silly it was that the primary series is the point of focus for the Ashtanga tradition, because it is an anatomically imbalanced sequence that was designed for Patthabi Jois as a young teen by Krishnamacharya. He assured me that the sequence is not important and I can’t agree more. But by the same token, I didn’t necessarily come to India to learn the primary series, I came to India to deepen my Samadhi, my mindfulness, and to detach from the world of my birth. To meet people as a fresh unknown person, to learn more about myself, my tendencies, and most importantly, my flaws and strengths. And maybe, somewhere along the way I can find this thing that some call Nirvana, others call Samadhi, and most refer to as god.
The day before, I met someone who had only great things to say about Saraswathi. So far, she has done a great job with being personal, telling me what to do, and letting my practice my own yoga. on day 2 she told me to do head stand and I was very happy to do some inversions. Her assists have been great too, we got the point where I was bound in half-lotus, but there was too much pain and she let me adjust in the way I needed to adjust. That said, my lotus hip openings are moving along very well here because of the repetition of the primary series. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I believe that the physical body is something that contributes greatly to our mental state, especially the openness, flexibility, and strength of joints and limbs. I mean, 90% of the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin, is in your gut. The body certainly is the overarching reason why we feel the way that we do, because the body is a system and the mind is what allows us to operate the body in the ways that are available to us. So by opening the body, I believe I am opening my mind.
I realize this may contribute to a sense of having to be somewhere, like there is a destination besides your current location, but the opening process is enlightening in and of itself. I am trying to focus my mind on gratitude for each day’s new sensations, new aches, new pains that I move through. And my Samadhi continues to deepen so I will continue to strive along the path that I have found. But I want to try to enjoy each step of the path, rather than just the major destinations call asanas, or sequences, or series, or styles of yoga.
Tomorrow, I will practice the whole primary series and begin to embed it into my body. When I come back to my own practice in the Shala on Monday, I’ll see how far I can go on my own. I am excited to practice with everyone, I always love the group energy. Plus, the main Shala is really cool and decorated and I don’t get to spend much time in it.