Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - the 8 Limbed Path as developed by Pattabhi Jois
I'm a recent covert. I am even a morning person (something I never thought I'd hear myself say after years of going to bed at 1am and dragging myself out of a deep sleep by 9/10am).
I currently wake up at 6am/6:30am and practice yoga! I wake up, drink my hot water with a squeeze of lemon, brush my teeth, throw on my gear and I'm on my bike by 6:20am heading down the hill to the yoga shala. Where, inevitably, there are already 20 yogis mid-way through their standing poses. I now practice Mysore style Ashtanga at Yoga Moves, a self-lead class where you make your way through a series of set postures. There is a teacher (Eileen Hall) and a few assistances there for guidance and adjustments.
When I wake up, I let the Dalai Lama remind me, "I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others...".
I see my practice as part of that process. If I feel good, energized, peaceful, I am a better teacher to others. I am a nice person to the people I meet. I am more connected to myself and I can love better.
It wasn't always this way. They say the Ashtanga practice will unravel the things that need to be dismantled in your life, in your ego and will show you the truth about who you are. I first started the practice around Christmas 2014. I took to it with a competitive, I have to be better than that person over there, I need to prove that I am worthy frame of mind. This meant I pushed, I strained, I grimaced, I tried to get my head to my knees with no physical (or mental!) integrity. I saw people put their legs behind their heads and then lift their body weight onto their hands. I saw strength in perfect combination with flexibility (the holy grail for yogis). I saw green. I thought I'm a yoga teacher, why can't I do those things? Nevermind that I'd only just started and had never seen the inside of a mysore studio, let alone ever even taken a led Ashtanga class.
And then, I hurt my lower back. It was slowly getting worse and worse over the course of a few weeks while I, of course, ignored it. I kept pushing, kept straining, wanting to be better, wanting to be perfect. They say, that how we show up on the mat, is how we show up in our lives. This was a perfect mirror of how I approach life. Pushing, wanting to achieve, to be perfect, to reach some unobtainable goal that I unknowingly set for myself.
Then one morning, during my bound half lotus forward fold, OUCH. I hobbled off my mat to the warm up and cool down area of the studio and tried to finish out my closing series of postures. Even shoulderstand proved to be mega painful. I stopped and went home. I booked myself into an osteopath that afternoon.
After a 3 month break and lots of soul searching, I'd unpacked my need to be perfect. I'd discovered my desire for outside validation of my worth. I'd seen the rabbit hole for what it was, never ending and bottomless.
This didn't mean I wouldn't be tempted by the multitude of "drink me", "eat me" containers around the shala and in life but it did mean I'd learnt the lesson to respect my own beautiful body and soul. I am worthy just because I am alive, I am worthy by my very nature. The idea of perfect is something that will never satisfied or reached and it is just an illusion anyway. A mirage that disappears when you look with a more discerning gaze.
I went back.
I bend my knees in my forward folds, I stop when I feel tired. I twist after going into my back bends and only then do I take the forward fold which is next in the series. I listen to my body, to my intuition, to my heart that says I am okay as I am. I set my intention at the start of each practice to love myself and to connect to how my body and it's feeling sensations. My back feels great and so does my soul.
The full primary series will come when I'm ready. Secondary may come or it may not. I'm learning to love myself and practice from a place of grace and ease. Ashtanga taught me a very valuable lesson and I am sure there are many more to come while I work to unpack my ego.