This is Why I Practice Ashtanga Yoga

Urdva Danurasana

 

Today I sat myself down, and I asked myself one simple question:

Why do I practice Ashtanga yoga? You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been through a lot of emotional and physical turmoil since starting this practice almost two years ago. I’ve dabbled on the brink of depression, had a few physical injuries, relived past trauma and I’ve often just felt absolutely exhausted. So, why do I do it? Why do I still make it to my mat five times a week? Why do I still get up when that alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m.? My answer? I don’t actually know. That’s the truth. I don’t know why I still continue to push my body into poses it’s screaming to get out of, why I allow my heart to be cracked open and tears to flow freely at any given moment, why I sometimes reluctantly drag myself through that same physical practice almost every single day. I don’t know why I keep trying to bring my full attention to my breath, to keep my mind focused and present, when most days it feels like an uphill battle. All I do know is that deep down, something inside me is telling me to keep going. That something is what gets me up when all I want to do is roll over and fall back to sleep. That something is what helps me through a particularly tough practice, when my body just wants to melt and disappear into my mat. I don’t know what that something is, but I know it is a lot stronger than my ego, which tries to convince me that maybe another form of yoga would be a lot more fun, and a lot more forgiving. But I’m not there to have fun. I’m there to learn, to grow and to heal. I’m currently attending a weeklong Ashtanga yoga workshop with a teacher visiting from overseas. She has reminded me why I do this, that there is no other path for me but Ashtanga, at least not at this time in my life. She describes the practice as something that isn’t meant to be fun. Fun is for the vinyasa flows, the hot yoga and all the other new styles of yoga that are created every other week. Ashtanga yoga is a healing modality; it is not a form of exercise. It is powerful, we break stuff down, we go deeper and deeper into our own physical bodies, into our emotional landscapes, and we clear it all out. And sometimes, it’s really uncomfortable. But you learn to sit with that discomfort and you realize that, actually, it’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable, it’s okay to cry and it’s okay that you can’t do the pretty poses or the difficult poses just yet. I look back to when I first started this practice at the beginning of 2013. I jumped right into a teacher training, which required me to go from no practices a week to five, 2-hour Mysore style practices a week. It was massive shock to the system, my entire life flipped upside down and it took a while to settle. During this initial detox period I started learning techniques and ways to deal with these emotions. I learnt the importance of my breath, and how it can take me away from feelings of anxiety and panic and into a state of peace and calm. I learnt that my body is capable of some things, and not capable of other things—and to accept that fact. I learnt that this was a process, and that things weren’t just going to start happening over night. That to be able to come into my light, I’ll first have to step into the darkness, and be with my shadows. So, I guess this is the answer to my question. I practice Ashtanga yoga because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Because it communicates with me in a way nothing has ever done before. I practice Ashtanga yoga because I’m ready to face my demons, and I’m ready to let go of my past even if it takes months, years, decades. I practice Ashtanga yoga…just because.   First published here on elephantjournal.com