Hi everyone! Hope you are enjoying your August. Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? You get my awesome free ebook if you do! I should be sending out the newsletter in a couple of days, which will also have a bit of bonus material.
I’m sitting here in a cafe in between my two public yoga classes today thinking about how my yoga practice is constantly shifting and changing. And why that’s a good thing. For one thing, I suspect that’s at least partially why I’ve been able to stick with yoga for what seems to be forever (but really is about 12 years or so). Practicing yoga can really be a long term relationship – with ups and downs. The advantage, of course, is that no matter how much you neglect yoga, it’ll be there for you when you are ready to pick it up again. That’s not necessarily true in our interpersonal relationships. Like our interactions with our loved ones, the yoga practice is dynamic. It never really stays the same from day to day. Sometimes practicing feels wonderful, effortless and expansive. Sometimes it feels like crap. That certainly keeps things interesting. And it’s usually worth it to stick out the not so awesome days, since the good days are so incredible and the benefits of practice pervade my life so fully.
Despite knowing that the practice changes, it’s really easy for me to get into yoga habits (called samskaras in sanskrit). Not all habits are bad – routines can be very beneficial. Some yoga lineages are built around doing exactly the same thing day after day. But even in those modalities, I think there is value in looking for the changes in the body, in the mind and in the practice itself. I think you could argue that doing the same thing every time (though that’s not my preference) actually makes it easier to see where you are at relative to yesterday, last year or 10 years ago. So I think it’s not that surprising that a practice rooted in repetition, Ashtanga Yoga, sparked my current examination of my yoga habits and confronted me with the changes in my practice in the last few months. Confrontation has a somewhat negative connotation, but it wasn’t negative here – in general though, I do find that the practice rarely gives me these insights subtly – instead I usually feel like I’ve been smacked in the face.
On to the story – I took a class the other day at a studio I was scoping out to see if I wanted to teach there. I knew that the owner was an ashtangi and I was expecting a class that was at least based on the primary series. The class was pretty much what I expected – we were led through much of the primary series with variations here and there. Mostly though, I knew where we were going from pose to pose, which was an interesting experience in and of itself. I’ve never done Mysore style ashtanga (where you move through the primary series, and subsequent series as appropriate with teacher assistance/individualized attention) but I really like the ashtanga practice manual for home practice so I’m familiar with the series. Though ashtanga yoga teachers will modify poses to a degree, they are pretty strict about traditional alignment, so I was planning on asserting my yoga independence at some point to modify most of the poses to fit my body even if that wasn’t strictly “kosher” in the class.
If you’ve been to this website and poked around at all, or if you’ve taken a class with me, you know that modifications are my bread and butter. My teaching philosophy is that this practice is completely customizable and that we can make it work no matter who you are or what your body can or can’t do. I’ve built my yoga career on figuring out new ways to get into, prop and hold yoga poses. And I think I’m pretty good at it. I’m all about claiming your agency in class and doing the pose anyway you want to (as long as it’s relatively safe) or opting out entirely. Yeah – this class wasn’t like that at all. Sure, no one was forcing you to do poses at all or in a certain way, but there was some gentle (and not so gentle at times) encouragement to do the pose the traditional way. At first, my independent/stubborn heart was not happy about this, but then I sort of said to myself – what the heck, it’s an hour out of my life. Maybe I should give the traditional alignment a shot in a few standing poses I always modify. So I did. And much to my shock, it didn’t suck. At all. It felt good.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that my practice has gotten stronger over the past few months. I went from taking 1-2 classes a week to 4-6. But it honestly never occurred to me that maybe I was modifying poses that didn’t need to be modified. That might even have felt better if I had stuck with the traditional alignment. And that’s what’s amazing about this practice. That it can surprise you, 3 months in, 1 year in, 5 years in, 20+ years in. I’m not going to abandon modifications for myself or my students, but I do think that I’ll be a little more adventurous in trying alignment cues that I would have scoffed at 6 months ago and I might offer up the traditional alignment in poses as an option to try a little bit more in my classes as well. Has your practice surprised you at all lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!