My Achy Shoulders and the Trappings of Ashtanga.

This morning I practiced at the shala. It was the right way to start the week.

It felt nice to sweat a little, get some all natural chiropractic action, and practice focusing my scattered mind.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for awhile know that for the past 6 months ever since we returned from India, I mostly do a home practice. This occasionally consists of my full practice (Primary Series, then 2nd up through ardha matsyendrasana with lots of dropbacks), but many days it’s just Primary (full or modified) or some Vinyasa play and Kundalini. There were a few months when I was really super modifying everything because of a knee injury, but I’m back to lotus and all that jazz now. Yay! I love lotus.

Because of these 6 months of self-practice and struggling with motivation, it’s quite a treat to go to a shala. I always relish the opportunity when we travel to DC, NY or Philly to practice with a qualified teacher in the quietly intense environment of Mysore.

One remarkable thing that I’ve noticed during this time of less-consistent Ashtanga practice is that the openness of my body follows no real rhyme or reason.

When I’m only doing my full practice with a teacher once a week, it’s quite easy for me to grab my ankles in kapo and dropbacks. It’s almost as if not doing the poses actually makes them better. Weird. And the opposite is true as well, the more I do them, the harder they get!

Of course, there are some poses such as pasana or krounchasana that don’t follow this model – these guys really need the daily action.

FY and I chatted about this a bit during breakfast. I was looking at this phenomenon rather superficially. I claimed that the regular practice aggravated my chronic shoulder inflammation and that’s why it was harder for me to “catch” after a few days of consistent effort.

He agreed that this might be true, there’s no denying that my shoulders hurt more the more I practice (at least they have for the past year), and that fatigue inevitably plays a role too. But he brought up another perspective…

Perhaps this relative “easiness” achieved with less consistency is just one of the trappings of Ashtanga. It tricks me into thinking, “well, I’m better if I do it less, so I should do it less”.

But really, the quality of my practice has very little to do with the funny shapes I’m making with my body. The quality of my practice is the depth to which I connect with myself, how I stay focused on my breath, how I rein in my mind’s wanderings, bringing my awareness back to center with ease – not grasping.

A good practice means it’s a practice that gives me pause to think, to self-reflect, to be curious and to learn.

The foundation of yoga practice is consistency and dedication. Without this solid base, the internal dimensions of the practice have very little on which to build. There’s a reason Ashtanga is a 6 day a week practice. There’s a reason it’s challenging. It’s not just for the body; it’s really for the mind.

So just doing my practice occasionally, when it feels “good” or makes me feel like I’m a back-bending rock star, is really besides the point. That’s not actually going to help me advance and evolve.

Remember, yoga is not ice cream!

I actually feel kind of grateful for those days when I can’t do all the cool stuff, when I can’t land in bakasana or catch my ankles. It’s a good thing to not be the “best”.

Those humbling practices can be some of the most profound, offering you a perfect opportunity to remember the purpose of practice, your intentions, dedications and when it comes down to it, what really matters.

To paraphrase Radhanath Mararaj, “When you’re in a plane that you think is about to crash, you don’t start doing asana, do you?”

Blessings on this Monday morning!

Love Frances

PS – Don’t forget to enter into the Giveaway! Just 2 more days.

image – that’s not me, btw!


8 thoughts on “My Achy Shoulders and the Trappings of Ashtanga.

    • Thank you Frances…I loved this blog…I just found your blog by chance on FB, as I have a lot of Yoga sites…anyway, what you wrote was important for me to remember…being that I was a competitive gymnast my first part of my life…”bending like a rockstar, etc. gets stuck in my ego” …you know what you wrote…I don’t need to repeat it, but it was all soul felt to me, it resonated deeply…daily practice, breath, This last year has been dark and I am healing, so it is so important to remember this…I just want to thank you for your words of honesty from your heart…they so resonated with me and I truly needed to hear THIS MESSAGE today in this moment. You’ve got another humble blog follower for your “humble”, but oh so helpful blog. Blessings and love Frances~ Namaste ❤ K.

  1. “When you’re in a plane that you think is about to crash, you don’t start doing asana, do you?”

    Tibetan Buddhists (or at least some of them) believe that the state of mind at death effects the type of rebirth you get for the next life. So maybe doing asanas in a crashing plane wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

    Not sure what asanas you could actually do seated in economy class….Urdva Baddhahangulyasana? Guradasana, arms only?

    • I definitely agree that the state of one’s consciousness at the time of death will effect the nature of your next birth. Which is why it’s the perfect opportunity (if one has the ability and self-awareness to do so) to redirect the attention to the spirit and away from the attachments to the body. That’s why we pray or chant the holy names…..
      Thank you for your comment and for reading Lila!

  2. Hey! I have also noticed this phenomenon. I went 2 weeks without practicing, and was beating myself up over it. When I finally did a full Primary Series, I seemed to be able to summon a decent amount of energy and strength. I was actually floating gracefully in the Sun A’s. My breath was long and consistent. My forward bends were very forward bendy. Point being it was almost as if I had been storing up this energy from 2 weeks of relative inactivity and I was able to use it to channel through an awesome practice session. I have taken that as a signal to not beat myself up over not practicing as much, but I also totally hear you on the lessons you are taking from it as well, and you are right.

    • Hi Andy.
      Thanks for your comment. Taking a little time off can be a wonderful thing for your body and your practice. Sometimes it’s just what your body needs to integrate. But yea, there’s a risk there too….with the ego and all…it’s important to find a balance and try to find consistency with practice, because who knows, maybe one time you take practice off everything turns to sh*t….it’s all kind of a mystery 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Pingback: Unseasonal Rain | Lila

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