Ashtanga Practice Thoughts: Having It Work For You

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The other day after Mysore, Thaddeus and I were chatting with our teacher here about the role that practice plays in our lives. The point that we were all focused around was the way that practice can offer support and strength when we need it most.

It’s such a wonderful thing to have the stability and steadiness that only a regular practice can provide. It keeps my body healthy, but more than anything, it keeps my mind under control. The pervasive sense of ease and openness that I feel after my evening meditation practice in Bound Lotus creates one of the purest and most blissful moments of my day. It is such a gift.

In this year of transition, my husband and I have maintained our consistent yoga practice, but not made it the sole focus of our lives. His energy is directed towards school, mine to my new career, and together, we are investing a lot into our new home and our marriage. Our yoga practice is foundational and incredibly important, but its manifestation has changed, just as we have.

When I first got into Ashtanga, I dove in and made it my main priority. Thaddeus had already been practicing for years, but it was his first time living in a place with a very serious Mysore community. We practiced so hard that somedays I could barely pick up my feet on the walk home. I would crawl into bed for breakfast and occasionally take a second savasana. We rarely ever skipped a day of practice and I would somedays do double practice too.

My first year and a half of Ashtanga was like this. I learned the series quickly and felt like I was constantly improving. I craved new poses and deeper backbends. I attended so many workshops and we often traveled to practice with our teacher. It was amazing. I learned so much and felt the changes in my body and mind in drastic ways. I loved it. I became a little obsessed with Ashtanga. I couldn’t imagine life without it – it was my new drug. It drove me crazy, made me mad and thrilled me all the same.

I loved that time of intensity and depth in my yoga practice. I loved the way it brought me and Thad together too. When that period suddenly ended and we were no longer able to practice at that shala, I felt lost and I totally panicked. I was scared about “losing” my practice. I struggled with home practice and constantly felt guilty for not practicing “hard enough.”

But now, a year or so later, I’ve come to a place of more peace regarding my practice

With challenges elsewhere in my life, I feel really grateful that my practice can support me instead of being the thing that’s kicking my butt all the time. I don’t mind that I’m not learning lots of new poses or making giant leaps and bounds in terms of measurable progress. I’m happy just to get the time to breathe and move, even if it does feel a little creaky and ungraceful somedays.

I take my practice a bit more lightly these days. I don’t push quite so hard. I’ve dealt with a few injuries along the road and I’m more inclined to take it easy if I’m feeling a bit off, rather than push through pain or fatigue. I know that after yoga, I have a full day ahead of me – work, home life, “adult” stuff. I can’t afford to go home, chill in my PJs and rest for hours because I’m wiped out from practice, instead I have to practice in a way that can give me the energy boost I need to go about my day in a productive and harmonious fashion.

When I think about the specifics of my practice, I see that the asanas haven’t changed that much. I still work on difficult poses like eka pada sirsasana, I’m still building strength and balance with poses like pincha mayurasana and handstands, I’m still actively picking myself up and working my jumpbacks too. But I’m not doing dropbacks everyday or repeatedly trying kapotasana. I’m not reaching for my ankles in backbends or holding 100 breath headstands, but I’m still giving my practice a fair shot.

So what I see now is that it’s not necessarily the asanas that have changed per se, but rather, my intentions and attitudes in practice. This means somedays I will push and practice with a little more heat and ferocity, while other days I will really cool off and keep it soft. It also means that I rely on more Primary Series, instead of driving forward to “master” my Second Series poses.  And yes, somedays I just do standing series and restoratives or have to skip practice altogether for work-travel.

I know that I have years of practice ahead of me too, so what’s the rush? I love having the ability to practice every day and I want to keep it that way (if not Mysore, at least home meditation and pranayama daily). I imagine there will be times in the future when I will kick it back into high gear and fully immerse myself, but I also know there will be times (think babies and business) that my practice will be very minimal, and that’s all good too.

I think it’s essential to work for your practice, to give it the best you’ve got, but also to make sure that, when all is said and done, the practice is working for you, that it is helping you be a healthier, happier, more kind and conscious person in all aspects of your life, day in and day out.

Love and Blessings,

Frances

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9 thoughts on “Ashtanga Practice Thoughts: Having It Work For You

  1. Thank you for another inspiring post Francis! I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, I do not seem to be able to balance things out (not only practice but life in general as well), either I’m way to harsh for myself and pushing,pushing,pushing or I’m just lazy and let things slip. It’s great to know that there’s always my practice to come back to while all the other things around are in flux

  2. Hi Frances, Nuno from Portugal here. For some time I have been reading your blog along with other ashtanga yoga related blogs because I love so much this practice and I do it mostly alone at home since the closest shala is 3 hours away from where I live. I practice ashtanga for 1 year now and in beginning it happened the same with you, I was completely hooked and obsessed about this practice. But by practicing ashtanga made me aware that my behavior with this practice was very similar with other things in life. What it is interesting to note is as the regular practice develops I feel that I am getting more steady at the practice and at life too. Wish all the best for you.

    • Hi Nuno.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s always great to connect with other practitioners. I appreciate your reflection about the correlation of regular practice and steadiness in life – I really think that’s so essential and it’s a beautiful thing to witness because you can really experience how it is that the practice is effective, beyond just the asana.
      Blessings

  3. Hi Frances,

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. This summer, I backed off from learning third series as I dealt with changes and challenges in my work and home life. The past few weeks, I keep telling myself that THIS will be the week I go back to those poses, but then things come up, or I feel exhausted, and I have yet to return to third series. What you said is so true: “With challenges elsewhere in my life, I feel really grateful that my practice can support me instead of being the thing that’s kicking my butt all the time.” I need to think about what this means for me, right now, and find peace with that. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Best,
    Lindsey

    • Thank you dear Lindsey.
      Glad this was meaningful and comforting to you. Thad has had to back off his Third as well this summer because of the intensity of his school work. Everything in its right time and place….the practice ain’t going nowhere 😉
      Be well.
      xo
      F

  4. Hi Frances,

    I started my surgery rotation a couple of weeks ago and yoga practice has been surprisingly consistent, but I’ve found I had to focus on maintenance rather than improvement. I think things are only going to be getting more busy in the next couple of months so this is exactly what I needed to hear– thanks!

    Julia

  5. Honestly, after having had cancer and so many surgeries last year, I had to move away from a lot of ashtanga and back to vinyasa because of how much healing I’ve had to do. I still cope with a great deal of soreness on a daily basis and I miss feeling stronger, but I try to do as you do- remember that this is a life long practice and that right now I have to make sure I feel better so that I can increase my strength, flexibility, and health. I’ve seen some practitioners push themselves way too far- my friend Jenn was in a terrible car accident that left her with an SI injury and she still tries to push through it, leaving herself hobbling around and dependent on pain meds. Not the goal of any yoga practice. I think the balance one comes to, comes with age and with the knowledge that your body is alwayd here for you but will always need different things. Kudos.

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