Friday, April 28, 2017

YOGA: Body is not stiff, mind is stiff

During high school and college years I used to play basketball in a city club. I was good, physically fit, good with the ball, fast and I could run for hours. In the beginning of new season, the strength is slowly built by daily training. Every day you feel more energy and you can run longer distances. That was in basketball but not in ashtanga yoga. The mostly unspoken truth of ashtanga yoga is its slow progress.

Last week, from Monday to Friday, I've had five practices but I really enjoyed only the one, the rest were slow moving, mechanical and tiring. I practice ashtanga yoga for the last ten years and still I have a lot of problem with the practice. I am 52 now and half primary series makes me exhausted. I am afraid of injuries so I practice with a great care. Nearly all ashtangis suffer injuries from time to time, usually minor, but occasionally major ones that become chronic or permanent.

The “no pain no gain” approach to ashtanga yoga is not good, it inevitably invites injuries. Couple years ago I teared MCL on left knee, and since then the left side sitting postures are great suffering; the right knee is not any better. I started ashtanga believing that physical fitness means going to war with myself. In truth, those who seek pain will surely find it in ashtanga yoga.

The physical benefits of ashtanga have been astonishing for me, but I also learned the hard way there are risks practicing it, and the risks increase with age. In the first year of my practice, in 2006, I was constantly on the verge of sickness, I did daily full primary series at the mysore class in local yoga studio. I felt cleaning power of ashtanga yoga. I remember that a single glass of cold water would make my throat sore.

I have had difficulty understanding simple truth that there are no shortcuts in ashtanga yoga. I was misled by a “no pain no gain” mentality, so I pushed through the walls that often leads me to injury. I had constant wrist pain and back pain with occasional muscle pop ups.

I did not understand that the whole point of ashtanga yoga is to be a friend with the body, not to change it into something I wished or desired but to accept it as it is, to accept what I have right here and now. It took me long time and lot of injuries to get this, and to be quite honest, I am not sure this is still the case. Loving and caring for my physical body is not my primary goal in the practice of ashtanga yoga. YET.

The practice of ashtanga requires the focused awareness of stability, breath and drishti and all its moving parts and pieces. The mind tends to wander and distract, I must continually return to the body. By using breath as the bridge I put my attention of the breath into the areas of the body where I feel the most painful sensation. Relying on breath to relax the stiffness I am bringing softness and sweetness to my mind.

I did noticed that in my practice I make yet another mistake. I try to hold the pose for five breaths and doing that results in a stagnant, rigid practice. Instead of the body I should be in the breath, staying in the flow. As an older ashtangi I should move slowly, slightly, gently, exploring each pose, making subtle adjustments by small degrees. I should avoid fatigue.

Growing older is a shitty business. There is nothing good in that. I'm made more aware each day of my own mortality, and how few decades I possibly still have left on this earth. Yet, when one if still healthy other things became possible. So ashtanga yoga is my main interest right now, I am going to unroll my math right now and do the practice...

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