One morning at my 5:30 am Mysore Ashtanga practice, I had one of those days where my body went on strike. Everybody has those days, where technically we can and have done all (or most) of these postures with grace and ease, but that day… not so much. My muscles fought back in even the simplest forward bends, my spine wouldn’t loosen up, and as a result, my inner-monologue was…well, let’s just say it was less than yogic.
Asana practice has two real main functions in the yogic tradition: to prepare the body to sit and meditate, and to open and balance energy lines in the body to facilitate personal development (so one can be comfortable in meditation internally). Typically on these days of physical ‘strike’, I’m left to contemplate in my Savasana what in my body/emotional patterning is so out of whack that it causes my entire physical being to seize up.
And it becomes days like these where one really begins to practice yoga. No, not Triangle Pose and Headstand, but Union with the Self. And apparently today myself is a little tough to look at.
The beautiful thing about practicing yoga is that it can be anything to anybody: we have dozens of styles of yoga spanning from extremely exercise-y and non-spiritual to extremely spiritual with minimal postures. We have classes with very little talking or music and classes that resemble a Krishna Das concert. And if Asana isn’t your thing, you can still be a yogi – you can chant, meditate, practice Bhakti or Tantra. You can practice in a studio, at an ashram, at home, in the park. There’s something for everybody.
But the one thing yoga is not is all smiles, hugs, and chanting ‘Hare Krishna’ all the time.
Yes, sometimes it can be those things. That’s how American culture got the stereotype of the flowery yogini dressed in vibrant clothes, a headband, sandals, and hugging everybody she meets. And yes, those people are out there – but yoga is not that way all the time.
Yoga is difficult in oh so many ways – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s a constant process of breaking down to build up, letting go to create space – and inevitably yoga WILL make you take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and make you face all those things we’ve been holding on to and avoiding for years.
Yoga isn’t designed to be an easy practice, and it certainly wasn’t designed to be a happy joyful practice all the time either. Yoga is a parallel to life, and both of them are a bitch to participate in (but we must).
I sat with my discomfort this morning for an extra-long time, and in my meditation afterward (after the 20 minutes of complaining in my head about how ‘unsuccessful’ today was) I realized that today’s practice served me more meaningfully than the last 20 graceful fluid practices before it.
By Elise Fabricant
Elise Fabricant is a top teacher on YogaDownload.com. She's also always at your service for one-on-one coaching. If you’re ready to make big changes in all aspects of your life, sign up for a complimentary clarity session with her from her website here.
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