When I began my yoga practice I could not touch my toes. I was not particularly strong or flexible. I was definitely not especially coordinated or well balanced. I was frustrated a lot. So why did I continue? I knew, by which I mean I felt in the place where one feels truth, that yoga was good for me.
I tried a lot of yoga but there was only one class I liked. It was called Power Yoga and it was taught by this tiny, toned, blond lady. I didn’t realize until years later that it was actually an Ashtanga Yoga class I was doing.
I didn’t like chanting. I didn’t like depictions of Hindu Gods. I didn’t like most other yoga students. I just felt it was good for me. I just kept going.
In Brooklyn I found a Led Ashtanga class. I quit all other types of yoga and committed myself to taking class at least 4 times a week. I often went more. I got the chills. I got fever. I was achy, hungry, and exhausted. I suddenly became a napper. This went on for four months straight. I was also exhilarated. I felt I found a secret something and I just had to keep going to where I didn’t know. Things were changing. My body was opening. I began to trust the practice and take more risks. I learned to stand on my head.
One day I heard students talking to my teacher about something called Mysore style. I had no idea what that was. I had no idea what Ashtanga was. My teacher told me it was time for me to study with a teacher who taught this Mysore style. She had been right about so much already so I did what she said. She gave me three names and a brief sentence about each person. I made a choice. I went. When I arrived I said my teacher sent me, explained what I’d been practicing and what I thought I knew. I got a grunt. I didn’t feel welcomed. I didn’t feel coddled and loved and “shanti-ed”. Inside I wanted to run but instead I stayed.
I repeated to myself that this yoga practice was for me, not for anyone else. Not the teacher and not the other students in the room. I said this every day and I just kept showing up. I’d arrive early. 6:30am. I was in my 20’s but I wasn’t doing what 20 something year olds do. I had to get enough sleep to make it to class rested and on time. I had to eat well and the right amounts. The practice caused me to create a disciplined life around it.
My teacher started talking to me. Asking me to do things I wasn’t sure I could do. I felt more fear so I said to myself, “this is fear” and I kept going. Somehow naming it helped. Each time I faced a fear and moved through it I reaffirmed my ability to recognize and defy the feeling. I was touching my toes by then and doing lots of things I never thought I could do with my body, but more importantly I was refining my mind.
Outside of class I recognized the feeling, “this is fear” and I sustained the same mantra, “just keep going”. “You can stop at anytime. You are in control. Just keep going.” At the same time I had a complete Paradigm shift. I was an A student with an A-type personality and I had always been taught to work hard to achieve more. But yoga screamed the opposite. Yoga taught, “let go, you’ll go further”. “Do less, you’ll do more”. It tripped me out. It opened my eyes to all the places in my life I was working just to work, all the areas where I was missing the point.
Then the opportunity came to go to India and spend a month at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute. It was a no brainer. I jumped at a chance to experience India and find out more about what this Ashtanga thing was all about. I bopped around blissfully for those thirty days. Smiling my way through a practice that seemed suddenly so effortless and transported. I took cold bucket baths. I went to temples. I saw another way that people live. At the end of the trip my teacher said, “Next time you come three months”. He seemed serious. It seemed right. All along I had trusted in the process and it had supported me. I went home, saved up for six months and flew back for a three month trip.
Seven years later I’m on my eighth trip to Mysore, India. This time two students are with me. I have my own yoga shala and a fully established way of life which melds my India and New York selves. I have patience. I have trust. I believe in my mind’s ability to perceive at extremely subtle levels. I understand the difference between thinking I know something intellectually, and true knowledge which creates practical change. I am becoming more and more skilled at transferring that kind of deep knowing to my students.
And still I feel I’m a total beginner. I really do. There is so much I don’t know. There are poses I don’t know, levels of mediation I have not explored, so many questions I have not yet answered. I keep returning to this place because I am still a student and will always be a student. There are so many things I don’t know, but so many things I believe I could. The practice has given me that belief. It has broken every self imposed ceiling until I’ve had no choice but to trust it. It has challenged me, and supported me and given me a structure to live by.
So many people ask why I keep coming to India. When you find truth you want to be near it. You want to go deeper. Each time I’m asked that question I feel fear bubble up. I experience the sensation of self-doubt as I see myself reflected in critical eyes. It barely touches me though, my mechanisms are strongly in place. When I feel fear automatically I hear, “This is fear. Just keep going.”