We have the tendency to repeat what we like and to avoid or resist to what we don’t. Sometimes we don’t see the difference between liking something and that which is good for us. So we just repeat what we like, which is not always what will serve us best. These tendencies are called Kleshas by Patanjali’s yoga philosophy, specifically Raga and Dvesha. Raga refers to a coloring passion towards those things that give us pleasure, and Dvesha refers to our tendency to avoid or reject those things we don’t like or don’t give us pleasure. Both are intertwined and make us seeing reality through limited glasses, make us being defensive, attached, separated and it could even make us unable to learn from new experiences.
I greatly enjoy primary series! My body feels easy during forward bends and hip openers so I easily get attached to it. I can find many reasons to only practicing primary series: my inner body is squeezed, my organs massaged, my nervous system relaxed, my emotions softened.
Intermediate series, on the other hand, is a challenge for me. Back home, I tend to avoid it, it’s a challenge that somedays I don’t want to face, a battle I don’t like to fight.
Back home, my regular daily practice, is not traditional. I do not practice following the Ashtanga Vinyasa system as it is. Somedays I do primary series plus other postures that I enjoy, other days I practice half intermediate, and I add additional hip opening postures with legs behind the head (to satisfy my ego’s hunger), somedays I do preparations for backbends and drills for arm balances, with a special focus on shoulder opening, the most stiff area of my body. Besides Asana, I chant, study the sutras and practice Pranayamas. That way of practicing has worked for my body, for my specific needs and of course for my mind.
The only few times I have actually completed the whole intermediate series before, has been while practicing with my teacher Gabriele in Rome, and it has been really just some scattered days in which I felt energetic and he pushed me to it, but it has never been a constant.
Currently I am in Goa, at this fascinating place called Purple Valley studying with Petri, an amazing Ashtanga teacher who has something like 30 years or more of experience following this tradition and a couple of magical hands which have the power to heal not only your body but the limitations of the mind.
This is the very first time I have practiced the whole intermediate series for so many days in a row and my body feels more beginner and at the same time, more awake than ever.
Backbends have always been my roadblock, so that’s where I have put most of my focus for some years. But now, after these two weeks of intensive practice of a sequence I was not used to doing, I see there are many other spaces that are very reduced in my body and mind.
I realized how much confusion there is in me while practicing some postures that were not in my practice before, at least not as they are supposed to be practiced in this system. This is a special confusion I have only experienced while in ballet classes more than 15 years ago, in which I tell my body to do something but it will not respond to my order. For instance the Vinyasa of Mayurasana, or trying (and I say “trying” because it doesn’t happen) to align the knee hips and chest on a vertical line in Vatayanasa, or attempting to keep my feet and knees together while in Gomukhasana... and the list goes on. There is a big fight between what my mind wants to do in these postures and what I am actually supposed to do. And beyond everything, keeping the control of the breath.
Putting intention and attention to every single breath, is what has become my practice these days. Every time I find myself breathing like a bolting horse, I bring myself back with love. There have been days I felt like my body is going to break, other days I feel so much pain that it even hurts to breath, some days I have a big blossom of will power and other days I just don’t want to wake up. But everyday I do, I wake up and go.
One could say I am getting attached to intermediate series and pushing myself too hard, or one could say I am actually working on transcending my tendencies of doing only what I like. One could say I am craving too much on results, or one could say I am working on changing my mind beliefs and patterns of not having enough strength for this or having an impossible body for that. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is what is happening inside, the fog that starts to be dissipated from the glass, the uncontrolled thoughts that I see flowing on the surface of my mind and the deeply rooted tendencies and emotions that I have been confusing with my true self for so long time.
There is a knot that gets released everyday, an impression that starts to be shaken, a light that starts to shine, and a tendency that starts to dissipate.
Through the body, I get awareness of the breath, through the breath a new level of consciousness of the nature of my mind, and then the acceptance and the trust that what is, is exactly what has to be. That is a gift, that is the bliss.