Ashtanga Diaries at Purple Valley (Part 2)
Besides the fact of repeating every day the same sequence, Ashtanga Vinyasa practice is different everyday. I’m not a strict traditional Ashtanga practitioner, which means I don’t practice the same sequence 6 days a week. Back home, I used to do 2 or 3 times per week intermediate series till Karandavasana, 1 or 2 primary series, and 1 or 2 free creative vinyasa. Even if I’m not repeating everyday the same, there is a pattern of repetition which allows me to experience the thermometer effect of this amazing tradition that is Ashtanga.
This past month has been different. This is the first time I have been doing full intermediate five days per week plus one led primary series and it has been such an insightful experience. I’ve got to understand my body in a much deeper way. Also, I’ve got to explore and know spaces of my body I didn’t know before. I’ve experienced progress in terms of Asana, but even more important, I’ve got to explore deeper the labyrinths of my mind during the silent space after practice.
Due to the lifestyle I had the last 5 years, I didn’t have a teacher back home, because home was moving all the time as I was traveling and experiencing different places to live. So, I found myself practicing for many years without the “progress” of adding new postures. Actually, I was doing the opposite. I used to remove postures. For a couple of years I practiced only till Laghuvajrasana without adding new postures. When I finally found Gabrielle, an amazing Ashtanga teacher in Rome, he asked me to go till Karandavasana and eventually, when I was there, he allowed me to practice the full intermediate. This lasted only the few weeks I was in Rome. Once I was back “home”, wherever home was, I didn’t practice the full intermediate anymore and decided to go back to the posture I knew I was stuck: Karandavasana, and of course most days I was practicing primary series. So I never developed the habit and stamina to keep an everyday full intermediate practice. Also I have to admit, I love primary series, it’s just a soft dance where my breath and mind can remain still, while intermediate is a battle with my body, my breath and my mind, I feel agitated, frustrated, exhausted and sometimes defeated.
This month has been something exceptional. A full month practicing intermediate and I am just starting to develop some fluidity. This is the point in which my mind starts to accept the level of effort required and so the effort starts to be reduced. Though, I still struggle. It might take some years before I feel I dance in Intermediate as I feel I do when practicing primary.
Practice is supposed to leave us feeling great! Yes, but maybe not in all stages. Specially when it’s acting as a medicine. For instance, when we take medicines to kill a bacteria, and the bacteria starts to die, in all of the beginning phases of the medicine, we feel terrible. It’s no util the bacteria is dead that we start to feel better. With Āsana something similar happens. For me, this travel was the perfect circumstance to experience this transition into full intermediate. This was the perfect circumstance to put so much energy into the physical practice. I got to experience feeling depleted after practice, while I was having the time to rest and recover, so I could learn more about my limits through experience and not by reading about it. It felt amazing the two or three times I was helped to catch my heels in Chakra Bandhasana, though I know it’s not necessary and to do it or not doesn’t show or reflect at all my Sadhana.
This last week of practice, Petri, my teacher, opened for me the doors of Advance A Series. Today during the last Mysore, he gave me two more postures. I would like to tell you that I was equanimous towards it, but the truth is that as I was not expecting it, my ego was celebrating, while my observer was witnessing it preventing the ego to attach to it. Now it’s going to be one year till I see my teacher again so I have a lot of work to do, while I know this “work” is not really about achieving the posture, but about all of what happens in the process.
Patanjali says very little about āsana, he said that when in a stable and comfortable Āsana, the effort is released, the posture is perfected and one finds the union with the infinite, then in that absorption state, one is no longer affected by the pair of opposites (heat and cold, pain and pleasure, etc).
B.K.S. Iyengar adds to it by explaining about the effort which is required so one does not need the effort anymore. That effort is the practice. We have chosen Āsana as a means to learn the discipline of the effort, which shows us and leads us to make the same constant, uninterrupted and truly devoted effort in the fields of our minds, trying to become more aware, so we can learn how to decide with discernment, so one can realize of the true self, Svatma.
So I remind myself this and I remind you about it, because we tend to forget that Āsana is not the goal, but only “a means” (not even “the means”).
I don’t know how my practice back home is going to be. Certainly I know I can’t use the amount of energy I’m using here for practicing because I will not have the rest of the day to recover. I know at some point this practice will require less and less effort, but to be honest, I’m not on a rush, I don’t even expect it to happen.
I’m not on this path to be “better” but to learn to accept and enjoy myself.