This morning Sharath adjusted me in dropbacks again, and the tip of one my fingers brushed the back of my heel. Progress. When I came back up, he said to one of the adjusters hovering nearby,
‘She has finished full primary now.’
The adjuster nodded and gave me a small smile.
I felt a thrilling tingle up and down my spine. Did this mean I’d be given pasasana, the first posture from the intermediate series, next class? I couldn’t help an excited grin twitch my mouth upwards as I rolled up my mat and moved into the changing rooms for finishing series. Practising intermediate series in this environment would be a powerful experience, I was sure of it. Yet, as I came out of savasana, I reminded myself it didn’t matter what postures I was doing – all that mattered was that I was practising with the right attitude.
Like, I suspect, many ashtangis, I struggle with non-attachment to postures. It’s almost as if the ashtanga method is structured to force a confrontation with this conundrum at some point. In the traditional Mysore style, the teacher only gives you a new posture once they are satisfied that you’ve mastered the previous one, such that gradually you build up the number of postures you’re permitted to do, moving eventually from primary series on to intermediate series and, possibly, advanced series. And this, as any ashtangi knows, can take years.
Patience is required and, ideally, an equanimous approach to the practice, whereby you don’t desperately grasp for what you haven’t yet achieved. Instead, you try and appreciate exactly where you are at any moment, having faith that, if you continue to practise with mindfulness, discipline and courage, then you’ll move gradually forward at the pace that’s appropriate for you. Things will unfold as they should in time, as long as you keep turning up to practice and giving it your best. Or, in the oft-cited words of Pattabhi Jois: ‘Practise, practise, all is coming!” and ‘Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory.’
It sounds so easy on paper, yet the reality is that ashtanga often tends to attract driven, competitive people who love the physical challenge that the asanas provide. And, for such people, non-attachment is difficult. I speak from experience – I’m naturally one of those people and, for that reason, I’m so glad that I found ashtanga (or, possibly, that it found me). If not, I probably would have ended up pouring my energies into another physical challenge, which would only have fuelled an insatiable hunger to achieve and succeed. But at the heart of yoga is the lesson that we need to live in the moment, to be happy with where we’re at right now, to live in truth, not in the lies, mind-tricks and fabrications of the past or future. The simple act of marrying breath and movement is all we need to unite body and mind and arrive in the present moment. And fortunately we have the opportunity to do that in any posture, from tadasana onwards!
I’ve come to see ashtanga yoga’s tendency to push students towards more and more advanced postures as a chance to develop many qualities that we need for life: discipline, courage, faith, patience, perseverance, humility – the list goes on. But, also, it will inevitably at some point become a test of how attached you are to new postures, and whether you can be kind to yourself and be happy with where you are right now. And the irony is, the more we yearn and grasp for something, the more elusive it’s likely to remain – we’ll over-exert, take dangerous short-cuts, compromise the breath etc. And the moment we let that go and instead approach where we’re at with relaxed awareness, the more the body will respond and open up.
So with all that in mind, I’m trying not to think about pasasana. It’s just a different position in which to breathe, after all… 😉