I cannot possibly write everything I have to say about yoga in one post. I think that it's just going to have to be a category of blog posts. Yoga is freaking amazing. But for humor's sake, I must relay my first experience with Ashtanga Yoga. It can summed up quite tritely...
Ommmm. My. God.
I can only say that I have sincerely started a yoga "practice" since November. It isn't pretty. It isn't as consistent as I would like. It isn't perfect. But it's growing. And inside of me, there is now this little part of me that craves yoga. If I have missed class for a while, and I feel a tweak in my hamstring or hip, my first thought is "Dang. I have to get to yoga."
For some time now, I have been interested in trying Ashtanga Yoga. Here's what I knew about it before I went. It is a more meditative practice than hot yoga. The instructor who guides this practice learned about teaching Ashtanga yoga last year in India. There is chanting. The basic premise is to perform the same poses in the same order every class. Ashtanga yoga is more about flowing and movement than it is about holding specific poses for a long time. The studio is warm but not hot.
Here is what I did not know about Ashtanga before last night. You sweat more than you have ever sweat in your life. Constant flowing vinyasa with constant Ujjayi breathing is incredibly difficult and makes you hotter than any hot studio can. Sitting in the back (my safe place) does not guarantee you anonymity because the really advanced practicioners are in the back so they don't disrupt the newer kids in the front. You can't drink during Ashtanga (hold up...whaaaa?). You might cry a little during final savasana. You might barely make it through the grocery store afterwards. You might pass out in your bed like you just ran a marathon. You might not be able to lift your baby in his car seat the next morning.
I try not to be intimidated in yoga. I own that I am new to the practice. I own that I am not able to be as "all in" as I would like. I laugh off that I am weak and wobbly and rigid. But I'm not going to lie...ashtanga yoga struck fear in my heart. On many levels. I was scared of how hard it was. And scared of how hard it was even for the really advanced kids (hearing them struggle through the sequence of poses was downright crazy). I was scared of how hot my body got so quickly. I was scared that I was doing it wrong. And then really scared when I knew I did it right because it was just so much work. Mostly I was scared I was going to die, on my yoga mat, in front of all these people. A sweaty, wobbly, inflexible death.
I flowed. And flowed. And flowed. And I breathed and held and breathed deeply again. I could not help but look in awe out of the corner of my eye at the good kids. They moved at a much quicker speed through the sequence, which ironically did not assure me that the class was going in the right direction. Instead, my brain said "I have to do WHAT next???" Sometimes it is better not to know where you are going. Ignorance is bliss.
For only the second time I can remember, at one point I just stopped. I sat on my mat, a bit defeated. As a runner, the one thing I bring to the yoga mat is endurance. So while I may not be all bendy, at least I can last an entire class because in my head a 75 or 90 minute workout is easy peasy. I can run for hours so yoga for 90 minutes? Cake. Except this was so not cake!
During one point in the sequence you sit cross-legged or in lotus (if you have that in your practice---I love how instructors say this like it's something you just pick up at the store as opposed to work towards for months and years) and roll on your back. You roll up and down nine times (exactly) in a full circle. I felt like a giddy and spastic 4 year old.
At one point, while on my back I stretched my hands above my head, only for my hands to land a large pool of the sweat behind me. Uhhh...ewww. I'm not a squeamish person but when I looked, I was not kidding. STANDING POOL OF SWEAT. Oh dude, please put your shirt back on or mop up your mess.
At one point, I made the mistake of looking at my neighboring yogi (another instructor from the studio taking the class). She (an instructor) was struggling mightily to bend further into a pose. The ashtanga instructor laid her full body on her wherein I heard a loud pop and then groaning. I thought, "oh this cannot be good". Except it was a pleasurable groan and she was smiling? What just happened???? Am I the only one seeing this?
And finally, my crowing glory, when I acknowledged just how remedial I was. The instructor is so kind and supportive. She bounces around the class helping everyone the entire 90 minutes. She straightens their backs, supports their sweaty mess while they work on a transition and pushes the yogis further. She's selfless in her service. Her help for me came about an hour in. She came to my corner, mouth twisted up curiously. And she smiled, "let's get you a block." And she started helping me with a pose. Before I knew it, I had yoga blocks shoved all around me trying to support that which I could not support myself. Honestly, it was pretty hilarious.
But as always, the instructor brings it all around. Jordan, the teacher in this class manages to always leave me with these nuggets of inspiration. After nearly killing people, the instructors guide you through relaxation and share beautiful powerful positive thoughts.
On Monday after all the sweating and pain subsided, Jordan read from David Williams, a premier Ashtanga instructor...you know this guy. The passage she read was all about how there is no measure of whether someone is "good" at yoga. In fact, in his mind, the person who is good at yoga is the person who is giving 100% to their practice. The person who wholly surrenders their body for the time. The person who focuses the hardest in class regardless of their abilities is the "best" in yoga.
For all the grief I was giving myself for not "lasting" through class. For not having the limber joints to bend into poses or the strength to hold a pose. It sort of melted away. Because if there was one thing I could say, I was focused, I was trying, I was absolutely giving it my all. And so I left Ashtanga--sweaty, smelly, exhausted and sore. I woke the next morning feeling tired, sore, and hungry. And the first thing I did when I got to my desk that day was see when the next Ashtanga class was offered.