On November 1st my first decade of uninterrupted well observed traditional Ashtanga yoga practice will be complete. This feels like a huge crossing.
One of my long term students read a quote from Guruji that has stayed with me for many years. He said the first four to five years of daily Ashtanga practice are “hogwash” and that it takes 10-12 years before the practice is in your system.
When I was with Tim Miller a couple weeks ago, I told him my 10 year anniversary of daily practice was coming up and he said, “Congratulations Michelle. You are no longer a beginner.”
The message here is that Yoga is a process, a lifelong process. Your dedication and commitment to it is what will withstand the stormy weather. You cannot expect everything to happen in such a short time. The growth that you incur through yoga is so deep, touching the most precious parts of yourself; it would not be healthy for it to all happen at once.
For all the younger practitioners out there, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. Time is an important aspect and Ashtanga yoga is not a sprint. Patience is the greatest virtue and the hardest won. There will be times when you want to give in, give up, take a break, and stop. Don’t do it! Don’t give in! This is most likely the time you are really getting somewhere good. Slow it down, do less, but keep going, stay true to your commitment to yourself, to your practice.
I always tell my students that yoga is like any relationship, there are good times and there are bad times, sometimes it is heavenly and you feel like you are floating. Other times are difficult, there are challenges, and you feel weighed down. These are the times that really test you as a yogi, test your inner strength and ability to persevere.
I love this quote by Rumi that expresses this similar experience, “The cure for pain is in the pain. Good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both, you don’t belong with us.”
When I first started practicing I was so in love, madly and passionately in love. I felt my self esteem heal quickly, my life became more organized as I got clearer, my body and diet got so healthy, and my whole life changed to a higher vibration.
As the years went on, it kept deepening, and very similar to what Guruji said it was around 4-5 years when it started to get really hard. Practicing Second Series also had a hand in it as anyone who has practiced it long term knows how deep it can go into your emotional body.
There may come a time for all of you when the practice really takes you to your pain, to the root of your suffering. How do you proceed from here? This is when most people give up. Proceeding in this space takes great skill and support from others.
The answer to this varies from person to person, but I will share a little of my own insight as I hit this point myself.
Don’t be afraid of the pain or the sorrow. Embrace it as part of yourself. Hold it close and learn to love it all; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
If you have any inclination towards any creative arts, express what you feel through some venue, be it music, art, writing, dance, caretaking, etc…
Let yourself be with whatever it is right now here in the moment. Anything other than this is suffering.
Be open to receive each moment as it comes without grasping to what was in the past.
Give yourself what you need to heal, surround yourself with colors, art, pictures that feed your soul, eat well, stay healthy, take walks, go outside and enjoy the natural world, keep your loyal trustworthy friends and teachers close. Do not hesitate to seek professional support through the healing modality of your choice if you need it.
Most of all, give yourself space to breathe, to feel it, to let it go, not to worry, and to cultivate compassion for yourself, then it will transfer towards others.
There are a lot of beautiful asanas in the Ashtanga practice, and it is good and healthy to challenge oneself to be the best you can be, but be careful not to lose sight of what yoga really seeks to do….
When I first began practicing, as Tim put it in regards to himself, I was also “on the Samadhi express.” As this process unfolded, it was exciting and full of wonder. I was making great leaps and bounds quickly and I was accelerated.
As it began to deepen, it felt like it was slowing down. I began to hit “speed bumps” and became aware that there are many steps you must take in order for this process to unwind properly. Skipping steps is not advisable. I learned that a little bit more Enlightenment comes day by day and that a nice steady pace is preferable.
I realized that healing your deep wounds is a large part of the process, learning to live in your wholeness again. When there is injury to the Self, you tend to act out of fear, insecurity, and defense. When your sense of Self is intact, these feelings of fear and inadequacy are not driving you anymore. From this place of wholeness, your entire life transforms; you are more available to participate in functional relationships and give to others.
My therapist told me once, “When your cup is full and overflowing others can drink from it.” To me, this is happiness and it makes a better teacher and healer.
Yoga is an incredible tool with limitless potential for healing and Enlightenment. Use it! Follow the directions from the ancient guides, which points incessantly to “consistent practice over time.”
Honor the teachers that have been immersed in the process for so many decades, they are our most precious gems and resources.
Slow down and use some insight into yourself through your practice. Do not be too eager to push forward in the physical part alone. Take some time to let the rest of you catch up.
Be delighted and curious as to what each new day and moment will bring, and when the pain does arise, hug it in close to yourself and honor its calling. The joy on the other side is waiting.
Truly, I never dreamed of such happiness as I feel today. I am looking forward to watching the next decade unfold.
I thank Goddess for the practice and the many teachers that keep it alive.
Love to All Beings.
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC