Tuesday, September 25, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Why Parsvakonasana makes me feel chubby — and how I move through it.

"The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta."
-Eduardo Galeano

Vanity Fair recently wrote an extensive article about Asthanga Yoga and several of the controversies that surround it. I thought it was intriguing, especially since I now have an opportunity to work closely with several of the people mentioned in the piece. The air of superiority mentioned in Vanity Fair is absolutely something that I've personally perceived. For a very long time, I've had the feeling from different Ashtangis I've encountered that because I wasn't a devotee of that style of practice, I was regarded as somehow less than. It was subtle, but definitely there. Luckily, the teachers at Jois have been so incredibly welcoming that it dispels this preconceived notion, but again, I'm new to the practice. What I've also noticed from the role I serve as a writer on assignment, people and businesses like to put their best faces forward. I take it all with a grain of salt and am learning like never before to develop my own opinion, taking everything into consideration.

Yesterday was my first day back at Mysore at Jois, after taking off a week off for my "Women's Holiday," and the fact that my elbows are regularly tender from all the Chaturangas and paddling and climbing I put them through. At first, I was hesitant to go back, giving myself backdoor excuses that my business coach would absolutely reprimand me for. 

"If you give your brain the option to back out," he often tells me during our coaching calls, "it will."

We all cycle through highs and lows, lights and darks, so I showed up to practice, even though there were several times I was tempted to pull off at different exits and go to breakfast instead or start my workday. Yet, like so many other experiences that have come to fruition because I actually saw things through, I was glad I showed up. Not only is the practice of yoga in and of itself is so rewarding, but to also have knowledgeable instructors who are manually manipulating you into deeper variations of the pose is even more amazing. And, the fact that they take you to levels they believe you're capable of is another blessing. Mostly, it's the fact that I followed through on a commitment I made to myself. And, well, there's nothing that feels quite as good as that.

I trained with Andrew Hillman, the Yoga Director at Jois, as David was just getting back from teaching in Vegas. It was nice to experience Mysore with a different instructor, though at first, I was concerned about doing it right or being evaluated. Just like David, Andrew took me through the series, helped me laugh through challenging asanas, and then closed my practice by teaching the remaining poses of the standing series

Partway through it, I became distinctly aware of how my body felt in Parsvakonasana — and I did not like that feeling. It reminded me of all the reasons that I hated doing yoga when I was recovering from my eating disorder, where I felt the "fat" that I had been trying so hard to evade through extremely unhealthy measures. As I bent over towards one side on my mat, I could feel a roll of hate oozing from my middle, and I became immediately upset. Unfortunately, there are two sides for this sequence, so I then had to shift my feet and direction, and feel the fat cascading over my thigh again on the other side. 

It was a flash, an angry and hot bright burst of thought that singed my brain. "Step to the front in Samasthihi," Andrew directed, stopping the train that my thoughts began to runaway on.

It was then that I realized once again how this practice of yoga forces you to look at everything, your insides and your outsides, your habits and your tendencies. It offers an opportunity for you to choose differently in this moment, and this moment, and this one, because yoga encourages us to be present rather than drown in the past or worry about the future. The more aware we become, the more difficult it is to pretend that we can continue being in the false and temporary bliss of ignorance. I was faced with the understanding that I still have issues with my loving my body, and also with the ability to do something about it. I could stop the brain pattern, and instead, practice gratitude that my body moves in wonderfully strong ways that bring me pleasure and happiness. I could choose to see that I'm not stuck in cement and that everything is malleable, that change is an ever present part of life, so one day, I would be able to do the advanced poses that the other practitioners in Mysore were doing, just as one day, my body will no longer look the way it does now through aging or training or whatever might happen. This is a snapshot of a collage, and depending on the artist and the audience, beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder. 

What I see, others do not. And what they see, I often have a hard time gazing in the same way. But it's changing and it's shifting, so that when I play a sexy song in my head or in my car or at home, I feel the groove within my soul. I'm becoming more comfortable with exuding the gifts I've been blessed with, to not feel shameful or guilty, but to embrace my light, so that I can be part of this amazing sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity that we may all be bright and shiny, happy people.

Bring it on Parsvakonasana! Bring it on and let me see my strength, let me be my brilliance, let me practice yoga every day in every way. 

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