In order for our practice to work, it has to be stronger then our negative ideations. If not, Self Hate will say, “is that all you got?” Addiction will say, “come at me, bro.” Suffering will say, “I can do you one better.”
I truly love the idea of a soothing languorous practice. But I know me. If my mind and my body is not given a challenge, it will be an hour of negative thinking with incense, pretty lights and singing bowls. This does not mean doing strong sweaty asanas either. It just needs to be something that effectively stops the mind, and perhaps, turns it in another direction. Sometimes, I attempt to do 30 mintues of the vedic chants I learned with Saraswathi. They are such tongue twisters that I cannot think of anything else. The handful of times I have really done pranayama, I couldn’t do or think of anything else either. After clearing my mind for 30 minutes, it does not immediately start back up. The momentum of my thoughts is halted and I am clearer.
Our practices must be strong enough to create a detour for our current patterns. If we don’t look out for this, we will choose the practice and teachers that continue to feed our negative ideations. Instead of changing unhealthy eating habits, you choose the yoga that we can do and still be able to eat the same way. Instead of dealing with what is going on in your life, you choose a yoga retreat or temporary ashram that allows you to run away from it.
I went though a period where I thought about quitting Ashtanga. I had started taking a flow which I found to be easy and fun and I wanted my life to be easy and fun. But I noticed a pattern with myself. I noticed that I grew the most from my Ashtanga practice. My Ashtanga practice, and my Ashtanga teachers, pushed my buttons. The practice and my teachers kept me in a state of constantly questioning my assumptions, limitations, and what I thought to be true. My easy flow practice was not taking me anywhere. It was just reaffirming my ideations. Because the poses came easy to me, my ego grew. There was a sense of superhumaness, which may sound nice, buy my everyday life reminded me of my humanity and I needed something to help me with the other 23 hours of my life. It was a fake sense of well being that only lasted in the bubble of the class. When I left, all my stuff left with me. That didn’t happen with me and Ashtanga. When I get on the mat, all my stuff gets on the mat with me. For 90 minutes I have to look at it head on.
Also, I can practice that flow and think about other things. Like, I can do poses and not even mentally be present. I cannot do that with Ashtanga. For sure, I can let my mind wonder in a simple forward fold but then I have to do a jump back, or do Kapotasana, or do Durvasana. At some point, I have to wake up. My practice crates a detour for my thoughts that halts my mind in its tracks. It is built in. That works for me.
Whenever I have a realization that I am making the same mistakes today that I was making 2 years, 5 years, 10 years ago, I am not going to lie, I get a little sad. I realize that, somewhere along the way, I fell back asleep. When I make these realizations, it feels like I am coming back to consciousness. I feel a little disoriented like, “where have I been?” I was not doing what I needed to stay awake to my negative habits and thoughts.
Staying awake to our own negative thoughts and patterns is not the easy road. You cannot do it on automatic pilot. You cannot use cruise control. It must be done actively through practice. Yoga Sutras 1:4 says, “At other times, the Self appears to assume the form of your thoughts.” Then it gives like 195 verses that helps us stay awake so this does not happen. 195 verses that outline the pitfalls of the mind and how to be awake so we don’t fall for them. The practice is 15, 30, 75, 90 minutes of figuring out what is the false Self and making ourselves fit for the concentration, focus and discipline that is needed to rid ourselves of it.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.