Alignment and Injuries,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga: It Took 10 Years To Be An Overnight Success

And then they say it happened for me overnight, shit, yeah I guess,
I guess it took ten years for me to be an overnight success-Big Sean, Hip Hop Artist

How many times have you looked at the Ashtangi effortlessly floating in and out of poses beside you, the one in the video sticking all the arm balances, the one on the Instagram picture doing a flawless split on the beach, the teacher demoing Third Series in a workshop and say, “that is easy for them.” “They are made for that.” “I will never be able to do that because of XYZ.” I know I have.

Yes, there are some genetically blessed people in the world. More often then not though, it is a result of years of hard work.

How many of us can say we gave it a fair shot?

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

Abhyasa/Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility (1.13). To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break (1.14). From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being.

Vairagya/Non-attachment: The essential companion is non-attachment (1.15), learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.

I spent many years on the verge of quitting Ashtanga. I started practicing and teaching other styles of yoga and Ashtanga became my secondary practice.  It was easier that way. I didn’t have to come up against all the feelings of inadequacy that I felt in Ashtanga.  I wanted to be able to float in and out of poses without stopping.  After 10 years, I still couldn’t. I would get out of breath and get tired. Even though I was passed on through a few Series, which meant my teachers thought I was capable, I still did not feel capable.  Even though I could bind, I felt it was not deep enough. Even though I could arm balance, I didn’t feel they were high enough. I wanted my poses to look and feel pretty. They did not. None of my teachers cared about any of this, it was all me. I convinced myself of all this. I wanted overnight success. I wanted a perfect practice and I wanted it NOW.

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Why did I flip the script and make Ashtanga my primary practice again? Stagnation. Mentally, physically and spiritually I stopped developing. It turned out that, running away from my feelings meant running away from growth as well.

Two things really shifted everything for me. Committing to a traditional practice and studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

When I started back in earnest, I was studying with some amazing teachers that were heavily into anatomy. I was over the moon about it! Finally, some people who could analyze my body and help me get the floaty, strong, light and easy practice I wanted. This meant long conversations analyzing muscles, lots of assists and stopping during practice, extra exercises during practice and at home, and the use of props. At first it was great. I learned so much and I did grow in strength and flexibility. However, I started to see that all the “extra” was never going to end. Every time I got a new pose, there was going to be a few extra exercises I needed to do and more muscles I needed to understand. The constant stopping and working and setting up and analyzing made my stamina even worse. It did not feel light. It did not feel easy. It felt daunting. Also, how was I every going to learn how to move with Vinyasa and breath, if I never moved with Vinyasa and breath?

The even bigger realization is when I started to experience the Law of Diminishing Returns.

“used to refer to a point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested”.-Google Dictionary

I was putting a lot of energy into doing all this extra stuff and the benefit was just no longer there. I still could not do a decent version (or what I thought was decent) of whatever pose I was working on. The returns diminished so rapidly, that I actually experienced one of the biggest injuries I have ever had. My Piriformis injury crippled me. I went from Second Series to not being able to touch my toes. I sat on heating pads all day, every day.

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I got this Yoga math method from the amazing authorized teacher, Day Christensen, who taught us that in floating, forward +forward= twice as forward. And when you go twice as forward, you face plant twice as hard.  It works in all the poses really, though I don’t think she meant for it to be used this way…LOL. Forgive me Day, as I proceed to jack up your words.  1 messed up Lotus + doing another messed up Lotus = 2x as messed up.  Jacked up back bend + another jacked up backed bend = 2x as jacked up. Instability + instability= 2 x the instability. You get where I am going with this?  See the reason I did not have the light, floaty easy practice was instability… but no one told me that.  Okay, that is not true. If I would have used Bandhas and breath, like I was taught in my more traditional years of Ashtanga, I would have been stable. Even the fake Bandhas, you know, squeezing ish really hard, would have left me better off. Mix that up with doing extra poses while still unstable, you get death and destruction or like 100 times as messed up because that is about how many extra exercises I was doing.

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I took out all the extra stuff and went “back to basics” a.k.a “correct method”.  I was so happy to be able to move after that injury that I did not care about how it looked. I just moved and breathed.  Moved and breathed. I was too jacked up to push so I stopped pushing and got in the habit of ease. I tried the pose a few times. If it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. Next. And you know what happened? The fluidity started coming. The ease started coming. The full poses started coming. By not pushing, my practice pushed forward.

I was thinking to myself, “are you kidding me?” Pattabhi Jois actually did know what he was talking about? That Sanskrit Scholar dude  who practiced with a teacher who was so bomb that they added one of the most esteemed titles a Yogi can have, which is “acharya” to his name, his method actually works? That guy who practiced yoga longer then I have even been alive,  had some knowledge?  What! Yep, his method was not the overnight method. His method was the “do for a long time without break” method that Patanjali talked about. This method works for me. I can now get through First and Second without stopping. I can do Second + a bit of Third, without stopping. I can do full versions of everything in Primary Series. I can do a Led class without stopping or skipping a Vinyasa. My practice feels light. Hard, yes…but like, I am still easy about it. I can smile…even in Kapotasana…if I want to….LOL. If someone would have told me like 5 years ago, that this was possible, I would have rolled my eyes and asked them to move out my way so I can do Double Pigeon with sand bags to prepare for Full Lotus.

Though Ashtanga is my main practice again, I still practice more then one style of Yoga. So, I definitely have my Double Pigeon, Handstand days still. I just do not mix it with Ashtanga. That works…for me.

 

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The second epiphany was studying the Sutras. Like everyone, my teachers quoted a verse or two…the ones that were easy to digest. The ones that you can write on Hallmark cards. The ones that allowed for the overnight change, which of course, is what I wanted. Those verses that required “do for a long time without break”, like finding Samadhi,  those didn’t get quoted. Okay. I am lying again. They did but Hand Standing just sounds much more doable then Nirvitarka Samadhi. Here is another Yoga math equation for you. Shallow +Shallow = 2x as Shallow. A shallow understanding of Yoga does not lead to a deep practice.  You can start shallow and move to deep, but you have to actually like move in that direction.

My shallow, unstable practice led to a well….shallow and unstable practice and a shallow and unstable life. There’s that Yoga math again. The deeper I got into the heart of Yoga the better my physical Yoga practice got. I committed to the “however long it takes plan” because why was I in such a hurry anyway? If I complete Third Series, will manna fall down from heaven? Will I be enlightened? Without the internal practice, I will just be an ego maniac who can do Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana.

Who cares how long it takes? Overnight. 10 years. Only the ego gives a damn. The real you,  who is timeless, does not. Abide in that one.

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 shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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