I have just begun Astanga classes at my yoga home. This is not my very first experience of The Primary Series. I had a brief introduction years ago on a series of beginners’ classes with Leela Miller. Leela was incredible, but I never went back beyond those classes. I felt so intimidated by my surroundings and by the other people in the room who really didn’t appear to be beginners – they looked like ‘real’ yogis (or at least, the perception I had of what yogi’s looked like) – I certainly didn’t. I felt so embarrassed and out of place. In some ways I wish I’d had the courage to go back to those classes because Leela was such an amazing teacher, but at the same time I think I just wasn’t ready yet. My head was in a different place then.
Some months later, I got myself a copy of David Swenson’s practice manual and tried bits at home, where no-one else would see me, but it all still seemed so impossible. Over the years I felt that maybe I should get rid of that spiral bound-tome taking up space on my shelf – it wasn’t like I ever used it, after all. But something inexplicable always stopped me giving it away to the local charity shop… Then quite randomly, a friend bought me John Scott’s book, ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ as a present one Christmas. Maybe they knew something I didn’t?
Anyhow, I am currently a handful of classes in and one thing that hasn’t changed since that beginners course all those years ago is that I am not very ‘good’ (for want of a better word). Not good at all.
So why, this time, do I keep going back?
Oddly, I feel that not being able to do so many of the postures is partly why I now like it. I think it has some different things to teach me. Like taking myself less seriously…
“Did you just give up?” My teacher, Sally jokingly asks. Her question snaps me out of my thoughts and I realise that’s exactly what I’d just done. Moments before I’d watched Sally demonstrate Supta Konasana and instead of attempting it along with the rest of the class I was just sitting on my mat thinking about how my body was not going to be able to go there. What was I doing? If I adopted that attitude for every posture not yet available to me (don’t even get me started on Navasana… ) then I’d be sat motionless on the mat for the majority of the ninety minutes. So, I give Supta Konasana a go and… I find myself flailing around like a beetle on its back. I look ridiculous. And I laugh.
And it’s okay.
This is the start of the journey. With dedication and patience maybe one day the impossible will become possible, as I have just begun to experience with Shirshasana, for instance. It was with Sally’s guidance that I recently got into my first ever headstand, against the wall, after years of terror around this pose. However, the big lesson for me here was about how I choose to show up in my practice. If I can stay honest and sincere on the mat along the way, and have the courage to keep going even when my ego tells me otherwise, then that feels like a greater achievement than whether my body can bend into all those shapes.