Restarting Ashtanga yoga practice

How to Return to Yoga Practice After Time Away

It’s a question that is posed to me quite often: How do I come back to my mat after time away? The one below was sent through an Instagram private message (which, I admit, I don’t always check). But this one got to me – in more ways than one.

You see, this wasn’t just a how-to question. It wasn’t just about asana. And it rarely ever is.

So I answered … by, of course, asking more questions. Until my friend essentially answered her own question for herself.

Q:

Hello! I wasn’t sure if or where I should ask this question but here it is … after attending an Ashtanga yoga workshop with a well-known teacher, I left disheartened and discouraged.  I felt that maybe Ashtanga no longer was to be my path and haven’t been on my mat much for two years since.

Any suggestions for restarting?

Peg:

Hi Elizabeth! Can you tell me more? Like sit and remember that workshop and give me an example when you felt most discouraged.

Also, what do you miss about the Ashtanga practice?

Q:

I had wonderful teachers for some years in my home town – but they moved. So after that, I had been practicing along as best as I could without any Ashtanga in my home town. One of the reasons I came to this workshop.

When I arrived, I had no idea where to put anything or how the order of the day was to go – new city, new studio, and no one to help. So from the beginning I felt off-kilter.

I had emailed ahead of time just to see if this workshop was ok for me as I was not advanced by any means, was reassured. Yet as it turned out, most everyone was at advanced level and I felt no encouragement for the point I was at in my practice.

But the worst was when the teacher talked to the assistant while adjusting me, like above my head, and said, “Here is where you must have patience.” Shortly after I was told to wait in the outer room until after the session.  Instead, I left. I went back to my hotel room and never went back.  It was all too much on top of all that had gone on before during that long day.

Of course, I had also attended a weekend workshop with Manju Jois with my teachers a few years before … He was fabulous though and so accepting and said things like, “Just try!” Whether a forward fold – or any pose really. He aimed his comments at the entire class, but I felt he was talking to me. Reach for the floor, Just try!  So much good humor and laughter, along with gentle adjustments. I practiced the entire weekend and only felt encouraged and energized.

Should I have left expectations behind? Too sensitive maybe? Maybe I needed a break?

What I loved (and miss) about Ashtanga is the order, the calmness, and the stillness of the classes – even with the deep breathing and sounds of movement, in and out of poses. It was always about the yoga –  and less about what you wore or the music playing or trying every different pose, as it feels in other yoga classes.

I just turned 64, so I don’t expect to have a practice like a younger person, but would like to find a place back on my mat and reconnect. I just feel that I lost something valuable and would like to find it again.

Thank you for answering and taking the time to read my ramblings. Any guidance would be so appreciated.

Peg:

Oh my! This is such an easy one! I’m afraid most questions aren’t so straightforward!

First, the workshop you went to sounds completely awful. Teachers are, of course, human and make mistakes All. The. Time. (Just ask this one). Though I’m grateful for you sharing however, as it reminds me just how important it is for us to truly see all students – and all human beings.

There is a fundamental need within us all to be seen. Yet in this fast-paced, achievement-focused, ME-focused culture, it’s exactly what we stop doing – seeing each other. Though Manju did, clearly. He sounds quite lovely and loving.

Then again, practice isn’t supposed to be an experience of the teacher (positive or negative) – or even the postures (positive or negative), though they are often confused. Yoga is your experience of you. Thus what you described in what you miss about Ashtanga – that’s all you. The calm, the still, the moving, the breathing – that’s all you.

So really, you miss you!

That workshop you attended had nothing to do with you – and that’s why left. You understood that somewhere deep and knowing. Good! I’m happy you listened. So many of us don’t.

Basically, come back the way you started …

In the quiet of the early morning, roll out your mat, and begin by sitting and breathing. No changing or fixing anything – just being with breath. That’s all. Come back to you.

Say your prayer in whatever form you like – and then begin moving. See where this first day takes you. Maybe it’s just a few sun salutations … maybe it’s the whole standing series, or just part.

Close the way you began – sit and breathe. Say a prayer. Rest. The next morning, you begin again and see where it goes. Perhaps you add a bit more – or not. All depends on your energy, how you feel.

And that’s it, you see. Every day, no matter where we are or who we are, we all just “begin again.” That IS the practice.

I know students want a formula but honestly, it really is to “begin again” – even when it’s the very next day. Remember, even time is subjective. And if you don’t think so, consider this: my children grew in the blink of an eye while on the other hand, Montana winters feel utterly endless, dragging on and on!

Keep in mind, the poses don’t matter, you admitted this yourself. That said, the body is our field for processing who we are and what’s this life is all about. The movement and breath – all experience, really – becomes energy that flows through you in a tangible and visceral way.

Each posture is the embodiment of a moment – in the moment. So your yoga asana practice is probably as real an experience of you – here now – as it gets.

Of course, I’d say, welcome back. But I don’t actually think you ever left.

xx

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Comments

  1. Thank you to Elizabeth for asking my question too..and to Peg for answering. This is exactly me too. So so thankful ❤ love Lurelle (Australia)

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