I’m realize I’m about to make no friends here by this disclosure, because even in changing my mind, I must first lay bare the parts that nearly sent me packing.
First off, any practice so goal-oriented, linear, and rule bound is apt to be challenging – if not, contest driven.
We practice at a certain time … have rigid rules and standards … and require mastery to further practice instead of the other way around.
Ashtanga is not for the faint hearted as we actually pride ourselves in a more rigorous, physical, and demanding practice. There is a high degree of athleticism inherent to the ashtanga method, which unavoidably leads to some level of competition – even if only within the student alone.
The ego is not only apparent but some might argue – it’s necessary.
I’ll be the first to admit that ashtanga has brought a great deal of discipline into my life. It has left me more grounded, stronger, and definitely more humbled.
Problem is, as of late – I’m not sure it has offered me a great deal of kindness.
You see, I’ve followed the rules and abided the standards for quite some time now. I’ve experienced the resentment of being held back and the pride of being moved forward – then the admonition of feeling both. I have practiced through pain and rested with guilt.
And though my body is more flexible, I fear my mind may be more rigid. Somewhere lost in all this “correct method” has been my compassion, some ease, and certainly balance.
Too much sthira (steadiness) and not enough sukha (softness).
But that’s when a good teacher steps in. Not the ones who use their dogma the way my gradeschool school nuns used their rulers – to keep students in that linear line.
A good teacher is one who focuses on practice not poses. One who greets me with an open mind and open heart. Because a good teacher understands that correct method is less about whether I exit a posture without toes touching down and more about how I can enter my life a better person.
This system is larger than its parts.
Postures are just postures. They hold no keys to the gates of heaven. But when linked together, they DO offer us a route towards developing strength and health in the body and mind. That’s all – nothing more, nothing less.
So, thanks to my teachers, I’ve come home to my practice a little softer and more forgiving. And that’s MY correct method … for now.