Discovering An Authentic Practice
So my foray into the practice those 12 years ago began with Ashtanga, an intensely physical practice created by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India. The rigidity of practicing the same postures in the same sequence every time fit in with my linear and logical way of facing life's challenges; however, looking back I realize that Ashtanga is not the ideal way to jump into yoga for the first time.
During those initial years, I found Ashtanga to be both exhilarating and defeating. There were postures I could not master no matter how much I pushed myself. There were some I was able to maneuver beautifully. The way yoga is taught in our Western culture there are many classes where both beginners and seasoned yogis practice together. As a newbie to the practice, I didn't really grasp what I was or was not capable of doing, but found myself comparing my posture with others in the room. Like many, I've had to learn the hard way that not all yoga postures are accessible to my physical make-up.
For example, having suffered an inner ear injury years ago, I struggle with balance. During my early days as a yogi, I had a very difficult time not comparing my practice to others … why can't I balance in Extended Hand to Toe pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana) without wobbling? Why can't I wrap my foot around my balancing leg in Garurasana (Eagle Pose) without falling out of it? Then one day a teacher shared something so simple, yet so profound … that wobbling and falling out of a balancing posture is part of the experience. It teaches us to try our best and let go of the outcome. What a concept!
Now after years of consistent practice, teacher-training, introspection and the study of yoga philosophy and history, I've learned about this yogic concept of Vairagya (non-attachment). I've learned that performing a headstand in the middle of the room doesn't make for a better yogi, or that the teacher that can perform myriad arm balances is a better teacher than me. Like all who move deeper into the study of yoga, this is a journey and I am finding my own way. I am truly grateful that there is more to yoga than asana (postures). Learning to practice yoga authentically through the teachings of the Eight Limbed Path has allowed me to work on letting go of my ego. I've known for a while that I am no better or worse than the person next to me, but yoga has allowed me to learn that my body is no better or worse than the person next to me too, it's just different.
Practicing Vairagya doesn't mean I have to be apathetic, but it allows me comfort in knowing that I can take positive steps toward becoming a better human being without self-judgment, both in my physical yoga practice, and in my interactions with others in every day life.