For a long time now I have never really asked myself why I do my Ashtanga Vinyasa practice 5 or 6 days a week. If anyone asked me I would say because it is who I am and that I enjoy it. As the result of a couple of recent conversations, and these cold Wellington winter mornings I have been thinking about it a bit more. A friend and student of mine recently said to me after I explained that I try to do 2 Intermediate, 2 Advanced A, and 1 Primary Series Practice every week, “aren’t you getting a bit old for that?”
Well I have to admit that some mornings I certainly feel too old for it. Other than enjoying it (mostly), which sounds a little self indulgent, there are several reasons that I continue with this strong physical practice.
The first and perhaps most important is that the teachers I am blessed with expect it of me. Guruji gave me a certain number of asana to practice and I honour that. He passed the mantle on to Sharath and when I was in Mysore last winter both Sharath and Saraswathi expected that I would be practicing Advanced A Series. My teacher here in NZ, Peter Sanson also expects it of me and one of the enduring characteristics of my practice is that I am happy to do as I am told by those with greater experience and knowledge. I bow to their feet.
Secondly, I still feel as if I have much to learn from my Asana practice. Maybe I am a slow learner, but every practice still brings a new subtlety, and new discovery with it. I know people say that Guruji stopped full Asana practice at around the age I am now (mid 50s), but he had more than 30 years of daily practice with his Guru, Krishnamacharya before that. I have had 20 years of practice, 90% of which has been self practice with Victoria. I know I have lots more to learn.
Guruji always said that the most important thing a teacher of Yoga should have is a strong practice. I encourage my students to play at their physical limits and I feel it would be remiss of me not to do the same. There must be this willingness to play at your limits in order to expand them and to free the flow of energy in the body. This is on going. It is amazing how quickly the body will get back into bad habits if you stop practicing. Very quickly the energy blocks you have spent so much time clearing will return.
I have heard the argument that teaching traditional Mysore style classes can be your practice. For me, the energy that is created in me from teaching is quite different to that created in my practice. There is no doubt the two complement each other, but I don’t think one can replace the other. There is much that I learn in my practice that I apply in teaching, and the reverse is also true.
My practice makes me feel alive. I am not in the time of my life and do not have the inclination to withdraw. I have a young family, life is busy. I want to be fully in every moment and my practice brings this to me. Guruji was the most alive person in his 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, that I have ever met. He loved life and was fully part of it. He said that we should not even consider working into meditation practices until we had achieved proficiency in Asana practice to Advanced A level and proficiency in Pranayama. I feel a long way off that yet. Working hard in that direction though.
I believe what Guruji taught me; “Practice, practice, practice, and all is coming”, and I do my best to apply it to my life.