I am often asked what continues to inspire me to practice after over 20 years of almost daily Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The fact is that I still get huge benefit from my practice. Even after 20 years I feel as if I still have a lot to learn from my practice. It feels as if I have stripped away enough layers to finally begin to understand. It feels as if I am in the real “meat” of the practice now and that some of the more subtle benefits are just starting to accrue.
This does not mean that it is easy to maintain a daily practice. It is still a choice I have to make on a daily basis. Some days that choice is easy and other days it is very difficult just as some days the practice flows easily and other days it is like pushing concrete up hill. I am lucky that I have plenty of inspiration available to get me through those tough days.
Most of all, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wife, Victoria. She is as dedicated a practitioner as anyone I know and having her there wanting to practice alongside me, makes it so much easier. I have also been blessed with great teachers in Peter Sanson, Guruji, Sharath and Saraswathi, all of whom provide inspiration through their own example.
The people that really inspire me on the toughest of days are my students at Te Aro Astanga Yoga. There are people like Steve, who comes in and practices with a smile on his face despite suffering from MS. There are people like Trish, Philip, Di, Maire, Stuart and more who have been coming to my classes since we first set up in Wellington in Nov. 1999. These are people who will never be yoga “super stars” but who are my heroes. They persist with the practice though they may not have the ideal shape or have the time to commit to doing more than two or three practices a week. They have integrated the practice into their lives and recognise the benefit of being consistent with it.
I have many students who are not the ideal shape or who have stiffness in their bodies and who will always struggle with many of the asana in the Primary Series but who inspire me with their effort and persistence. They do not do what a lot of people in their position do and just give up or decide that Asana practice is not for them and so instead shift their effort to other practices.
It is to these people that I am inspired to get the clarity of Guruji’s message to. He always said, “Do your practice and all is coming”. He never said that you need to be practicing Intermediate Series or Advanced. Just practice, that is all. He also stated categorically that one should first master Asana, and then take Pranayama. Then once you have mastered Pranayama, the deepening levels of Meditation will come naturally.
It is in the mastering of Asana that we purify the body and get the energy flowing correctly and develop the discipline and strength to truly reap the benefit of Pranayama. This process takes a long time. Often more than one lifetime, but time spent focusing on your Asana practice is never time wasted. Do not be in a hurry to get ahead of yourself.
This clarity informs my practice but is also central to how I teach and how I run Te Aro Astanga Yoga. I do not offer Pranayama and Meditation workshops at the studio because I do not think my students need those practices. This is not to say that I forbid my students from doing these practices, just that if they want to learn them then they need to do so elsewhere.
The traditional “Mysore Style” method of teaching lends itself to encouraging this clarity. It is a non verbal teaching method that facilitates doing the practice not thinking about the practice. The Western approach to things is to pile more and more information on and hope that by gathering data you will eventually understand something. The Ashtanga approach is to practice, and observe and to strip away the layers to reach the core. Information gets in the way of this process and thus Ashtanga is “99% practice, 1% theory”.