With Christmas just around the corner I have found myself reflecting a little on the year that is almost finished. It has been a great year in the studio. I feel incredibly blessed to have the privilege of being part of the beautiful Ashtanga Yoga community in Wellington. The Ashtanga practice has been life changing for me and I love being able to share it with so many old and new friends. I love the fact that I have some people who have been with Te Aro Astanga Yoga right from the very beginning but I also love the changing tide of faces and the new people I get to meet and to know.
2015 has been an interesting year for me with regard to my practice. Many of you will know that I had a hernia operation in early August. I have had the hernia since 2011 but it had been strangulating and so my doctor recommended surgery. This was my first experience of any kind of surgery and I was pleasantly surprised with the efficient process that I went through. In terms of my practice, it was the recovery process that taught me some really useful lessons.
I first starting doing a full practice of 5 or 6 days a week in Oct. 1993 and since then this has been a constant in my life other than the odd time off here and there due to illness. To allow myself full recovery from the operation it was recommended that I take at least 4 weeks off heavy lifting. So, other than a bit of sitting and breathing, I did no asana practice for 4 weeks. I found this extremely challenging. Having to let go of what really is the central pillar of my life made me appreciate how deep my love of the practice is. It also made me realise how much my body loves to practice.
What surprised me most, as I slowly worked my way back into the practice, was how quickly my body tightened up, especially my back. The old bad habits of posture and tension soon resurfaced when I stopped practising. I am sure this would have led my old patterns of thinking and relating to others and myself resurfacing as well. It seems that as soon as I stop practising, samskaras or ingrained behaviours arise. I had read that samskaras never really go away and the aspiring yogi must be assiduous with their practice or they will resurface, but this was a clear demonstration of the fact.
This brought to mind Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.14. Sa tu dīrgha kāla nairantarya satkārāsevito dṛḍha bhūmiḥ which translates as “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated continuously and with devotion over a very long period of time.” Many commentators state that a long period of times means several life times and Guruji often stated that many life times of practice were necessary.
Some people might find this daunting, but I find it exciting and also liberating. It is exciting because it means that the learning will continue. It feels like I learn something with every practice, so to understand that this learning will proceed over many life times inspires me. It is also liberating because it means that I can practice without expectation. I do not expect to achieve samadhi in this life time so I can practice because it makes me and my body feel good. In this way my practice does not feel like a chore. To take an hour and ½ every day to do something that feels good seems more like an indulgence to me. I find it easy to follow Guruji’s urging to “Practice, practice, practice.”
Have a fantastic festive season everyone, and no doubt 2016 will be a great year of practice at Te Aro Astanga Yoga.