I went to Ashtanga Mysore class today. For those of you unacquainted with the practice, you rock up early, get on your mat, and start working through a set sequence of asana (postures). People turn up at different times, and although you are essentially practicing in your own time, everyone in the room is doing the same sequence. I love-hate Ashtanga. I like the warmth of the room, I like the adjustments, and I like the early morning start. I like challenging my body - Ashtanga is a physically demanding practice - but I also massively RESIST challenging my body. Because of this, I haven't practiced Ashtanga for months, instead working more with gentle hatha, restorative, yoga nidra and other self-inquiry practices like journalling, and today boy did I realise it! My hamstrings felt tight, my lower back felt tight, and most of all my ego went crazy.
This is hard, you're not very good, you should be better, you're supposed to be a yoga teacher, look at everyone else -the chatter of the mind really kicks in when you are responsible for leading your own practice. Now, I know this. This is actually a reason I like Ashtanga. You have to face up to that ego and work through it. Start to uncover what is true, what isn't, and start to feel into the stiffness in the body and ask why it is there.
This isn't a sales pitch for Ashtanga, FYI. I will never practice Ashtanga every day for too many reasons to explore here. The asana I teach is rarely as physically demanding as Ashtanga as my teaching lends itself to the therapeutic and healing nature of the practice. But my own practice of yoga, what I need as a student, I need Ashtanga every now and again, as for me it's one of the best ways to use asana to keep checking in with the mind.
When the body is stiff, we are resisting something, and resistance is a powerful weapon that we all use against ourselves, all the time. Yep, we are all resisting, and often resisting in the strangest of ways. Gay Hendricks calls it the Upper Limit Problem. We have an idea in our head about how successful/happy/well/creative we can be, and then we don't let ourselves go pass it. Even when we feel successful/happy/well/creative, we will often sabotage ourselves, creating painful thoughts and beliefs which keep us in our comfort zone. We believe we are protecting ourselves, but all we are doing is holding back, big time.
Resistance is not something to be ashamed of, nor should it be ignored. There is usually a reason for your resistance. If you have experienced any trauma in your life time, you can't simply brush this to one side and use sheer willpower to push you through. Trust me, I know. I managed this for a while. But eventually, I came to realise that the resistance in my body was there for a reason, and I had to start to work - gently - to understand and explore that resistance, before being able to move past it. This is one reason I can't do Ashtanga as every day. As much as it lures me in - and that's ego by the way, not spirit - I know my body needs much more gentle patience.
Recently I have had to back off strong asana completely as my body simply couldn't take it. I was shaking by the end of a practice, even sometimes at the end of teaching a stronger class, and it was because I was doing big work on healing my spirit through energy healing. Sometimes backing off isn't a bad thing - it's when we stay permanently 'backed off' that we have a problem. For me, sometimes I can use more determination in my asana practice. For others, they could do with backing off and sitting quietly for 20 minutes. We all have different lessons to learn.
Start to notice what you resist, and start to ask why. Kindness is crucial here - don't let your ego leap in with the criticism, with the fear, with the anxiety - just begin to inquire, without feeling like you need to do anything about it right now. Whether it's resistance on the yoga mat (or even resistance getting to class in the first place!), resistance in your lifestyle, resistance to challenge things in your relationships, most of us are facing resistance of some sort.
Start to journal, meditate, breathe deeply and reflect. We are all capable for so much more than we believe. To work through our resistance we have to understand just why we are resisting, and only then can we start to move forward in to a happier, more successful, creative life.