I had a conversation the other day with one of my students. Although he has been practicing yoga for a year and change, he only recently began to commit to a regular weekly Ashtanga practice at the studio. We began discussing why this particular practice is so challenging. I explained that although the poses can be difficult to attain, its the repetition of the sequence in combination with the preconceived expectations surrounding the achievement of the posture and how that relates to your ego that is the true challenge. As humans we identify with an idea of who we believe to be and what behaviors serve us and don’t serve us.
As we move through our lives, we create experiences to validate those beliefs not recognizing that while we live to serve our ego, we may be committing to a lifetime of going in circles and ultimate suffering. Its confusing though, because as objective as we try to be with our choices and decisions, the mind inherently will steer you in the direction of satisfying the ego, only to leave you in a cycle of excitement, nervous anticipation, action, dissatisfaction, blame and then searching for the next thing to pacify the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system ..Its scientific really.. not so dissimilar than any other kind of addiction.
It is true, we can be addicted to things that are “good for us” according to society’s standards. Exercise for example is theoretically always healthy, but in relation to this conversation I am going to disagree. It always goes back to the intention. I will share a story…
I had been a runner since high school. Barring my two knee surgeries and the time it took to recover, I had a strong attachment to running as a means to stay fit. I loved the feeling I would get as I finished a run.. legs wobbly, red face, heart pumping wildly, all this resulted in an idea of assurance that I would remain in good shape… For a while I didn’t notice the effect it was having on my yoga practice. And by yoga practice, I don’t mean ‘asana’ practice. My iron will allowed me the ability to “do” everything in class if I willed myself to without much attention to the essence of the pose. In fact, the subtle nature of anything wasn’t really interesting to me. I was more enamored by the end result—was I able to get my legs up in headstand or not. How I got there didn’t really matter, whether it was by sheer momentum or if I was holding my breath.. In that moment in time, that was success.
I relayed this story to my student as I continued to on to explain how I gave up running altogether. Although the yoga was helping my running, the running was limiting my yoga as it relates to the values of non harming, detachment, and engaging with the subtleties of nature. You see.. although running isn’t necessarily “bad for me”, my practice had led me to the real practice.
So often in classes we talk about these concepts of the yamas (societal ethics), niyamas (personal ethics) and kleshas (obstacles) .. almost expecting that the shedding of layers will consist of letting go of habits or patterns that our ego agrees clearly don’t serve us and practice will help us gather the strength to do so…however, the kicker comes when our consciousness contradicts with our ego and the practice serves as the mirror to the witness… the objective self equipped with the clarity, courage and faith to choose the action that truly serves our higher intention without judgement, rationalization or attachment to preconceived expectations.
To choose to leave things behind, especially things, people, actions that we have identified and defined ourselves by for so long is hard to do. For me its been the hardest part of my practice and I mourn and celebrate the loss of my old self every time I let another thing go. But the space has been easier to sit in over time and has never proven to be anything but fruitful and exactly what I had been looking for all along.