I am currently practicing mysore style ashtanga vinyasa yoga in Ubud, Bali. For three weeks my teachers are Kirsten and Mitchell, two internationally respected teachers who are based between Ubud, the States and Thailand. They trained over many years with the (now deceased) guru of ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi Jois, in Mysore, India, and have his personal authorisation to teach.
This is not my usual style of yoga, so whilst I know most of the poses, which are also key postures in the hatha yoga tradition, in many ways I’m a beginner in the class.
New students of ashtanga start with the primary series, a set programme of asanas (postures) to be repeated each time that they practice. When learning ‘mysore style’ each student is taught individually within the group, so after practicing sun salutations A and B five times, they are instructed on each posture to add to their practice as they are ready to progress. This means that I have had to adopt a patient attitude, which is an excellent practice for me at the moment.
In the Western world society projects that the path to happiness is through externally visible success (a respected job, money, an equally or more successful partner), and that we must be seen to be achieving to gain respect in our communities.
Whilst I have recently moved away from the mainstream life path and have taken time out to travel and to explore my passions of yoga and meditation, I’ve still found it hard to let go of my own high expectations and my desire to prove myself to the outside world.
I wanted a less stressful lifestyle, but I soon found I was demanding of myself why I wasn’t teaching more classes with bigger numbers, and more advanced poses. Thankfully, I soon realised that in this miserable mindset I’d lost the essence of yoga – accepting the present moment and the beauty of our own journey.
Through my recent reflections, I’ve become aware that the feelings that I classed as ambition and motivation, were really the need to prove that I’m good enough. My competitive drive was coming from a place of lack and feeling inadequate, rather than a confidence that I was ready for more.
So, back in my ashtanga class, whilst I believe I can already do many of the poses later on in the primary sequence, I have to start at the beginning and wait until my teachers tells me I’m ready to progress.
I finish early and roll up my mat, and then I watch whilst the others cross their heads behind their legs in a way I doubt I’ll ever master, and also as they enjoy poses that I know well and would love to do today.
But I’m learning to be ok with where I am, because my own practice is what I was ready for today. We are not in competition, in life or on our yoga mats.