yoga talk: honesty, humility, and connection

yoga is an inside job

Today I have something a little different for you. I am going to post pieces of an email conversation I had with one of my readers. It is a huge honor to receive such thoughtful and inspiring emails on a daily basis. Even if it takes a month I try my best to respond to each one. Your emails bring affirmation and comfort to my life and I am truly grateful for them.

When I first read this email it struck a major chord with me. I related in a deep way and the timing of it could not have been more on point. I have come up against many difficulties in my asana practice these last ten months as a result of injuries, and when I read this email it was like a breath of fresh air.

Stepping into the seat of a yoga teacher is something I take seriously. In order to be authentic and effective I have to keep practicing and examine all areas of my life no matter what. Being injured for nearly a year has been incredibly difficult and unbelievably rewarding. I have uncovered new layers of myself and have had to get totally real with why I practice. I’ve had to ask myself hard questions like what does my practice mean to me? Will I keep practicing even if I can’t ever do certain poses again? Am I willing to accept that the practice is always changing, never stagnant?

These months of internal dialogue and self-study have revealed a new level of understanding the true essence of yoga – overcoming self-imposed obstacles. Harsh, sometimes, but liberating, hell yes.

Below is a copy of the conversation I had with Jane.

 

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Hi Ashley,
 
Your blog is very inspiring to me and I especially love to read about your experiences with yoga. Today, I had kind of a troubling experience with it and wanted to reach out to you. Due to a bad cold and some cardiac problems, I couldn’t practice or do any workout for five weeks. Today was my first lesson of yoga (I practice Bikram) and it was just so frustrating. I felt like I had never done yoga before in MY LIFE, whereas, in fact, I practice for a couple of years now. I know it’s stupid but I noticed so much anger and disappointment during this lesson cause I couldn’t accomplish so many of the postures. I wondered if you ever feel that way. What do you do to get through it? How do you deal with personal feelings like that during or after a yoga session? Maybe you have some personal advice for me or you could get into it on your blog some day. Did you ever have long periods of time where you couldn’t practice and how does it make you feel?
 
And I know, I know: Yoga is not about “accomplishment” or pushing yourself to the limit. But I can’t deny the joy it brings to me when I feel good during a sun salutation or can stretch my legs while doing the downward facing dog. In contrary, I feel dissatisfied, when I think I suck for 90 minutes.
 
I would be really happy to hear some advice from you. Maybe you’re totally busy and don’t even answer to personal mails like that. I don’t know why exactly, but it felt important to me to share these thoughts with you. Maybe because I felt you could understand what I’m talkin’ about.

 

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Thank you so much for reaching out. I can definitely relate to what you are going through. I truly can.

It’s important to remember that yoga is an inside job. The postures are just one part of the practice. Yoga is an invitation to develop a still mind and cultivate self-awareness. Postures are only one way of walking the path.

I would encourage you to think about why you practice. Truly examine the “why” (this is something my teacher brings up almost every class and it has helped me so much). Do you practice to just to “get a pose”? I am not saying that is wrong, it’s just in some ways a set up to fail. There will be many days when you can’t accomplish postures in the sense of getting the physical exactly as it is in a book,  like you think it should be in your mind, or how it has looked at different time in your life. The practice is about finding the inner peace regardless of what the body can or cannot do on a given day.

Steady and graceful. Peaceful and strong. I had a teacher tell me two years ago in a very intensive asana workshop that the mark of an advanced yogi is not if he/she can “get” the pose, but rather can she cultivate a peaceful energy in the pose no matter what it looks like?

I think it’s easy to get hyper focused on the physical body in yoga poses. I know. I’ve been there. I have cried many times on my mat because I’m frustrated with my aging body. There are poses I have accepted I will never be able to do anymore. I’ve had torn ligaments and had spinal issues and have gone through many periods where my physical practice has shifted. There are poses I could do a year ago that I am no longer able to do. And in the beginning I was devastated, I was like how can my body betray me like this?

I still have moments like that, especially in a class where I am the only person sitting out in an arm balance. I continue to be humbled by this practice and choose to respect my limitations no matter what.

All of those experiences have made me understand in a very deep way that while asana is important it does not determine my happiness – that is up to me. By learning to control my breath and my mind I am able to cultivate more joy and strength than I ever imagined possible.

Our bodies will change. We will have times where we are so strong we can do amazing things and there will be times when we fall and are tight and stiff and sore. It’s all part of the process and the more we can accept that the more we can come back to the joy of our practice.

Thinking of you and sending lots of love and light your way.

 

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Thanks so much for answering. It felt so good to read your words and to hear that you’re familiar with my experiences. You are so right when saying that yoga is much more than just bending and twisting your body. When in class, one can easily forget that, right? I’ve continued with my yoga pratice in the last week (also sneaking in a lot of Viparita Karani  at home ;) and felt so much better, whenever I thought about your lines. Also, I’m making progress when it comes to not losing balance and stuff….
 
This Friday, I’m starting on a two week trip to Brazil with my boyfriend (SO excited!!)  I’m definitely bringing my yoga mat and hope to feel so much more energized and peaceful than I am right now. Again, thank you so much for your kind words and your wisdom.
 
Have a wonderful weekend!

 

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It’s great to talk about all the health benefits of yoga and all of the goodness it brings to our lives. It is also important for me to create a container for honest conversations about the hard times too. The more we connect and relate ,the stronger our practice becomes. We don’t have to struggle alone. By connecting and relating in an authentic way (what yoga is all about) we had a conversation that lifted both of us up. Truly awesome.

Have you ever struggled with your practice? What have you learned from your experiences? I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful week.

xoa

 
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5 Comments

  1. Posted February 12, 2014 at 18:15 | Permalink

    Hi Ashley, thanks a lot for sharing! I am practising Ashtanga since 5 years and I can say there are good times and bad times as well. Like Yin and Yang, right? I will never get to manage standing twisted half moon, and it frustrates me from time to time. But I did managed crane after two years of weekly practising, what makes me really happy. And then I think it’s probably like in life: There are things I can accomplish and then there are things that are just not made for me. ;-)

  2. ashley
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 09:22 | Permalink

    Hi there! I completely agree with you. Isn’t it a great feeling to get into a pose after so many years of practice? I love that. I appreciate your practical approach and attitude. You are right, there are things we can do and other things that just aren’t meant for us ;) I really needed that reminder this morning – thank you! xo

  3. Posted February 18, 2014 at 07:33 | Permalink

    Hi Ashley, I really like reading your blog! It helps me a lot and so I am glad I could give something back! :-) I like doing yoga and would like to learn more about the life of a yogi (any book recommendations?), so I can understand more what I am doing. ;-) Have a nice day! Corina

  4. ashley
    Posted February 18, 2014 at 19:56 | Permalink

    Cornia!
    Thank you so much for the kind words. I highly recommend Light On Yoga by BKS Iyengar. It’s basically the bible of modern Hatha yoga. He breaks down all of the postures, pranayama techniques and it’s very straightforward and practical. Also, The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar. I have shelves of yoga books and have read so many of them. Those two are more classical and use a lot of Sanskrit and talk philosophy. Start with those and let me know what you think, I look forward to hearing! xoa

  5. Posted March 2, 2014 at 01:45 | Permalink

    Hi Ashley, thank you so much for the book recommendations. I’ll let you know! Have a nice Sunday! Corina

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