About 4 years ago, a therapist recommended that I practice with the sole intention of healing in mind. It’s fascinating to watch how I resisted that for so long, believing that I had so many other goals to simultaneously attend to. Whereas my teachers have always encouraged creativity and intelligent movement, and never pushed the strict routines recommended by most Ashtangis, there was still something in me that felt I had something to prove. I often felt that since I can do a certain level of practice, I should somehow try to maintain or exceed that, at least for a while.
Only now that I have set up my own space and spent years developing a trauma-informed paradigm that validates everything I believe in deep down can I actually let go and explore what the benefits are to diving inwards, without caring how it looks and without worrying that my social media following will dwindle. I’m finally at the point where I really don’t care. I see that my 4th series posts usually get twice as many likes, but I’m ready to work with the people (I know you’re out there) who want to work with whatever is available. Some days it may well be advanced series, but that is not the only way to have an “advanced practice.”
Whereas I’ve always incorporated a variety of practices and felt competent about knowing when to implement different techniques, I find that as a trauma survivor who has dealt with chronic illness for over a decade it helps to hear accounts like those of Angela Farmer above. For those who do not know her, she was one of the foremost Iyengar Yoga teachers, but for many years now she has been helping students to tap into their own discrimination and empowerment, which rarely unfolds when following rote sequences at peak difficulty day after day and year after year.
I love how she describes tapping in and listening to places that she would have to gloss over in a more active, rigorous or prescribed practice. It is true that for most of us we continue to hide the most tender spots, even if focusing very intently on internal forms and doing fine work in asana. It’s hard for me to admit, but emotions generally only bubble up for me in restorative work. Even though there have been times when I have felt great ease in whatever series, still some parts of me were perhaps performing rather than showing their vulnerable underbellies. It’s time for me to be a little more honest and let them come out.
I resisted getting a dog or roommate forever thinking they would disturb my routine and my practice, which I was clinging to since it helped me to function while dealing with a disease that made getting through the day virtually impossible for me. Now I realize that (especially with the trauma) I actually desperately needed companionship. Even in restorative poses on my own I was not able to reach anything that was asking for my tenderness. Only with therapists I trust and a couple of very special yoga teachers had I been able to peel away the multiple layers of facade and needing to excel and trying to prove that I’m ok and self-sufficient. Now, I find as in the case above, a warm fuzzy chewing animal putting pressure on my head and a fellow practitioner joining me for some practice creates a more profoundly real quiet and peace than the fake one-pointedness I sometimes felt in other practice situations that I now attribute to mild dissociation.
Angela mentions that her meditation experience is qualitatively different when she allows herself to practice in the way she describes. On the day I shot this video, I also felt a very different kind of stillness. I won’t say I’d never felt it before. In fact, sometimes I have felt tremendous benefit from practicing one or multiple Ashtanga series. It’s really a matter of trusting myself to see what I need on a given day and not falling into the trap that so many Ashtangis believe that this is laziness, or that failing to follow the formula nixes our chances for moksha in any upcoming lifetime. On this day it was clear that the inflammation on the backside of my body would not allow me to breathe deeply even in simple sun salute variations. After some brief standing poses I knew I could actually work more concentratedly laying down, oscillating between different patterns and easing my way inwards.
I am still a big fan of the series and likely will continue to implement them for years to come (or at least parts of them), but I will also be checking in with myself constantly to determine whether something else might be more appropriate and beneficial on any given day. Giving myself more and more of this permission feels like the real deal. It may or may not be glamorous, but I know it’s the real work. It’s the real me taking responsibility for my real life. No guru I’ve met has convinced me that they know better than I do. There is so much value in the practices we have learned, but the value is in their skillful and compassionate application. I hope that those of us open to exploration will receive the support that allows us to proceed without needless doubt and unwarranted criticism. I hope that more and more brave spaces will pop up for us to look into what is truly possible.