When practicing Ashtanga Yoga in the Mysore room, students begin a deep and intense series of back-bending toward the end of Primary Series. It begins by doing your back-bends on the floor (urdhva dhanurasana) and then standing-up from this position. Next you learn how to move backward from a standing position to land in urdhva dhanurasana, and then come back up to a standing position again. And then repeat. And then repeat.
This was a HUGE challenge for me. For a while, I thought I would never be able to do it.
The Ashtanga Yoga practice is an intense practice of Self-Discovery and HEALING and the journey is unique for each person. This practice is not only physically demanding, it’s emotionally demanding as well. The practice leads students inward, toward their TRUE SELF, allowing them to live happier, more honest and peaceful lives. On this journey, students will no doubt encounter painful, challenging and even frightening moments. It is in these moments when we really learn the most about our self. It is through these painful, challenging and frightening moments when the real yoga happens and we can start to break down the conditioned patterns that we need to let go.
It is in these moments that we are able to grow as humans, for if we truly want to heal and move past the pain in our life, we have to stop locking it tightly inside our hearts, we have to let it rise to the surface. We have to stop denying its presence. Only then can these destructive patterns finally be released.
When I first began dropping-back a few years ago, I was fearless. I fell on my head, I jammed my fingers, I fell on my butt, I fell forward onto my knees – and, I still kept doing it, everyday. To me, it was fun; it was an adventure – ‘what’s going to happen this time’?!?! And eventually, I was able to control my decent and land in urdhva dhanurasana consistently, and sometimes even gracefully.
But, when it came to standing up from the back-bends I just couldn’t do it. I was terrified. And worst of all, I had no idea why I was so scared of this part of the back-bending sequence. I understood the mechanics of what I wanted to do; I just couldn’t find the path within me to articulate the movement. There was something blocking me, something beyond physicality. Something within me was holding me back.
Then, one night I dreamt of my practice. In my dream, I was practicing in Mysore, India with Guruji and Sharath in the room. When it came time for my back-drops, Guruji looked in my eyes and simply said ‘No fear, you stand up.’ My dream was so vivid, so real I can still clearly remember his voice, the look in his eyes when he said this to me. So, in my dream I took a big breath in, dropped back to my hands and then… I did it. I stood up from my back-bend!!!! Somehow, in my dream I found the way to send my pelvis forward, and engage my legs so I could stand on my own from back-bending. It was amazing!!!
I awoke with a wonderful feeling in my heart, I felt Guruji had come to me in my dream to help me. I had his guidance to show me I really could do it. And it was simple, ‘no fear, you stand up’. I was excited to practice that day, I was excited to see how my body responded to this new sub-conscious experience. At the same time, I wondered why I was so afraid of standing up for myself.
I was afraid to stand up for myself.
That was it, once again the practice shed light on a part of my life, a part of my heart, I had been avoiding up until now. I’ve always been nervous about standing up for myself and my feelings. I have always been unsure about sharing what’s in my heart. I’m afraid I won’t be able to convey my message clearly. I worry about what others will think of me. I afraid people will judge me for speaking up for myself. I worry people will see me as selfish or egotistical. I afraid of being told what I’m feeling is wrong.
It was then that I realized I was smothering this part of heart, the part that needed to speak-up, the part that needed to be heard. All because I was afraid of what other people would think. This pattern has been with me since childhood, I was taught that my feelings were wrong, I was taught not to trust myself, not to trust my heart.
But, the practice has allowed me to clear away the chaos of the mind (at least a little bit) so I am starting to find the confidence to share my heart in a way others can understand. The practice has allowed me to look inside my heart, inside my Self, to start to see who I really am – instead of seeing who I thought everyone else wanted me to be.
Finally, I’m starting to learn that it’s absolutely perfect to just be me.
I’m beginning to find the openness, the freedom that comes with letting myself be vulnerable and completely my SELF. And it is AMAZING!!!!!! And, I can also stand up from back-bends now, but it’s not about the poses, it’s about the experience, the JOURNEY inside that really matters.
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