Friday, December 9, 2011

Coming up hard against blockages in practice

From David Garrigues' newsletter, someone raised an important question about essentially a yoga breakdown. I like David's answer about yoga being more than following the series - sometimes you need to alter the practice to suit your needs. You can beat your head against the wall in lots of ways, including yoga. Here it is:

Hello, I have a question. I have been practicing for at least 5 years, Ashtanga, visited Mysore twice, and now in second series, Pincha Mayurasana. Both times that I had been to India, I got quite sick with anemia. I am very Vata, and I believe the practice just exhausts me. Sharath believes always I can do more, but I know inside it's just my 'wind' pushing me through but my mind is battling. Exhausted. It's a hard place to be. I love Ashtanga, and it saddens me to think maybe it really isn't the best practice for me anymore? Even now when I do the second series, I spend most of my day feeling anger, blocked, and ironically out of my centre. My creative and easy going nature is hard to reach. I understand the idea of facing and working through such emotions. I do my best. But it's been quite a constant for the past year or more. These feelings don't change much.
Have you had any stories or experiences similar come your way?
I hope not to bore you with my mundane question.

Here is my response.

Thank you for writing. Your question is very important and far from mundane. If I could work with you, see you practice get to know you a bit, it would be much easier to give you a helpful answer. Trying other styles is certainly an option, and you have to ask your self if that is really what you want to do. If you do want to do that, then there you have it. It might be important to check out what else is out there before you really decide that Ashtanga is best for you. But maybe you honestly do want to do Ashtanga and for whatever reason you are running into a major road block that is seeming to last too long. And you'd like to work through it, but it's really challenging you.
In that case I would consider that it might be more how you are thinking about and approaching your practice that is at the root of what is tiring and frustrating you. Remember that really the practice is there to serve you--and you have more freedom than you might be allowing your self to change it up and tweak things so that it continues to feed and nourish you. You can mix things up and do more primary or part of primary and part of intermediate. You can lighten things up when you feel the need by practicing shorter or skipping some asana's on some days, or spending more time with finishing postures. Your practice needs to be soulful and to come from a place of genuine inner agreement--where you agree with what you are doing and how you are doing it each day.
Are you practicing alone or with a teacher? If alone then it can be challenging not to get frustrated because of not having instruction or community, but also it is easier to mix things up too and do what feels right to you. If you have a daily teacher than you'll have to work with them so that you are aligned with what is happening in the class. If you were in my class I'd look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, and then make suggestions for doing some different things along the lines what I mentioned above. It can be tricky to mix things and still continue to respect the guidelines of the lineage.
But it is essential to do especially when the alternative is to discontinue your practice. It helps me to remember that true ashtanga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is a living, creative lineage. And therefore the application of the method ought not to be rigid nor dogmatically fixed. One size doesn't fit all, we are all unique and specific and thus have differing requirements that necessitate different sorts of interpretations of the practice. And this goes in cycles; sometimes we are able to flow along precisely in step with the vinyasa protocol and at other times we have to practice in slower or more theraputic modes or in other ways that are possibly not quite what ashtanga allegedly is supposed to be or look like. For me the thread that always keeps it all connected is my lasting, genuine love and devotion to ashtanga. In order for the lineage to evolve, grow and thrive each one of us must ever create the lineage anew through our 'research', our personal relationship to the struggles and triumphs of our daily practices.
Ashtanga is such a treasure, such a powerful practice, I'd hate to see you leave it when you've come so far (almost through the intermediate!). Maybe you can soften, listen within for more inner cues on how you need to practice just now. And one more thing is I'd really look at your breathing too, if your breathing is not balanced, either too much force or not enough power, then your energy will get disrupted. This is true especially with the passage of time and can become a road block to developing your intermediate practice. Hope some of this helps and drop me line let me know how you are doing.
All the Best
Om Namah Shivaya!

Hari Om,


  1. I love this topic, Richard. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. It is interesting for Vatas, as it's my understanding that the Ashtanga practice would not be recommended for their constitution. So, I can understand the student's comments.

    I liked David's response about the practice being "soulful and to come from a place of genuine inner agreement--where you agree with what you are doing and how you are doing it each day". It makes sense. But, it's easy to get carried away when practicing with a group--getting competitive, trying to keep up, and overdoing--which are all vata disrupting. Also, certain practices are more beneficial for certain stages of life.

  2. Hi Cheryl - Thanks for the comment. I guess I would have to first figure out if I believe in doshas. I don't know. By the definition here ( I am clearly vata ("Vata-type people are generally thin and find it hard to gain weight.")

    But does it necessarily follow that: "Vatas have very little energy reserve and can tire easily and get themselves out of balance."???

    In any case, I believe that the ashtanga practice can (should) be done in accordance with one's "agreement" about how you feel and what you're doing as David says.

    This has come up for me this week as I am confronted by some sort of wrist injury, which I will write about shortly. The short of it is that I was unwilling to give up on doing practice and my wrist felt pretty damn bad afterwards. Perhaps this means I should just lay off of yoga for a week, but perhaps it is an opportunity to discover the ashtanga practice without the ego goals of doing every vinyasa, learning how to jump back or handstand.

    (I actually cannot do urdhva danurasana right now at all.)

    So I think I should be able to have a perfectly lovely practice, modifying chatarangas into prostrations, up dogs into cobras and upward bow into locust and camel backbends.

    After all ashtanga isn't about doing every pose or the strongest vinyasa possible; it's about breath, motion, focus, dedication.

    Having said all that, I'm guessing that the vata person with the problem could love her practice again by slowing down, dropping second series for awhile, finding devotion in her movements, and peace in her practice.