There is a never-ending process of unfolding that happens when you engage with earning the Ashtanga practice. I’m still surprised by the practice and what the tools of the practice show me as I incorporate them in new ways into my own life.
At the beginning though, when you’re first starting, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit disoriented or to miss things that could help you on the path. The Mysore room, viewed from outside, can appear like chaos. And in a way, it is. But, it’s an organized chaos. We’re using the tools of Ashtanga to cultivate qualities beyond our base nature that we can carry into the chaos of life. We start by practicing that in the organized chaos of the Mysore room.
As we wade into our own transformation process, it can be helpful to have some orientation. If we’ve been on the road for a while, then sometimes it’s helpful to have a reminder of what we’re doing and where we’re going. The thoughts below are intended to help point a direction for focus in practice.
Begin with a clear intention
Consider that intention matters and explore practicing with the idea that what you intend is part of what you create.
Consider holding the idea as you begin practice that we are practicing to cultivate awareness, equanimity, and deeply focused attention. Perhaps choose one of these as your intention for an individual practice session.
The structure of the teaching method supports the development of awareness, equanimity, and focused attention. Consider taking time, as in some years, to fully get to know the structure before you change it. If you’re new to working with a structure, it may feel irritating or uncomfortable. Know that this is okay. This is an experiential practice. It’s best understood through doing it consistently over time. If that’s new to you, notice whatever feelings you have about that and and try it anyway. Work with the sequence that you’re guided through. Be patient with the arrival of more postures. You may be surprised with the exquisite joy that is available in just being present.
If you are aware of pain, or if something just doesn’t feel right, heed your body’s message and stop. Make the necessary adjustments in the posture and/or share your experience with the teacher and ask for help.
Consider practicing with the idea that there is no end and no goal.
There is only a direction.
Put effort in towards going in a direction. Be infinitely curious about what you are aware of as you move in a direction.
A heavy-handed grip on an idea or expectation of an end goal is a distraction from whatever magic is happening right now.
When the pose is happening very easily, be curious about that. When the pose doesn’t seem to be happening at all, be curious about that.
Cultivate deeply focused attention
Life happens in full technicolor. It can scatter the mind. Focused attention is both a practice and a choice.
Notice when your attention has left your practice and then, with kindness towards yourself, bring it back.
If your mind gets engaged with what other students are doing, notice that your mind has wandered, and gently, kindly, bring it back. See if you can reengage with your own practice.
When you finish moving about on the mat, rest
Being in stillness is as much a practice as being in motion is.
When you are finished, take that sense of quiet stillness out into the rest of your day.
The brief list of thoughts above is inspired by our Ashtanga colleague Angela, who has a special way with language. Her short book, House Recommendations, written to support and guide her own student community is well worth a read if you’ve never read it.