The first thing I noticed when I went to my first Mysore style Ashtanga class was the breath. The sound of breath filled the room. It was early morning and a few rays of sunlight were just beginning to shine over the horizon outside, and most of Boston seemed to be still sleeping. However, in the yoga room, students were intently focused moving from pose to pose to the rhythm of their own breath. A calm but uplifting energy pervaded the room.
A petite young woman was watching the students. Periodically she approached a student and placed a part of her body on theirs to free the flow of their energy and bring them into a new awareness in the posture. I nervously unrolled my mat and started Surya Namaskara A. I had learned the Primary Series at a weekly led class that I had been attending for about four years, and I had started a daily home practice after taking David Swenson’s Ashtanga Primary Series teacher training. But I had heard about Kate--how she was strict and a little scary.
Kate approached me and agreed to let me do the full Primary Series. As I drove to work afterward, I knew I would have to find a way to keep going to Mysore class--despite having young children at home and a husband who left for work at 6:30 am.
Over the years, I have continued to follow Kate as she moved her teaching until she found a home at Down Under School of Yoga in Brookline. I have learned that her strictness is a manifestation of her deep caring for each student and for the lineage of Ashtanga Yoga. She knows that the yoga is a process that brings each student to a state of health in the body and clarity in the mind, but that one must take care to avoid injury. In Ashtanga Yoga, the practice itself is the teacher, but having a human guide is essential to help the student attain his or her highest self.
For me, the daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga is a form of meditation. The sequence of poses is set so I don’t have to think about what pose comes next. I flow from posture to posture listening to my breath. The mind can be quiet. Repetition of the postures allows me to delve deeply into the poses and to observe how the body is different each day and how the mind reacts to the difference. Over time, the mind loses its reactivity. Through the practice, I have learned to let go of my “worry mind.” I have learned there is no point in worrying about a pose that is 10 postures away, no point in worrying about whether I will get a new posture today or not, no point in worrying if I will fall out of an arm balance. The posture will come in its own time and my worry about whether I can do it today will not change the posture. And this learning has translated into my life. No need to worry. I take the appropriate steps to prepare myself for whatever is happening in my life, but the worry is gone.
I have learned to surrender to the process of Ashtanga yoga. I greatly appreciate the intelligence of the sequence, how each pose leads the practitioner to the strength and flexibility required to do later poses in later series. Studying my own body through the practice of Ashtanga yoga has led me to a greater understanding of my mind and my energy and has inspired me to study the eight limbs of yoga science and philosophy as well as yoga’s sister science of Ayurveda. The practice has brought me closer to my soul and to an understanding of the spiritual force that guides our Universe. Every day I awake eager to practice, to study, and to learn.