On Mondays, my teacher takes rest from teaching (which can be really exhausting) and instead practices alongside of us. Although, she ends up teaching me just as much on those days as she leads us by nearly perfect example. It is an absolute pleasure practicing next to her. I witness her approach asanas that are completely out of my league with an equal amount of rigor and compassion for herself, and it is jaw-droppingly inspirational. Her breath is steady and joyful.
I also had the pleasure of helping her into Full Urdhva Dhanurasana, which is bending over backwards and catching your ankles. This takes an incredible amount of trust, as the person being assisted is in a very vulnerable position. I was honored that she trusted me to help her. It went well, and I am now even more impressed by her ability to help me into the pose. It is not an easy assist, especially when performing it on someone bigger than you. Pictured below is a photo of my teacher and I after she helped me into the pose since I don’t have one of me helping her.
My Eka Pada Sirsasana (leg behind head pose) is slowly progressing, but it is definitely testing my patience. This pose is bringing up a lot for me. For example, I’ve spent years re-training my brain away from negative self-talk. In most situations, I have no problem keeping a positive mindset. But when practicing this asana, I find myself thinking such ugly thoughts and comparing my progress to that of other people. Shutting down those thoughts has been a challenge. While I’ve been feeling quite stuck, I’ve been feeding off the energy of my fellow Ashtangis, who are all progressing so much–it is incredible to witness!!!
I have noted improvement in other aspects of my practice. In terms of asana, I can officially do Supta Vajrasana with only half an assist, which is quite an accomplishment. This particular pose involves coming into a full seated lotus (padmasana), reaching the arms behind the back and binding hand to foot, then arching back to touch the crown of the head to the floor, holding five breaths, then coming up and down three times, then back down to hold for five breaths, then back up to finish. It’s quite the ordeal.
Until this week, I needed my teacher to hold my thighs down as well as to hold my hands bound to my feet. However, I figured out that if I place a towel between my feet and hands, my hands don’t slip out of the bind as easily. It is nearly impossible to complete this sequence entirely unassisted (I’ve seen it be done once in a YouTube video). Dedicated Ashtangis who practice at home will often use a couch or a bed to hold their legs down.
A definite highlight of this week has been the #riseandcommit Instagram challenge that my fellow Ashtangi Diana created and hosted. Each day this week, she put together a motivational video where she advised us regarding how to really to rise up and commit to reaching our goals, whatever they might be. I have learned what it truly means to persevere and remain positive through Diana and I continue to learn by practicing next to her every morning.
Part of reaching the goal I set for this challenge included diving further into my Japa meditation practice. “Japa” means “to mutter” and refers to the repetition of a sacred mantra throughout meditation. Repetition of a sacred mantra helps to rid negative thought patterns and acts as an entry point to higher levels of consciousness. I’ve been dedicating 20 minutes to Japa meditation daily, and I’ve been using traditional ashtanga mantras that are deeply rooted in the yamas, such as “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu,” which translates to “may all being” be happy and free, and may my thoughts, my words, and my actions contribute to the happiness and freedom for all beings.”
Photo by Mary Wyar Photography