Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Discomfort and Joy


A bead of sweat rolled down my nose as I pushed my big toe into my fingers in an attempt to fully extend my right leg out in front of me while balancing on my left leg.  The look on my face as well as some of my fellow yogis must have been intense.  
“Remember,” the teacher said, “We do this thing called yoga to find the joy within.”  
This brought smiles to our faces.  Oh yea, now I remember!  I thought to myself.  
She continued with her pep talk as we extended the same leg out to the right while looking left, still holding the big toe with the middle finger and thumb.  She said we have to be able to smile through the discomfort because the payoff of the practice is joy, compassion, and happiness.  She didn’t mention the sculpted muscles.  For most Ashtangis the physical benefit of this vigorous style of yoga is only icing on the cake.  It’s the transformation that happens on the inside that is so remarkable.  It’s good medicine. 
After five long yogi breaths we returned the leg to center, released the toe and tried to resist gravity while slowly lowering the foot to the floor. 
Today is a “led” class which means that the teacher instructs the entire practice and the students move at the same pace.  The rest of the week the classes are taught “Mysore” style, meaning the instructor works with each student individually within a group setting to cultivate a personal practice.  Each student practices at their own level and pace.  The teacher gives you more postures as she sees that you are ready for it. This is what initially drew me to Ashtanga – the idea of having a set sequence of asanas (postures) that I could easily do at home.  
Many of the yogis in the room have worked with Jodi for years and can do some extraordinary things, like dropping into urdhva danurasana (upward facing bow) from standing.  This is not something you would want to try until you are really ready for it.  And forget about using the wall as a safety net for inversions. Not on Jodi’s watch.  You are only allowed to do inversions when you are strong enough and balanced enough to do them without the wall to hold you up. 
My neighbor to the right is a newby to Ashtanga.  Feeling a little bit of pity for her, I couldn’t help but notice her exasperation when after 90 minutes of practice we were still being asked to move through vinyasa, a word used to describe a sequence of three postures used often in yoga to heat and strengthen the body. By this time the windows of the studio were completed fogged up from the humidity in the room, and everyone was dripping with sweat.  
At the end of class I had to ask her, “So what do you think?”  Her eyes widened as she said, “I’ve never been to a yoga class like this before… there are some really impressive things going on in this room!”  
Another satisfied customer…