The evening before I was to teach my first in-person class in over two years, my stomach was in knots. A local Ashtanga yoga teacher was traveling for the month of September and the studio owner asked if I might fill in for her a few mornings a week.
“What should I teach?” I asked.
“Whatever you want!” she answered cheerily, thinking I meant just between a led class or Mysore-style.
Ah, if only it were that simple. And it probably would’ve been a few years ago. I doubt I’d have given it much thought. But my goodness, so much has changed since then. The whole world feels different. I feel different. Though, perhaps more to the point — my yoga practice feels different. So different that I’d been wondering if I could even call it Ashtanga anymore. Hence what I was really asking.
It’s not just that my practices are slower and much shorter (I almost never finish a full series), but I sometimes skip around and even make substitutions. Which, in the past, was a definite no-no in Ashtanga. Unless you were injured or old. And I am neither. I’m simply doing what feels right for me now.
Though I’ve hardly done an about-face, either. Ashtanga yoga is still the map that I use. And as far as maps go, I think it’s a pretty good one. But it was never meant to be used on its own – we need context. And so we look to nature, at what’s happening in our lives, and to our own senses for guidance. We need that freedom within the structure to truly make the practice our own.
Still, it’s hard to shake this feeling that by adapting, we have somehow broken with tradition. Because those manufactured narratives are really hard to disentangle. Especially in a system like Ashtanga, where rules and ritual are often taught, hand-in-hand. We almost have to separate ourselves to separate the two.
Which is exactly what the pandemic provided – a natural separation.
And what a favor it did us. Though it was a little frightening, at first. I kept thinking I would lose my practice completely as it all began to unravel. But it was the unraveling I needed, the stripping away of all those rigid beliefs and ideas to reveal something really beautiful, hiding underneath – me! It was more of my own inner wisdom I was able to uncover. Honestly, I think that happened for many of us.
With no eyes watching and no one to tell us what to do, we had no other choice than to tune in to how we were feeling and respond the best way we knew how. And over time, this became our new way of being.
As my daughter, Meghan, said to me the other day: “I no longer call these adjustments. It’s simply the way that I practice.”
What seems to have been awakened from this time of isolation, is a renewed focus on self-reliance, balance, and inner listening as our guide. And it only helps give the method new meaning and force. Our practices haven’t changed as much as been enriched with a deeper understanding of ourselves. And isn’t that Ashtanga yoga? The path that leads us towards the realization of Self.
Thus, I hardly see myself as some sort of rebel. And yet, there is a change emerging as we re-emerge, a newness as fresh as the snow that has now blanketed my field. Hence all the butterflies in my belly. It wasn’t just nerves, I was excited! Excited to lead my very first class – as me.
Coming in 2023: