August 12, 2013

Using My Yoga Voice. ~ Colleen Hohenstein

Finding My Home On The Edge.

I am dripping with sweat. There is a voice from behind me, patiently instructing me to do the impossible—“Again.” It is two hours into my Ashtanga Mysore style yoga practice and I struggling to achieve what could be a simple forearm balance. I am tired, I am drenched and most of all, I am frustrated; I want to quit. But I know this moment is why I am here.

Ashtanga does not start with an “A” by accident. It is rare to find mellow practitioners of a practice that ideally should be practiced six days a week. Few people understand why I chose such an intense form of yoga. Some days I don’t either, but for me it is a way to walk to the edge and safely push my limits.

Almost two years ago I began my unexpected journey down the path of Ashtanga yoga. At first, I was merely curious about this demanding practice, so completely different from the other types of yoga I had studied.

Blessed with a generous amount of natural flexibility, I craved yoga classes with deep twists and intense backbends. But throw an inversion into the mix and I panicked. Headstand in the middle of the room? You had to be kidding me.

Yet, a part of me was fascinated by the increasingly challenging asanas (poses) Ashtanga offered. Who would be crazy enough to do these poses? And what did it release that made them so darn peaceful afterwards?

Almost on a whim, I joined a small group of friends for a series of private Mysore style classes. Different from a led yoga class, in Mysore style each student follows a set sequence at their own pace and ability. Your teacher is there to offer support and guidance as needed. The first months were humbling. I continually forgot the sequence of the poses, I’d lose balance whenever I realized my teacher was watching me, and at times I wanted to scream in frustration. But something kept me coming back. I wanted something to change. I was tired of bringing self-doubt and fear onto my mat with me. My mat was too darn crowded, I needed space to move and breathe.

 For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to bail out when things got hard.

Or when I did bail out on a pose, I wanted someone to hold me accountable. Because guess what? The same pose that frustrated me yesterday was going to be there tomorrow. I could fight and struggle against the pose, but I was only fighting against myself. Slowly it began to dawn on me: nobody was keeping score if I forgot a pose. Nobody was secretly laughing when I lost my balance. And my teachers truly had no attachment to how long it took me to understand a pose.

Bit by bit, my frustration began to dissolve. In its place, a new sense of patience began to emerge. As my teachers added new poses to my sequence, I questioned less if I was truly ready. The self-doubt crowding onto my mat began to dissipate.

Life outside the mat changed as well. All of the joys and frustrations of raising children were still there, but the frustrations were less extreme. My marriage of 15 years was just… better. My fiery Aries nature emerged less, and in more constructive ways. This fiery Ashtanga practice has made me a better wife, mother, and human being. I am finding my yoga voice- an ability to speak with steadiness and ease.

It is time for the next evolution. It is time to use my yoga voice. I am strong. I am capable. I have moved past being that person terrified to do a headstand in the middle of the room. I have fallen over in my forearm balance more times than I can count—and the world did not end.

My problem is no longer the fear of falling, but a fear of succeeding. Habits I thought had changed are still there, but in different forms. I bail out too easily in forearm balances. I try to pretend falling gracefully, is different than quitting. That needs to change. It is time for me to believe what everybody around me already knows—I can do this. I hear the patient voice behind me still, and this time I realize what the voice is really saying, “See what can happen when you truly face your fears.” It is not a voice pushing me past my limits. It is not a voice judging my practice.

I take a smooth breath in, and fluidly swing first one leg and then the other up in the air. For a brief moment I am suspended in time.  I drift back down moments later, but I have tasted the possibilities.

This is why I am here. I will keep trying.

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Assist Ed: Andie Britton-Foster/Ed: Sara Crolick

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Colleen Hohenstein