April 10, 2014

Ashtanga & Me. ~ Emiliana Ammirata

Yoga Ashtanga Shala

When I was 11, I didn’t quite understand what yoga was.

My mother had taken me to practice its disciplines, and as time passed, I noticed a palpable change in her demeanor.
She had an effluence of youth that slowly permeated into our family life. She’d speak in beautiful proverbs and phrases I had never heard of, assuaging the everyday difficulties that had once burdened her.
I started practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga when I was 14. After three years of my mother’s imploring, I marched into what would be my first class.
It was a traumatizing event.
The room was full of eccentric and sweaty people. An unfamiliar smell I would later recognize as incense burned my nostrils. Sweat drenched my clothes after the first five minutes, and I became frustrated because I couldn’t do a silly handstand. The second we left the room, I pointedly informed my mother that I would never return. But I did.
I’ve now been practicing Ashtanga for two years. To be honest, it took me a while to understand what Ashtanga really meant. I was never into the philosophical and healing part of it. I endured, only because it extended my flexibility, and because, to my extreme delight, my mastery of the craft was improving.

With time, I learned that Ashtanga—a natural healing of the body—is a series of consecutive postures. Each posture in the series prepares you for the next posture. It was originated by the Hindu doctor Sri K Pattabhi Jois.

Every posture is like an obstacle in life. Because Ashtanga is a sequence, you can’t skip the one annoying posture that’s impossible to do. You have to deal with it, and you can’t go on with the series until you’ve found a way.

Ashtanga has taught me patience. Whenever I can’t accomplish a pose, I know I have to practice with more devotion. Frustration is part of the process, but by the end, I accept that I’m not ready for the posture. That I have to keep practicing.

It has imparted me with discipline. Ashtanga is my wake-up call six times a week, reminding me that I can dedicate myself completely to something I love, even if it’s at 5:30 in the morning.

It has graced me with serenity. As I breathe through the postures, I have learned to let go of angers and anxieties, facing challenges with an open mind and not a marked scowl.

It has given me concentration. The subtle balances that each posture demands of me inculcate awareness of the body, and the world surrounding it.

It has quieted my ego. I learned that Ashtanga is not about flexibility, or strength, but about the effort dedicated to the practice.

It has shown me endless possibility. It’s not every day that you witness an elder man or woman bending into an impossible posture that you’ve been struggling with for the past three weeks.
And it has gifted me a calm mind. Focus on the practice removes all manner of errant thought, leaving only your breathing.

Ashtanga for me is a lifestyle, one that has brought light and happiness into my life. In my short 17 years, I’ve learned little of Ashtanga and its practices. There is so much more to discover, so many more obstacles to surpass and to accept.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even get that handstand right.

(Article adapted and was originally published in Miami Life Center Magazine)


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