Healing, Discernment, and Resolution
It’s 1985 and I’m living and working at Center for Yoga in the Larchmont District of Los Angeles, CA. Ganga White was the owner and director and Ana Forrest was the very young primary teacher. Ganga was, as he clarified at the time, “The keeper of the dream” supporting the very existence of the Center and Ana was well…Ana—the wild, wonderful, also iconoclastic, creative, exciting, and driving explorer and teacher of asana. Good times. Yoga was saving my life and I was in love with the practice, my teachers, the community, and the shared explorations.
My asana studies with Ana during this time had taken my practice to a place where basically I could do most of the postures. And I could do them pretty well. The shapes were easy, felt graceful, still felt nurturant to my body, and washed depression from my mind. I was a bit fanatical, but not about a certain system or way of practice. Ana, Ganga and all of us as a group were open minded. We were explorers. We were serious.
A friend of Ganga’s, Danny Paradise came to the yoga center. A traveling Ashtanga teacher, Danny presented a class to a group of us at the Center for Yoga.
I was already a strong and able practitioner, as were many of us, and we were able to go through the entire Primary Series in that session that must have lasted about two and half hours.
I was completely blown away by the practice, the seamlessness of it, its power, and the sequence itself. I had heard that part of the power of Ashtanga was the sequence of the postures. As we went through the postures I was able to feel the movement of pranic forces progressively toning, pulsing, and balancing, especially in my pelvic region. As we progressed through the janusirsasanas and the marichiasanas, I could feel the sequence of postures balance and shift the pranic and sensational realities of my pelvis. Muscle by muscle, posture by posture, small precise inner touch—very much like a key making its way fully into a lock. It was a fascinating and deeply satisfying process to observe.
The ten breaths seated at the finish of practice seemed to take 10 minutes to do. Lying on the floor in savasana my body began to shake wildly. I wasn’t completely sure, so I opened my eyes, lifted my head and looked at it. It wasn’t moving. I lay back down and surrendered to the vibration. A huge glow developed in my second chakra area and spread. It was pleasant and intriguing.
Prior to that class I had been trying to become pregnant for nine years. That very month I conceived my first child. Putting everything together, I feel this was definitely not coincidence, but the direct result of that very first Primary Series practice.
I gave birth to my son, James and continued Ashtanga Vinyasa as my primary practice for another ten years. Although Pattabhi was the leader of the tradition, I chose one Ashtanga teacher, Richard Freeman. He was clearly brilliant and I trusted him. I felt that Richard was teaching the very cutting edge of everything I thought was about to happen with yoga in the West. Richard brought the poetry and beauty into the physical practice that was beyond anything I had experienced. My excitement about the practice, as presented by Richard, was very strong. I was utterly committed.
I was a great fan of Second Series and not at all a fan of Third. I remember thinking after practicing Third Series a couple of times that I didn’t even want to be that physically strong. It just didn’t seem to correlate with my aims in yoga. Besides, I had already begun to question the continuing validity of the system for me.
DISCERNMENT AND DISCRIMINATION— WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Around 1988, I was beginning to question my practice. I noticed that the practice didn’t change how I felt anymore and wasn’t really doing much for the clarity of awareness I was looking for either. I could suspend my breath for a long time. That seemed like a good thing based on what I read, but what was it doing for me? It clearly had helped at one time, but it just didn’t seem to be offering tangible results anymore.
I also noticed that it took a lot of time, energy, and focus. Quite often it made me tired. I strongly suspected that it wasn’t useful anymore. I continued to practice, for years. It is difficult to say no and to let go of something that almost works and even more so, serves one’s ego very well. What if I was no longer recognized to be “good” at yoga? What if I didn’t know how to define myself anymore? What if I got FAT?
It was not an easy process to let go of the lure of Ashtanga practice. Long story short, I did it. It was around 2002 by now. For me, more than anything else it was the ego hook of the whole game. In my case my entire self concept was built around my yoga abilities. But, as a serious practitioner of yoga, I knew that if I wanted to go deeper, I would have to be willing to take the leap.
I suffered through the trials of giving up the ego gratification that had defined me for so many years. The worst of all possible things for me happened; I gained weight. My yoga practice became more rolling around on the floor than traditional asana. Very hard times for me, but my sense was that powerful new doors were opening based on my willingness to let go of who I thought I was in order to become more of who I actually might be.
By giving up the known, we open ourselves to something more rewarding.
It’s the old adage, one may be afraid to leave the dingy shack because of one’s inability to see the beauty that is waiting just out of vision, beyond the hill.
I am grateful for all of the developmental processes in my life. I am grateful for my years of Ashtanga, the great yoga teachers of differing traditions that have helped shape my understanding and practice of yoga, and to the woman who changed my path in yoga forever and showed me what is possible, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.
There’s a lot I would like to share about all of this and more, but this is enough for now. thank you for reading.
5 thoughts on “Ashtanga Vinyasa—A Personal Story”
You seem to have found what you needed to help you develope into the progressive chapters of your life…. sharing your experience helps me do the same, so I am so very thankful for your story … and you.
I so needed to hear that it is time to release that which is no longer serving! I will embrace and surrender to change.
It’s always lovely to hear stories of other’s self affirming processes. This message comes synchronisticly as I wallow through some teaching transformations myself. Thank you so much for sharing. Cheryl
I love hearing (reading) your story, your process, the paths taken to bring you to yourself. it validates all of us as we step along our own paths. i am so happy that our paths have intersected and are joined at this time, love, michelle
Thank-you so much for your article! it’s inspiring to see how you had the courage to let something go that wasn’t working for you anymore in the way that mattered to you and to embrace what will come. I have similar experiences with my meditation practice. I often see my ego getting involved with the image of it. Definitely a time to hone in on what’s real and find my real love and connection to it. 🙂 Surya