My body hurts.
The muscles in right forearm ache. I have bruises in identical places on my wrists.* I have numerous welts in varying degrees of the purple/brown colour spectrum all over my knees and shins. My lumbar vertebrae are tender and compressed.** My right rotator cuff is angry.
This is all from my yoga practice.
In some schools of yoga, there’s the mantra if it hurts, don’t.
But in ashtanga, if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.
I must be doing it wrong. I’ve been practising yoga for 6 or 7 years now. I’ve practised ashtanga yoga exclusively for about 4 of them. I admit that it’s a very physical sort of practice. So physical, in fact, that it’s easy to forget what you’re doing it for sometimes. As you’re performing your 40th (out of 56) chaturanga dandasana in your primary series, it’s no wonder you get into a classic no-pain-no-gain frame of mind. You’ve just done 40 push ups! In between lots of other physically demanding poses!
But what are you trying to gain? The perfect physical asana? Surely that’s not the point. Whatever happened to becoming aware of your deepest nature? You know – yoga?
Physical perfection – in the form of flawless poses – isn’t my innermost self. And it isn’t the kind of ‘yoga’ I practise. Yoga is not an exercise programme. The great physical demands of ashtanga yoga, however, seem to settle the buzzing hive that is my mind so I can get into the meditative space required to do yoga.
But as I continue to slam my feet into my forearms while trying to jump through from downward dog to a sitting position, I continually think ‘fuck‘. As I struggle to perform my drop-backs into urdhva dhanurasa (and struggle even more to come out of them into a standing position), it’s difficult not to look around at the successes of others in the studio and think, ‘Why can’t I do this pose? What can I do to do this?’
Not ‘Why am I not doing yoga?’
A little introspection helps. When I started practising the primary series again after some time away from it, I dreaded the headstand at the end. It occupied all my thoughts from about marichyasana A (halfway through my series at that point); all I could think about through each asana, each vinyasa, was how I would have to do a headstand at the end – not particularly meditative. You see, I’d never successfully performed an unsupported headstand (or even a supported one, if I’m honest). I wasn’t strong enough, good enough, confident enough – whatever. I avoided doing it completely at this new studio until my instructor confronted me on my third day about it. She taught me the proper form; weeks went by; my abdominal muscles got stronger; my shoulders got stronger; my balance got better; my confidence soared. And now I can do a headstand. It’s not a perfect headstand, but it’s my headstand. Right now. A headstand that I don’t even think about it until it’s time to do it. I am closer to doing yoga.
So, yes. I will continue to practise. To work towards attaining urdhva dhanurasana. To do it correctly. So that I can do yoga.
But I won’t suddenly be doing yoga once I can do drop-backs.
As for my aching body – well, I can only continue to work toward not doing yoga wrong.
In fairness, I bruise really easily.
*from failed jump-throughs
**from incorrectly performed drop-backs