In any case, upon browsing the Ashtanga blogosphere, there seems to be a perception that people leave Ashtanga because it's too hard, or because they can't handle the discipline and commitment, or they are shying away from ego-destroying transformation. And maybe some people do - but I'm not really in a place to judge anyone else's reasons or motivations.
I find this interesting because for me, the decision to branch out from the Ashtanga path was a decision to leave my comfort zone, both physically and on more subtle levels. You see, as I mentioned in my letter, I was taught that Ashtanga was all the yoga I needed. That it was a complete system that would heal and balance my body and my mind, well, completely. So when I recently realised that this wasn't happening for my body, it made sense to me that I needed to modify my practice. It honestly wasn't a big drama for me - after all, my "loyalty" is to myself and my journey, not to one asana system or another. [Not to mention that as a teacher, I feel like I need to learn as many different approaches as possible, to be able to teach to as many different needs as possible!]
The realisation that Ashtanga wasn't working for me in a "complete" way came during my Level 2 yoga teacher training, and in particular I had 3 major "breakthroughs":
- I realised that my shoulders have become imbalanced - partly this is the way my body is put together, and partly it's postural and work-related (damn computers). Basically, the front of my shoulders are quite strong and the muscles on the backs of my shoulders are comparatively quite weak, and this was causing my shoulders to round forward and causing me a certain amount of back pain. When I say "realised", I mean the kind of realisation that is accompanied by immense physical and emotional release - not the kind of passing thought you can just ignore. Yogis will know the kind I mean. Unfortunately, Ashtanga with its emphasis on forward-and-down vinyasas had made that imbalance worse. According to my Yoga Therapy teacher, this is pretty common among Ashtangis - many of whom suffer from shoulder injuries or pain at the back of the shoulder because those muscles remain comparatively underdeveloped. The good news is, it's fairly easy to work on and with the help of some yoga therapy moves, in a few short months since my TT I have already made huge progress in that area.
- As I've already mentioned, I realised that my psoas and hip flexors were just not getting the love they needed. The psoas is of particular concern to me since it affects lower back pain and imbalance, which I already have my dose of thanks to my scoliosis. This became crystal clear to me when we were working on Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana / King Pigeon pose. I couldn't BELIEVE that after 3 years of Ashtanga I had made absolutely no progress with this pose. Wow. That just didn't seem right to me - but once my teacher observed where my limitations were in the pose - those pesky psoas and hip flexors among them - it made sense - and became clear that my Ashtanga practice was just not addressing those muscles in the way that my body needed.
- Finally, as I mentioned, I have scoliosis. Luckily for me, it's quite mild, but it is progressive - i.e. the muscular imbalance, unless counteracted, gets worse with age. When I first started Ashtanga, I accepted the idea that the primary series was "yoga therapy", and therefore, my practice would be enough to relieve my imbalance. And while it did make the weaker side of my back stronger, over time it also caused the QL muscle on the strong side of my back (that's the thick muscle that runs either side of your lower spine) to become a rock-hard, ropey knot, which is exactly the kind of imbalance I need to avoid if I want to manage my scoliosis as I get older. Cue more massive release, and the realisation of just how badly I NEEDED to do some kind of practice that would allow me to dig deeper and really work on that area.
Is it easier? Heck no. Am I less committed to my yoga? If anything, I'm more comitted. Is my practice suddenly less disciplined, more comfortable, or less confrontational? Actually, the opposite! Of course I do write this with the caveat that I've been practicing yoga (self-practice) for nearly 10 years, have worked on these issues with an experienced Yoga Therapist, and have 500 hours of formal yoga teacher training that have given me the skills, maturity, and self-knowledge to design asana sequences that both nourish and challenge my body, that are well-balanced but also target my imbalances. And when it feels right, I'll keep practicing Ashtanga, too.
Funny, so much fuss about which type of asana we are practicing, when really, it's only 1/8th of the practice! I have found that as time goes on, I become less and less attached to WHAT I am practicing and more focused on HOW. Which is what yoga is all about, I guess. :)
Readers, what have been your "yoga realisations" or your experience with attachment?