Strength, Ease, and Uplift Through the Yoga Practice

Day #1 of a yoga challenge I participated in a little while ago started with a complex yoga pose that challenged the participants’ strength and flexibility. The young women hosting and choreographing the poses were not playing around with silly modified improv shapes. SERIOUS business with this pose called #kukkutasana, or Rooster Pose.

This pose shows up in the Primary Ashtanga Series just past the halfway point of seated poses, so for me that is about 1 hour in to my sequence. Even warmed up, I really struggle with this pose. While I can force my way in to the pose, the goal of yoga is to find the “strength and ease in every pose”, in sanskrit it’s “sthira sukkha asanam”.

I know what I need to do to get to the next level (maintain my daily practice!) MEANWHILE the leaps and bounds of improvement in my yoga practice and physique in general has got me in deep appreciation and awe…. My very first group yoga class in September 2012, touching my toes with straight legs and holding Downward Dog Pose simply were not possible shapes for me. I figured that being in my late-40’s it was too much to imagine that I would ever develop the strength and range-of-motion needed for any yoga practice.

Yoga fascinated me and brought relief to my body from injuries I sustained as a result of my career as a musician sitting for hours a day playing the violin and viola, training year-round for marathon runs, and ocean swim triathalons. Keeping up in yoga class was impossible for me as it took half a minute for my body to find the EASY variation of poses AND the classes I took were led by instructors who announced the next pose by its Sanscrit name. I felt like I needed a college degree to take a 1-hour yoga class!!!

So….I enrolled in a teacher training program at a local yoga studio. I figured I would at least get more one-on-one attention with a smaller group of people in the room. Not so with that particular training, but I did at least have guided reading assignments that brought great clarity to my questions and I began wrapping my brain around the concept of online classes which is where I gained real progress and momentum. My first experience with Ashtanga was in studying the beautiful and strong video presentations by Maria Villella- a few months later, I worked up the nerve to attend one of her Mysore-style classes at YogaWorks on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica.

I am eternally grateful for the sincere, genuine, wholly attentive support of the many teachers I have experienced in my Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga practices. I feel and look younger and stronger than I have ever been my entire life of active sports living. My favorite hashtag that fully describes me is #FitAndFabulousOverFifty! I attribute my health physical-mental-spiritual entirely to the eight limb practice of yoga as one learns it in a formal Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga practice.

There are probably examples of super wonderful and horribly mean teachers in all of the different kinds of yoga schools, but my experience has consistently been such that I have no interest in ever going to another “flow” class. The final bit of annoying behavior amongst those in charge of my first yoga teacher training was in the final written exam- one segment required that we “create a yoga flow class sequence” using the given list of poses. One had to introduce poses in an intelligent way, allowing the class to warm the body before the peak pose. A certain minimum number of poses were required, and poses could be repeated no more than twice. A couple of poses that we never discussed or practiced were on that list, as a joke I suppose amongst the teachers to see which one of us in the training desperately ran out of familiar poses and scrambled for the unknown. I saw that pose, KUKKUTASANA, as a way to bully the students. Maybe it was just a good natured joke. I don’t know. But a year and a half later, as I was assigned that pose in my Ashtanga practice, I realized that the nurturing care of my Ashtanga family allows me to embrace this yoga practice with loving awe and respect, not fear & sarcasm of teenager slapstick humor. And it extends from the yoga mat to all interactions in life- how we interact with strangers, coworkers, family, friends, our pets, etcetera.

Here’s to surrounding ourselves with people who will help us face challenges in our workout routine and inspire us to achieve our goals! Ultimately, this kind of commeraderie raises everyone’s spirits, making for a healthier and happier community in all aspects of life. Be that breath of fresh air.