Why I do Ashtanga Yoga ... Or: Madison Has a Very Grumpy Morning.
People often give me a surprised/shocked/I-think-you’re-insane kind of look when they find out that I do two hours of yoga, 4-6 days per week. And I practice Ashtanga Yoga, which is pretty intense… some might say it’s yoga for driven, motivated - and possibly crazy! - Type-A personalities. I would never make such assumptions, but I will mention that I usually start practicing around 6 a.m. Yep, that’s in the morning. Yes, it’s still dark outside.
Anyway, 98.7% of the time, I have no trouble explaining why I do this. It feels amazing to stretch my body out every day, I’m always happier and less stressed out after I practice, it makes me feel strong and energetic, and the rocking-hot yoga body is a pretty nice bonus.
Today was different. Today it was hard to remember ANY of those things.
Today Ashtanga Yoga kicked my ass.
And not in a - insert valley girl voice here - “ Ohmygod!! I had like, such a like, killer workout today!!!” kind of way. It was a my-entire-body-is-in-excrutiating-pain-and-I’m-exhausted-and-none-of-this-feels-even-remotely-good-and-probably-never-ever-will-ever-again kind of practice.
By the time I’d reached Kapotasana, I was furious. (Side note: you non-Ashtangi’s should probably Google a picture of this pose to fully realize the ridiculousness of this practice. People should not be able to do this with their bodies. If you think it looks easy, you should try to do it. The trick is to not snap your spine in half).
Anyway, I was absolutely pissed right off. In my mind I began composing angry “Fuck you, Ashtanga Yoga” Facebook statuses to post after practice. (Another side note: If you’re ever angry about anything, the only responsible and effective way to deal with that anger is to immediately rant about it on Facebook. FYI.)
I took a bathroom break and glowered at myself in the mirror for a while. Stomped back into the practice room, fuming. Stupid Yoga. Stupid hurting body. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I harrumphed my way through my last few poses, started doing backbends, and my eyes instantly welled up with tears. I was mostly able to keep it together (emphasis on the mostly) before I went and hid at the back of the room to finish up.
Again, for the non-yogis, after you jump around and contort yourself mercilessly for an hour or two of Ashtanga practice, a magical thing happens… you get to lie down. Shavasana, it’s called. Or “Corpse Pose”. Or lay down on your back and take a nap until the sweat drenching every inch of your body has made a valiant attempt to dry (it doesn’t actually stand a chance). AKA the best pose ever.
So I’m lying there on my mat, feeling very very sorry for myself because my body is sore, and I’m tired, and I’m sad, and I’m obviously quite hard done by. Then I became aware of an aching feeling. In my chest. But not the kind of ache where you’re all knotted in the throat and trying to keep from bawling in a room full of people and don’t want to alarm the guy who just laid his mat down next to yours and has only been coming here for a month and seems quite nice and would probably feel very uncomfortable and concerned if you couldn’t manage to suppress the urge to dissolve into hysterics… it wasn’t like that. It was sensation just to the left of my sternum and radiating along my ribs. Oh, I thought, this is my heart. It feels… ache-y… Hmmm… this is heartache! Whoa. This is actually a thing, not just an expression you use when you find you’ve run out of chocolate. My tiny mind was feeling kinda blown, marveling at the rage turning into tears and combined with the very real, very physical, sensation of my wee wounded heart.
And I realized another reason I do yoga.
Yoga calls you on your crap. And not in the way your friends or partner or family can call you out on the crappy things they SEE you doing- “Madison, stop stomping around the studio cause you’re feeling grumpy. It disturbs all the peaceful yogis who are actually doing it right.” And not in the way you can call yourself out on the crappy things you’re THINKING of doing- “Madison, don’t have a hissy fit and throw your mat across the room because your body is sore. It would probably disturb people, especially those nice new ones that are here because they have New Years’ Resolutions to do yoga and become all calm and peaceful. You don’t actually hate yoga. You’re just feeling grumpy.”
Yoga (or any practice, for that matter) calls you on the crap that hasn’t even surfaced yet. The aching heart and the tears BEHIND the fits of rage. It brings up the repressed material, the pain, the tension, the sadness you’ve been BLINDLY carrying around in your body for the past day. Or week. Or decade. It puts you in touch with the raw and sometimes painful parts of being a human that we all spend so much time avoiding or hiding or running away from.
And as a result? Feeling and being aware of our own sore spots, our own rough edges, our own tendencies for shitty behavior, allows us to actually empathize when other people come up against theirs.
Yoga makes me more loving because I know that even though other people do and say and think terrible things, they’re just dealing as best they can with the ways in which they are wounded. That when someone else feels angry and acts out, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with you, and you probably shouldn’t be so self-centered as to take it personally.
We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve been dealt - it's a pretty humbling thought. And if I have to get super sweaty and spend an excessive amount of time contorting my body into freaky positions (and sometimes getting really stiff and sore and tired), in order to be reminded of this from time to time- I figure it’s probably worth it.