On the Christmas night of 2005, I saw a yoga demonstration filled with expansive power for the first time. It was Ashtanga yoga. That sense of amazement, which shook me to my core, made me immediately took up the practice of Ashtanga yoga. However, after I committed all my effort towards the practice, I ended up with injuries. I then realized it was important to have a teacher who can provide me with the proper guidance.
I use to have to go out of my way to get to Taipei for the Mysore practice. There were the two and half hour bus rides at night and I would return home the same night also. I even stayed overnight in a Beitou yoga studio in order to learn from Teacher Ming. This lasted until July 2006, when I had the good fortune to attend David Swenson’s workshop and two months later, my passion for learning made me decide to move to Taipei to study with Stephen Lapham, ending all these long commutes. The following January, because Stephen went to Mysore, so I had the opportunity to meet my teachers, Russell Case and his wife, Sally. Under the guidance and support of these two certified Ashtanga teachers, I started to go to Mysore also in year 2008 to study with Sharath Rangaswamy, the grandson of the founder of Ashtanga yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
January 9, 2008, the day that I arrived at India, was unforgettable. Overcoming all obstacles, I finally made it India to study Ashtanga Yoga. However, after I stepped out the Bangalore airport, all my excitement suddenly disappeared. It was a dark and windy night. Looking at each unfamiliar dark faces, all with these big eyes staring at me and all the Indian taxi drivers yelling and hassling me to ride their car, all made me felt ill at ease. I took a big breath, had thought to myself, perhaps I shouldn’t have come to India by myself and maybe it is not too late to catch the next flight home. Even though I eventually found the driver who was there to pick me up, but on that three hour ride to Mysore, I still couldn’t let go of the thought of just going back to Taipei.
First day of practice at Mysore, I came to the class according to the time that was given to me. But, at the entrance way, I saw there were already students from all over the world there practicing with sweats dripping. The teacher looked at me and asked me what my scheduled practice time I was. I thought I was on time, but he told me I was late! The second day I arrived five minutes early. With a frown, he told me I was late again. My confusion was finally cleared up after a few days when I noticed the clock in the practice room was fast by fifteen minutes.
Day after day, early sleep and early rise, there were two meals a day and only two hours or so of practice. The rest of the time I was free. I was beginning to worry that my practice was deteriorating because back in Taipei I was practicing even more advanced poses, but in Mysore I was only allow to practice a set of easy poses. The teacher kept saying no to other poses without giving me a reason. After three months of this, I went back to Taipei and just continued practicing. It wasn’t until three years later that I begin to appreciate the true meaning of the way he wanted us to practice.
Simplicity is power. Ashtanga is Sanskrit. It is translated to mean eight limbs. “Eight Limbs Yoga” (Ashtanga Yoga) is different from the eight limbs of Yoga Sutra. Through practicing the fixed asana sequence every day, you can slowly understand the essence of the eight limbs of Yoga Sutra. When you synchronize with breath, you are not just merely practicing poses on the mat; it becomes a form of meditative practice, a moving meditation. Practicing Ashtanga is like a love affair. You’ll be crazy in love with Ashtanga, but you’ll also come across roadblocks. The toxins in your body will always be an obstacle that slows you down. And when you slowly start to feel your body is able to catch up with you, then what happened to your mind? With your exhale, it already drifted away…
We work with the asanas to rid of the physical toxins. When you are stuck at a bottle neck with your physical practice, with the appropriate Yamas and Niyamas, you let go of habits that do not serve and you develop ones that do. That will allow the body to settle down. At the same time, using pranayama, breath work, to cleanse your mind and spirit. When you can be completely settled in your asana practice, you’ll then be able to withdraw your senses inward, which is the fifth Limb - pratyahara. At this time, when the outer and inner body is clean and clear, you’ll able to focus on connecting to your inner spirit. From that point on, the last three limbs of the Yoga Sutra will naturally be attained.
Many people agree with Guruji’s statement: “Practice, then all will follow.” Ashtanga Yoga looks like is an easy mission, but to maintain a consistent practice is almost mission impossible. Forget all you have learned, just let the easy breath take you to the challenging poses. Let the breath be like a thread, artfully stringing all the poses together and you’ll discover that the mind is just like a beautiful set of prayer beads.