This past weekend I yoga’d with Ryan Leier. Now, Ryan is intense and the intenseness started on Saturday afternoon, ramped up Sunday morning and rolled into station late Sunday afternoon. He is a sliver of a man with a lot of laughs and the sinews of Conan the Barbarian–well, a very, very slim Conan.
I found myself struggling on Saturday afternoon. The class was challenging and I was finding it hard to keep up, but I wouldn’t let myself take any of the easier modifications. If Ryan said chatturanga (push up) I did the pushup, dammit, and not the downward dog. When I got home that evening I didn’t want to go back the next day.
I was having trouble reconciling two messages I heard in the class. One was “stay with the breath. The breath is the pose. If the breath is difficult you need to ease off.” The other was “I do this until sweat is dripping off my nose…there is no place in yoga for the lazy.”
That night I had a little heart to heart with myself. At first I thought I was feeling discouraged because I was comparing myself to other students. Then I realized I was making a judgement about myself that had nothing to do with comparison. My inner dialogue was something along the lines of “if you don’t do everything, if you don’t keep up, you’re lazy.”
I thought about why I was doing this– not just the class–but yoga in general. It’s not because I want to look like an Ashtangi. I do yoga because I like to get out of my head. I like to stop thinking, even for a little while. I like to sit-still-and-mediate and I also like to move-and-meditate. If I couldn’t match the breath to the movement it wasn’t satisfying and that was one of the reasons I didn’t want to go back. When I figured that out I felt relieved.
In the Sunday morning class Ryan played some recordings of Pashant Iyengar talking about breath. Ryan talked about how BKS Iyengar is “all about the perfection of the body” but his son “is all about the breath.” One of the things that I heard Pashant say was that breath was the only thing free of karma. The body and the mind come with karma, but the breath is free of karma. Pashant was in a serious traffic accident and his body won’t support a power practice, but for decades he has practiced every day, with his focus on breath. Ryan started the first vinyasa by encouraging people to take the modifications of they were struggling. So I did and it was good.
“For someone who is excessively body conscious like a model a pimple on the face is a great calamity. Unfortunately the same happens to the majority of you who are used to practice yoga always addressing the body. Doing doing doing doing until you are like dead ducks! When you are no longer in prime age and your body will no longer do what it used to your practice will invariably end in utter frustration I can already see some of you always complaining: my back pains, my hip pains, my knee pains. If you practice asanas as an end that is not yoga. Make the asanas a means. Be breath conscious and mind conscious rather than body conscious.” Pashant Iyengar
I wrote this post almost exactly a month ago and when I just re-read it I realized that several things changed for me in that workshop. I did something I was scared of—handstand. Doing handstand made other poses (like headstand) suddenly seem easy.