Ashtanga yoga, the kind that I started practicing 5 months ago, consists of a set sequence of poses that you memorize and build upon over time. The Mysore style class facilitates this by allowing you to work at your own pace and having a teacher who knows where each student is in his or her practice, to provide adjustments, teach new poses, or give feedback as needed. Because of the repetitive nature of the sequences, the first couple of months were rough on my body, and I brushed dangerously close to some injuries. But now that I’ve had several months to build my strength and since I added running to my weekly exercise, I’m starting to reap the benefits of the repetition.
The first few benefits are superficial, I admit it. I can’t help but be satisfied that over the weeks and months of practicing this type of yoga, I can tell that my form, flexibility, and strength are improving. When you do the same thing over and over, the improvements are much more apparent than dabbling too much without a focus. On top of that, the perfectionist in me likes “collecting” the asanas and building a longer, more complex practice over time. Those were the reasons that made me interested and kept me returning initially, but now for the past month or so, I’ve been stuck at the dreaded Marychiasana D (just look at it!), which wraps up the Half Primary series. I’m no longer “progressing” by adding new poses, but it’s given me more to think about.
My meditation practice and yoga seem to be colliding worlds in just the way they are supposed to. Now that I am used to the poses of my Ashtanga sequence so far, it takes more mindfulness to complete. I need to focus to complete five sun salutations each and not four or six. And without a teacher calling out the poses to the class, it’s up to me to attend to each one without forgetting any. It’s just like driving, when it’s so all-consuming of your concentration when you’re learning, but then one day you get to the point where you have forgotten about half of your commute from mindlessness.
It’s got me thinking about all of the other repetitive things we do with our lives, and I was reminded of this old video by Ze Frank:
I think Ze’s lesson was that we need to take advantage of the precious choice time that we have remaining after all the repetition has come and gone. But the flip side is that the repetition is unavoidable, so instead of discounting its value, we can instead choose to remain awake and grateful for what we have to learn from it.