Summertime is my most favorite season to practice yoga. My muscles are always so much warmer, and the relaxed days make it easy to focus on my practice when I’m on my mat. On days where I can get out of bed with the sun and finish my run in the early morning hours, I’ll sometimes meet up with my friends so we can practice together. It’s something I don’t get to do quite as often during the school year, and it’s such a treat. In summers past, I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia practicing ashtanga yoga with my teacher, David Garrigues. This summer, I’ve been training for the upcoming Steelman Olympic Distance Triathlon. Though I’m still practicing daily, I’m doing it locally. Summer is usually a season of learning and progression in my asana practice since I get to work with David frequently. But without traveling to Philly, I haven’t learned any new asanas. Even though I’m not frequenting the mysore room at AYS (Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia) this summer, I’ve learned some valuable lessons and progressed in my practice in ways that needed to come from within.
I always talk about how my yoga practice is constantly humbling me. Last fall, I began learning third series (Advanced A). It’s extremely intense and challenging, but a LOT of fun. Each day, I’d rush out of work to get out for my run as quickly as possible and then try to fit in a 2+ hour yoga practice, six days per week. Four of the days included my third series postures, because it requires consistency to avoid injury. But all of the rushing around started to take a toll on me. What I was doing to myself was impractical, and it took the fun out of it. This went on from August through April, just a few days before I ran the Boston Marathon. After Boston, it all caught up with me. I was upset about the incident at the marathon, injured, and burned out. I avoided my yoga mat. The thought of spending hours on my mat and attempting my third series postures exhausted me and made me want to cry. It all finally caught up to me: I was trying to do too much.
See, when it comes to running and yoga, it’s fun for me. It’s not a chore. Many people turn to these types of activities for a healthier lifestyle, as I originally did. I’ve been running for about seven years now, and practicing yoga (in some capacity) since I’m 16 years old. Sure, I love the health benefits, but I find a lot of joy in both. There are days where I don’t feel great when I’m out running or my yoga practice is exhausting, but I still enjoy that time and look forward to it each day. But (get ready for the oxymoron) my yoga practice was stressing me out. Yoga. Stress. What? So when I decided to get back on my mat, I abandoned my “standards” went back to what drew me to the ashtanga practice.
I went back to primary series, and to modifying postures. I went back to blocks, straps and props to make the postures feel good instead of forcing myself into something that I wasn’t really ready for. I finally acknowledged that something is up with my right hamstring – you know, something I avoided since September. Some days I’d do full primary, and others I’d stop at Navasana. The important part is that I was getting on my mat every single day. A few weeks later, right after the final posture in primary series (Setu Bandhasana), I had the urge to do Pashasana. I went up to Kapotasana and realized how much I missed second series. My back was pretty sore the next day, but I decided to do it again – this time, I stopped before Eka Pada Sirsasana, my former nemsis. I avoided Eka Pada for about another week, but I was starting to miss the postures that follow it, like Pincha Mayurasana, Mayurasana, and the seven headstands. After a few more days of practicing and feeling good, I did a few prep postures, took a deep breath and whipped my leg behind my head. Sure, it felt a little stiff, but not completely unfortunate.
Easing myself back into my practice and starting from the beginning was an important lesson for me. It reminded me that it’s okay to go back to the basics and revisit the foundations in any activity to rediscover what drew me to it in the first place. I tend to completely avoid situations that stress me out and shut down when situations are overwhelming. But avoidance, in any aspect of life, won’t get you anywhere. Breaking down my practice into smaller parts and revisiting my foundation was humbling, especially considering what I was doing prior to making that decision. But it was (and still is) much more productive than completely avoiding and abandoning my practice altogether.
When I got back from Alaska, I was still practicing second series straight through to the headstands, but I wasn’t really ready to even think about third series. During the recent heat wave, I was practicing second series in my yoga room. As I finished the seventh headstand at the end of the sequence, I had the urge to go into Vashistasana. Then Vishvamitrasana. Kasyapasana. And then there was Chakorasana, which is right where I stopped. I’m still not ready to go past that point. I won’t avoid it forever, but I’m just not ready for it yet. I’m still not really practicing third series again, and I’m not sure I want to at this point in my life. Physically, I just don’t know how practical it is for me to do right now with the amount of miles I’m running. Primary series and second series work well with my lifestyle, compliment my running, and bring me joy. Third series, however, requires all of my attention, focus, energy, strength and endurance. It doesn’t leave much time or energy for anything else. Acknowledging that this part of the practice may not be what I need right now was another important lesson for me. I tend to take everything to the most extreme level, and it isn’t always a good thing.
So while there are no new asanas being added to my practice at the current moment, I’m still learning and growing through my yoga practice. It’s teaching me to honor what I’m feeling each day, whether it means modifying postures or stopping at navasana. Or maybe it means slowing my pace when I’m out for a run and I’m just not feeling 100%. I’m not saying to abandon all schedules or training plans. Structure is still a necessity for progression and improvement. You should always strive to complete your full practice or follow your training plan each day. But some days your body has a different plan, and you have to honor that too.The tricky part is determining whether you are feeling tired or injured, or just lazy. Consistency is important for improvement, but so is proper recovery and rest. Sometimes, the key is just knowing when enough is enough.