A recent workshop with John Scott (www.stillpointyoga.com) has revolutionized my ashtanga practice. Ashtanga is a vinyasa system, but I must admit that I have spent more time “polishing my asanas” than I have exploring how the breath supports the poses. During the workshop, I was reminded keenly of Mark Whitwell’s viniyoga (breath-based) style (though Mark would undoubtedly decry such labels). Inhalation is surrender; exhalation is strength. As both teachers state, it’s a “strength-receiving practice.” Suddenly, the two very different practices of viniyoga and ashtanga merged. Ultimately, all practices unify.
Because the external configurations (bend your knee in Warrior II!) are sometimes all that we can control, we often spend more time making sure we look good than inhabiting and breathing through the asana. Our culture veers to the external. Progress is linear. The more we work, the more we should have to show for it. The more we practice yoga, the more advanced our asana should become. However, what about the revolutionary idea that our asana should NOT get better, but instead become DEEPER? What if we couldn’t prove that our asana had actually improved? All we could point to is a deeper sense of stillness and peace? Would we find this as valuable?
During the workshop, John rallied us to a breath-focused practice. Rather than “polishing our asanas,” we let go of the external practice and felt the series from the inside. We even spent one practice with our eyes closed. Through drawing the sense inward (pratyahara), we let go of the externalization of the poses and instead focused on the breath. Through this breath-based concentration, I found that the inhalations and exhalations supported my practice. I wasn’t working through the primary series as much as I was being carried through it by the vinyasa. Ironically, surrendering to the breath advanced my practice more than my effort ever had! Injuries melted away. Emotional cleansing flowed. Concentration increased.
Not every day of practice will be transformative. There are many days that feel like a slog. But my rudder is newly fixed. I have a new tool in my toolbox for spiritual exploration. The workshop transformed the purpose of my practice from simply “getting further” to “getting deeper.” Rather than propelling my practice forward through effort, I am beginning to also surrender and let it carry me. I wonder where it will take me next.