The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ashtanga, Baby!

"If you feel you can't make it past 15 minutes, that's absolutely fine. Remember, it's your first time."

Of course, that only made me more determined to survive the entire Ashtanga class.

The group was small..tiny in fact. Just three of us in a small cosy room in The Elder's private residence. No payment, she told me firmly. Just a promise to seriously commit to our practice. Fair enough.

We started with Ujjayi Breathing.

"Do you know what that sounds like?"

"Um...Darth Vader?"

"Ok good. Show me."

When she was satisfied, she motioned for me to stand in samasthiti. The real work was about to begin.

Sun Salutation A was simple enough. A slight play on variations, but very similar to that of hatha yoga. Then came Sun Salutation B. After five rounds, my arms were begging for a year-long vacation. But no time for rest, must keep the fire burning. The Elder led me through the six fundamental asanas - padangusthasana, pada hastasana, utthita trikonasana, parivritta trikonasana, utthita parsvakonasana, parivritta parsvakonasana and prasarita padottanasana A, B, C and D. Once I had gone through all of that, she sweetly instructed me to do it all over again.

(The ego also attended the class, by the way. As I breathed in prasarita padottanasana, it told me to look between my legs at the girl who was doing tittibahsana 'so much better than you'.)

But something different happened in that class. I dabbled in an ashtanga class once and barely made it past the second round of Sun Salutation A. Though I was determined to make it through the entire class this time, I also had my secret doubts. After all, stamina isn't exactly my forte. And I have never applied ujjayi breathing for an entire class. Yet, this time, I found and felt a certain strength in my postures. In fact my entire practice throbbed with a different energy.

It was as though by gently drawing my hand upwards, The Elder pulled an invisible thread, causing any idle muscle to instantly snap to attention. Each time she adjusted me, I felt myself simultaneuously releasing and tightening in all the right places. By the end of the class, I knew that it wasn't just the ujjayi breathing or my determination that saw me through. It was The Elder's quietly powerful energy.

Naturally, I woke up the next day feeling like I had wrestled Godzilla. But there's no rest for the wicked. The very next evening, I hauled my loudly complaining muscles onto the mat. And the next evening too. It's funny how commitment to someone else always drives you further!

Ashtanga is challenging. A lot bolder than hatha. A lot sterner. A lot less forgiving. But it has a good heart and I'm hoping that that heart will reveal itself in my practice one day.

For now, I will enjoy watching where it takes me and my body.


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