As I wrapped up my practice this morning, sweating the good sweat that revives and rejuvenates, I realized that I walked into that hallowed room exactly one year ago today. Yoga changed my life four years ago, Ashtanga yoga turbo-charged that change a year ago.
Ashtanga is no frills, which is to say no bullshit. You come. You practice. You experience. Yes, there's a teacher present, but he or she isn't espousing "wisdom" about their recent breakup or how Mercury retrograde gives them "all the feels" or any of the other issues du jour that permeate the seemingly growing "yoga as self-help" trend.
Make no mistake, yoga is self-help. It can change your physicality, emotional experiences, and mental health. It can unveil a sense of yourself that you've never felt before. It can make you feel like your life before yoga was like driving through the fog, and then all of a sudden you're cruising down country roads with the sun glaring and windows rolled down. Yoga did all of this for me, and I know it's done it for millions of people over centuries.
But there's a large chasm between actual self-help and coddling self-love. The latter is vapid slogans, irrational sensitivity, and irresponsibility masked as the need for constant self-care. The former requires us to embark on a real process of growth, which always has more landmines that flowerbeds - at least in the beginning. True self-help requires brutal honesty, vulnerability, courage, and most importantly an authentic desire to grow. We all hold onto the stories we tell ourselves because they are part of our identities. Who would we be without our problems, our anxiety, our sadness? Our jobs and titles and group affiliations? All the self-righteousness we espouse about the injustices and inequalities in the world? Like we're the only ones that see the problems in the world and others just don't have our heightened sense of morality. We're not scared of the answers to these questions, we're scared of the process of unearthing the answers because in order to find them we must watch the movie within ourselves. And that feature is way more Tarantino than Apatow.
Ashtanga yoga is the theater in which you sit, naked, watching the movie within. No candy, no comfy seating, no love interest sitting next to you holding your hand. The ticket vendor to the Ashtanga theater looks you in the eye with the warmth of an igloo and says:
I honestly don't care who you are, what you look like, what your life experience has been, what trauma you have been through, how many limbs you have, or how drunk you got last night. Go walk into that theater, clean and ready. Samasthiti. Ekam inhale, Dve exhale. Do what you can with what you have, today. And when you're serious about committing to the movie, surrendering to the projector, I'll bring you a kernel of popcorn every once in awhile. But until then, go wallow in your ego. Come back when you're ready to do the hard work of growing towards your Self.
For the past year, I've practiced Ashtanga yoga 5-6 times a week, with probably a couple weeks in which I didn't get that number in, but also two months in India where all I did was live, breathe, and poop yoga. So without doing the math, I'm pretty confident I averaged 5 practices a week over the past 52 weeks. I've progressed in the Primary Series poses. I can touch my nose to my knee in certain poses. I can create internal prana (energy) like a fire breathing dragon. I can walk into any yoga room and feel like I belong, because I know I'm just doing what I can do and others are doing the same.
But the biggest lesson has been one in commitment. I've learned where I've dodged commitment in the past and where I've embraced it recently. I've learned that it's natural to fear commitment as something that restricts freedom, but that it's only through the experience of commitment that we understand how it increases freedom. By committing to what we want, we start to realize what we don't want. More importantly, we start to let go of what we think we should want. This is the path towards our Self. Less trying to keep up with the Joneses, more enjoyment in the work to reach our fullest potential as human beings.
I don't think Ashtanga is the only form of yoga that teaches commitment, nor do I exclusively practice and teach Ashtanga. But I'm starting to think Ashtanga is like that teacher you hated for years, and then after you graduate you have no doubt that that teacher was head and shoulders better than any of your other teachers.
So with a year of commitment under my wings, today I'm committing to three months of sobriety*. Without jinxing it, I hope to sign a lease for my yoga school in the next couple weeks and I wanna be the best bird I can be as I build that. Three months, three SUMMER months, will be challenging. But there's always reasons to have a drink: the point of a commitment is to give you a reason not to.
If all goes well, I look forward to a few glasses of bubbly in September with the official launch of Swans Nest Yoga. And if it doesn't work out, we'll toast to whatever's next. Hope to share more news on The Nest soon.
*Carving out a glass of champagne at my big bro's wedding after I drop the mic on the best Best Man speech given by a former Investment Banker turned Yoga Teacher wearing yoga pants made out of swan feathers.