The Musical Practice of Ashtanga Yoga

“I tried to learn the piano once but I didn’t immediately sound like Mozart. So obviously I had to stop.”

“Then I picked up a guitar but when I tried to play it I didn’t immediately sound like Hendrix. So after 3 minutes I concluded I was crap at music.”

 “Then I decided to go running for the first time. Didn’t manage a 4 minute mile. So I realized this meant I was slow and went and sat on the sofa instead with a kilo of Maltesers..”

“I tried Yoga once but I couldn’t touch my toes, so seeing as how I am not as flexible as Iyengar was after 50 years of practice I must be crap at that too……

Do you think any of those statements are ridiculous? Who picks up a guitar for the first time and sounds amazing? Anyone? What would you say to that person? Sure you can have talent. But its the practice that counts. Only through practice, practice that comes from a very human desire, can we touch the sublime. A musician has a lot in common with a Yogi. After the mundane elements of keys and chords are mastered, then the instrument becomes part of the person. The music starts to come, no longer from books, but from the musician. From a greater source. Then desire falls away as union is there. Union was always there, it just had to be uncovered.

Ashtanga Yoga does sometimes come in for criticism, saying that its too prescriptive. That it sets people up to be obsessive. For me its like practicing an instrument. And the instrument is your body. And sometimes, like practicing chords it can feel same-y. The same old voices going on about how I can’t do this and why don’t I pick something easier and maybe it just doesn’t matter. But its interesting- when you just tell yourself you are practicing out of love and that you are not going to be dictated to by what happened yesterday and what may or may not happen tomorrow then something new can enter in.

The distance between the occasions when you can practice with peace does become shorter over time. But you have to practice. You have to practice. You don’t have to practice perfectly and you may have some very real physical limitations, but don’t give up. No two people look the same in a Yoga posture. And who cares anyway? Don’t think about how it looks, think about how it feels. Your body changes every day and one day it will be laid out on a slab so don’t get hung up on wanting to stay in some eternal moment of glory. Everything passes.

After nearly 7 years of the Primary Series, of understanding Uddiyana Bandha technically, fairly recently it felt different. Really different. As if something was sucking up and flattening deep within and that I was being ‘lifted’ up and placed down. And now its coming and going, still, I just have to focus on keeping a still mind. Because when I crave it it goes, and I fall down again. And get cross.

As David Sye pointed out in a workshop, the Yoga Class is like a little stage on which you play out how you live your life. And you do see that. People setting themselves up for failure so they don’t need to go any further than what their ego understands. People think ego is all about bigging yourself up- about arrogance. That is a misunderstanding. Ego is a way of perceiving yourself and the ego loves what is familiar. What is easy. So if you are used to being a victim thats what the ego seeks out to reassure itself, to create yet another sad story. If you don’t think you can do something your ego can make damn sure you won’t, so you don’t have to deal with the consequences of what is, right now, unknown to you. A new way of being. Stepping into a spectrum where theres new colours, new tastes. New ways.

Your behaviour creates new neural pathways and your behaviour affects how you feel and how you think and feel affects your hormones which then affect, guess what- your behaviour… So the mind and the body are one and the same and it takes a little humility to accept this. And sometimes a huge push- a huge amount of effort is needed, to pull yourself out of the state you are in, and to keep growing.

As Yoga has its roots in the Tantric mindset of  ‘as above so below’ this is an important lesson. All you can do is facilitate Yoga. You have to create the environment and it starts to come. Your body is a miniature world. So we need to strip away what stops it spinning as it should. So theres the emphasis on honesty. On living simply and well. Reducing what is superfluous and recognizing what we do not need. Whether thats a handbag, a relationship, or a job that pays the bills at the expense of the path we want to tread.

So when you hear the voices telling you its not a good day to practice, you practice. You practice. And you practice. But not with a heavy heart. With curiosity. With playfulness. When you move for the joy of it. Steward of the life force. You practice. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika points out that an unbaked clay pot cannot sail across an ocean. So you work on the pot through practice. To be a better vessel. You practice.

2 thoughts on “The Musical Practice of Ashtanga Yoga”

  1. Thanks for your article. I really enjoyed what you had to say. I am a musician and started Ashtanga yoga about 6 years ago. I am still learning the Primary Series and with a smile and patience.

    There are many things I learn from my practice and one of them is patience. I am 49 years old and feel so good from inside out- mind, body and spirit.

    I love knowing that for the rest of my life I can practice Ashtanga yoga and continue learning about myself and this amazing life.

    Best wishes,

    Christopher Suazo
    Madrid, Spain

    1. Thanks Chris- its amazing what happens when you enjoy the views on the journey rather than racing for a goal…. Namaste x

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