When I began teaching yoga, I thought it would take ages for me to "get it". I experienced feelings of inadequacy, not feeling comfortable teaching anything near a handstand or backbend. Geez, I still reel from teaching plow!
On top of my teaching schedule, I've kept up with attending classes. While this is important for any teacher to do, I found myself only going to advanced classes or to classes where the teacher knew me.
Then, a few months ago, my partner started learning Ashtanga. The effect it has had on him has been inspiring, to say the least. I felt it creeping into my thoughts. Just try it, they whispered. So, one rainy morning, I went to the Ashtanga Shala in Dublin and entered as a complete beginner. I was the first to arrive at 6:30 in the morning. I told the instructor that I was also a teacher, but I wanted to learn from the beginning. The Very Beginning. I had no previous knowledge of Ashtanga, and that's where I wanted to start.
When the Shala opened and the seasoned Ashtangis entered, the instructor sat me down on the mat and explained that I was going to do 3 Surya Namaskar As and 3 Bs. But just to focus on the breath.
I blinked rapidly. I guessed my practice would take 20 minutes. With this in mind, I stood at the front of my mat, and just breathed. I went slow. I savoured each breath and it poured through my body like medicine. I completed 6 sun salutations in an hour—3 times the time I predicted. I rested in Savasana as the rest of the class (or what I experienced as one giant lung) breathed through the primary series.
What followed was a shift in my teaching. I started to peel back, focusing more and more on the breath. Yes, the breath is the boss, but I really tuned into it. This concept started to hit home in me in a way it never had before. It didn't matter how perfect the shape of a pose was, or how long it was held. It didn't matter about strength or flexibility. When you breathe, and you let the breath pour over each joint, each bone, each muscle, it's more important than any handstand or backbend out there.
Going to the Shala and allowing myself to be a complete beginner was the best gift I could have given to myself as a teacher. It brought me back to what's important. It helped me to remember the medicine that is yoga, to remember the love, and to always, always remember the breath.
To deep-dive into the Ashtanga Yoga practice, join us in Zagreb this Fall: Ashtanga greats Kino Macgregor and David Robson are both coming to town and offering two chances to immerse fully in this powerful tradition.
Photos: Sanjin Kaštelan
Cover image source: http://www.dailycupofyoga.com/2008/11/09/ashtanga-yoga-primary-series-poster/