Leaving Ashtanga

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where one day you look over at them and despite all of the great things they’ve brought into your life, you know it’s time to end it?

That’s what happened to me and Ashtanga yoga.

I loved it. It taught me more than I ever could have anticipated. And yet there I was in Goa, India, having returned to Purple Valley Retreat Centre – one of the go-to spots to practice with senior teachers of the Ashtanga community – realizing that it was time to walk away.

Two years prior to that, I went to India for the first time with my dad. We arrived at Purple Valley—two disoriented, jet-lagged, weary Canadians—and immediately fell under its spell. The neighbour’s cows and roosters providing our daily soundtrack. The morning Chai. The post-practice coconuts, freshly macheted by a man whose smile made me think of Prabhakar from the epic story Shantaram.

And then of course, there was the daily practice with the teacher I’d travelled across the world to study with – Petri Raisanen. The routine of walking down the path to the shala every morning in the dark, my mat tucked under my arm. The pile of sandals at the door. My spot. The candlelight. The opening chant. The sound of the breath. Petri’s presence – gentle but in control – providing guidance through familiar postures in a way unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

As if that wasn’t enough, I got to watch my dad develop his own yoga practice for the first time. He’d start around the same time I’d be finishing, joining those who were new to Mysore style. I’d be heading back up the path from the shala and spot him in the dining area reviewing his “cheat sheet” of the sequence over a cup of coffee. After his practice we’d compare notes on how things went on our respective mats that morning and then carry on with the day.

To say it was an impactful trip would be an understatement. I came home from that retreat more in love with the Ashtanga practice than I’d ever been before. The practice consumed me – it was all I wanted to do. I began advancing through postures at a pace where second series was no big deal. I was onto third, chasing “tick-tocks” and wondering when I’d catch my own heels in drop-backs. My priorities had nothing to do with functioning in the real world – all that mattered was the strength of my practice.

Over the course of the next two years, my body began to breakdown. It got to the point where I had to leave the advanced postures out if I wanted to operate without pain the rest of the day. I didn’t know where things had gone wrong and felt completely lost.

To break out of my fog, I decided to return to Purple Valley and study with Petri again. I wrote him in advance and told him about my injuries, feeling ashamed and embarrassed that I wouldn’t be able to practice the way I did on that first trip.

I still believe that Petri was the best teacher I could have possibly had at that time. He wanted me to take care of myself and used the power of Finnish folk-healer hands (for real, dude is a magician) to support me in the practice. But despite all that, the lustre was gone.

I’ll never forget that day when I knew it was over. I was coming out of savasana at the back of the shala and I sat up to watch those who were still practicing. Something had shifted and I was seeing through different eyes. The shapes all seemed so arbitrary. The bodies – which normally looked beautiful and graceful – appeared twisted, weak and in agony. I was undoubtedly projecting what I felt in my own body onto all the others in the room.

But that was the moment – I couldn’t un-see that image.

When I returned home to my regular teaching schedule, I felt like someone trying to sell books to the blind. It took a few months, but eventually I walked away from teaching Mysore. I began to find inspiration elsewhere and changed course in my classes. It was a slow and frustrating transition, but now that I’m on the other side of it I know that was part of the process.

And now I’m watching others go through the same thing in Detour Method Online. We’re at the half-way point now and people are beginning to have those “oh shit, what have I been teaching?” moments. There’s definitely some doubt and confusion floating around but that’s to be expected when we come face-to-face with information that contradicts other things we’ve been told to accept at face-value.

And when that doubt and confusion ramps up, the community responds in kind. Someone in the midst of their “oh shit” spiral will post about it in the Facebook group exclusive to the course, and in a blink others are replying with “I SO FEEL YOU ON THIS!”. People are sharing their struggles, their triumphs and their ah-ha moments. They’re building a community out of questions and critical thinking.

When I talk to people who are reluctant to move on from their Ashtanga practice, the most common reason for that reluctance is “I’d really miss the community.” And I get that. There’s something really powerful about being in that room, with those people, dedicated to the same practice. So many of us are starved for community and connection that we’ll stick with something that’s hurting us just to avoid not having a familiar place to go.

But now there’s a better option.

There’s a growing tide of voices asking “why” and looking for better answers.

Are you ready? Learn more about Detour Method Online right here

Yours in discovery,

Cecily

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