Over the summer, I took a two-day Ashtanga yoga seminar with Barbara Stanley.
It was pure and blissful Hell.
Barbara Stanley is a globetrotting Ashtanga yoga instructor based in West Virginia, and at 60+ years old, one of the toughest, no-nonsense yoga instructors I’ve ever met — especially given she didn’t get started until sometime in her fifties.
Anyway, I spent two days last summer working my way through the Primary Series, also known as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. Ashtanga’s Primary Series involves asanas (postures) designed to purify your body and help restore health.
Well, considering I don’t know if I lost more fluid sweating or crying, I think it purified my body pretty well; as far as therapy goes…
…well, Barbara taught me more than I anticipated.
Ashtanga yoga doesn’t play around. It involves a sequence of specific yoga poses, and some of them are toooouuugggghhhh. (Though, there are modifications — just like those we make in life). I barely had a working knowledge of Ashtanga yoga prior to the seminar (I was more of a Hatha and Restoration yogi myself), so even though Barbara demonstrated each pose, I still found myself looking at other class members to make sure I was doing what they were doing.
It wasn’t long before Barbara called me out.
“Look at your own mat. If you’re not sure about the pose, ask me. Don’t copy others.”
Ouch (well, kind of).
I thought a lot about what Barbara said. It struck a chord with me; not because it applied so much to yoga, but because it applied so much to life.
Some of us spend so much of our lives trying to do what we see others doing because, surely if others are doing it, it’s the “right” way of doing things.
Instead of finding our own way (finding our own modification or expression), and asking for help when we need it, we mimic others and sort of just hope for the best.
That’s no way to practice yoga, and that’s no way to live life.
Watching others and feeling like we should be doing what they’re doing is pretty common, I think. Maybe your best friend got married and it made you think you’re supposed to get married, too, or that you were even ready for marriage. Or, maybe your old college roommate went on to earn some super smart science doctorate and it made you rethink your art degree.
Share a time when you “looked at someone else’s yoga mat” because you thought they were doing it the “right” way. How did it work out for you?