A community of elders: the sustainable astangi

When you work with what’s available, the restrictions aren’t limitations, they’re just what you happen to be working with.”—Robert Rauschenberg

When I was young, I thought it would be dreadful to let go of things I experienced in my body as capacities, but actually it’s a relief, a relaxation. Every yielding creates a space, and every space invites a new becoming. It’s gentle and reassuring. There’s an easing of surface that allows the underlying texture to press through – roots, beetles, mulch, stones – something subtler, richer, more varied and surprising. None of this is easy – astanga is a practice – but it is rewarding. It offers a different kind of substance, and an expanded capacity for being.

At 53 and hypermobile, I often have a more or less adapted practice. I could fight for old territories, but I don’t want a war in my body. It isn’t exactly about no longer being able to accomplish physical structures – they approach and recede from day to day; it’s more about holding all of it lightly. This is impermanence here now, at home, in my body, and it requires me to be fluid and responsive. Sometimes a posture floats back into my ambit – and another one floats away. It’s funny, it’s unpredictable. It’s all so bloody liberating!

There’s a view out there in the astanga group-mind that this practice is about transcending our limitations.1 For me, it’s always been about meeting mine. There’s a softening that goes with acknowledging the inherent limits involved in being human. Expansion comes when I can recognise that less is more here, and it’s most helpful to pause, rest, backtrack, let go, relax into the cyclic process of begin again that has for me been central to creating integrity of structure in a hypermobile body. But, of course, we are not talking just about bodies here. Within the framework of a somatic practice, we are never talking just about bodies.

We’re all in a process of motion, and sometimes astanga is only a staging post in a life’s trajectory. You can move on or you can stay, and you can take what you learned and apply it elsewhere. This is good and healthy and alive. Me and astanga, we’re in it for the long-haul, as far as I can tell. Gymnastic ability, on the other hand, is a time-limited commodity. It will definitely diminish and sure as hell eventually cease. If the capacity to perform physically demanding sequences of asana is what we think astanga consists of, we’re all looking forward to exile from the warm circle of the tribal fire.

As a teacher (and I know I’m not alone in this), I’m invested in creating inclusive practice settings, where astanga vinyasa can flourish in the unique and different forms in which it arises in different people, with different bodies, at different stages of life. When practice is flexible and adaptable, it can be sustainable, for everybody, all the time, and our Mysore rooms will not only be galvanised by the energy of young people, but also grounded and stabilised by the presence of elders. We need this. We all do.

Namaste!

18peterparivrrta

1. Try googling ‘ashtanga transcending limitations’ and you’ll see what I mean.

NB I love this article by Anthony Grimley Hall on how experience modifies the practices of astangis.

7 thoughts on “A community of elders: the sustainable astangi

  1. At nearly 53 I can relate, though I’m finding it increasingly frustrating, Ashtanga was very much my escape, my antidote to all the crap life presented, my space that was just for me, but since losing some of the fun stuff after the fracture and surgeries over the last 3 years the practice no longer gives me that unquantifiable mental “Lift” and joy it once did that helped with all the stuff off the mat.

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    • It sounds as if your practice is starting to become a practice. I can’t tell you how many times over 35 years my body has hurt and I’ve hated yoga. It’s all part of the natural cycle of practice. Good luck in discovering the opportunities!

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      • Earlier this year I seriously considered calling it a day and looking for something else, I could no longer see a point to plodding through and feeling like I wasn’t getting anything more from it than a physical workout. L at AYL convinced me to keep going, I still am, but if physically it’s only going to regress, then mentally something has to change, but I can’t see where that change will come from

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      • There is no physical progression or regression. It’s just being in your body and observing what’s happening now: physically, emotionally, mentally, energetically, in your breath. There’s nowhere to go where we’re not already.

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  2. There is nowhere to go you are ready or not. Please I beg you go out there there is an ocean of yoga! Try different things, create your own practice, develop your own wisdom! How can you call Ashtanga a yoga if you cannot apply yogic yamas to it?! First one non-harming… Cultivate compassion, kindness to yourself, be honest with your intentions. Be content at every moments of your practice. Can you practice Ashtanga after that?

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