Ashtanga Makes Me Feel Like I’m Wonder Woman

Art by Cliff Chiang

This was originally written sometime in September 2015

I have always tried to be active but because of asthma and a weird set of priorities (back then), I honestly never ended up as the sporty type. Sure I danced, swam, and ran really fast but those where things I did with lack of discipline.

Put me in a team and in the middle of a contact sport and I fold. I love volleyball and basketball but I prefer doing it by myself? Ha! Like shooting or serving. The most I’ve gone to be competitive was when I was competitive in swimming in college and was seriously thinking of working to be in the B team for varsity. Note: thinking.

Maybe that’s why yoga was such a good outlet for me. Mia Thermopolis was my spirit animal, truly.

I am a synchronized swimming,yoga-doing, horseback-riding, waII-cIimbing- type girI.

-Mia Thermopolis, Princess Diaries Movie

Yoga emphasized that there was no competition at all except with yourself. And even when I was doing it in a not-so-consecutive pattern, I saw instances where I could be more than my wimpy-overthinking self.

Yoga was also accessible. Online classes were available for you to figure out the basics without getting intimidated in a classroom and when you do end up being in one, there’s was always a chance your teacher would talk to you to make you comfortable and encourage you to visit the studio for consistent guidance.

The reason I stuck to yoga was that it worked. I felt good and I detoxed (sweat) my ass off. Plus, in the back of my head if I wasn’t able to make it work, like the many sports I tried to attempt, this was all on me, basically. I quit most things after a while because of many reasons:  I did not have anyone to go with, the equipment was expensive, et cetera.

But when it came to yoga, I couldn’t quit it. Even if I have a lapse of practice, it was just so easy to go back in to that it was (to me) impossible to not just step on the mat and do it. Yoga actually cured me of being a quitter.

Don’t get me wrong. My practice didn’t magically transform into this incense-chanting- love-and- peace thing (and it’s still not today!) I had to find a style of yoga that I was comfortable with. I had to battle mental obstacles, sleep schedules, and extroverted students but as I did it every day, realizations seemed to open up one by one.

  • No, I don’t need to be in fancy yoga gear.
  • No, I don’t have to be Chatty Cathy in class to enjoy it.
  • Yes, even if I’m late I can still come in.
  • Yes, I can be tired and still wake up at the butt crack of dawn.
  • Yes, I am subjecting myself to potential vulnerability and pain but I will be rewarded in some way or the other.

I do believe that just as long as you have a daily practice, or at least a very consecutive one, this is universal for those who are practicing any kind of yoga. It just so happens that I discovered all of these truths when I started Ashtanga.

Some time in June or July 2014, I went to my first Ashtanga class with Sachin Badoni and I never came back until 3 months after. I had no idea what Ashtanga was. I basically assumed it would be a led Vinyasa class. I was sorely mistaken. After people came in and set up, the regulars quickly started on their mats; going through a similar sequence together while the teacher was observing.

 

 

Not knowing the series then, I faked knowing stuff until Prasarita Padottanasana and just told the teacher I was lost. He immediately came up to me and guided me through the closing poses and made sure I was comfortable. It was the hardest class I’ve take so far but I was happy that I did. True, I did not go back to it immediately but fortunately it’s the digital age. I discovered Kino McGregor and learned the basics online. In November of 2014, after my friend Grace told me she was going to the same teacher, I made the effort to go as well.

The thing with Ashtanga is that you build up to the series. You are not expected, actually forbidden, to just do all the poses at one go. You build foundations with proper breathing and (from personal experience) a lesson on humility. The fact that you’re doing the sequence and repetitively doing a vinyasa flow every side. It’s tiring and trying but also rewarding.

After struggling with daily attendance and a going to teacher training in the early part of 2015, I came back to Jakarta and started a daily practice. In April, my jump backs that resembled bunny hops and fake chaturangas (I couldn’t lift my body up. My chest was on the ground.) Now my practice is more fluid and I am healthier. I still eat meat but I lost weight – more to that I became stronger.

Doing the series and having a teacher add new poses as you progress really give you, the practitioner, a clear timeline on how much of you has changed. There were some poses that I seriously wanted to cry over with frustration but months after, they’re doable and another set become my new challenges.

Bottomline was that I saw it was possible to be a stronger version of yourself. I’m no Ronda Rousey but doesn’t hurt when you wake up in the morning knowing you’re strong enough to give a punch or even take one. (Okay, maybe a shove.) And if you feel that even just once or twice, who’s to stop you from thinking you can do just about anything?

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