Jewish Journal

Orthodoxy. And when to throw it away.

by Michelle Azar

May 17, 2013 | 5:33 pm

As many of you know, I am (was?) a rigid Ashtanga Yoga practitioner. Never mind that I never got much past the beginning of second series (there are six)  or that I have yet to travel to Mysore. It consumed my life, or at least my mornings, for a long time.

Yesterday during my practice, I felt that 12 year old deep pain in my lower back. Funny, the same age as my daughter is old… The teacher saw me wince and came over. Her suggestion was to modify by taking some of the second series back bends. This sounded perposterous to me. Not only did I think it was “prohibited” to be skipping about like that,  making your practice a “best of’s” routine, but I figured if the postures were in a different series altogether they would be more difficult and thereby inappropriate for a day of pain.

She went on to site a well respected ashtanga teacher who used these postures as restoratives. He called them “research postures” which to my rigid or more orthodox ear sounded like a cop out. But I went with it for the rest of the practice; after all, another piece of being a “good ashtanga student” is to follow the rules set by that teacher in that room.

I cannot say I walked out in NO pain, but I certainly did not hobble out, as I sometimes do! The asanas she gave me were able to target and prepare the tighter spots for what is to come, and for the healing that we all deserve.

The bigger release, though, may have been from my attachment to structure. Sometimes, rules ARE truly MEANT to be broken. To be toyed and tooled and perhaps made more uniquely relevant. I am glad I went, and did not use my pain as a tool to remain safe, which sometimes only brings more pain, physical as well as mental. The psychological relief I feel today is just as important, if not more. My practice is my practice, regardless of the asanas I accomplish, or the order in which I accomplish them.

I think this might be the same in some other areas of our lives. Religion, or other ideals to which you attach wholeheartedly. I find a great comfort in practicing strictly, as long as that is accompanied by present mindfulness.

May your weekends be mindful, abundant and free,


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Michelle fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the system of Hatha Yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, some 13 years ago while doing a play in San Francisco. Having...

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