We warmly welcome our first guest writer, Jess Ryan Philipps, to the SYL blog. Jess has been part of Stillpoint Yoga London now for a few years. Find out more about our Stillpoint Membership
‘Ashtanga yoga has always felt like home to me.’
Not always a happy home – sometimes broken, fighting, fraught. But at other times solace, peace, safety. It’s a home that I have sometimes run from, and sometimes hidden within.
What Ashtanga has taught me is that this place, this feeling of home – this Still Point – it doesn’t come from the magic of being on a rubber mat, of repeating certain postures, of chanting special words, of being taught by wise and loving teachers.
It comes from inside. From being.
I don’t do yoga. I am yoga.
This realisation is recent. I have practiced for a long time – several years. But not with the courage and discipline of many Ashtangis; my practice style is more like a flighty bird, coming to rest on the mat for a few weeks at a time, struggling, sweating, loving, fighting, hurting, exposing, healing. And then I fly away again, retreating to hide in the safety of not looking inwards, not sensing what it is to be.
I’ve always seen this as a failure: after all, if I’m not moving swiftly through Primary, Intermediate, hell maybe even Third Series, aren’t I flunking Ashtanga?
No. I don’t see it that way now.
I see it like this: the asana series, the pranayama, the chants, the meditations…these are all keys to the same doorway. And it leads to a pathway full of sunshine and shadows, flowers and thorns, stumbling blocks and beautiful vistas. It leads to being here now.
To be in the moment. To sense. To feel. Not to change, not to always feel good. To feel whatever is really here. Sometimes it’s love, compassion, contentment. Sometimes that’s sadness, rage, anger. It’s all real, and my task is just to be whatever I am at this precise second.
When I see yoga in this manner, I realise that it doesn’t begin when I step on the mat, and end when I roll it up. If I haven’t even unrolled my mat today, or yesterday, or for the last month – I can still be practicing yoga in any moment.
This approach is such a relief. I can take away the grasping attachment to a physical practice, to winning, to attainment. I can leave behind my achievements, my failures, my ego, my goal-orientated perfectionism. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve done three Surya Namaskara A, or the whole of Primary Series, or one mindful breath while brushing my teeth.
And these tendrils of self-compassion, of freedom, allow me to start accepting myself as a soft easeful creature, not always a fighting warrior. I am allowed to breathe in and out, slowly and calmly. I am allowed to feel angry, to feel scared and small. I am allowed to feel mighty, determined and strong. Because however I feel, I have a home inside myself, a sanctuary that is the dropping into being here.
A meditation of self care
My practice is no longer a series. It’s a continuous, breathing meditation. I can dip in at any time – the door can be unlocked by many different keys.
It’s a work in progress, a thousand moments each day of drifting away from this awareness and pulling myself back to it. Sometimes I go for hours without allowing myself to sense my body, my mind, my now. But each time I gently reach out through the spinning tangle of my mind and simplify into the present moment, I’m honing this practice. Every return to the sense of being is both a practice of meditation, and of self-care: an opportunity to forgive myself for being imperfect and to remind myself that I’m worthy of this nurturing practice.
Practicing in moments
So this is what an Ashtanga practice means to me. I can choose to sense, to feel, to be, now. I can do this on the mat, in comfortable poses, in challenging poses. I can do it in a supermarket queue. I can do it in a moment of peace while walking in nature. I can do it in a moment of true discomfort, suffering, fear. I can do it when I feel resistance, when I shy away from what is here because it’s uncomfortable. I can do it when it feels as easy as slipping into a warm bath. I can do it always, any time.
And so can you.
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