Pushing the Limits
On Day 5 of my Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, I encountered my perceived limit for the first time and it was not meant to be the last...
Prior to the YTT, during my time in the ashram, I established a daily yoga practice of 60-75 minutes every morning and I felt better equipped and prepared than ever to go on a 4 week intense teacher training. I had no intentions to complete my first training in Iyengar style yoga which is all about correct alignment and holding poses for up to 5 minutes, but this is what life wanted me to do. I also can’t recall ever going to an Ashtanga class - I am a person who likes variety and the idea of practicing the same sequence again and again, even if that sequence is good and kind of fun, is not something that excites me.
And yet, here I was, signed up to a YTT which was focussed on Iyengar and Ashtanga. Since my new motto is to just go with the flow and accept and surrender, saying yes to life, whatever she puts in front of me, as long as it feels good in my gut, I trusted the process and just went with it. Read my last blog post here if you want to know how exactly I ended up at this school.
In the first Iyengar class, doing some hamstring stretches, awareness of muscles in my body that I clearly haven’t used much, went from 0 to 100 in 3.2 seconds, like an Audi R8 on a German Autobahn 😂
A pose that looks simple turns into an asana which requires full awareness and attention to do it with the proper alignment as well as shakti, yukti and bhakti: Energy, Intelligence and Surrender respectively.
All three of these are challenging, but for me personally I felt the surrendering required the most effort, especially for those asanas that did not love my body to begin with.
At that first instance on day 5 in the afternoon Ashtanga class my body was exhausted from 5 days of YTT, practicing 5-6 hours of asana every day in temperatures of around 35 degrees and being a newbie to Ashtanga, I struggled especially with the jumping parts. The struggle was partly physical, my arms and core were simply not strong enough, partly mental: my mind produced fear of losing balance and falling over. So the easiest thing in that moment on day 5 seemed to just walk out of class and be done with it. But giving up is not what I intended to do when I quit my job and packed up for Asia!
So I pushed through it. Mind over matter! I realised that the struggle is 90% mental and mastering your mind is THE overall goal of yoga practice. You master your mind, you automatically master your senses and your body.
Making it through the first week and completing 6 days of intense practice felt amazing. Sure my body was suffering and in pain, but at the same time, my muscles and joints were slowly opening and it felt good.
A well deserved morning trip down to Ganga, enjoying some sunshine, great company and music on the first rest day was just absolutely perfect. As I laid there on the glittering sand, I closed my eyes and a feeling of contentment, achievement and happiness came over me and enveloped me in bliss like a cosy woollen blanket on a cold winter’s day.
Week 2 came and the level of intensity during practice remained high. We worked through learning and dissecting standing and sitting postures and yet again some poses did not like my body very much. I struggled with some of the twists and bends and when we got to Marichiasana 1, I found myself bent like a pretzel.
Sitting on two blankets, right leg stretched out to the front, active, foot flexed, heel pressing into the mat, toes pointing towards me, left leg bent with the knee to the chest and my left arm wrapped around the left leg, trying to reach my right hand behind my back to make a finger lock. My shoulders were not open enough to easily reach my hands in this bend and so when my teacher came over I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
He pulled both of my arms down and back to help me lock my fingers and once I reached them, he pushed my torso down and ordered “touch your chin to your shin!” Iyengar not only demands proper alignment but also holding poses for a while to feel the stretch and get the benefit. So as I’m being pushed down to try and reach my shin with my chin while suffering with physical pain in my shoulders, arms and right heel, I feel frustration rising in myself at the lack of physical ability to surrender into this pose.
And my mind starts rebelling: how the hell am I meant to surrender here if it’s so painful, I want to come out of this pose, I don’t like this pose, how could anyone ever meditate in this way, on and on, the vrttis of the mind racing around as they do. Thing is I couldn’t move, cause my teacher was holding me in place, which made the frustration even worse and eventually it released with a few silent tears.
And yet, when the class was over I felt good. Good for pushing through and overcoming the pain.
Little did I know what was to come next.
Week 3 comes around with a sequence to open the ankles and shoulders and this time the tears did not remain silent, they turned into sobbing.
Picture this: With a belt strapped around my ankles, keeping them together, kneeling on a blanket, another blanket between my calves and thighs and sitting back onto my heels, we started a sequence to open the shoulders. This lasted for 20 minutes and the pain is difficult to describe if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Just try to kneel and sit on your heels without any props and see what happens: your feet will likely fall out to the side a bit and you’re not actually sitting on your heels with knees aligned straight forward, but a little off centre. And how long can you stay there before it hurts?
Having your ankles strapped and your thighs and knees immobilised with belts, you HAVE TO SURRENDER, there is no other way. But the pain gets extremely intense very quickly if this is the first time you are opening your ankles in this way. It was too much and when I asked to please come out of the pose (you could say I begged...) and guru ji would not let me, the sobbing started. Again, a limit in my physical body caused mental pain and this had to be released. I felt extreme relief when this class was over and the day was done.
One of my teacher‘s go to phrase during class would be: today’s pain is tomorrow’s happiness and he was right of course.
When we repeated the same ankle and shoulder sequence again the next morning, it was still tough, but much easier and the progress was immense and in that moment I understood that the struggle was mostly mental.
It was my choice. I can choose to run away from the pain and release the pose or I can choose to accept the pain, feel it, surrender to it, knowing that it will help me grow. This applies not only to asana practice, but everything in life. I chose to fully experience everything that life presents, knowing that regardless of what it is, I will learn and grow from it.
People did tell me that yoga teacher training transformed their lives, and now I get it!
Discovering the limits of your physical body is one thing, but the realisation that you have the power to push past those limits is profound! That combined with going deep into Patanjali’s yoga philosophy simply has to be transformative. There is no other way. I see the world so differently now compared to how I saw it a few years ago and I am absolutely loving my new perspective.
The things that happen when you surrender yourself to the divine flow of events is just wonderful. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity for this experience and the way things have started to pan out since completing the training is mind boggling too!
Today is day 11 post YTT and not only have I taught my first 90 minute yoga class the day before yesterday, I moved from the yoga school to this haven that’s called Antalya where I find myself surrounded once again by beautiful souls, people teaching and sharing their skills, so many things to learn, opportunities to teach and dive deeper into the world of yoga, meditation and tantra.
As I sit here writing this in a cafe called the Little Buddha, with beautiful view of Ganga Ji, soaking up her energy, being here right now, realising that this is my life right now, I am bursting with happiness and my heart is wide open.
I am excited to see what happens when life makes her next move.
Sending you all lots of love and peace,
Stay safe and stay healthy.