The practice is the teacher

On a weekday morning, if you walk into Indianpolis’ Cityoga around 7:30 AM, you can find me on the floor in a puddle of sweat, thighs over my shoulders, ankles crossed at the crown of my head, desperately trying to clasp my hands behind my back.  Amanda Markland, my teacher, is usually squatting behind me, pulling my arms toward each other and calling out instructions.  “Now slide your head forward.  Squeeze the legs!  Keep squeezing. Lengthen the spine.  Breathe. Relax your shoulders.  Relax!  You have to relax.”

Amanda Markland Supta Kurmasana

My teacher, showing you what it’s supposed to look like.

I’ve been working on Supta Kurmasana for almost a year.  For those who aren’t familiar with Ashtanga, the practitioner learns the sequences a single pose at a time, only learning the next one when the current pose is mastered to the satisfaction of his or her teacher.  Until I ran into Supta K, I was receiving new postures every couple of weeks.  Maybe a month or two at most.

But my body refuses to make the shape of Supta Kurmasana.  At first it was funny.  Then it was frustrating.  Then it was infuriating.  I found myself Googling “supta kurmasana is impossible” and asking for advice from internet message boards.  I wanted to move on.  I wanted the next freaking pose, already, and I wanted my teacher to give it to me before she left for her three-month trip to Mysore, India.

She didn’t.  Before she left, she urged me to treat Supta Kurmasana as if I may never move on.  She told me to let go. I was forced to sit in my impatience with no hope of receiving the next pose until she returned.  It was the best thing she could have done for me.  It gave my practice focus, took the pressure off of me.  I reached peace with my difficulties in Supta K.  It didn’t matter if I bound my hands or not.  It mattered that I practiced the asana as best as I could every day.  I was proud of how well I’d let go of my attachment to moving on in the series.  When Amanda got back, I was certain she’d move me forward even though I still couldn’t bind my hands behind my back.  But she didn’t.

I realized that my attachment wasn’t fully severed yet.  My ego was still pose-hungry.  I had to completely let go.  My only other option would be to tell my teacher to go to hell and teach myself the next pose, but that goes against every tradition I believe in.  So instead I struggle into the closest approximation of the posture that I can make each day, telling myself that Ashtanga is practice, not performance.  That I can be content with my practice as it is.  Maybe it’s working.  I’ve started letting go in other areas of my life.  I don’t have to get in the last word when my husband and I disagree.  I don’t need to point out every time that I’m right at the office.  I can leave the dishes in the sink overnight sometimes.

Ashtangis say “The practice is your teacher.”  I don’t think I had the opportunity to really learn from my practice until Supta K kicked my asana.  I have a feeling it isn’t done with me yet.  All I can do is be open to whatever else it has to teach me.

Check out Kino MacGregor’s awesome Supta Kurmasana tutorial (complete with adorable frangipani in her hair).

2 thoughts on “The practice is the teacher

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