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Ashtanga, for me, feels like I am home. I love the flow, each movement synchronized with every breath, and how these two profound human elements become intertwined from the very first Surya Namaskara. Standing at the top of my mat, I savour the feeling of my toes spreading across the mat and my hands joined energetically ready to begin. Out loud, the opening chant, I feel how the words vibrate through the space around me and set the tone for this time I have for myself, for stillness and the care of my soul. 

It has been so long that I no longer need to think about what is coming next. All I have to do is notice, and these days I really do notice, where there is tension, tightness and how my mind races through a thousand thoughts interspersed with complete silence. This for me is the true essence of yoga and it is hardly possible that I could stand before a room of people and teach them Trikonasana if I did not have this. 

For a long time, I believed that it was always necessary to follow the guide, to practice standing and seated whilst jumping back and through, every day. I felt as though if I were to change things or move differently that I would be breaking the rules somehow, or that failing to do so would impair my strength or diminish my willpower. The yoga world is not exempt from negative aspects and whilst its ultimate goal is to unite everyone in a collective consciousness, it has often times caused, and still causes, divide whilst evoking a sense of us against them, man against woman, nature against nurture, and sadly in the Ashtanga lineage, causing hurt and pain along the way. 

It can take time to let go of patterns which are not serving us, to allow a sense of honesty to surface, about all the things we are doing that are leading to and adding to our own suffering. It is also an uncomfortable test, to acknowledge this and to begin to do things in a different way. Yet, changing the way I practiced yoga led to a shift in every other facet of my life and in the way that I held my body. There was more freedom, more fluidity, heightened sensitivity, a profound letting go and a new found intuitive insight towards my natural cycles. 

I used to think that doing yoga every day meant moving in the same way, constant exertion and following the rules. This view certainly did not come from my teacher, but perhaps it stemmed from the books I read, the social media I followed or the sense that this rigidity was the only way and that I should adhere to the teachings of so many in history before me. There are many deep and transformative reasons as to why this method is so revered, yet, particularly as a woman, I needed something else. Yoga is my daily ritual, yet on the days where I feel more creative energy flowing, my practice becomes spontaneous – no planning, no thinking, only allowing my body to move me – shaking, circling, undulating through intuitive movement. I have come to know when there is a need to go deeper, to hold for longer, choosing to restore or to take myself to the earth and allow whatever comes up to surface, staying a while and sensing as space begins to open and release. Some days, all I do is lie on my back and breathe and other days, it is Ashtanga. 

Ashtanga is where I began and where I always return. It is the practice that found me, that taught me asana and breath and held me within a community at a time when I needed it the most. Yet it is only a name, a word and no one will come knocking at my door if I choose to do it a different way. These days I move slowly, sometimes stepping, sometimes jumping. Some days it is long and just the way I read in the books, yet other days condensed with few vinyasa and a long savasana. It is just what I need, when this is what I need. It is always the same and never the same and however I do it, it is always my choice. 

“…the form and content of our practice needs to reflect where we are in our lives…If we do not trust who we are in the present, we will forever create a practice for someone who does not exist.” ~ Donna Farhi

© Hannah Laura Lee

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