Today was the final day of a weeklong intensive Mysore Style training with Peter Sanson. One of the original Ashtangis here in the west who lives in New Zealand, it was an honour to be guided by this man.
Training with Peter has been very confronting for me. It has raised many questions – all of which I have no definite answers for – and it has left me with a far deeper expression of compassion toward myself than I’ve ever experienced.
Peter has been practicing in Ashtanga yoga since 1985, so we can confidently assume this man has some phenomenal knowledge. To be in the presence of such a devoted practitioner is something else. We are surrounded by teachers who have completed weeklong teacher trainings and now call themselves yoga teachers – but the reality is, these people could not possibly know what it means to practice let alone teach yoga. And unfortunately yoga centers pumping out these courses are not helping the epidemic of missed opportunity. With back pockets and reputation commonly at the forefront of most teacher training courses (lets not beat around the bush here), these generic courses have sadly become more about the business of yoga. No student can possibly know themselves or what it means to practice yoga in a week, or a month, or even a year. What is yoga to these people? Any fool can get a teacher training certificate in yoga, but it takes something special to actually practice and experience the art of yoga. This man, Peter Sanson, is the epitome of yoga and what it means to live the life of a yogi. Humble, present, skilled, compassionate, genuinely non-judgmental, and excited about the possibilities the practice of yoga can bring each and every day. And this has not been achieved through an express course, I can assure you.
To be under Peter’s skilled eye, over the past week I've felt things I’ve never felt before. Some things good, others not so good. And each day I’ve spent quite some time pondering why I felt a certain way, what it meant, what did I do differently, what could I do differently next time, how does this translate into my life? As you all know, I’ve always considered yoga to be symbolic of how we live our lives and let’s just say my Type A personality was far from concealed from this man. Our first encounter is with Peter’s hands around my waist in preparation for drop backs. The only words spoken are by him and they are cues to guide me through the next posture - “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, drop hands to the floor…. one, two, three, four…. inhale, come up”. Peter told me I was on a mission – he could feel the tension, determination and pride I was holding in my physical and emotional body. It was like I was unconsciously wanting to prove something to him about my capabilities to the point where he almost knew more about me through this single touch than I knew about myself. He could feel the strain I was inevitably causing myself, not so much in my physical body, but in my mind.
As I drove home from that initial class, my clothes soaked in sweat, my eyes heavy and my body tired, I thought over and over about the comment that I was on a mission. What was I on a mission for? Where was I going? Why did he feel this?
It took asking myself some uncomfortable questions before I came to a possible answer. Whilst I can never know his true intention behind the comment, I chose to seek my own conclusion about what this means for me. That for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt broken, lesser than or not good enough. Chronic pain in my back coupled with sciatica leaves me feeling frustrated and disappointed in my body – on most days. I work hard to feel differently and that is a huge part of my journey, and the reality of it. So when I had the opportunity to be in the presence of such a master of yoga, I felt the need to not only prove to him that I can “do it”, but also prove to myself that I am worthy of being in his presence by “doing it”. Now that was some heavy, neurotic stuff right there! And I’m going to need to sit with this for much longer than a week – more likely the rest of my life – to try and unravel and let go of these feelings. But this is the reality of it. This is what yoga is teaching me, is showing me. These darker parts of myself that I must accept, befriend and keep under control.
As my week continued with Peter, I worked hard to practice compassion toward myself more and more. I set very high standards for myself and I really need to let that shit go. Because the reality is, yoga is not about how we look in a posture, or achieving a posture. It is about how we feel in a posture. How we experience it and what we clear out of the physical and emotional body in doing so. This is yoga. And I am so grateful to this wonderful man for reminding me of this.
Next time you step onto your mat – let go of the idea of what yoga should be, and just let it Be.
Big hugs and so much love,
Photos courtesy of @AshtangaYogaMelbourne, @tinainserra, Peter Sanson