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What Ashtanga Yoga Has Taught Me about Contentment and Change by Michelle Lei

Authored by Michelle Lei

What Ashtanga Yoga Has Taught Me about Contentment and Change

We want to be better than our current selves — this is a universal statement that is applicable pretty much to each one of us. However, not all of us act on our wills to undergo necessary changes. Why? Motivation, confidence and passion are factors that frequently appear in the discussion of transformation. Drawing from the lessons I learnt from the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, I discovered reasons that are far deeper. An impediment to any type of change at the individual level can relate to how much one knows about oneself, and the level of contentment with the present self. Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional and rigid system of yoga practice — all practitioners practice the same sequence of postures on the same days, usually five to six days a week. There are very precise requirements for each posture and its associate breath count; it is mainly a self-driven practice. Now, I want to share with you my journey of the discovery of contentment and change through Ashtanga Yoga, in order to provide some insight into what might have been preventing you from making a change within yourself, no matter how big or small.

The three big questions we need to ask ourselves to form a strategy of change are: where are we now, where do we want to go, and how do we get there. Most of us underestimate how important the first question is, and even more of us are quite reluctant to find out the answer. In short, we often, either consciously or unconsciously, refuse to fully understand ourselves. We believe we are faulty, inadequate, incomplete, weak — but how much do we really know? I think I am inflexible, but exactly how inflexible am I? Can I touch my toes with my fingers? Or can I go all the way and touch my shins with my nose? Most of us are too lazy to find out, or more likely, too afraid to find out. It doesn’t feel good to know how incompetent we really are. The truth is, facing our own vulnerabilities can be painful, but this is an unavoidable step in the process of change. In Ashtanga Yoga, I often have to confront my true self. Modifications are technically not allowed, so you are either doing a posture, or you are not. The posture says my head needs to touch the floor, so if it isn’t, it means I am not there yet. I cannot have my head hanging in mid-air and think that “well, I’m probably not as flexible as others, but I guess I’m still doing it.” This happens to me almost everyday, 90 minutes of constantly being reminded that I am not good enough, but at the same time, these are the precious 90 minutes completely devoted to myself only. The nuances in the movements and breath force me to pay 100 percent attention to my body. I have no other choice but to witness the events happening in my body and my mind. Over time, I have built up the mental strength to acknowledge my weaknesses. Consequently, I am not afraid to seek my weaknesses. I realized I am not as loving a person as I had hoped when I caught myself in uncaring or even selfish actions. I realized I am not a perfect minimalist when I wanted to buy new clothes. I nurtured bravery (yes, one is brave to admit one’s own downfalls), from the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, to discover all of my shortcomings in my walk of life. You don’t have to become an Ashtangi in order to learn how to face your true self, but you do need to be more open-minded, watch your thoughts and actions closely from a third-person’s perspective, and accept without judgements what you find out along the way. If these objectives do not translate to action items for you, choose an activity and do it with them in mind. Only when we are honest with ourselves, can we clearly see the whys and the hows of the change we want.

That does not mean that we need to beat ourselves up with negativity. Humans are interesting not because of all the things that they are, but because of all the things that they are not. Nevertheless, is it possible to be fully aware that I am not good enough, and be comfortable with it? I used to think that it is not — one must be uncomfortable, anxious in the face of his or her inadequacies. Therefore, we must be oblivious to our shortcomings, or we must be miserable if we want to correct all of our weaknesses. Yet, the real answer is: it is absolutely possible. When I just started practicing Ashtanga Yoga, I would get very frustrated. The improvements I sought did not come as soon as I expected. Nevertheless, I chose to trust the system. I never practice more and I never practice less, despite the anxiety I have in my mind. After a while, these magic moments started to emerge. Suddenly, I would be able to get into a certain pose that I had never been able to for a long time on a completely normal day. Obviously, it was not my frustration that grew the fruit of my practice. It was my actions, my consistent practice, that led to it. And since I practice almost everyday, why would I choose to suffer mentally?

Unsurprisingly, I have been making progress since I learnt to become content with my body. You may think that I am able to do so because my yoga practice is relatively isolated from the rest of my life. It is a different battle for a person who’s lost their job and will struggle to provide for their family. The pressure for them to improve themselves is far more immediate and substantial. It’s true — I cannot overstate the influence of my yoga practice. However, if I am able to apply the same mindset to the rest of my life, being content with the status quo, while taking all the actions to make a change, the time I spend in my life feeling positive will be more than those who choose to struggle through their process of change. You know what you need to do, and the key is to do it. As humans, we impulsively attempt to rationalize everything, but happiness shouldn’t be one of them. No one will point at you and challenge your contentment because of who or what you are. Happiness is always within reach.

At this very moment, we can only be what we are now. We cannot change it regardless of our attitude towards our current selves. If for whatever reason we want to be different than who we are, we must first have a thorough and non-judgemental understanding of ourselves — to go further, we must know how far we’ve come. We might uncover some unpleasant truths — we might not have gone far. But we can choose to undergo the process of change with a sincere feeling of content with the present — we can change course in our path of life with joy. This is the type of progressive and sustainable change that I would recommend to those of you who are perfectly not good enough.

This blog is the #6 of the twenty-five blogs that we are publishing daily, one blog each day from Jan 7th until 31st — written by twenty-five of our members, sharing topics regarding “Change” — to celebrate the official change of our new company name, from HDE to HENNGE on Feb 1st.

“The me of today and the me of tomorrow are living in two different worlds.”

For more information about the change in our company name:https://www.hde.co.jp/en/about-us/trade-name-changed.html

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