In some ways my story is probably familiar to many yoga students and teachers. In short: physical injury and emotional scars led me to yoga. After nearly two decades of daily practice, the scars are still there – that is just part of life, right? – but my mind and body are integrated in ways I couldn’t have anticipated in my 20’s.
I believe all yoga is beneficial. For me, a traditional Ashtanga practice has transformed my life in ways it is difficult to convey in words. As I enter my 50’s, it is hard – impossible, actually – to imagine my life without my practice.
I should also confirm what many of you have heard or experienced: Ashtanga is difficult. By this I don’t just mean that this or that asana, this or that pranayama technique, not to mention the vinyasas between asanas, are difficult. Of course, many of these things are challenging. What I really mean is that it is so difficult to maintain a daily discipline when you are tired, sore, sad, busy, sick, injured or just feeling lazy.
For me, the benefits of this kind of regular practice have been profound. I have seen this approach transform my students’ lives too. People have come to me hobbled, weary, depressed, diseased, anxious and broken, and I have seen how daily practice works for them, just as it works for me. Sometimes it’s agonizing, and often, the progress is slow, almost imperceptible. But wait, and work. “All is coming,” as the founder of Ashtanga used to say.
I use a focused, compassionate, hands-on approach to teach the asanas, pranayama, drishti and other components of the Ashtanga method. Sometimes, as I watch my students break through barrier after barrier (especially the really big ones in their minds), it seems to me that the practice is working independently of me. In those moments, I feel awed by this practice and honoured by the trust and diligence of my students.
It is difficult to explain to people why I get up at 3:30am to practice before I teach. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I begin my day in the quiet of the city, when most are asleep. I have an hour and a half to myself before my students arrive. I don’t have to think, I just do my practice. There is a stillness in the morning hours that is sacred to me, and allows me to feel, see, and experience things that are far more difficult in the middle of the chaos and noise of a regular day.
I try not to be attached to the outcome of my daily practice. However, I’ve been committed to this practice long enough that I can see that in fact, the outcome is actually quite familiar. What I notice is one of the most consistent patterns in my life: whether I am tired, happy, sad, worried, fearful, distracted, sore, or confused, when I finish my practice my mood is positive, I feel healthy, strong, and even elated at times. My time on the mat in the morning allows me to be a better me, for myself and others, during the rest of the day.
This is what I would tell anyone considering a regular Ashtanga practice. It’s one of the most difficult, and most rewarding choices you will ever make.
Rachel was introduced to Ashtanga yoga in 2000 and very quickly became a daily practitioner. She began sharing the Ashtanga method and its benefits throughout the city of Victoria in 2001. After studying on her own for years, in 2010 she met her first teachers, Jeff Lichty and Harmony Slater. Under Jeff and Harmony’s instruction, Rachel’s practice was profoundly deepened. She was fortunate to be able to learn from them and teach in their shala for several years until they moved to Calgary and she opened her own shala in 2016. Rachel is the founder of Mysore Victoria Ashtanga Yoga School in Fernwood BC and is the only Authorized Ashtanga teacher currently teaching in Victoria, BC. Rachel takes a traditional approach to the Ashtanga system and her teaching but also incorporates a light-heartedness in her instruction, making it accessible for all. Her main goal is for her students to feel safe in every aspect of the practice of yoga.