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Why am I still practising?

An introspection by Charlene Chan

Two mornings a week, I get myself out of bed and to the shala at the break of dawn. 

The sun won’t rise until halfway through my practice, but that is exactly how I like it. At this time of the day, there is nothing I owe my attention to but the asanas (poses) and my breath. 

After more than a decade of practising, it’s easy to look back and realise how different my postures look and feel today. I have more strength and flexibility now than at any other point in my life. Yet what I love most about my practice are not the big strides, but the small things. 

To the casual observer, the Ashtanga Yoga practice might seem puzzling. 

Why follow the same sequence over and over, day in and day out? 

I’d like to think that there is clarity to be found in the repetition. 

My very first sun salutation might have left me unable to catch my breath, but thousands of them later, I have developed a little more mental space to reflect on my movement, and some experience to adjust and recentre, if necessary. It takes a great deal of awareness and focus to course-correct, but after all, I think that is the point.

My job asks that I win pitches, sell ideas, or prove a point. 

Amidst these frictions of daily life, the practice reminds me that sometimes, there is nothing to compare, and nothing to judge. I may take years to fold into a posture that comes easily to someone else, but the reverse is also true. (My long limbs? Great for forward bends! Headstands, not so much.) 

The only certainty is that we are all working towards our own ideal version of the practice. This knowledge helps me see others from a place of acceptance and understanding, rather than competition.

Falling is a common occurrence in the practice. And anyone who has crashed onto the wooden floorboards of our shala will know that falling is loud, and very public.

In my early attempts at a headstand, I remember Adeline saying to me: If you learn how to fall, you won’t need the wall. 

I see this as an invitation to learn to fall with grace and control, and to emerge from the other side of fear. There aren’t many places where our slips and stumbles are looked upon with the same kindness as they are in the yoga practice.

In my field of work, I often seek poetry in the written word. Through my practice, I try to cultivate the patience and generosity to see it in myself, too. 

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