by Ranjana Thomas
Main takeaway: You build confidence by keeping the promises you make to yourself.
Growing up, I rebelled against discipline. Our home was ruled by “NO. Because I said so” and school was a series of punishments anytime I didn’t do exactly as everyone else. As a result, I decided that discipline was oppressive and horrible, and this was the story I believed.
As an adult, my goal was to have fun, enjoy “freedom”, and avoid discipline as much as possible!
Then in my 30’s fate guided me to an Ashtanga yoga class. And everything changed.
PRACTICE BUILDS CONFIDENCE
The Ashtanga method of yoga is a series of poses done in a precise order with everything from your breath to your attention and eye-gaze in each pose directed precisely. It is about using deliberate breathing and steady gaze to stay engaged in the physical practice. Discipline was everything.
My initial days of yoga teacher training in Ashtanga were ridden with anxiety and inability to focus. I was the oldest person in my YTT group and felt so self-conscious about my lack of flexibility. I instinctively wanted to walk out and declare that I would not follow this regimented practice. When I convinced myself to stay (I was not about to accept defeat!) my body began to distract me with profound aches and pains that made me think I would ruin my spine, knees or wrists beyond repair.
Part of the training included studying the ancient Sanskrit teachings in the philosophy of yoga. In one of these classes, we delved into the sage Patanjali’s illumination on mental purification and resilience. The Sanskrit word he uses here is “tapas“, which is disciplined effort.
Tapas refers to the ability to cultivate and sustain the capacity for putting in the effort to overcome a challenge or setback. For me this was a new way to think about discipline, and a key breakthrough in my experience!
Showing up on my mat on time for every session and following the instructions for the physical poses brought me a youthful energy to my body and lightened the burden of the desire to complain or quit from my mind. The clear structure of the Ashtanga practice , with precise instructions to consciously direct my gaze and my movement gave me an experience of liberation that I had never felt before. The hours in between the grueling morning and evening sessions became an enjoyable time of studying philosophy, meditating, learning pranayama (breathing techniques) and connecting with my fellow trainees (the age gap melted away in the shared struggle!).
YOGA FOR INDEPENDENCE AS WE GET OLDER!
I no longer teach a full Ashtanga practice, but I still follow the quintessential principles of breath-integrated movement with repeated asana sequences in this modified Ashtanga practice in Strong EnCore, designed to be practiced by anybody working to rediscover their strength and avoid injury. The goal is to experience a sense of freedom, strength and resilience that enables us to overcome mental and physical challenges of getting older.