The room was hot and even though I had been sweating through the last hour of my practice, my spine was stiff and I could feel my low back pinching and resisting. I struggled to stand up from my backbend and then stood there a while hesitating before I tried to drop back. When I did, I felt only fear on the way down, and let out something between a gasp and a grunt from the physical and emotional discomfort I was experiencing.
Normally I love this part of the practice; the heart opening, back bending, giving myself to the experience with full abandon to see how deep I can go.
Not so last Friday morning.
I stayed in that urdhva dhanurasana a while, trying to settle and ground myself. I knew why I was feeling scared and emotional; the list was long and I had already been mentally itemizing my entire life’s worth of shortcomings and personal failures throughout the entire practice. A whole bunch of stuff I needed to release was coming to the surface.
Right at that moment I felt Saraswathi come to the front of my mat.
“You no come up?” she asked.
I took a deep breath and dug my feet down to feel into my legs. With a struggle and hearing myself make another strange groan, I managed to stand and found myself looking straight into Saraswathi’s eyes.
There are moments in life when you have no choice but to face your truth, and I knew this was one of them.
“Pain,” I admitted to her as I gestured to my low back while my face grimaced with the uneasiness of knowing I was about to lose it in front of Guruji’s daughter.
“Okay, you just do half,” she advised and supported me by placing her hands on my waist. I attempted to bend back halfway, but even that triggered a shooting pain. I half-grunted again and stood back up, knowing she now saw the tears I could no longer hide.
“Still pain?” she asked me. I nodded, and she told me to sit down for a forward fold.
I started to sob a bit while Saraswathi pressed on me to counter the back bending, and she said, “Not crying, breathing,” as if to remind me I had a choice between the two.
After a few minutes, I went to the upstairs room where some yogis were finishing up their closing postures. I sat in a forward fold for longer, still trying to gain control over my breath when Saraswathi came to check on me.
She spoke to me with kindness and compassion, her concern genuine like a mother looking after a hurt child.
There was no shaming, no guilt tripping, no “you should know better”. She told me it was okay to rest when I wasn’t feeling well, and that she would help me again when I felt better.
While I finished resting there, the flood of stories racing through my head all throughout practice that morning returned.
But of them all, it dawned on me that the story I’ve become most attached to throughout the years is the one where I tell myself that I’m alone. Alone in the world, alone in making decisions and solving problems, alone even in experiencing the most beautiful moments of my life. For as long as I can remember I have been my own best friend and my own worst enemy.
I could go into great depth about how losing my only sibling at a young age was the start of this story. I could elaborate for ages on how my history of trauma, depression and PTSD have exacerbated this narrative and been the cause of all my failed relationships. I could tell you how being alone has been my preferred option and always my choice, because if no one else was there with me, there would be no one else to hurt me or leave me.
But what I have found as an Ashtangi, is that we are never really alone. When you devote yourself to this practice, you become part of a community of yogis who will ask how you’re doing, check on you when they don’t see you in the shala, and offer their hugs and words of love on and off the mat when they sense you need it.
I’ve joked that Mysore is like the United Nations of Yoga. Yogis from all over the world make the pilgrimage to be here, to devote themselves to svadhyaya (self-study), the removal of avidya (ignorance), and to practice all eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga – not just asana.
But after being here a few weeks, I’m starting to think that practicing in Mysore is more like eating at the dinner table with your Ashtanga relatives. And because no family is perfect and we recognize that we’re all a little dysfunctional, there’s a reason why Ashtangis coined the term Mysore Meltdown.
This place – and this practice – will break you and then make you.
Ashtanga forces you to face your truth, identify the impurities that cause your suffering, and still hold space for you to develop into the best Yogi you can become. It’s certainly not for the weak of heart and mind, but if you do it with the right intention, it will definitely make you stronger, more humble, and help to heal whatever you need it to.
While no one else can do the work for you, it is incredibly comforting to know that there’s a whole wide world of yogis who have also gone through something similar and will be there for you when the practice gets rough.
Turns out there’s magic in the meltdown.