"I knew that in the Ashtanga community hard work and dedication were well respected, regardless of the physical results."
I am often grateful that I came to Ashtanga as such an average student. I could not do most of the fancy things that I saw on that first trip to Mysore. My arms were too short and my body too soft and feminine for the work of the asana. At first I resented being such a girl about it. I wanted to be one of the compactly muscled practitioners who didn’t cry about feeling fat and weak; I didn’t want to have broad hips or have to take ladies’ holidays. I wanted the potential to be a powerhouse, even if I wasn’t there yet.
For a long time I didn’t think a male-equivalent physical aptitude in the practice was possible for me, so I settled for being the best student I could. I knew that in the Ashtanga community hard work and dedication were well respected, regardless of the physical results. My mind and my heart are open to the potential for the vulnerability of surrender that makes the practice powerful. What my body lacked in the physical realm, my heart made up for in a willingness to surrender. My soft body gave me no choice but to embrace the more traditionally feminine role of deference to authority. I could not succeed without guidance, so I asked to be shown the way, rather than try to sort it out on my own.
"Facing these struggles has taught me more than an easy jump back ever would have."
Facing these struggles has taught me more than an easy jump back ever would have. I know that my body will always be female and feminine, but I can still teach it to do what the men can do even though it’s harder for me. I know that I will always have to rest during my cycle, but I know that this part of my life is honestly and openly acknowledged by my community without the taboo is carries in most of the world. I know that students may doubt my ability to teach Karandavasana because I have slim shoulders, but it doesn’t take away Sharath’s blessing to share my experience.
The balance of masculine and feminine that the practice requires is incredibly beautiful. The female body must become as strong and controlled as a male body. The male body must become as supple and gentle as the female body. While the practice requires very masculine determination and effort of will, it also demands a more feminine vulnerability and surrender. This is so much the case that the lines blur into a beautiful, harmonious balance of individuality. Each practitioner finds their own push and pull of the male and female, each creating a unique combination of traits.
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Zoë Ward is a level 2 authorized student of Sharath Jois, having studied at the KPJAYI yearly since 2010. She has been honored to work closely with Sharath as his assistant in the main Shala, as well as assisting her western teachers, Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. Zoë currently lives and teaches in Charlottesville Virginia where she writes, skateboards, and enjoys the lack of anonymity that comes with living in a small town. You can read more of her writing at yogazoe.com