Some days, the yoga is good to you. Your breath comes and goes like the surf on a Hawaiian beach, all smooth and easy, revealing to you the mystery of your internal world, the dark caverns of your heart; you take poses with that perfect blend of strength and ease: your Virhabadrasana is proud and strong, your Padangusthasana is stable and centered, in Lotus you are the very epitome of equanimity.
This was not one of those days.
From the first inhale, I couldn’t shut my brain off. My mind was so mouthy, all I could think about was a fight I’d recently had with a friend about what black is or is not (these conversations are not uncommon, but they never get any easier). Also on my mind was my mother: how badly she hurt me the last time I spoke to her more than a year ago, what it would be like the next time I saw her, if ever I did.
I was so angry on my mat. I flung myself in and out of poses in sun salutations without any meditative peace at all, barely conscious of my breath. I was angry at the sequence for being so damn hard, and angry at my body for not being better at it, despite the fact that I’ve just recently started practicing daily again. Angry at the piece of skin on my left big toe for peeling up and hurting, making it impossible for me to hold a downward dog. Angry at the bandage I put on said big toe in order to continue my practice because it wouldn’t stay put. Angry at myself for walking off the mat—twice—in the middle of my practice for bullshit like a sore toe. Angry at my pride when I realized that the reason I’d left the First Aid kit open in the kitchen was so that my husband would discover it and express concern because I wanted his attention. Angry angry angry.
An hour passed and felt like five. I was wresting my body in and out of forward folds without any compassion, without even being present: only being angry at how distracted I was and sweating and puffing through poses that were more difficult than I remember.
At the end of the practice, I should have been sitting lying on my mat and listening to the in and out of my breath. Savasana, aka Corpse Pose, is my favorite and most challenging pose, even though it just looks like you’re lying there for ten minutes doing nothing. Don’t let it fool you: the goal is to quiet your mind which seems utterly impossible, especially at the end of a crummy practice. Instead of resting, I thought, wow, my ego’s really slapping me in the face today. I am not in any possession of peace or centeredness: I am simply one woman with holes in the seams of her pants and a Band-Aid on one toe who wants everyone she knows to be more like her. Everything I read about yoga, not just this physical practice, but all of yoga, describes it as a practice that rids you of illusion. Sounds like painful work. Still, even after such an inauspicious start, I’m committed. If I can let go of my attachments—large and small—maybe this practice will get easier.
I didn’t sleep well at all last night, so 5:15 am hit me like a ton of bricks this morning, so hard in fact, that I reset my alarm for 5:35. When I finally started practicing, close to six, I felt like sludge was running through my veins. It was really difficult. At one point, I told myself, “All I have to do is this sun salutation…All I have to do is this standing forward fold…All I have to do is this Triangle pose.” I even said it to keep myself on the mat when the urge struck me to tie up my curtains for no good reason.
There was a point, though, when the momentum of the practice began to take over. I didn’t have to think, just let me get through this pose. I just did it. Of course, that didn’t last long. Then I just went back into willing myself into the practice.
I feel self-conscious about the amount of thinking I’m doing about this practice, relative to how much practice I’m doing. 99% practice, 1% theory, and all that. I’ve got it backwards. In the Christian tradition, when you fast, the scriptures say you shouldn’t’ talk about it. The idea is not to draw attention to your own piety and self-righteousness, not to be seen doing good. You don’t want people to look at you and think, gee, what a holy, devout person you must be for fasting. Yay, you. I wonder if the principle’s similar here. You know: put your asana where your mouth is.
Still, talking about the practice is not without its uses, especially for a verbal person like me. Language is a place where I am comfortable, a place where I learn in the context I live in—I live in a place of language.
There’s a chorus of Ashtangis somewhere who rise up posing in response to this, to communicate, “That’s exactly why you should shut up! The whole point is for get still and quiet and let the practice show you what it has for you!”
I’m processing with language because that’s what I know how to do. I want my physical practice to be sincere, and my language to be a small reflection of it, that is somehow helpful to someone else.
My first Mysore class since I started this project, and man, I am feeling my ego! It was so hard to stay inside my own practice and not gawk at the other practitioners. I wasn’t comparing myself MOST of the time—but there was a point when I realized I was still in standing poses when all the other practitioners were on the floor; and I finished earlier than lots of people. There was a woman I couldn’t take my eyes off, a bit shorter than me and without all the Lulu fancy wear.
Her practice was gorgeous. She bound into Marichiyasana B and D effortlessly, and on her way into Bujapidansana, she held a beautiful Firefly pose. I had to keep telling myself, my practice is my practice; her person is hers. I felt lighter and cleaner after practice today, in a way I haven’t before. I wonder if it has to do with sharing energy with other students, or with how warm the room is because we were all practicing together.
I hope that the people I meet taking Ashtanga classes will greet me with some kind of warmth and friendliness, or at least more than polite indifference. But maybe it doesn’t matter much if I make a new friend in class. II have this perception that Ashtangis are serious and focused and sometimes quite flaky. It’s an unfair perception, but still. It’s important that I don’t get stuck in the yoga groupthink, and start competing with others and pushing so I will fit in. I don’t want my practice to take on some kind of edge; it won’t be sustainable. I want to position myself to gain the most that I can from the practice.
During class today, I remembered that the primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa, or yoga therapy. Generally, because the series is so full of forward bends and hip openers, I imagine that the cleansing is internal, toxins stored in tissues, internal organ stuff. I wonder what cleansing is going to mean for me—crappy moods, a change in my body, improved (or not) health—I’m trying not to have too many expectations, to be open and see what happens.