It’s hard to determine the level of change in my body from one day to the next. Change happens when you’re not looking, right? The way the moon rises, or the way a snail moves across a leaf. So things feel different from the inside—feet that are super-tight and in need of the little orange ball to stand on; hips that feel like something deep inside is moving, but I can’t be sure what it is—but what’s different? I can’t tell by looking, and I can’t see any difference.
Not a bad practice today, considering I was up late fighting with my husband until almost 11 pm. Fighting late at night with a loved one is not a formula for a good night’s sleep, and yet, I swam up from sleep at 5:15 this morning without feeling like I’d been wrecked. It was a strange fight, and it was hard for me to surrender because I had trouble seeing where I’d been wrong. Ultimately my relationship is more important than any bullshit; still in the heat of the moment it was hard for me to concede and pursue closeness.
So on the mat this morning, Angela Jamison’s phrase “radical f-ing acceptance” echoed through my head. I don’t quite know what she means, but I think it’s about a kind of chosen willingness to surrender to whatever is coming at you with equanimity.
I suck at equanimity. I have strong, vibrant opinions about everything. Taking something with equanimity, with an even temper, especially someone who’s angry with me, it’s just not what I’m good at.
More yoga, I guess.
After my second Mysore class, I can absolutely say that working with a group is a critical element to developing your practice. I love practicing at home, getting up in the dark quiet in the morning, but the collective energy and focus of a Mysore class is irreplaceable.
Having said that, it’s not like the class is bonding or anything. There’s not much camaraderie in the Friday morning class I’m attending. The vibe is more politely distant. I arrived early this morning, and two women were already seriously into their practice, having finished all the sun salutations and into the standing sequence. Their focus was so solid; they might not have even seen me enter the room. I wouldn’t mind making a new friend. This practice is a little intimidating, and I don’t feel like anyone else is rooting for me to succeed. I am rooting for me to succeed.
I need to write that on Post-Its and put them all over my house.
I noticed today that Ashtanga is quiet. The studio beside ours has a 6:30 Forrest yoga class, and at a point during my practice, I could hear the voice of the teaching rising and falling through the wall. It was distant and melodious, but also pronounced relative to the silence of the yoga room. I listened to the sounds around me: my own breath; the breath of my fellow yogis; footfalls on the mats. It struck me how little chatter or noise there is in Ashtanga.
At first this quality was really hard on me. I’d put on music or ambient nature sounds, whatever it would take to keep me on the mat. At this point, I think I’m still uncomfortable with the silence, but I’m trying to surrender to it.
Surrender made a bit more sense to me today. I was thinking about the difference between willing yourself into a pose or practice, and surrendering to it. There are so many poses in the Primary Series that I “can’t” do.
But what if, instead of wrestling myself into Marichiyasana A or B, I just tried it and softened into it and let my body do what it’s gonna do? What if, instead of gripping like crazy in Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, which is the fucking bane of my existence, I just put myself in the pose and did my best to surrender to it and see what happens?
Day 15 (& 14)
Resting is by far the hardest part of my physical/mental practice right now. Every Saturday, a significant part of my brain says to me, does this even count as practice? I mean, c’mon, you’re not doing anything. So I start to do stuff, and the rest day is not in the least restful.
Yes, I take a break from the physical practice. I sleep in until about six, six-thirty. I do something called a castor oil bath, which I’ll tell you about later. I have a luscious, tasty breakfast. But resting? Nah. On a rest day, I went to a college football game and sat in the sun—which you’re not supposed to do post-castor oil bath, BTW—and I screamed my lungs out. The first weekend, I threw a surprise birthday party for my husband and some of our friends. Nothing about these days has felt restful.
Based on what I’m learning, a rest day is an indispensable part of a yoga practice. Ashtanga is not easy yoga; it hurts, it’s hard work, and it forces you to confront your limitations—physical, emotional, psychic. A rest day, a day where you don’t tax your body, is important if you want to care for your joints, limbs and muscles, much less your sanity.
But resting is not a part of the Western way of life. Our culture doesn’t support rest or stillness or quiet as a part of everyday life—if you’re sick or pregnant maybe, but otherwise, work work work until you’re rich, dead, or both.
Maybe rest moves us toward a place of deep feeling, and that’s where the struggle is. Have you’ve seen this diatribe from Louis CK? I’d say that our world is full of objects that, by their nature and our excessive usage, prevent us from being fully present with stillness, solitude, silence, or even more painful sensations and emotions.
God knows we also have plenty of defenses and behaviors worked out to avoid feeling those things. We can blame it on our pocket computers all we like, but our hearts and minds would defend against feeling alone even without the gadgets.
In an interview, Saraswathi Rangaswamy, daughter of Ashtanga O.G. (that’s original guru, not original gansta) Pattabhi Jois, says to women who need to take rest, “will power! [You] have to use [your] willpower and rest anyway! With a strong mind you will not lose anything just because you do not do asana…Yoga is so much more than asana.”
So you heard it. I heard it. I’d think that savasana and rest days were observances of surrender: that you could just give in to the joy and delight of being still, and then remain present for whatever else is sure to follow behind it. Evidently though, it’s as much about will: willing myself to put down the phone, to say No, I can’t make it, to choose to be quiet and to be with myself in that silence, even if it feels lovely or scary or lonely or like a cheat. And I should build my life in a way where I can have a rest day.
Easier said than done. Next Saturday? Schedule’s already full. But I believe in rest, as hard as it is to find. I can make the space for it somehow.