I spent the entire past week indoors, in a hoodie and sweatpants, eating food that did not need preparation and was mostly white in color. The only thing I omitted from this spiral was booze because I did not have any and did not want to go outside to get some. I did some variations of 10 to 15 minute asanas every day, but only so I would feel that I was still part of a yoga community and I could comment on shit online without being a hypocrite. Sometimes a human gets slightly depressed, in the same way one can catch a cold, a skin rash, or a yeast infection. It passes, you feel better, and you get on with it. So I am going out early tomorrow to partake of communal practice. Kind of bloated, kind of stiff, but less frowny, less pouty, and way less despondent. Looking forward to feeling positively giddy about any old thing, which I must admit is a tall order during this ridiculous time of year. One thing I do look forward to every year is early led morning practice on Thanksgiving day, it never get old. Speaking about community, I also could not help notice through out this week that most Ashtanga practitioners and teachers who I admire and respect seldom get drawn into the back and forth that occurs during recurring bursts of online Ashtanga ranting/bashing. They seem to never take the bait ( and I do mean bait) to join the fray. That silence speaks in calm, steady, easy volumes to me.
Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are to communicate with people who don’t even know that you are reading what they write in a comment to someone else with whom you share an online relationship with. Many of you probably read a widely shared post that included the very entertaining word “Ashtangorexia” along with many other circumstances that can go badly if we squeeze any physical or spiritual practice so hard that we choke it to death. In a response to one of those shares, a wise commenter brought up that during the many years of maintaining a consistent six day a week practice, she counts as practice the times when she is only able to do more or less 20 minutes of sun salutations and maybe some standing. This comment has helped me over the last few days. I was traveling over the weekend, and missed Friday practice, when I read this comment. I later saw a related comment from my travel warrior ashtangi friend K who mentioned that practice can happen when we decide the conditions are perfect as they are, so that helped me do a respectable little practice on the hotel rug that Sunday morning, a travel day filled with heartbreak and emotional pain. I went to the shala yesterday, and as expected I started leaking on and off during a hip opening sort of workshop led session. Today, I am still leaking without any warning while pumping gas and also after passing my husband’s childhood home after voting, So I practiced at home, while leaking, just standing and closing, gently. You can’t catch Ashtangorexia if you’ve got challenges that cannot be solved even while having lots of time, food, or money.
Go ahead and google that to see what shows up. Yeah. What does not show up is the blog of this lovely Canadian kid (I’m going to be 57 and I don’t think she is 30 yet) http://exuberantbodhisattva.blogspot.com/
You all know that I have not met a Canadian I do not like. Anyway this Bodhisattva called Erica is quite open and frank about her health challenges, about her relationship with her partner, and will pretty much tell you anything you ask to know or did not ask :). She is now studying in Mysore and if you enjoy Mysore Dispatches, hers are generous and quirky. What she is not, is a poster child for Ashtangi disfunction. She is probably what I will call “on the spectrum” I propose that all those concerned that traditional Ashtanga yoga worsens or affects body image, distortion, narcissism, eating disorders, OCD, self mutilation, eceteraecetera, try and remember that yes maybe a person with those challenges is practicing in a room surrounded by others that are still trying to touch their toes without bending their knees even though they come every day. There are others who decided to ditch the vinyasa between sides, and that is between them and no one else. There are others who are dancers and athletes, and there are the old ones and the fat ones who do not skip vinyasas (don’t look at me, I am old and fat and skip most of the time). Please do not out a blogger or a person trying to become a magazine contributor as evidence of someone who has been mangled by Ashtanga, just because you are fascinated with the subject of yoga and make your livelyhood (or part of it) writing about it. And I like reading about it you know? Until it becomes lets cover all the surfaces of the planet in bouncy surfaces so nobody gets hurt.
Aside from this being the title of one of my top 5 favorite films, it is probably the sensation that I chase over and over throughout the days and months in which I have been waking up with shocking reliability but under appreciating the fact. Being suddenly thrilled about whatever is happening at the moment very occasionally does happen while you notice. It is unforgettable (hopefully() and vividly remembered (also hopefully). For me it has happened most frequently surrounded by nature, or by people who are somehow having the exact same experience, although none of us verbalize it. Both are vividly intense but the latter one is truly undescribable. It is the original “you had to be there” and I can count those on the fingers of one hand. Then there are days like today, when everything that happens, particularly the most trivial aspects, are just perfect, desired, acceptable and satisfying. Decided to sleep longer? No problem. That means truly not finding any reason for it to be otherwise. Asana with a possible pinched shoulder nerve? perfect way of having an authentic non-striving meditative practice. If you are alive in the North East I do not need to describe the kind of day and what it feels to be outdoors right now feels like. For someone who spends her time daydreaming about how it would be to live in places she visits, feeling just full of gratitude and satisfaction for standing right where I am, feels overwhelmingly great. And all it takes is pretty much saying yes to whatever happens next. Sorry, I mean now. See how simple and how difficult it is to stay there?? My teacher likes to repeat the phrase “equal standing” during led practices. Tomorrow, daytime and night time will have equal standing. Maybe that is the vibe I am sensing today. Happy new moon.
That statement is probably the most important thing I remember Louise Ellis saying to us during last weekend’s workshop. Whatever intention, resolution or promise you made to yourself in regard to your practice, you must sustain it not with force but with conviction, faith, and time. Everyone knows I try to ditch Intro to second series whenever I remember which Friday it is, because it leaves me rattled and sometimes frankly hostile. Today was not one of those days when I remembered, and even though this time I thought I was not emotionally taxed I did manage to annoy me knee enough to not want to bend it at all. How did I do that? By being aggressive. Aggressive how? By applying force against the wall to stretch my quads in preparation for Bhekasana even though I had already felt discomfort during Krounchasana. Now I have a swollen knee that I am icing hoping it is good enough to dance a bit at a wedding tomorrow, and strong enough for the Climate March on Sunday. Another important thing that Louise said was that Ashtanga is not a self improvement project. It is a spiritual practice with beneficial side effects, but it is not a fix-transform-version 2.0 more powerful improved body mind project. It is also not an escape, she said. If you subtract aggressive discipline/enforcement, self improvement delusions, and other external motivations for practice, it is no wonder that as Richard Freeman says, that when you get really good is when you quit.
I’ll make this short because I’m hungry and exhausted, but what else is new?? It is cold as you know what here in Arkansas. I packed for 88 degree weather, which is how I found the best thrift shop I’ve ever been to. God bless college towns. If you are ever in Fayetteville visit Cheap Thrills. I saw Leonard dresses from the 70’s (those are Emilio Pucci inspired prints) for 30 bucks. Not my size and I don’t wear prints but still. Okay, about the yoga. If you know Kristen Albertson who owns and runs Ashtanga Yoga Fayetteville you already know she is a delight. Calm, steady, and ready to laugh after getting off a plane after a grueling business trip and ready to greet everyone with coconut water fresh juice and good for you fancy snacks. Feel so lucky to have made friends with this one. Louise Ellis is beautiful. I need to mention that because it is distracting and because it is the testament to the benefits of many decades of Ashtanga practice. She doesn’t just glow, she sort of vibrates. So. Mysore practice in a small room 12 students, pretty darn wonderful. Yin practice in the afternoon? I have done restorative yoga in the past which I love. This Yin yoga makes a liar out of you if you have ever dared to say you can stay in the present moment. Which brings me to the title of this post. This is my second day of driving having no idea where I’m going. I eventually arrive but it feels pretty awful to be lost driving a car that is not yours. I got a traffic ticket already, but I am doing better with the feeling of having no idea of when I will arrive. Which is sort of like Yin yoga, you have no idea when the pose will end. Fortunately Louise has the most melodious voice, AND she imparts such valuable information/1% theory while you are holding the pose that it helps focus the mind, but darn do I wish I had pen and paper to write down everything she said. More of that tomorrow because I have to jot things down while I remember and I am starving. Tomorrow old school led with full vinyasa.
I don’t know when I decided that “correct method” was arriving, unpack/set up quickly, stand up straight, dedicate, chant, go! I considered any variation of that was”faffing”. While at home with no audience to behave in front of, I developed a sort of sitting practice where I told myself that starting was all that was required, that I could go as slow or as fast as I wanted to, that I could stop at any point that I wanted to, Or just sit and breathe in front of the candle the whole time if that is what I wanted. Don’t you know that I got up and practiced more consistently than during any other time since I started half a dozen years ago. Yesterday was my first day back at the shala, and it was like the first day of school, very enthusiastic and good. So enthusiastic that I messed up my problem left knee during a simple vinyasa. Today, Three different vehicles of varying sizes tried to cut me off in the scant 20 minutes it takes to get to Georgetown. I arrived with my heart in my throat. So I sat down and did the sitting thing until my heart went back to my chest. I think I am going to sit down and breathe for a little bit before standing up from now on.