Pathologizing Ashtanga

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.

Being There

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.

Strength Is Not Aggressive

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.

Comfort Zones

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.

Habits From Summer

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.

Communion

Like communing with community, not the catholic sacrament.  I really wish I could attend the festivities at The Broome Street Temple today. I have been practicing by myself for two months and really miss the silent presence of my fellow ashtangis. It kills me that I will be just a few blocks away celebrating one of my niece’s birthday, and as a family we are circling the wagons for the long haul. Any opportunity to huddle together is now precious. I bet that this evening’s puja is nicely attended but not elbow to elbow because labor day weekend.  Gotta say that those lonely 108 Om Gam Ganapatayeh Namaha’s did put quite a strong wind on my sails this morning. Below is maybe my favorite  Illustration.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi

yoga-dharma

Technicalities

This question always rolls around my brain like a marble whenever my practice is not making me pant (with a closed mouth of course) and the sweat is not stinging my eyes for whatever reason. How come I was given additional poses when still after 6 years of practice I cannot bind in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana? On either side. Same with Ardha Baddha PP, which I sort of had but it went away sometime around the end of 2012. Anyway, I always hear that when you go to Mysore you get stopped at the asana you cannot perform in it’s full expression. Doesn’t that mean that I should be doing just standing until I somehow get my act together? I want to make it clear that I am in no way second guessing my teacher, who probably knows my practice better than I do, since she can be more objective and has no whacky inner voice agenda whining away (about me anyway). It’s just that some days, today being one, I feel stupid from the minute I jump into the modified Bhuja, to the non existent Kurmasana & Supta K. I regain some dignity during rolling through Garbha P and manage to keep it  going all the way until the who the hell knows how it’s going to go today  in Setu Bandhasana. Closing is closing and I no longer fret about whether Sirsasana will ever materialize unassisted. I just want to say that the  rolling marble in my head would like to know what type of practice would I be doing in a very traditional by the book mysore room. Maybe the marble is also rolling because Grimmly recently wrote about  what Yoga Mala says on what asanas to practice when you are middle aged, which at 56 is somewhere past the middle.