Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The sweetness of home practice...

The biggest challenge for me coming home from India this time around was going back to practice at the studio I'd been at for the last year.  Maybe I changed, or maybe I was just seeing things more clearly, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't belong there anymore.  I love the people there, but it was clearly the time for me to move on.  There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.

And I don't know exactly where I'll end up.  There are not a lot of ashtanga options in Austin.  Aside from where I was practicing, there are two other options, one way across town during evening rush hour (not ideal time or location) and the other - taught by the only teacher I know of in town who has actually been to Mysore - is a weee bit too early for this night owl, and it's held out of a local gym.  But a third option has presented itself.  In the last couple of weeks, a new ashtanga program started up at another studio where I practiced a couple years back.  The time and location are both good.  I don't know the teacher, although I have heard good things.  So I may go check that out sometime soon.  And I got word that the studio up north will be switching their evening classes to morning next month, so that may become a more viable option.  I plan to explore all these possibilities and just see what feels right. 

I'd like to find a teacher in Austin.  And at the same time, I recognize within myself a certain skeptical resistance to feedback from people who haven't been to Mysore.  Especially when that feedback is contrary to the way things are done in the main shala.  The general etiquette in a yoga class is that you do what your teacher tells you when you are practicing with them, even if it is contrary to how you normally practice.  But a big part of me thinks that is totally bogus.  Especially over here in the west where a couple thousand bucks and a few weeks of your time can buy yourself the title of 'yoga teacher'.  And especially in a lineage-based yoga practice like ashtanga that has a specific tradition and way of doing things.  Luckily, most ashtanga teachers have a well established practice and much better grounding than most.  But still, there is often a massive gap between those who go to Mysore and those who don't - not just on the outer appearance of the practice but energetically too.  I think it's important to critically reflect upon feedback and not accept it blindly, being open to what is useful and letting go of the rest.  I don't think this is disrespectful - I think it is what a responsible, engage student ought to do.  I think it is what being accountable to yourself and your practice looks like. 
Afterall, "two gurus will kill one student."

Sharath is my capital T teacher.  I trust him implicitly.  He sees what I am capable of before it's even on my radar, and he helps me see that in myself.  He helps me become that.  There is some ineffable quality in his presence, in his watchful eye, in his laconic instruction, and in his sense of humor, that instills in me total faith in him.  Not blind, unquestioning faith but a faith tested in the fire of experience.  A faith that is so wholly hearted it burns all doubt to ash.  Śraddhā.  Guruji used to say, “Many teachers, crazy making. One teacher, shanti is coming.”  And I feel that peace with Sharath.  There is no doubt in my heart or mind.  I have found my teacher.  And so, maybe I'm not even looking for a teacher here in Austin, per se.  Maybe I'm looking for a mentor, someone who can provide valuable feedback while also recognizing and honoring that Sharath is my teacher.  And maybe they're even interested and curious to hear about the way things are in the main shala.  Maybe I'm looking for a place where the integrity of the tradition is respected, even if no one has been to Mysore.  Maybe I'm just looking for a solid adjustment every once in a while.  Maybe I'm looking for the sense of familiarity and community you develop with the people you practice with every day, even though you may rarely even say a word.  

Every day in utpluthih, I hear Sharath saying, "Lift up.... lift up.... lift higher..."
So where does this leave me...?  I have departed without any certain place to go.  And I'm okay with not belonging anywhere in particular for the moment, not having a teacher here or even a community of other ashtangis to practice with.  And I'm okay with the prospect that I may not even find those things here.  I'm open to the process of discovery and this in between place of the unfolding.  And you know what, for right now at least, I am really enjoying home practice, even with its challenges.  I've been on a major huge intense creative streak since I've been home, and so it's been all too easy for me to start working on one of my many exciting projects first thing in the morning and get so wrapped up that before I know it, I look up and it's already late in the afternoon and I haven't done my asana practice yet!  So what if I hit the mat at 4pm?  The inconsistency in my practice timing has actually been helpful in some ways.  It keeps me from getting too comfortable, from taking anything for granted, and it allows room for all this creative energy to be expressed in all kinds of juicy ways.  But inconsistency can also be an uphill battle.  It's much harder to hit the mat as it gets later in the day, so I am working towards a little more consistency - just enough to keep me reigned in and focused but not so much that things become too rigid for deep, sustained creative work to unfold in that unpredictable way it so often does.  I like having room to improvise when the muse comes to visit.  I will say, I am continually amazed at how much discipline and commitment it takes to keep up a home practice, especially since I work from home and there are plenty of ways to detour myself.  And I am nothing short of shocked (shocked, I tell you!!!) that I have become a person who could even remotely be described by the words 'disciplined' and 'committed'.  Oh what a potent and peculiar sort of magic yoga is!!! 
Asana practice itself has been great.  Except, to be honest, I miss those rock solid backbending assists in the shala. "Catching?" "Yes catching, no problem!" Every day catching. I could totally catch my ankles on my own if only I can find my balance.  Even so, my backbending is deep and steady, my breath is more full and calm than I thought possible that deep in it... Backbending has gone from a fear and panic inducing thing I had to force myself to confront every day, to my very favorite part of the day... All is coming!  Who could of guessed?!

<Exhibit A>  Exhale, go back... Breathe 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... Inhale, up!

I've been taking some video of my backbending at the end of practice.  I thought it would be good to see how it looks for myself.  It's been helpful to see myself in motion, how I fidget too much sometimes, but also how beautiful and deep backbending has become!  Slow and controlled, steady and focused.  And you know what else?  Looking at myself backbending, it occurs to me that my ass is so big it's damn near a miracle I can bend back over that thing!  As I told my friends who were quick to defend my derrière, I'm not saying fat bottomed girls are a bad thing.  Au contraire mon frère!  I think it's funny!  And kind of awesome.  Clearly, I don't have the ballerina-esque body that seems most commonly found amongst yogagirls... certainly amongst the most naturally graceful and flexible yogagirls.  Hahah, and yet!  I've discovered that my body is plenty capable of doing some damn amazing things.  <see exhibit A, above>  I've been struck with an overwhelming clarity and peace of mind that comes from recognizing how this body is an ally, a comrade on the battlefield, the dearest most loyal friend in life.  I've spent far too much time and energy struggling against it, berating it, trying to force it to be something it's not.  But no more.  How could I have anything other than love and gratitude and respect for a body that does this every day? 

And so... practice is practice is practice... whether you're on the other side of the world, waiting for the "one more" that signals you to enter and roll out your mat to begin your practice as seventy other people are in the midst of their own... Or whether it's just you at home all alone... Practice is practice, and it is so very sweet, same same.