First off, I’ll offer a short apology for the long break in posts. It is really quite amazing how busy you can make yourself when you have nothing pressing to do, especially with a new puppy in the house.
I reflect on my previous month in Mysore with a bittersweet tongue. Some days have carried with them the delight of Sachet Torte, while others have left the pungent taste of overcooked Brussels sprouts lingering in my mouth. That is India. In a way, that is also Ashtanga asana practice –a mirror of its motherland. There are moments that slap you in the face, making it hard not to pack it all in and grab the next flight home. Yet still, more often than not I was left clinging to our remaining time here; savoring each moment like a brilliant piece of dark chocolate that kept drawing my eager mind toward the next visit. What seemed ridiculous on our arrival now blends in as if we’ve lived here forever. Yet still, there are those things, nearly daily that remind us where we are. Your not in Kansas anymore Toto. You’re in India and it’s got ahold of you by both arms… one side pulling you deeper into its wacky richness and the other dragging you away with lure of clean streets and fresh air.
Practice can have a tendency to follow the same tug-o-war. Some mornings I am greeted with the scent of Jasmine and sandalwood, others with suffocating fumes from burning garbage and dog crap. India is like a box of chocolates – a box with so much variety that everyday you can dig in and get something entirely different. Personally, I prefer the days I luck out with the succulent truffle or caramel, rather than the oh-so-wrong sugary strawberry cream. You really do have to just take it as it comes. Again, I could say exactly the same about practice. Some mornings I am graced with ease and lightness, floating effortlessly. And others I want to burn my yoga mat. Actually, I want to leave all together.
One day in particular, two Friday’s ago, comes to mind. It all seems ludicrous and now I can laugh about it with a light-heart but on days like that, when I’m in the moment, I’m the biggest cynical grouch you’ve ever seen at 4:30 in the morning.
For me, days with led classes are particularly prone to being the bitter ones. Starting at 3:30am, more people wait outside the locked shala than will fit in the space. Then at the slightest sound coming from inside the doors (which is always a false alarm), the mob rises and begins to shove into the gate. We shuffle into a bottleneck, inevitably leaving at least one casualty on the stairs… and forget about remembering where you left your shoes! Out of 10 weeks (2 led classes per week), I practiced in the actual shala room 4 times out of 20. (side note: During Mysore practices, times are staggered so everyone gets a space on the practice floor). The other 16 times, I have avoided the elbow nudging required and settled for my claimed space in the lobby. My question is: Why would you accept so many practitioners if they don’t fit in the room? There are some students that just B-line right for the toilets every week, rather than allowing the stress of competing for real estate kill their buzz. That Friday, I just didn’t want to settle. I let it get to me. I’d have enough. It just didn’t make sense to me. Everything was wrong. My back hurt, my hamstring started to bug me and in every downward dog all I could focus on was the dust ball at the end of my mat. Then, of course, my mind wandered endlessly. The guy beside me stunk, had he EVER washed his mat? The carpet beneath us seemed like a petri dish of germs collected over years of sweat from tens of thousands of people; that morning the toilet seat was busted off exposing the cold porcelain; the spray nozzle (in lieu of toilet paper) had a continuous leak, leaving the floor as a shallow pool of water. The shelves in the change room were cluttered with crap people decide to leave behind. I’d been paying attention – the same things had been there in the same spot since I arrived. I told you, cynical grouch. That day the shala looked tired and I felt exhausted. And why wouldn’t they just add a third led class so everyone could actually practice in the designated practice area? I hated every minute of it. And of course, my practice sucked that day. I nearly fell out of headstand and felt like screaming at Sharath after we’d been in Utplutihih for 5 minutes and he was still saying “LIFT UP”.
Breakdown or Breath-through? It all hit the fan that day. Of course, it was all my “sh-tuff”, nobody else’s. It was all a part of the growth. By the next practice, the toilet was fixed and the shelves had been cleared. I have no idea why my mind chose to distract me in such a negative way that morning. All I know is that I’m really glad not every day is like that.
Quite to the contrary, most mornings I wake up just before my 3:00 alarm, excited to get to the shala and wait my turn to enter the space. No morning is “easy”, especially at the rate I’m being progressed through practice now. But some days it seems easy. With the exception of the odd day like above, my focus is solid. The first few weeks during asana, my eyes and mind wouldn’t stop wandering… the person beside me, Sharath saying “one more” and me twisting just a little more to see if I could catch a glimpse of the next lucky student to enter the room. It really was a mental game of Ping-Pong. Gradually, my mind has become silent, clear; my drishti steady; all I can hear is the music of my own breath. The days of sugary fake strawberry cream get fewer and fewer, and allow me to truly savor the rich yumminess of caramel. The caramel is what drew me to this practice, but it’s the strawberry that keeps me here. Let’s hope there are extra caramels in that box for my final week in Mysore.