Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How was your practice?

That's a typical question here in Mysore. We're all here to practice Ashtanga yoga, so what better conversation starter (every single day!) than to ask someone, "How was your practice today?!" Typical answers are usually either, "Good", "OK", "Not so good", or "Terrible!!". What are the answers based on? Sometimes the answers also come with a brief explanation...
"It was awesome, I had so much energy!"
"It was awful, I felt cold because I was at the back of the room and didn't sweat enough."
"Practice was so great, Sharath gave me a new pose!"
"Practice was ok, I felt really stiff today."

But when I think about it, those answers don't really make sense (and I'm totally responsible for all of those answers too by the way, I'm not just criticizing others!) Because what I have come to learn and understand about yoga, is that the physical practice itself isn't the goal, it isn't the end, but rather just the tool for working on the body, energy and most importantly the mind. So maybe, a good practice shouldn't be the result of successfully cramming both legs behind your head, or terrible because Sharath stared right at you and didn't give you a new pose when you were sure you were ready for weeks already, but maybe, just maybe, we should look at the state we are in after we practice. Maybe the practice felt really hard, maybe easy, maybe we accomplished certain poses or not, but what was the effect?? What was your attitude towards those things? It could have been the case that you floated through all of your postures and vinyasas like a superstar, but at the same time were breathing frenetically fast and psychotically uneven the whole time. Result? Anxiousness, crankiness, ego. Or the practice felt like a total struggle and your body just wouldn't cooperate, but you were able to stay aware of your bandhas the whole time and you kept your breath even and calm and at a good pace throughout, and after taking rest and being finished with the body bending you felt peaceful and light and happy.

I think there is also always a lesson to be learned in each practice. Were you stiff today? Maybe you pushed too hard yesterday. Felt heavy? Too much cheese yesterday (HAHA, that was me today). Tired? Go to bed earlier. Didn't get a pose from Sharath? Stop wanting, set aside desire and the need for more and be happy where you are, and grateful for what you have. My friend Allie and I were talking about that last one, and both of us, when we gave up and thought, "Sharath will never give me another pose, I'll just settle into the ones I have and do them well", then BAM, 2 or 3 poses in a row. Conversely, the days when we are like "COME ON! gimme gimme... I can totally do bhekasana, can't you see that?!" Then for sure you're getting nothing for another week.

I'm going to start answering the unavoidable daily Mysore question "How was your practice?!" based more on how I feel after my practice, and on the effect that my breathing and mindset will have on the rest of my day and on my interactions with others, and less on my physical accomplishments. Because I think, that is the point, after all.

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