I was in university for 11 years and three degrees. I spent more hours working in the laboratory (chemistry) than I can count (and certainly more than the university counted…). I loved it. Getting in there and independently researching what was happening inside things we cannot see was awesome.
When I committed to the Ashtanga Mysore method of yoga practice it felt like lighting a Bunsen burner – my practice quickly came alive in a new and exciting way. I was back in the laboratory, only this time the lab was inside me. There are so many things going on within us that we are unaware of and disconnected from. Deep seated impressions that we’re carrying forward, stories about who we are. Yoga is a method for gaining self-knowledge that enables us to lessen the grips of these stories and get to the essence of who we truly are. Initially motivated to equip myself with a better understanding of the postures and become more adept at teaching them, the practice has delivered on that front and brought with it so much more.
Recently I remarked to someone that I love practice and they asked me why, which led me to write this. I’m sharing it with you because part of why I love it is that it brings me joy to do what I can to support others on their yogic path – it has become my life’s work. So, here goes….
I love the independence of Mysore. Just like those days back in grad school when nearly everything I did was self-motivated, so too is this practice. It helps tremendously to have a teacher and a community to hold me accountable, but at the end of the day, I’m the one that gets myself to the mat and I’m the one moving myself through the postures. That level of independence is not only life affirming it is fuel for the tapas generating internal fire that is responsible for keeping the devotion to practice stoked.
I love the breath, the sound, the rhythm and the sweat. Coming into the room to join with the energy created together is uplifting, supportive and rejuvenating. There has never been a moment when I regretted getting on my mat. I enjoy doing the work. It’s the old “chop wood, carry water” adage that serves as a cornerstone of Buddhist practice (and one of my favorite takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita) – do the work because it’s the right/good/appropriate/mutually beneficial thing to do, not because of the potential end result. And even if the result does come, you just keep up the work and accepting and evolving with it as things change.
From this daily toil comes another aspect that I love. I love that, if I let it be, the practice is free of doubt – it is a time wherein I do not have to wonder if I’m doing the right thing – faith grows strong. Now, this takes time and repetition, but it does come. And then as soon as we start to get comfortable, a new posture comes along to shake things up. A skilled teacher can keep a student working their edge and put us in a position of discomfort/uncertainty/ego-stirring that is necessary to further one’s self along the path.
I love the solitude. Even when practicing in a room full of people, it’s just me and my mat (and sometimes me, my mat and my teacher, but mostly me and my mat). My teacher David Garrigues once referred to the mat as our own personal “meditation cell” (such structures are actually made and marketed). Drishti, posture and breath are all you need.
I love that there is no escape. If you put yourself out there and get on that mat, there’s no hiding from yourself – you have no choice but to eventually face up to your greatest insecurities and hopefully, move right on through.
I love the relationships that form – to the teacher, to the teachings, to the community, to students and to myself.
My teacher is one of the most important people in my life and the student teacher relationship is one of the pillars of the Ashtanga system. I don’t hold him up on some infallible pedestal, but I do respect and admire him for his dedication to the practice and teaching. Being with him, listening, absorbing and learning is one of my most cherished places to be.
The teachings – wow! It’s so incredible to know that devoted yogis have been exploring the method for more than 100 years (a modest estimate) to provide a foundation that is sure and flexible. The combination of posture, breath, drishti and rhythm wakes me up from the inside out furthering relationship with the practice itself.
The people – the community. Strong bonds develop organically that feed the soul – much of it without typical social interactions. It’s more primal – based on a shared energy. There are some folks in the room that I’ve only exchanged a few words with, but on some level they feel like family. Comradery develops simply through showing up.
Then there is the relationship with the wonderful folks that I have the honor to teach. I knew that teaching in this way would be a different endeavor, but until I got in there I didn’t realize just quite how great it would be. Engaging with students on a regular basis in a more intimate setting where we can come together and develop the practice that supports them best is truly a blessing — I love it!
And then there is me. At this point I myself am in awe of the path I’ve created. And I don’t mean that egotistically, it’s just that when I sit back and reflect on the narrow minded person I once was, it’s hard to believe how I feel about things now – a drastic change in how I view the world that brings me a great deal more ease in connecting to our always present inner strength and peace. I know the transformation that has occurred – I am it.
And if you’ve read this, I’m truly humbled you’re doing so and I greatly appreciate your shared energy. Namaste.