Here in Mysore, I practice Ashtanga for roughly two hours a day (I go slowly), six days a week. While I practiced regularly back at home, I would generally practice Ashtanga three to four times a week, and add in a few hot vinyasa classes to mix it up. But when you come to Mysore, you do so in order to practice all Ashtanga, all the time. I had a feeling that I would experience a bit of a honeymoon phase during my first week or so here, and then things would really get interesting. I was right.
This morning, practice was rough. I felt a bit tired and sluggish when I arrived at the shala, but I told myself that I would just focus on taking it easy during the first few sun salutations (introductory postures) and let the rest come from there. This was such a nice exercise: no need to achieve the deepest folds, the straightest arms, the tightest abs right out of the gate. Just letting my practice wake up alongside my sleepy body.
I never really got that surge of energy I was expecting, though. I felt lethargic and weak the whole time. Getting through the entire primary series (and the first posture of second series!) was a challenge. I’m certainly not unfamiliar with crappy practices; they happen to everyone (unless you’re a superhuman freak). If I were at home, though, this would be the type of practice where I would likely give up. Too hard, too slow, not enough energy, not enough determination. But here — maybe it’s Saraswathi‘s presence, or my sense of purpose here in Mysore — not completing my practice isn’t an option. I just did what I had to do to get through it. Breathe, stretch, shake, let it go.
This was such a great little Ashtanga lesson. Just because a practice is difficult, just because I’m not “feeling it”, just because I struggle mentally, does not give me reason to give up. In fact, it is in these practices that we build character, learn dedication, realize our own strength, and get an ever-so-gentle reminder that life isn’t always easy. As with most lessons that I learn on my mat, this is so relevant to all aspects of life. Don’t expect everything to be easy. Don’t be afraid to push through struggle. And when the going gets tough, get your ass on that yoga mat.
Sometimes I worry about my ability to maintain a daily practice after leaving this magical little Ashtanga paradise. It is so much easier for me to pause, get up, give up, in the middle of my practice when I’m not in the presence of a guru, when a glass of water or a bed or a cellphone is just a few steps away. This is something that Sharath mentioned in his weekly talk last Sunday when a student asked what to do when away from a guru or teacher. After joking that we should all simply carry around a picture of him, Sharath explained that when you aren’t with your guru, their presence is still with you. We can hold the lessons and the inspiration we get from our teachers throughout our travels and throughout our days, just as the memories of loved ones can stay with us when they are gone or far away. (Hello family!)
I keep thinking of Mysore as an antidote to all the forces in my “normal” life that pull me way from my practice. Now I see why people keep coming back; why people need to come back. I hope that my time here, this invaluable time spent studying under Saraswathi, will sustain me once I leave. I am so inspired by her and Sharath, so filled with love and gratitude. I am already learning so much about the benefits of a daily Ashtanga practice (hint: it’s awesome), already falling more in love with the practice than I was before. Hopefully I will never forget these lessons. And if I do, I hope to find my way back here and learn them anew.
Pictures in this post were taken on our walk home from yoga this morning, and are dedicated to my mom, who loves a good sunrise.