the healthy struggle

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.


day one. so perky and closely shaven.

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.

14 thoughts on “the healthy struggle

  1. You are so inspirational, Marian! Not knowing anything about yoga, what exactly is a guru is the spirituality you experience practicing Ashtanga, different than the spirituality you experience by practicing catholicism? I hope you had a wonderful day! Thanks for starting mine off so beautifully!

    • well, the direct translation of guru is “spiritual teacher”, or “one who rids us of spiritual ignorance”. So I think that Christ is a Guru, that priests can be considered gurus. It makes me a bit uncomfortable to say that, because I think the word “guru” in our society carries a negative or “weird” connotation, but looking at the root of the word, it’s true. The loose translation is “teacher”. And a lot of what we learn in Ashtanga is to pay respect to your teachers, and honor them, and honor the lineage that you have chosen (Ashtanga goes back for thousands of years!). So just as I love the tradition, the history, the closeness to Christ in the Catholic church, I appreciate the authenticity of Ashtanga, that it has been preserved over generations and there is a system and a reason behind things. While in my mind there is one God, one Christ, and for me one Church, I am so happy to explore my own personal spirituality and learn from so many gifted and knowledgeable teachers. Thank you so much for your sweet comments, and I hope this reply wasn’t a complete overload!

      sending hugs to beverly!

    • p.s. you are awesome

      On Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 8:37 PM, Marian Bull wrote:

      > well, the direct translation of guru is “spiritual teacher”, or “one who > rids us of spiritual ignorance”. So I think that Christ is a Guru, that > priests can be considered gurus. It makes me a bit uncomfortable to say > that, because I think the word “guru” in our society carries a negative or > “weird” connotation, but looking at the root of the word, it’s true. The > loose translation is “teacher”. And a lot of what we learn in Ashtanga is > to pay respect to your teachers, and honor them, and honor the lineage that > you have chosen (Ashtanga goes back for thousands of years!). So just as I > love the tradition, the history, the closeness to Christ in the Catholic > church, I appreciate the authenticity of Ashtanga, that it has been > preserved over generations and there is a system and a reason behind > things. While in my mind there is one God, one Christ, and for me one > Church, I am so happy to explore my own personal spirituality and learn > from so many gifted and knowledgeable teachers. Thank you so much for your > sweet comments, and I hope this reply wasn’t a complete overload! > > sending hugs to beverly! > >

  2. Hi Marian – Interesting essay. In August Shanna posted this link (http://bit.ly/pCO5Bp) to Chad Herst’s blog site. His writing resonated with me at the time. So much so that I commented — can’t remember what I said, but I do remember his answer:

    “The practice is really devoid of any meaning except the meaning we add to it. That is the beauty of it. It is like a perfect reflection that shows us who we are from day-to-day. It takes a lot of chutzpah to get up and face that reflection each morning. That is why the practice is not for everyone”.

    xo, db

    • i love that! thanks for the quote dawn. very true. i think we can gather inspiration from our fellow ashtangis, too — it’s such an individual practice but also holds a deep sense of community. I was always inspired by you guys to keep getting up and just doing it each morning.

  3. I continue to read your entries every day, and each day find such inspiration and new things to think about as I “go through” my day. Again, I continue to be touched by the time we spent together that early eve at that famous 5 Star Rest’nt MANHATTAN DINER. Auntie

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  6. Hi Dearest Marian, It’s so nice to hear you talking about a daily yoga practice. This is what it’s all about with a Mysore practice and what so many don’t get because it hasn’t become the daily practice of showing up no matter what. It truely is just like life itself. As time passes and the trial and tribulations of life come and go you only know and understand more and more what Guru J said….”breath free all is coming” and are thankful for all the times you showed up to practice just that. Reading what you’ve written reminds me of going to Eddie 6 days a week in NYC and being there in Mysore. That was years ago and I still practice everyday. It’s not as pretty and I don’t have a teacher around but they do reside in my heart for sure. I think what happens after a while is that you start to see that you Guru lies in everything and everybody in some way or another. We miss you!!! Thank you so much for sharing these experiences. You are my Guru this morning before I practice!! love,lisa

    • Lisa!!!! Your comment made my week and has been in my mind frequently. Thank you for your beautiful and kind and wise words. I find you to be such an inspiration and am so grateful that I could learn from you in the short time we had together. Mysore is truly magical and I am learning so much about the practice, about dedication, and about myself and life in general. I’m a lucky gal! Sending lots and lots of hugs. p.s. I miss all your assists! If only I could get Saraswathi to stretch me out in trikonasana….ahhhhh

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