Thursday, January 24, 2013

it's totally cool to dip your toes in the water first

My student Annette sent me a link to an elephant journal blog yesterday.  It was called "How I Dismissed the Ashtanga Police."  Here:  I went through several responses.  First, annoyance at the deliberately provocative title.  Second, annoyance to the point of homicidal ideation as I read through the first two thirds of the article.  Third, relief when the writer got to her point, and finally back to milder annoyance at the deliberately provocative title.

It boils down to this: if I read one more fucking thing in elephant journal, recovering yogi, facebook, or the blogosphere in general in which somebody complains about Ashtanga police or Ashtangis' lack of a sense of humor, or boasts about not practicing six days a week, practicing on moon days and Saturdays, eating meat, never going to Mysore, omitting vinyasas, practicing other styles of yoga, or expresses indignation about Sharath or any other senior Ashtanga teacher's wealth, or self-identifies as a "rogue" or "maverick," etc. etc. I'm going to shit a whole chicken.  I'm fucking over it.  Ah.... Catharsis.

Now that that's off my chest, we can examine the root causes of the problem.  Why do some people feel compelled to write snarky, clever things about Ashtanga yoga?  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's probably often a case of too much, too soon.  To be sure, the Ashtanga yoga life, i.e. six day a week practice (regardless of whatever crappy circumstances short of fever or swelling), vegetarianism, trips to India, holding to the yamas and niyamas as best as possible, all that, is a daunting one.  Lots of sacrifice.  I sense that for some people the asana side of the practice gets its hooks into them and they want more, but are resentful of the encompassing life changes required to get more.  The bad news is that while there may be a way to get a really advanced asana practice without the aforementioned sacrifices, I don't know what it is and if anybody does, he or she isn't sharing it.  .

The good news is you don't have to jump into the deep end right off the bat.  Rather try, if you can, to shift your asana expectations and focus on what you're willing to sacrifice, and only sacrifice what your willing to sacrifice and not a scintilla more.  My own experience of Ashtanga yoga has been incremental.  I've been very fortunate to find that with each step I've taken towards immersion into the life, my asana practice and the other aspects of my life have improved.  I always went at my own pace and although I started out a little skeptical and cautious, I never got resentful.

Finally, I would like to defend some of my fellow Ashtanga teachers and call others of them out.  I think I speak for many of my colleagues when I say we don't care if you think Hinduism is silly or that moon days are mumbo-jumbo, or that we're all in a cult, or whatever.  As long as you come to practice and you don't show contempt to me or your fellow students in the shala, we're cool.  To paraphrase A Tribe Called Quest: "if you came to the party then I'm glad you came."  And if you open up to more, when you're ready, then we'll both be happy, trust me.  On the other hand, if you are a teacher who has ever made a student feel bad for not fully embracing the life, or pushed him or her into embracing the life faster than he or she was ready, then you are a dick and a fool.  For whatever reason, valid or not, Ashtanga does often get a bad rap for being to dogmatic.  Let's change this, shall we?

Friday, January 11, 2013

my favorite time of the day

A one-liner from Louis C.K., who is one of my favorite comedians, goes like this: "it's easy to have the body you want, you just have to want a shitty body."  This plays around the edge of where santosha (contentment) ends and nihilistic despair begins.  I was thinking about this when trolling through facebook this morning.  My teacher Kino had re-posted some of the instructional videos we made together and so I re-read the disparaging comments about my physique made by some lonely shit-heel out there in cyberspace.  The same sequence of gut reactions that I had the first time I read the comments played themselves out again.  First, amusement at the comments, which are actually pretty funny.  Then, some self-doubt and body image insecurity came up in spite of myself.  I know I'm not obese or even overweight by most any criteria, but neither could I be an underwear model.  One or zero.  "If you ain't first, you're last," as Ricky Bobby said.  Then, annoyance at the guy who made the comments, but that turned to compassion for him when I did a personal inventory.  I want what I have, so I have what I want.  While I can't say for sure, I'm guessing that this is probably not the case for the person who has to tell people, anonymously in a youtube comment stream, about his six-pack abs and chiseled arms.

There have been some dramatic changes in my life in the past few months, but I still want what I have, maybe more so than ever.  I've got a new schedule, a new house, and a new favorite time of the day.  My work load has decreased drastically, leaving me more time to tend to my new home, yet I am also more spartan than ever before.  This is my typical day now: up at four am; roll out of bed, brush teeth, etc.; walk the dog around the block, bond with him; get on my bike at quarter til five and ride to the metro rail station to catch the first train at 5:05; take the train to downtown Miami, get off and ride my bike through Overtown to the bus station and bus onto the beach; teach Mysore-style from 6-8:30am; practice; teach guided full primary if it's tuesday or thursday; come home by the same route; once I get home I have lunch and pick some household project to get done; make dinner; chill with Nubia; walk the dog one last time; go to bed; repeat...

The very best part of my day now is the last dog walk, which I do with Nubia.  Temperatures are cool (at least for next few more months) and it's quite serene in our little suburban enclave.  It is an activity known in the athletic circles as active rest and it's totally magical.   This simple act causes the three of us to bond ever deeper in some primal way.  I love it and look forward to it every day because I am reminded of what is essential, and that I have that.  Let my lucky circumstances be a springboard from which I can serve others.