Practice, practice, practice. (or don’t.)

By on Nov 17, 2011 in The Unruly Ascetic, Uncategorized

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Have you ever faltered in your practice? 

I don’t mean mentally.  I don’t mean, have you ever forgotten why you love it or why you do it. 
Maybe you have. I haven’t. I can’t speak to that. 

But I have faltered in my asana. 
I have made choices that caused considerable backsliding in my physical practice.  It wasn’t clear to me the damage I had done until I was in Mysore last year.  All the planning and all the hard decisions it took to get me here, and I had somehow managed to mommick up the one thing I was supposed to be working on in the process. My practice was a mess.
So what could I do?  get up in the morning, trudge across the street and get yelled at by a sparkly eyed indian man who I wanted to please more than anything in the world. get yelled at day after day for being unable to get it together.
I tried to do what had worked in the past.  Use the practice as a gauge, a reference, for what my body likes and what it doesn’t like in day to day life. What helps practice?  What hinders it?  But my body was so unfamiliar, my practice so foreign, this strategy didn’t work.  When my practice felt bad no matter what I did (or didn’t do), it was harder than ever to motivate.
I kept working, I didn’t give up.  I kept a good attitude (you know, you gotta be where you are, man) but nothing was changing.

…and then I realized: I didn’t have a good attitude.
that was bullshit.

I was miserable. I was mad at myself all the time.  I felt like an alien in my own body. but I was desperate.  I couldn’t be a mess over it (my mental calm was the only “yoga” I had left!).  Sure, I could put on a happy face and not get mad about the whole thing.  But not getting mad and being okay are not same-same.

so I stopped.
I took a break.

I never stopped loving ashtanga yoga, but I stopped doing it.  For 5 whole, glorious, lazy, french weeks. and when I started again, I allowed myself to be where I was. Instead of doing my “regular” practice and inwardly crying for doing it so badly I scaled back to the little I could do reasonably well. My full practice came back surprisingly fast once I gave my body the chance to take it on bit by bit.  Do a little bit well, rather than a lot badly.

Now that I am here, triumphantly returning with my practice in full swing (maybe not at the height of it’s glory, but a vast improvement to 8 months ago), I am realizing that I still use it as a reference.  Instead of gauging my body’s reactions to my daily choices I am using it to test the waters of my mind.  Each day I step on my mat and confront what my body is able to do and I see how my mind responds.  When I hit an obstacle in practice, feel tight or weak, rather than instinctively scanning the previous day for the culprit, I find my mind looking forward. I find my mind repeating the words of Goenka, “patiently and persistently, you are bound to be successful.”

and you know what?
screw being where you are.
Sometimes where you are sucks. Sometimes you know perfectly well how you got there and it doesn’t do you a damn bit of good to be okay with it. 

So where my practice used to give me a reference for my past, now it gives me a reference for my future.  Through my practice I can see where I can go and what can come from small, simple efforts.  And most importantly, it gives me a chance every day to check in with the crazy.  Why am I here? Why am I doing this?
Because I love it.
Because if I’m not loving it, then I am doing something horribly wrong.
My practice keeps me motivated and that’s what I love about it.  It used to keep me motivated to live simply.  Now it keeps me motivated to embrace the change and the ebb and flow.  If we are never tested then we don’t know what we’re capable of. 

We can forget to appreciate the things we have worked for. 

When I first started practicing ashtanga I loved it because i was terrrrible at it.  Nothing came remotely easily.  I loved the challenge and being humbled.  Well, I was humbled again this year. and I love the process of pulling myself up again.  I love the process of teaching my body new things (and old things).  and most of all, I love being reminded that I don’t have to be where I am I. I can pick myself up and put myself somewhere new. Every practice reminds me.


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