One More

We are all such creatures of comfort and routine, even where we set up our mat. Whether at home or a shala, everyone seems to have a favorite spot to set up and get to it. Is it in the corner, by the window, front and center, in the back, near the wall, away from a mirror? Non-attachment anyone? A perfect fix for it is a trek to the shala in Mysore. 

It’s a stunning space. I think it’s even more amazing when filled with sweaty bodies. However, the key word is filled. When you arrive and complete your registration, part of that is practice time, as in what time to show up for practice, anytime between 4:30 am till about 9:30 am depending on it being high season. Regardless of the time on your card, it’s really fifteen minutes earlier, also known as shala time.

The first day I walked in for practice, I was nervous. I had been warned to show up early and that you wait your turn in the front vestibule until called. In retrospect, navigating past the shoes on the staircase outside, would be a decent indicator of just how crowded the practice room now was. The doorway to the shala space was open and yes, one lucky soul is pretty much right on the other side practicing, oblivious to the small crowd waiting and possibly watching the magic within. We all were sitting on the marble floor, quiet in those early morning hours. Just inching forward like a snake in the humidity created but the warm bodies within, as the next person went through the doorway inside. Sharath’s voice would sound out, “One more!” 

One more. Finally, it was my turn, and quite frankly, at first I walked in just trying to not step on anyone, maneuvering around the mats and bodies contorted and filling the space. Sharath was just finishing up a forward fold adjust after back bending and pointed to that spot. So, you set up your mat in the place where the last person ended. It didn’t matter where it was, unless of course you are extremely tall, a few spots like the stage or under an overhang don’t work well with taller practitioners…but I didn’t have any height on my side, so, basically you get what you get and you just deal. In the rows on the rugs, by doorways, on the bare marble in the back, front sides, or up on the stage. 

Mat down, you head off to the changing room to get off your street clothes. The sound of breathing and the heat of warm bodies permeate everything. The changing room is filled with gear and ashtangis doing their closing sequence. The maze is never ending and so the best choice is back out to the mat, your island sanctuary, in this sea of bodies and movement. 

The first day, I literally was put in the spot next to the door. I groaned because, it was originally, from my vantage point waiting to go in, under such scrutiny. Nothing like the fear of failure of my ego encroaching my practice! Coming to stand at the front of my mat, hands together in prayer, I whispered the opening chant, Vande Gurunam, and just started my practice. Tristhana held me and I held it, breath, dristhi, and stability in asana. Focus and the magical energy of the room, nothing else to see, nothing else to hear but my breath and the occasional adjustment from Sharath or whom ever was assisting in the shala. 

I practiced almost everywhere in the shala by the end of five weeks time, I never developed a favorite spot, though there were a few places I ended up more frequently. Looking back my favorite adjustment from Sharath was one of the many times I ended up on stage. Oh the joys of him saying, ” one more, small! “, knowing that meant the stage or under the overhang, both spots are just bare marble covered in condensation….back drops on marble are a practice in letting go of fear:) 

Sharath was sitting reading the paper in a chair in the center of the stage. I was in the corner by the vertical blinds. When I came up in Upavishta Konasana, my foot caught the metal cord between the blinds. I halted my movement to avoid the blinds crashing down and started to shift my foot away. Sharath looked up from his paper at me and laughed saying, don’t worry about the curtains, concentrate on the asana, keep your focus. In the moment, I thought, sure, laughing in my head, bring the blinds falling down on me while on stage seems par for the course! However, his point was about me breaking focus, yes being mindful of other bodies or sharp edges..but keeping my tristhana. Practice happens best, not in the perfect spot, in the perfect temperature, but with an attempt to hold a perfect mindset. The work is not about achieving a picturesque asana but the journey of letting go and surrendering to a meditative state. 

One more! Circumstances change, too hot, too cold, too big, too stiff, too tired, too fidgety, too small, too lumpy, too soft, too hard, Goldilocks had it wrong, because it’s all just right, best effort under whatever circumstances, that’s the work and the prize, smiling helps:) 

All dogs go to heaven.

This Gary Larson Far Side cartoon is an old favorite, and there are many times I envision it during asana practice. As I was in down dog today, taking an extra breath before jumping forward into kapotasana, my mind had that momentary hijack of fear, dread and then this comic, before finally settling on the words whispered to me almost two years ago, ” don’t think about it, you’ve done this before.” The monkey brain never fully goes away, but it all depends on just how much power we give it.

I had practiced at home for the last few days thanks to winter bringing snow and ice as well as school cancellations. I find it so much harder to shut off the negotiations my mind tries to persuade me with, all percolating, trying to convince me to just take a day off…It’s so cold! Sinus headache! Cranky! Stiff joints, and just how cozy and warm staying in bed seems….Yet, I do negotiate, and roll out my mat, let’s just see how some Sun Salutations go, then, hmm, standing sequence, and all of a sudden I’m in the midst of my breath and dristhi, I admit yesterday was tough to get going, but as much as I started off with so much resistance, I was quite content after finishing. I find though, that my commitment to practice, to myself, is like so many long term relationships, sometimes we are just going through the motions, in a self made rut of sorts, but then, in just the next moment, when you least expect it, you catch your breath in awe of what you feel.

Practicing at home can have other issues as well, like living in a household with other people and dogs. I love my pups, but they just won’t leave me alone to practice. (Locking them out of the room leads to howling, crying, and intense door scratching) though I have found over time, they are less curious to be directly involved, I’m learning how to keep focus when one of my dogs starts to lick inside my nostrils while I transition through a vinyasa in down dog, who needs a tissue when you’ve got a dog to assist? I’m debating which of my helpers is working hardest to get me to that next level, is it the golden doodle, Luna, laying next to me, oblivious to her flatulence? The papillon puppy, Rocky, licking my toes and managing to figure out that I can’t transition out of an inversion because he’s standing, tail wagging on the mat, right where I need to bring my feet down, thinking this is a fabulous game? Or contestant number three, the cockapoo, Bella, that finds me irresistible the more sweaty or snotty I get? She likes to sit in my lap during padmasana and gets upset if I don’t let her stay for utpluthih. I’ve learned that everyday, I can only strive to do the best I can, there is no other best, no picture perfect moment, just yoga, the stilling of the changing states of the mind.Sutra I.2

This was last week with Bella and Rocky, Luna was right out of view on the window seat🐾

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring-it was peace

Milan Kundera

Cleaning up your practice.


Home practice in a snow storm. My mind wasn’t on the snow, the cold, the dogs trying to join in, but on trying to just be there, on not losing focus, not fidgeting, psyching myself with the mantra that tomorrow is a full moon and I won’t be on the mat. I used background music too. Blasphemy, I know, haha. A YouTube link of the XX Intro put into a four hour loop. No worries, I’m comfortable enough at this stage to use an extra boost at home to block out the house noises, when I need it, and today I did. How do you decide when it’s okay to break the rules?

A few years ago, I used to do this little “cheat” in the second to last asana of primary, urdhva muckha paschimottanasana. Instead of keeping hold of my arches or heels on the way up, I’d let my hands slip off slightly and reconnect once I was balanced on my sit bones. The momentum was hard for me to master in keeping hold of my heels, I was my usual overzealous self and went too far, therefore crashing, if I kept my feet. My teacher was annoyed I wasn’t really making much of an effort to fix it beyond where I was and finally said in exasperation to me, ” it’s your practice, you have to decide what that means”.

About a week later I was away in Washington DC with my family, there are a plethora of great Ashtanga teachers there, and I was recommended to Astanga yoga studio DC. Keith Moore runs the program beautifully and was quite welcoming in his charming and bustling studio during those wee morning hours. As I came up in my cheat and then pulled myself in towards my legs, Keith came by and whispered to me, ” don’t worry, no one saw that”, with a chuckle. I laughed too, but kept going…I hadn’t reached the split yet in intermediate so my mind was on more frightening prospects like kapo and my not always there yet, coming up properly from drop backs.

In any case, though I enjoyed my spring time weekend in DC, my mind was ruminating these two thoughts, the comedy of my obvious incorrect method, and the mindset that this was my practice, for better or worse, mine, no one else was going to do it for me regardless of my marionette fantasies where I’m on strings while some other guiding force brings me into an asana. Those moments when I’ve forgotten that the journey there, is what matters most. I had to crash to find my balance, so I did, crash that is.

I came home with a new determination and decided who cares how noisy it is, or if I fail, I’m going to figure this out. I had done it before, but not with consistency, so that was the goal, work to find the sweet spot of balance and proper breath in timing my inhale. I knew I shouldn’t make myself crazy over it, so I gave it the three times a charm rule, try it three times, if you don’t succeed, tomorrow is another day, another opportunity. The funny part was that though I still can occasionally have that day of primary where it just doesn’t work, it only took about a week or so to get it, because it was really already there, I just hadn’t been willing to believe it yet, or be willing to deal with a few more bumps on the path.

Patience, time, breath, trust and sweat equals magic.

I’m right behind Sharath…a few weeks later, correct method:)