Monday, October 7, 2013

An Unlikely Ashtangi

"You have to take this class. It's incredible, and the teacher is such a gift."

Mary had been singing the same song to me for months now. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, resisting the idea that I could even survive the class, let alone enjoy it. She was speaking about the Mysore class, which meets each weekday morning - early in the morning.

"Whatever it is that you think it is, it's not. Just come and try it."

I trusted Mary's opinion. She had been taking classes with me for years. She knew many of my teachers, and she has been on the yoga path for long enough to be able to discern quality in a practice as well as the teacher delivering that practice. But...

The time slot just didn't work for me...
I didn't move that well that early in the morning (my home practice ideally started closer to 9 am)...
My chronic neck pain might flare with all that weight bearing on my arms...
... The list went on and on.

And then one day, all those barriers fell away.

To be honest, the catalyst was me stepping on the scale and seeing that my weight had gone up significantly. I hadn't been doing anything really physical because of my pain, and the numbers reflected a more couch potato lifestyle that I was heading towards. I committed to making a change, and then the universe removed the obstacles:

The time slot grew wider; "come any time, Monday through Thursday between 6:00-8:45 am to do your practice at your own pace."

My home practice was no longer working; when school started, my daughter and husband began getting up earlier, and my son's work schedule kept him home most mornings. Trying to fit in an hour - or even 30 minutes - while my family went about their morning routines became too difficult.

I came to a point with my chronic pain that I wasn't willing to limit myself anymore. Through trial and error, I learned the poses that made things go from uncomfortable to unbearable, and I started a conversation with the teacher, Erika Abrahamian, about what I could do. I wrote to her that, because of my limitations, "my practice is a little messy." She replied,

"Modifications are fine... We all practice messily."

And with that, I stepped into the Mysore room 2 months ago, and haven't left.

It surprised me that I lasted a week. Then a month. But there is something so embracing in the Mysore room, like I've come home. I've always loved libraries; they have been my sanctuary - my temple, even - for years. The hush that some people find oppressive, I find soothing. I feel that in the Mysore room. Conversations are only as loud as necessary. The sounds are limited to breathing, stepping, falling, stretching, doors opening, laughter and the occasional "yesss" from Erika that always makes me smile, even if it's not directed towards me.

That's the thing with Mysore: you feel connected

I cheer on Matece's handstand drop, or Jennifer's drop back, or Tony's silent jump through, just as much as I cheer on my own twist in revolved side angle pose (with my back knee down and my hands just resting on my thigh, not pressing, because I want to twist from my torso strength, not my arms).

I think of this practice as the first layer of soil at the top of the Grand Canyon, and I am slowly - every so slowly - making my way down to the canyon floor.

For those of you curious, or maybe doubtful about your own ability to take on this practice, let me paint you a picture of what my practice looks like:

It is slow. Super slow. I could easily spend 3 hours, because I luxuriate in each breath and I'm careful with each transition.
I don't practice all of the sequence of poses called the Primary Series, even if I could remember which pose to do next. I keep my breaths the same as those doing all the poses, but I skip or modify what I consider risky for my situation.
The 2-chair headstand setup
I use a lot of props. Erika began teasing me about the chairs, blankets and blocks that I use to construct my inversion "forts" as a way to keep the weight off my neck.
I meditate at the end of my practice. Apparently, this became a "thing" in the Mysore room, and now more people are concluding their practice with some time in a seated meditation. Who knew this limited, slow poke yogini could influence that kind of wonderful-ness?

I've had some good days, where I did more than one Chaturanga (a low push up). I've had some frustrating days, when my back or my neck rebelled against the practice completely. I keep going. I know these are not the best and worst days that I will have in this practice. Last week, I tried to skip going to the Mysore room and doing a portion of the practice at home instead, because my pain was intense and kept me awake most of the night. The very next day, I returned to the Mysore room; my home practice wasn't enough for me, and not just because of the limited poses. There is something so compelling about going through your practice, but doing it together with others.

There is an energy in the Mysore room that keeps you going, pulling you along when you're flagging. 

Sometimes I space out and look around... okay, a lot of times I space out and look around. There are some really athletic yogis in the room, some who do the entire series - with all the gymnastic transitions that are available, and it's beautiful to watch. There are yoga studio owners (plural) who show up each week. There are yoga teachers - lots of teachers, from multiple studios. There are folks who have been practicing these sequences for years. There are some who have just started, like me. There are people in their twenties and some that might be 3 times that, but I would never guess their true age. Dedication, intention and grace has a youthful effect.

I know I had to come to this practice under certain circumstances. I'm so happy that I did. I can feel changes in me, week by week. They are slow, and it's only when I step back and gain some perspective that I really notice. I feel the same way in the Grand Canyon, by the way! Maybe next month I'll explore the next layer...


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