Sunday, July 8, 2018

little locker room unraveling

Every so often, from the shadows of the ladies’ changing room one might hear the somewhat laboured breath of someone unraveling; so much happens in the main room of the shala. There are countless triggers for such moments: a difficult drop back, a deep catch, a great practice, a challenging one, possibly anything in there could trigger a breakdown of sorts. Each soft sniffle has its own story, some are laced with joy, or catharsis. Others are much heavier. It is the norm to respectfully leave the person to it, it’s an incredibly private moment happening in kind of public space. Taking finishing postures in the locker rooms can wrap things up beautifully, it is the deneumont of that day’s practice, most of the time it’s like clockwork, but if things need to be resolved, this is often a good moment to quietly take stock. If that happens with tears than so be it. One early morning, last week, the thinly veiled muffled sounds of emotional release were coming from me.

It was my first real cry inside the shala this season. It’s not such a biggie as I’m kind of a cry baby anyway. I must admit that I was born an emotional being. I’ve already had some teary-eyed moments after conference or at the end of led intermediate or at home, but the ones that come at the heels of a deep self-practice—especially here—have a certain potency.

In truth: nothing “big” happened, I wasn’t hurt, nor taken to new depths. I hadn’t been given a new pose—which could be, in part, what brings me to this moment. I had a pretty unextraordinary practice, by certain standards, there were no new physical breakthroughs, but something more subtle had shifted.

Last month was about landing the practice, settling in, harmonising with the Mysore rhythm, the pace set by Sharathji and those around me. At home, I self-practice on my own. When I’m lucky I can practice with a friend. When I get a chance to practice with a senior teacher, I take it. But, actually, opportunities are rare and my biggest chunks of guided study is here with my teacher. Solo self-practice, which I also love nowadays, is challenging in its solitariness. Having fortitude, devotion, self discipline is of massive import. For me, it is also incredibly comfortable, when it’s just me, when there is no one to rile me or motivate me to to go beyond my comfort zone. I realise that I often coast, feeling self-satisfied enough that I got on the mat and finished my practice amidst the bustle of teaching and navigating life in Cairo.

Thus, coming here is so important for me, it energetically pulls me back into a more directed practice. Maybe it’s not all Mysore magic as it is the Mysore magnet. I am pulled back here, the energy of the place draws me in and brings me back into the source flow of energy. It magnetically pulls me out of my comfortable places, but that also means meeting the hard edges of my own practice. Here, we go straight up to our limits—and not just physically.

Being near my teacher triggers my need for approval and my desire for more. Our wants and expectations are amplified. Likewise, it is tough to enter a room with so many accomplished āsana practitioners, it’s hard to keep the drishti from wandering, and to fall into the traps of comparison, which can give birth to a variety of lesser feelings. The ideal is that we mind our own practice, but even this is a process. I’ve heard commentary on how competitive it can feel in the shala, for example. These feeling of competitiveness belong to the practitioner, the practice merely reveals it, and can be a tool when used properly to override it. In my perspective, when such feelings arise it’s also evidence that the practice is working, the question is: what do we then do about it?

Practicing here is so effective, it pulls these feelings straight out, so much so that sometimes the air is thick with it. The choice becomes ours, do we get consumed by it or do we transmute it into something light and positive? Do we let the practice aggravate or soften it? For me, this is one of the powerful examples of the purification that can happen while practicing here; we meet our ego, our dark bits, we acknowledge them and we send them on their way. And when they return, as they often do, we go through the process all over again.

What I realised was that I was chasing something, running after my teacher’s approval, running after my fellow practitioners who all seemed to be literally faster than me, running towards some elusive end goal. In my chase to finish, I was loosing sight of something. What reduced me to tears that morning was that I’d shown up for myself in many good ways, that I was present in as many poses as I could muster. I took my time, repeating any posture I knew I could do better, I focused on my own breathing and my own pace. I’d done my best, not for my teacher but for myself, and it was good enough. Perhaps this is the way to honour our teacher: to do the very best we can not for his sake but for our own. I felt a wave of self-acceptance and relief, remembering I don’t have to be like anybody else, there was nowhere to be, there was no one to catch up to.

It was a small victorious moment—relatively sweet in the range of releases that can be felt in there. I had no idea when I started this physical practice that my biggest achievements would be making space in my mind and heart. The interesting thing is that I did move forward after this moment. It’s not the first time where a break in my perception is followed by a pass by my teacher. It could be random but somehow I don’t think so. The following day I was given something new to do. Irregardless, a whole new adventure/challenge/lesson is waiting around the bend, definitely not just for the body but for the mind and heart also.


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