Confession. Today I decided to skip practice.
I haven’t slept through the night in days. We went out to a late and heavy dinner with my brother and his wife and then at 11:30pm my sister showed up to crash in our guest room before her early morning flight. Artemis was restless and wandering about the room while we tried to sleep and to top it all off, our next door neighbors started partying it up right outside our window after midnight.
Good excuses to skip practice in my book.
I opened my eyes at the 5:45 alarm and when Thad, who is in the middle of mid-terms, told me he was going to stay in bed today, I promptly decided to join him.
But after a bit of tossing and turning, I changed my mind. I got out of bed around 6:30 to say goodbye to my sister and brother-in-law and I realized that despite my extreme fatigue and headache, I was up, so I might as well get my butt into that cold shower and head off to Mysore.
I did my sun salutations and then slowly moved through standing series, holding each pose for at least 10 full breaths. I continued with this longer breath count up through janu sirsasana A, then spent a few moments in supta virasana, which I find to be great for my backbends but also healing for knee pain. I did a few urdva dhanurasana and then long inversions. It was barely an hour practice but it was wonderful.
Because of my headache, I exaggerated my breathing dramatically. I felt like this re-oxygenated my tired and achy brain and after practice my head felt infinitely lighter and more clear.
Somedays an abbreviated practice feels like such a gift. I felt restored by this practice and cleansed. Moving through these fundamental asanas that form the foundation of Ashtanga Yoga brought the balance to my mind and body that I was lacking. I walked out of the studio with a sense of gratitude that I made the decision to get out of bed even when my body would have happily taken the extra rest. It was so worth it.
It can be easy to get caught up in this “all or nothing” mentality, and the desire to constantly improve or progress along the series in Ashtanga. Working hard is a good thing, no doubt, but I personally believe that sometimes just a few sun salutations and foundational poses before laying down on your mat and breathing is the best thing to do.
Throughout the months and years of yoga practice, we go through phases of varied intensity and focus. I’ve had months when I’ve practiced hard every single day (minus moons and Saturdays), done my dropbacks no matter what and kept pushing for the next pose. I’ve also had months when I’ve been gimpy and fragile, taking extra days off to recover and rest. I think my teacher David Garrigues exemplifies the shifting nature of the cycles of practice beautifully in his teachings. When I get the privilege of practicing with him, he pushes me harder than any other teacher. He has me repeat asanas over and over again, correcting the minutest detail. But he’s also taught me how to modify and that some days, it is simply “enough” and so I can rest.
I read on the internet and hear in person from many yoga practitioners who are new to Ashtanga, as well as those who are afraid to try it (which I totally was at first too!) that the practice is too rigid or repetitive. I imagine there are a few of those mean, strict Ashtanga police teachers out there that people talk about, but I have yet to experience that type of teacher. I’ve found the Mysore style environment to be incredibly open to the personalization of your practice. I love the flexibility it provides me to do the practice that is appropriate for me on that particular day.
I love that I get to revisit the same poses time and time again. It is comforting, not boring, because it evolves through repetition. Many of my favorite poses are some of the very basics of standing and primary series. Granted it’s definitely exciting and illuminating to move through the series and learn new and more challenging poses, but I think it’s so important for us, especially those Ashtangis with a super strong drive to push themselves, to sometimes step back, revisit the fundamentals and remember that the practice is not to be rushed through to get to some unknown destination but instead it is an opportunity to journey, to experience and be in it.
So just do your practice, without judgment, no matter how long or short, easy or complicated it might be, because when it comes down to it,
it all counts.
Love and Blessings,