Primary Friday: Discovery and Rediscovery in Equal Joy

As I have maneuvered around a variety of obstacles to maintain my asana practice these past couple of months, I have learned much about my relationship to the larger practice of yoga, about how much I need it, how much it has changed me.  

First, years of consistent awareness practice have blurred the distinction not only between the various limbs and styles of yoga, but also between the practice and life itself.  They are seamless.  Neither ever really ends.

Second, this body is highly responsive.  It is an enviable blessing when I am deep in practice -- the asana and pranayama come so easily to me -- but when I compromise its treatment, however aware of the choices I may be, my body is quick to rebel.  There is no coasting on health.  Self-care is a daily endeavor.

Lastly, as I have felt my way back into the rhythm of Ashtanga and come to face familiar puzzles on the mat, I have learned that though the initial discovery of the practice is a joyful struggle, there is equal if not greater joy in rediscovery.  These days, I smile and nod through Primary as I coax my hips to reopen and breathe my way into the twists.  I know what's coming.  I've been here before.  And I delight in the opportunity to walk this garden again, perhaps this time with lighter feet and an eye for the rarest of flowers.

Speaking of rarities, I taught a Mysore class last week.  As always, the students were inspiring in their strength and focus.  The invocation was lovely.  I had forgotten how powerful the energy of the room can be.  I drove home drenched in reaffirmation of the method.  It was a lovely day, cool but with a brilliant sun.  I pulled into the lot of the apartment complex and parked in my favorite spot by the dumpster.  As I climbed out of the car, I spotted a backlit, psychedelic rendition of Shiva "The Transformer" in all his heavy symbolism, propped against a box of discarded books and magazines in the grass.  

After brief inspection, I scooped it up and skipped inside.  I plugged it in.  It worked.  The colored lights began to spin behind the sea of ocean blue, the dusty mechanical fan whirled somewhere hidden in the casing, and I laughed uncontrollably as I swirled around the apartment, scoping the walls for the perfect spot.  

It hangs beside the bed.  I turn it on at night.  It powers my dreams and serves as a hilarious reminder that the potential of this practice is unknown, that I am drawn to it for a reason.  For the full effect, I recommend you dim the lights, select "full screen," and play it on a loop.  

Let it speak to you the way it speaks to me.



Happy Sunday, friends.  I hope your weekend has been restful and your practice today is an absolute joy.

Those of you who follow Damn Good Yoga on Facebook may have noticed the DGY page has disappeared.  Do not be alarmed.  I decided to close my personal account for a number of reasons, not the least of which the shoddy privacy practices and financial manipulation of user content.  Unfortunately, this also disables the blog page.  So be it.

Still, I miss the interaction with readers and the ability to quickly share cool stuff with you, so Damn Good Yoga has migrated to Twitter.  Let's keep the conversation going.  Follow @damngoodyoga to get in on the goods.

Also, many of you have sent me emails at some point in the past few months that have since been swallowed up by the deluge in my inbox.  I have not responded to most of you.  I apologize.  Rest assured that I have read your message, and I will try to catch up on those in the coming week.


The Rules

My practice has gained some momentum and gravitated back to Ashtanga in the last couple of weeks.  I have been enjoying breezy practices of standing, backbends, and finishing, or full Primary.  Intermediate hasn't really seemed an option, but I'm getting closer.  I am happy to report that I am only marginally concerned about what I practice these days, as long as I practice.

Which brings me to this:  one of the best things about the structure of Ashtanga is that it frees us from the analyzing mind.  We are unburdened of the responsibility to create a practice -- to plan the next move -- so the mind is truly free to assume a receptive state.  When we abide by "the rules" (follow the sequence, 6 days a week, Friday Primary, rest Saturdays and moon days), the day to day details are left to themselves and we have only to show up and begin.

In my own practice, I find that the trouble starts when I negotiate with myself.  I over-analyze and jump right into an active stream of thought, planning my practice and exhausting myself by experiencing everything in my head before I even have a chance to get on the mat and move.  So much energy is wasted.

Yesterday, in the hour that I had, I skipped the invocation and spent all of the Surya Namaskara evaluating and prioritizing, trying to figure out a way to optimize my time.  I am hesitant to use the word "rules" here, and I used it above only for the purposes of the theme of this post.  (A more appropriate term in that context might have been "the method.")  But as I watched myself in practice, I observed some patterns and came up with a few benevolent rules to improve my experience on the mat.

1.  NO PLANNING:  I will submit to the method.  I will not plan my practice.  This is not to say that I may not do different practices on different days -- I can only do what is appropriate for me -- but I will let the practice decide itself.

2.  NO BLOGGING:  Novel insights are a fun side effect of practice and I admit that I tend to take some mental notes.  But they can wait.

3.  NO TEACHING:  This one is so hard.  It is extraordinarily difficult to separate my practice from my teaching, in part because I'm not certain that I should.  Still, I know that whether or not I consciously follow along and narrate my observations, the information is there.  There is no need to translate my experience in the moment.

4.  BRUSH TEETH:  My oral hygiene habits are none too shabby.  I floss, I brush, I rinse and scrape at least a couple times a day.  But that ujjayi is something fierce, so sometimes -- if I don't do a little upkeep before practice -- the breath can be unpleasant.  And that isn't what we want.  The breath is the focus, and I'd like to enjoy it at much as I can.

5.  SAY THE INVOCATION:  Usually, I say the chant.  But sometimes I do not.  It depends on my state of mind.  But I find that when I do take the time to say the invocation aloud, not only does it seem to anchor the mind to the task at hand, but it also sanctifies the space and sets the practice time apart, better enabling the first three rules.

While this list is not universally applicable, I think it points to this:  we must give ourselves to practice.  By that, I mean that if we wish for the practice to have an accumulative, pervasive effect in our lives, then it is not enough to go through the motions.  We must give our minds to the practice, even if just for that hour or two.  It is important to use the time that we have wisely.