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.