Wednesday, June 16, 2010

how'd that happen?!

Every day I practice. Every day the same postures. Some days are stiffer than others. Some are lighter. It's always new and yet always the same.

That's the beauty of the Ashtanga practice. You know exactly what you're going to do, but you never know what you're going to get. For example about two years ago, I was jumping into Bakasana B. Knees were landing near shoulders, feet stayed off the ground. I was there for the full five breaths. Then, one morning, practicing in a hotel room in Ayacucho, Peru, I jump slightly to the left rather than center. This catches the weird spot where I had broken my arm 11 years earlier. I felt intense pain and haven't been able to jump into the pose since. I'm sure that I actually can do it. But my body remembers and stops me just before I get there. Nonetheless, I continue to try it every morning with the faith that one day I will surprise myself.

I've also had sudden triumphs like this. A few mornings ago while doing my drop backs, I decided to walk my hands in on the last one. They made it to about an inch from my heels and I still felt strong and light. So, I walked them in some more. They touched my heels and I was able to stay there and breathe. I was surprised and elated. I thought that practicing by myself, I would never reach my heels in drop backs again. But I opened myself up to the possibility and it just happened.

And so I hope will happen with Pincha Mayurasana. I received this pose in December. We are now in June. I am still unable to catch my balance without the wall. Without the wall, I kick up and over into a kind of cartwheel. With the wall, I'm sometimes able to catch it. I will continue trying. I have faith that I will surprise myself one morning.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

sangha

Flashback 7 years to my first journey up the steep steps to Back Bay Yoga studio in Boston. I had been practicing yoga for two years, mostly at the gym, and was petrified to step into this unknown territory. Would these people all know each other? I would surely be an outsider. My heart raced and I was sweating profusely. This was one giant leap for me. (I later came to realize that I probably suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder - which has been greatly reduced since my regular yoga practice).

Overcoming my fear led to one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The next 7 years, I would practice at BBY regularly (first weekly, then daily, and then teaching). I loved rolling my mat out next to familiar faces. Even when we didn't know each other's names, we knew each other's struggles on the mat and often off the mat. This was my original sangha. Sangha is the sanskrit word for community.

The anxiety disappeared and I began to take yoga classes at studios wherever I traveled. The faces at those studios were different, but the feeling was the same. Here we were sharing in something special, for many of us, the most important part of our day.

Sangha had become as important to me as the practice itself. Yes, I could do my practice in a hotel room or on my kitchen floor. But nothing compares to the soothing rythm of everyone breathing ujiya breath with the occasional whisper of instruction from the teacher or burst of laughter at someone's triumphs or blunders.

Hence one of my only hesitations to leaving Boston for a city, Lexington, KY, that had virtually no yoga scene and certainly didn't offer a daily Mysore practice. First, I would miss all of those yogis from Boston. I knew I could continue my daily practice on my own. My spacious living room with its hardwood floors lends itself easily to yoga.

I do practice there every day. But it's not the same. It's not better or worse, it's just different. When I am saddened by my lonely practice, I think of my friends in Boston who are practicing at the same time that I am. I'm reminded that only distance separates me from them and from all the Ashtangis throughout the country and the world. My teacher's reminders flow back to me when I struggle with certain poses. And my cats wonder across my mat and narrowly dodge my feet when I take a vinyassa.

Since arriving here, I have found a few (maybe the only) other Ashtangis in Lexington. They invited me to practice on Sundays with them. This Sunday was the first. There were four of us in a small front room. We opened with the opening invocation as is the tradition in Ashantaga. It felt so wonderful to hear other voices intermingling with my own chanting. We practiced at a common pace. For me, that was much faster than my usual practice. But I enjoyed the unity of movement and the syncing of our breath.

We will practice again next Sunday. The days in between, I am comforted to know that I don't have to go 900 miles away to be a part of the Sangha.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

to the small studios

I've had the privilege of practicing yoga in studios in Boston, San Diego, LA, Toronto, and Tel Aviv. I also had the great honor to teach at a studio in Boston. Living in a large city with a great yoga scene, it's easy to take it for granted the community of like minded individuals who make it possible for great studios to thrive and offer a wide variety of classes.

This evening I was reminded of the sweet reality of probably the majority of yoga studios in the US. They are small studios with limited schedules and usually in dual-purpose space. Five students makes for a pretty bumpin' class. And some evenings, like tonight, maybe you only have two - just some girls who walked in off the street and decided to take your class for the first time.

That's what happened when my friend and I took a class this evening in Lexington. The teacher could have been well on her way home, had a nice dinner, hung out with her boyfriend. Instead, these two strangers came in for the last class of the night.

There was no disappointment, no rush to leave. Our teacher warmly invited us in and took the time to introduce herself and get to know a little bit about us. The studio space was warm and inviting. Romi, the teacher, held the space for us in the same way any teacher would do in a large studio in New York.

There's the beauty in the small studio. The space is open to the mere possibility that someone might want it or in my case tonight, that someone might even need it. It's a raw expression of faith on the part of the teacher to show up and hold the space for anyone or no one to show up. It's a lesson we can take into our lives - be open and hold that openness for any possibility - love, laughter, light, and connection.