Because Sunday was a moonday, and there was a workshop going on in Shala X instead of the regular Mysore practice, the Philosophy and Pranayama class with Sir started at 1 p.m., which is smack in the middle of the day for many, including me. Nevertheless, I made my arrangements and went anyway. I really enjoy it – it gives me a reason to sit and breathe quietly, it gives me a reason to re-read the Sutras, it gives me something to think about analytically (because I never do that, right?) because Sir really likes us to DISCUSS the Sutras, rather than just listen to him ramble.
I love that aspect of learning from Sir. It is the polar opposite from my experience as a teacher trainee at Om Yoga, where we were offered up the analogy of the “empty cup” for how we were to model ourselves as students. An “empty cup” is exactly what it sounds like: pure receptivity, nothing to offer, nothing to mix, nothing to bounce back. By contrast, the “full cup” is also what it sounds like: no room to receive anything. Anything that goes in, just pours right back out. There was also the “turned over” cup, which was the cup that had no capacity to give or receive or hold. Frankly, I never quite understood that one. I mean, why would a “turned over” cup be in teacher training anyway?
There were a couple of us in my teacher training class that vehemently (but privately) disagreed with the notion that students should be “empty cups” (particularly in yoga teacher training, where the students came into the training with a good bit of knowledge and “point of view” about the topics at hand). We wondered: why no mention of a “half-full cup”, one that has something IN it to begin with but which can comfortably receive what the teachers were pouring forth? A half-full cup can create a wonderful mixture, of what was there before plus what is being added. Why not love the “half-fill cup”?
The one time my friend, Pam, asked our teachers to discuss what a “half-full” cup would be in the “cups” analogy, the answer was simply, “there IS no half-full cup”. This is one of the reasons that I never returned to Om after I graduated. It just wasn’t my style.
so…which one would YOU rather have in class? which one would you rather BE in class? which one would you rather TEACH in class?
But I digress….back to the present, Shala X, where having something in your glass is respected and where you are encouraged to mingle your thoughts with those of your teacher and your fellow students. I was surprised that only three of us showed up on Sunday. We had a really interesting and lively discussion anyway, along with going over Nauli Kriya and Nadi Shodana Pranayama.
Sir read us a really interesting passage from TKV Desikachar’s Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Yoga Practice regarding Ishvara Pranidhana, which has been described in numerous ways, depending on who is doing the describing. For those who believe in God, it can be described as “surrender” or “prostration” to God. I suppose one might substituted “a higher power” for God, as well as “the Universe” or “that which cannot be seen, felt or touched but which must be there” or some such. But for those who do not have a strong belief in God, the concept can be more ambiguous. Sir’s reading from Desikachar (who can be said to be more closely connected to Krishnamacharya than either Iyengar or SKPJ in that Krishnamacharya was his father) discussed Ishvara Pranidhana as recognizing that there is something out there that is crystalline in its flawnessness, something that we can aspire to be more like. Since I am a believer in God, I don’t particularly need to stretch in order to understand that to “live and let God” is a more peaceful way to exist, but I like the idea of an alternative way of looking at Ishvara Pranidhana.
Later, we found ourselves talking about the process of “nirodha”, the process of quieting the mind, of coralling the “vrittis” (the mind’s thoughts, which are completely separate from the “self”) so that the self can emerge. All of us could point to ways in which we had come to Ashtanga believing that we were far more “settled” than we realized later on that we had been at the outset, and ways in which we had become more settled as time went on. And it made me wonder…is anyone TOO steeped in their vrittis to even practice yoga at all?
I have to admit that one reason that I thought of this is that on EZBoard (linked in my sidebar), interspersed with the informative slash witty slash supportively ego-busting posts, there are posts that condemn certain “aspirants” for being SO totally unenlightened slash unyogic slash type-A slash neurotic slash ambitious slash impatient etc., etc., etc. that they “should not even bother” practicing Ashtanga. I’ve always been bothered by these condemning pronouncements from those who believe themselves in a position to judge others’ ability or right to practice Ashtanga.
So, I asked Sir the question: Is anyone SO identified with their thoughts that practicing Ashtanga is pointless? Useless? A total waste of everyone’s time?
Like me, he took “Ashtanga” to mean not just the physical practice, but all of the eight limbs (Ashtanga translates from Sanskrit as “eight angles” or “eight limbs”), including meditation, sensory withdrawal, the ethical precepts, and so on. And his answer?
So, there you have it, right from the mouth of a senior Ashtanga teacher. ANYONE can practice Ashtanga, no matter how neurotic, no matter how agressive, no matter how ambitious, no matter how annoying, no matter how caught up in his or her own thoughts. (The one caveat: those who refuse to practice on a daily basis – those are the students that are troublesome). It is the practice of the yoga – not just the asana practice either – that helps students to overcome the chaos of those swirling vrittis, to slowly get to know the “self” that watches the thoughts swirling, that isn’t the thoughts themselves.
As Pema Chodron wrote in The Wisdom of No Escape:
“People often say to me, ‘I wanted to come…but I wanted to wait until I was more together.’ And I think, ‘Well, if you’re anything like me, you could wait forever!’ So come as you are.”
Come as you are.