Today’s excuse for not making it to the shala was a post-August meeting with the Analyst.
August is such a strange time in New York City – all of the Analyzed are suddenly cut adrift by their shrinks into a citywide sea of neuroses, while the shrinks run off to their summer homes in Provincetown or wherever they go these days (you don’t ask; it just doesn’t seem proper to ask personal questions of the person who listens to you drone on and on about your life on a weekly, biweekly or even daily basis). Labor Day is the olive branch in the dove’s beak, symbolizing the proximity of a safe place to dock. Analysis Interruptus Augustus. It’s not pretty. Thus, when your Analyst calls to say, “I’m back,” you get yourself to that couch, even if it means missing your opportunity to practice once again with your teacher at your shala. There’s always later in the day to practice, at least if you’re me. And so it was. And practice was heavenly.
“I didn’t make it to the shala today. Practice was divine.” Perhaps I should just cut and paste this mantra to the beginning of all of my posts these days? Or, to paraphrase a certain Madison Avenue stroke of brilliance, apply it directly to my masthead? I will say that I hope not. Or rather, perhaps more accurately, I hope that I hope not.
Which brings this little soul to said searching. By which I mean: Why do I even practice at a shala?
I know why I came in the first place: I wanted to learn Ashtanga the traditional way, the way the senior teachers were taught (I did not know at the time that the various generations of senior Ashtanga teachers were all taught in different ways, give or take). I knew that the Ashtanga that I was practicing at non-Ashtanga schools was derivative at best, even with the more highly skilled teachers with the best of intentions; you just don’t really learn Ashtanga in a led setting. You just don’t. That is how it seemed to me at least, and I still believe it.
At the time, I could barely get through the first half of Primary without gasping for breath. I couldn’t even dream of twisting fully in Parivritta Parsvakonasana (now I can taste it…I can FEEL that floor solidly under my fully open palm, even if only in my imagination). Marichyasana A was something I had to practically roll onto my back in order to reach my arms behind me. Marichyasana B was an inconsistent lover. Mari C and D were not even living on my planet. Forget Janu Sirsasana C. I almost forgot it in those days, ridiculously unattainable as it was. The rest of it didn’t even exist. I thought about something one of my teachers from those days said to the class: this practice cannot be done once or twice a week – you only get five breaths in each posture, and that is simply not enough to deepen your practice unless you are doing it day after day after day. I knew she was right.
And I knew something else: even five breaths wasn’t going to do it. What it was going to take was one-on-one attention, serious physical adjustments to bring me into my passive range of motion and perhaps to bring my passive range into my active range.
Interestingly enough, I will say that it was only the physical practice that was lacking for me in those days. The meditative aspect, the pranayama (mainly ujaii), the philosophy – that was all happening with the teachers I had. Mary-Beth gave me some wonderful food for thought – for example, that the practice is over when the prana begins to leak out, when the flow is gone.
Uck….home life beckons. More later…