A few weeks ago, I made plans to meet a friend at the CT Shala. I made the plans in good faith, thinking how nice it would be to meet up with him (we went to college together although we only know each other through the cyber-shala world) and to see some real life friends who practice with Val regularly. Ah, good intentions. Apparently, they are exactly where the rubber meets the road: I woke up on the appointed morning and couldn’t get myself out of bed. I tried, at first, to blame it on being tired. I wasn’t used to waking up early to practice within someone else’s time frame.
It bothered me to think that I didn’t have the discipline to wake up and get out of bed for practice. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it…until I realized that not being able to get out of bed for shala practice was the symptom, not the problem. The truth? I just didn’t WANT to anymore.
I sent my apologies and noted, “My practice is just not shala-ready.”
But even as I wrote it, I knew that it wasn’t exactly true. I mean, when I started my Mysore-style practice at Guy’s shala (actually, my very first practice ever was at Eddie’ Stern’s, but Guy’s shala was my first habitual place of practice), I was very much an Ashtanga beginner. I could barely bind Marichyasna A or B and couldn’t bind C or D without help. Supta Kurmasana was impossible without a towel between my hands. I couldn’t really even get to Supta Kurmasana without getting winded. I had no almost no backbend practice at all, and my Upward Facing Dog was nearly flat. Yet every day, I went to practice. Every day, I relished the experience, looked forward to it. On the rare occasion when I couldn’t get to practice for the late morning session, I went early. Or I came in the evening. It didn’t matter that I was humbled by the practice. I went anyway. It didn’t matter that it was difficult for me, and that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to complete the Primary Series. I went anyway.
So, not shala ready? What did that even mean?
What it means is that I am no longer willing to put myself in the hands of a Mysore-style teacher. Not that there is anything wrong with Val or Guy or Kimberly or any of them. It’s me. It’s my unwillingness to have my practice interrupted with assists I don’t want or need. It’s my unwillingness to NOT add in a set or two of Jivamukti-style sun salutations between Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B, if I want to. Or to add a set of Gomukhasana arms in before Parvotanasana. Or to add in a set of pigeon poses and a Hanumanasana before the Warrior poses. Or to do Pasasana after Marichyasana D instead of waiting until MILES later, after my body has long since forgotten twists. Or to add in all the leg-behind-head poses either before OR after Supta Kurmasana, just because I feel noodley and want to explore. Or to save all of the backbend poses for dead last so that I can warm up my back and my arms before having to press up into full wheel.
It’s my utter lack of receptivity to hearing that my breath should be louder. Or that I might want to consider bending my elbows in Upward Dog. Or to being treated to a midpractice jump-through workshop.
I just want to do what my body wants to do.
But truth be told, there is more than that. There are things that make me cringe about shala practice, things that I never thought would make me cringe. Things like American teachers pretending to speak like Indians (“you take”, “you do”). Things like practicing before an altar with a photo of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Things like students bowing before the altar, putting their hands in prayer over their head. Why? Why the bowing, sure, but WHY the prayer over the head? What does that even MEAN? Things like that requisite “Namaste” and bowing to the teacher upon leaving the shala. Things like being required to take Savasana. I NEVER take Savasana. I’ll sleep when I’m in BED.
And the worst thing of all: the impetus to perform. I. Just. Can’t. Anymore. I just can’t. I don’t wanna. People who comment here sometimes ask me, what happened to me? Who hurt me in the Ashtanga world? Who insulted me? Who made me feel small? Honestly? Nothing and no one. It’s all me. I just started waking up to the fact that I don’t want my workout (and YES, I have never been anything but honest about the fact that this is my workout) to be under someone else’s scrutiny. I want it to be for ME. I don’t want to do it for YOU, or for YOU or for YOU or for Teacher. I want to do it for me.
Yet…there I am on my mat, at home, but still imagining the audience. I still imagine what Teacher would think, what Teacher might say. When I practice Pasasana after Marichyasana D, I imagine the Hypothetical Teacher saying, “Yes, but it is EASY to do Pasasana when you’ve JUST done two deep twists before it. Try doing it COLD. Then you’ll REALLY be an Ashtangi.” When I do all the backbends in a row, same thing. And sometimes I become present enough on my mat to remember that there is no reason why it has to be done THAT way, instead of THIS way, except that someone said it. One person said it. And that person changed his mind quite often.
Until I can get to that place where I know I am doing this practice for me, until I get to the place where that Hypothetical Teacher is accepting of my body exactly as it is each day, and doesn’t mind when I give that body exactly what I know it needs, I won’t be comfortable doing my practice in a shala anymore.
In truth, I hope that someday I WILL be able to practice in a shala again. I’d even like for that day to be tomorrow. I just know that it isn’t. For now, I’m in recovery. Shala recovery.