The cliched story of the ashtanga yogi begins in a led class somewhere.
But they don’t end up in a led class, like everyone else, who attends some led here and there, and mostly does yoga for fun.
With this glint in their eye, our ashtangi gos on to learn every single thing its possible to learn about the practice of ashtanga yoga. They buy videos. The read everything about the subject, and they go to every workshop they can physically get to. They can quote Guruji word for word, and they can tell you what Lino, Tim, Sharath, and Guruji told them in 2003.
They start a blog. They dream of going to Mysore, until they save the money and make the trip to Mysore. In their blog, and/or with their friends, they focus on the minutia of the practice. Every bind, hold, twist, side, jump, they memorize, study, and as soon as possible, they achieve. Oh, and they practice, every day, religiously, without fail….
They get on internet boards sometimes, with fake names, and scoff at those who fall below the like of purity. Those who use props. Those who advertise their workshops on the web. Those who teach workshops. Those who teach and have the audacity to not practice anymore… Those who commercialize this yoga. They are not like that, they are pure.
Now there is the story of those who are injured, and find their yoga in working out an injury, but that’s not really our story for today.
This is the story of purity and compromise.
Purity doesn’t leave you a lot of patience for anyone else.
There’s a secret, too, about thus purity. Some of you likely already know it.
Like other stories, it starts with, once there was a teacher in India. This teacher, like many teachers in India, is strict.
You take it this way, the teacher says, only on these days, and only in this way.
Ok, the student says, but what if my shoulder hurts and I can’t do it on that side.
No compromise. Teacher says. You take it this way, only on these days, and only in this way.
But Teacher there is pain.
No, teacher says, this is how it is. This is teaching. You take it.
But teacher my shoulder hurts.
Finally teacher relents. Oh then take rest, teacher says. Like it is the simple admission of common sense, obvious. Of course you take rest. You heal broken bone. If you lack arms and legs, you do what you can to work it out and practice. (I’ve seen this in Mysore).
Of course there is compromise. There is the teaching, which is pure. And hidden in the lining, three explanations later, there is compromise.
I took my 10 month old baby to India and learned a lot about compromise. This is a cliched story too, having a baby, learning about compromise. I have up to this point over four separate trips ALWAYS practiced early. Always stayed long enough to have the privilege to pretend I am a morning person and sit waiting on the steps of the shala very early in the morning. No great surprise, after years of decrees, 7 am, 5 am, you take it, I am told, for the first time, you come when you want. You practice any time. Your babysitter? She can practice any time she wants too.
You know, I could have done it. Had my babysitter practice second, and taken that early morning spot. But I knew innately that this little girl who I had dragged all the way round the world, and was alone with me here, she didn’t want to wake up without me there. Without thinking, I compromised. I told Martha she could practice early, and I would practice when she was done. Luckily she’s one of us crazy ashtangi’s that still looks at it as a privilege.
So the point of the cliche? The one that any of you who are parents already know all about?
To live it is a different thing. I never in my wildest dreams imagined what having a kid would do to me. How in the weeks following her birth I couldn’t even fathom leaving her to practice. I did eventually, but as my husband said, the ground beneath our feet had shifted. Our lives were permanently changed.
So most of these cliches, they are my story, not all of them, but most of them. No fake web identities, here, but the obsession, the details, the religious discipline, that is me. I love this practice, and in my heart of hearts I have always been a purist. I love that ashtanga yoga is NOT about compromise, or anything but you take, you do, you let go, and you do it every day. And I still think it is best when it is taken in that way.
In my hear of hearts, in spite of my compromises, I am still the same, I am still a purist. I still think this practice is meant to be done every day. I think its meant to show us ourselves, and that means getting up every morning and facing what we feel, good, bad, happy, painful, ugly, and true….And I think the hidden lining of that purity is that you are going to have to compromise. It is a given. And the only difference between the purist and the other ashtangis is when and how they compromise. A towel versus a strap. An adjustment versus a prop. If you don’t you are hardly human. But again the point of this purity is not to be pure as an end in itself, but to grow, and to face ourselves. When and as much as we possibly can.
Some people don’t get it, surely. They haven’t realized that everyone compromises, especially our teachers. And they haven’t realized that the image of life without compromise is an image maintained so that we can idealize and believe in something. To inspire us to keep going forward, to keep practicing long enough to experience the truth, of prana, and who you really are.
And as far as those who do compromise, which I guess is all of us, I only know that the longer I practice, the less these differences in how we approach things, the differing “opinions” about the practice, the more I feel they are less important. They tend to be born out of youth, and pride, and ego. Truth seems, and this is my opinion, that people get the lesson they need, in the time and way that they need to go where they need to go. And for that to happen there needs to be different ways of doing things. And I don’t know about you but I agree with something PS said long ago to me in Mysore. Some people, they come here, and I don’t like them much. But I find that as they keep practicing, I like them more and more.
Have they changed or have I? I’ll never know really, but I will keep practicing. Every chance I have to “don’t take mind take practice,” I will.