Recently, I told this story about myself in a workshop.
In September my partner and I went to India, my first trip there after the death of Guruji. I had emailed Sharath to tell him we were coming and all was set, but I had this attachment to Mysore. I’d made more than a dozen pilgrimages to India and never once “traveled” or seen the other parts of the country. Guruji was in Mysore; why would I want or need to go anywhere else? I was sad to have to directly face that Guruji wasn’t there anymore and surfing had been on the back of my mind for more than a decade. As a skateboarder, I would pretend to surf the concrete like a wave. I’d always wanted to set aside some time to have a surf vacation, preferably in or near India so that I could still do some yoga. But my practice and studying with Guruji always took precedence. But this time I decided to go with the surf-yearning…sort of.
Somehow my partner and I ended up on these remote islands off the east coast of India called the Andaman Islands. I had two objectives: to spend some much needed time focusing on my asana practice, and to surf. We found an idyllic setting on a pristine island. The color of the ocean was dreamy and inspiring. We found a resort with a largely unused yoga room located up above the lodging area with a panoramic view spanning towards the ocean above the jungle foliage and treetops.
So the surfing and Yoga combo started well enough. But it didn’t take long for the battering of the waves to take its toll on my body. Practice became more like trying to stretch out and “recover” from surfing. But I was still determined to do both. So I kept pushing for intensity in my practice. Then IT happened. I was in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, a twisting side angle. I felt this little but distinct lightning bolt streak of strong sensations run directly across my sacrum. I immediately stood up and lost my yogic powers of detachment and content. I limped around uttering plenty of expletives. I knew almost instantly that my month of intense practice and surfing was finished. I was very disappointed and also angry with myself for pushing just beyond my edge and allowing myself to play so close to it. I regretted the energy I had put into surfing. As the afternoon and next few days unfolded I realized my nightmare was
true I could not really bend in any direction forward or backwards in any capacity. I made a decision to work with my yoga practice in whatever capacity that was available to me, no matter how limited. For the next month, I did several hours a day of Pranayama alternating between supine positions and dandasana with my feet at the wall.
I thought I had reflected on what happened there and perhaps even extracted lessons out of it, but it wasn’t until I told this story to the people in the workshop that I realized I hadn’t fully processed the event. When I told the story, there wasn’t really a point, whereas usually when I tell such a story there is some inspiration or message behind it. For me something was still dangling. And then an “aha” moment came soon after. I’d always had two nagging dreams in my life: The Surfing Dream and The Yoga Dream. I’d had The Surfing Dream since I was a boy. It was also a fall back idea for me if the yoga relationship didn’t work out. I’d just become a surfer and spend my time in the ocean, riding waves. Then I had The Yoga Dream. The Yoga Dream was to continue to maintain and develop the art, grace and beauty of my Ashtanga practice. Since that time on the islands, I realize there has been a shift in me.
As we all age, we see how challenging it is to continue to practice in such a way that our bodies and minds stay truly strong, fit and supple. Other priorites come along to replace the fire, zeal and devotion we have for practice. It is tempting to let ourselves off the hook, thinking that asana is for youth, that somehow being intensely physical has a cut off point. Perhaps it does for some of us. But for many of us, the discoveries we make as we flow though our sequences continue to feed our bodies, minds and souls, and we continue to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to really go into our asana practices. We also realize more and more the extent to which we have to give up other things. This is the
key if you want to have a fruitful serious asana practice: you must know it and fashion your life and choices to ensure it. There really is limited time and thus limited things you have available to put your energy into. The reality is that Ashtanga yoga asks much of you; it gives you much but also asks much. The surfing dream has lost its power over me. Stuck on the Andamman Islands unable to really practice well, unable to surf — but able to sit there with lots of time for incubation and musing — it felt like the universe was saying: “IF YOU WANT BOTH YOU’LL HAVE NEITHER” … Whoah!
Do you see it? What is holding you back? From going further? I’m talking about things that truly don’t belong there. Not things in your life that do belong, like a great job, relationship, children, art and such; ultimately, those things feed you and your soul in just as necessary ways as your practice does. I’m talking about the things that only you’ll know what they are. The expendable parts of your life that you are choosing to divert your energy into. The reality is that Ashtanga might help a person be better at nearly any physical activity, but nearly any other physical activity will compromise your Ashtanga practice in some way. For me, even how much I admire the soul of true surfing, I still choose my yoga practice. There’s a subtlety to it that is not found elsewhere. Even dreaming about being a surfer diverts my attention, even the possibility that I might drop my serious practice and go surf takes away from my practice.
I now feel more grounded, lighter, and more excited about Yoga practice. I wish I could just touch your feet and you’d feel what I feel and then you would drop those lesser dreams you are harboring that aren’t worth it. Funnel your energy towards the real heart of what you want to share, create, and become — unswerving, able to keep the target in your sights. You’ll see a major shift in your experience, new found energy for what you want will arrive to help you. I’m no longer dreaming of surf vacations; I’m dreaming of dropping into my body, into my center, finding that flow, finding the depths, the athleticism, presence, power, finding that ability to illuminate the entire inner field. I prefer sensing, feeling, intuiting and thinking my way into the pure enjoyment, pure consciousness — and the profound experience of now — that Ashtanga yoga offers.