An interview with certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues and Ashtangi filmmaker Joy Marzec.
Joy: As I keep practicing and as the years tick by, I’ve noticed the cycles of being inspired or uninspired get longer. Wouldn’t you say that one of the things that distinguishes an advanced practitioner from a beginner is that the advanced student knows about the uninspired cycles, understands they can be lasting, but is not dependent on inspiration to get on the mat?
I’ve gone months, dare I say years, without being inspired, but you, my daily teacher and my home studio, help me get through those cycles. You wake up at 4 a.m. in the winter, practice in our kitchen, and still have maintained a daily practice since ’93. So what helps you get through those times of challenge? What keeps you inspired?
David: Inspiration barely even enters into my thinking about practice. For me, inspiration mainly comes from the physical act of doing it. That is one of the main reasons for practice—to inspire yourself. It’s not only discipline, determination, toughness and stubbornness that gets me on my mat each day…the anticipation of something spontaneous, or magical happening during my practice makes it more soulful, fun, and that’s an incredible reason to get on my mat.
I also love the inner relationship that I’ve developed with myself by practicing. I have developed a physical, intellectual and emotional maturity over months and years through the daily return to the mat. Practice sets up the conditions for self-reflection that I need in order to have a meaningful relationship with what is happening inside of me. I’ve come to rely on this inner process. This is the fruit of practice because it gives me self knowledge that I would be lost without.
Also, you aren’t going to believe it, but practicing alone, by myself, does inspire me in its own way. It is a very different inspiration than attending a class with a teacher. But, as I often point out to many students who have a home practice, the sacred texts say that yoga is to be practiced alone. I take that to heart because I have to, and it does suit me.I can tell you this: you wouldn’t want me as your student. Ha! All joking aside, I do genuinely like practicing by myself. I find that important things happen for me when I practice in solitude, without anyone else around.
(Joy gives incredulous look.)
David: I see that I’m still not giving you what you want.
Joy: You’ve been practicing alone for how many years? I am just curious how you do it? We see students with incredibly strong practices in class. Okay, let’s get real here. Me. I have a strong practice in class, but I’m terrified to know what would happen to my practice if I didn’t have a home studio.
David: Part of what inspires me is knowing the value of practice through having lost my practice. It has taken several cycles of losing and regaining my practice to realize its value to me. There have been times of not putting real energy into my practice. For years, I didn’t put enough of a priority on it with enough consistency to maintain it at the most optimal level, and the consequence was that my body changed on me without my consent. I lost the ability to do many advanced postures, and for a long time I made excuses and somehow managed to ignore it.
Joy: For those of you that don’t know, while David had his first Ashtanga school in Seattle, he built himself a 3 x 3 foot room in his house and not only sang devotional music, but studied yoga like a mo’fo for 10 years. Which is absolutely brilliant and an insane artist thing to do, and is the reason why you are such an incredible teacher. You let all the ideas cook in the oven and made sure they were thoroughly cooked and conceived by the time you put them out there to the world.
David: Ha! Yes, I put a ton of energy into teaching and devotional singing and then there were the various pains and injuries. But primarily, I forgot how much I loved movement and postures and the whole physical expression of the practice. It is a terrible feeling and experience to once have been able to do hanumanasana and then to finally admit that I couldn’t do it nearly as well as I used to simply because I stopped working on it with enough care and intensity.
But part of the value of having a practice at all, is the sobering experience of being shown the consequences of your choices directly in your body. But also you have the opportunity to be inspired by what you learn about your self through the challenges and failures that come up for you. You return to the mat again with renewed inspiration, vigor and humility. It may not seem like it because I’m such a diehard Ashtangi, but I have battled with consistency, commitment and dedication to my practice even though I have always maintained a daily practice for the past 20 years.
So what I’m revealing may seem contradictory, but I am referring to the times when my fire, passion and real care were missing from my practice. It’s true that just getting on your mat each day (in any capacity) is positive, and is far better than not doing anything, but to extract the wisdom and soul from practice requires a tremendous amount of energy from you and is more than just simply going through the motions of a series.
So what I’ve concluded from these experiences is that it seems to me that each of us must go through cycles of losing focus on the things that are truly most important to us. Apparently, we must be wounded by this type of failure, and having a practice shows us how to learn from it and heal and thus gain wisdom. I personally have been able to become inspired again, to recommit to my practice, to pick it up again each time I lose focus regardless of how different it may be compared to where it used to be. Now, partly my inspiration comes from cherishing what I can do now. I know from painful experience what happens when I don’t stay focused, and this helps me to bring real energy each day to my practice.
Joy: I think that’s a pretty amazing story.
David: Yes maybe that’s because it’s about continuing to find inspiration under every circumstance. In a big picture way, even under the best circumstances, for each of us, our yoga must become a process of accepting further and further limitation. There is the simple fact of aging, and also there are all the different necessary, important life events that we all go through that must at least temporarily take us away from spending serious time on our mats. When you can find inspiration again and again, no matter what, you have won maturity and success in yoga. And, thus, practice is a perfect training that helps you be more and more ready for the ultimate limitation and challenge of yoga—being happy while losing your body entirely at the time of death.
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Ed: B. Bemel