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March 12, 2011

The Joy Of Fatigue. ~Stephanie Kohler

Photo: Shaun Scholtz

I’ve practiced asana (yoga poses) at 6:00a.m. for several years, and I’ve learned that a pre-dawn alarm is a powerful catalyst for my mind to rationalize staying in bed. Darkness is not the only challenge — many of my friends do not practice in the morning, so they are never on my schedule.

Thus I frequently have to balance “normal” social interactions with my a.m. practice. Like great live music, which Atlanta has every night. Celebrating a birthday or some other notable occasion, when people meet at 7:00p.m. and finally start to eat dinner at 8:30.

Other times I provide the conflict, by way of a great book that I can’t put down in order to sleep. Occasionally I have deadlines (like elephant journal blog posts) or meetings (again, with people whose alarms go off after sunrise). Or even just nerves, like a job interview. When I’ve met an intriguing guy and my mind wants to wander about him (me? us?). And just plain excitement for something in the future, like the great live music previously mentioned.

Regardless of the cause, I tend to hate my alarm the next morning. I’m sluggish, maybe still half-full from eating an appetizer late at night. Staying in bed is so very tempting — I have a good reason, right?

Photo: chadly

Rather than entertain excuses, I start pranayama. Then I will myself to asana practice and face the fatigue. I used to dread a tired practice because my insides felt as though they were made of cement. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that fatigue is more multifaceted than simply the cement sensation.

In fact, the days when I really wanted to stay in bed have been some of my “best” practices — as in most revealing, informative, illuminating. At first I didn’t understand why, but I realized that I practice differently on the days when I’ve practiced in spite of reluctance, though I’m cognizant of it.

First, I face practice with less judgment, as in “Since I’m so *&@! tired, I don’t have to do anything perfectly.” Consequently, I find that sometimes I’m more capable than I think; that an expected challenge like pincha mayurasana (peacock tail) doesn’t actually scare me as much as I think it will.

A few years ago, after practicing repeatedly when I was tired, I hurt myself or felt sore, due to clumsiness or carelessness. I realized that asana autopilot was far more accessible and frequent than I had considered. Consequently, I recognized how much more mindful I need to be when my body feels tired.

Ashtanga has many opportunities for crash-landings: any number of arm balances, chakrasana (wheel pose), dropping back into urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow/backbend), to name a few. In these instances I stay more mindful with my breath—fatigue functions like a sore muscle, in that I have to pay more attention than normal.

Photo: lululemon athletica

So feeling subpar has its advantages. On days when I’m well-rested, I face my alarm with alacrity. Some days I don’t even need it. I readily know that feeling ready doesn’t create a flawless asana practice. And I now understand that the opposite is true, that tiredness doesn’t guarantee a more flawed asana practice.

Now, I almost appreciate those fatigued days, knowing that I have a new way to approach something so consistent. I don’t have the intention to practice in the same effort as the days when I feel more rested, but I still encounter surprises.

The first few times I ever held a handstand happened on days when I practiced in spite of my low energy. I’ve come to appreciate that my mind often feels more open on those days, and now try to release the expectations even on days when I feel optimal.

Either way, I step on my mat and keep breathing.

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Stephanie Kohler
lives a life of eclectic and ecstatic passion. In no particular order, she is a writer, yogini, musician, teacher, nomad, lover, thinker, reader, dancer. She strives to balance effort with surrender, precision with laughter. Live life, love life, live love. Read more:  southernwithasmalls.com

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