I’ve heard all the reassurances before. “Practice and all will come,” “Do what you can,” “Anyone can practice.” But you know what? I’m one of those poster children for Ashtanga yoga—the driven perfectionist, the Type A personality from a Western country, the student that has immersed herself in self-study BEFORE going to a class so as not to be embarrassed when everyone knows what comes after Navasana and she does not. “Practice and all will come?” More like “Practice makes perfect.” I had a Tiger Mother after all.
However, the perfectionist in me is also the same individual that acknowledges the power of rules and traditions, especially when it comes to yoga. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, and with age comes the wisdom to respect the history and culture and customs of something that’s Really Really Old. The bad thing about that is I’m also enough of an autodidact to know the rules and when I’m breaking them. See, I can’t even blame ignorance for flouting the rules! I am knowingly and purposefully breaking them.
So what are these Ashtanga rules I’m breaking? I’m sure I’m committing a ton of these fouls, but here are the biggest of the lot. When I’m self-practicing:
1. I skip Savasana. This is probably the second deadliest sin I commit. (What’s THE deadliest, you ask? You’ll have to read on to find out.) I really don’t see why I have to lie still on the ground afterwards. Sure it’s relaxing, but truth be told, I prefer to chill out in other ways. Yes, it’s supposed to be relaxing and calming, good for centering the mind and body and all that. I can admit that it’s probably good for you. But NOT doing it ain’t necessarily BAD for you, right? Since I injured my shoulder last July, when it comes time for Savasana, I get up, attach electrodes to my right shoulder from my TENS unit and put an icepack on. Then I plop on the couch and turn the TV on. Just as relaxing, believe me!
2. I skip the chant. Because I don’t know the chant. I know, I just really need to learn it. In class, I kind of mumble and fake my way through it, although I’m sure I’m not fooling anyone let alone my eagle-eyed teacher. So when I’m by myself, I don’t even try. I just skip it. Is it bad? Am I offending the yoga gods and inviting bad juju my way? (Wait, I think I just mixed cultures/deities.) Is Stair never going to move me to second series unless I learn the chant?
3. I don’t do my oms either. Why don’t I? This one I actually like doing. I like the deep moan of the om. Reminds of the sounds I made during labor. (Wait, was that TMI?) I really don’t know why I skip this one. NOTE TO SELF: Say your oms during your next self-practice.
4. “My name is Karmela and I rush through self practice.” Yes, I do. (***hangs head in shame***) For some reason, I can complete the entire primary series in just an hour, when it takes me at least 75 minutes during Mysore class. I don’t know how. I’m not skipping postures or vinyasas. Actually, scratch that. I know exactly what I’m doing. Or what I’m doing wrong. And it has something to do with my…
5. Breathing. Specifically, I cheat when I breathe. You’re like, what? How can you cheat at breathing? Only yogis—and Ashtangis in particular—will understand what I’m talking about. I don’t breathe evenly in every posture, meaning some postures get the full five ujayyi breaths (e.g., Dandasana), while some postures get what sound more like the breathing of a panting dog (e.g., Marichyasana D). In a led class or even in Mysore, I dare not do this. But by myself? Well, all (breathing) bets are off.
6. I play music. I DO! I know that all I’m supposed to need for self-practice is a mat-sized space and a mat, that I’m supposed to look inside myself, to internalize everything, to forget about my surroundings and to just PRACTICE. I tell ya, when I’m with myself by myself, it’s easier said than done. So I get a little musical help. Music lets my mind focus on something else instead But here’s the even greater transgression: I don’t even play kirtan or Indian music or even classical. I play hip hop. I do. Believe me when I tell you that the rhythm of an Eminem song ain’t necessarily incompatible with the flow of an Ashtanga practice. He has hypnotic bass beats, that Em.
7. And here perhaps is the biggest of the Seven Deadly Ashtanga Sins I’ve committed: On my own, without permission from my teachers, I give myself postures to practice. Did I just hear you gasp in disbelief? I don’t blame you. This one’s a biggie. For non-Ashtangis out there, let me explain. So when you first start practicing the primary series and you decide to go to a Mysore-style class, most students don’t actually get to practice the entire series. A description of what goes in is here. In my case, when I first started attending, my teacher stopped me after Supta Kurmasana, and rightly so. My Supta K to this day is a big hot mess. Concave torso, knees that are nowhere near under my shoulders, hands that are about a foot apart behind my back. I don’t blame her for taking me there and keeping me there. The process is this: when your teacher deems you ready, he/she gives you the next posture in the series you can practice. But you know what? I knew I could rock the postures after Supta K. Baddha Konasana? Doable. Supta Padangusthasana? Cake. And I wanted to learn Chakrasana. So when I began to practice on my own after my schedule no longer allowed me to come to class, I just started adding the postures after Supta K until now I practice the entire series start to finish. Is every posture perfect? Hella no. Is my Supta K still a hot freaking mess? No doubt. But watch me add Pashasana to my practice tomorrow.
I’m hoping my lovely and understanding teachers will read this and tell me all is well, that these transgressions are forgiven, that they still love me and think me cute as a button. Maybe they will—but only when I’m self-practicing. When I’m in the studio, I’m sure they will continue to make me toe the line and obey the rules. I have no problem with that. Because really, when I break the rules, who am I cheating? No one else but me! These shortcuts are to no one’s detriment but my own. (***Hangs head in shame again***) I know that.
Ah, the life of a yogi. Okay, so SECOND NOTE TO SELF: Try not to break any rules tomorrow.
Related article: here.
Photo credits: Boy
Karmela Lejarde — novelist, dance teacher, mediocre piano player for a 90s tribute band, and mom to two dancer/athletes — originally shunned yoga as “something old people did.” Then she discovered power vinyasa, specifically ashtanga, and life was never the same after that. She self-practices the primary series most every day despite a mere 6 hours a night of sleep, a full working mom schedule, and the confounding challenge that is supta kurmasana.