Monday, February 21, 2011

Practice report, and some musings about the nature of mysore practice

I did full primary and second series up to Ardha Matsyendrasana this morning. Very mentally purifying practice, especially after the sensory overload over the weekend (see my last post). Felt this beautiful connection between mind, breath and body. The dropbacks and standups somehow felt more fluid than usual. I tend to have this habit of faffing a little in the dropbacks: I would drop back, and then walk my hands closer to my feet a little before trying to stand up. I think this deprives me of momentum. I think it is easier to stand up when I trust my back more, and just use a combination of quad muscles, momentum, and back muscles to bring me back up the moment my hands touch the ground.

I read with great interest Evelyn's recent post. She observes:

"I think the "serious" atmosphere (ie: focused atmosphere) of a Mysore room can be intimidating to those who enjoy a more social setting. But it distresses me when I hear of someone thinking Ashtangis aren't friendly or that things are too serious. (note: some Ashtangis are assholes, but you know what I'm sayin') Does everything have to be smiley-smiley spiral your joy all the time? When I think of what's going on in a Mysore practice, I think of a group of people who are making time in the day to be quiet. No tv, no phone, no texting, twittering, facebooking, no blogging, no computer, no talking. What a relief, right? Just breathing."

I couldn't agree more with this, especially the last few sentences. Perhaps some people are so accustomed to the sensory overload of everyday life that they feel out of place and "weird" when they go into an environment that is not sensory-overloaded; a mysore class, as we know, is the anti-thesis of sensory-overload (sensory-underload?).

Or perhaps some people are not used to being in an environment where everyone seems to be so intensely focused on one thing and one thing only; of course, we all know that we can still be distracted in so many ways, even in a mysore class (drishti violations, swan divers, varters, noticing boners, etc.), but at least one most obvious source of external distraction (i.e. banal human interaction that often passes for friendly conversation) is taken out of the picture. And that's great, because for me, the most powerful distractors that come up in the practice often stem from within my mind (brain-chatter). Imagine how much harder practice would be if one had to deal with external chatter as well as internal brain chatter?

I remember being drawn to mysore practice since my very first time in a mysore class. The very first time I stepped into a mysore class (this was more than three years ago), I felt this spirit of silent community and camaraderie that permeated the whole room. There's this beautiful paradox: Everybody is doing their own practice. Yet, at the same time, everybody is encouraging everybody else in the room simply by doing their own practice. I felt that it was such a refreshing change from the teacher-centered environments of most "conventional" classes, where many teachers, in my opinion, have the tendency to become a little preachy and (dare I say) even self-important, because they are always the center of attention and are so used to being so. I know, I used to teach in a yoga studio :-) In a mysore class, the teacher stands by the sidelines, and assists and gives the student feedback when necessary. I feel that, in this sense, mysore practice really brings out the idea of the teacher being somebody who serves the yoga community, rather than the other way around.

And I believe this sense of community extends beyond the physical confines of the shala. Due to where I live, most of my practice these days is self-practice, but when I step onto the mat every morning and do the opening invocation, I am reminded that I am part of this powerful and wonderful community of Ashtanga practitioners; a community that transcends boundaries of time and space.    

Lokaha Samasthaha Sukhino Bhavantu.

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