I did not post anything over the weekend because I was in Minneapolis, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the City of Lakes. Essentially, the highlights of my visit can be summed up in two words: Food and Yoga. Actually, I sometimes think that these two words also sum up most Ashtangis' daily existence. For us Ashtangis, daily life is a day-to-day challenge to (1) find the time to practice, and (2) find good food that nourishes the body without making it feel heavy, so that we can keep practicing.
Since this is a yoga blog (and also because I am not good at writing food/restaurant reviews and/or taking "food porn" pictures), I will write only about the yoga aspect of my Minneapolis visit in this post. If you are looking forward to some food porn, well, you may as well stop reading now :-) For the food part, suffice it to say that we (my fiancee and I) went to a few really good Indian and organic restaurants, and had a lot of really wonderful food, which made Sunday morning mysore at the Yoga House a bit more heavy-going and difficult. But well, you win some, you lose some, right? :-) If you would like some recommendations on places to eat when you are in Minneapolis, feel free to email me at siegfried23 at hotmail dot com.
Now on to the yoga. On Sunday morning, I went to mysore practice at the Yoga House. To me, there is one thing about mysore class that is both very appealing and not-so-appealing: Practicing with other people. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a misanthrope. I love practicing with other people. I love the atmosphere of community and camaraderie and silent support that I intensely feel whenever I'm in a mysore class. It's also a very welcome change from my usual solitary home practice. But practicing in a mysore room also poses great challenges to pratyahara (sense-withdrawal), at least for me. For me, there are three major sources of pratyahara challenges:
(1) Drishti violations that occur involuntarily during practice, despite my best efforts to maintain drishti ("Wow, check out that guy's Karandavasana!", "I've never seen such a deep Yoganidrasana before!").
(2) The desire to impress some senior teacher. (For a prime example of this, see my guest post on Claudia's blog about my experiences at Kino's Chicago workshop last year).
(3) The desire or urge to keep pace with the person on the mat next to you, if that person is at around the same point in his or her practice as you are.
I know that (3) probably sounds totally silly to you (it is), but it has happened to me more than a few times. At my teacher's shala in Milwaukee, for instance, there was this woman who would rocket-speed through the primary series (talk about Rocket Yoga :-)). She would arrive at the shala when I was already well into the standing postures, and set up her mat a little distance in front of me. I would continue to plod happily through my practice. The next time I looked at her, she would be ahead of me in the series. And she didn't even look winded or anything, and wasn't even sweating that much (Full disclosure: I'm like the biggest sweat hog in the universe). Seeing her being ahead of me even though she started later would make me feel like I was going too slow (I probably was, anyway), and I would unconsciously speed up in order to "catch up" with her. Which is actually not a totally bad thing: Because of this, I tend to work faster and harder in a mysore class than when I am practicing by myself and going at my own sweet pace.
Anyway, the same thing happened during Sunday morning mysore at the Yoga House. I was in my third or fourth Surya A when this woman laid her mat down next to me and started her practice. Despite my best efforts at maintaining drishti, I found myself involuntarily checking out her practice using my peripheral vision in downward dog ("Hmm... she is quite flexible", "Her jump-backs and jump-forwards are quite neat too", "Wonder if she's been to mysore?", etc, etc.). And then, probably because I have this habit of taking these super-long, slow breaths in the Suryas and in the first few standing postures, I soon discovered that she had "caught up" with me. And I started thinking to myself, "Uh oh, got to speed up! Can't let her overtake me!"
I think this is a very guy way of thinking. At least, I have never heard any female Ashtangi mention having such thoughts before. Basically, whenever I start thinking like this, I kind of start treating the practice like the Monaco Grand Prix. Which is, of course, totally silly. Different people have different breath-lengths, and in the bigger scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter whether the person on the mat next to me is ahead or behind me in the series. But this is what my rational/Sattvic mind says. In instances like this, my ego/rajasic mind tends to take over, and I become totally hung up on trying to keep pace with the person next to me.
So this is what happened during Sunday morning's mysore. I found myself speeding through the standing sequence, and the first few postures of primary. And then, somewhere in the Janu Sirsasanas, she got up to go to the bathroom. "Yeah, time to engage my bandhas/engines full-blast, and take full advantage of her pit-stop. Full speed ahead!" I thought to myself (Aren't I ridiculous?). And so I basically flew through the rest of primary, which was no mean feat, considering the super-big Indian dinner I had the night before. And then I got into second. By the time I exited Kapotasana, I was totally winded. I continued on to Ardha Matsyendrasana, and then went into the finishing sequence. Meanwhile, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that she did full primary and was already well into the finishing sequence. Hmm... so much for racing.
Since there simply wasn't any point to racing anymore (besides, who races through the finishing sequence, anyway?), I decided to settle into a leisurely pace in finishing. As I was sitting in the finishing lotuses, she got up from savasana, came over to me, tapped me on the shoulder, smiled, and said, "I know you are still practicing. Take your time, but I thought I should say a proper hello." Proper hello? And then it dawned on me: She must be Ellie! (For the backstory on this, see my previous post). "Oh, are you Ellie?" I asked. She nodded. What a way to meet somebody whom I had never met before! How embarrassing, too, given the "racing thoughts" I had been having...
I chatted briefly with Ellie and the owner of the studio after practice. I also gave Ellie a copy of Claudia's book (Claudia: Are you reading this? :-)).
Well, that's it for now. I'm pretty blogged out right now, and need to go get something to eat. Hmm... I might just write a little review of the restaurants I went to in Minneapolis in the near future, after all. Stay tuned.