How to get up for yoga, again.
I’m unconsciously competent. The longer I practice, the less I can articulate how to begin. So I must keep learning from those who are new to ashtanga. Thank you for being open about what’s hard, brave in dropping old habits, and enthusiastic in your own practice. I love this phase of the learning.
At the start, getting up for practice requires strength and guts: I admire you, and we will all support you. Later, you’ll be able to do what you want to do with ease, and will embody that grace to yet new beginners.
Again this year, I’ve surveyed our group to remix the autumn antidote to SAD. The Earth is changing, our student body is changing, the zeitgeist is changing: so, a practice so fine-tuned as ashtanga also has to adapt. (This is true, too, of subtle changes to the method emerging from the main school in Mysore: our old practice is ever new. Because we are ever new.) Anyway, after a month in the lab with your findings, here’s this year’s get-up-early elixir. No kidding: stick to a regular practice rhythm, and ashtanga’s the only prophylactic you’ll need.
1. Alchemize your word.
What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.
Recently, three different practitioners who were struggling to get on the mat consistently got out of their own way with this single, uncompromising practice. They decided to be the kind of people who have zero daylight between what they say they will do, and what they do. In those painful mornings when the bed was especially seductive, they asked themselves if sleeping through the alarm was worth the pain of going back on their own word. It wasn’t. Because they had turned their word in to gold, it was able to cut through tamas, doubt, and even the softest bed.
Thanks for the inspiration. You know who you are.
2. Use the moral values that help you practice; lose the ones that don’t. It turns out that getting your words and actions lined up is efficient. Similar is the Bhagavad Gita’s teaching that a yogi remains detached from the fruits of her actions and simply absorbs her attention into doing her best in the present moment. Ashtanga is not about getting an awesome body or a perfect mind or “nailing” some posture; it’s about maintaining some concentration and equanimity for every breath, regardless of what it looks like.
Grasping for results isn’t morally wrong; it’s just not smart. What we can control is our attitude, not the outcome of actions. So why waste energy fretting about what we cannot control?
By the same token, why waste energy fretting about the past? Most of us—myself included—have absorbed a Puritan meta-morality from western culture. This includes a lot of emphasis on moral purity, with a countervailing internal assault team of guilt, shame, self-loathing and regret.
Total waste of energy. Enough already, Hester Prynne. Regrets for the past kill excitement for the present. You are worthy and you are welcome: if the (internal) puritan mobs come for you, laugh at their feeble 17th century weapons and get your lightning speed mulabandha in gear.
3. The drugs. 1 mg of herbal melatonin 30 minutes before bed for the first 2 weeks. Don’t try to wake up at vastly different times on different days. People seem to suffer too much doing that. A key insight of Ayurveda is that the body loves a stable rhythm. Reset the whole system, so your serotonin-melatonin dynamic is stable.
4. The rock’n’roll. Big sound, bright light and a hot shower in the morning are still key. See here.
5. Practice in the body you have today. The corporeal body… and the student body. The new people having the most fun this year are those rolling out your mats near the veterans. People who have practiced for a while embody a tacit (hormonal, energetic, phermonic?) knowledge that does rub off. Get in!
The veterans’ prime time used to be 7-8 am, but like in most Mysore rooms, it’s crept earlier because they just can’t wait to get on the mat. Most newcomers say it helps to know that getting up early for practice is effortless for so many. (For that matter, my alarm now goes off at 3:30 instead of 4; and in Mysore I usually get on the mat at 4:15. And, to be brutally honest, it’s awesome.) For now, our group’s energy is strongest from 6:30 – 7:30. You can come later if you want! But if you need a boost, you’ll get it by jumping in the 6:30 updraft. By contrast, if you arrive when the majority of people are finishing, what you’ll experience is their most calm, grounded, quiet energy. That’s also very nice, but one cannot really draft off it.
6. Start in with a sunshine lamp routine now. Get one and follow the instructions. If you don’t want to invest the money, ask your friends. Everyone who has one will tell you it changed their life. Michigan newcomers usually suffer their first winter or two before figuring this out. Why waste a year? I use a Phillips goLITE BLU light therapy device.
7. Get closely in contact with your love of the practice. It’s there, even amid suffering, obstacles and madness. Why else are you doing this, anyway? Ayurveda teaches that our deep desires are wise, and that on some level the nervous system knows things. I see different ways that each of you loves, and respects, and gives thanks for this practice. It is personal. I see that some of you love the way your mind and body operate on the days you practice; some of you love the quiet of the mornings; many of you love the sheer honesty of staying with this when it is physically, emotionally or psychically hard.
Whatever it is, that awe and love are high quality fuel (whereas guilt, shame, pride, superiority and achievement are not as great). Love and a little reverence tend to give us all more energy as the rhythms—hormones, appetites, emotions, inner vision, et cetera—find their way into agreement with each other.
This is how it works. Most of us have to effort it strongly at first, and then practice starts to do itself. I see for those of you in your second year that you are not pushing yourselves to practice so much as being practiced. Yes. Once this thing has a strong spin of its own, you move from (1) depending on external practice resources (like high concentration environments, others’ strong energy, and social norms that promote precise mental discipline) to (2) producing them for yourself and others. In this way, too, in the long run the yoga gives more energy than it takes.