Sometimes, I feel failure when my practice does not look the way I want it. From the first to the last samastitihi, I want stability and ease in each asana. I want audible breath and a feeling of reassuring improvement. When my practice does not go the way I want it, I feel anger and judgment towards myself and inevitably towards others. It took me a while to realize that dialing my practice down and lessening the pressure I put on myself to be perfect, creates space for friends and trips, exciting new work experiences, and compassion.
Discipline, and commitment, blinded by the fear of losing poses or the greed of wanting more poses, is an unhealthy attachment to physicality. It leads to the opposite of what yoga is supposed to help with, which is presence and union with what the universe has planned today. The practice should support what we want to do with our lives and the way we want to be with people.
If you loosen control, life gives you space, time and energy for the practice. By accepting what is there and working with it, your compassion just keeps on growing. Practice becomes more than the act of showing up and doing what you can. It is a privilege that life can take away any minute. I realized that control is an illusion of power. Compassion is real power because I can use it to uplift humanity.
My journey to this place was a difficult but rewarding one. Two years ago, on my last trip to India to study Ashtanga with Saraswati Jois, I felt sorry about how much the sweet bubble of healthiness had made me intolerant. Intolerant to the easy going, adaptive side of my being who thrives when uncomfortable; blissed with curiosity. I stayed in Gokulam. A peculiar area where every restaurant, bookstore and conversation carried the aim of helping me with my practice. The fear of not “performing” well in the morning, resulted in a form of self imposed asceticism. I felt somehow like the discipline was going over the line of my morning practice and into my everyday gestures. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the comfort and had a desire to go towards a healthier lifestyle. However, I was shocked at how much I got used to being in a mythical world where everything is set up to make two hours of daily practice seem easy.
After a month and a half of great dedicated practice, I started asking myself, “Will I be able to maintain this practice?” I would be traveling another four months in Asia. If I go to a farm, will I find a clean spot to practice? How would I practice on a sleeper bus? If I stay with a family in India, should I accept a late night meal that may make me feel sluggish in the morning? Would it be culturally inappropriate to turn it down?
I knew that I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel and that consistent practice with Saraswathi was also a blessing. However, the thought of figuring out how I was going to maintain my practice, filled me with anxiety.
I also felt this way during the September grape harvest (I’m French. I help make wine). I would practice at the end of a ten hour grape picking day, in between two beds in a dorm with everyone passing by because it was shower time.
It doesn’t end there. For the past few years, my life has given me many opportunities to work with impermanence and non-attachment. I am a nomad. I made that choice. As an artist, a yogi, and a friend, I want to be able to experience many aspects of life and see the world by myself. Rather than one particular goal, I set myself a sort of bucket list of experiences, projects and dreams. One of those dreams was to travel with the circus. Circus arts is a passion. A couple of months ago, in the freezing cold of East France, I traveled for 2 weeks in a circus caravan. During this time, I managed to squeeze a sort of half intermediate in the only space big enough for a yoga mat; the bathroom, between the heater and the bathtub. Then the bathroom flooded and the power went off. I promised myself I would practice the next morning but the heat was not fixed and I was struggling to get warm. Because body heat was the only way to keep from freezing at night, I shared a bed with a friend. My morning practice went out the window. It was just too cold to get up before the sun was high enough in the sky to provide some warmth. I was angry because I was not controlling my practice the way I thought I should.
The anger consumed me until a sunny Saturday presented me with an opportunity to take out my mat. I practiced in my mountain gear, thick fleece leggings, ski socks, one turtle neck under another fleece jumper, for half an hour under the sun, outside on a little wooden stage. Everything around me was covered in snow. I found myself in this vicious cycle of beating myself up for an inconsistent practice and having to forgive myself for not forcing a practice that would have been inappropriate under these circumstances. Even after the anger and struggle, I never regret my travel, my experiences or my choice to live a nomadic life.
When I get home, I let go of the guilt. I give myself love, and my practice, time to ebb, flow and readjust. I start my practice over from the beginning with Sun Salutes. I move until I feel resistance, tiredness or agitation and then I stop. I slowly find the stability that comes from practicing in comfort again.
I commit to the patience and gentleness I need to rebuild a practice that was tested by living outside of my comfort zone. Every bit of strength or flexibility, lost and regained, is a process that expresses the impermanence of life and the openness I can show towards it. I turn exhaustion into gratitude.
If you loosen control, life gives you space, time and energy for the practice and your compassion just keeps on growing. Daily you have to face your desire to open your mat and practice, and whether this desire is met or not you feel that you have this intention to get up and show up. And the days your practice is blessed with a large and quiet space, and you have the energy to do it, is a true privilege. As for the other days, when you cannot do your full practice, you develop the compassion to accept what is there and work with it. Instead of moving everything and everyone around you so that you can have space for yourself.
To practice during times of adversity, you have to accept that it might not be the kind of practice you were expecting. It may be a 10 minute stretch and breathe kind of moment or even an awkward sitting meditation because, today my friend, this is what you can do. Due to my regular outings outside of my comfort zone I have much more space for love and forgiveness (there is still a long way to go, believe me).
I am sharing this because maybe someone else out there needs to hear that they can let go of their military perspective on Ashtanga practice, open to life, grow in compassion,develop presence and lean into what the universe has to offer. In the same way I thank my host for offering me a meal, I thank the universe for all the situations with which it continues to nourish me.