then I would argue that in fact you DO enjoy your practice—you enjoy not enjoying it I kid you. But not entirely.
I immediately appreciated the irony of the statement, and I nearly answered with something amounting to, “You got me.”
But then I made one of the biggest mistakes one can make: I started thinking.
And the more I thought about it, the more I’ve determined that I don’t even enjoy not enjoying my Ashtanga practice. I really just don’t like it.
I wish I did. Really. It would make standing at the front of the mat a lot easier.
Before going further, I want to pause for one second: I’ll admit that the title of this piece is a bit troll-ish, but at the same time it effectively captures my intent here. (“Why I don’t like my Ashtanga practice” doesn’t have the same ring.) However, I’m not trying to be intentionally provocative, and I’ll try to avoid retreading old topics. It is just: I really don’t get why people would like Ashtanga. It is one of the two or three mysteries to the practice that fundamentally baffle me. The best I can come up with is they either are masochists or they aren’t doing it “correctly” (i.e. they aren’t pushing themselves physically to places that make them go, “Ergh,” the places that ignite tapas).
Or every time they get to that place of calm and centeredness. Perhaps my real problem is that I haven’t gotten there — although if I hadn’t had at least a taste once, maybe twice, I’d assume I’d have given up entirely.
So I’m thinking through this mystery.
There are all the superficial reasons not to like the practice, but they don’t amount to much. I’ll list them quickly just to get them out of the way: getting up early; going to bed early; refraining from enjoyable things — food, drink, etc.; that there are better ways to get a workout; the stinky rugs.
More substantial are reasons like:
- The discomfort. We’ve had enough arguments here about pain vs. discomfort in Ashtanga. I’ll set aside the whole question of whether Ashtanga should be “at ease.” It isn’t for me, and even if I’ll grant that every second isn’t painful, most of the seconds are at least uncomfortable. And, this may identify me as a wuss, I don’t like that reaching for my toe isn’t pleasant, that it’s full of discomfort. I’m not saying this is the worst thing in the world, but I can’t imagine describing it as something I like doing.
- Being reminded of my limitations, physical and otherwise. In many ways, it is connected to the above. And, again, it just is something I don’t look forward to doing. There’s nothing “fun” about it. Fun is going to see Kick Ass 2.
- Facing fears and challenges. In some circles, I think, this is central to the Ashtanga practice. (“Why fearing?” Guruji would ask, after all.) But, to hit the point home overly hard perhaps, it isn’t fun.
- Reorienting. While facing fears, for some, may be the core of Ashtanga, for me it is the process of reorientation, the reworking from the inside out. (Sometimes there can be the cessations of the fluctuations of the mind involved.) Change. And if change were fun, there wouldn’t be an entire institution around managing it.
Nothing about Ashtanga, as far as I can tell, is fun. There’s nothing to like.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these — and others, I’m sure — may be important things to face or, dare I say it, overcome. But facing something and liking it are two different things, two things that remain mutually exclusive in my head. (I’m reminded of Arjuna’s reluctance to head into battle. He was faced with something he fundamentally didn’t like, to say the least.)
I suppose a decent analogy is going to the dentist. If you like that, there’s something a little off about you. But the alternative — The Big Book of British Smiles? — is worse. And, remember: I’ve already said that the only thing worse is not practicing.
But fun? No. Necessary? Sure. I’ll grant that. I’d understand someone saying, “I needed to practice today.” Or: “I can’t live without my practice.”
Even: “It’s my Dharma.” (See Arjuna again.)
But love it? No way. I can only hate it for all the things it is.
Final thought: I feel I should point out that I’m sure I would have given up the practice were it not for the terrific, fierce, kind and patient teachers I’ve been fortunate to cross mats with: Tim Miller at the top of the list, Maria Zavala, as well. Leigha Nicole. The Confluence teachers, including Eddie Stern — in part for introducing us to Robert Moses and Namarupa and our yatra. They’ve allowed me to have this relationship to the practice.
And in the end I know I’m very fortunate to be able to whine about something as insignificant/significant as my asana practice.
Posted by Steve