Ashtanga P.M.

My fellow Ashtanga practitioners, I am not a morning person. I’ve seen you, morning people, out in the world–bright and shining as you step out of the practice room, off to start your new day. That is not me. I am a poet, and one of the privileges of that club is reserving the right to categorically turn down any activity that occurs before 11 a.m.—not always convenient, but hey, somebody’s gotta write the poetry. Witness these lines by Dylan Tomas:

In my craft or sullen art

Exercised in the still night

When only the moon rages

And the lovers lie abed

With all their griefs in their arms,

I labour by singing light

Not for ambition or bread

Or the strut and trade of charms

On the ivory stages

But for the common wages

Of their most secret heart.

So you might be surmising from this that while being a poet doesn’t pay well and can give you a bad attitude, you do get to keep your own hours. Those kinds of hours don’t lend themselves to early mornings. In all honesty, I’m questionable before 2ish in the afternoon.

I probably wouldn’t be practicing Ashtanga today if there hadn’t been only 6 p.m. classes in my area of Orange County, California—there were actually no Mysore classes at all, and certainly no morning Ashtanga classes at the time. So, the first few years of my practice were always after 6 in the evening.

That’s how I got in the door, so to speak. I never would’ve taken a morning yoga class. Not in a zillion years. Not physically possible. No way. Did I mention my distaste for the idea at the time? Would. Never. Happen. So I carried on happily in my 6 p.m. led class with my teacher, Shayna Liebbe.

At some point, and for no discernible reason that I could see, Shayna started urging me to practice in the morning with Tim Miller, or with Diana Christinson in Dana Point, at Pacific Ashtanga. “Does she teach in the evenings?” Twice a week, Diana had evening Mysore.

That’s how I got hooked on Mysore practice, and the individualized teaching that comes with it. Diana kept at it, telling me I should come in the morning, practice more consistently. That it was better, etc., etc. You know what I’m talking about. Eventually, they wore me down.  Shayna convinced me to go with her to my first morning Mysore practice. With Tim Miller. I guess you know what happened next.

That’s right. I became a zombie. Years of morning Mysore practice later, still a zombie. This is why I understand why I can’t get my friends and fellow writers to try Ashtanga. The Number One reason is the time it’s taught. “What time do I have to be there?” they ask. And then they laugh hysterically at what surely must be a joke when I tell them. I’m serious, I say. “No bleeping way,” is the inevitable reply, followed by “Bleep off.”

I also understand because mornings never really got better for me, in spite of the promises that it would. I can say I got used to it, but that extra layer of stiff achy suffering requires an extra layer of motivation to overcome. One must crash the pity party. And I know that Nancy Gilgoff herself practices after 6 p.m. “I just prefer it,” she says. I can’t be the only one. There are at least two of us.

So this time of year, when the time shift makes the nights long and quiet, I also shift my home practice to the evenings and roll out my mat right at sunset.

I know all the arguments for a morning practice. I’ve heard them—physical, mental, traditional, as well as the “convenience” argument. That’s great and I’m happy it works out for you. But me—I’m fuzzy-brained, sleepy, absent-minded, stiff and achy. (How do I drive to class? Or back again? That all by itself is a terrifying argument for a p.m. practice.)

Michelangelo's vision of Night. Via
Michelangelo’s vision of Night. Via

In the evening, I am done with the day. I have nothing else to distract me or detain me. This is what I have come for, and all that remains. My joints are more open, my muscles less stiff, and whatever else I may have done that day—like drive, or sit for hours; or fretting over some of the day’s drama—I can now work out and release.

This, for me, is when the mind is most quiet, most calm, and the practice can come with my complete attention. The Sun now is on the other side of the Earth, and while I wait for it to return, in the morning, in the Spring, I practice.

Posted by Bobbie



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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

12 thoughts on “Ashtanga P.M.”

  1. Oooh I completely agree. I’m an artist, and the sensibilities are similar to that of the writer / poet. I started with night time led classes, at the gym, which was a lot less judgmental than the yoga shalas I would later inhabit. And mornings haven’t gotten easier for me either. I just know that the pain of no yoga is far worse than the pain of yoga, which for me, is mornings.

    I’ve got a full-time grunt job, that I hate, loathe & despise. Except for Friday primary, practice in the evening is simply not possible.

  2. Hi Bobbie,
    You are definitely not alone. I am an evening person also and keep practicing ashtanga at evenings. Tried it in the mornings but didn’t found so beneficial. I think each person is different, maybe in another time my opinion would be different.

    1. For a long time the shalas kept getting further away from my NYC apartment, and for awhile I had an advanced practice that was 2.5 hours long. I’d get up at 5am & leave at 6am, after caffeinating. Now I practice 3x a week before work. For that I’m up at 5am sharp & on the mat before 6. I cut my practice down to a bit less than 2 hours. I practice on Saturdays & Sundays, whether or not there’s a moon. In this way it’s only just doable.

  3. I am a morning person through and through. Even when I played in bands i’d get home at 4 or 5 and wake up at 8 and nap in the afternoons. My best jobs were early morning starts like at the vancouver stock exchange 6 a.m. start (to coincide with NY) or the safeway warehouse job i had which started at 4 a.m. Before my daughter was born with a life threatening illness I used to wake at 6 run to the gym, work out and run home and off to work i’d go. Most of the yoga i did was here and there and everywhere. Now when I leave my daughter to go anywhere it is with the knowledge that it could be the last time I see her. For some reason i’ve been given the gift of being able to revive her efficiently and have done so many times. When I leave her with my wife I put her on her respirator and head out the door. I know my wife would do her best should our daughter go into respiratory arrest but she hasn’t done it before i’ve done it 5 times since birth from a flat line. So when I leave our daughter’s side it’s with faith,that no matter what happens I except the outcome with love, compassion. When she is sick i never leave her side and when she is well i rarely leave her side and because of the intense devotion of care delivered to her she has far exceeded the mortality rates of her disease spinal muscular atrophy type 1. In fact she is in the living room, dressed in her mother’s wedding dress, with her teacher for the next 2 hours studying, using her computer with her eyes and enjoying life even though she can barely move a muscle. Now is my time to practice while everything is calm. It’s during these moments of calm and health that I can take practice. Most days I get in my full practice some days i only make it to the mat to sit. I sleep to the rhythm of her breath, I spend my day in the rhythm of her breath. Every day when I can I focus deeply on myself, take practice, give thanks for this moment I have to myself, thank all the gurus for this practice I do with focus and that keeps my head straight while fighting this good fight. I’d be lying if I didn’t use this yoga as therapy. Sometimes I think the real yoga practice for me is getting past the, “I want to do this, I need to do that, I wish I could do this, I wish I could go there etc.” There seems to be a lot of intense inward struggle to keep the practice going and I often wonder how people do the practice that have loved ones they are caring for, jobs where lives depend on them, people that work multiple jobs just to survive, single parents etc. It seems that lots of freedom or a major support system is required to keep a steady full practice day in day out. It’s a solitary practice not unlike most art forms. Sometimes all we can do is what we can do and as I was taught recently intent and great focus in a shorter practice is better than the opposite full practice. For me I need to power down at night and sleep when I can and I find that doing this practice late at night powers me up and keeps me up half the night. IF you want to know the power of this ashtanga practice try it some time at 10 at night you’ll be up until the middle of the night; this is the energy I need through the day! For me it’s more about make it to the mat at this point, touch all parts of the ashtanga practice, meditation and let go of all expectations. So off I go now to do my practice. My practice is mostly late morning early afternoon, Friday’s 6 a.m. Sun 6 or 8 the rest mid day.
    On a different note Bobbie and Steve I see why you love that Tim Miller guy. I had a good time at his workshop I haven’t laughed that hard in a while!

  4. This is so funny– I used to only attend evening classes but was converted to a morning person by a combination of Ashtanga and medical school. However, right now I am forced to practice in the evening, if at all, by 5:15 AM rounds and am completely hating it. The grass is always greener!

  5. Something I have never considered! An evening Mysore style class!! I only think of teaching led or beginners at night. Perhaps it’s a way of getting a completely different demographic to come to class.
    I have this hang up on never ever practicing after eating… maybe I should get over it, it’s more dogma! When I do go to the occasional evening Iyengar class for an alignment spanking, with a fellow teacher, I find it hard to sleep. Especially if she includes headstand or handstands in her sequencing.
    Anyone else have this problem?

  6. Thanks for writing this. I too am very much a night time person. Yes, Ashtanga as a a school of yoga might advocate morning practice, but each student needs to walk their own yoga path as well. So for me, that includes practicing when I feel best.

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