Ashtanga in the evening

A bit more than a year ago, Bobbie wrote a post she titled, simply, Ashtanga P.M. A key takeaway:

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.

This fall — since the time change, really — our schedules have colluded so that, for the first time since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga, I’m joining her for evening practices.

Typically, she’s partway through by the time I make it home from work, giving our duo practice room the tiniest of Mysore feels.

But I suppose not much else is “traditional” about it. Still, here’s what I’ve found over a month or so of evening practicing:

  • The central thing it, not surprisingly, the difference between practicing while facing the day vs. when the day’s winding down. In the excerpt above, Bobbie described it as a lack of distraction. My experience is that my practice, at least, is much more reflective. Dare I even say: meditative. The practice becomes part of the slowing down, of the letting the day go instead of the ramp up to what’s ahead. I’m able to reflect — when those reflections intrude — on what I’ve accomplished rather than worry about what’s to come. (I think reflection intrudes a lot less than worry.) It might be like the difference between the moment preparing for a difficult pose — kapo is a favorite to cite, right? — and the moment just after moving out of it. The evening Ashtanga practice seems to be more the latter than the former.
  • The approach can be quite different. There certainly is a great relief and even exhilaration with having practice done by 7 a.m. or so and knowing the rest of the day is for living. But the evening practice has nothing after it (beyond maybe fixing dinner) for which one needs to save reserves. If you want, and if you are able, you can bust out the big practice without worrying about falling asleep during that long, sure-to-be-boring meeting. (A little like the benefit and pleasure of a yoga retreat.)
  • As Bobbie wrote, the body, joints and muscles are certainly looser. And I’d describe, for myself, that the above reflective state means the mind is looser, too. It seems easier to find the tristana of the practice.
  • You do have to think about practice all day — what you’re eating and when, notably. But it’s really not too much different than being mindful of eating too late or too heavy if you will be on your mat by 6 a.m. But there is a matter of managing energy; I feel like I need to have a little peak as practice starts.
  • The tough thing is when the day really intrudes on practice. A late, unexpected meeting or call that pushes the end of the work day back 30 minutes or an hour can foul up the start of practice (see managing energy above). For me, though, there are enough mornings when I have to be heading to work by 7 or 7:30 a.m. that this probably all balances out — there are equal numbers of mornings and evenings that might only allow for sun salutes and the trio of finishing poses. Evening may even prove more conducive to getting practice in.
  • And, finally, probably the most important thing: Coffee. It’s easy to suck down a cup right after you wake and charge the body with prana. It’s harder to balance a surge of energy against the desire to, you know, get to sleep before midnight. So the coffee drinking is finished hours earlier, and I may be having to call on my own reserves. We may also need to explore the benefits of a nice glass of whiskey following savasana.

Those are a few thoughts, at least.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Ashtanga in the evening”

  1. I love Ashtanga in the evening. I will even go as far as to say I hate Ashtanga in the morning. The stiffness in my body does not wear off until about 10AM. I only practice Ashtanga in the morning if there is no other option.

  2. I struggle in the morning too – but there are good reasons that almost all lineages tend towards main sadhana in the morning. Maybe these have something to do with what western medicine have discovered about altitude sickness (I can’t tell you what to see but I can tell you where to look 😉 – obviously there are benefits to evening practise as well (“even a little of this practise can save you from great sorrow”) and I commend experimentation and pragmatism, but to me this could also be case where peoples lack of surrender prevents them from seeing what practise is showing them.

  3. Dharma Mittra wrote in Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses:

    “Most people practice pranayama in the morning, between 4 A.M. and 6 A.M., when the mind and senses are calm. After 4 P.M., once the body is warmed up from the day’s movement, they do asanas. You move 20 percent better then.”

    So, you have a powerful supporter there 🙂

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