In Ashtanga, facing the difficulty of the difficult

We’re partway through our second week in Encinitas where, I kid you not, it rained on Tuesday.

That’s not about to stop me from going surfing in a bit. (In fact, I’ll probably pause midway in this post.)

What’s more likely to stop me from surfing is the fact that we’re partway through our second week here. That means nine or so practices under Tim Miller’s watchful (and thankfully at times less watchful, given the overflowing room) eye, and the accompanying ache, tiredness, weariness and exhaustion that comes with it.

We talked today after practice briefly with a blog reader (Hi to you if you’re reading this!) who is a regular at Tim’s. I think I said, long and short, that that would kill me. It might not, quite, but I’m not sure how’d I’d manage it.

When Bobbie took Tim’s Second Series training a few years back, I only stayed a week, and after the Sunday Led Primary, I told Tim I was off, which was a good thing: Any more time hear would break me, I said.

He responded that I was took stiff to break.

This time, spending two full weeks, might be the proof I was correct.

I’ve only ever had Tim doses of a week at a time: Tulum, Shasta, that Second Series week. I really am not sure how people do it, day in, day out. Perhaps the overwhelming shakti — which I realize is not just from Tim, but from his students and assistants, a whole boiling kettle of tapas that is difficult to ignore — gets blunted by time and familiarity. Surely one would figure out how to dial things back, a bit?

(Add into this that, while I’m working this week, it is only about half time, and it is in shorts and a T-shirt, with a break for surfing. So how I would have my real life … I don’t know. But I think that’s a good opportunity for me to get wet.)

(OK. I’m back. Best session of the trip.)

But perhaps not. And even if one does, there remains the practice itself — the difficulty of that. There’s the asanas, most obviously. But try keeping up with Tim in pranayama, and you’ll likely add it. And then think about the first two limbs. If those were easy, we wouldn’t be focused on Syria and U.S. immigration policy, just to name a couple of things off the very tip top of my head.

This isn’t the first time we’ve pondered the difficult, by the way. I’m tempted to think perhaps Bobbie and I share what she described in that post as the fascination of the difficult. Like attracts like, after all. But I can’t believe we’re alone, not after mornings practicing at Tim’s.

This utter difficulty is, I suppose I’m trying to say in too long-winded a way, one key aspect of Ashtanga that differentiates it from other “types” of yoga: Yin, Kundalini, whatever John Friend is up to today. (I say that only because our most recent post about him got a bump of hits on Tuesday. Did he do something?) Forcing ourselves, most days — most mornings — to face the impossible is a pretty crazy thing to do. But then you conquer a little piece of it.

That’s the esoteric side. What I’m facing today, now, is just the difficulty of the effort, of the physicality, of Ashtanga — arms that are noodles in the first down dog; hamstrings that aren’t having any of it from the very first. I’m facing it, wondering how I will face it tomorrow. And whether I’ll conquer any little thing in the process.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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