What’s that getting in the way of practice? An ego

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.

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Ego.

I suspect everything we do and deal with in life — maybe beyond? — comes down to handling our ego. Ego here meaning our wound-up sense of self, of I vs. you. Not exactly earth-shattering, but still an implicit place to establish a common degree of understanding.

I say everything in life, but let’s just keep this to asana practice, shall we?

Ego is what keeps us from advancing. Ego is what makes us conceive of the idea of advancement.

Ego is what needs to be satisfied when something else — something that doesn’t feed that sense of self — would better serve us (our true self?). Ego wants that next pose.

Ego is what make me think binding in Marichyasana A and C is best. Or even that I should have my hand on the ground in Utthita Parshvakonasana.

There. I said it. That’s fundamentally what I face on the mat.

But, no, I’m not about the rewind the hate toward Ashtanga theme. It makes for good blogging — honestly, I’d rather thousands of people read about helping the people affected by the floods in northern India than our pain posts — and some decent discussion, plus it offers some opportunities for snide remarks (always welcomed by the way!).

Instead I’m just going to tell you what my next month is going to be on the mat. If — and this is a huge if — I can keep my ego from taking over.

On Sunday, Bobbie led me through a half-primary practice. And I can say that each and every pose featured some serious modification. No grabbing of what everyone is told to grab. No reaching for toes, no head toward floor. No attempting to make it look like what I’m doing resembles Ashtanga.

Things just way too embarrassing to attempt in a shala, in front of people. Things just way too embarrassing to attempt in front of myself.

And so I haven’t. Because my ego can’t take having my hands at my knees instead of my feet. It can’t take the ridiculousness of still being such a beginner after so many years.

Bobbie gave me a lot of instruction, too much to really retain. The instruction of weeks, if not months.

But I know fundamentally what I should be doing. I’ve always known, as I’ve taken workshops, been to the Confluences, practice day in, day out. Back straight, shoulders not hunched forward or down in an attempt to look like I’m nearer my knees than I am. Legs, for that matter, straight. Bandhas engaged, ribs moving with the breath (call that breath what you will).

No cheating, in other words.

I won’t remember exactly how she suggested my shoulders should be in Utthita Parshvakonasana. I know that rather than feeding my ego by stretching my higher arm out and up, I need to think about what the pose is about. That twist and shift of the body.

What’s the purpose of the pose needs to outweigh what my ego wants my body to look like — that my ego wants my body to look something like everyone else in the pose.

And I promised I would try to continue it for a month to see what happens. To see if some things (hamstrings!) loosen up, free up, release.

It’s all very body focused, with the intent of allowing for some sort of mind focus later.

It’s all a beginning again, something my ego doesn’t want to do.

We’ll see if my ego wins again.

Posted by Steve

The not-so horror of missing practice

The other night, I had to skip my practice.

I know, horror!

It was a last-second thing. I actually was at the door of the studio when I got called away.

In the not-too-distant past — meaning, if I’m honest, the other night — this would have really bothered me. Missing practice! That can’t happen.

To continue with the honesty, the reason it would have bothered me was all — or, if I’m feeling charitable toward myself, mostly — ego. There goes 75 minutes or so of sweating, moving activity. Did I sneak a cookie earlier? Who knows what round number the scale will blink up at me. Do I need to practice on Saturday to make up for it?

Those are the types of thoughts that would run through my head. But the other night, probably because the reason I had to miss was a good one — without diving into it, I could probably classify it as karma yoga, if I wanted — I was less bothered than in the past.

As I thought more about my calmer reaction, I realized there was another reason, too. No, sadly not Dharana, let alone Dhyana or Samadhi.

My practice feels regular now, a part of the routine (although never routine).

Keep in mind, my Ashtanga practice as a daily endeavor is still only about 16 months old. In the early days, it felt as if I didn’t go, if I missed practice, there was the real risk that that would be the day that started the slide away from practice. Oh, I can sleep in again. I did yesterday, and that was fine. Maybe I’ll just run after work, it’s really all I have time for, anyhow.

And the next thing you know, no more Ashtanga.

This time, though, I knew I’d get up the next morning (I did!) and the morning after that (I did, again!).

There’s still tomorrow, though. But I feel pretty confident I’ll make to the Led class. Not that I’m taking it for granted.

Posted by Steve