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