Wednesday, December 3, 2003

I've started an on-line blog for a few reasons. One, I was inspired by fellow ashtanga EZ Board posters/bloggers Okrgr and Chiotissa. Two, I have a job where I have to write, all day, every day. As a result, my personal writing has dwindled to nothing. And third, I want to share my yoga experience with my my mom.

I had a good conversation last night about yoga, which left me with several questions that I carried into practice this morning. A friend and I talked about egos in the shala, and whether people are overly competitive in ashtanga. One of the main complaints leveled against ashtanga is that it's too competitive, and that it attracts type A personalities.

My friend said that Tim's studio, which is where I practice, was devoid of a sense of ego, performance, and competition that's found at other shalas.

While I think that's true, it made me wonder how competitive I was. Where do I let my ego lead me when I practice?

So this morning, during asana practice, I was hyper-aware of my drishti, or gaze, and tried not to let it wander for even a second. It wasn't so much a goal as a vector or movement to embody.

Usually by the time I make it to the floor, I'm oblivious to my surroundings but for a fixed point on the carpet in front of me. My attention shifts inward. I've mentioned this before, but it's sublime to suddenly realize that 20 minutes or a half-hour has slid by, measured by the steady rhythm of inhales and exhales.

I wonder how practice would be different if everyone faced the wall, or faced the same direction? At Tim's, we line up in rows facing each other. Sometimes, like most every day this week, it's so crowded there are three rows. The people in the middle end up face to face with people in one of the rows.

So during today's practice, I wasn't surprised to find a nagging twinge of ego. It was only exacerbated by the fact that I fell in synch with three other people in the room. We were all doing the same poses at the same time. I constantly redirected my focus internally, but it would occasionally slip. "What's his baddha konasana look like?" "How is her jump-back?"

I think something I learned in pranayama helps here. The trick to navigating these waters is to acknowledge these thoughts when they arise, observe them with equanimity, and then let them go. I sometimes think of Shiva's smile in the Nataraja image -- it's slight, subtle, removed, and self-deprecating, yet warm at the same time. It's a good metaphor for how to deal with these feelings when they come up.