Monday, April 5, 2004

I ventured out on the proverbial town on Saturday night, to see a shitty punk-rock band at a neighborhood bar, no less. Strange behavior, not least because I dislike both punk-rock bands and neighborhood bars. I got home at about 3:30—with the end of daylight savings time, it became 4:30.

Getting up at 8 for yoga wasn’t fun, but I couldn’t sleep any later if I tried. I made one concession to the previous night’s late hour, and that was to down a cup of coffee. It was only unleaded, with a few squirts of diesel thrown in to administer a jangly nervous-system jolt.

I was a wrung sponge during practice, water squirting forth from every pore. When everything works, it feels less like you’re performing a sequence of stretches. As Tim said after class, “It’s like the practice is doing you.”

It’s an un-spooling process, where these poses are pulled forth from within like thread unwinding, seemingly of its own accord. All you do is get out of the way.

I had post-practice smoothies with a few fellow students. It was Anne’s first time at the studio; she had practiced yoga before but didn’t have a regular practice.

“How did you like it?” I asked.

“It was ashtanga,” she shrugged. “I thought Tim Miller was arrogant, though. And he was so mean!”

My eyebrow lurched upwards in surprise. I’m surrounded by Tim’s longtime dedicated students, all of whom respect and revere him. Hell, I reckon I’m one of Tim’s dedicated students now. So I hadn’t encountered a reaction like that in a long time.

I see one thing from Tim, Anne sees another. Each of our views is colored by our perceptions, desires, wants, needs, personalities. She sees arrogance where I see playfulness; she sees Tim as mean, I see Tim as compassionate.

When I began to practice, I experienced frustration, pleasure, confusion, anger, joy, wellbeing, and more. It was a full range of emotions. In one fell swoop I’d faced all my physical strengths and weaknesses. My emotional and intellectual limitations became apparent in my reactions to my physical state.

Your teacher facilitates the experience—guiding you in and out of poses, adjusting you as needed, and if you’re lucky, tracking your progress. It’s entirely natural to ascribe the feelings that arise to your particular teacher, seeing them as responsible for the various mental, physical and emotional states achieved in a focused ashtanga practice.

So I think Anne had a difficult, frustrating practice, and projected it onto Tim.

Her needle swung to one end of the gauge. I’m cautious to not let my needle swing to the other end. I don’t want to deify Tim, and over-ascribe reactions and emotional and spiritual states to him. He's a man, albeit one who’s dedicated more than 25 years to ashtanga.

A yoga teacher acquaintance of mine once described himself as a mechanic. He’s there to make sure the engine, or body, runs properly. That’s it.

The spark-plug is inserted here, twisted like so, and connected to a specific wire. Therefore the engine runs. The foot is placed here, the eyes gaze at that point, and the hip opens like so. Therefore the practice is completed.

Tim exercises an assiduous, disciplined avoidance of any role greater than that of a mechanic. He refuses any hint or trapping of guru-dom.

Any sense of spirituality, connected-ness, or greater meaning is derived by you.