Tuesdays with…Mars?

There’s something about how Tuesdays tend to wash out that leaves me feeling washed up. Today certainly fit the rule — fighting an uphill battle to keep up with the work and keep on with a sense of calm. And it reminds me that the worst work shift I’ve ever had was when I was a relatively new reporter, working nights Tuesdays through Saturdays. I started off the week feeling hopelessly behind, since everyone else was already grooving through their week. When Saturday came, I felt left out — working in a nearly empty newsroom, wishing I were somewhere else, and wondering why I had gone into this field in the first place. (Happily, I didn’t have to stay in that shift for long, and moved to a Sunday through Thursday shift, which I absolutely loved.)

Students who practice Ashtanga in a very traditional Mysore style aren’t taught new postures on Tuesdays (and Saturdays are days of rest). In some languages, Tuesday is named after Mars, god of War — think Spanish Martes.

Is there something to Tuesdays — does it draw out conflict and anxiety? Is it coincidence? Is it superstition? Maybe it’s what psychologists call confirmation bias — a tendency to find evidence to confirm a preconception.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter, because it can give people a reason to join together to celebrate something bigger. Every Tuesday morning at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (I promise that I will some day write a blog post that does not mention AYC!), for instance, yogis gather to sing the Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional to the Hindu deity Hanuman, the monkey king. The chalisa is thought to protect and liberate. If you hear “Jai Hanuman” — victory to Hanuman — join in for the spirit of the moment. Victory to the qualities of service, loyalty and compassion in others and in ourselves, no matter what our belief system. The first time I heard the chalisa during my training at AYC, it almost brought me to tears (and I am really, really not a crier). I don’t know where these feelings came from, but it was a wonderfully refreshing way to spend a Tuesday.

When a full moon is more than just a full moon

Today is fast coming to a close, so I better post this before midnight strikes! July 25, 2010 is a full moon day – one of the traditional days of rest observed by Ashtanga practitioners. Read why here.

But it’s not just any full moon. I learned from Tim Miller that the full moon of July is an occasion in Indian to celebrate the spiritual teacher — Guru Purnima. The late Pattabhi Jois was born on this day in 1915, and out west in California, Tim held a Guru Purnima satsang this evening at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. I would have loved to have been there physically, but I was there in spirit for what was surely a joyous event.

So no matter when you happen to be reading this post, and no matter if you practice Ashtanga or not, why not take a moment to honor those who have helped you discover something — about yourself, yoga, life, love, or anything else that has made a difference to you. Especially in our moments of darkness, simply remembering those who have shared light and lightness can become a valuable lesson in and of itself.

Ashtanga news round-up

Guruji

Guruji

A fair amount of news involving the late Pattabhi Jois and his family:

  • Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students – a new book on Guruji’s legacy — has just been released. The excerpts I’ve seen have been inspiring, and I can’t wait to read it. You can find it on Ashtanga.com and Amazon.
  • The grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif., will be held next month.
  • Saraswathi Rangaswamy, Pattabhi Jois’ daughter, will be holding led and Mysore classes at Ashtanga Yoga New York in New York Sept. 8 – 12, 2010.

This reminds me that I need to start playing the lottery so I can get to workshops like these – and, eventually, to Mysore.

Ashtanga = boot camp?

As I write this, the third-most e-mailed story on The New York Times’ website is an article that hasn’t even appeared in the print edition yet. “The Yoga Mogul,” a profile of Anusara founder John Friend, will come out in this weekend’s Sunday magazine. It’s a fairly interesting piece that makes you think about whether yogic principles and business objectives can peacefully coexist without diluting the authenticity of this ancient practice (a meaty issue that deserves another blog post down the road).

What I’m going to focus on here is this section of the piece:

Like many other small-stakes subcultures — the world of poetry, or academia, say — yoga has become embroiled in head-of-a-pin type arguments. In yoga’s case it centers on authenticity. The fight over whether it is a spiritual or a physical practice has raged virtually since its inception, but now in the United States this question has been tinted with issues of competition, status and sweat. People who favor the demanding flow of Ashtanga yoga, for instance, might scoff at those who practice Iyengar yoga, which is slow-moving but stresses proper placement of the body in the poses. (Think of boot camp versus a classical ballet lesson.)

I think it’s unfortunate that as yoga becomes more popular, Ashtanga’s reputation grows – a reputation for being the style of yoga geared toward super fit, Type-A personalities. How many people out there have already shied away from trying the practice because they were turned off by what they had heard? The Sunday Times has a circulation of 1.4 million, so the potential reach of just this particular Ashtanga-as-boot-camp image is extensive.

Yes, Ashtanga is challenging. But yoga, in the most general sense, is challenging – it’s a practice that demands mindfulness, intention and honesty. And there is nothing easy in that.

Earlier this week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Dealing with a low-back injury and post-surgery recovery, she told me that she’s starting to integrate more Ashtanga classes into her schedule because the primary series allows her to move at a slower pace and compassionately return to her asana practice.

Ashtanga is a deeply grounding practice that’s designed to detoxify the body, mind and spirit, and to bring us into balance. We can approach the practice in a hard, confrontational way by treating the asanas as a string of poses to be conquered – Hey, look at my Marichyasana D! Do you know how long it took to perfect this? – or we can approach the practice from a softer space in which we seek to flow with grace.

I think the best way to show people that Ashtanga is not the boot camp of yoga styles is to – well, show people. Show them through example, through how we experience and express our own practices, and encourage them to try the practice for themselves.