Community + practice = glowing (or, how to practice in a Michigan winter when the furnace has blown)

Cartoon of a cold practice, via Michael Joel Hall

When I arrived at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor this morning at 7 a.m., my fellow AY: A2 apprentice Rachel was practicing in the finishing room, and my teacher, Angela, was on her cell phone.

Clearly, something was amiss.

Namely, the heat was nowhere to be found.

Today got up above freezing so it was warm in contrast to what temperatures have been hovering at for the past few weeks here. Still, it’s winter in Michigan, and it was in the teens when I got out of my car. The new big furnace fueling the Phoenix Center had given out for reasons I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say it made for an early morning bandha adventure (should “bandha adventure” come with a yoga superhero jingle?). Despite calls with the building’s owner and messing with fuses, the furnace never magically kicked back up.

Rachel and I had our marching orders: Do our normal practice in the finishing room — with only two space heaters and, of course, our bandhas to heat us — and move at a faster clip than we usually do. We needed to help heat the room and we needed to avoid claiming valuable real estate for too long, since we would need to open up spots for students coming in. (The Sunday invocation is at 8 a.m., but students start showing up well before that.)

So I did what is normally my two-hour practice (all of primary series through eka pada sirsasana in second series) in a record 90 minutes — and it didn’t feel like I was artificially or frantically rushing either. When I got to kapotasana, Angela came over to adjust and afterward she said, “This environment is good for you.” (She said also said what I joke is the single scariest word in a Mysore room: “Again.” :-) But she says that every day I am there. I’ve learned to love that word.)

I knew exactly what Angela meant when she said that environment was good for me. I am by nature so cautious — in my practice, in my career. I know I could practice a little faster, but I also don’t want to go so fast that I wear myself out too soon, especially when I am going on not enough sleep due to burning the candle at both ends, like I have been lately. So I try to find a steady pace that I know I can stay with. (If only I drove this way! I’m one of those terrible speed up/slow day kind of drivers.) I am so cautious with my career; as one example, I went to graduate journalism school because I wanted to make sure I had time to learn from some of the best people in the field before I started reporting for a living. I don’t think these are bad tendencies — I have always believed that the measured among us help balance out the manic energy of the “shoot first, ask questions later” types. I truly think organizations need both to succeed, and societies need both to advance.

But yeah. This was a great reminder that seemingly unideal conditions can actually be the ideal environment to bring out the best in us. The lack of space in the physical room reflected the lack of space for my mind to wander. I was on a mission: Help heat the room, and move through my practice fast enough to not take up space for too long. That left little room for dinking, roving thoughts, etc.

It turned out that we had exactly the right number of spots for the number of people who came, and I don’t think anyone had to wait too too long before a spot opened up for them. The body heat got up so high that we didn’t even need the space heaters on after some point. Even the new students of the shala’s once-a-week drop-in class, called Mysore Light, seemed to enjoy the super sweaty, detoxifying heat. The huge, steamed-up windows were glorious to see — like a piece of art that everyone in the shala had helped to create together.

The cartoon at the top of this post was posted on AY: A2’s Facebook page last month by D.C. ashtangi Michael Joel Hall. (Thanks, Michael! Hopefully you and I will get to meet some day — perhaps when I get a chance to go out and see Jen Rene.) I thought of that cartoon today, and it made me laugh.

Today’s whole escapade is also a great opportunity to bring up an aptly titled blog post from earlier this week: “How to practice when hell’s freezing over“:

Anyone else cold and nauseous? Darn if this is not a cold, cold ocean. So. Are we going to practice with this situation or what?

It’s not actually about practicing in cold temperatures. But it is about practicing in cold, adverse conditions — perhaps the coldest and the darkest kinds, the kinds our unenlightened nervous systems create for ourselves.

I guess this post is dedicated to anyone struggling with finding the wherewithal to establish a consistent morning yoga practice. This morning could have totally, like the furnace, blown. But community + practice = glowing. No matter what the conditions when you start, everything alway ends up better by the time you’re done.

Steamy Mysore room

(Graphic credit: Via Michael Joel Hall’s Facebook photos. Photo credit: Courtesy of Tim Veeser)  

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