On the mat, off the mat
This February in Bodh Gaya, I received my life-long, must-practice-daily dharma from my guru. On the mat, I was afraid of losing my attention even for a moment and I wholeheartedly practiced for more than six hours a day, with reverence and awe at the same time not quite fully absorbing everything. It could be counted that I have accepted and maintain the faith of my dharma.
And off the mat, this lesson was on my mind every moment and every second.
Back on the mat, I followed Teacher Vino’s instructions at 7:00 in the evening. We joked it was the Ashtanga path ‘s evening program. It started with her first eka. This journey was simply the test of one’s breath, vinyasana and physical strength. Following her rhythm and certain insistences, such as her three big rules of “no sweat-wiping, no drinking and no eye exchanges”, we fully worked on “Bandhas, Prana, and Drishti”. This was about our own awareness and exploration, so there was “no performing, no competing, no catching up”. She went her way and I went mine, each on our own mats, yet we were still together. The wonder of the Ashtanga, that threaded flow of prana was not simply the heated mist condensed on the mirrors and glasses; if you are fortunate, you will clearly feel the lotus blossom in your heart chakra (and if it doesn’t, that’s is all right also.)
But what are we chasing after? She often asked us to come back to our original intention. Yes, we must always come back to that beginner’s mind, that original point, the untainted pureness. Can you reflect why you went on the Ashtanga path? Was it for more advanced asana, a better-than-others Mysore practice, or was it for a better you?
What was my original intention? I hoped to become that extraordinary Ashtangi, with elongated muscles, gentle demander, and filled with energy. But I still have far to go. I can only focus on my intention. Even though my stiff body is an innate disadvantage, but I’m allowing the flow of time push me along. I look at my focused practice as a payback; if my practice today has a momentary clarity that ‘s the best payback to my guru. With this thought in mind, how can I not do my best? Each time on the mat, as I followed Teacher Vino’s control-freak-like demands, I believe I have offered up my sincere practice.
Can you see the part that’s overwhelming to you in your inversion practice?
Everyone has a bottleneck where they get stuck. Inversion is my trials and tribulations. It is like seeing the inner discomfort, but one can watch it and then waits for it dissolve. Vino taught me everything I know about inversion. I still remembered the surprising joy I felt being upside down. It was a new awareness to explore and observe myself from a completely differently perspective. However, my progress was quite slow. I discover (or maybe it was Vino) that I had built up an extremely high protective inner wall. It was not unreasonable that she would get frustrated with my slow progress. I admit I was afraid of falling and getting hurt and that was why I had set up such a high level safety net. I had built that wall due to lack of confidence. Why was I so insecure? It was because of fear of falling. As Vino had said, that was just falling from sixteen and half floor to the sixteenth floor, so I really needed to exam the root of my fear. But, I recently became a little bit braver, just a little bit.
Do you know your elusive Bandha?
Bandha is an energy lock. Looking at my own bandha, I wondered why students couldn’t find an instructional manual of how to activate bandha. To a regular student like me, activating bandha is such a rare and short-lived moment. But, since Vino came back from India and started systematically teaching a series of pranayamas and the Uddiayana Bandha that I haven’t practiced in awhile, all of a sudden I realized that vacuum principle. After a few practices, I discovered in that moment of jump through, bandha was with me! So each contraction is knowledge and each jump is a beginning of a promise.