I admit it. I’m a total flake when it comes to Ashtanga. I hate waking up early for Mysore practice. You will often find me practicing in my kitchen late in the evening with MC Yogi playing in the background and lavender incense fumes accompanying my sun salutations. But some nights, I’d rather just eat a bowl of noodles instead. In the mornings, I make all kinds of excuses as to why my bed needs me more than my mat. I say I’ll show up for practice and never do. I get bored doing the same poses every time so I make up my own flow on occasion. There is also something slightly masochistic about allowing teachers to twist my body to resemble some dead sage I know nothing about (I mean no disrespect Mr. Marichi but DAMN your poses are hard). In addition to flake, you may call me a sinner, rebel, bum, blasphemer, whatever…I can take it. I prefer Reject Ashtangi.
The origins of my flakiness date back to the days before I even knew what yoga was. Having attended parochial schools my entire life I developed quite the aversion to authority, rituals and most forms of indoctrination. Recovering Yogi says it best, “ACHOO! I’m allergic to your dogma.” I developed major allergies to anyone on a podium with a Bible. Although, I think it was the pleated skirts and Jesus camp that did it for me. In elementary school, I started with the Baptists, then went to the Lutherans for middle school, followed by the Catholics for high school and stuck with them (voluntarily) throughout college and grad school. At the end of it all, if you were even thinking about discussing your religious and spiritual agenda with me, I would tell you exactly where to shove it.
Naturally, this left me spiritually lost, unreliable and lazy…three top characteristics of a flake. I would go to mass with my family, but also read about Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Harmless enough. We all go through investigative processes to discover what feels right for us. But I didn’t want to do any real spiritual work. To hell with praying, attending services, giving money or committing to anything with “tradition” written all over it.
Thankfully, the universe helps us when we are lost. My parents’ sacrifice for my education was not in vain. My favorite professor and mentor in college, Profesora Tomas was a complete flake. Or at least I thought so. And, for some reason I wanted to be around her all the time. Birds of a feather, I guess. She was from Argentina and would always show up to class late and unprepared. She strolled around campus with a Mona Lisa-like smile on her face, taking slow and intentional steps, looking at the trees and people around her as if she was walking into some magical forest for the first time. She seemed to have not a single care in the world. On one occasion after showing up late for class, a student sarcastically asked her if she had forgotten her watch that day and with her chin pointed toward the sky, she responded in her deep, dramatic tone, “chronological time has never interested me.” Except, she said it in Spanish so it sounded much more poetic and eloquent. At that moment, something majorly clicked inside of me. What did time matter? Why were we so attached to our own small reality in this classroom? Perhaps Profesora Tomas was unceasingly tardy, but her lectures were always profound and filled with passion. While we believed her to be unprepared because she deviated from the printed syllabus, she never failed at teaching us something new and fun. I wanted THAT - whatever “that” concept was - to be my tradition and practice. This woman knew about a higher sense of joy and peace. She had an incredible ability to let go and be in the moment. Without knowing it, she had taught me my first lesson in presence. From her, I learned that despite the nature of inconsistency, there is a plane of equanimity and happiness--our true home--that is constantly flowing and waiting for us to meet it once again. She lived on that plane all the time and I wanted to as well.
Inconsistency has been one of my greatest teachers on the path of Ashtanga. It forces me to always return and start from scratch. For all the times I don’t show up, make excuses and milk the shit out of my flakiness, the practice is always there waiting for me. Unchanged, patient, forgiving and unaffected by chronological time. Comfort lies in its ritual. Ashtanga is a tradition that is challenging but completely non-judgmental. It is difficult at times for me to not carry over samskaras from parochial school into other areas of my life. I forget to wipe “screw you, and your stupid rules!” off my forehead sometimes. But, I realize that no one is going to admonish me from a podium for not showing up to the mat or make me confess in a creepy dark room for skipping a pose. When my enormous ego and aversions get in the way of my practice, I remind myself of the basics of Ashtanga. It is by no means my religion, and it has no threatening dogma. Through my dedication to it, as spotty and fleeting as it may be, I am able to find my true home and reconnect with a more aware version of myself: the part of me that deeply wants to be present and alive.
With Profesora Tomas (far left) in Merida, Mexico. Rest in peace. Thank you for your teachings!