The question of my not going to a Shala has come up a couple of times in the comments. It's been put quite strongly a couple of times and also quite reasonably. Given I've titled this Blog Ashtanga at home I think it's a fair question. I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who practice at home, many have emailed me or commented saying they appreciate the focus of practicing at home.
I live outside London. It would be impossible for me to travel in every morning to practice at a Shala. It's possible for me to go on a Sunday, but given my Partner gets home late most evenings the only time we have together is Sunday. I could of course go once or twice a month though. If the trains run well I can just about make it in time for a full practice. Anyone who reads Globie's blog knows the problems of travelling into London for an Ashtanga class on a Sunday morning. I'm in a similar situation but I admit it's possible. I could perhaps go into London and catch an evening class on my day off and there are always workshops, although I work Saturday which makes even that difficult.
So even if I did go to a Shala it wouldn't be possible for it to be a regular thing. I've thought in the past though that it might be useful to go occasionally, we have some excellent teachers in London, it would be good to have my practice tidied up a little, I know I would learn a lot. As Susan says it would be nice too to have a coffee and a chat with some other Ashtangis.
So why dont I.
This is were it seems to get difficult for people who do go to a Shala regularly to understand and where perhaps I might strike a chord with other home practitioners.
I went to a shala twice. I found it interesting, the room really is quite a remarkable and inspiring place. The heat, the sound of the breath, the concentration and focus of everyone as well as the generosity of the teachers, believe me I get it.
That said I found it too hot, really too hot. No doubt it's fine if you go every day but once every couple of weeks, your probably not going to get used to it. I found it hard to regulate my breath in that heat. I really didn't enjoy my practice and Sunday being a day off is a very big yoga day for me. I have more time to practice and like to make the most of it on Sundays. The other thing was space, I felt cramped and self conscious of those around me, paranoid I would kick somebody in the head. When I got home after the first visit I cut my extra long Manduka down to regular size so I would get used to it.
But that wasn't the main reason and this is where my 'protective of my practice' comment comes in.
We get into our practice routines, we create strategies that help motivate us and get us on the mat every morning. I hate breaking that routine in any way. I want my mat in the same place, exactly the same place. You've all seen me smoothing my towel just so. I want to practice at a set time and like to have a set amount of time free to practice. All the extra stuff I do, working through new asanas etc is done separately, in the evening or on my day off. After I finish I have a half a grapefruit and a cappuccino, every morning, I'm sure we're all like this to lesser or greater degrees. Bit OCD perhaps.
But I'm also protective of my state/frame of mind, my approach to my practice and I see that as part of the motivation that gets me on the mat. Anything that impacts on that makes me uncomfortable, unsettled and I have to force myself through the first half of my practice. When I went to the Shala those two Sundays, although it was a positive experience, throughout the rest of the week I felt unsettled. I wasn't enjoying my practice. Somebody said this week that I fear going to a Shala and in a sense that's true I fear losing it, losing the frame of mind that allows me to practice as I do.
Does that sound nonsense? I taught myself to play saxophone and practiced everyday, obsessively for six years. It was the first thing I did when I got home. In Japan I would go down to the river every morning to practice. Then about three years ago I was burgled, had seven saxophones stolen and my frame of mind changed just like that. I've only picked the saxophone up a handful of times since then to play for pleasure. I think I fear the same thing happening with my Ashtanga. That's what I mean about being protective of my practice, it's not so much protective of how I practice, quite happy to toe the shala line out of respect when I'm there and then come home and do 3rd if I feel like it, but it's protective of my attitude to practice, to being able to practice at all. Overly defensive?Perhaps, but it's worked well for three years and I don't feel inclined to mess with what's working for the odd day a month.
I'd already got into a routine and approach to my practice before I went to the Shala. For six months I'd been working things out myself following my own inclination. I'd notice something about my Navasana and work on that or my Mari B say, and work on that. Working it out like a puzzle was part of the attraction (remember I repair Musical Instruments for a living, work out what's wrong and fix them, that's what I do). When I went to the Shala I was quite properly picked up on a couple of things and throughout the following week I felt like those were the things that I should be working on for next time. That's what I meant ages ago when I said I started to feel like I wasn't owning my practice anymore.
That said if I was to move to London I probably would start going to a Shala and knowing me I would probably go every morning and that would become the new routine. I've thought about going to Mysore for a month, it's long enough and then when I came back I would no doubt shift back into my routine once again.
And besides, I figure I've done OK without going to a Shala. I have the DVD's which I fish out occasionally to keep me on track. Kind of like going to a led class. I ordered the Kino Intermediate so I would be up to date on how 2nd is practiced now in Mysore rather than a bunch of years ago with the Freeman and Swenson. Yes I do want to know how it's practiced now just as I want to know how it was practiced then in the Mysore palace ( SKPJ's Yoga Mala is sitting her on top of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda beside me as I write this) I have all the usual books on practice and anatomy, I'm well resourced. And Of course I have my camera and my blog which allows me to reflect on my practice on what's going well and most importantly what isn't. I've learned the practice from Primary to Third on my own and practiced six days a week for three years. I've come to focus on the breath more fully as well as the bandhas. I've developed a healthy Pranayama and meditation practice and even started chanting the sutras. All these elements of the practice I've developed here at home.
Reading this through I find my reasons for not going are, except for the logistics aspect, quite personal. But then no doubt that's how it is for everyone who practices at home, everyone has their own reasons and situation. It amazes me sometimes when I hear how some manage to fit their practice around their family, finding little corners to practice in. I heard of one home Ashtangi whose practice lasted five hours because she was constantly being interrupted by her kids.
But she still practiced.