Sunday, December 18, 2011

Downward Defenses




Sick in India, as you can imagine, is not too much fun. And this weekend it hit me. The whole body aching, nose running, cold, flu thing. I tried to stomp it when I felt it coming, but when you are practicing mat to mat and the bug is in the shala, that bug is coming for you strong.

Luckily Saturday is our rest day. No class. But what about Sunday? Sunday is led intermediate, probably the hardest class of the week. I woke up and I was not feeling too hot. Should I practice? The body was barely up, yet the mind was already jumping like a monkey with its excuses and justifications.

It is in these moments that the value of the habit of daily practice is so recognizable. In fact, yoga practitioners are notoriously disciplined especially in their morning routine. Each morning when the alarm goes off I sit up. No Snooze! I give thanks for the new day so full of potential. I turn on the geyser which heats my bath water, and go prepare the coffee. (Yes, my guru was more than fine with coffee.) Drink the coffee. Take the bath. Yoga clothes on. Chanting. Sitting practice. Maybe some writing, and off I go.

Routine can be very powerful, especially in freeing the mind. See, the monkey mind is stuck kicking and screaming and having its predictable tantrum, but yoga has made the master mind strong. The monkey mind will say anything to get us back into bed, so the master mind has to be very smart. The master mind says, "Don't worry, of course I'll let you go back to bed if that's what you really need, just go turn on the geyser in case." The monkey mind screams, "Your head feels like a ton of bricks. You're sick. Get back in bed!" But the master mind says, "Maybe you're just tired. Go fix the coffee. You love coffee. You can always drink it back in bed."

Well, once I had my coffee and my hot bath I did feel a good deal better. I did the fever test (You shouldn't practice with a fever.) and I didn't think I had one. I could breath through my nose and I was already caffeinated, washed and dressed, so I guessed I should go. I'm not going to lie; I didn't feel too well as I headed over. My body felt weak and I was getting out of breath very easily. My monkey mind said, "How are you going to practice when you can even walk without getting out of breath?!"

My master mind said, "If you have to stop, you'll stop." "Plus, you know what's going to happen, right? You are going to have an annoyingly good practice."

And I knew that that was the truth.

Annoying because of course we don't want to be sick, and we don't want to admit that the trying so hard we do when we are well is actually what often gets in our way. My teacher always says how some of the best practices are on those days when you barely made it to the mat. And I agree. On days like today, when the body is a little bit tired and a little bit sick, it simply can not hold any tension which is not completely necessary. Because of this we float in and out of poses with ease. All defenses gone, we just are. And that is yoga.

On a side note, later today, our teacher asked us if we want a day off for Christmas and nearly everyone preferred to practice (except those with kids, fair enough!). AND when he was asked if maybe he wanted a day off (which, with the shala packed from 4:30am-11:30am and evening classes and a family, would not have been unreasonable) he laughed and said he'd rest when he was gone. Surrounded with that kind of commitment, who is going to call out sick!

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