I am falling in love, in India.
Who with? I know you are curious. I’ll give you a hint: not a man. Not motorcycle exhaust, dirty feet, Goan trance dance music echoing from the beachside restaurants, not fully dressed Indian men harassing me on the beach. Not being constantly hustled to buy a sarong, or a jackfruit.
I am in love with the hours between 6 and 10 AM. Those previously panicked hours first thing in the morning are now suffused with heat, joy, breath, inspiration, frustration, sore shoulders, tight hamstrings, bhandas and the soft German voice of one of the kindest teachers in the world, Rolf Naujokat.
Ashtanga Yoga is India’s gift to me, even in the yucky Westernized Goan jungle.
Ashtanga takes many of the limbs of yoga and combines them into a beautifully physical practice that isolates muscles previously undiscovered and encourages meditative concentration to the soundtrack of your own breath.
My friend Samar told me once, as we were walking on Ouputere Beach, “You have a belief that you can’t have what you want.”
I didn’t know what she meant. Now I begin to.
I had a belief that my desire for a strong body and yogic ability was wrong. Totally shallow. It’s what’s inside that counts, I would tell myself scoldingly.
But what if the outside reflects, to some degree, what’s inside? I am an increasingly happy and more able person, and my body and its ability to move with strength and efficiency, is following suit.
Another friend Josie, said once, “Flabby thoughts = Flabby body.”
To some degree, I recognize this as true. But I also believe that unless we find what truly works for us, on a purely individual level, a strong body and mind are elusive.
I learned, through my Ayurvedic teacher Madan, that a cookie-cutter prescription for healthy living is ineffectual and ridiculous. We are diverse as Indian coastal towns. We each need our own food and schedule and rest.
Yoga bridges these differences, to an extent. On some level, any kind of yoga will work to the benefit of any person, if done safely and properly.
Ashtanga yoga, for me, works even better than more relaxing or free-flowing styles of movement because it requires so much focus and physical effort. I literally burn off anxiety and flabby thinking in the early morning hours.
Also, I will never master Ashtanga yoga. This is not defeatist thinking. It is just true. The point of the practice is just that: to practice. The point of the practice is not to master the system.
I am fully, at times, completely inhabiting my body – my muscles, bones, heart and lungs. Except when a cow sticks its head over the wall of the shala (school) enclosure. Or I fall out of a pose. Or when a hot Portuguese guy distracts me momentarily.
But all in all, Ashtanga yoga is immediate. Slowly, slowly, it directs the gaze and the attention to “this,” what is, right now.