Why Do You Practice?

Yesterday I took Julianna’s 10am class at Greenhouse, and only three people showed up. It was probably the fewest students I’d ever seen in a popular teacher’s class; her Monday night class is always completely full. The vibe was completely different. It was not as warm or energized, but it felt so personal, since she had time to adjust each one of us freely, and you knew that she was watching you. Plus, it was so nice not to worry about kicking someone in the head. It sucks that studios are forced to squeeze as many students as possible into each class, since it’s so hard to keep a studio afloat. (One place I knew in SoHo, with 3 practice rooms, had rent of $17,000 a month and that was 4-5 years ago.) They do it in a kind way wanting to allow as many students to practice as possible but I definitely feel like the teachers who give up group classes altogether are justified. There’s no way to keep 30+ students safe, or pass on the individuality of yoga.

Anyways. Her opening talk asked us, “Why do you practice?” This stirred my brain, as I’m constantly persuading myself to practice more, in remembrance of the clear perfection I felt after 7 semesters of rowing practice 68x/week. Many, many mornings I did not want to get out of bed. I would be so tired that I had to hold onto the bookshelf by my alarm clock to prevent myself from bailing. I slept in spandex so I could go straight into the car. The whole team was crazy. We had multi-layer blisters on all fingers, stopped our periods cause we ate so little, and watched the best of our rowers vomit from exertion. Your body and mind scream “NO!” but there is something deep down underneath that pushes on. It’s part masochism, and part meditative addiction. Because after you’ve rowed for about two years, and you’ve memorized the physical motion so the “hands up hips back arms in” monologue disappears, you are focused only on the effort of each stroke. And when the boat is in sync, and you’re focused, it is such a feeling of energy and drive that you can’t get over it.

Anyways. I don’t think I’ll ever be in that condition again. The addictive feeling now is clean and clear, a tunnel of breath. A few times while sitting, I must have had perfect positioning, because my breath seemed louder, and I could feel it from the top of my head to the tip of my tail. Hissing like a snake, pushing downward through guts and hips. Whooshing out, pulling the stomach and ribs in and up to the sky. Sizzling like a sparkler floating down and up. That feeling, more than any words or rationale I can think of to describe it, pulls me to practice.

So how do we turn that attraction into habit? It’s hard to have the iron discipline to practice, yet maintain the softness required to get the benefits beyond miscellaneous exercise. I’ve been thinking that yoga studios should have semester-long classes, where you sign up for the Monday night class for three months, instead of just that night. I committed to crew, and they forced me to show up and pushed me to go further. On my own, I would make it to the track a couple times a week but that was it. With yoga, I’ve learned to relax and enjoy myself a little more, and then the frequency of practice goes up, all by myself. But again, I felt most clear and relaxed when I was forcing myself to practice yoga every day. Why is that?

POSTSCRIPT: My yogi tea fortune said “Where there is love, there is no question.” Reminder to love the work.