All You Can Eat: Daily Energy Buffet
by Liz Potter
Every Sunday through Friday in Austin, Texas, a crazy mix of people get together and practice mysore style Ashtanga. We squeeze in tight, with a fish tank to test our discipline with drishti and a fuzzy little Pekingese to remind us all to not take ourselves too seriously. The energy in our practice room is so strong and rich, it’s almost like we’re creating an invisible hug every day- a hug that scoops up everyone in its embrace. It carries us all along through the hard work, the challenges, the sweating, the laughter, and occasionally the crying.
Our mysore group is an eclectic mix of people who congregate because of our love of the practice and our respect and devotion to our teacher. Austin is a great place to live if you want to do yoga. There are beautiful studios everywhere offering all types of yoga in every corner of the city. There are mysore classes going on morning, noon and evening depending on where you want to study. What we all found in our teacher is someone who cultivates a real and sustaining practice for people who have busy lives, families, jobs, and aching bodies from stressful lifestyles. He breathes life into a form of yoga that can sometimes get bogged down with dogma and rigidity. His passion for the practice is so steady and grounded that it draws people to him. His gifted way of passing on what Ashtanga does for him is why students suddenly go from dabbling in yoga to a full on 6 day a week Ashtanga practice.
When I look around our mysore room, I see the two swimmers with their powerful, tan shoulders athletically working their way through the series, I see the recently graduated high school student who is connecting to his body for the first time, the woman recovering from knee surgery who patiently modifies her practice, and the tennis player with the glowing smile who stands so solidly on her mat that a hurricane couldn’t blow her over. There’s the Tango dancer who has amazingly beautiful forward bends, the mom of two young girls who is so strong she could kick all our butts, the high school history teacher who rides his bike to class through the 100 degree Texas summer and then amazes us all with sweat drenched stamina, and the pretty young woman who went from a vinyasa gal to a hardcore mysore student within a month. Then there’s the professional opera singer who deepens the chant with her controlled vocal powers, the willowy woman who is learning how to overcome a childhood injury and gains strength and confidence in her practice every day, the gorgeous blond who has effortless drop backs that look like a stick of butter melting in the microwave, and finally, a guy who just showed up randomly one day – never having done yoga before in his life, and has come back every day since!
Come on now; is that a group or what? How crazy that we all come together every day because we feel the powerful draw of such a humbling practice. We’re all different ages and body types and all lead very different lives, but when we’re in that room together, and we ride each other’s breath, we find the common thread that unites us all. We have all come to realize that no one is getting away with a sloppy practice because the watchful eye of our teacher is on us at all times. He is truly omnipresent! But this discipline is so wonderfully softened by the humor we sometimes find when someone lets out a really loud grunt, or another person announces success in a posture that has been worked on for months, or when someone belts out “yoga is hard!” and we all crack up. There are days when someone is called out by the teacher- from all the way across the room- when he catches her (or him) trying to rush through a dreaded pose. Everyone laughs, knowing that we’ve all been there. We’ve all been busted. This perfect balance of discipline, compassion, and humor is what makes us all grow in our yoga and to appreciate what it does for us in our daily lives. It also unites an unlikely group of people and creates friendships. I think mysore style Ashtanga is unique in the wide variety of yoga because, when the time is right for a student to devote his or herself to it, it becomes a daily practice that can last a lifetime. There’s no hurry because there’s no end to get to. It’s a living practice. No matter where a student is in his or her practice, there’s a mysore group waiting to be joined. There is no beginner’s class or advanced class, we’re all lumped together and everyone respects each other’s efforts whether a person is learning sun salutations or is half way through 3rd series. The ebb and flow of life is mirrored in the practice in such a beautiful way, and those who decide to ride the wave always find a community through the common effort and study. I know our little community in Austin is just one in the wide world of Ashtanga yoga, and that the same passion and power is being shared by other groups all over the planet! Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?
Liz Potter and friends practice daily with Mike Matthews in Austin, Texas. She keeps a blog on her daily adventures as a yoga student (accidentalashtangi.blogspot.com)