this morning i practiced alone. this is not an uncommon experience, and i usually very much enjoy it, sometimes i prefer it. my time, my space, my practice. but it does make me wonder- um…where is everybody? Ekam now has about 20-30 regular practitioners, a mailing list of around 300, and over 600 followers on FaceBook. yet on a Saturday or Sunday morning (and occasionally during the week) it’s just me. yes it’s winter, yes it’s cold, but the studio is sunlit and cozy. is there something wrong with everyone? or is there something wrong with me?
during every introduction to ashtanga class i run i don’t sugar-coat it: the ashtanga practice is accessible to everyone, but it is challenging. it demands time, effort, in short, presence. i do add that, on the flip side, once you develop your practice, you take it with you wherever you go- for the rest of your life! you don’t need a teacher, or a studio, or even a mat- you can practice anytime, anywhere. and the benefits are amazing: strength of body, presence of mind, equanimity, the list goes on. ashtanga is a perpetual gift you give to yourself, and the effort is worth it.
so i ask you (seriously, i’m asking all of you) why has Ekam been unable to attract a 10-20 person core group of ashtanga vinyasa self-practitioners (we’re hovering at about 5 right now)? and to define these self-practitioners: people who, 4-6 times/week get up between 5:30-6:30am, shower (saucha! yes, please shower i beg you!), and go to the studio for a 1-1.5 hour practice before going off into their day. self-practice is the traditional model of ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and the only way to ‘level up’ (add more postures to or deepen your practice). it’s practiced this way all over the world, yet here in Johannesburg people overwhelming prefer led classes. don’t think i haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this.
in Ashtanga, NY, one of the interviewees likens ashtangis to a school of fish. for some reason we are drawn together into a big bundle to practice, we breathe together, move together, and then we disperse. or as one ekam practitioner says: ‘ashtangis are physically intimate, but mentally detached’. in some shalas where i’ve practiced (NYC and Mysore for example) we’re packed in like sardines, literally sweating on each other. yet we’re all so focused we wouldn’t recognize our fellow ashtangis on the street after practice. of course, being properly dressed might have something to do with us being unrecognizable. i’m more familiar with other practitioner’s tattoos than their faces, but that’s another story.
self-practice is an individual experience, and some prefer it that way, practicing alone. that is how i started my ashtanga practice, and i still spend a lot of time on my mat in an empty room and don’t mind it at all. but i want to know what will draw us all together as a practicing community. not so my class sizes are bigger (and warmer), or for monetary gain, or because when i practice alone i tend to have somewhat unattractive emotional breakdowns. but because, somehow, the practice seems so much deeper in a space shared with others, all practicing individually but with mutual intent. in yoga this is called a satsang, a gathering of like-minded people with the intent of uncovering the truth, or perhaps one’s own true nature. we remain individuals on our own journey, but together we are reminded we’re not alone.
so how do you attract new ashtangis to the traditional practice structure? how do you make memorizing the sequence and doing it on your own (under the watchful eye of an instructor) attractive? how do you convince someone that, whether you’re in a led class or self-practicing, you still have to face yourself on your mat every day in constant search of your own truth?