I am awake at 2 am IST everyday. Though it’s not intentional, this does give me leisurely time for my yoga practice! Darkness surrounded my personal porch. I’ve enjoyed the early morning darkness in my yoga practice for decades. In the US, my practice time is 5 am. Here, jet lag induces an even earlier practice. I have come to see what the teachings meant about the auspiciousness of the vata window of the night, which begins at 2 am. A long time ago I learned about monks who would awaken to practice at this time. Inspired, yet unwilling, I went on to enjoy my 5 am ritual. I had to work, afterall, I said to myself in protest. I couldn’t show up drowsy for my students!
For the first 3 days, I was the only one awake. It was luscious!
On the 4th morning, the porch across the way from me was lit up and someone was sitting in meditation with a small candle flame like they’d been there for hours. It was only 2:15 am! “Who is intruding on my personal dark morning practice?!”, I asked myself. Followed by intrigue (and annoyance) that anyone else would be awake at this time at all. “How dare they get here before I did!”
Ignoring them, I set to my practice; and they did theirs. My practice is quiet, inward, a single candle flame, a deeply patient breath, a prayerful appreciation for what I am able to do. Respect for that which I can not do. I came to India with ongoing post-concussion syndrome symptoms which prevent me from doing headstands or arm balances. Some days, standing poses present a challenge too! While I was trying to be inward and self-aware, glimpses of the other yogi doing headstand, handstand, and forearm stand with impeccable grace lured me to be a bit of a yoga voyeur in the dark.
My primary dosha is pitta and can be prone to a bit of competition. I heard echoes of my younger self wanting to do my headstands, handstands, forearm stands, drop backs (backbends done from standing), crow poses lifting into handstands. Fortunately, those echoes were only echoes. The echoes were soon followed by mudita, appreciation for the joy my neighbor was demonstrating in their yoga practice. Appreciation for the health I still have and for the healing potential of coming to Vaidyagrama for more treatment.
As my practice was coming to an end, after a luxurious nearly two hours, including savasana and ample time for meditation, my mind was clear and radiant, I felt grounded and at peace. Then, I noticed that my new neighbor was still going. I admit I was tempted by a bouquet of unskillful thoughts. More echoes!
A bit of competition showed up. “Should I be practicing longer?” As if there is some shortage of merit in the world for our practices and he or she who practices the most will be bestowed something out of reach for those who aren’t more perseverant or arduous.
Justification via comparison. “I’m probably more inwardly still than they are.” Let’s be honest: this thought serves no purpose! Who cares? What difference will it make and to whom? It may harken back to a competitive mindset in my early years as an athlete, musician and student, albeit updated to a kind of “yoga smugness”, yet it has no evidence and amounts to nothing. Though the thought didn’t even bear completing… there it was!
Impressed, but tinged with judgment. “Wow, that is dedication!” Followed by, “Is all of that necessary?” This little scoffing part of myself isn’t helpful. It may be an effort to assure another part of me that I did enough yoga (I did), yet it’s condescending to the other person’s path. How do I know how much yoga they need?
Echoes of our early life patterning can still linger into our adult and even our aging years. These echoes are from the part of my mind that was trained to compare for the purpose of knowing where I stood in the “pack”. I am an identical twin and while we have a deep connection filled with camaraderie, unwavering trust, openness, reciprocity and a confidence that no matter what, we will be there for each other, we had to navigate our way to this relationship. Our early life in our family did not foster our connection. It fostered our competition. Relational resources were scarce, such as appreciation, assurance, recognition, nurturing. In an environment of criticism, emotional avoidance, addiction, intermittent rage and unpredictability, and being pressured to performance, the early camaraderie I could have had with my sister was blunted by triangulation, trauma, and isolation.
The doctors here tell you that the treatments they provide can cause old thoughts and mental stirrings to arise. It’s a part of the healing process. Cleansing! Fortunately, the more stable, generous, considerate and compassionate parts of me have been well nourished over my years of yoga. The echoes of competition and comparison are momentary arisings that neither captivate nor escalate me. There is no secondary chatter about those echoes - no part of me saying those thoughts should not be arising. No heckler in the balcony suggesting these thoughts are signs of some deficiency or inauthenticity. The echoes arise like fireflies - a moment of intriguing curiosity that flares out in the light of my larger awareness. Just as a bird in the sky does not diminish the sky, so, too, echoes of past thinking habits do not diminish the inner Self.
Yoga truly does free us from these pesky vrttis, mental fluctuations. It’s a combination of recognizing that which we most deeply are, the inner abiding Self, while also cultivating the auspicious qualities of the heart (ie. the 26 Qualities of the Sattvic Heart, the 4 Brahmaviharas, the 5 Core Attitudes) and rinsing clear the mind habits that were formed in reaction to our conditioning.
Good news: No advanced asana is required.
PS. I am enjoying the silent companionship of my neighbor and our shared morning practice time. Plus stay tuned for a remarkable small world moment with my headstand-loving neighbor on the pathway to the sanctuary here. Oh, and the ghee drinking experience too!