You wake up in a flurry of expletives at 5:38 am, cursing your iPhone alarm for being so damned lovely and inaudible. If you’d gotten up at 5:11, as you’d intended, you’d have time to brew a trough of yerba mate to help wake your ass up, but you slept through the silent symphony of soothing strings, and now you’ve got one minute to drink your pee, brush your teeth, wrench your sleepy body into a sports bra and pedal to yoga.
It’s still dark out as you bike to Spandarama, which is more like your grandmother’s house than a yoga studio, assuming your grandmother is a double Libra with Virgo rising, a fear of enclosed spaces, a big fat decorating budget, and a yen for muted earthy gorgeousness and perfectly stacked yoga props. It’s not dark-dark, like midnight dark; it’s more like dusk-dark, except it’s dawn, which means the sun hasn’t yet yawned its way overhead. It’s cool, and it’s quiet, which is, in fact, one of the reasons you get up so laughably early six days a week to practice Ashtanga yoga with Timo Jimenez and a tiny tribe of yogis he affectionately calls the “Dawn Patrol.” You do it because there’s something magical about those early morning hours in which the rest of the town slumbers while you’re getting your Ujayi on.
Ashtanga yoga was the first yoga. It’s the architecture upon which every other yogic offshoot is based, and its asana system informs all other postures. Mysore-style Ashtanga is a six-day-a-week discipline (not counting moon days), in which the yogi practices a set series of poses at his own pace—each linked together by way of vinyasa (a modified sun salutation)—while the teacher circles the room, offering adjustments as inspired. The movements, synchronized with the breath (that throaty Darth Vader variety), drishti (gaze) and bandhas (contracting/lifting of the anus and lower belly), together make up a ridiculously challenging and equally effective means of perfecting the body, mind and spirit—over the course of several hundred lifetimes, that is.
“This isn’t a free-for-all, flow-and-glow kind of thing,” your teacher, Timo, says. “This is transformation.”
There are four of you, sometimes three, and one time, there were five. You’re hardcore yogis with a pile of years between you, and you happen to be women. You’re grateful to (finally!) have a Mysore group here in Santa Fe, to have other people to practice with, to have a teacher again. And he’s not just any teacher, but a real-deal, interdisciplinary, globetrotting, ocean-surfing, ether-sailing yogi who embodies a delicate balance of wisdom, insight, compassion and humility. He’s a grounded desert dude with everywhere eagle eyes. He glides swift and stealthy between unfurled mats and upturned blocks, sidling up to you—contorted and semipresent—and guiding you back to this moment, this breath, and the speed at which your eyelids are fluttering, ever-so-gently nudging you deeper into the pose and the countless secrets it has to share with you.
“You’re sending the energy into your heel instead of into your big toe,” Timo tells you. You’re folded over yourself in Janu Sirsana, your (other) heel pressing into your upward-pulling anus, your hand encircling your wrist on the outside of the very foot through which you’re mismanaging your energy. You make the adjustment, and he’s right. The torque eases up on the twist; the flow of energy changes; a string of invisible cogs click into place; and the heavens open up to greet you—for a moment.
It’s hard, this Ashtanga yoga, and it only gets harder the longer you do it. You’ve been practicing for 12 years, and you’re still fumbling through the first series, still being invited to “lower the octave” of your otherwise erratic and labored breath, still wobbling on one shaky leg while clutching your big toe between your thumb and forefinger, willing your forehead to reach your knee, while observing your inclination to cheat and lift your knee to meet your
Why do you do it?
Why do you wake up at the crack of dawn to squeeze your bandhas and Ujayi breathe your way into otherwise undiscovered crevices of your body?
Because there’s nothing better than a daily practice to show you where you’re full of shit; where you could use some patience, some compassion, some discernment, some courage and some tights that aren’t riddled with holes and stains and dog hair. Because the Ashtanga yoga system is a well-studied science that empowers you to be autonomous, so you don’t have to wait for a self-professed teacher with measured cadence reeking of affected enlightenment to order you into the next pose—the one he or she chooses on whim, weather and mood. Because this is the only body you’ve got, and you’re determined to know it, and know it well, and take care of it, and feel good in it, and that means getting strong and getting stable and staying limber and breaking through the illusions of limitation—of weak and stiff and distracted—by practicing, practicing, practicing, to ultimately have the experience of taking shapes and postures and arm balances you never imagined possible. Because when you do it on the mat, you know you can do it in the world, and that anything is possible. And you do, and it is.