I wanted to share this great quote from zen master Seung Sahn. It applies to Ashtanga practice, as well as zazen (zen meditation).
When you practice alone (if you’re traveling, for example), you want to bring the same sense of commitment that you have when you practice at the shala with other people. It can be hard to keep your focus and your tapas when you’re practicing alone, especially if you’re relatively new to practice (first 3-5 years). Driving to the shala and having other people practicing around you makes it harder to suddenly decide to go empty the dishwasher or lie down after a difficult pose and just go to sleep.
Practicing together is nice because you can use the energy of the other practitioners to keep yourself moving along. It’s like catching a wave that we’re all creating together. In this case, you want to contribute your energy, but stay inside yourself as if you are practicing alone — keeping your eyes contained inside your mat space; breathing loudly enough to hear your own breath, but quietly enough that you can hear the breath of other students.
When practicing alone, practice as if practicing with others. When practicing with others, practice as if practicing alone.
– ZEN MASTER SEUNG SAHN
Ashtanga is a great practice because you learn about your self alone *and* you learn about your self in relation to others. If you get on your mat every day and focus on your self and your practice and draw energy from the room, that’s great. There’s also an opportunity to get on your mat and do your practice to contribute to the energy of the room, without a lot of focus on your self. That’s a little koan I’m sharing with you, a riddle to play with. If you keep a daily practice long enough, this shift will happen automatically, but perhaps you can catch glimpses of it in the meantime.
One of my favorite passages from zen master Dogen speaks to this: “To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
As always: Just keep going.