One month ago today, I started teaching morning Mysore classes at Downward Dog Yoga Centre, my home studio for the past five years. I remember walking to the studio that first morning, in the dark, feeling excited, a little nervous, and hopeful—hopeful that this was the first day of a new beginning.
Before that day, I’d spent months dreaming of a morning Mysore program returning to Downward Dog. When I first came to the studio after living and practicing in Halifax, morning Mysore had plenty of momentum, fueled by senior teachers and dedicated students. Over time, different people moved on, either opening their own studios or venturing abroad in search of new experiences (as we tend to do in the yoga community). Before long, mornings grew quiet until eventually there wasn’t much point in keeping the early Mysore classes on the schedule.
Like most things in life, yoga studios go through phases of ebb and flow, growth and transition. Over the past year, I’d begun to feel that it was time for morning Mysore to return, yet was apprehensive that we wouldn’t get the numbers, or that the window had closed on the possibility of reclaiming the early morning magic we’d once enjoyed. Then at the end of the summer, Downward Dog’s co-owners, Ron Reid and Diane Bruni, agreed that it was worth a shot, and wanted me to run with the idea. I’d been waiting (I was going to say “pining” but that sounds too desperate!) for this opportunity so when the door opened I walked right through it, barely pausing to consider the consequences. Now I’m sitting here a month later, finally taking the time to reflect on what this change in my daily routine has meant for the rest of my life.
If you’ve been involved in the Ashtanga community for any considerable length of time, you’re familiar with the concept of a daily morning practice. Perhaps you’re a student who rises in the dark to get their practice in before work. Or perhaps you’re an assistant or teacher who looks forward to the time you get to spend with students at this auspicious early hour, counting breaths and bending bodies. Regardless of what brings you into whatever steamy room you call home at 6am, you know that it takes a certain degree of commitment, dedication and sacrifice to be up everyday molding yourself into poses that the majority of the still-sleeping population wouldn’t imagine possible. There we are, day in and day out, exploring a practice that begins as a physical activity before morphing into a “not what you expected it to be” source of transformation.
Transformation, however, comes with a price! Who knew? At least it does here in the Western world, where 9-5 jobs are the reality for most worker bees, along with spouses, kids, friends, commitments, deadlines and of course the television programs that try their darndest to keep us from getting to bed on time! My own attempt at navigating the real world when every day starts at 5am has been a lesson in the importance of sleep, nourishment and self-acceptance (So what if I’m walking to work when other people my age are walking home from the bar? I’m not boring, just dedicated!). It has also become clear just how important it is to have routine. Weekday evenings have become a sacred time for me to prepare for the next morning. I make a good dinner, take a long shower, then whip up tomorrow’s smoothie. I know better than to trust my 5am brain with any decisions, so whatever I need for the next day is prepared the night before. When the morning comes, all I need to do is make sure I’m clothed before heading out the door. I arrive at the studio to open up, light candles and incense, and each day hope that people show up! Thankfully, they always do (the momentum is returning!). I’m sharing some pretty negligible information here, I get that—but if you’re reading this wondering if teaching early morning classes is up your alley, hopefully my experience sheds some light on what it’s really like to rise at a time when it can be necessary to set more than one alarm.
Perhaps the most telling thing I’ve learned from teaching Mysore-style classes on a regular basis is the importance of maintaining my own practice. As someone who has always preferred to practice in the morning, it would be easy for me to envy those I now teach. Instead, I find leading morning Mysore—at the studio that was home to Toronto’s first Mysore program—to be a privilege as I guide people through a practice that could very well set the tone for the rest of their day. I’ve shifted my own mat time to either mid-afternoon or early evening. Carving out that window has been essential to keeping myself sane. I’ve found that through taking time for my own Asana practice, I stay connected to the postures. I think of the adjustments I give others in the same poses, implementing them on my own and thinking about the receptivity of different bodies. More often than not I walk onto my own mat feeling sleepy and depleted, but walk off of it rejuvenated and inspired to take on the next day.
When I talk to others outside of the yoga community about my schedule and daily routine, they’re amazed that between teaching and practicing I’m not totally sick of yoga. I have to admit, there are times when I’ve OD’d: when just saying the words “inhale” or “exhale” can trigger a gag-reflex; I lose the ability to differentiate left from right and confuse elbows with shoulders or knees with hips. I think the same can be said of anyone immersed in their speciality—we become all-encompassed in the intricacies of our work, often losing sight of the world beyond the bubble.
So it’s with the importance of balance in mind that I venture into Month #2. Going forward, I endeavour to remain connected to the world outside the yoga studio, to exercise the different parts of my brain and to never stop thinking and questioning, despite the extent to which routine governs my life. Teaching, more than anything else, is the best learning experience. When I look back on these preliminary days years from now, I imagine the words “If you only knew then what you know now” will come up more than once. For the journey toward that time, I am grateful.