Ashtanga is a different journey everyday, although the path is the same, akin to my walk to the same studio, every morning. Yet there are nuances to this road, one day it rains and Washington Square Park has a dreary splendour, punctuated by residents walking their dogs and the occasional flash of color from a runner’s jersey. In the summer, the crazy and the homeless spread themselves out under the trees and on the stately park benches. Sometimes they talk to me. Sometimes they sing to themselves and fire off abuse. Sometimes, they play beautiful music, the tune of which I think I know but I’ve basically forgotten; that’s ok, it’s the melody that matters anyway.
My feet change their attire, a veritable assortment of footwear leaving toes and ankles open to the elements or heavily shod to avoid a bitter chill. I don’t know whether the chill today comes from the air or the spiky contrast I noticed between the grizzled, grim actor who walked two dogs in distinct contrast with his affect; both were small, squat furry shoeboxes clad in girlish sweaters. He would look sheepish were he not emitting such a stern sentiment. I wanted to approach him, to ask for a photograph, yet kept my distance. Further up the block today the same homeless woman was huddled beside the CVS air vent, blasting warm air out and into the street. It was raining, and the broken umbrella she may or may not have adopted had blown into the street amid discarded avocado shells, fast food wrappers and rice spilled like blood at the scene of a social crime everyone chooses to avoid. Two girls brought her a bright yellow blanket today, uncertain and fearful of the unpredictability of the insane.
I come to the same studio, find the same mat, enter the same room with a rotating and familiar crowd of practitioners. We don’t greet one another, and we mostly wear the same clothing. The room is always warm and smells of humans – of sweat, of bodies, of breathing and of something unidentifiable. We are all doing the same moves, some more than others, with the breath’s same flow in and out. Whether there is a purpose or not is arbitrary, because we all touch our toes to different roads, each one magnificent and slightly private. We are all subject to the weather and to other human forces. We are subject to our own self imposed and tangible limitations.
I left the same studio, and a different mat and I walked another street that afternoon, limping slightly from an egotistical injury. “It really is a journey,” the older woman said to her companion, her conversation a bubble of calm within the consumeristic chaos of midtown. I just wanted a new shirt, but was horrified by the tsunami of greed and purchasing that spilled out of the stores and onto the streets. “You’re always heading somewhere, every day, just don’t – ” she continued, before her voice was drowned out by the seas of English, Spanish, Russian, everything tourist-filled and local to this city that is so frequently flooded by outsiders. I thought back to my breathing, my feet moving, slowly through the masses of people; there had to be calm, and I had to bring it, thinking back to the deep internal paschimottanasana that threatened to bring me too far inward, and the delicate balance of sarvangasana, shoulder stand, where not quite everything was flipped, but the body was forced to work against gravity’s weight. Open and closed, inside and out, everything in a balance, even walking the same route with an unnecessary map one day, and running without navigation into an open field the next.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”