Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Practice Trajectory: Ordinary, Extraordinary, Everyday Ashtanga Yoga Pt. 5

After practicing more than a year with his dedicated and devoted students, I didn't doubt it would be a big treat to practice with the Pattabhi Jois. Something I've seen again and again since, is that, provided one is questing, one teacher leads to the other quite naturally. I don't mean skipping to teacher-to-teacher willy-nilly, but the natural progression of information/or new resource opening up in response to dedicated effort (this applies to just about everything, not just yoga). Then it's up to the individual to take up the new information/resource/opportunity for study that's now apparent (or not).
My experience of yoga practice, was that no matter how I approached it, it inherently led to the s/Self —little and big. That is, yoga could lead to realization of the divine as well as the basics of ones own more mundane (and troubling!) thoughts and preferences.  Less skilled teachers have often, perhaps unwittingly, helped that progression along as much as skilled ones.  While not every teacher I encountered who had studied with Jois continued to teach as he taught, my continual interest in yoga practice and the teachers I met, combined, eventually, to lead me to Mysore-style Ashtanga, and, ultimately to seek out Jois.
So while in September 2001, getting to India seemed impossible to me,  New York I could do.
By the time the trip came around, my dad had been gone six weeks and I was definitely ready to get out of town.  New York and Pattabhi Jois represented a big window of freedom from a grief-filled time.
I don't remember much about the getting there, but in general, the gods seemed to be smiling at my decision to go.  I had a place to stay on the Lower East Side and several other Mill Valley practitioners were also making the trip cross-country. It helped immensely to see familiar faces in the big room at Chelsea Piers where Jois would be teaching for two weeks.
I do remember the excitement of getting there, finding a space for my mat, and how everyone — and there were hundreds of people, more folks in one room practicing together than I'd ever experienced—was grinning ear to ear before Jois even entered the room. And then, there he was, walking in barefoot, along with his daughter Saraswati and grandson Sharath.  
The energy of hundreds of people happy to be practicing together with Jois was fabulous. It was something else, larger and more powerful, than I'd ever experienced or been a part of. 
And then the world came crashing down.
A group of us, glowing from practice, were chatting over coffee at a Chelsea cafe when the stir of city discussing planes hitting the World Trade Center interrupted our practice reverie After a chaotic 24 hours of fear and adrenaline, workshop practitioners who didn't leave New York learned Chelsea Piers had been turned into a triage center but Jois was continuing to teach, albeit Mysore style, at Ashtanga New York, until a new larger location could be found.
The next morning, two days after the World Trade Center attack, practicing with Jois and a handful of other students at Ashtanga New York, would be pivotal to my understanding of Mysore-style practice and of Jois's teaching in general. Yes, we were in the epicenter of an international crisis — we could hear sirens racing through SOHO and the air outside was acrid — but Jois showed up and taught! And we had our breath.
You were alive?  Bow down, do your practice, make effort. 
I remember someone asking Jois what he thought about what had happened. Instead of getting into any commentary, he waved the question off, got back to the matter at hand, his teaching of a method that worked, one person at a time, on deconditioning the behaviors that lead to unconscious acts in the first place. 
That week of practice with Jois in New York was one of deep sobriety and appreciation for life, for yoga, and for an opportunity to step into something bigger, beyond my selfish concerns. Sure we were practicing asana, but in the practice of responding differently to what our bodies presented us — going a little deeper, choosing to breathe into spaces in ourselves we'd yet to expand — I could see the larger implications of action and reaction, cause and effect. Jois's teaching through it all, and the experience of yoga, amid a disaster, both demonstrated what it meant to be committed to something , and opened up another window on my definition of freedom. Likewise, the experience of practicing with Jois more closely, in the AYNY studio – perhaps one of the more Indian-like shalas in the US – gave me another hint of what it could be like to spend time practicing in Mysore. 
 I met several other practitioners on that trip to NY who packed up everything and went to India very soon after. But I still thought going to India for several months was more for people on a teacher-track, or those who were breezing through the progression of asanas at a faster clip than I. I both didn't have the guts to go yet, and was more interested in my creative pursuits back in California.
But of course, another undeniable seed had been planted.

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