Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Practice Trajectory: Ordinary, Extraordinary, Everyday Ashtanga Yoga Pt. 7

"When I go don't cry for me 

In my fathers arms I'll be
The wounds this world left on my soul
Will all be healed and I'll be whole"

"All My Tears" by Julie Miller
 "Not everyone gets the opportunity to go to India in this lifetime," JB said to me on one of my last state-side practice before I set off. I didn't really know what he meant, but I did get that this was an opportunity beyond my comprehension. Crying on the phone to my mom before my middle-of-the-night flight, just after seeing Julie Miller sing those words at Slim's in San Francisco, was when I realized how fully I was going into the unknown. But first that long-ass flight around the globe, stopping in Bangkok and Hong Kong per my cheap(est) ticket to Bangalore. 

After 30hrs of travel, you're so addled that the strangeness of an Indian airport is — very welcome. Even if it's noisy and chaotic and you've packed a month of clothing and a yoga mat in a backpack and you're not sure how you're going to even be able to sleep in this very-different-than-you've experienced place. 
I'd arranged through email to meet another student to share a ride from the airport to Mysore. In 2004, the main highway wasn't yet fully improved and the system that has created the now-steady-come-and-go of shiny white taxis from Bangalore to Mysore had yet to be streamlined. I found my fellow traveler amid the sea of strangers and our hired ride. We clambered into the open-sided vehicle driven by a friendly local who'd taken his yellow-sari wearing wife along to keep him awake for the long ride. It was one of those drives that you find yourself wide-eyed and praying, too full of adrenaline to feel your complete terror and the trajectory of your vehicle. The driver, of course, wasn't phased by oncoming trucks and load-ed down oxen appearing out of the dark, but resorted to singing to keep himself awake. We ended up trading songs for a long while of road as we bounced and swerved along over its bumps. It was dawn when we arrived and I got my first glimpse of Ashtanga students walking to class at the Ashtanga Yoga the strange, not-quite-light.
We'd made it!
Or so I thought so until I sat across from Pattabhi Jois in his office the next day, a stack of unopened mail and my carefully counted rupees — tuition for the month —between us. My letter of intent may or may not have arrived (this was pre-Internet enrollment) and who was I anyway? I wasn't sure if I heard him correctly, but it seemed I was short a few rupees (this was also before the office had an automated rupee counter). We sat there in silence, and I watched him sorting through the papers on his desk, ignoring me, wondering what I was going to do with myself in the event I couldn't pay up. 
My shoulders slumped —I really didn't have anymore cash to spare  — but I didn't leave. Where was the Guruji I'd met in New York who said 'yes, yes, you come, next winter'? Well. It had been three years...Then Sharath came in and things brightened. They talked to each other a few moments in Kannada then he left. Amid sorting, Guruji asked me who my teachers were. Finally, he shrugged and handed me a form to fill out, and gave me a start time the next morning. 
 I caught a rickshaw by my rented apartment near Saraswatipurim before my appointed hour and began practice a half-hour later. Elated to finally be in the room, I blitzed through that first day of practice. I don't think Guruji or Sharath paid me any attention. But as anyone who goes there knows, they don't miss a thing. The next day Sharath came over to me in (my then version of) garbha pindasana and said stop. 
What? Huh? 
Well, duh is more like it as I wasn't putting my arms through my legs, thinking it impossible, at the time, for 'my body.' And so began my real process of understanding why you don't skip postures, the value of reeling it all back, humbling as it is, and eventual complete respect for the ingenuity of the sequencing of primary well as learning you usually can do a lot more than you think...eventually...with time and effort.
I was in a near-stupor most of that month from the sheer amount of energy that I was experiencing practicing in the shala for the first time. I wasn't very social (by Mysore standards) and remember drawing and writing a lot. Things were moving beyond my understanding. Dragonflies and monkeys, amazing-looking advanced practitioners doing 4th series next to me, meeting swamis, 
cocoooos!,' the ups and downs of adjusting to Indian food, and being in a room with a true master. Guruji was kind to me in practice, laughing and giving me a strong adjustment here and there, but not giving me that much attention...unless I really needed it. 
I got sick close to the end of my trip— sick in that horrible, I'm-going-to-die-alone-in-strange-country way— and when I crawled back to the shala a couple days after,  I thought it really was going to be the end. I remember laying on my back on my mat, thinking I would die if I did a back bend. It surely wasn't possible. Guruji was in his office and I was feeling so pathetic, I thought seriously about skipping to paschimottanasana and faking that I did them. Then out of nowhere I saw those feet— strong and solid and weathered as an elephant's— by my mat. 
"Yes, yes!" he laughed down at me. And of course I got up and completed my practice...and somehow felt like my life had restarted. 
A couple days later, my trip up, I told Guruji goodbye. 
It's true. Once you get to India, and to Mysore for the particular purpose of giving yourself to your Ashtanga practice, you realize that a month really is nothing. Well, that's not completely true. A lot happened on that trip. I felt I had a powerful turn around my particular karmic cycle. Huge chunks of accumulated delusion seemed to have dropped from my shoulders, but there was plenty of work left to do. 
For this reason, I will say to anyone thinking about going to India to just do it. Don't wait. Don't let the thought 'ohmygawd, a month', or 'it's too far away' or it's a BIG interruption', or 'I'm not a teacher,' or whatever about getting time off work, how much it is, etc. et. al.  If you can conceivably swing it, go. Knowing what I knew having practiced in Mysore I wished I would have gone much sooner. That said, be prepared to be — along with informed and transformed — well, infected, by the place. Even now, when my life is far better than it was 10 years ago; even now, when I'm in a committed relationship, own a house, enjoy my creative pursuits and live close to the beach; even now, after a most-recent (and 4th) trip to Mysore which found me injured and feeling grumpy and old for much of my visit, I find myself randomly up late at night, reading about Mysore or cuing up old videos of Guruji, musing on when and how I'll go back. ...

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