Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Spot by the Window

One of the reasons I love yoga is that sooner or later during every practice the noise in my head stops, and I'm left with the sounds of my own breath and my teacher's voice. I latch on to his instructions as if attaching a carabiner to a rope on a dangerous stretch of mountain, and then I set one foot in front of the other, not looking down, back or beyond, just placing my feet in the tracks of others who have climbed before me. On a good day.

On a bad one, I've arrived too late to get a spot near the front of the room. I'm crammed between the wall and an anorectic Lotte Berk disciple with Botox-sealed sweat glands who stashes blinking Blackberry, Starbucks venti and Birkin bag two inches from the top of my mat. When my teacher asks me to close my eyes and dedicate my practice, I challenge myself to sweat on her Hermes.

I know this is far from a yogic attitude. I don't claim to be terribly evolved. But as my teacher often says, that just means my journey will be more interesting.

Today, however, was a good day, my third day of practice in a row, despite the wind chill and the three deadlines waiting impatiently on my desk. When I made it to the studio, my spot by the window was free, and two kindred regulars had nabbed adjacent mats. I don't watch others during class, (unless they're either annoying or extraordinary), but feeling them there makes all the difference. Companionship doesn't turn class into a group activity. It's more like separate dances on the same dance floor. Or individual skirmishes on a single battlefield. Improvisations on a theme. Today's class went quickly because I felt like I was inside a protective yoga pod, practicing with a pair of like minds. If they hadn't been there, I would most definitely have missed them.

Class was hard. In the words of my late teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: "Practice and all is coming." I would add to that: stop practice and headstand is going. The first time I practiced with Guruji -- in a room of at least 150 yogis half-naked but for their tattoos -- I was fairly new to yoga. Crow pose was a distant dream and the thought of headstand gave me angina. As Guruji called out: "Sir - sa - sana..." and feet floated above heads all around me, I bent over and wiggled, hoping to fake my way through to the poses I could ace. But the yoga is as much in the things you can't do as in the things you can. I don't know how Guruji found me in that sea of upendedness, but he was suddenly there waiting, and not gently. I wanted to say: "I'm not ready. My hair hurts. Please no -- I don't want to be forever known as the yogi who crushed you. These people will eat me. Except they're probably all vegan. But my tank top is made of hemp. They might gnaw on that..." Guruji didn't speak much English, and he didn't come all the way from Mysore, India to hear me talk about what I couldn't do. So, terrified, I slapped the crown of my head down on the mat, prayed and kicked upward in the general direction of Guruji's third eye. He held me aloft by my ankles, a recurring theme in my life. No comment.

I didn't kill Pattabi Jois that day. Nor have I yet killed the headstand. Six months ago I was able to take my feet off the wall for ten or fifteen seconds at a time. Then headstand seemed to go out of vogue in my classes, and I started working on other things. Until today, when Sherman threw in a Sirsasana after 90 full-out minutes, I tried, hoping to gracefully invert, but I couldn't figure out which way was up; my feet clung to the floor as if magnetized. I was grounded when I wanted to glide. He told me not to be a pose-chaser, but I see nothing wrong with being a pose-seducer. Everyone around me is standing on their heads. I need to know what that feels like.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I challenge myself to sweat on her Hermes."

"But my tank top is made of hemp. They might gnaw on that..."

Hilarious! and I love your writing style. I will definitely be tuning in!