Hello from Gokulam. We are in the days of Shiva here – time to hail the energy of destruction, transcendence, and the crumbling of of old sides of ourselves. Yesterday a mentor who is also a priest (priests being about as common in these parts as your neighborhood notary public) gathered together a roomful of priestly friends and we did hours of ritual props for the Shiva side of ourselves. In the end, we threw our flowers and food into a homa fire stoked in ghee. Then we went back into the world dusted in ashes and smelling like campfire. Spent but fertile firepits.
Strong, intentional endings give energy. There is beauty in them too. But this morning, I needed a little mellowing. Thinking of Vishnu the sustainer – the avatar of continuity and of energy that renews itself – I drove out through the rice paddies north of the city. The green fields are dotted in spindly white egrets. Today there were also some splashing, chaotic little puppies, and responsibility-laden oxen pulling big limbs (their own, and those of trees) through the mulch.
Beyond all this is Srirangapatnam, Karnataka province’s old capital. It’s an island village anchored by a cool stone temple to a being called Raganathaswami. A.K.A “recumbent Vishnu”: for morning puja they pull away the curtain that protects his chamber in the temple’s dark, heavy center. Holes through twenty feet of stone ceiling let in a bit of sun. It’s a bit Wizard of Oz. Bells ring, people crush forward to cast eyes on this vision of cool cucumber repose, with his parasol of a thousand or so fully-flared snake hoods. These are courtesy Adishesha, an energy we’re always secretly circling in the ashtanga practice – and one whose full extension includes the strong, supple reptile body on which Raganathaswami sleeps.
After Vishnu, I checked in with Balaji, Laksmi and Hanuman, three more of the eleven sides of human experience that I’ll tap in to in my own way to seal in this two-month retreat.
I feel like I’m circling closer and closer to a stopping point, something like the funny little spiral I’ve been taught to trace around the body at the end of an ayurvedic massage. Resistance to leaving what’s become a second life here is sloughing away, and I almost cannot wait to get back home to Ann Arbor. (The gratuitous cuddling videos that Rob and the cats have been sending are also doing their part as well.)
So: vroom vroom. WE START SUNDAY. Yeah, like in five days!
Full details of my teaching schedule are available in the newsletter. Briefly: I’ll be in San Diego March 1-3 for AshtangaCon, and home in Montana March 16-19 to do my part in realizing the parents’ secret wish to ski as a family for the first time in 18 years. Otherwise, everything is, as we say in Gokulam, full power.
As you know from the website, Mysore class is NOT FOR DROP-INS. If you’re a daily practitioner just swinging through town, and I know your teacher, then that’s different: send email and we’ll make sure there’s space for you to drop in. We do like visits from out-of-town friends.
If you’re local and you want to practice Mysore with us, WONDERFUL. We take one new student per month. My way is to let each new practitioner habituate to the focused vibe of our room, rather that to spread my teaching energy (and the concentration of the entire room) thin around numerous new students at once.
Ashtanga is a practice that is passed on from person to person. You absorb it implicitly, and gradually, by just being with skilled practitioners and becoming receptive to the energy and understanding they carry. Since it’s completely, entirely, utterly impossible to learn this practice from a book or video, or without interacting in RL with other humans, I give new people the best of my present-moment energy. New practitioners get whatever support you need, but also lots of calm, undisturbed space to get the hang of things. You’re surrounded by really cool, fairly normal practitioners who welcome you enthusiastically even though they’ll tend to express that in tasteful silence.
You can see the values of what we’re doing here. They are: life practice, quality over quantity, consistency, time together, teacher-student relationships, community, clear method. Positive emotion is nice too. This practice can be hard; and it brings up real, strong edges inside us. Done with some humility and guts and true understanding, practice makes it increasingly impossible to avoid our own shadows. That’s why care, lovingkindness, joy and humor are good resources. We actually cultivate them.
When – after ten years of yoga practice – I quit my academic job and accepted my teacher’s instruction to teach – I understood that my new job was to offer this practice to ANYONE. There was not some pre-exisisting set of students out there waiting for me. There was no turf (this is not Amway), no job at Ashtanga University, no automatic respect for my ashen, essentially empty KPJAYI papers. I was also not being sent out to teach contortionism to nubile young people. In fact, even though I’m the biggest asana junkie I’ve met so far, turning others in that direction isn’t what this is about. If you want to wrap your leg around your head while sticking your first finger in your ear and thumb in your eye, all while performing eight random mudras and twenty-six secret bandhas, there might be better people to consult. (Well, ok… the hidden bandhas will be worth our time….) Rather, this shala is here is to offer practice to whatever people happen to be around. Like, our neighbors and people at the grocery store. Like you, if you’re ready for a little revolution. Pattabhi Jois said that EVERYONE can practice ashtanga yoga, with one exception. “Lazy person can not practice ashtanga.”
Thus! New students: here is how it works.
If you want the beginner’s slot – we want to give it to you. Beginners are awesome. No yoga experience AT ALL is required. In fact, if you’ve never done any asanas before, that’s probably best.
But to get the slot, you have to want it. Now. NOW. Athayoganushasanam.
There is no waitlist. When the slot comes free, the person who wants it most jumps in. Try it for one month; see what happens.
So there is this tiny obstacle set up at the beginning. It helps a new person summon the fire and willpower she’ll need to stay with the practice consistently for one month. While they can also become obstacles, fire and willpower are often important at the start of a yoga practice. We will pour a lot extra on if you want them; but at the same time you have to DIY.
We will support you until this getting-up-early-to-do-asanas thing gets easy. No problem. It will get easy, but until it does, one of the best resources you can draw on is your own bit of crazy. So take a risk. Track me down. Bug me. Buy Yoga Mala and a Manduka mat. Resist the pull of phony internet yoga teaching. Be open; be yourself; be passionate. Give something. And be in touch.
With my permission, you can come observe a Sunday Mysore class; and soon I’ll be back to teaching the weekly Advanced Practice for Beginners class. Apart from this weird pull to roll out my mat a month or three a year in South India and just be in the presence of my teacher, I am not going anywhere for a long time.
There is a system in place here to support a lifetime of daily practice, but do not waste a moment. Every day before you start practicing is one less day you have to really know yourself, burn out the half-conscious habits that you no longer want, heal yourself and to open up the honesty and lightness and even joy this practice slowly cultivates.
There is a very strange freedom in creating your own embodied, silent sadhana. It’s gorgeous. I’d try to tell you how gorgeous, but that might take a tiny bit of the interestingness away from experiencing it yourself. Besides, I don’t know how it’ll be for you. We’re most interested in learning from and with you, and in holding space for you to explore. So just take a risk in getting a little passionate about this, and see if some crazy actually makes sense.
Class starts Sunday, February 26.
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