The first week of classes
Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
55Trip End Feb 21, 2006
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As mentioned in the previous entry, I have class six days a week. Saturday, new moon, and full moon are rest days. Led class starts at 5am Friday and Sunday. Monday through Thursday is Mysore style, where people start at different times. I usually arrive about 6:30am and when a space is available in the room I can start. The room can hold maybe 50 people -- I so rarely pay attention to the surroundings when I'm there that I'm not sure. The ceiling is two stories high and there are high windows at the front and back, which are always steamed up soon after practices starts for the day. Guruji, Saraswathi (his daughter), and Sharath (his grandson) adjust people during the classes.
(The bottom floor of the building is the main area, office, dressing rooms. Guruji and his family live in the upper two floors. The building is very new, simple and modern. Lots of porches upstairs. The walls are slightly higher than other houses and the ledge of the walls has broken glass in the concrete for anyone considering trying to jump over it.)
The sun rises around six, so on led days I drag myself out of bed in the dark at 4:30am. I thought for sure I'd be super stiff that early, but you cook quickly in the room. Thus far the led classes don't do five each of the sun salutations, and even without that I manage to feel warm early. Everyone told me that Guruji counts fast in led classes, and they're right. In my first class, I usually had three breaths when he counted five. Partway through the standing sequence, I wondered why I didn't feel more tired -- then I realized I was zipping through the sequence. Then I thought it might be a nice change for postures like navasana (boat) :-)
I'm not a fan of the led classes so far, although I'm glad to attend. You have to follow the count exactly -- Guruji and Sharath never hesitate to reprimand you for getting ahead of the count. What results is that many people hold their breath, which I hate to do. The sun salutations become exhausting. Staying exactly together is useful, however, for many of the moving postures in the second half of the primary series. In this case I'm glad for it. The other part of led classes that I don't like is short savasana -- I became pretty spoiled in Atlanta the past few months. I met at Atlanta Yoga at 6am with two friends, and after our practice we'd have 15-minute savasana. I highly recommend it if you can.
One advantage of a later start on Mysore class days is that the room thins out. When everyone is doing the same postures rolling around on the floor, I don't worry too much about getting in anyone's way, even though all the mats are only a few inches apart. The setup on Mysore days, however, is much more precarious. One day I was in uttitha parsvakonasana, facing the back of the room, and the guy directly behind me was doing uttitha hasta padangushtasana. Basically I was kneeling on one knee with my arm lifted over my head, and his leg was directly above my upper torso and arm. I felt his sweat drip on my shoulder and hoped he didn't lose his balance. Thus I like having more space by the time I do supta konasana and chakrasana. Because the room is so crowded, many people do the closing sequence in the dressing room, where it's dark, quiet, and sparsely populated. I wouldn't mind that, but it's nice to to have to move everything partway through my practice.
Sharath was out of town until this morning, when he led class instead of Guruji, who sat in a chair and dozed on and off. He is slower and also very strict. During navasana, he and his mother tell people to straighten their legs. In headstand, he tells people to come back up if they lower down before he's done counting. During ut pluthi, the last posture where you sit in lotus and lift your lower body off the floor, he counted extra slow and watched people drop all over the room. The only comment was "Back up," as he continued to count slowly. We held that for more than thirty of my breaths.
Led classes do not have uttitha hasta padangushtasana C or supta padangushtasana C, both of which I do during Mysore classes. In Mysore classes, everyone is adjusted after backbends to work on dropping back from standing up into backbends. I've always been pretty terrified of backbends, so it's been an exercise in facing fear and reluctance in my case. Watching Guruji spot people bigger than he, nearly 70 years younger, in backbends is amazing. He looks effortless.
Other than backbends there are not that many adjustments -- many students and only three teachers. I try to pace my practice normally and not spend too much time working on a posture. Usually each day I choose one to crank myself into and move through everything else normally. Other people start a posture, like supta kormasana, and wait and wait and wait for someone to adjust them in it. I saw one guy do that while I did nearly half of the primary series.
Many students, including me, practice on a cotton rug over a yoga mat. At the first led class, I noticed that nearly all the people with rugs had them rolled up at the back of their mats rather than over them. I was very confused because I already had mine ready and unrolled. After the standing sequence, as I moved immediately into dandasana (staff), people were unrolling their mats and making a general ruckus. Apparently many people do not or cannot do sun salutations on rugs, or during the standing sequence do not feel enough grip with their feet.
The next noisy moment in led class comes at marichiasana, a seated pose where one leg is straight in front and the other is bent, the foot near the hip, with the knee up. As people reached their right arms around the bent leg and reached their left behind their backs to grab the right hand, nearly all the shoulders popped. One girl told me she looked at Guruji at that moment and he plugged his ears. I'm trying to remember that so I'll notice next time.
The Mysore class experience is intense on many levels. Everyone has their own practice on the room, and some of the students are incredibly advanced. I don't mind the wait sometimes in the mornings just to see the ability that some people have -- holding handstands while their legs alternate from near backbends (folding over their heads) to near forward bends (folding towards the floor). All the students are pushing themselves; you can feel the energy in the room.
What struck me the first morning I walked into a Mysore class is the breathing. The immediate comparison that I remembered is a terribly analogy because no one will know about it. Nevertheless I'll offer it to you. When I was in elementary school, Atlanta had the Piedmont Arts Festival every September. Old school Atlanta residents may remember it. It existed for a long time, but ended before I started high school. Now it is combined with the springtime Dogwood Festival, but I remember the Piedmont one as a little edgier, grungier, not so mainstream. There were artists' booths, music and dance performances, and of course tons of food and performance artists as well. One gallery always had the more controversial, random, questionable art. I remember attending this every year with my mother, and usually my brother when he was old enough to walk that much. One year, we went into the gallery and it had a huge sculpture of vacuum cleaners in an arch, probably fifteen or twenty feet wide, above everyone's head. The title of it was "The Bridge of Sighs," after the place in Venice. The vacuum cleaners were mostly old-fashined models, timed to turn on at certain intervals. I remember standing underneath the arch, probably four feet tall (maybe), waiting for the art to happen. Suddenly all the vacuum cleaners roared to life. Bags inflated and deflated, lights flashed, and all the machines were vacuuming motionlessly, sucking up air at different speeds. The sound filled the high-ceilinged room and drowned all other conversation.
That's what I felt when I first walked in the shala, was a room breathing, rather than 40 or 50 people breathing. No one breathes at the same pace, and it's very overwhelming at first, especially because I have mostly practiced alone or in small groups for a long time. I love the atmosphere -- it's very energizing. I think we all realize that our abilities are further than we expected.