My Week With a Yoga Master
I wake up about 2 hours before practice. Sufficient time to have coffee, eat a banana, take a shower and be at the doors before sunrise. As the doors open, practitioners pile into the practice space, setting up their mats. Mats are very close together, 4 fingers distance to be exact, leaving hardly any space to perform certain asanas, such as Upavista Konasana and Supta Padangusthasana. Some practitioners take time to stretch, some sit quietly, while others take photos and chat with each other, waiting for the Yoga Master to arrive. As he enters the room, everyone falls silent and takes to their mat, waiting for the class to begin. Class starts with the calling of Samasthiti, the chanting of the opening mantra, and ekam inhale.
That's what it was like every day for the past week that I took class with Sharath in Miami. After a week of practice under his guidance, I feel physically tired, but thankfully not sore.
During my home practice I try my best to stay as close to the count as possible, but sometimes I go slower, taking a few more breaths or taking a break. During a guided class, it is much easier for me to stay with the count and follow along. But taking class with Sharath made me realize that my holds for many postures during my home practice are much, much shorter--a reminder that I am strong but choose to be lazy. On a few occasions Sharath even repeated a number (an extra breath) or dramatically slowed down the count--this was definitely true for Sirsasana and Utplutihi.
Being in a class with so many other practitioners from around the world was amazing, of course, but there are distractions if you choose to give into them: looking to see where Sharath is, who he's assisting, or checking out so-and-so's jump back or jump through from the corner of your eye.
Paramaguru Sharath Jois did not give many instructions or cues for the postures, although he did have certain phrases that he would repeat during each class, such as 'no head butting,' 'don't fall, don't come down,' 'no crying,' and my favorite 'why you hurrying?' Each phrase referred to a particular posture, but also carried a much deeper meaning if you stopped to reflect on it. This last phrase 'why you hurrying?' would usually cause laughter, and probably anxiety to whomever he was asking. He would say it most often when we would transition from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdhva Mukta Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). Chaturanga Dandasana is a strength posture that we repeat approximately 60 times during primary series, so it's no wonder we are such in a hurry to exit. But on a more subtle level, this same phrase is a suggestion for us to slow down, focus on the moment and be more mindful instead of constantly jumping and hurrying from one situation to another. It is a reminder that we should enjoy each moment!
The best part of the week for me was the conference. I got to see Sharath, take a photo with him and thank him. He is relaxed, has a joyful spirit, and is highly observant. He is never at a lost for words, and is surprisingly funny. He shared some great stories with us. He knew exactly what to say and what we needed to hear. My biggest takeaway was that Yoga is a 24-hour practice. It's not the time you spend on your mat that's important, but how you live your life. The Yamas and the Niyamas, the 'sub-limbs' he called them, are the foundations of the yogic lifestyle. He emphasized that Yoga is not to be confused with asana. Asana--the third of eight limbs--is only a tool to steady the mind, stabilize the body and keep it healthy. Without the foundation of the Yamas and Niyamas, the asanas are just a circus act.
Also during this week, I got to reunite with Nikki, Courtney and Lisa. Although we speak almost daily, we haven't seen each other since last year during our Ashtanga Intensive. I reconnected with ashtangi friends I have met over the years and made new ones. It was an experience I will not forget. I will miss practicing in a class full of students guided by a teacher, the sound of many breaths and the humid and sometimes hot air. I am grateful and thankful for the opportunity to have met and received the teachings of the most advanced Ashtanga practitioner and Yoga Master. I look forward to another opportunity to practice and learn from him.
Lots of love,