Five for the Archive, Part III • 19 June 2007

Number 4 of 5 in the series…

4. The history. Describe the development of your practice and history with teachers since then.

It got so my Sunday class was Led First Series Astanga. I took it for months but never learned the series. That would have required thinking, and I didn’t want to clutter up my meditative headspace with that kind of memorization. And, I was kinesthetically stupid (and still am, relatively).

Although my main teacher told me to learn to think with my body, I thought that was a special ability she must have learned as a dancer—an ability I simply didn’t have.

Then in March or April of 2004, YogaWorks cancelled the Sunday Led class. But there was something special about that particular sequence—god knows what I saw in it. But since I wanted it in my life, the cancellation meant it was time to go deeper—and become more a producer than a consumer of asana practice. On Tuesdays and Thursdays that quarter I had mid-mornings free, so skipped campus between 10 and 12:30 and sped down the residential streets alongside the country club to Beverly Hills for the erstwhile Sunday-teacher’s Mysore class.

Over the coming 2.5 years this teacher and another would baptize me with awesome fire and then with ice, and four others, after, with love and respect and space. All six were products of the specific school of astanga that Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller built. Some of these students have tried to disown their first formations a bit, but both SKPJ and Maty-Chuck’s teachings are in me, directly through them. I only made it to Maty’s room a few times—the way the girls there acted brought up all my high school-outsider insecurities and it was not a sufficiently inward-focused place for me to hit and remain in something like theta state. If Maty and Chuck had not been mostly before my time, I would have found my teacher in Chuck, whose early-morning room (to recount my few visits just before he departed) was still and dim and totally electric.

As it is, for 2.5 years I learned from them and from their teacher, through the six students who became my teachers. I am grateful beyond words for each of them, in individual ways. Three have quietly watched me have a very hard year—two knowing the story and visiting this space, the other not—and they have held the ground open for me in a way most well-meaning friends could never know how to do. These people, inexplicably, show a kind of dedication to my practice—to practice itself. It is that they’re teachers, and all softened by years of this method. My experience would not be the same—would be nothing like what it is—without their ring of fire on the outskirts of this daily séance. Strong, steady mentor-friends. Thank you.

These six together took me through second. Then last summer Rolf came to town and taught me the first three pranayamas. Damn if that didn’t rewrite the whole equation forwards and backwards. Drat blether fret. Bother!

And then there’s my present teacher, who plans out the crude details of the thing so I do not have to trouble, who connects me directly to the master-student SKPJ, and whose holding of the ground resonates out in waves from our small room such that your awareness hits an air pocket and dives down fast as you walk up on the place. This is the model of teacher as Leah-Luke in the Deathstar trash compactor (why weren’t they doing Vira II?), or the wise child with the finger in the dike, or the shtirasukha serpent resting strongly on the elephant’s back. The teacher sets the ground, and we show up and rain down sweat and tears and, yes, a little blood. It’s a mutual creation, this addictive scene. Not that I would have expected something this good when I’m already here in the land of astanga plenty, but so it is. This era hasn’t been easy, but it is rich.