Dear Blogosphere, • 2 April 2009

No lie: practicing here is heaven to me. The shala has gone from crowded to quiet; my practice has moved from 7:45 back to 6; the teacher was Sharath for three weeks and now is Saraswathi; the weather has gone from temperate to hot and mosquito-laden; some days it’s Mysore style and some days it’s led. I don’t care. These are not the details I notice.

What matters to me is the way the building breathes when I deposit my shoes on the steps in the dark. The quiet of every other student in the room, the way that being here matters enough to each of them that they’d go to all the trouble to get here. The textures of the rugs and the hard cool sheen of the marble, the bendy humidity, smell of good clean multiethnic sweat, the way the bodies on all sides blur in to windmill rhythm of vinyasas. And not just the five senses but the sixth, if as the Buddhists say the mind is a sense organ. Most everyone in that zone can dial it right down to one pointed focus, especially in that context. Multiply that by a hundred with others waiting in the foyer or doing headstands in the bathroom, and you’d have to be Democritus not to feel the energy of transformation.

Sorry! Have to drop the t word. Even if all it means is morphing temporarily into a focused, strong, body-ecstatic practitioner. When you’re here, you save your best energy for your 4:30 am date with the janga le kayamane. What else?

I am not going to write about my practice, but wanted to offer some reasons why someone might be interested in practicing in this one shala, despite the list of reasons he has for why things here are bad and wrong. I don’t have time to edit this down, so pardon my overstatements, redundancies and awkward phrasings.

● Come in to contact with a teacher who teaches asana as just a micro-process of engaging and dispelling fear. Don’t worry; he’s not scary.

● Practice with teachers you would never dream of pestering, on whom you have zero claims for attention or love, and who could not care less about your performance (and are bored by asana flash, as Laruga puts it). Teachers who don’t see your body with western eyes, don’t speak much English, will not engage people’s stuff—who live on a different cultural planet in which marriages are arranged and a caste system determines where you sleep and eat. Do this day after day after day until you stop feeling entitled and stop caring about your own performance and stop waiting to be noticed and given attention. Do it around a bunch of other people in the same situation. Until the distinctions stop mattering so much. See how this cultural distance from the teachers changes your interior experience. See how it creates emotional and mental space.

● Find out how funny and naïve some rooms back home feel after experiencing this for a while. Feel the difference in teachers who have internalized this experience in their bodies and ways of seeing.

● Esprit de corps.

● Experience asana practice that has no pretensions whatever toward psychotherapy or physical therapy. Asana that is just for the sake of breath and quiet and doesn’t need to sell itself as menial self-help.

● Be in a room where the student who receives the attention is the one devoted to Mary C, not the one perfecting some upsidedown balancing nonsense. Where there is no sexual tension—none—from the teacher.

● See how hard Sharath and Saraswati work. Ask yourself what would happen if they did not. Wonder what else they would do with their lives and their significant wealth, if they didn’t care.

● Realize this is still just a modest family business with the same foibles and benefits of any little organization, and that the expectations you had about what it all means were way overblown. Feel dumb for doing things like throwing around the word nepotism or (speaking from experience) trashing the asana instruction here.

● Realize that resentment about succession is built on the same inflated ideas of what it all means, and that the grandson talks like an everyday family guy, looks out the window with a nervous chuckle, and works too hard to have energy to play guru games. See that this is a different scene entirely from the one the old teachers—some of them struggling bitterly over the end of an era—experienced. That the institution is much different now, but something good of its own once you see it clearly.

● Meet people. Is the social scene a bunch of distracting dissolution? Yes, in some ways. And in other ways, no. This is where the incipient politicking can be leavened, the imagined snobs with their perfect bodies and lives of leisure befriended (once you realize you’re nothing less than one of them already), where you find yourself with a network of friends in every city, where your Facebook feed will be irreparably and hilariously warped, where you can watch Russians and Swedes and Brazilians and Peruvians and Thais and Australians—all with vastly different bodies and histories—comparing notes about long term practice, and be inspired by the possibilities for what it’s like to be a lifer.

● Even as the practice is suddenly “less yours” because you’re doing some apparently easier programme and have nobody to consult about it, you will possibly find your self-practice strengthened. Being ignored helps. The less it’s about achievement or performance or getting particular tricks, the more energy there is to focus on yourself and your immediate experience. Whether or not you choose to take the teachers here as your teacher in the long term, there’s a kind of personal responsibility that might be fortified here as you figure out that your own strength and flexibility hold it all together.

● Have an experience of energy. Whatever that means to you. It doesn’t matter your world view or epistemology. Whatever grid you’re on, there’s going to be seismic activity.

If this sounds meh, that’s great. For many people, practicing here would not be useful or enjoyable. And believe me, there are too many tourists in this town already and too many students wishing for a piece of the teachers: and opting not to join them is probably a great idea. Meanwhile, there are many other more structured, more personal, more beautiful, less crazy places to learn about yoga (and I don’t mean Fiji or Tulum).

But these are the ways in which the KPJAYI does still have a heart, and a few other nadis besides.