Stealth Shala • 5 May 2009

It works like this. Mail the director 10 days in advance, asking for permission to drop in and directions to the shala. When he does not respond for four days, ask a student of his—who is also a friend of yours—to put in a word for you. Day five: send another email. Day six, find out a client of yours has been friends with the elusive director since elementary school and has just written to him to share the news that you are her teacher. Day seven: get a cell number and call him. When he answers and immediately hangs up on you, call back. When he answers again, cut in and keep him on the line, have a great conversation. Day nine: receive a .pdf map of the street corner where the unmarked building is located, and where to find the unlocked back door, where you should enter not before 5:00 but not after 6:00. A “before-hours joint.”

Day of: drive a concatenation of dark, empty freeways and city streets, right past the destination. Circle back, spot a full lot in this lower-middle-class commercial zone and pull in. Notice this place used to be an auto repair place or small factory. Notice the non- motor-city parking stock of Hummers, BMWs, a Volvo, plus several beater sedans and pickps; take the very last spot with your rented silver mazda (note: for a reconnaissance mission, do not rent a vehicle with a turning radius the width of three lanes of traffic).

Go to the back, find the metal door with the numerical lock and the small red Ganesh that one might mistaken for a painted rose. Appreciate the crisp hat-and-scarf kind of morning (even though it's already May). Inside, feel the warms. See sneakers and Ugg variations orderly along the walls, billowing silk alongside changing rooms, two graceful women taking your hand between strong, very soft palms to ensure everything’s in order with you and you know you’re at home.

In the dark, hear that a wood stove roars at the end of the short hall leading down to two barely-lit rooms—one for practice and one equally large for finishing—which will brighten as the sun comes in the old skylights. Next to the stove, glance an old porcelain clawfoot tub full of dry, yellow corn kernels, with a foot-long rough wooden scoop lying in the bottom. Art? Something referring to grist for the mill?

And then practice. Appreciate the darkness, good breath, silence, the tall teacher who laughs at my backbends and has nothing to prove to either the two brand-new students, me, or the many everyday people. Afterwards make some laidback talk on random topics—jewelry-making, convection systems, Colorado—sitting on the church pews by the stove. Find out the tub of corn is just a good clean heatsource. And take this little kernel he tosses at your feet: “There are some conscious pockets around here. They're hiding. But something is going on.”

 

Stealth Shala
 
 

39 Comments

  • Posted 5 May 2009 at 11:50 pm | #

    Qué significa “conscious pockets?”

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:44 am | #

    Buena pregunta, Carlos.

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:45 am | #

    P.S. Too much stream-of-consciousness on the first draft! I just edited so the post is less of a mess.

  • Jamie
    Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:31 am | #

    I am happy to read that you had the opportunity to practice with my friend who I consider to be an exceptionally fine Ashtanga teacher. I’m from the same neighborhood.

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 4:42 am | #

    You just described Mike’s dream shala.
    I’m not kidding.
    well… add a snoozing Pekingese and it’s perfect.
    By the time you make your way to Austin, maybe we’ll have this set up! I will be your “in”.

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 7:35 am | #

    😀

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:48 pm | #

    Laughed at your backbends?

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:58 pm | #

    With wonderment, I’m sure, Sonya!

  • RE
    Posted 6 May 2009 at 6:15 pm | #

    Forget “laughs at my backbends” – I’m still stuck on “he answers and immediately hangs up”. That didn’t sit well with me . . .

  • Posted 6 May 2009 at 7:22 pm | #

    Oops. This was just a playful post about how much effort it took me to find this great place and how it was worth the effort. The laughing in backbends was just a moment of lightness and recognition between us and the phone-disconnect could have been anything—I was calling from a non-local number and he was driving on the freeway but picked up anyway. The teacher himself is obviously really something… I’m excited and inspired by him.

    Anyway. I am not saying that exclusivity is cool, or that this place is exclusive at all. There were two brand new practitioners in the room on Monday, people who didn’t know anyone else. It’s just a person has to make an effort to get in here because it’s a non-commercial zone. The teacher wants people to be in touch with him first so that when they arrive in the space, they aren’t put off or disruptive to others.

    You used to have inside knowledge to get to Eddie’s in NY. Then about four years ago he put it all out there on the internet, threw open the doors. I loved that. Last summer in conference, Sharath made a veiled critique of the exclusivity of the Iyengar thing, and the fact that you have to have the right contacts and the right past experience to practice in Pune. The thing about this practice, he said, is that it is open to everybody. Just send a letter and a photo and then show up.

    Creating a little hassle for students to negotiate does make things interesting though. And it probably helps dampen expectations for a consumer experience you could have in a more commercial, fee-for-service setting.

  • Posted 7 May 2009 at 4:05 am | #

    “he answers and immediately hangs up”.
    That actually made me laugh. The whole story is just so fantastical, all elements of drama were enjoyed. I didn’t interpret your story to be a description of exclusivity, but that’s because I know how hard it is for a teacher to find and afford a space- sometimes it just can’t have a flashy exterior… or be zoned for commercial use. Your description made me think of a speakeasy.

    “The thing about this practice, he said, is that it is open to everybody. Just send a letter and a photo and then show up.”- now that really had me laughing! I’ve always wondered about the photo. I like to think there’s a big scrapbook tucked away in the main office where everyone is glued inside.

  • Posted 7 May 2009 at 2:41 pm | #

    Great story! I’m kind of disappointed in the lack of a secret knock, though.

  • Posted 7 May 2009 at 6:24 pm | #

    The story certainly seems very misterious and exclusive to me, since I have no idea who this teacher of yours is. You have me all curious.

  • Posted 7 May 2009 at 8:13 pm | #

    He’s one of only TWO in the whole, wide, midwest 😀

  • Jamie
    Posted 7 May 2009 at 8:48 pm | #

    The mysterious Midwestern teacher in question has been quietly teaching his students daily for a number of years now. The operative word is DAILY, traditional method, up and at em before the sun. He actually practices too.

  • Posted 7 May 2009 at 11:40 pm | #

    It’s only my cageyness that you are sensing, I aver. I’m holding off on discussing where I was and what I was doing the past week.

    Things are not clear yet.

    But they are fucking awesome.

    THE MIDWEST SHALL RISE AGAIN.

    Oh and Jamie is right. This guy is strong in an easy way, light in the foot, and has great humor (as the red ganesh and corn tub demonstrate). Very well practiced. I adore that.

    And CP, I was de-emphasizing the matter of the numerical lock, but yes, there is an open sesame aspect.

    BTW, you know that SKPJ is in the ICU in a very intense way, and also Visak is tomorrow? PJ’s been in and out of hospital the past month. Tomorrow is also full moon in shakti-loaded Scorpio, for those who key in to such silliness. All in all, a really good time to take a strength-giving, strength-receiving morning meditation. Thing of it as a little gratitude ritual. We’re doing it here at 5:30. I hope we’ll be joined all over in spirit.

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 2:15 am | #

    I’ll be there. I’m feeling grateful in the face of transition.

    Good news re: the rise of the awesome midwest.

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:51 am | #

    Back from shala this morning, we dedicated our practice to SKPJ. I hope all these good thoughts from around the world will make its way to his bedside and make him feel better.
    Om Tryamlakam Yajamahe
    Sugandhim Pusti – vardhanam
    Urva – rukamiva Bandhanan
    Mrtyor – muksheeya Ma – amrita

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:59 am | #

    I’ll meet you in my time zone.

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 2:38 pm | #

    i’ll meet you in the astral plane too.

    and Fatou, the maha mrityunjaya mantra is so beautiful and powerful, i love it.

    (Owl, you are very mysterious… making me really curious too!)

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 6:04 pm | #

    The midwest shall rise again.

    The midwest shall rise again.

    The midwest shall rise again.

    Okay, this just doesn’t compute.

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 6:49 pm | #

    GM’s bankrupt, Detroit has been strafed, and Michigan’s the only state in the Union (not counting No-Dak) whose population is in decline. The state is tottering on antiquated (now irrational) relations of production, its great buildings lie in ruin, and this past winter the global-warming two-step dance meant it got cold as fuck. Hello: heart of darkness.

    In the midst of that dark: the town with the highest human capital in the country—a utopia covered in flower blossoms and sincerity, where people ask follow-up questions and have expert BS-filters they aren’t shy about using; the second greatest powerhouse university in the world; some of the most intense yoga you’ll find anywhere (most of it Iyengar…); a Rinpoche or two; a vast isolated peninsula framed by three ancient lakes, yielding tons of organic vegetables, and still full of Native American arrowheads; and energetic vortices nobody wants to talk about because they’ve seen what happened to Sedona.

    The world is not ready to find out yet… but I guess I’ll tell if you’ve stuck around this comment thread this many days on end. Detroit is the new Encinitas. With that old heart-center now aged and in highly packaged decline, they sent out the spies in search of the heart of the new century. And finally they have found it, tended faithfully by many who have been waiting. Vande gurunam nishreyase Michigan. Shhh…..

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:36 pm | #

    ok, ok…now pass me that spliff.

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:41 pm | #

    You’ll have to come and get it.

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:43 pm | #

    come on…your ashtray…it’s like, like the elephants’ graveyard outa tarzan, man

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:50 pm | #

    Whatcha gonna do, Simba?

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:58 pm | #

    nothing but

    brood into the

    silence

    of my own fatuous

    existence

    dude

    plus, do you know who you remind me of?

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 7:59 pm | #

    Hamlet. Don’t Bogart my Shakespeare, man.

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 8:04 pm | #

    NO:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Jonah_Jameson

    with optional backbending on the deluxe model

    now come on, spread the reefer…

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 8:18 pm | #

    Sure, you can hold my smokes while I do some yoga, pal.

    We closed down the paper and went to a grassroots reporting model last year. So here’s the deal: everyone with his own light gets a spliff.

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 8:28 pm | #

    Shit, I’ve just boodiba’d on the carpet…

  • meniscursus
    Posted 8 May 2009 at 9:06 pm | #

    ta…xi…

  • Posted 8 May 2009 at 9:45 pm | #

    I am corrected. But the only Michiganites I’ve spoken with so far are Yoopers who express their manifest-intentions through yearly deer camp retreats. I didn’t realize that the Michiganites to the south have been remaking their ‘hood into a 21st-century Encinitas. What prominent Detroit feature do you suppose will become the new Swami’s?

  • Jamie
    Posted 10 May 2009 at 9:56 pm | #

    The Great Lakes represent approximately 1/5 of the surface fresh water in the world. Michiganians are a little slow on the uptake, but when they figure out this is a better deal than building Model-T’s the future won’t look so bad. Detroit ain’t quite Encinitas yet, but in the midst of climate change Californians are still trying to grow grass in the desert. I’d say the Upper Midwest migration is only a couple decades away.

  • Posted 11 May 2009 at 12:33 am | #

    Abundant water, fertile land. No drought, fire, rising sea levels. Strong social ethics. People there are so sincere I almost want to ask them to dumb it down for me. A foreign country in many ways, though: if anything, the place reminds me of Sweden. But warmer.

    Though for now real estate is unbelievable. You heard it here first.

  • V
    Posted 11 May 2009 at 5:17 am | #

    You know what to do, then! 😉

  • Posted 11 May 2009 at 11:20 am | #

    So are you moving to this ‘Sweden’ then?

  • Posted 11 May 2009 at 4:30 pm | #

    Nope.

  • Posted 13 May 2009 at 5:04 pm | #

    But sort of…!

    🙂

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