Shots and drop-ins • 17 April 2010

Ann Arbor and I had our consummation this week – as in, I’ve been consuming all over town, and feeling all intimate and sated as a result. Paying for units of experience … the Kali Yuga strategy for “getting grounded.” Pretty efficient way to go!

I only notice that consumption is the medium of these explorations because the relations of consumption have been invisible to me as a tourist in India. As if yoga tourists can bear to know our place in the penumbra of energy exchange–the labor and the pollution behind our subconsciousness plumbing projects. In our weakness, we kind of have to insulate ourselves from full knowledge of the relationships we're in: too much consciousness all at once would freak us out and stop the machine. Who knows what facts the rag-pickers know? Let them keep those secrets, for now.

Anyway, here I am in the afterglow of ka-ching. I dumped the ancient MotoRAZR and now can ring you on a device that’s a stutter-step closer to the singularity. Got intimidated by record stores in town (intimidation is half of what you’re paying for in the market for vinyl). Sent $500 to Bangkok via Western Union, brilliantly located in the Ann Arbor bus station and outfitted in vintage, even though these days they average three transactions a week. Found a place where I can slip up to a bar and pound shots of fresh-juiced ginger for $1.89 while beat-up professor friends down the happy hour PBR. Very exciting.

The question is whether the ginger joint can stem what wants to be an IV for the new drug. Dirty bourgeois espresso 3.0. Oh my god. Had my first real shot ever on Monday, and afterwards in the car realized I was nowhere fit to drive. Stayed high clear through to midday, put in an up-do and a starchy dress to return to the espresso fetishists the following morning. And again today. I've decided the quota is three shots a week, and am wondering if caffeine-free living (which I’d lived until January, 2010) is a practice I'm ready to abandon. The ritual around this little espresso bar is so addictive and beautiful, feels like the essence of Ann Arbor 2010. I’m not even going to describe it because I’ll get worked up and it’s two days before I can consider going back. My father’s alarming 8-cup-a-day habit notwithstanding, surrender to this might be helpful for understanding this town and beyond that for merging with the bitter ground-up soul of academia. Hmm. Still, I have concerns about what this would to do to my way of thinking, to the sharpness of mind it creates.

People here are brain-tired at the end of a day, and—compared to Angelenos—more receptive to meditation instruction and less desperate to burn calories. (It’s hard to sensitize students to mindfulness of energy exchange when they're desperate to drive themselves deep in to energetic debt.) But that relative openness is the only constant in the few evening yoga classes I’ve managed to catch.

I went to Iyengar—probably the best verbal instruction I’ve ever received, delivered by a renowned teacher who (contrary to my idea of the lineage) has a warm smile and an extremely relaxed bearing. Also, she teaches in the sanctuary of a renovated church two blocks from my house.

(I guess there are good arguments against eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or seeing the next level of reality–in this case, the plane on which all asana practices are the same stuff. Oh well. Exploitation, espresso and Iyengar yoga all go together this week in my loss of Ann Arbor innocence.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Nia. I was all excited about this yoga-dance fusion practice because I thought it could soften my sad longing my old Saturdays at the Venice Masonic Temple. I love 5Rhythms dance—the spontaneity and self-expression if it, the fact that everything is permitted and so things get animally, interpersonally weird. But… I am not primal enough to understand Nia. Power to those tigresses for rendering me a robotic (thank you, Liz) wuss.

So that’s asana as self-expression. Asana as self-mastery (the masculine correlate of the self-expression school) is here too, maybe in its purest form: Power Yoga beta, taught by (it’s true) Bryan Kest’s kid brother Johnny. More to prove, less to prove it with. J They’re doing a lot of good things, honestly. Free childcare and genuine friendliness, for example. Still, I did not participate in any “power moves.”

Anyway. The gem this week was RussaYog. Start with EZBoard exposure to the mythical strength and contorting of the superhuman Russian ashtangis. Add to that my superficial web browsing: all I noted on the website were what looked like a spidery-supervillain’s torture chamber, with a few hapless humans tied up awkwardly in its recesses. In sum, when I ascended the dark, creaky stairs in to the cobweb chamber above a pizzeria and a vintage shop dowtown, I was expecting something quite other than a deeply meditative, hour ofequanimity led by a perceptive, warm, precise physics professor who hails from Pune and learned hatha yoga from his parents. I was expecting something funny, not a fully grounded, subtle practice that used the ropes not for tricks but for spine-stretching leverage and few invitations to light up the pelvic floor. My relaxed, energized, sort of disbelieving self drank the chai a student offered after class, sat by a windowseat overlooking a sidewalk strewn in pear blossoms, and talked to the teacher/owner about yoga’s place in the academy. Someone peeled off early from the prasad, leaned in shyly in to my visual field and said my name. “Welcome to our community.” I blushed. Can’t bottle that sincerity.

Thursday night I reviewed these adventures for Tim as he told me some of Ann Arbor’s yoga history and mused about holding an ecumenical Yoga Congress some summer. Unless I do power yoga, there is no place I can drop in to get congratulated for the narrow-eyed discipline and childlike physical abilities that any old ashtangi has to show for herself. But with respect to asana practices, when we considered the Tibetans and the Sivananda school also here, there’s stunning refinement and diversity in this town. Maybe a vortex is nearby.