In a world where the news of the week = new precision on mula bandha (“anus only, anus always!”) and a menu change at Sixth Main (the beautiful waiter will cross “Tandoori Vegetables” right off the menu in your hand if you won't stop ordering them), well… in this context, Sunday’s Led Intermediate is an event. Sorry, Mubarak. For Led Intermediate, there are spectators. Youtube films. There are practitioners who start talking about it a full day in advance; and the post-game commentary stretches to afternoon in some quarters.
The history we keep is one of “energy.” We tell stories about the aggressive days of the institution –when the old lions were in the room to show the new generations what shakti’s all about. Or the brutal days when SKPJ would stretch catvari to eternity. Or even older days in Encinitas, when you had to hold still in the hard postures while Guruji went around to adjust the other six people in the room and the Super 8 was rolling.
When I became a bit too excited about the old stories one morning back in Santa Monica, Dom abruptly changed the subject. These are the good old days, he said.
In other words, now is yoga. Or: Come on. Wake up to this. Or: forget about the way we never were and give yourself to the way it is.
Good call for one who aestheticizes the past. While the boatloads of newer students suffer from culture shock, energy mis-management and supta kurmasana (but rarely forget to embrace the present moment), the intermediate crowd’s suffering lodges in another kosha. When we get weary, we empty our cups on nostalgia for different vibes, if not for younger bodies. (As if we weren’t all stiff and awkward back in our twenties.)
Suffering aside, I submit that we’re deep in salad days down here. A time of peace and soft yellow light. On Sundays, It’s practically afternoon (7:30) by the time Led Intermediate starts, so after a lie-in and a leisurely coffee hour, we mingle out front, chit-chatting up a storm while Saraswathi finishes her led class.
We love each other. We love being here. We love to practice.
Spectators gather in the vestibule: word is it’s a full house out there, though I wouldn’t know since I go way in to soft eyes in order to shorten my focal distance from the mat. But trust me on this: the laughs for people who flub technique are just rumor. The watchers feel inspired, focused and ever so civilized. Very day at the races. I want to give them pince-nez, fitted gloves, and mint juleps.
Speaking of which, Sharath and Saraswati cocktail during karandava. By mayurasana's ekam, we’ve all had a good long rest in bellyflop asana. But even rested, the peacock is the hardest pose to hold.
Sunday’s pre-practice mood contrasts hilariously with our previous meeting—Friday’s 4:15 led primary. By Friday mornings, to my eyes, we’re ground down to less loving and loveable selves. The crowd is largest for that class – the usual 4:15 crew plus another 30-60 (?) others whose start time is before 6:15. Thus the line-up outside the gates begins not at the usual 3:45 but—god knows—maybe closer to 3:00 in the morning.
Four a.m. may be brahma muhurta, but getting up in the 2:00 hour is just ludicrous. I don’t there’s no way to make sense of this without drinking the Kool-conuts, if you know what I mean. For most, coffee’s sufficient to get it going. But a 2:30 am dance party with a refugee Indian cat also works to pre-func for the insane Friday ritual.
Anyway… come Sunday, the edge is buffed out. The intermediate kids are rested, fed, recreated and caffeinated. Last week, our newest initiate, in searching for a word to describe her first experience, selected: “Fun.” Exclamation point.
For sure. If we work an edge, it’s the slow finishing sequence, not kapo or croc or ut pluthihi. The karandava cocktail hour means everybody who needs one gets a flip up. And there are acres of mat space – an observer said there were 30 of us last week, a sliver more women than men. Maybe half of that number finished, while the others are gradually learning—or re-learning—the sequence.
Last week, it was only at the end that things got instructional—and the didactic bit wasn’t to do with technique or strength. We were subverted by other means.
Incidentally… my read is that practicing here is supposed to mess with stuff you take for granted about reality: notions of time, progress and entitlement are systematically scrambled. I say systematic because the practice works by being relentless. If there’s insight after the asanas have done their first layer of work (i.e., the chikitsa, or therapeudic opening, of primary; and the intermediate kundalini stuff we call nadi shodana), I’d suggest it happens because of the action of practice just keeps on rolling. The repetition churns on in to the emotional body, the relational self, the astral body, and I have no idea what else. But I suspect we only find out if we really do the internal practice… once the asanas become part of dailiness, like the coffee and the cat, and maybe the kids.
No wonder SKPJ would say don’t think about teaching until you’ve practiced a decade. No wonder Patanjali wrote that practice is only practice if it proceeds without breaks. Some commentaries on the Sutras note that ceasing practice is like setting yourself back to the beginning. You avoid whatever subtle challenge it took you all that relentless showing-up-for-it to uncover in the first place.
Anyway. Practicing in the shala is subversive, one way or another. For one thing, I swear the big clock on the wall changes by a few minutes every week. “Shala time” constantly throws me off. And within that framework, I lose my sense of duration. The best I can do is moor to 5-8 breaths in any given posture like that commitment is a rope to pull me through a a stormy (or calm) sea.
Here's a good fluctuation. Last Sunday, Sambhav ambled in to the room during finishing. At 3 or 4, he no longer totters (and yesterday during savasana he ran around whiffing a cricket bat waiting for his dad to come out of the office), but his voice is still the high, round-voweled warble of last year. I remember feeling impatient for my own Dad when he spent Sunday mornings at church, tending to other people, so by default I interpret Sambhav’s interruptions as an assertion of his claim on Sharath’s time.
In any case, in the 15-count headstand that lasts forever, Sambhav decided to set his own rhythm. After Sharath’s tired tenor “Wuuuunnnn….,” the son piped up from the stage with “TooooooOOO?,” and long before we could turn around the current exhalation, he followed with a triumphant “TreeEEE!” Cuteness.
Filled with happiness, I made an upside-down smile and stayed in drste. Then, a few moments later, “Twuuun-teee!”: a holler that sounded as much like a safari bird call as it did a twenty or a fourty.
All this, and we're still exhaling… and then there’s Sharath's definitive tenor of “Twoooooo,” dropping low. The first time we've heard that voice since it intoned "One" back ages ago, way before Sambhav jumped in and changed this class from second series to seventh.
Sambhav begins the variation again, his efforts to push the cadence forward now settling in to play between the bars. Another “Threeee….?" Then, venturing a "Fouuuuuuurh?! ForTEEN!! FIF-TEEN!” And then there’s a sound of jumping-boy excitement on the stage… and I’m lost for a breath… or a year… in the weightlessness of my sacrum drifting in to the anti-gravity column above the atlas bone.
And then Sharath, steadily cueing inhalation and a sense of slow water-falling movement from the floating sacrum down the back of my spine, again toward the atlas: “Treeeeee…”. Ok, tree it is, Teacher. Growing some roots from the crown in to the “soft marble” of the floor and Prakash’s cave below.
It went on like that for a year or two, through a full 15 and then 10 (if I remember right?) in half-bend, and a final rise up for a breath before exhale down, don’t lift your head (i.e., roll straight from crown to forehead to protect your neck, and in the meantime refrain from peering around the room).
Afterwards over coconuts, a few of us mused that the new posture—Sambhav Sirsasana—was the seventh series version of headstand. In Sambhav Sirsasana, the teacher as father-character expresses as dispassionate discipline and clarity. This teacher-voice is not affected by annoyance, excessive discipline, or a need to criticize. It is not interested in labeling behaviors as “good” or “bad,” “intelligent,” “funny,” “cute,” “too loud,” or whatever. In its steadiness, the root-count of Sambhav Sirsanasa just allows the child's wild energies to arise, giving those vrittis space and time to play out.
Giving space. Giving time.
And within that: allowing the fluctuations to have their own is-ness…
what Nisagardatta would call suchness…
…what seventh series (toddlers or not) gives us back—after all that healing and purification—as specific, arbitrary beauty in the world.