Most days, Ashtangis do a self practice. We all do the same sequences, but everyone is at their individual place in the sequences — so when I go to the shala, I wait for Sharath or Saraswati to call, “One more!” — meaning next person in line in the foyer can come in and take the mat space of a person who has just finished their practice. When it’s my turn and the “one more” is me, I enter the room and launch into my personal practice.
On Fridays and Sundays, though, we do led class. What that means is that everyone starts together and we are synchronized by Sharath counting the primary series. He calls out the name of the pose in Sanskrit, then counts — each count has an inhale or exhale associated with it, and each count has a movement associated with it. Kind of like tai chi in terms of movement, and like synchronized swimming in terms of everyone trying to stay together.
So today was my first led class. I start at 6 AM, but walked to the shala around 5:15. The shala clock is (famously) 15 minutes early, and you are supposed to arrive 15 minutes earlier than that. On my way, I had a nice time feeding the street dogs a few of the dog biscuits I bought yesterday at Nilgiri market.
At the shala, a bunch of people were already sitting on the steps, waiting for the 4:30 AM led class to end and the 6 AM class to begin. It was really nice to sit in the early morning darkness with everyone — all of us practicing the same practice. Sure, many people have different things they’re good at or that they struggle with, but in the end, we’re all working together at the same thing.
Then the door opens and everyone files in. It’s kind of hilarious, because there are just too many people to funnel into the small doorway. So we crept inch by inch. A tall fellow to my left started chuckling at how impossible it seemed to get us all through the doorway. No one pushed, though — I didn’t even feel anyone bump me. It’s an interesting practice: how do you deal with your eagerness when you are part of a larger group?
Once inside, I found myself a comfy spot up on the stage. I was one of the last people to snag a spot, so I gather no one wants the stage. I have no idea why that would be, though — you can only fit four people up there, so you end up with a good bit of space, and I prefer the marble tile to the blanketed floor below the stage. Of course, Sharath’s chair is also on the stage, and he did sit there a good bit of the time as he counted. I mostly just felt happy to be close to him, even though I had a bit of a scared moment when I realized he was stopping some people from going on (if he thinks you are not ready for additional poses in the series, he’ll tell you to stop. I heard him say, “Time for a coconut,” to one fellow yesterday — suggesting he should wrap it up and go have a drink at the coconut stand). So I wondered if perhaps I had put myself in harm’s way by unrolling my mat right next to his chair.
But the scared feeling passed — I think I was having a high from listening to dogs happily crunch biscuits and those moments of communing silently with the other stair-waiting Ashtangis while we listened to Sharath counting the earlier class as prayers from the mosque down the street drifted by and the scent of jasmine flowers filled the air. If he’d told me to knock off and go get a coconut, I don’t know that it would have bothered me. Oh, sure — after I had some time to realize what had happened it would have crushed my ego to bits, but in the moment, I think I was really just present to whatever was happening. Ekam means hands up in the air, dve means hands to the ground. This really is zen.