First led class

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.


13 thoughts on “First led class

  1. During my first led class in Mysore in 2005, only one student was stopped half way through. Guess who that was! First I felt humiliated. Then I got over it 🙂

    • 🙂

      One of the people who was stopped was a young woman with huge dreadlocks all tied up on the back of her head. I saw her on the stairs and wondered how she could do chakrasana with such a big bun. When she was stopped I understood that she’s new to the practice and probably hasn’t confronted the chakrasana hairdo problem yet. What a great thing to do — go to Mysore early on in your practice to learn it from the source. You (& she) were on to something there.

  2. I count my blessings.

    I remember 2004 – heading off to Mysore after about 10 months of trying to teach myself Ashtanga from John Scott’s DVD and a led half Primary every other Sunday in London, taught by a Sivananda teacher that moonlighted at Triyoga.

    And I got there, and I couldn’t bind ANYTHING. So Sharath sat next to me every morning and smiled sweetly at me while he helped me. Every morning. He never got tired, he never got impatient. On Sundays, after spending the second half of led Primary sat at the back watching the other students, I sat in the hall and watched the led Second series class. I was so in awe of them!

    And one day that I was feeling tired, broken and lonely, a lovely woman took her time to speak to me and give me some really useful tips about travelling and being in Mysore. When I asked, she told me that she and her husband ran a Mysore program in London. And I knew I had found my teachers.

  3. It’s very exciting that you and Anna are sharing what will likely be a life-changing experience. I’m drinking coffee on the couch in Arizona, where Waylon just farted and then wandered off back to bed.

  4. Fridays the led classes are not quite as bad for numbers, it’s on Sunday when three classes becomes two, then it’s a real scrum to get in and find a spot, that’s when the changing rooms and Foyer, not to mention the Stage are full to bursting.

    Hope you are all saying “hi” to Scabs for us.

    • Ah, well we’ll see how Sunday goes! Thanks for the heads up — I’ll get there early. 🙂

      Scabs is doing quite well. I brought her a biscuit yesterday and she was a little slow to take it — apparently the yogis are feeding her well!

    • Everything and more, Lynne. I could really never have imagined how… “intense” is the word everyone uses to describe India, so it seems cliche, but I don’t know a better word! I can’t tell yet — because I am immersed in it — but I wonder if I will go home and find myself longing for it. People say you visit and either fall in love or are happy to be done with it. I guess I’ll find out about that in a few months.

      Practice is for a couple hours in the morning, so night owl Anna generally sleeps through that part of the day. If I run out for an hour of chanting, she is content to read. She is so happy to be reading fiction — I guess that’s her real celebration of graduating. 🙂

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