Friday, March 12, 2010

Five Weeks In

Re-registration went well. It’s a little awkward being alone in the office with Sharath, and we never know what to say, and you have to pay in cash and it’s thousands and thousands of rupees so you have this cumbersome, ridiculous wad of bills and you have to count it all out and then Sharath runs it through this bill counting machine and you can’t help but be sort of put off by the money part of it, as if that somehow taints everything, but of course THAT’S stupid, and if we could only think of something to TALK about to break the awkward feeling in that tiny office…and then it’s over. We were officially moved up to 630a, and within two Mysore practice days are sitting at 530a. There must have been quite an exodus of students in the last few days, with more arriving to fill in the later times as the students who have been here for some time move earlier and earlier into the morning. Also, strangely enough, Sharath used the re-registration time to assign me (E) Krounchasana.

Sunday proved to be quite an interesting student conference. We have not been typically impressed by student conferences in the past. They are often vague, with few questions, or with questions that Sharath doesn’t really address in specific. For whatever reason, this conference was different. Sharath was in an expansive mood and talked in specific about breathing and bandha techniques. Over the course of a few follow-up questions about how to work in the lower belly, he stripped to the waist and demonstrated uddiyana bandha (lifting and stabilizing the lower abdomen) as well as a jumpback from padmasana, saying “Now, can you do chatvari like that?” It’s nice to be taunted by your teacher. No comments about visas, so we’re guessing it’s all good for the time being.

Sharath also talked about Guruji’s final days (he died in May of 2009) as an illustration of his (Sharath’s) understanding of the purpose of practicing yoga postures: cultivation of equanimity. Though Guruji often comes up during conference, there is usually an element of deification that makes it feel superficial and saccharine. This time, however, Sharath talked with poignancy and objectivity about “this 94 year-old-man” in the hospital, being stuck with needles, in obvious pain, but serene and gracious. It was more than a student saying the obligatory things about his guru, it was a man talking about watching his grandfather in his final days and being truly surprised and inspired by the composure and mastery he saw. Sharath studied under Guruji for something like 30 years, and their bond must have been remarkable. The spontaneity and candor of Sharath’s words about Guruji’s death brought this home more powerfully than anything we have read or seen before.

It has been a nice, long week of Mysore-style practices, with no moonday getting in the way. K continues to work on the no-touch jumpback and in general we’re both working the jumping aspect of the practice intensely, as always. We are both catching the ankles consistently during backbending with both Sharath and Saraswathi. My knee continues to slowly, slowly stabilize. We’ve had some discussions with other students about injuries, and have come to appreciate something we already knew: they can take a long, LONG time to heal. One person described tearing a psoas muscle (!!!) during “hangbacks” (standing backbending practice), an injury which took “a good three years” to heal.

When practicing at this level and intensity, it is virtually inevitable that injury will happen periodically. That said, it may be useful to qualify and flesh out the understanding of “injury,” which in this context is more nuanced than usual. No doubt there are good old-fashioned injuries—as in pulled, broke, or sprained something (this current knee injury is one of these). However, in other cases a yoga injury is often the peak experience of an imbalance, or a blazing beacon to draw attention to a dead zone in the body, or a strong (possibly perceived as violent) shift in the body. It would be nice if opening/awareness always progressed slowly—it usually does—but occasionally the movement is abrupt, the way that decades of slow, imperceptible adjustments in the Earth’s crust lead to a sudden shift. After the body has healed/pain has resolved, what remains is balance and awareness, but it can be rough going in the middle of it.

With good reason, this process not often discussed by yoga teachers, for fear of encouraging recklessness. It is mostly in advanced postures that this sort of thing occurs. One student who is beginning Advanced A under Sharath was given Kasyapasana (supine leg-behind-the-head). As Sharath adjusted him in the posture, he (Sharath) said “Knee will break.” The student said “It feels ok…” and Sharath said “No, MUST break,” meaning that he (Sharath) perceives that there is still a major shift needing to happen in the knee. It’s food for thought when you consider that a) Sharath is probably one of the most advanced teachers and practitioners in the world and knows his $h*t and b) he has been known (mostly in the past) for “blowing out” knees by overadjusting. Hmmmm…

There is much buzz around Gokulum about teacher training with Sharath. It’s obviously invitation-only, but we have heard of at least one meeting he called with hand-picked students to fill out forms/gather info about teaching and teacher training. The surprising thing is that these students are not all on their 10th or 20th trip: some have only been a couple or a few times. This, of course, has set everyone speculating. It is remarkable to consider how much time and energy must be wasted every day by students trying to figure out what Sharath is thinking.

We’re looking forward to off-day, including dinner with some friends tonight, then led class on Sunday and moonday on Monday. Off-days (and especially the nights before: off-day/moonday eve) are always good for staying up a little later and sampling street food. Let the feast begin!


BG said...

"Knee MUST break!"

I love Ashtanga, but no thank you, Sir. Hell, I'm the only one of my bros and sisses that does NOT have trouble with my knee.

E and K said...

Hey B! I ALREADY broke your knee, remember? You're welcome!