Monday, March 29, 2010

Hell yeah

All signs in Gokulum indicate that the yoga season is winding down.

Sharath’s last day teaching will be Friday, April 9th. Saraswathi will continue teaching keeping the shala open until the end of April, and then again beginning in June. Sharath will run the second annual session of teacher trainings (invite only) in June and July, and then resume teaching in mid-August. Many students are already planning their next trip back, even as this one winds down. And for the time being, winding down is certainly what is happening.

We’ve watched students depart and noticed smaller and smaller classes on led days and waits on Mysore days. This week Sharath cancelled the second Led Primary class on Sunday, as the number of students has dropped enough to fit them all (though not exactly comfortably) into one class. Direct result: less haste from Sharath in turning over the room to the next group, meaning Sunday’s 430a class had, according to Sharath, “longest savasana since January.” This is true, but not all that remarkable, as many led classes didn’t have any rest, and often not even a closing chant. We will reregister one more time, as our current registration will expire two days before the end, and in all likelihood end up with a 430a start time on Mysore days, beginning with the first group of the morning. That will also be the last and best opportunity to say whatever we have to say—if anything—to Sharath.

The posture distribution (or lack thereof) is forever an interesting and entirely useless topic of conversation. K’s long drought ended this morning when she was given two new postures. She is now up to parsva dhanurasana. There is loose talk about using that last reregistration time to ask to Sharath for “help” with the postures up through kapotasana, in effect requesting more postures. Usually asking directly is a serious faux pas, but the ways in which students ask-without-asking are myriad. (Read some thoughts on this by long-time ashtangi Matthew Sweeney here.)

Most common is to simply do your last posture over and over again, giving Sharath that many more opportunities to notice you and your obvious need for the next posture. Some students who really make use of this strategy seem to be stuck in a loop and, especially if they are on the mat next to you, it can take a few cycles and some mild deja vu before you realize that time is still passing for everyone else. Another strategy is making sure to get Sharath, not Saraswathi, for backbending.

A quick recap: in backbending, the typical procedure is three “press-ups” (urdhva dhanurasana) from the floor coming up to standing after the last one. Then three cycles of dropping back and standing up. At that point, you wait for the assist, standing at the front of the mat with your arms crossed (the signal). Most people want to get Sharath for this, because he will often use the opportunity to give another posture. Accomplishing this (getting Sharath) is often a matter of avoiding Saraswathi by: adding extra dropbacks, going to the locker room, fixing your hair/mat/clothes, doing your own improvisational “warm-ups,” and generally keeping your eyes open so that you can appear ready if Sharath comes near and not ready if Saraswathi is near. Be warned, though, Saraswathi is cagey. She’s less than five feet tall and moves through the room largely unseen. Many a yogi has confidently crossed the arms in the “I’m ready” signal upon seeing Sharath approaching, only to have Saraswathi spring up out of nowhere.

Both of us have made peace with Saraswathi’s assists and have made significant progress with her help. This simplifies things and avoids the most significant risk in using any of the stalling tactics mentioned above: Sharath may come over and tell you to hurry up and finish, because people are waiting. This means: “Hey, I see you already and I’m not going to give you a pose, so let’s wrap this thing up.”

As this season draws to a close, we’re saying goodbye to the students we’ve met, and the far greater number that we don’t know, but recognize and therefore have developed a system for referring to. So, to Incense Lady, Sleeveless, Line Cutter, Guy We Thought Was Fabio, Tiny Shorts, Line Cutter’s Friend, That Awesome Chick, Fashionista, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Boris, The Bobsey Twins, The Russian Mafia, Old Hollywood Girl, The New Hollywoods, Guy w/ the Baby, Lululemon Bra, and so many others: we can only guess at your names for us; see you all again soon.

We’ve wrapped up a busy week (for us, for Gokulum), the highlight of which was surely a five day anatomy course with Noah Mckenna. Noah is one of the yogi/entrepreneurs here who does not study at the shala, but comes into town when the numbers at the shala are high. He teaches anatomy courses and gives individual body scan/typing & yoga therapy sessions. We found the anatomy course very useful, with just the right combination of information and application to keep it relevant and interesting. Focusing primarily on the skeleton, musculature, and nervous system we talked a lot about kinesiology and the impact of body types and movement patterns on posture. Also inherent were some indirect but significant challenges to the rigidity and, in some ways, poor sequencing of the ashtanga vinyasa system. Noah kept these subtle, obvious-but-unstated conclusions to be drawn, of course, not wanting to be run out of town, but as a yoga therapist who sees many ashtangis come in with MRIs and blown out joints the universal application of the system and especially its tendency to breed blind faith must be, at times, bewildering. It may seem odd, but we love these challenges just as much as—in fact, probably more than—the hero worship, and fundamentalism in the air. It seems that the more we get to know the inherent limitations and flaws of any given system, the better students and teachers we can become.
So we are enjoying the last few weeks, indulging (but not too much) in all the favorites: Hot Chips, street noodles, mangoes, etc., saying things to each other like “Just so you know, I’m up for Gobi Manchurian anytime.” We are systematically working our way through the list of chats (snacks) at Gokul Chats, the best little restaurant in town. We’ve pegged the best dosa joint and know where to get gossip and coconuts in one spot. It’s a strange place to be at times, perhaps most analogous to a college campus. There is a diverse but small (relative to the size of the community as a whole) population here for one central reason. Within the larger Indian community there is a modest infrastructure to support the yoga population and most students exhaust all the opportunities in that infrastructure in a number of weeks. It can become claustrophobic or even boring if you’re not careful. Luckily, we are.