Thursday, December 04, 2003

Week 1 from the NY '02 World Tour 

Well, it's been quite a trip, already. I arrived at the Puck a little after 5:30 am (the NYC subway at that hour is a fascinating scene I'll save for another time) yesterday and lined up at the entrance. The line moved pretty quickly and we snaked our way up the stairs, buzzing with anticipation and chatting with familiar faces. 15 minutes later my mat was down (in the center of the center, a little back from the first few rows that Guruji prowls) and the room was filling; last I heard, about 200 of us.

People were still filing in at 6:15 as finally Guruji, Saraswati and Sharath came up the elevator. After a quick intro by Eddie, no time was lost as Guruji’s voice boomed out: "SAMASTHITIHI!" And we were off! The brightly-lit, on-the-chilly-side room heated up in a hurry as we flew through the Surya Namaskaras and standing poses. Sharath sauntered by and gave me and the woman to my right the [in?]famous utthita pada hastasana treatment, both sides. Amazing. Lots of smiles and laughter as the inevitable bad man or lady bobbed up into up-dog before "pancha". As a result, I've already learned to not be in a big rush to jump back; we are inevitably left suspended in chatturanga for a good 2 or 3 breaths, waiting for everyone to catch up. After "chatwari" number 50 or so, it starts to take its toll on the old shoulders...

Seated poses, and then "jump through / straight legs / lie down"; again waiting for everyone to lie down with "STRAIGHT!!" legs, pre- urdhva dhanurasana. Only three, with no resting in between. Kinda sheds light on how one's habits form in practice... Like Richard says, the longer you wait between wheels, the less eager you are to go up into one more! We got “inhale- UP, exhale- down, inhale- UP!” By the time it was time for finishing poses, I was beat! Very grateful for the 10 breaths only in Sirsasana and the omission of ardha, or adho mukha dandasana... Oh, and we did 6 Navasanas, lots of tittering as folks jumped back only to be told "one more- UP!". Rest was non-existent, as people popped right up to greet and thank Guruji.

Day two
Day two started earlier for me; I woke up at 3:40 and made my way downtown earlier. Got a spot in the center about 4 rows in- far enough back that I'm not under constant scrutiny by Guruji (um, I think!) but forward enough that I'll maybe have Sharath give us a hand. It was nice practicing closer to Guruji today; he actually came over to me, 2nd side on Marichyasana B (which I can bind on my own) and "helped" me lower my torso further down than this scaredy cat has in a while, if ever. I actually cheated, fearing the man, and rested my forehead on my half lotus leg- rather than let him attempt to get my nose/chin all the way to the floor. Bit by bit... So nice.... I thanked him. Actually far more gentle than I thought he'd be, may help ease up on the fear factor as the days go on... Sharath came over for Marichyasana D, got me to bind these sweaty arms on both sides. He strikes me as being infinitely compassionate, just a very soft presence, a perfect complement to PJ's "Head down! Head DOWN!!" approach. I'm a middle path person- neither on of the "blessed stiff" ones that always get adjusted, nor one of the inspiring ones that need no adjusting in primary series.
Less laughter and admonishments today, tons of smiles. We are learning to behave, it seems.

Onward and upward... By a combination of serendipitous train-catching, I found myself at the Puck by 5:25 or so. There has been no line since Monday; you just go straight up and either flash your weekly card (front: Guruji as a young man in "trini" / back: the opening mantra transliteration & translation) or pay your $45 for the day. So here I am, mat & blanket in hand... and the third row is just filling up. After a moment's worry ("gee I don't want Guruji stomping on me in kurmasana or Marichy D!") I said f%^$ it and put my mat down alongside looong-time practitioners (unlike yours truly, one-year anniversary coming up) like Russell K. and Petri R. We started right on time, all business. No laughter either. I certainly was feeling it, going through full primary 3 days in a row now. Ignored screaming shoulders and soldiered on.

No bad men or ladies today- it seemed like we were all moving in synch. Or at least, the floaters surrounding me effortlessly flowed. Ya know how I said yesterday that I'm not one of the "blessed stiff"? I certainly re-evaluated that today; compared to the folks around me (not that I lost drishti or anything) ( ;o) I am her royal highness Ms. Stiff! But hey, if adjustments from Guruji is what I wanted, I got that! I didn't bind second side on ardha badha padma paschimottanasana and sure enough, he came on over. A gem from the man: "take both hands". Instead of staying two miles above my leg as my fingers clutch my slippery toe, barely, I wrapped my hands around my foot and got my chin down to my shin (ok, maybe it was closer to the knee!). Reeeallly felt that heel press into the navel, which I understand is oh-so important and an effect I was denied in my quest for the toe. Yummy.

Richard has a story about how when he and his wife first went to Mysore, it was just the two of them and Guruji for a while. She, apparently was one of the stiff, knees up to her ears in badhakonasana. Of course, she developed a multi-colored bruise from her knee to her hip on the side where Guruji would kneel. Begged him to take mercy one day; instead he took his spot, and something just gave; she had her knees and chin to the floor in an instant! Wish I had a similar psychosomatic breakthrough. Actually, I kinda do, in my own little realm. I am "careful" (lazy!?) with aforementioned pose (by the way, we only do one badhakonasana) and just try and fold from the hips, keeping back straight-ish and feet turned up. No chance of getting within view of the floor here. Well, Guruji was doing the rounds and came right up to me. "Relax". As I exhale, down go the knees and, wait! Head touches feet! No pain! Flew back to chatwari. From thereon, any noise from aching muscles subsided, cold-affected shallow breath became deeper, practice and mindset more focused. And grateful. I get it now. Maybe not get "It", but when folks speak of how Guruji's presence and touch affect them, it will be less vague theorizing and more tangible, tactile and comprehensible for me now. Pretty cool.

He had us hold Uth Plutthi forEVER today, with an unending chorus of "one more" at "eight" and "nine". Every time he'd catch some bad person taking rest, it was "one more". To the point where I started a flood of semi-hysterical giggles, and down-right laughter that resonated in the great hall. Hard to breathe when you're cackling! Finally let us make our way back to chatwari. I can feel my strength (mental? physical? both? neither?) grow with every practice. With my thank you, post-practice, I asked him about the ardha badha padma paschimottanasana thing. "If impossible to take toe, both hands forward is better. Heel into navel is good." My ego was like, hey, it's not imPOssible to take toe second side! But my mind said, This is good. This IS good.

The first week has been grueling and wonderful. I'm still battling a nasty cold (the funniest thing! Guruji stepped onto one of my meticulously-folded snot-rags after adjusting me on Friday; it stuck to the bottom of his foot for a few steps before I could retrieve it, thoroughly mortified and apologetic!!) and yesterday's day of rest has not yielded the much-yearned for results: good health and some breath. Guess that's the lesson I need to be learning right now.

Last day of the 1st week (Saturday practice!) was packed, I think probably 280 people plus. After a bad commute on Friday, that saw me arriving at the "late" hour of 5:40 and putting my mat down somewhere in the 6th or 7th row, I made it a point to get there early (5:20) on the last day. I can practice non-attachment to these things when Guruji is no longer here. After tasting what it's like to be a) in the midst of uber-ashtangis & -ashtanginis, and b) so close to the master, I am ok with waking up at 3:30 for the next couple of weeks. Crazier things have been known to happen. We seem to be moving faster, finishing by 7:45 or so. Only four Navasanas, instead of the six we'd gotten the day before. Only one "CHATWARI!!" to a bad lady who ventured into up-dog too quickly. Oh boy- Guruji tackled a rather rotund lady for Marichyasana D, kept us in there foreeever while he got her arms around her body, gently but surely. I got a photo, asked Guruji "what's a good book to read?". The man said , "Hatha Yoga Pradipika. All in Sanskrit. English translation. Some slokas are bad[ly translated]." "but to me, who knows nothing, everything good!", I attempted to joke, triggering a chuckle. Also, "many-many translations, Yoga Sutras. Good."

Looking forward to tomorrow, and week two: a whole new batch of bad men and ladies who are not up to speed with how things are done at the Puck!

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