At the CT shala, there is one student who lies face down before the photo of Guruji and steeples his hands over his head towards the photo.
There is another student who sits before the altar for a moment before taking a fist-sized rock from the altar, heating it up in the flame of the altar candle and then cupping it in her hand.
There are people who say of the shala, “This is a sacred space”, even though it is, essentially, just a rectangular, sage-green room, carpeted with industrial carpeting, in the middle of a strip mall in the middle of a highway in the middle of Fairfield County, Connecticut.
There are those who stand up whenever the invocation is chanted in the room, even if it is chanted for the next class, even if they chanted it themselves 90 minutes earlier before they practiced.
And when it is time to leave the room, everyone, including me, places hands in prayer and bows to Val. This last one, I do because I assume it makes Val feel good, and in my opinion, she earns that big time.
These are practices that I do not understand. These are practices which leave me feeling alienated and confused. These are among the reasons that I find myself wishing to practice alone in my house at times, for weeks at a time. It’s nothing against the CT shala. I think Val is a wonderful teacher and uniquely supportive and communicative. I think Sir and Lori are wonderful teachers, brilliant and intuitive, as well. It’s not that or them.
Rather, there have been aspects of being a yoga practitioner in general that have confounded me from the very beginning. Chanting the names of Hindu gods, for example. That really has no place in my life. I love the story of Hanuman, Sita and Ram and find aspects of the story to fill me with admiration and awe, but I would no more invoke their names for inspiration, motivation or worship than I would chant the name of Madeleine, of the Ludwig Bemelmans book, who has long inspired me to feel brave even when feeling very very small (“…The smallest one was Madeleine…She was not afraid of mice; she loved winter snow and ice. To the tiger in the zoo, Madeleine just said ‘pooh pooh’….And nobody knew so well, how to frighten Miss Clavell“).
I don’t want to go to a Kirtan because every time I think about going, I realize that what I really need to be doing is singing with my own peeps, the Jews, which is how it came to pass that I joined the choir at my synagogue. I don’t want to see Krishna Das in concert (see Tiff? You’re not the only one), and I don’t want to read the Bhagavad Gita. I want to see Pat Metheny as many times as I can in this life and I want to get through To Kill A Mockingbird, finally, while still having time to read Us and House Beautiful.
I think very highly of all of the teachers who have actually taught me Ashtanga yoga. But I don’t know Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I have never studied with him. Sure, I have taken his led classes. But he is not my teacher. And frankly, I am not sure that I entirely buy into the system as an efficient gestalt. If I did, there would be no need for yin stretches and prep poses, for which I have always felt the need, or strength training, which many others out there feel is important to their practice. I feel no urge to prostrate to SKPJ’s photo, and I removed the photo of myself bowing at his feet, which used to grace this blog’s sidebar. It felt silly to have it there. I should be boing at the feet of my oncologist, of my children, of my husband for giving me such a comfortable life and such perfect children, of my former nannies, Ella, Norma, Tereza and Sarah, all of whom have taken such incredibly good care of my children and myself.
Until I bow at the feet of the people who matter in my life, I’m not bowing at anyone else’s feet. And if I can’t make the time to pray to my own God, then I sure as hell am not making the time to pray to anyone else’s.
And as much as I love getting a good adjustment in this or that pose, and getting the professional dropbacks from Val, I feel like I need to practice alone for a little bit. Ultimately, I am my most cherished teacher. Ultimately, no one knows my body and what it needs better than I do. And sometimes, I feel this knowledge acutely, as I learn to bind by myself in Pasasana, while balancing with my heels just “thisclose” to the floor, as I learn to bind Supta K with my ankles already crossed, as I touch my own toes in Kapotasana, albeit with my elbows splayed in the wrong direction.
After practicing alone at home for short periods of time, I usually come back to the shala refreshed. And this is where I am at right now. Feeling a bit disconnected, feeling like I need to be teaching myself for now.
I’m just saying.