(Part two in the four-week ATTC series)
4:00 Alarm goes off and I’m wondering if I should chance sleeping an extra five minutes. Hmmmm. If I actually want make it to class on time, history dictates a resounding “no!” I’ll feel amazing after pranayam, just gotsta get there . . .
Sitting on the side of the bed, after emerging head first from my awkwardly low mosquito net, I gather the hutzpah to stand up. Oooh. Yeah, that’s my lower back saying good morning. Yes, we did do quite a few backbends yesterday, and yes the mattress is practically nonexistent . . .
Grabbing my ‘lil red toiletry bag and shuffling down the hallway, I go do all those morning things we do in front of the mirror, blurry eyed and frothy-mouthed. Change into my uniform, mat in hand, walk down to the water machine, fill ‘er up for the morning and make my way into the practice hall.
4:15 I stand in padmasan for a few moments – aaaah, the perfect medicine. Automatically the back tension releases, blood gets flowing and oila! I’m officially awake.
I just started doing kriyas in the morning – agni sara to massage the stomach and jala neti to cleanse the sinuses. Before an hour of breathing exercises known to balance the nervous system and increase energy level, it’s important to make sure your sinuses are clean as can be.
4:45 A few independent rounds of Sun Salutations to warm up the body, neck rolls, twists and savasana to re-center before practice starts.
5:00 Prahlad starts pranayam class with our opening prayer. Oops, I forgot my meditation pillow. Five rounds of Kapalabhati, 40 rounds of Analoma Viloma. My leg falls asleep in padmasana and I’m a little distracted by worries of amputation in future. I decide to uncross my legs.
6:00 Still in silence, all 82 of us join the 100-200 other ashramites upstairs in the main hall. We meditate for 15-30 minutes before singing a few bhajans (where we’re free to sing as loud as we like and groove along – in a seated position – in as conservative or outlandish a manner we choose). The core of the satsang is an inspirational reading from one of the hundreds of bookspublished through Sivananada schools.
Today’s story is about a man who loves God. He prays everyday, his home is adorned with ceremonial accoutrement, his kids are even named for his God. Clearly, he’s dedicated.
It happens one day a massive storm passed over the village, not in one day, but over the course of forty days straight. As all his family left, heading for higher ground, he watched them through his window, determined to wait it out. Despite their insistence he join them on a roadtrip to safety, the man would not budge. “God will protect me,” he reasoned. “I believe.”
Days went by and the waters only rose. “Come on, we have room in the boat, this storm isn’t likely to let up,” his neighbor begged. But the man was solid in his faith, that no matter what, God would never let him down.
In no time, the waters were so high, the man had no choice but to move to the roof. The winds picked up, rations ran low, not a ray of light peeked through the clouds – clearly this was a test. Suddenly a helicopter clumsily made its way over the man’s house and a voice cut through nature’s hellstorm with an urgency intended to move, “Sir, you must leave now. We are dropping a ladder and a safety vest. Put the safety vest on, and come with us immediately.”
“You don’t understand,” he screamed, “God would never leave me!”
After several attempts, the helicopter’s pilot nearly lost control and had to move to safer ground. Within hours, the man drowned in the waters of the storm.
As he came to consciousness, standing in the light of the Divine, the man slowly realized this was not the sun beaming down on him. He had actually lost his life.
“What happened, God? You were supposed to save me!”
“I did,” came the reply. “Three times. Your family begged you to leave with them, your neighbors made room for you on the boat. Even a helicopter swooped in at the last minute, giving you all the tools you needed to survive. And still you did not ACT.”
Moral of the story? Pretty obvious, eh? Ain’t no god gonna come down and save you but yourself. See your resources for what they are and don’t let them go to waste!
Finally we wrap it up with a prayer and the closing aarti. Knowing something tasty is waiting for us as Prasad makes the singing all the more sweet.
7:30 Grab a cup of tea and run to get changed into “civilian” clothing for asana class. I’m still a little confused as to why I can do 3 hours of asana everyday no problem, but the short flight of stairs up to my dorm is a killer every time!
7:45 Find a space in the main hall and figure out the name of the person next to me – I’m wondering just how possible it is to know everyone in this group before the month is over. Do you make an effort with everyone, or just stick to your crew? When in doubt, just let things flow as they go . . . Asana starts with the opening prayer and we rock through the traditional 12 postures, most of which are accompanied by variations, long holds, or bonus postures. I get an adjustment from a dude called Ananta who has somehow melted the tension in my quad right off the bone. Aaaahhhhh… Thanks, dude.
8:45 Run to get changed back into our charming little uniforms for Anatomy class with Nataraj, the ashram co-director, a former doctor from South Africa. Find a spot near two hilarious dudes I just met, but don’t get a chance for chatter during class.
9:00 We’re all super polite while Nataraj meticulously covers the functions of our cell’s organelles in his steady focused flow. I sneak in a few rounds of alphabet cards from Sanskrit class. Wish there were more examples given within a yogic context – practical or philosophical. Learning anatomy for the sake of memorization is kinda like eating an academic rice cracker.
Class finishes up with a prayer, and the dude sitting next to me tells me he just found out his mother has kidney cancer three days ago. We chat about the situation and his feelings for the next twenty minutes. The darkness in his face lifts while he talks it out – I could’ve been a chimpanzee sitting there, but I think the talk helped. I suggested he put together a program for her to do with him when he gets back. On the way out the hall my gaze falls on the ashram kitty basking in the sunshine.
10:15 Go for lunch at the massive dining hall. I notice all the adorable yogi couples and wonder if I’ll ever get to share an ashram experience with someone I love. Food is awesome, I eat to my heart’s content, and I’m sure I’ll blog more about this later … ;o)
11:00 Head back to the dorms to wash my clothes, freshen up, blah blah blah!
12:00 Sanskrit class. Wonder what I can do to make the person next to me smile. I’m loving the Devangari so far, but “l” has an aesthetic balance issue, in my novice opinion … Today we learn the consonants. There seem to be quite a few of them to learn in only 6 classes!
1:30 Karma yoga. This is where I get to re-live my past career as a teacher! I make sure everyone’s got their homework in, check their names off on the record sheet, sort them out for the correcting teachers and distribute the old homework. Mmmm…I remember how *not* detail-oriented I am. This is good practice!
2:00 Philosophy lecture on Vedanta. Snack on some fruits and nuts and share with the Iranian Super Snack Crew who’ve turned me on to a number of fabulous new dried fruit treats (Mulberry blog to follow!).
Today Swami Mahadevananda is waxing lyrical not only on the illusory nature of what we perceive as the real world, but also about how we’ve evolved from ten-foot tall super humans, how everything’s gone tits up in the Kali Yuga (Iron Age), and how people who care about Mastercards and penthouses are fooling themselves. He mentions he once took some time to live as a beggar and I think that would be a great prerequisite for our politicians!
3:30 Scope out a spot for my asana mat, run to get changed for asana class. Munch on some chavanprash and almonds to keep me going. Fill up on water. Have a chat with one of the attendance-taking yogis – their job is pretty hectic and I wanna make sure to connect for a minute before class.
3:45 I ask one of my fellow teachers who’s also a massage therapist if he’ll help me with a pulled muscle in my neck.
“Well don’t worry about it, you’re super flexible anyway.”
“Huh? Well, not sure what that has to do with my neck buuut . . . “
“OK, what happened?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but in savasana a week ago, the muscle from my shoulder blade to my neck felt really badly pulled. So I went to see Prahlad and he put the shoulder part back where it belongs. Thing is, the neck bit is still causing me a lot of pain – not in asanas, just when I’m sitting around.”
“Well, that’s his problem then, not mine.”
“Haha. Are you serious?”
<he shrugs his shoulders>
“Really. OK. Cheers.”
And that, my friends, is something I’ve learned over and over again in this field, not all yoga teachers, or bodyworkers are good guys and healers. A lot of them actually kinda suck. (Had an even worse incident with a werewolf-like fellow who seems to be quite closely associated with the centers since the writing of this bit. Girl gotta watch her back!)
4:00 Asana class begins and for some inexplicable reason, my neck stops hurting throughout. Work through 14 rounds of sun salutations and in the headstand variations Prahlad helps me into a crazy sequence: handstand from tripod headstand, through chakrasan, back to standing, drop back to chakrasan, kicking up into handstand again, and down to inverted V (down dog). Woah. Definitely never tried that sequence before!
6:00 At the close of class I run over to ask Prahlad about my neck but he’s got too many people lined up to chat with him. I wonder if he ever gets a moment to himself and how much energy it must take to teach and counsel in this kind of intense environment – abroad, and often. Dude’s gotta be a superhuman – with super practice. I make a note to interview him in future.
6:30 After trying a few arm balances on my own – a move I won’t repeat thanks to the swarms of mosquitoes taking over the yoga hall in the evening (I’m sure they were wondering what I was doing in their territory as well!) – I hurry back to the dorm and shower.
Finally, an hour to tend to my bloggy blog and see to what is fast becoming a sad case of “traveler’s hands” – uneven finger nails, old lady hang nails, and dry spots all over. Man, I can’t wait to get a mani-pedi one day. Oh yeah, better hang that laundry …
8:00 Meditation time. I start with the Vipassana technique I learned last month since I had such positive results with it. Sivananda schools teach a mantra meditation style I had zero success with during my yoga vacation and four weeks of TTC. Speaking to fellow students afterward, we were about 50-50 on this point, but it’s all a personal preference, at the end of the day. Going into mediation, thoughts about my mom and dad fill my brain – I stop for a minute to re-focus on the technique.
8:30 Swami Mahadevananda breaks meditation with several “OMs” and we roll into the “Jai Ganesha” kirtan that kicks off every satsang in every Sivananda center around the world – from France to Canada, Japan to New York. It’s a robust call and response style, especially with this Swami, whose voice is a deep baritone, full of the sincere love and gratitude he still has for his own Guru, Swami Vishnudevananda. After a few songs, he reads a story from Bliss Divine…. Closing prayers, aarti, Prasad, and back to the dorm.
10:00 Oh thank god it’s time for bed! Jai Ram, Hallelujah, Praise Allah and all that jazz . . . the bed never felt more comfy.
And that’s that! I didn’t get as many pictures as I would’ve liked for this one, but you get the picture, eh? Non-stop, full tilt boogie, yogi power required.
As you can imagine, we’re a pretty diverse group, all ages and backgrounds, handfuls of Iranians and Japanese, loads of Indians, a few Americans, quite a few Europeans. We’re halfway through and I’m writing this entry from Kovalam beach, just an hour away, grateful for the calm and expanse of the ocean.
Officially ready for week three . . . . ;o)