Monday, May 24, 2004

I've actually been writing on a daily basis, but have utterly lagged on entering any of it on-line.

At any rate ...

I made it to Mysore. My friends Sherrie and Tina met me at the Bangalore airport. I'd hired a car for the drive (Seagull Travel, 1,350 Rs); the ride took about three hours.

It was a great way to get to Mysore. There was almost no traffic on the road. Indian roads and driving styles---in disrepair and chaotic, respsectively---were offset by the fact traffic only moved at 30mph.

To pass a lorrie, our driver would beep his horn a few times to warn the driver, jump into oncoming traffic and beep as he passed, and then swerve back onto the left side of the road. He'd beep to say thanks. It was a sketchy maneuver the first few times he did it, but then it became routine.

Just like that, I was in India.

I crash-landed at my friend Tina's flat, a cozy two-bedroom in North Gokulam, about a five-minute scooter ride from the main shala.

My first day, I hooked up with Shiva, an Indian renunciate with a cell phone earbud peeking out of his orange robes.

Shiva is a "fixer," and can get anything a yoga student might need, from an apartment to kerosene. He's very friendly and tack-sharp, and I suspect he's very wealthy.

I rented a scooter from him for roughly $30 a month, and have been buzzing around Mysore. The city and surroundings are a feast of colors, sounds, and smells. Almost a week here and I still can't soak enough of it in.

I arrived on a moon day, traditionally a day of rest, but Tina took me to the shala to check it out anyway. The watchman was kind enough to let us in.

("You come to train? You train here?" he kept asking.

I guess it's "training," of a sort. Soul training?)

The studio takes up an entire floor of a palatial five- or six-story house, and smells not unpleasantly of sweat, the air inside thick with energy. You could almost swirl it around with your hand, like San Francisco fog.

Guruji and company were in Bangalore for the day, so I was unable to register.

The next morning, I showed up for practice at 5 AM and waited quietly with the handful of assembled students. No one spoke much; it was still dark.

My first ashtanga teacher, Dominic, walked up. I took evening classes from him for almost a year-and-a-half. This was a few years ago, and we don't have a personal relationship or anything.

When he saw me, though, he broke out into laughter and gave me a short hug.

I hope it was a rewarding moment for him, as he's the one who helped put me on this path.

The roar of Olaf's two-stroke dirtbike sounded from blocks away, and I think signaled them to open the gates, because they did just that as he pulled up.

Sharath was alone in the office. It was no problem for me to register, pay, and then practice that day. I filled out the double-sided registration form and handed over my passport-sized photo. Sharath glued the photo to my form, and then counted my money.

The transaction was complete.

From all I've gathered, there's a relative lull at the studio. There are maybe 40 students total. When I went out to unroll my mat, there were plenty of floor spaces open.

Everyone began practicing at about 5 or so. At 5:30, Guruji entered with Sharath following. Sharath called everyone to attention and Guruji led the traditional ashtanga opening chant.

The first "om" that rippled through the room was thick, deep and very moving. The hairs on my neck and arms stood up.

The practice was the practice. My body was open, a result of zero sleep, little food and pure excitement.

Guruji shouted at me a few times, which was a singular experience. He shouts at you, and you try to understand what he's saying. "'Toes land?' What did he just say?"

He continues shouting as you decipher his words. "He's saying 'close hand'!"

He's still shouting as you put his commands into action. So basically when he shouted at me, he shouted at me a bunch.

When it was time for backbends, though, I realized I had accidentally come into possession of someone else's spine. A thief had taken my back. The one he left in its place refused to bend!

Guruji backbended me. After the drop-backs, (and after more shouting: "Heels down, heels down!"), he asked, "What you name?"


"Where you from?"

"Encinitas, Guruji,"

"Oh! Tim Miller? You friend of Tim Miller?" he asked. His eyes lit up and he laughed. I laughed, too. Friend?

My first practice was last Thursday; Friday and Sunday were led classes, both days were first series. On Sunday, they split the students into two groups, one for first series and one for second or intermediate series.

On Sunday, the first series class started at 5. It began with 20 or 25 people and ended with 12 or 15. When I popped up for headstand, there were three people left in the rows behind me!

Guruji led the Friday class, while Sharath adjusted and told people when to take rest.

On Sunday, Guruji observed in his chair while Sharath led the class and sent people to take rest.

I guess there were only 15 people total in the second series class.

I've heard they're expecting another surge in students in mid-June as people begin arriving for Guruji's birthday.

I'm going to enjoy it while I can. Sharath has given me a very light, exploratory adjustment in baddha konasana, and is otherwise watching. He watches everyone like a hawk, and has really come into his own as the driving force in the studio.

(Sharath's first adjustment in baddha konasana has me thinking, "Oh Christ, when will he drop the hammer?")

I think Tim would be glad to know that, for me, practicing at Guruji's is the same as practicing at his studio.