Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The pulp version goes like this: Monday morning, moments before walking out the door to practice, the stomach bug ripped through my intestines with the velocity of a .45 slug.

I gutted out practice---literally---and returned home to convalesce in bed. No diarrhea, no vomit, just one very upset stomach and lots of burping.

Horror of horrors, I took Tuesday off. I hadn't eaten a thing all day on Monday, and awoke that morning achey and weak.

I climbed back on the horse on Wednesday, however, and seemed to be back at 100-percent.

My low back has been sore for the past two days. It's not a "wrong" pain, but is instead the soreness of muscle development. Since I've arrived in India, I've spent most of my time sitting cross-legged on the floor, which has forced my low back and abdominal muscles to support the weight of my spine. Hopefully the muscles will strengthen, and the pain will subside in a few days or weeks.

The yoga routine here is as follows: you practice six days a week, taking Saturday as your day of rest.

(Although Guruji's grandson Sharath runs his own school out of a red brick house, a few blocks from the main school. His students practice on Saturday and take Sunday as their day of rest.)

When you arrive, you must register to practice. You may register during office hours, held Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 5:30. Generally, Guruji is sitting in the small office located off the main practice room.

When you register, they give you a time slot for practice. This time slot depends on how many people are practicing; the more people, the later your time. When I arrived, I started immediately at the earliest time slot, 5 AM.

Guruji holds "conference" on Sunday afternoons at 4:30. The main practice room, a large hall that can accommodate maybe 50 yoga students, has a low stage. Guruji will sit on a chair on the stage, and Sharath will sit at his right hand.

The last few conferences I've been to, either someone sparked his lecture by asking a question ("Guruji, I have great faith in the practice. But when will the pain stop?"), or else Guruji just began speaking.

Last Sunday's conference was a real struggle to understand. Guruji has a minimal grasp of English, and on that day had to compete against Sharath's two-year-old daughter, who was busy with a noisy performance of her own.

Afterwards a few of us spoke with Sharath. I find him to be one of the most unprepossessing people I've ever met. Someone said they find no ego in Sharath, and I must say I agree. He's very lighthearted.

As everyone's starting at 5 AM, Sharath begins his own practice at 2:30, and if Guruji is awake, he'll assist. When he said this last bit, Sharath made a quick, pushing motion, and laughed---not even Guruji's own grandson is spared.

The wide variety of practice levels at the shala is staggering, too. There are many beginners. There are many people working through intermediate. And there even several people working beyond those. I'd be hard pressed to locate where the center of the Bell curve would fall, though.

I pity and envy the beginners. I pity them, because they've traveled such a long way to get the harshest of crash courses in yoga.

Verbal instruction is minimal, and often shouted across the room. I can imagine how it would feel to have them shout instructions at you, and you have no idea what they're saying. It's very bewildering.

The shouting is one thing; it must be quite another ego check to actually be stopped at a pose, too.

Sharath will gauge a person's practice, lead them to a pose where they're having phsyical difficulty, and then tell them to "Take shoulderstand." He'll effectively tell them they're finished.

These people have come all this way, and paid a tremendous sum of money, only to be told they can't complete an entire series! While people right next to them are zipping along!

I envy them, though. They're getting the whole program, piece by piece, straight from the source. What better way to learn something than direct from one of the pioneers?