We are all such creatures of comfort and routine, even where we set up our mat. Whether at home or a shala, everyone seems to have a favorite spot to set up and get to it. Is it in the corner, by the window, front and center, in the back, near the wall, away from a mirror? Non-attachment anyone? A perfect fix for it is a trek to the shala in Mysore.
It’s a stunning space. I think it’s even more amazing when filled with sweaty bodies. However, the key word is filled. When you arrive and complete your registration, part of that is practice time, as in what time to show up for practice, anytime between 4:30 am till about 9:30 am depending on it being high season. Regardless of the time on your card, it’s really fifteen minutes earlier, also known as shala time.
The first day I walked in for practice, I was nervous. I had been warned to show up early and that you wait your turn in the front vestibule until called. In retrospect, navigating past the shoes on the staircase outside, would be a decent indicator of just how crowded the practice room now was. The doorway to the shala space was open and yes, one lucky soul is pretty much right on the other side practicing, oblivious to the small crowd waiting and possibly watching the magic within. We all were sitting on the marble floor, quiet in those early morning hours. Just inching forward like a snake in the humidity created but the warm bodies within, as the next person went through the doorway inside. Sharath’s voice would sound out, “One more!”
One more. Finally, it was my turn, and quite frankly, at first I walked in just trying to not step on anyone, maneuvering around the mats and bodies contorted and filling the space. Sharath was just finishing up a forward fold adjust after back bending and pointed to that spot. So, you set up your mat in the place where the last person ended. It didn’t matter where it was, unless of course you are extremely tall, a few spots like the stage or under an overhang don’t work well with taller practitioners…but I didn’t have any height on my side, so, basically you get what you get and you just deal. In the rows on the rugs, by doorways, on the bare marble in the back, front sides, or up on the stage.
Mat down, you head off to the changing room to get off your street clothes. The sound of breathing and the heat of warm bodies permeate everything. The changing room is filled with gear and ashtangis doing their closing sequence. The maze is never ending and so the best choice is back out to the mat, your island sanctuary, in this sea of bodies and movement.
The first day, I literally was put in the spot next to the door. I groaned because, it was originally, from my vantage point waiting to go in, under such scrutiny. Nothing like the fear of failure of my ego encroaching my practice! Coming to stand at the front of my mat, hands together in prayer, I whispered the opening chant, Vande Gurunam, and just started my practice. Tristhana held me and I held it, breath, dristhi, and stability in asana. Focus and the magical energy of the room, nothing else to see, nothing else to hear but my breath and the occasional adjustment from Sharath or whom ever was assisting in the shala.
I practiced almost everywhere in the shala by the end of five weeks time, I never developed a favorite spot, though there were a few places I ended up more frequently. Looking back my favorite adjustment from Sharath was one of the many times I ended up on stage. Oh the joys of him saying, ” one more, small! “, knowing that meant the stage or under the overhang, both spots are just bare marble covered in condensation….back drops on marble are a practice in letting go of fear:)
Sharath was sitting reading the paper in a chair in the center of the stage. I was in the corner by the vertical blinds. When I came up in Upavishta Konasana, my foot caught the metal cord between the blinds. I halted my movement to avoid the blinds crashing down and started to shift my foot away. Sharath looked up from his paper at me and laughed saying, don’t worry about the curtains, concentrate on the asana, keep your focus. In the moment, I thought, sure, laughing in my head, bring the blinds falling down on me while on stage seems par for the course! However, his point was about me breaking focus, yes being mindful of other bodies or sharp edges..but keeping my tristhana. Practice happens best, not in the perfect spot, in the perfect temperature, but with an attempt to hold a perfect mindset. The work is not about achieving a picturesque asana but the journey of letting go and surrendering to a meditative state.
One more! Circumstances change, too hot, too cold, too big, too stiff, too tired, too fidgety, too small, too lumpy, too soft, too hard, Goldilocks had it wrong, because it’s all just right, best effort under whatever circumstances, that’s the work and the prize, smiling helps:)