A daily practice
We're one week deep into our month long yoga course - The Heart of Yoga - at the Krishnamacarya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai. Our weekdays are filled with a blissful routine. We crawl to a seated position at 5:30am. We meditate, stretch and then pad, Ok, Matt pads over the cool tile into the kitchen to boil water for coffee. He carries back with him a bowl of muesli and whole raw milk and sets it on the bed. We eat quietly and sip coffee. We shower. Around this time I usually put the pressure on to leave, and there's a bit of a dash to dress in the lightest thing possible that's semi-dried off the line and head out the door.
We each don a single ear bud to combat the piercing horns and make our way to class. It's a few minutes down our quiet neighborhood street, then a right onto the thoroughfare, which continues for another tree-covered mile before our turnoff. We are by no means the first people up and about, but the city is quiet and the air is usually a degree or so cooler than at midday. In Chennai we've been told there are three seasons - hot, hotter and hottest. We turn on to a typical side street, passing chai wallahs and small shops and a handful of decrepit tuk tuks set up on cement blocks. Sometimes there's an errant chicken foot or fallen handkerchief in the middle of the broken up pavement, giving us a tiny glimpse into the abundance of activity that has already passed by 7:20am. The Mandiram is a four story white-washed cement building with a generous number of tall windows opening out onto the street. It's rooftop gives an uninterrupted view of southeastern Chennai, beautiful in its sprawling urban jungle way.
We nod our hellos to the guards and desk staff, remove our shoes and climb the staircase to the third floor. Our day's activities all take place in the "main hall," an open space that easily serves the dual purposes of lecture and activity. Our classes are mostly split into 50 minute segments broken up by 10 minute breaks. Asanas begin our day and meditation brings it to a close. In between we sit in varying Indian styles on pillows, legs folded as painlessly as possible, listening to our teachers. They're all women, and each is pretty perfectly suited to their subjects: Theory of Asana and Pranayama, Yoga Philosophy, Healing Chants, Pranayama, Application of Yoga, and Meditative Practice. They draw these wonderful stick figures of asanas on the board, invented in the engineering mind of TVK Desikachar, and never ambigious in their posture. Every time I see one of these little line drawings, I really appreciate both the simplicity and the power of asana.
In this course we are learning a very different kind of yoga than what is commonly thought of as yoga today. This is yoga as a tool for healing. This is yoga as a holistic practice. It is a practice for the mind, the body and the breath. In yoga, physical postures are one piece of a puzzle, one tool among many to help purify and focus the mind. It's an impressive amount of information to attempt to even get a glimpse of in a single month. When we signed up for the class earlier this year the task sounded daunting, if not impossible. But because yoga's focus is on the experiential, we are able to take it one day at a time.
While our classes at KYM are more organic than following a daily theme, the concepts naturally find their way into each subject. We follow these threads in our notebooks and trace them in our physical practice as they travel their way from physiology to history to philosophy to spirituality.
There's 24 of us in the class, from about 15 nationalities and probably just as many varying yoga backgrounds. Our group spans US, Canada, Brazil, Guatemala, UK, France, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Israel, Australia, Russia, Japan, and India (I'm sure I missed one or two). And quite a few people are currently living outside of their native countries. While yoga is deeply personal, being in a group brings us back out. There is a natural ebb and flow as our energy moves between thoughts, deep physical practice, and the excitement of making friends and being in southern India. More to come...