Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Plus! Shala Protocol

For yoga each day I get up at around 5:30 (if my alarm doesn't go off the call of the mullah wakes me up) and eat an orange and gingerly go into the bathroom, giving the roaches plenty of time to scram. After doing my toilette and dressing I put on my sweater and monkey cap and make my way downstairs, where the nice night watchman lets me out through the back gate and I drive in the dark (tho it's getting lighter now) for some six kilometers, to the shala. There are some people/trucks/busses/two-wheelers out at that hour and some chai stalls are open -- but not many. And the air quality is the best it'll be all day.

If it's a led primary series class (on a Friday or Sunday) there will be people waiting outside for the gate to open, and it'll be dead quiet (Gokalum is a pricey suburb). Oftentimes I'll say hello to the handful of people who are waiting and no one will answer and it'll fall on the ground, thud. Then you'll hear gravel crunching as more people walk towards the shala from the rooms and houses they rent in the neighborhood; others will pull up on two wheelers (and every once in awhile an actual Ambassador automobile drops people off).

When the gate finally opens we swarm in and stake out homesteads in our favorite spots; but Shiva forbid you take a 5:30 practitioner's regular spot (some girls got bawled out by a *very* senior student for unwittingly doing that very thing). For the first class Guruji and Sharath are usually in the office, and at some point they put on some devotional chanting, which is nice. Students put their stuff in the closing room and return to their mats where they do their very strange warmups, talk quietly or simply sit. I usually try to sit and breathe slowly but it never works (it's always kind of quick and shallow at that hour, until the physical practice begins). Then Guruji and Sharath come in and G. yells "Samasthitih!" and we stand at the front of our mats and do the chant......

As I mentioned the shala has marble floors covered with colorful cotton area rugs. There are large-scale photos of Guruji and Amachi (his late wife) and Krishnamacharya (his teacher, who also taught BKS Iyengar and Desikachar) on the walls and the ceilings are high (with high windows that let in lots of light). It's a really pleasant room (although the women at 3 Sisters say with great conviction that Gokalum is haunted -- which is why they moved their juice/meals bar back to the old neighborhood).

After class some people (me included) wait for Guruji to tell him "thank you" and bow to his feet. Some simply touch them, while others wave whatever it is wafting off of them towards their head three times. Some people freak out about "touching his goddamn little feet" as one person put it. The way I see it is this; we're showing respect and thanking him for keeping the ashtanga thing alive. We're *not* worshipping him (at least I'm not). Although I *love* the hug/kiss that follows the foot-touching. That fellow *knows* how to hug.

Then there's the short walk across the street to Bick-the-coconut vendor. He's the same guy with the great hair and dirty plaid shirt (coconut water *stains*, big-time) who was around the corner from the old shala -- only this time there's no chai stall next door and nowhere to sit and nothing to look at (the old one was on a busy street, teaming with vendors and school children starting their day, etc). He can machete a coconut really, really fast and like any good wallah knows which ones are full of water (neeru) and which are full of gunji (meat). Each morning he loads a three-wheel rickshaw-truck with coconuts and drives it to the shala. Next to him stands the flower guy from the old place and Manju-the-tailer. Ragoo from Nagarathna's in the old neighborhood is there, too, trying to drum up business for the old breakfast/lunch/Internet/chauffeur/you-name-it place -- which has dropped off considerably. He even offers free rides there and back but doesn't seem to get a lot of takers. It's kind of hearbreaking (at the same time they did a *really* hard sell at the old place). After coconuts people head to breakfast -- some to Tina's (she's moved to Gokalum) others to Holly and Tony's (two Brits have opened a B&B with the *best French press coffee ever* -- costs more but it's worth it) or other places. Bindi and I usually go to Green Leaf, a really sparkling Indian place with a wonderful staff and great chai and very few westerners.

After breakfast people go their separate ways. A lot of them end up at the Southern Star pool, ,where you can get a monthly membership. Others make endless visits to the tailor, designing their own clothes, or take classes in tabla or singing or Sanskrit (Bindi took the Sanskrit class offered at the shala and was surprised to learn that the majority of the other students either didn't need to work or were lawyers/financiers; for more on the culture here see Rebecca Mead's excellent 2000 New Yorker Piece, The Yoga Bums, at h Unlike last time I don't do much of anything apart from reading or crocheting or blogging or IMing the Man in the US or running errands or visiting people or socializing with the locals or sleeping or seeing the occasional fillum -- and my practice has improved immeasurably.

Mealtimes present some problems. If you eat lunch too early, you want a big dinner and most places don't start serving until 7 -- too late for most yoga students. Last trip I'd eat a pretty big lunch and have some crackers or cookies or muesli for dinner (I was practicing at 4:30 near the end) and came home looking gaunt. This time I've got it down to a science. After consuming two coconuts (one water, one gunji) I head to breakfast, where I dine on Masala Dosa (33 1/3-RPM record-size rice pancake, filled with vegetables) and Kesari Bath (a warm, sweet, firm, wheat-based dish with cashews and raisins and jaggery). I follow that up with two chais. Around 3 I'll have lunch at Aunty's (across the street from the Kaveri Lodge), which is thali or "meals" -- three types of vegetables and rice with sambar (tangy potato stew) and rassam (warm spice water) and chapattis (flat wheat bread) and curd rice. It's usually sweltering so I go back to the Kaveri for a nap, then venture out around 5.

Sometimes I'll check out the sunset from the roof of the lodge; yesterday everything had an pink glow around 6:45PM; it was amazing. Around 7 you can see all of the bats heading west, towards the sunset -- tons and tons of them, like they're on a highway. For dinner I'll get some chapattis (three or four) at another really clean, friendly place, called Hari Prasad, around 8PM. The unleavened bread fills the stomach *and* makes one strong for backbends.



Don't come to class when you're sick

Shut up in the lobby

Shut the door, too

Come at the appointed time (old students first!)

Take the next available spot, even if it's not to your liking

Wash your mat

Wash your feet

Wash your rug once in awhile, too (like when it starts smelling like Fritos)

Use deodorant

Don't eat heavy garlic or onions the night before class (save it for Fridays)

Don't beg for poses (or worse, take them). They'll be given when the time is right. Really.

Do your bizarre warmups at home, BEFORE you come.

You are not a bullfighter (do not wave your mat around before putting it down; it has the same effect on you neighbor as a mid-winter Nor'Easter.

It's called a tongue scraper -- learn how to use it, Mr. Halitosis

Don't spray your neighbor

If you wack someone in the face, apologize

Don't stop and talk to your friend on the way to the closing room

Shut up in the closing room

No backbends in the closing room

No homesteading in the closing room (ie; space is at a premium, so put your mat *close* to the others -- even if this violates your comfort zone)

After buying your coconut, move out of the way

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