A winding Path - Pattabhi Jois in San Francisco, 2003

A winding Path - Pattabhi Jois in San Francisco, 2003

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I have never enjoyed traveling. As a child, I got car sick every Sunday afternoon during our "family drives." We seemed to always be moving. There were years we lived in three or more homes. Other years Dad decided it was time for a "big trip" and we would spend a large portion of the year crisscrossing the USA. School could wait; "I want my children to see this land before it's gone" was the oft repeated motto. There were periods when as a family we divested ourselves of life's unnecessary stuff and camped outside for most of the year. I still recall the strange feeling of being dropped off by the school bus outside of Destin, Florida, at a campground after school. I recognized how non-normative it was to call a tent in a campground "home." In 2003, Iwas a few years into owning onlYoga and despite having already worked with some of the big ashtanga names like Beryl Bender Birch, David Swenson and others like Shiva Rae and Bryan Kest, I was still naive to the cult of personality that exists around certain yoga luminaries. Yoga was business then but not a multi-billion dollar business and I didn't quite grasp the magnitude any one teacher could have on the spiritual discipline I was trying to master.

I traveled to San Francisco in 2003 to practice with Guruji at the behest of friends who had been to Mysore or worked with him in Encinitas, California:

Each morning I awoke at 4:45am and traveled into downtown San Francisco. The first morning I was feeling quite stressed. My sense of direction is nonexistent and trying to locate the hotel hosting the workshop, in the cold dark of early morning, in a rental car, while in a strange city...well you get the idea...I felt miserably lost. So by the time I finally parked and walked up to the Regency there was a line of people waiting to get into the ballroom to practice...a line that wound down the block. I was stunned. People were waiting in the semi-dawn for a chance to put their mats down in a crowded room and hear a man "teach" them ashtanga yoga in broken English.

So, I joined in and stood in line outside the Regency building waiting for a space for my mat in the crowded room within. I was one of more than 300 practitioners in the first class. Space was at a premium and we were instructed to literally place our mats one next to the other; no staggering. I had never practiced yoga in such tight quarters or with so many people at the same time. I felt a mixture of nervous and giddy. I was anxious to see this man who could pack a room to the seams; I wanted to feel his energy.

Guruji appeared some time later. He started the class; it was hard to hear him, and he seemed to be somewhat off-balance physically. The class was like any number of other classes I had taken minus 270 people. As we moved through the sequence, I was kicked as people rolled back in chakrasana and hit as people reached up in Virabadrasana 1, and scolded for lifting up into a handstand. The first day was quite challenging...it was easy to allow my mind to be distracted by so many people and hard to understand Guruji’s thick Indian accent. By the end of the class, I felt even more lost than I had driving to the workshop. Nonetheless, I had tears of gratitude in my eyes at the end of that first practice. Not because I had found "my teacher"...rather because despite the discomfort of the experience I had made it through to the end. There is power in wadding through discomfort and finding your way to the other side!

As the class wrapped up, another line formed; people were waiting to thank Guruji and kiss his feet. Bowing down before another human being has never been at the top of my list, but I decided I might as well get the whole experience in that first day. So, I joined in and waited in line. As my time grew closer, I noticed Guruji's feet, they looked swollen and leathery and I was really not so sure I wanted to kiss these beasties. Then suddenly it was my turn and I was kneeling before this old man, who just stared at me, I thanked him for the practice and nearly feel face down onto his feet. I quickly recovered, kissed his feet and bounded up and away.

Practicing with Guruji was like returning home after a long trip...both familiar and soothing. He was tough! His approach while confrontational was non-aggressive. I was struck by the direct nature of his teaching...unfettered by his individuality, it harkened to a much greater experience. For me the experience was akin to tuning a guitar with Guruji providing the perfect pitch.

Ashtanga yoga teaches us directly that liberation does not come looking for us. We must consistently make the effort to seek it out...it is in the seeking that we find freedom from our limitations. Yoga is a journey toward greater passion for what exists within us and as Rumi says;

I want to be in such passionate adoration that my tent gets pitched against the sky!

Let the beloved come and sit like a guard dog in front of the tent.

When the ocean surges, don't let me just hear it. Let it splash inside my chest! {Translation from: Coleman Barks - The Book Of Love}

"Johnny, Can You Hear Me"

"Johnny, Can You Hear Me"

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