Saturday, December 11, 2010

4:30am Start

(December 9, 2010)

Yesterday was my first day to practice at 4:30am.

Though I’ve been having led class now for both Friday and Sunday at 4:30 for a couple of weeks, starting mysore practice first thing in the morning is definitely different.
Gone are the many students amassing at the gates, waiting to rush in to secure themselves a spot. Sure, people still come early to claim their favorite place, but there is less anxiety around the process.

Anyone coming in after the 4:30 start, experiences the room in full gear. The room is hot and steamy, condensation on the windows, heat rising from the bodies of students and their tapas generating asanas.

For me at least, there is a certain tension involved in coming later in the morning. The anticipation builds as I wait in the foyer, while watching the early group. Then, once called, there’s this need to be swiftly efficient: to quickly find your spot in the room, to efficiently route out the path you plan to take to said spot, to effectively get to that spot without whacking some poor unassuming student mid asana with your mat on the way there, to put down your mat and towel and safely get to the dressing room where you can take a breather or a potty break before alighting on your mat and starting your own practice, finding your own groove in the intensely energized room.

Of course, there are some issues that come with starting practice at 4:30. My entire day has shifted. I am trying to eat a big lunch by 2pm. A light snack in the late afternoon supplements dinner. I wind down by 6ish and try to be in bed by 8, 8:30. (This is quite a big shift for me, as I usually just get home from work at this time back home). The alarms are set for 3am. By 4(ish), I’m downstairs knocking for my downstairs neighbor, with whom I take the 5-minute walk to the shala. But the rewards are worth the changes. In one conference, Sharath said that the time between 4-6am is actually the best time to practice.

Once the gate does open, the pace is relaxed. Students mosey on in, put their mats down, take their time in the dressing room. Though people are generally not chatty, there is a sense of coming together—that somehow getting on the mat at this hour is a collective effort. There is time to exchange smiles and acknowledgements before standing at the top of the mat, samasthitihi, then internally, “ekam…”

The folks at this hour are charged. To be assigned this early morning time either means you’ve paid your dues and have been at the shala long enough for there to be space for you (and time at the shala makes you grounded and strong) or you’re just plain old advanced. I belong to the former, of course. No matter, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to share in this collective energy.

I am particularly lucky this morning. I find a spot in my favorite area, far left center (there’s no one perfect spot, everyone has their own favorite, and it seems to vary depending on the person), beside Ursula Scott, the very person who encouraged Claudia and I to make the leap and come out to Mysore nearly a year ago. She’s been my yoga idol ever since we met in the Philippines 2 and half years ago.

To top it off, when I come back from the locker room, Alex Medin had placed his mat to the left of me. Alex was my first-ever ashtanga teacher. It was Alex’s month-long course in Manila that really made an ashtangi out of me. It was there that my curiosity for Mysore really began. It was the same event that introduced me to Ursula. And though I haven’t practiced with him in a long time, I feel that the foundations he helped build in my practice keeps me steady to this day.

I felt inspired practicing beside these two amazing ashtangis and teachers, whose asana practices are so beautifully fluid. I’m proud to say I didn’t loose drishti, but it was challenging with 3rd maybe 4th series poses busting out to my left and 2nd series poses busting out to my right. Both of them have played an important role in getting me here. I felt elevated by their love and support. I felt empowered. I felt that I belonged to this moment. I felt truly present.

As for the rest of the shala, people wander in anytime between 4:30 and 5am, when Sharath finally comes out from his office, gets on the stage, everyone takes their cue to stand at the top of the mats as he leads us all in the opening prayer.

For the first time for my own practice, I am saying the prayer aloud with others. The words have weight charged by student’s intentions for their own practice. Tapping into this energy together is—so hard to explain. But it’s beautiful!

In the later hours, the room is already hot, which really helps. What surprised me at 4:30 was that I personally felt warmer, as my body heated up gradually at the same pace as the room warmed. It is subtler, somehow. Same with the energy, you get to build up to it with everyone else in the room, rather than jumping into it, tuning into it midstream.

As an added bonus, I hurl myself into Sharath as I come up from after dropping back. It’s good news because he’s there to drop me back, which makes me feel like I’m out of the doghouse after being late yesterday morning. He drops me back on the fourth round.

“Walk in,” he says. I bend my arms and crawl my fingers towards my feet. They feel like miles away.

“Straighten arms…Walk in,” he coaxes me closer. His tone is both firm and gentle.

“No Fear,” he adds. I can feel my heels with the tips of my fingers when he starts to take first my right hand then my left to my ankles. He reminds me to hold them.

I hold on and banish the old thoughts of panic from my head. I don’t fight my way up from the pose, as I have done in the past. I hold on. I hold on and I surrender.
As Sharath pulls me upright, I get my first “Good” from him.

I am beaming. He reminds me to keep breathing as I take long pauses between my inhalation and exhalation. Though intense, I feel like I’ve done something right. I don’t sense any pain in my back—which I was starting to experience a week ago after dropping back.

Finishing at dawn, the ladies locker room is dim. Mats are laid out in every bit of floor space. And the room, usually so cool with its marble floors, is almost steamy from finishing postures. It is somewhat dark still on the street but coconuts are being prepared nonetheless by streetlight—which automatically turns off just as it gets lighter.

It’s hard to believe that my biggest task for the day is done just as the world around Gokulam is waking up. It’s a blessing. There is a peace at this hour. Amruth is open but isn’t congested with their usual chai clientele. There are no rickshaws yet on the street corner. The rest of the storefronts are still closed. And the first of the morning risers are milling about along the main streets.

As I walk home to take rest, I beam with the satisfaction today’s is the best practice I’ve had thus far.

The photo above was taken before Sunday Led. It's early, so the crowd is not so big yet. Claudia is among the students in the photo.


  1. very nice to read this, i like the idear to start early but i am not sure i will like the " competition" part of " getting a spot for put my mat", may be it is one of the reason that , when i get to mysore, i don't study to this shala but study with mister iyengar or his student at mandala's place

  2. Hi, great post, and I really liked the picture too, it says it all... So cool that you are practicing that early!

  3. Nice one Kaz! Looking forward to your next post.

  4. I was so glad that I could start at 7am. I practiced with Saraswati. I'm looking forward to you posts.....

  5. Wonderful post, such a pleasure to read, thank you.

  6. What a great post Kaz, thanks for sharing throughout your visit, maybe next time we'll be there as well, also Ursula is the best sweetest soul as we met her my first time in Mysore.

  7. Oh, this made me really miss Mysore!!! Thanks for writing.

  8. Thank you for sharing. It sounds amazing and I am looking forward to hearing more.