Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quicken, Ode to Saraswathi


My pulse quickens as she approaches. I try, oh God, I try to breathe. Slowly. Deep, even breaths. But I can't help it, I can't help the stress from racing my pulse.

It is part anxiety, part excitement when I see her in front of me--well, actually, from behind me--well, actually, both. I peek at her from behind my heels, her colorful pajama pants hiding what people say are fine looking legs.

Ok, so breathe. There is no escaping it now. I see her feet wait. I inhale and heave myself up into standing, where she is before me, a head shorter than myself. She places her hands behind my hips. Her fingers are light, but her hold is steady.

Oh, God. Here it comes. I wish she would smile. When she smiles, the entire shala lights up. And her eyes are kind, easing away my fear of her, of her folding and unfolding me like a piece of sheet cloth in the wind. Mamma. Saraswathi.

--This piece was written during one of the writing circles conducted by Deborah Crooks and fellow shala student writers Benji, Leena, Dorota, and Alex (who joined once), I miss you guys. I miss exchanging words with you all!

Some words on Mamma...

I've spoken at great lengths about Sharath since he was my teacher those months in Mysore. But Saraswathi too has a strong presence in the shala. I would always hear her towards the end of my practice, her soft voice echoing ethereally over the pulsating bodies as she chanted, sometimes she sounded like she was humming.

She's an incredibly strong yet tiny woman, who can with total ease drop back a man over twice her size. She is beyond sturdy, an immovable force from which you can anchor yourself to.

I would often see her hovering over friends with very open backs, she would always magically turn up as they entered that crucial moment. (Saraswathi was once a great back bender--and apparently takes great pleasure in helping others attain such heights--with hands on their thighs that is!)

During my time at the shala, my feelings for her went through several phases. The first was fear and anxiety. I'd heard that she was a toughie when it came to adjustments. Over an email my friend Stacey reminded me before I left for India, when she comes to you, just breath, relax, she's incredibly strong. Gulp, I thought!

I remember my first with her. It was so fast, I didn't quite know what hit me. And then paschimatanasana! I'll never forget the force in which she pressed me. It felt like she had made a running start because I lurched forward so strikingly. And when she released me, I actually bounced back from the delayed inertia.

Eventually, the fear did pass. And I started to enjoy her terribly efficient quick as lightning drop backs. 1, 2, 3. Wham bam, thank you, mam! "One More," she would yell to the foyer as I quickly rolled up my mat to finish in the locker room. It was a welcome break from the depth in which Sharath was asking me to go, walking me closer and closer to my ankles.

Then at some point, I actually enjoyed the deep back bending and would note with some sorrow when Saraswathi would be before me. She sped through me. And it would be done too quickly.

Then towards my last three weeks, I started to struggle less and less in back bending. I started to relax in the pose. My breathing was deeper. I could grab my heels (with Sharath's help) and it ceased to be a horrifying experience. Time would stop and all would be well.

By my last week, I was surprised to find myself hovering as I dipped backward. It was a new experience to go slowly. And for the last two times of the trip that Saraswathi appeared before me, she guided my hands to my ankles as I came down. The first time I felt her hand on my wrist, I remembered what Stacey said and I simply surrendered. I think that was the moment I really began to trust her, just days before my final departure.

For me, it was a special gift, an acknowledgement of how far I'd come. The following day, she was there again. I had more difficulty the second time, but when I came up she smiled her famous smile and gave me some advice, the first words she'd actually spoken to me the entire trip.

In the end, I didn't get to say goodbye. But I know that I will see her again. And who knows what combination of feelings she will inspire. Whatever they may be, I definitely look forward to it.

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