Tuesday, March 19, 2013

the shala, a different perspective

No more. End of the morning practice...

February 4. My shala perspective shifts. Big time.

I realize that I've gotten used to seeing the shala in a certain way. Literally mostly from close to the ground, looking up from my yoga mat, perspective narrowed by drishti (at least on "good" days). I've seen the shala slightly hazy as the area around the tip of my nose, past my outstretched hand in poses like virabhadrasana, or from upside down and under my legs as I stretch out in downward facing dog, fellow practitioners a cloud of movement at the periphery. As my spot moves, so does the small circumference of my attention.

There are other vistas, too, all strangely close to the ground, keeping us humble somehow. From the lobby, as we wait for our turn, we are like vouyeurs peering past the doorway, watching the unfolding movie of other people's practices. Conference, too, on Sundays, finds us sitting on the floor, attention fixed on Sharath on stage. He always looks larger than life from these angles.

But today, everything looks a little different. It is my first day of assisting and the room expands as I come in at 8:30 in the morning. Grinning ear to ear, I take a few moments to take it all in, the room is full of students practicing while the crowd at the lobby eagerly await to be "one more" in this magical space.

This is a new vantage point. I used to have to exercise a certain amount of restraint: don't look, mind my own mat space! But now, my focus is not on my own practice, but on the practices of others. What's also amazing is to observe the collective energy that everyone is brewing together. In practice, I can feel this energy, sometimes it's so potent that it carries me. It's quite another experience to see it. As an assistant, it carries too, for hours it supports and lends its energy. Time goes by swiftly.

It's a little like staring at one spot on the carpet with close intensity, then pulling back so much so that the entire room comes into view. The space opens and everything amazes through this wider lens; things remain intense, the entire room is pulsating with energy.

Most things aren't new, but the license to observe allows me to see more than ever. I am in awe at how diverse the practice is. To see it so clearly demonstrated in such a large yet concentrated space, through 65-some-odd mat spaces, through one round of practitioners after another.

Sure, there are parameters to practice, whether it's primary, intermediate or advanced, but it's easy to see how each body takes on the essence of the posture, rather than all bodies conforming to one form. The practice is as multifaceted at its practitioners. Each person's practice is personal, suited to their character and their physical build, to their limitations and potential. Each person follows their own pace and breath, while at the same time, feeding into this sublime collective pool of practice. The room is alive.

Then there's Sharath. Sharath, who by the time I return to the shala to assist, has been holding space for 4 hours. There will be at least another 3 hours. In the height of season, he goes on for about 8. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of those rare folks who go over and beyond their field of expertise. He says the magic number is 10,000 hours of practice and work to be outstanding at one's area of specialty. In teaching hours, Sharath's easily closer to double that number. Factor in practice time, it's no wonder he's the Boss, it's no wonder his adjustments are so light and intuitive, it's no wonder that he can see where you are in your head and your body.

He remains sharp throughout the morning. It's truly a sight to see him manage a room, how he schedules class times, who he chooses to help and and when he chooses to help. Like clockwork, he takes a few breaks. A few minutes here and there, he retreats into the office, as Shrutti, his wife, brings him some chai or coffee and snacks. The moment he steps out, the door barely open, he's calling spaces: "One...two...three more."I think, how does he even see that!? His eyes are like lightning. It's incredible what he catches, what he remembers, what he intuites from his observations. He's not infallible, but for the most part, he recognizes the returning from the newcomers, he has a good idea of where one should be in their practice, and he senses haste, fear, and ambition.

This new view of Sharath feeds my larger than life image of him. But it also makes him more human. I see how he looks after students in his quiet way. How when he sees someone struggling, he supports them. How he never pushes, even when students push themselves. How he sees everyone's potential and encourages those that need it. How he makes time to joke around with assistants or to call us into his office to show us his latest opus, a blown up photograph of a tigr. He keeps the energy light and easy.

I feel incredibly blessed to see things from a different perspective, but really whether you're close to the ground, sitting, lying down, standing up, or walking around the shala, it doesn't matter from what angle you observe it from because simply: it is a place of incredible seeing. See your teacher, see the practice, see yourself.

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