Wednesday, March 19, 2014

being a student, mysore in london

Very non-descript placard beside the door of the shala.
From outside, you would never guess the magic going on in there!

“One more,” calls Hamish Hendry from the main room. I come up from uthita trikonasana, fold my mat  and walk into the steamy room, condensation on the walls and windows, steam rising from hot bodies in practice. I can feel the humidity on my skin but also in my lungs. It might be on the edge of oppressively hot but I love it, I am so happy to put my mat down. I take a few moments to inhale and exhale in samasthitihi, getting used to the thickness of the air in the room before restarting my practice. Ekam…

These months of being on the road have been beautiful lessons in self-practice, in learning to motivate myself, to be patient and sensible when it comes to the limits of the body, to forgive and be loving towards myself when necessary. I have relished the time on my own, but I have to admit, it’s been difficult, and also a little lonely.

Being on a mini-holiday to visit with friends in London, with no particular agenda, has been a great opportunity to go to class, to step into the cauldron, so to speak, to be a student.

In late 2013, when I last breezed through London, a trip to Dharma Shala was on my agenda. I only managed a couple of days but attending class there left a strong impression on me. Returning this time around, taking class super-ceeded being a tourist. It's been nearly a year since my last Mysore trip. A year of self-practice. So entering a warm room again, one buzzing with the energy generated by bodies moving with breath and thoughtful intention...It's like magic. 

Dharma Shala on Drummond Street is a gem of a shala, where the connection to Mysore, India feels very alive, so tangible you can feel it. I’ve not practiced in so many places, but it’s at Dharma shala where I feel Mysore-mysore the most outside of India. It’s the similarity in the process, the continuously rolling in and out of students, finishing postures in another room, the practice-generated heat.

And then, there’s Hamish, very down-to-earth, friendly but also straight to the point sort of man who is among the small number of certified teachers in the tradition. In Mysore, it’s impossible to not meet a student of Hamish’s. And if you speak to them, impossible to miss the tone of love and respect they have for their London teacher and shala. His presence, very much his own, is not so dissimilar to Sharath's non-obtrusiveness. I felt very much how he gave me space, knowing full well I need to do my own work. But I also felt his compassion, how knowing I have not practiced with anyone for a long time, he tried to give me as much support as I needed, inviting me to try new things, giving me something new thing to work on. 

I've been told that Hamish is a teacher's teacher, with many London ashtanga teachers attending Mysore either before or after their own classes, many assisting him as well.  And you can feel that in the assistance, very skilled and sensitive. And you can see that in the room: some really amazing practices, intermediate A, B, not uncommon. The depth of practice, no matter what level, the concerted effort, full deep breath is truly prevalent in the room. And it was a joy to be there myself, even for a handful of days, practicing in the thick of it.

This morning, I returned to my mat, returned to my solo practice. Again, not easy. I couldn't even break a sweat with this fresh spring air in Barcelona, my body stiff from travel yesterday. But I feel good, that even that bit of time in such a room, with such a teacher, has given me some "homework"to stoke my practice.

A wonderful companion to yoga practice:
It starts: "Before you start reading this book breathe long and deep.
This in the only practice in this book and may be the most important."

Yoga Dharma is on sale at Dharma Shala.