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Not a beginner

Posted by on February 5, 2012


the ashtanga yoga institute

Back to Tuesday, in Sharath’s office, registering for practice at the Shala. Cyndi and I await our turn, are called in, sit down. Sharath looks over our papers, passport photos freshly adhered by the shala’s resident glue stick. I admit I am nervous. Not at my best (it has only been a few hours since our cab- to-Mysore ordeal which cyndi described so perfectly in her previous blog post), jet-lagged, exhausted, and everything I see and smell is new and unfamiliar. I am sitting across from Guruji’s grandson. I feel as though I know this family, though I have never been here before. Sharath looks over my registration form, which says little more than my name and address, and asks if I am a beginner.

No, I am not a beginner, I reply.

He nods, then remarks that I seem very sure of that.

Insert foot in mouth. Suddenly insecure, I am thinking, he’s found me out! What do I even know about ashtanga yoga? Me, this American girl who took her first yoga class less than 5 years ago, wears lululemon and teaches at a fancy western yoga studio, this to a man who was practically born in dwi pada sirsasana, in India no less.

I respond in what to my own ears suddenly sounds like a clumsy midwestern accent, well, we are always beginning, in some way. It’s the best I can do, he has not asked, what series do you practice, or do you bind in whatever asana, simply are you a beginner, which from a day to day perspective is certainly a no, but in the sense of the long now, of a whole life, of a first day in Mysore, of a journey unfolding, of a dislodging of expectation and a sense of relief, yes please! I am only just beginning.

Sharath asks for our money. We hand it over, he runs it through his money counting machine, hands us our Shala cards and tells us we will practice at 10:30 AM. We thank him and are about to leave, when he says to me with a bit of a smile, your name Cara, it means ‘heart.’ Oh, that is nice.

‘chilly heart,’ he adds.

Okay then.

We are out and on our way, to eat and sleep, and be ready for our not-so-early yoga practice at 10:30 tomorrow morning.


shoes outside kpjayi, Mysore, India

leave your shoes at the door!

Wednesday morning, we arrive at the Shala 15 minutes early. We can see the room full of practitioners through the open door. No one is waiting in the foyer and Sharath comes to the door asking to see my Shala card. Again feeling clumsy I cannot seem to find it in my bag and I tell him ten thirty is my time. He tells me to keep the Shala card ready at all times and asks me to come in. I put my mat down in the first open spot I find, go to the ladies changing room to leave my things. I hear a pssst come to me from one of the ladies practicing finishing poses on the locker room floor. Its kate! A quick hello, but she’s busy in matseyasana so I head back into the room. I find my mat and am ready to begin.

I am to practice primary series. I start with suryanamaskar A, but my body is so full of adrenaline that I feel as if I am about to topple over. Unsteady, a bit shaky, so much going on in the room it is hard for me to reign it in. I have repeated this same action hundreds of times, but suddenly it feels completely foreign. So much preparation and anticipation, followed by 3 days of travel, all to be here in this place, practicing yoga. I feel as if I will soon launch like a rocket, stick to the ceiling, and all below will point their drishtis at me from their ubhaya padanghustasanas.

Standing poses done, I am starting to feel less volatile, a bit more at home, and familiar again with the series. Practice becomes very light, I manage all the seated poses without that rocketship feeling. At navasana, Sharath asks me if I bound in marichasana D. Yes. He asks me twice more for good measure. yes, both sides. Yes, I am sure. An assistant crosses my legs in supta kurmasana. Sharath asks me to move my mat to the front row, and when I reach back bending he is right there. Exhale. Three times back and then he has me in chakra bandasana. I stand up. He chuckles.

Not a beginner. Always a beginner.

As instructed, I take my mat to the ladies changing room and jostle for a spot on the cool marble floor to do my finishing poses. In Savasana I can hear the lockers opening and closing, women climbing up and down the metal stairs, the sound of beeping rickshaws floats in through the open windows.

There will be much learning in the days to come. I am ready to be a student again.

Just outside the Shala gates, looking down

I’m also ready for… a coconut. I meet cyndi outside, we both have that baffled what just happened in there looks on our faces. The coconut man pulls out his machete like knife, and with a dramatic swing he lobs off the top of a coconut, the water inside gives us all a nice spray. This makes me smile, and so grateful to be here.

More to come,


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