First Day of Practice by Sean Shelton
I would be lying if I did not say that I was a bit nervous to come to the Shala on the first day. I did not want to be late and show any disrespect to the Shala or Sharath. Between my nerves and a baby that was not quite settled into the new time zone, I had not slept a lot that night.
At 3:30am I throw together my things and make the walk to the Shala.
The morning air is very inviting and chilly. There is a peace to the dark and silent streets of Mysore. Occasionally there is a bark from the local street dogs just saying good morning. The trees are alive too with the sounds of chirping chipmunks talking about their plans for the day. Without the hustle of tuk-tuks and motorcycles or the horns of traffic it has a really magical peace. Walking among the young Banyan trees, I listen to the sounds of the night as the bats circle overhead, enjoying what I assume is their dinner before they tucked in for the day.
One local street dog, very exited to see me comes running out of the shadows, tail waging. I give him a little pat before he runs off, tail still wagging.
I am anticipating my first experience in the Shala. My 4am time slot means that I am part of the first batch, an honor we hear normally reserved for the veteran students. There seems to be some exceptions and I am sure having a kid played some part of why I was given this time. For those of you wanting to practice with Sharath, you should know that whatever time he gives you means you should show up at least 30 minutes beforehand.
There is a magic to the Shala at that time. As I enter I am greeted by a beautiful alter paying tribute to the amazing people who have shaped this lineage. Pattabhi Jois’s photo very large in the center, his presence still commanding over the Shala, images of Sharath and Pattabhi performing asana are covering the walls. Some people have already started their practice, the sound of their breath filling my senses. I am here.
The Shala at this time is less than half full and carries with it the outside air, cool and humid. The feel at this time in the Shala is serene and blissful. I place my mat and go to the lockers to relieve myself of my gear, clothes and the like. I come back to my mat, feet together, hands at my heart, I close my eyes.
Feel my body, feel my breath, feel my heart. Some hints of the tension. I take in a few big and full breaths trying to relieve some tension in my shoulders and mind. Steady, calm, my breath falling into a rhythm, my heart finding a steady beat. Instantly I feel lighter and more free. I let my mind move through it’s intentions and affirmations, even go through the Vande, though I knew the chant was coming later. Then I begin to move. Light and free, I remind myself. Don’t push. I have been on 3 planes, in 4 airports, 1 long cab ride, all with baby and a disoriented time schedule, my body has been storing tension and fear somewhere. Let’s find it and heal it.
Ekam Inhale. I begin my Surya Namaskar and, sure enough, I feel what I did not feel before: the stress of my travel. The fears of a new place or the strange interactions at customs. I feel the tension of not knowing. Not knowing what to expect from India. Not knowing if our cab ride would be there or the house I arranged or if the budget I laid out would be enough. Not knowing if my family would be safe while we traveled. Of course we are and of course this would all be great, but my body takes on these stresses anyway. After all, this is a practice. The stress of these hiding in the extreme range of my movements, hidden deep in the hips and inner belly. I feel my bandhas, I feel my breath, the tension in both very clear as I move.
I struggle a bit to touch the floor and again remind myself, Breath, move, don’t push, release. I go only where my breath is willing to take me, keeping my mind deep in my pelvis, feeling the bandha, feeling it straight up my center, feeling the breath circulate and follow the same line, flowing, moving. With my gaze fixed, I go through round one, then two. By the third I am more free. My practice magically takes shape. Even with my sore and stressed body, I am moving, each pose working out another part of the tension and stress, doing their work to heal.
As I get through standing there is a brief pause as Sharath exits his office and moves to the front of class.
We all come to stand at the top of our mat, where he begins the Vande Gurunam. What a beautiful sound. Its one thing to hear it at home, but to think, Here I am in India in a room filled with practitioners from around the world, the sound of them chanting filling the room. What magic. Despite my body’s soreness, I move, flowing in my practice, one pose transitioning to another with the breath. Although the room is not hot, it is humid, my body fully covered in sweat— more than I have felt in years. This makes much of my work feel easier.
Before I know my back bends are here. Despite my tensions I am able to press up. I breathe, my shoulders move, my chest expands; a sense of freedom. After backbends its time to move my practice into the men’s locker room, where I begin to move through closing practice. By this time the Shala has been building heat. Every corner of the room is covered with yoga mats, each one with a person who has shown his or her dedication yet again by making it to the practice. The sound of their breathing filling my ears. Inspiring.
Now I have to make my way across these mats. Navigating my way, attempting not to disrupt their practice, I finally am able to get to the men’s locker room. I open the door and the lights are off and the room is very dark, as it is still dark outside. The room also filling with the sounds of others deeply engaged in their closing practice.
I find an empty space on the floor and begin shoulder stand. The lights off help me to go deeper and allow some of the tension in my shoulders and hips to melt away. It truly feels wonderful to be surrounded by the breath of others while I practice in the dark.
At last, the final breath in my practice on the first day in the Shala in Mysore, India. I love every minute it has taken to arrive here. I must give thanks to all who helped my practice and all who have kept me inspired all of these wonderful years. I am very thankful for this journey.
All Yoga Photography by Emily O'Brien @emily.obrien