It is about 4:20 pm, six hours after surviving Sharath’s Led Intermediate — the first one I have ever taken — and my arms are still noodles, and my back is still sore. Of course, there will be other muscles complaining in due time.
We have begun Week 2 of Sharath’s workshop while he and Saraswathi are in Encinitas. Those of us able to participate in the Led Intermediate class for the first time (I remember looking wistfully at the Led Intermediate class last year) felt an odd mixture of excitement and anxiety. We lined up at the doors of the studio while those in Led Primary trickled out, and chatted while the floors were being mopped. There were a few nervous faces, mine probably foremost among them. I stood next to my friend Vivs — who introduced me to Ashtanga yoga, and if it were not for her, I probably would never have started on this incredible journey of the body and mind. Vivs said that she had not felt this nervous in a very long time. I remember feeling this way in Led Primary two years ago — not knowing what exactly to expect, and hoping that I will not utterly fail in class. And, with Led Intermediate, it felt like the stakes were a little higher for some reason.
This year, there were quite a few students taking Led Intermediate — we filled up the whole studio. Right away, the tenor of the class felt different. I didn’t have the confidence I had in Primary, and hunkered down near the back row. When class began, Sharath seemed different — not as playful and relaxed as he was in Primary. We were warned in the beginning to expect Sharath to stop us at a pose if he felt that we were not ready, or even finish early. So it would not be like Primary where we would get assistance. My anxiety increased to hear that if I cannot perform a pose, that would be the end of my practice then and there. I saw some students looking nervously at each other. I was one of those nervous ones. Who would be singled out? I wondered. I was probably the most likely to be singled out, as I have not come near to finishing the Second Series.
In fact, one unfortunate student (who was practicing right next to me) got booted out at Pasasana. She could only bind over one knee, and with much difficulty. Sharath honed in on her right away, watching as she trembled and struggled to hold her hands together around that one knee. Sharath’s eyes were intense as he stared silently for what seemed like five long seconds, offering no help. Finally he said, “You stop.” There was a pregnant pause. “No, stop!” She finally released and sat down on her mat. Sharath said sternly, “You are not ready for this. You finish, now.” He goes onto count as he had us switch sides. I don’t know if he said anything more to this student, but I heard her promptly fold up her mat and saw her leave the studio in the periphery of my sweat-stained vision. YIKES!! I thought. What if I am next?!
Sharath was quite serious, stern, and strict throughout the entire class. When we began laughing after Supta Vajrasana (it always feels a bit funny to partner up that close with someone), he looked quite off-put and said sharply, “Quiet! No laughing!” Maybe seriousness comes along with the territory of the Second Series. If you got this far, then you are going deeper — it’s not all fun and games. Second Series, or Nadi Shodhana, is nerve cleansing — a practice to clear out negative energy from one’s nervous system. And so, I have heard that it is a more demanding practice that brings up negative emotions which we have stored up in our bodies over time. Practice at this time does become more profound and “heavy”. Most of us have devoted a lot of time to get this far into Ashtanga practice, and it is not just about the postures…it becomes something more that requires our deep inner attention and respect.
The counts were slower, especially in Kapotasana, my least favorite pose. Although I can catch my heels regularly, it still remains the pose that instills the greatest anxiety in me. Sure enough, just as we were preparing to drop down to Kapotasana, Sharath stands right next to me. From my upside down position, it could see his feet pointed in my direction. Dammit! I thought. What if I can’t catch? Will he tell me to stop there and go no further? That would feel terrible. It is five slow counts to drop down, then five slow counts as I catch my heels…there, I have three strained breaths for every one of Sharath’s. His feet are still pointed my way and I imagine that his eyes are boring into my upturned belly while I try to slow my breath and hang onto my heels. Then five more slow counts in Kapo B!! I can barely stand it any longer — finally, we release and as I lurch back forward on my knees, I see that he finally turns away from me.
There was a camera crew in this whole mix. So, amidst the slow counts you can hear the clicks of cameras, which can be quite distracting. I made it up to Pincha Mayurasana — at which point, all the clicking and bodies moving distracted me. For some reason, I could not find that sweet balance point which I had found before, in the quiet atmosphere of the shala when it was just the ten of us altogether. I struggled to keep my feet up, and then I over-compensated — somersaulting onto another student’s mat. And, conveniently, Sharath was right there. It is as if he knows where you are at your weakest, and then stands right next to you!! After my somersault, he looks at me and says, “Okay, you stop there.” My arms were shaking, and strangely, I was relieved. At least I made it that far!
Karandavasana is another gateway pose, and here, Sharath takes his time. He wants to see if everyone can do it. So, he slows down and goes around the room, pointing at a sweaty, hapless student, saying, “You do. Yes. You do now.” A few struggle in this incredible pose which I have heard can take years to accomplish. Sharath will say, “You do no more after this.” Those who make it past Karandavasana have relieved looks on their faces. By this time, only half of the class was still continuing, while the other half sat quietly on their mats. I looked on in wonder as I saw these remaining students perform poses which seem impossible to the eye.
Finally, we go onto back bends, drop backs, and the finishing poses. By the end of class, I could barely move my arms. The floor was covered with sweat; my mat and towel were soaked. I could not believe how much water had left my body. After Savasana, we slowly left the studio; I, for one, sank into a deep and numinous reverie. My body ached but I felt glorious inside…so glorious that when I left the shala, the world seemed on fire, ablaze with life and energy. I moved slowly, enjoying each step and breath. The divine felt so close. It was spring, and the flowers also seemed to burst with fire. There was beauty everywhere, and I felt so immensely grateful…and gifted with this sudden realization — this is why I practice.