Tuesday, June 12, 2007

At the Lotus Feet

This should have been my first post to Om Trekker:

I offer my humble prostrations to the lotus feet of Sharon Gannon and David Life.

Americans don't say stuff like that, though, do we. We say "Thank You", of course, if we think of it, or if we're especially well-raised and it rolls off our tongues as easily as "Caddy!".

To say that we bow to the lotus feet of a teacher is to say that we offer our gratitude and love in the most physical, active, engaged form. And in America, apart from our Charitable Activities, what we do is sit in hard pews and say "Amen" when it's appropriate. I'm not judging, just noticing.

Sharon and David started the Jivamukti yoga school. If you've been to a yoga or meditation class in the last fifteen years, even if it was held in a gym in Des Moines, you can thank Sharon and David. I leave it entirely up to you whether to bow to their lotus feet.

"The hottest and best yoga in town is performed at the unapologetically spiritual Jivamukti "— claimed New York magazine, and The New York Times, among others, has agreed. At http://www.jivamuktiyoga.com/, click "Classes" and then click the little pink box up top that says "What is Jivamukti Yoga anyways?" and you'll find links to many articles about the impact they have had on American culture. Anybody famous who "does" yoga most likely started at Jivamukti: Christy Turlington, Sting, Madonna, Russell Simmons, etc.

But had you told the fat woman crying into her yoga mat in October 2001 that she would one day gratefully offer her full prostrations to the lotus feet of anything, or anybody, I can tell you she would have raised an eyebrow sarcastically, decided it was not done, and fled to Starbucks with her everlasting Christian soul intact.

The lotus flower, if you're wondering, represents the expansiveness of our souls which are always perfect even in the muddiness of our daily lives. And the feet of a guru are said to be holy.

Exactly what I was crying about, though, is still hard to say. I know Jivamukti was the first place I felt safe after my city was bombed the month before. I also know that I often wept in relief when the hardest parts of the class were done: I'm deeply competitive and pushed hard in what I called the "Kick Yer Ass Yoga Class." Yoga teachers will tell you that yoga is not a competitive sport, but whether it was my ego or asana practice that hadn't evolved, I don't know. Maybe it was just seeing myself in the mirror in stretchy tights.

Typically, my mat got drenched in the forward-bending poses. These happen after bunches of sun salutations where the "relaxation" of down dog made my jelly arms shake and buckle, and after the thigh-scorching warrior poses. The forward-bending poses are counterposes to the real demons: the heart-openers.

It's not easy to remember, while you're leaning over a computer at a job you hate, or clutching your purse on a subway, or hunching your shoulders as you step through the door into a marriage that is falling apart, that hour-by-hour, Prozacked or not, you are closing your spine and ribcage down hard around your heart.

So a posture that asks you to press your chest forward, and open your heart nakedly and lovingly, is scary. And usually, in the counterposes that followed a heart-opener and allowed me to bend towards my legs and hide my face, I wept.

Now, although I make a point of thanking a teacher every time I leave a class, I've actually only thanked Sharon once. She and David were teaching a string of five daily workshops last year, each alternating teaching and taking the workshop. In 5 years of practice at Jivamukti, this was the first time I'd been in her class. I'd always heard she was a "hard" teacher and my asana practice was still what I'd call experienced beginner, at best.

After her beautiful workshop, I thanked her and effusively told her that it was my first class with her in five years at Jivamukti. And when I told her why her face fell.

The next day David taught, and as he was asking the 80 people in the room to do handstands in the middle of their mats, which probably 3 people could actually do, he started talking about hard yoga teachers. And he talked about the difficult, really impossible asana he was asking everybody to try.

"When a yoga teacher asks you to do something hard in a yoga class, they are giving you the opportunity to approach something challenging in a controlled, loving environment: on a padded mat. And when you kick up into your handstand and start to fall and you're afraid, doesn't that feel a lot like the fear you have when you start a new relationship and it starts to tip into something more? So what a hard yoga teacher does is help you learn to recognize and approach fear."

Really. All that and a great workout!

Jivamukti took me much farther though, because as I started to physically open my heart and began to deal with the things I was afraid of, I decided to crack it wide open. Quakers, vegetarianism, India, divorce, and a move out of the City all followed in breath-taking succession. So did a 60-pound weight loss and quitting Prozac.

Sharon and David have recorded some of their classes and workshops. I think these are better than any of the studio recordings because the humor and love really come through. The last one on the list is a workshop of David's that I attended on November 3rd, 2006. I haven't heard the recording, but he began by asking students to define the emotions they experience in the different poses of the sun salutation and then he renamed the poses with these emotions. I offered him the word "gratitude".

These days, as I drive over to Stan's Yoga Shala to practice asanas in the manner taught by Sharon and David's guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, I try to say a little prayer of thanks to the teachers at Jivamukti and the beautiful path they blazed through American culture with their courageous lotus feet.

There's a Sanskrit prayer at the end of each Jivamukti class:

Lokaha Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

which translates:

May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

Sharon and David have added:

And may I, in some small way, contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.

1 comment:

eddie said...

Jessica, this is quiet right isn't it.
All that you say.
And thank you for sharing it with everyone, carefully spoken.

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may no one suffer sickness and sorrow.
May the thoughts words and actions of our own lives contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.

Om Shanthi

Eddie :)