“You’re not doing it quite right,” Murti sighed patiently. I couldn’t help but appreciate such directness from a yoga teacher, the likes of whom are usually undyingly uncritical.
“Banda up! Chatarunga arms strong. And don’t forget to look forward,” he encouraged, adjusting my behind and the angle of my head. “If you don’t look forward you’re going to fall on your face,” he continued as the class of a dozen or so sweaty Honolulu-ites tried to master crane pose on a Saturday morning in Chinatown. Sounds of the temporary soup kitchen in the park below floated up through the second story windows of the un-air-conditioned studio. As I struggled to hold the pose for more than a few seconds I cursed my on-again off-again infatuation with yoga.
My first yoga class had been years before at a health club in Toronto. I was a student at the nearby college, and so got a discount on fitness classes. This was back when the American dollar was actually worth something, so with math skewed to my advantage I signed up for a weekly yoga class. I was inspired by the way the teacher, a woman who wore heels all day to work, would come into the club early and loosen up before class by sitting on the floor, reading a book while doing the splits. I don’t remember her name but she started me on a long and not entirely ambitious journey skimming the surface of the yoga world for many years.
I’ve gone to yoga classes on three continents and in various languages. Everywhere from the YWCA with the tiny Japanese instructor barking instructions in stilted English to an elite fitness club in the Andes Mountains that required fingerprint scans to enter. Crowded studios in Midtown Manhattan and Hong Kong, and roomy circles on the grass in Waikiki. You’d think I’d be good at it by now. At least I thought I’d be good at it by now.
Even though I first came to the mat the better part of a decade ago I am still in beginner’s classes. And my own natural un-athletic inclination is not the only thing to blame. A lack of dedication is the most identifiable culprit (i.e. laziness). My sporadic attendance record has gaps as big as 3-6 months at a time, after which I re-discover why I love yoga even if I am advancement-stunted.
One of my all time favorite yoga teachers was a man named Das because he took no excuses. There were no levels and no pretenses. He didn’t charge and no one used a mat. There wasn’t even a name for the class as far as I knew. Weekdays a group would gather under a tree across the street from Sans Souci beach at 5pm. Arranged in a circle he would explain why every move was good for us as we held them for unreasonable lengths of time. Want to get new blood to your brain? Everyone do an eight minute shoulder stand. Everyone. At least we had a beautiful upside-down view of Diamond Head Crater. “Show some dedication to just ONE thing in your life. Just. One. Thing,” he used to say.
I think about him on days like today when I start at a new studio, in the beginner’s class after seven years. Some of the moves have gotten easier with familiarity, but others are still just as difficult as they were during that first class in Canada. Walking out of the studio today the instructor came up to me, “Good job in there,” she said enthusiastically. “Is it your first time?”