I had arrived into a calm center of peace. The inhabitants of this five-story house were lovely people, doctors taking time for themselves, students between classes, people seeking healing and balance. They were far more helpful than the staff in introducing me to the schedule, as they had lived and breathed it for the last week. Meditation, Yoga, Breathing Exercises, a Walk in the Jungle – all before breakfast!
The classes were split between two instructors: Bivyam – the dismissive man who had showed me to my room when I arrived, and Durga - a beautiful glowing woman who led chanting sessions in the afternoon. She opened her first class by telling us how people can see when you are awake inside, when you carry the light. “Because the entire world lives in darkness.” She said, “So you don’t have to do anything to share the light, just like hiking in the darkness – when you are there, the entire way is lit. The path can be seen.”
While Durga’s classes oozed with spiritual philosophy, Bivyam’s yoga classes were straight forward – we would do 30 minutes of sun salutations, and then 30 minutes of asana, holding each pose for a minute. His spoke only to instruct for a pose, not including any of the spiritual philosophy I love so much in yoga. At first I thought he was new, but his was just an approach to instructing I had not met yet. He didn’t check in to ask for the names of his students or how long they had been practicing and if they had any injuries he should know about. So then he didn’t know why some people in the class were not doing the backbends or the knee pressure bends. They were avoiding these movements because of injuries – I saw it, but he just asked them if they understood what they need to be doing, why were they not giving it a try?
I found the yoga classes at Sadhana to be highly independant and advanced int the way that you have to know what you are doing well enough to keep from becoming injured. I could see how it would not be the best course for a beginner. And I found it a fantastic yoga lesson. I was not learning poses so much as I was getting a chance to view how far I had come.
It was difficult to be present at times, when holing a pose facing the window I found that I could spot five different types of butterflies at one time in the jungle outside. And the white-faced monkeys who swung by to peer in the windows and holler at us made me laugh and loose my balance. This wasn’t the typical yoga backdrop and distracting as it was, I loved it.
The second morning at Sadhana, our class was very different. Bivyam announced that in this yoga session, we would do backbends and twists for one minute – he said, “Do this motion as many times as you can in one minute. Faster and faster.” He did a backbend reaching up behind him and then bounced into a forward bend reaching for his toes. I understood what he wanted us to do, but those movements are ones I normally do gingerly and mindfully, moving slowly as to not harm my back. Backbends are big poses, where it is easy to pull something if not paying attention, and it was in this pose that I remembered pulling something in before.
Bivyam wanted us to bounce back and forth straining our backs, and I just didn’t see that as healthy for me. I still did the motions he asked, just slowly and mindfully, communicating with my body the entire time. If I went too fast, there was a chance I would push past my own limits and hurt something. Bivyam came over and said, “Faster. Come on!” When I didn’t speed up, he thought maybe I didn’t understand. “We are doing as many as we can in a minute. If you do not move faster, you will not have many counted.” The only thing that this comment changed about my posture was that now it was a laughing asana. I laughed out loud. Because of his tight face and his peer pressure and because I know what is good for my body now, and won’t go against it – even to please someone in a position of respect.
The timer rang signaling us to stop moving. “How many did you get?” He asked me, in an exasperated tone.
“I wasn’t counting.”
“Bah!” he scoffed.
“Yoga has never been a competition for me.”
“But that’s what these poses are about! Moving rapidly.”
“I’m sorry, but I won’t do that. Backbends are poses in which I have tweaked my back doing incorrectly before, and I would rather focus on alignment than chance that.”
“I don’t understand you.” He said.
I just shrugged and smiled. That was okay. Never sacrifice the integrity of your body for the glory of the pose.
Sometimes you don’t know what you have learned until you get the opportunity to apply it. I realized that morning on my mat that I had learned the lesson of knowing my body’s limits and sticking to them. I now knew how far I should go and how much I should do to have a healthy practice. This applies to so many other area of my life as well. In my past, at work I have done too much, exerted too much energy and found myself sick. In previous yoga classes, I used to break and enter my body – I would stretch it farther than I should and pull muscles just to be able to do what the teacher could do rather that was healthy for me or not. The teacher in my first yoga class had years of practice and training to get into that pose, and what did I have? A competitive drive, something to prove, and two strained muscles.
I am not saying that it is impossible to do these poses. Everything is possible. But some things take sweet, sweet time. And they are not worth rushing for anyone, no matter how much you respect or idolize them.
After I understood that I could modify the practice to suit my needs, I started to modify the entire experience at Sadhana. If I was paying this much for a retreat, I should make it what I wanted.
(I remember having this same type of realisation years ago in college and how I dramatically changed my curriculum to include classes that actually interested me, the ones I wanted to take. I loved school so much more when I modified it to be the type of experience I wanted to have:)
The next morning, I opted out of meditation class at 5:30 to make time for coffee. I still woke up at the same time, I just took some quiet space for myself on the rooftop to enter the day as other students participated elsewhere. And I am so glad that I did because mornings at Sadhana are magical.