The studio is on one of those eccentric downtown streets, forging it’s own path in lower Manhattan, it’s shades of cobblestones trying to peak through sticky tarmac spread like pudding on rye. You could pass the door a 100 times before knowing it was there. It’s a faded sky blue, blends so well into the shadows of the new corner cafe, that only lights up at dusk. The NYU revelers never give it a seconds glance. The words Ashtanga Yoga are long ago faded, a bit of touch up paint was applied eons ago, even now it is dry and brittle. The buzzer is covered with masking tape, the real buzzer points to a different floor. You tap away. Within a few seconds, you hear the tiniest of a buzzing sound, like a sole humming bird off course, the lowest yes register. Pushing the door, you immediately look up, the fragments of 100 year old stairs go on, on and on, fading into dreamy perspectives. It’s floor 2, so you never really get to hit the high numbers. 2 is it. It’s as far you need to go, for now.
Ashtanga classes are solitary moments. No enthusiastic teachers, leading a class of sweaty models decked in florescent sweats, no synchronized Sun Salutes, or rhyming Krisha Das chants, which are all A-OK in my world, but not here. No one speaks, but tact acknowledgments are given. You made it here. Good. Once off the main floor, you can hide behind bins of neatly folded yoga mats emblazed with names of invisible like minded suffering (sore for sure) souls. This is really a different practice, it’s not like you say, “how will I progress over the next 6 months, will I ever be able to stretch and touch the floor with full outstretched palms.” This is different, here you face yourself, it’s just you. There is no one to compete against. No one at all. Posses are approached knowing, “OK, I need to commit a good 10 years to move an extra inch in that one, or maybe it will be a good 20 before I can do the second series. That back bend? Never. Just never. Not in this lifetime. It would kill me. That’s your commitment to practice; daily (or close too, no stretching on Full Moon days) x 40 years. Those are Ashtanga timetables. They are pretty simple. You practice until you die. And you get better everyday of your life. Everyday you get better.
You enter the class with no instruction, no rules, no guidelines, no expectations, no class start or end times. You have a chart, you have the Google, look up the poses, throw out your mat, and just DO. The DO’ing happens, and after that first 30 mins, you get not a wisp of attention, not a wary word of support, not even an ego boast, no nothing. Then when you are ready to just wrap it up, and to curl that springy, sweat soaked blue mat, a tiny hand touches you, a wisp of a French accent whispers in your ear: “What the fuck are you doing?” Well not exactly in those words, but you get the message. “Why don’t you just start all over?” And you do. And no guiding voice appears in that next set, no hand this time, you know the teachers have totally forgotten you. Then just as you are ready to wrap it up, this class is REALLY not for me, that tiny accented voice whispers again in your ear “What the fuck are you doing? Why don’t you start all over again? We’re watching you.” And you don’t know what the Fuck you are doing. (not exactly those words, but the message is clear). You look up, there is a 5 foot Ganesha staring at you, and you are sure that trunk has moved, just a bit since you started, and his ever present mouse, a friend always there, a blink. You are sure of it. That was a blink. I look up at the teacher, “I have no idea what to do, none idea at all.” She puts on a smile, and in that all knowing voice of 2000 years of doing what teachers have be doing for eons now, and says: “Don’t worry. Don’t worry at all. We’ll teach you.” And this is how lineages live on. We’ll teach you. No worries at all.
And when you finally leave, you walk down through tourist swarmed SoHo streets and your head is held high, so high that you are peering over 8 story shoe stores and clouds just tickle your nose. And that’s OK. For tomorrow you’ll start the whole thing, all over again. Only 40 more years to go. Why that’s nothing now, nothing at all. 4 more decades of this? I can do that, standing on my head.