Darby’s never going to forget me; apart from being the only guy in the class of 22, I succumbed to my first ever yoga injury on Saturday right in front of him and he was quite concerned. It was the afternoon session on Saturday – we were going from 3:30 to 9:30 pm with an hour break in the middle.
Darby decided to have us work on backbends. Since we were going straight into them outside of a practice, he wanted us to warm up with a few back-bending asanas. I recognized none of them – they weren’t Ashtanga poses at any rate. During one of these, I lay, back bent over a block, arms reaching out past my head with hands together in prayer, and my legs straight out in the other direction, feet in kinda Setu Bandhasana ‘Charlie Chaplin’ style. I lay perfectly still in the pose for a few minutes and then he had us come out. It was at that point that I realised I had lost all feeling in my left arm. I guess I’d pinched a nerve or something. After a little while we went into a series of Surya Cs. I couldn’t raise my left arm more than a couple of inches from my side. Eventually, some motion came back and I was able to raise my arm but then when I tried bringing it down, it would crash down limply. I gave up on it and sat out the afternoon. Darby reckoned I’d get it back slowly by the end of the evning but added ominously that if it didn’t then ‘we were in trouble’. Nice.
I became a spectator for the rest of the afternoon. Which was a pity – it was a fine time for asanas. The sun was hot on us through the big windows – which were open for probably the first time this year. Slowly I could sense the feeling ebbing back into my arm – I had a numb spot on the meat of the palm below the thumb and another up at the top and outside of my arm (it’s sore now – and I’m happy about that. It’s progress – because ‘soreness’ is at least a sensation, a feeling).
I admit I was internally freaked out about my weird injury. Slowly though that got downgraded to merely bummed out. By the break at 6:30 I hadn’t done much. But the evening would improve; During break most of the class filed out of the studio to get refreshed at the multitude of yoga-friendly places on the Danforth strip. I stayed in the shala – I had brought a bag of oranges and apples; I couldn’t imagine eating anything heavier in the middle of a workshop.
Darby stuck around as well so we shared the fruit and talked for about hour. It lifted my spirits – here I was, given a rare chance to shoot the breeze with the only certified teacher in the country – one of Guruji’s first western students no less.
I asked him the Ashtanga question in my mind lately: ‘Is it really still worth going to Mysore – I mean you get no attention and it’s just so crowded’. He responded that it was definitely worth it. Here’s the gist of what he said: The energy there is incredible. You go there to be amongst the like-minded and to soak up the enthusiasm and commitment of the people who’ve gathered there. And guruji is something else – he has an aura about him. It’s almost beside the point that you hardly ever get adjusted at AYRI – you go there to build the proper samskaras – by being alongside devotees who, for example, go so far as to stop eating around 2:00 pm for the sake of their asana practice. It relit my enthusiasm. Then we talked about other stuff – India and how it’s changing for example; He went to India in 1979 and fell in love with it. According to him Indians still have a ‘spiritual energy’ about them (though perhaps not for much longer) that is largely lost in the West.
In those early days, he said ‘we felt it was crowded if there were 10 or 12 of us and sometimes it was just me and my wife with Guruji’. We talked for a good while like this and I enjoyed our conversation – and got more out of it than I did the actual asanas that day.
When we reconvened at 7:30 we spent some time in discussion about basic principles – chakras, bandhas and so forth. He had a cool analogy regarding the moola bandha; Say a doctor’s got a pill and it’ll cure absolutely any disease or ailment- absolutely any illness – except there’s a catch; it doesn’t work if you think about monkeys. Well, a doctor wouldn’t hand it out to a patient and say ‘Here take this…and oh yeah don’t think about monkeys’. When Darby started practicing, Guruji never even mentioned the Bandhas. You don’t do your asanas continually thinking about whether you’re getting the Moola Bandha or not. You just do your asanas and not worry about it. It just come on it’s own as you work on your practice.
He also mentioned how the practice varies for him day-to-day and how he teaches it. For example he sometimes leads a class through a practice consisting of simply 108 Surya Cs (I asked why 108? And he told us the story of Shiva and Sati). He called it a wonderful practice and talked about how you can see peoples eyes just glistening and shining afterwards. After we got through talking theory, we went through some of the seated poses before wrapping up for the evening around 10 pm.
The final session was 2 hours – from 7:30 to 9:30 on Sunday morning. It was almost as though we’d been building up to it all weekend – a full vinyasa primary practice. It was intense and sweaty. I’m coming out of a bout of flu so it was extra hard work – but wonderful nevertheless. Darby’s a bit of a comedian though; he made us work harder in Navasana by stopping to make really slow announcements on upcoming workshops (in the Yukon) and telling jokes. He also ‘threatened’ us with a slow 108-count for Tolasana – but it turned out to be just 25.
All in all, it was a memorable, enlightening and inspiring weekend – and loads of fun.