I awoke at 3:29am exactly, just moments before my alarm; like a child on Christmas morning. I hardly slept through the night. I was so excited for what lay ahead of me at dawn. I was heading down to Encinitas, California to take a class from Sharath Rangaswamy, the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga. Mind you, only ten years before I still considered 3:30am actually early to go to bed, and yet here I was getting up to start my day at that ungodly hour and yet, probably more awake than I have ever been. Devotion makes you do crazy things. And I am completely and utterly devoted to this practice and the Jois family. As are most Ashtangis; you have to be. The practice is a 6-day a week, 2 hour a day commitment and as Guruji once said, “old man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice but only a lazy man can’t take practice.” I drove down south from my home in Santa Monica in the black of night. I had my iPod on a lecture on the Yoga Sutras, figuring it fitting listening material considering my destination.
I arrived in Encinitas in record time, a hippy little surfer town just north of San Diego. You can practically both hear and feel the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” oozing from its pores. In need of one more black tea, I found a local Starbucks just unlocking the doors. The only other options at that hour were a few taco joints, which I am assuming are for the surfers. Who else would be downing a one-pound burrito at dawn? I entered at the same time as a glowing, fit young woman in yoga tights, who upon taking one look at me asked if I was there to practice with Sharath. Immediately I felt at home. We had our tea together, comparing war stories of our practices and understanding one another in way only family members, teammates, and soldiers seem to do. Because we had gone through the similar experiences, though by different paths.
We pulled up to the Jois Yoga Shala ten minutes before. The energy in the air was palpable and Ashtangis were already lining up like excited teenagers in line for tickets to a Britney Spears concert. Once the doors open, we all piled in, placing our mats down to reserve our spaces. Old friends caught up with one another and new friends were made. This is one of the beauties of our practice. While yoga itself is an incredible and tightly knit-community, Ashtanga is a community within the community and no matter where you are in the world, if you meet a fellow Ashtangi, you are with your family.
Now while I have been practicing Vinyasa Yoga for years, I have only been practicing Ashtanga for exactly 1 year and 11months (my “Ashtanga-versary” is September 22nd) and so I had sadly never been blessed to study under Guruji himself before he passed. Nor have I had the honor of studying with any of the rest of the Jois family. I half expected Sharath to arrive in a limo or being carried in an adorned chariot, being the celebrity he is to us, however instead this sweet man, no more than 5 foot 6” entered the studio, all smiles and pure bliss. People lined up to take a picture with him and I was lucky enough to get in on my friend’s picture, requesting he allow us to take two “Just in case. We are girls,” I remarked. He giggled.
Back in the studio, space had become limited. Still, we had a good two inches between mats. Now in India or even some Power Yoga classes here in Los Angeles, there are some days your mats are literally lined up next to one another, so I considered this “extra room” good fortune. Large black and white pictures of Guruji and family ran the length of the walls that surrounded us. One particular image of Saraswathi in Padangustha Dhanurasna as a young girl, she could not have been more than 10 years old, stood out to me. It was a reminder that this incredible practice came up through a familial lineage, one that we are very much a part of and now furthering ourselves. People continued to chat happily, running from one mat to the next like a game of musical yoga mats, catching up with one another and sharing their excitement. Then Sharath walked in, stated the Ashtanga “call to arms”, Samasthiti, and suddenly everyone scattered and stood at full attention at the front of their mats- quiet, focused, and ready to begin- all in a matter of seconds.
I am generally a morning practitioner and so I figured my body would be tight and fatigued, however riding on the shared energy of the room, I had an incredible, focused, and powerful practice. That being said, I am only human and so at point I got distracted for the briefest of instances, but Sharath appeared right there in front of my mat, smiling compassionately, and instructed me directly on the next count. It was strange how immediately he sensed my disconnection, though it only happened for the briefest of moments. I was also quite blessed to receive an adjustment, and one in Baddha Konasana, which is an incredibly difficult pose for me. Again, I can only chalk this up to Sharath’s acute awareness of every detail happening in that room. Amidst the seriousness and laser-pointed focus of the group, there was still a lot of lightness and laughter too, particularly holding certain poses for much longer than most of us wanted to!
The class went by in an instant, but the experience itself was so rich, I will never forget a single moment. As I left the room, the next class was waiting eagerly to get in. Saraswathi was in the lobby area hugging both the students coming in and leaving. Her motherly energy oozed through the entire studio. I have not formally met her yet, however I too was tempted to run and hug her as well, as if she were a long lost Aunt. I probably could have and she would not have minded, for we really are all family. My only regret is that I am not able to study longer with them this time around, but of course their studio is now officially open and less than two hours away. I am sure the Jois family will return to Encinitas again soon and I will make the time to practice with them longer the next go around. For today, I will just live in complete gratitude for my incredible experience this morning and await my future practices with the Jois’ family, or rather my family, because as Guruji always said “all is coming.”