Note: This is an edited re-post of a piece I accidentally published on Monday. It’s substantially different, though. So read on…
Following both the Confluence and then Bobbie’s week-long adjustment clinic with Nancy Gilgoff, we’ve had lots of stories of Guruji on our minds.
From these senior teachers, one theme emerges strongly: the direct and intimate relationship that they all had, and felt, with Guruji and Amma.
As I’ve been reflecting on this, I have come to realize just how fundamental the close teacher/student (dare I say guru/shishya?) relationship is to my Ashtanga practice.
It started, and continues, with Tim Miller. I think it is safe to say that the old adage, “When the student is ready the teacher appears” applies aptly here. I wasn’t ready before. (I sure wish I had been. A decade’s less stiffness to work through would be glorious.)
It’s in practice, daily, with Jörgen Christiansson. This one is a very physical relationship (and, no, I’m not intending to conjure up anything inappropriate). As I’ve written before, Jörgen is wailing on me because I need wailing upon. Slowly, the body is loosening up, and as it does, I’m discovering different aspects to the practice. (It has something to do with “locks” or the “expression” of the pose. I’m still ruminating on it.)
Without both of these relationships, my practice wouldn’t be moving forward. I very well still might be practicing, but it wouldn’t have the same currency and import.
I think of both relationships as being a true example of the parampara of Ashtanga.
It’s why — to raise the issue again, even if we may have promised not to — practicing in Mysore doesn’t hold a great pull for me.
Mysore is just too big these days. Reports from this year talk about 300 or so people practicing there. That sounds like the exact opposite of what the first waves of foreigners / Westerners / non-Indians experienced when practicing with Guruji.
It also sounds like the exact opposite of what kept bringing them back, and specifically, bringing them back to Guruji.
There are stories of Western students staying with Guruji in his home, of practicing with him for months, with at most a handful of other students. Some of the Western students were there by themselves, practicing one-on-one with Guruji.
Guruji was the reason to be in Mysore. The point, now, of being in Mysore seems to be something else. I understand, and appreciate, that there is an amazing array of experiences to be had today in Mysore. I’m not discounting them or downplaying them. But I don’t see how one of the fundamental experiences of the senior Ashtanga students is possible anymore.
I’m also not discounting Sharath’s teaching, including his ability to be there, present, with students for those moments when he’s adjusting them.
I guess what I’m saying is: Mysore is a victim of its own success. (And it’s great it has that success.) Guruji himself wouldn’t be able to forge the same relationships with students in the current environment. (OK, maybe he could have. But he was Guruji.)
And so, to find and develop that kind of relationship, I think: A few weeks in Maui? Yes. Time in Boulder? I hope. A week down in Encinitas this summer? It’s on the calendar. Getting to New York? I’m trying to figure it out.
But going to Mysore among the masses? That’s not really my picture of practicing Ashtanga.
Posted by Steve