I first studied yoga about 7 years ago, when a professor's yoga instructor visited a seminary class. I found out that Vijay had a studio in his home not far from where I was living, so I dropped in on a class.
I had no idea what I was doing, and really I was then (as I continue to be to this day), a deeply mediocre student of yoga. I shared the classes with my friend Rachel and she is more physically flexible than me, and she took to it with a lot more grace. But, if you study with Vijay, it sort of doesn't matter if you are really good at yoga or not.
Look, if you ever get a chance to be in Seattle in a Thursday morning, here's what you should do.
To get to Vijay's house, you walk to the end of a tree-lined street and open a tall gate. His yard is not huge, but part of the magic of the place is that you feel that you've entered a new little country. You walk the down a winding path and cross the tiny creek. Notice the flowers and the birds. There are lots of them to notice. You may want to rest on your journey through the yard, on one of the benches. Take your time.
The studio is a daylight basement with shelves of books, a fire going in the fireplace and (instead of plastic mats) comfy wool blankets. Put a five dollar bill in the overflowing bowl of money. If you get there half an hour early, you will be in time for the teaching , which is a reading from an ancient Indian book, followed by a conversation which is usually about how you should love everyone.
During the class you will learn a lot about sun salutation, which Vijay reveres. You will sometimes do only variations on sun salutations for more than an hour. Your teacher will occasionally make little sounds of delight, as if he's eating something delicious. "Mmmmm, now THAT feels very good to the body," he will exclaim. This will make you giggle, but he is right, it does feel good to the body.
Savasana at Vijay's studio is done exactly how Jesus would do it. After you lay on your back, in the pose of a corpse, Vijay will gently lay a soft kleenex and then an eye pillow on your eyes. He will ask you if you'd like to be covered with a blanket or two, if you'd like a pillow under your knees. He will do this for everyone - the 8 or so ladies (one of them is older than 80, I think) - who lie in a row in the sun coming in through the windows. Then, he will walk from person to person, placing woodstove-warmed stones in the palms of your hands. The rest you will experience for the next ten minutes will be as rejuvenating as a full night sleep.
You may be reluctant to rise, but when you do, you will sit around the woodstove with the ladies, while Vijay gives you tea he has made, someone will get out cookies they have baked. People will gossip gently, or talk about travels or gardening or children. They will dote on you, if you are younger than they are, and you will almost certainly be younger than they are. Vijay is no spring chicken himself -- he once won a weight lifting competition in the 65-and-up division -- and he draws an older crowd.
It was during one of the post-yoga tea times that I heard the following interchange,
"She cant come to yoga anymore, she had a baby."
"Oh really? I didnt know she was married..."
"Well, she went swimming with this guy at Coleman Pool."
At the time, I thought that was hilarious, an echo of the urban legend that if you went swimming with a guy it could make you pregnant. And also, more seriously and righteously, I thought that nothing would keep me from Vijay's class.
But then I did get pregnant (not from swimming, from the usual way) and all that downward facing dog just really was no good for the nausea. And if you're thinking that what with all the teaching, the yoga itself, the deep rest and the cookies it must have been a long class, you are right. The whole thing took the better part of the morning, and, with a coughy little baby to look after, who has time for that? And a five dollar yoga class is a real good deal, until you're paying someone $35 to babysit for the morning, and then it's a little harder to justify. And then there was work and then we moved across town and I couldn't walk to the magic little studio anymore.
So I stopped going to yoga at Vijay's. But really, yoga IS the best thing for the crampy muscles in my neck and shoulders, so I've kept at it in a sporadic way in other classes, after E went to preschool. I haven't been for a year or so, though, and I've been putting out the word that I'd like to try it again. I heard from someone recently that I would enjoy the yoga class at the rec center from a guy named Simon who, when you meet him, you will discover is opposite of the willowy youthful jock you'd think. So, I've been 4 times.
He says wise things, but also funny ones. He favors warrior pose (my favorite) and so far, we've hardly had to do any downward facing dog (my nemesis). I can do all the poses, and I am pleasantly challenged by some. He talks about being both grounded and floating as we sit and breathe at the beginning, both of which are good things for me to hear, and he doesn't trick us with fancy breathing.
And in class today, I laughed alot since Simon kept gently joking with a few of the more seasoned students. Then I did something I've only done one other time outside of Vijay's class - I wept during the savasana, since I really did have a very difficult week and I could feel the difficulty lifting, could feel how I didn't have to carry it in my body, could feel how I didn't have to be weighed down by it, and sometimes recognizing that makes the tears come.
I mean, no one will ever be Vijay. But I seem to have stumbled into a yoga class taught by another real yogi. And, mmm, that is very good for the body. And the soul, too.