Pranayama with locals

This weekend I decided to check out a Hatha yoga studio that I discovered in my temporary neighborhood.  In a town where Ashtanga yoga is the bread and butter, stumbling upon this little studio was like finding a secret jar of Nutella.

While I love the intensity and discipline of the Ashtanga practice in Mysore, I miss the guided breath-work and gentleness of the Hatha practice.  This is where I feel most “at home” with my current yoga practice.  And when we miss home, we often find a way to return.  Even if it’s just for a quick visit.

This studio materialized when I wasn’t actively looking for it — when a friend and I opted to take a different route to a popular lunch spot.  I saw the Hatha yoga sign perched on the second-story balcony of a three-story house, and vowed to return the next day.  I did return.  At that time, I met the teacher, a tiny Indian man named Praveen.  He was sweet and kind, always a reassuring first impression.  I told him that I would return the following day, and kept that promise.

That next day, I arrived at his studio for a Friday night pranayama class.  I was one of three students.  The intimacy was great.  But so was the novelty — at least it was for me.

The other two students included a businessman from Bangalore dressed in his street clothes and a fifty-something-year-old woman dressed in a traditional sari.  Both seated in lotus position.  Both in quiet meditation before the class officially began.  These were everyday Indians practicing yoga without all of the fancy clothing and “things” that get commercialized so well in America.  They just walked off the street without feeling the need to go home and put on a special yoga outfit.

And then there was me.  Tall white girl from Chicago in her $100 yoga pants, toting a yoga bag and a water bottle, rounding up three spare cushions because sitting in full lotus ain’t happening anytime soon.

I felt like I was crashing a private Indian mediation party.

But I quickly laughed it off, embracing the novelty of the situation.  For better or for worse, this would be an education — as long as Praveen’s instruction was in English.  (Thank heavens, it was.  Perhaps only for my benefit.)

The pranayama and amazing yoga nidra were just what I needed.  Praveen guided us in the exploration of a temple, an interesting visual meditation and metaphor that works on many levels.  The hour went quickly.  I rose up from that deep savasana feeling totally relaxed.

I thanked Praveen, paid him the 200 rupees (US$3) and told him I would be back.  I walked out into the night alongside the Indian businessman dressed in his street clothes.

While walking down the street together, the man asked me how I came to find yoga.  I gave him the abbreviated version, then asked him the same.

“I have many worries and stresses,” he said. “Yoga helps me with this.”

I was a little surprised to hear such a simple, beautiful reason from him — given my assumptions that he and the sari-clad woman appeared the epitome of perfect Indian practitioners.  I had assumed he would provide some profound, mystical, awe-inspiring story about studying yoga since early childhood.  But this guy discovered yoga like so many others: he was just stressed out in adulthood.  Not unlike many of my friends back home in Chicago.  And not unlike yours truly.

I guess I should not have been surprised at all.  We all bleed red.

It’s just another reminder that people who seem different from you, better than you, worse than you, etc. — it’s all so, so, so superficial.  As layered as we all appear to be, at the core, we are all seeking a way to be centered.  It doesn’t matter if we are wearing street clothes, an elegant sari or $100 yoga pants.

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