I recently came out of savasana asking myself, “how the hell did i get here?” “Here” was an Iyengar room filled with men and women, most far older than I. They weren’t the typical 30- and 40-year-olds with chiseled muscles and a million fancy poses in their pockets. Yet, in my mind, these people are the original yogis. And, although they don’t all look like they could grace Yoga Journal, they can hold a headstand like no one else.
Many of them have been practicing since before I was born or at least well before yoga was trending everywhere. The lady next to me had to be at least 75. In the packed room, I could count on one hand how many were wearing lululemon. No one had a Yogitoes yoga towel. Instead they had notebooks and worn out copies of the Yoga Sutras. They speak in sanskrit and tell stories of when they were with BKS Iynegar.
Of course, if I trace my roots, I know how I got to Patricia Walden’s Friday night class. It wasn’t until reflecting on my post-savasna reaction that I realized “here” wasn’t the physical place, but rather the spiritual space to which I was taken. As a long-time closet atheist, this remains alarming. Then again, it’s rare to be in the presence and care of such a renowned yoga teacher as Patricia. A direct disciple.
Having gone to Pune year after year to study with her guru, Patricia talks about the late BKS Iyengar with reverence but also with familiarity. During the Sutra discussion that night, she says that Iyengar taught her not only how to live but also how to die, telling the class that Iyengar told his family before his death that he was “just changing his clothes.” This tidbit came since the discussion centered around abhinivesa, or clinging to bodily life, fear of death. The thought of death is a fear that has plagued me since, at a young age, I decided that if ants and rats don’t go to Heaven, then humans can’t either. So he’s just changing his clothes. His true Self will always be here, but he’s just taking a different form. I thought to myself, “Veeerrrry interesting.”
From that sutra discussion, Patricia led us through a full asana practice. In a yoga world that has become so watered down with all the different forms of yoga, it’s incredible to take a class with such direct lineage to a Yoga guru. In the context of the Sutra discussion, the greater purpose of the asana practice was palpable. I’ve always thought the asana reveals our true personality but that never meant so much as when Patricia said that we die the way we live.
After seriously practicing for more than a decade, I finally had one of those moments you always hear about; where the true Self shines through and everything else it identifies with melts away for the moment. Until then I thought I was broken. Don’t get me wrong, the practice has always been sacred, but never have I had such a reverent experience that left me quiet, truly quiet, and at peace.
I was here — with no thoughts of what had already happened or what may someday happen. But just for that fleeting moment. The tangible take-away was maybe I’m not really atheist. That would be nice.