A teacher training odyssey in six parts.
Part 6: In which I find solace and 14 people perish
You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? That by the time Wednesday rolled around – the day of my final exam to become a yoga teacher – the weather was back and getting worse. It was pouring day in and out, so that by the time I arranged the mats in the room and called everybody to a comfortable seated position, I had to yell over the crashing surf.
I stumbled in the beginning. You should know that. I was trying to talk and listen to myself talk and see how I was doing, and if you’ve ever done this, you know how lame it is. But I was thinking of what I wanted everyone to do and trying to choose words that would get them there in the simplest, cleanest way. Why use twenty words when you can use five? I thought. I was also trying to demonstrate in a helpful way, be correct and precise, keep an eye on everyone’s energy level and abilities, and make adjustments. We had been teaching in the morning for two weeks now, snippets at a time. Five minutes here, ten minutes there. Teaching a class was for ten times that long and more complicated. There are a lot of balls in the air in a yoga class, you know. Somehow I never realized this before.
In the end I decided not to worry about all the balls and just chose the poses I love and the ones I would do if I was practicing myself: surya namaskar, utthita parsvakonasana, upavesasana, prasarita padottanasana, anantasana. Trianga mukhaikapada paschimottanasana, because I love it and the Sanskrit rolls off the tongue in a fun way. Poses from the old Yoga Room, where I took my first yoga class; from the Iyengar book that was the bible of the training; from the mornings here on the island. Before I knew it, it was time for savasana. I sang a little song by Shivananda that I learned in my early yoga days.
When I drew people out of savasana, they rolled over reluctantly and sat up, their eyes lolling open and closed, their hair mussed. Slight smiles curled up on their lips. They felt good, I could see it. I could actually see it.
Three days later, we had all passed. I bid farewell to Director, Journalist, Masseuse, South Africa, Pitch-Perfect, and Sea Sprite, said sawadee ka to the ants and left my hut on Ko Pha-ngan. I took the same treacherous trek over the hill in the four-wheel drive, sliding around a heartbeat away from steep cliffs, and boarded the ferry to Ko Samui. It was still raining.
“We’ve gotten four centimeters in the last two days,” a guy told me on the ferry. “We’re expected to get 40 more over the next week.”
“Forty? Forty centimeters?” I repeat. That’s more than 18 inches.
“It’s a hundred year storm,” he said, clutching the railing for balance. “Believe it.”
The ferry to Samui rocked and rolled, life preservers swinging perilously to and fro, suitcases careening around on the deck. But we made it. I stayed in a lovely hotel villa in Mae Nam, where the rain drenched everything and the wind whipped violently through the trees, pulling the canvas canopies from the restaurant and pushing the chaise lounges around the deserted pool into awkward, jaunty positions. I found out en route to the airport the next day that no more ferries were coming from Ko Pha-ngan. The waves were too big. They had been cancelled for five days.
“Five days?” I asked the taxi driver, frantically. Almost everyone from my group was planning to check out and move on that day or the next.
“Maybe more,” he said, eyeing me in the rearview mirror. “We will see.”
I sent emails to Masseuse and Director and Sea Sprite from the airport, telling them what I knew and wishing them safe travels.
I flew to Bangkok and two days later, to Hong Kong and back home. It was a week before the emails began trickling in.
People were stranded there. Homes flooded. Groves of trees fell. The storm had intensified and raged unabated for five days, dropping sheets of water on the islands and the southern coasts. Fourteen people died. On the sixth day, the water began to recede and Masseuse made it off the island on a speedboat, the driver of which was paid handsomely based on her desperation to leave. Being on an island is lovely, you know, until you can’t get off.
Journalist had made it to Tokyo. Director and her family had finally made it out and were en route to London. Sea Sprite had holed herself up on the other side of the island and was going to stay. “I survived this Horror-days in Thailand,” she wrote. “But now the sun is shining and I’m in the near of Thongsala and everything is fine!”
They were tired and weathered, but they had survived. A little shaken, maybe, but they were fine. Or going to be.
Just like me.
The author wishes to acknowledge Masseuse, Journalist, Sea Sprite, Pitch-Perfect, Director and all other members of the yoga teacher training staff and class for their presence, understanding, and for being generally amazing people to spend thirty days with on a tiny island in Asia. The author also extends all due credit to Jonathan L. Howard for inspiring the chapter titles of this article.
Kristina Chandler is a lawyer and certified yoga teacher who began practicing yoga in 1994 to rehab an injury, fell in love and has been hitting the mat ever since. She’s practiced yoga all over the globe, from Bali to Sweden and many places in between. Check out her other musings on yoga here.