May 1, 2012

My First Yoga Journal Conference. ~ Indira Ganesan

Last spring in Boulder, CO, I received word I received a three-year “Long-Term Residency” at the Fine Arts work Center in Provincetown, MA.

When I made the decision to accept, one of the hardest parts of moving aside from leaving friends was leaving my sangha at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop.

For five years, I attended classes and incrementally improved my practice, while getting a glimpse into the world of Sanskrit chant, Sanskrit language, and Vedic and Buddhist philosophy. I enjoyed the crowded room, the intensity and energy of the advanced practitioners, the generous welcomes and hugs I unfailingly received simply because I had the good fortune to practice yoga.

I cherished my work there, and knew that in my heart, on my own, I would abandon my practice fairly quickly. In fact, I had begun to abandon it even before I left.

Gratefully, four months later, I joined a Mysore practice at a good yoga studio, delighted to find Ashtanga on the tip of Cape Cod. I returned to the beginning, slowly making my way again through the standing poses. As of this writing, I am learning utthita parsvottanasana, or head to shin with hands in prayer position behind shoulder blades posture.  It is a bit of a process.

In March, I received an email advertising a Yoga Journal Conference in New York with a discount offer for elephant journal readers.  The discount applied to the main Saturday and Sunday of a four-day affair, but I wondered.

Dare I go to a Yoga Conference?

What fun it might be. I deliberated. I could fly up to New Jersey on a cheap-ish ticket; commute to the city by train. I considered. I watched the Sri K. Pattabi Jois video in which he teaches six master students, the one with the many, many warnings of Don’t Try This at Home. I reflected. And after two days, just in time for the Early-Bird registration, I signed up for a Friday All-Day six-hour Intensive Class, “Prana, Upana and the Vinyasa of Alignment,” taught by my old teacher Richard.

As the days to the conference drew closer, I became increasingly nervous.  I assumed since we had all that time, we would practice the entire Primary Series, but how my navasana would fare, months out of practice?

What about badakasana, janusirsasana, never mind virabradasana?  Forget shoulder stand or headstand, I could never do those anyway, and really, what was I thinking, signing up for a “mixed” levels class with a master teacher?

I felt like one of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts, adding question after question in increasing bewilderment. I kept looking at the word “mixed,” seeing it if really meant “and beginners welcome.”

I carefully printed out train schedules, and fixed a date with my editor in New York. On reflection, even though it’s my livelihood now, a much anticipated and needed visit to honor my writing self was also an escape from the world of yoga, because as Richard often says, just when you become interested and slightly more focused in yoga is the moment you fear it and flee.

On the morning of the intensive, my 10- year-old niece, wise beyond her years and a brown belt in karate, learning I would be practicing on an empty stomach, strongly advised I eat at least half-a banana. I resisted for a half-hour, checked the clock, and took her advice, adding another half as well.  My brother dropped me off at the station before he headed off to work.  The train ride was easy enough (“this train goes to NY, right?” I asked to be sure, on board.)  I arrived in NY an hour later.

I had not been in at Penn Station in seven years.  I didn’t remember the newspaper hawkers on 7th Avenue being so loud—was I on 7th Avenue?  And since when was there a paper called AM?  By the way, had they changed the layout of the station?   There was no queue at the Taxi Stand—but wasn’t there always a line with a guy in charge blowing a whistle?  Nevertheless, thin yoga mat in hand, I got in a cab.

The driver was quiet, and to discourage conversation, turned on the radio.  I discovered there was a small TV screen turned on in the backseat, which was very strange as we whizzed down Broadway where real TV lived –Look, I pointed out to myself, there was The Today Show and Radio City.  I looked out, still amazed; NY had once been my home, too.

At the Hilton, a congenial Yoga Conference woman who looked truly delighted I was there greeted me.  Only now, as I write this, I think, oh, maybe because I’m Indian? Yet I think she was just glad to usher yogin to registration.

I rode the escalator up, registered by another very cheerful helpful person. We exchanged histories, she told me about a free meditation class and at the last minute, nearly forgetting, because we chatted so much, gave me a bag full of goodies. Yoga Swag! Had I actually rifled through it, I could have come home with a free Manduka mat spay, but I was very pleased with a free water bottle and snacks, which I ate three days later at home.

Photo: Wari Om

In the Hilton corridors, there is the sensation of being in an empty aquarium.  Luckily, the bathroom was not crowded.  I decided to find my class before class, and a few other like-minded souls were doing the same. A pleasant woman and I made shy small talk, and I decided, well, I might as well go to the meditation class. I marveled I could sit still cross-legged.

Counting the teacher and myself, I wondered how many other people in the room were South Asian, but that is the subject of another essay.

I wandered into the class using the wrong door, but put down my stuff, ready to sit down with my mat and immediately handed a small cup of icy-cold water by a man who moved his bag for mine.  It was a kind gesture and if you read about Indian hospitality customs, which I had, it is a traditional symbol of welcome.

Except in India, the water is cool, not ice, and now I had to drink near-freezing water, which would take a long time.  I was impatient to put down my mat.  I sipped, until remembering the Whole Foods Stevia Shake vendor who, when I told I really didn’t like the taste of stevia but wanted to try the shake anyway, advised, c’mon now, be a grown-up, just chug the thing down and be grateful for the vitamins.

So I chugged my ice water, put the cup in my shoe, and went to find a place in the middle of the room.   I staggered my mat behind the two mats in front of me, and the one next to me.  I sat surrounded by intense young lithe women and sweatsuited men who all seemed to know one another or did not care.  I looked at the floor, and discovered it was actually marked off in painter’s tape into rectangles for mat positioning, a grid, and I had placed my mat on a line.  I dutifully moved it, so I was directly behind the woman in front of me.  Surely, this was yogically wrong, but so be it. I felt oddly calm.

Then our teacher Richard came in and class began. Gratefully, happily, content, I added my voice to the opening chant.


Editor: Hayley Samuelson


Indira Ganesan is the author of two novels, The Journey and Inheritance.  Her new novel will be published in 2013.



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