Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tu Naciste Libre

Tu naciste libre.

[You were born free.]

This line came to mind this morning, watching the red sun rise while I stood on the rooftop of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, leading seven of my “Heart of Yoga” class peers in a modified Primary Series class.

My mother said this to me just before I left for Chennai.  We were discussing my trip, her discomfort with it, and my resolve in making it happen.  She said it with a sad tone to her voice, as if she lamented that fact, then followed it up by saying that even from birth it was clear that nobody was ever going to tell me what to do.

I take some pride in that fact, though I never would’ve phrased it that way.  I don’t consider myself any more free than anyone else.  Or any more bold, for that matter.  I am here because I dislike regret more than I dislike risk.  It is so easy on the mind to be closed to the frightening unknown and to seek security in every moment.  But it weighs so heavy on the soul. 

There were plenty of moments when I wondered if I’d lost my mind in planning this trip.  I remember sitting on the couch in our apartment, looking for hotels and guesthouses near the KYM and suddenly realizing that many of these advertised hot and running water (and that most of the hotels offered an on-call doctor).  I was horrified.  What kind of a place was I going to if hot, running water had to be disclosed as an amenity?  What kind of a place had on-call doctors as a staple?  I called Kevin over specifically to share this bit of information with him.  We’d been discussing whether or not he should join me for part of this trip so that we didn’t spend so much time apart.  He grinned devilishly.  “I’ll miss you,” he said.

That was one of at least three or four moments when I seriously considered calling off the trip.  But I didn’t, because I would still have that yearning to come to India, to study here, and an unfulfilled yearning breeds only regret.  So I just continued to press forward with my plans, trying to arrange what all I could from San Diego to make the trip as bearable as possible.

If I was scared a couple of months before my trip because of what I might be getting into, I was numb as the departure date got closer because of what I was leaving behind.  I’d be away from Kevin, from my friends and from my family whom, despite being a countryside away, I could communicate with multiple times a day when I was in California.

India would change all of that.  It would thrust me into an alien place full of people I didn’t know and didn’t know if I could trust or would even like.  And I would not have the comfort and support of friends or family to share that with.

On my flight here I had to fight back tears a couple of times.

But I firmly believe that it’s facing those fears that then opens you up to opportunity. 

And so this morning I stood on the rooftop of a school established in honor of the man who modernized yoga, brought it to the masses, and demystified it so that it was both practical and accessible for anyone who wanted or needed it.  I’d read about him throughout the 12 years I’d studied yoga, and his commentaries and teachings were my reference point for understanding a practice that can be experienced at so many levels it still manages to surprise me.

I had never planned to be here.  Never even dreamed of it actually.  But after our first two asana practices in class, a number of students discussed wanting to practice together to learn each other’s styles (there are plenty represented in our class) and to have a slightly more athletic asana practice than what our formal class offered. 

So we arranged through the school to be able to use the rooftop at 6a.m.  The staff at the KYM giggled at the notion.  We had just studied how ineffective attachment to strong asana is.  But our teacher had also relayed to us that what a student wants is also integral to the type of practice that should be given to them, whether or not it’s the practice they need.  So they humored us, even though from that point forward they kept asking us if our formal practice was “lame.”  Everyone was curious and enthusiastic about Ashtanga and since I am the only Ashtangi here, I was asked to lead the first morning session the next day. 

I was the first to arrive at the KYM this morning and for a moment considered that it was a real possibility that nobody else would show.  Afterall the streets are a bit intimidating as it is, and would be even more so when it’s dark out and there isn’t the safety of crowds.  During my own walk, I’d encountered more than my share of dark corners, men sleeping on the ground who I didn’t recognize as human until I was right on them, and a pissy little dog that upon seeing me from a half a block away decided to stare me down until I was only three feet away from him, at which point he scurried away.

Within minutes the other students started to arrive, though.  We grabbed mats from the classroom and set them up facing the East (or what we thought was East at the moment since there wasn’t even a glimmer of sunlight when we started).  There was a light breeze and we were starting to hear the characteristic honking that I’ve come to associate with Chennai.  The crows were starting to call out but not fly yet. 

I started to teach. 

Friends who have been to my classes or seen me teach will tell you that I change slightly when I’m in that zone.  It is not unlike practice for me but instead of inward focus, I’m focused on everyone else.  I often get lost in that moment and don’t notice anything else about the environment (I’ve been known to teach students in an uncomfortably hot room without realizing I need to open a window).  Since I was facing the students it wasn’t until the seated postures when I turned around that I realized the sun had come up and that we’d welcomed it into the day with the practice.  I’m not one to ascribe more significance to moments than they deserve, but this was a pretty special one for me.  It was not unlike being on top of the yogic world: greeting the sun with practice from the rooftop of the KYM, arguably one of the most important research centers on the teachings of Yoga.

The Indian sky was a perfect blue, with wispy clouds dispersed throughout it.  The dust of the city hadn’t been kicked up yet by the traffic, but we could hear music playing from below.  Blackbirds flew over us, now and again swooping down close but never landing anywhere.  Sharing this space, this view, with others who’d traveled from so many different places to deepen their study and practice of Yoga... something about it felt right.

They say that if you are inexplicably drawn to the practice of Yoga in this life it is because you were exposed to it in a previous one.  You were born with it, with its taste for freedom, in your very being.

“You were born free.”

Perhaps I was.  Actually, I’d like to think I was.


  1. You're amazing! I love the image I have of you teaching on a rooftop in India! Thank you for sharing this Oreste, you we're not only born free, but born to inspire!

  2. what can i comment? deanna said it perfectly!