Pure Yoga

Woke up with a headache at 5:30. Probably because somewhere in this crazy travel schedule I must have missed one day’s worth of coffee fix (i.e., one cup). Put on my yoga clothes, put my hair into the standard ridiculous pigtails, and headed to the lobby to find a cab. It was still pretty dark out, and the guard in the lobby looked pretty surprised to see me. I’m sure this city starts its days quite early, but here in one of the upscale hotels, everyone is on a different schedule. There was live music in the atrium until well into the night.

So I get into the cab and show the driver a piece of paper with the Pure Yoga address. He is on it. No worries. As we go, he asks me if my yoga includes meditation, and is pleased when I say that it does. He is Indian, and he asks if there is a religious component to the yoga I study. I tell him that I’ve learned a lot about Hinduism from my teacher. He is satisfied with that answer. I have the sense that he is curious, but doesn’t want to be intrusive.

I know what he feels like. Last night, we passed a Hindu temple. People were going in and participating in a puja ceremony. I hung back, as did my colleagues. We could see what was going on, and I didn’t feel like it would be appropriate to enter the room as tourists while the puja was in progress. It’s very funny, because the folks from work keep asking me questions about India and Hinduism and I just don’t know the answers. Between that and watching the puja in the midst of an Indian neighborhood, I felt quite the poseur. I know my own practice is true, but it is worlds away, in many respects, from anything at all to do with traditional Indian practices. I mean (duh!) it’s not my culture. Anyhow, not necessarily a thought to belabor, but something good to acknowledge.

Much as I must acknowledge that the Singapore that I am seeing, as a guest in a high-end hotel, is radically different from the lives of people who really live here. It seems to be a fiercely entrepreneurial city, and of course I am being exposed to the fruits of that entrepreneurial spirit. A lovely picture, but not the whole picture.

Alrighty, back to yoga. So I am dropped off at a huge office tower. Go in and ask the guard if I am in the right place. He consults an enormous book that lists all of the businesses in the building. Indeed, my friendly cabbie has brought me to the right place. He tells me to go to the 18th floor, and is adamant that I must use the very furthest elevator in a bank of elevators, despite the fact that most of the elevators have signs that indicate they go to all floors except the 4th. Okay, whatever. I take the elevator he wants me to take.

Upstairs is the Pure Yoga floor. Very marble and glass and metal. Corporate, even. The woman at the front desk says, “Mysore?” as I enter the room looking lost. Ah, the universal language! “Yes,” I say. “Mysore.”

She asks me for my membership number and seems surprised when I say I am dropping in. She has me fill out a waiver and then runs the tab. “Forty dollars.” I hand over my credit card. I am not good at mathematical conversions, and I figured practice was going to be pricey, so I’m not terribly surprised about all of this. (When I got back to my hotel room, I calculated the conversion rate. The drop in fee is $27.50 US, plus tax, which comes out to about $29.50. Yikes.)

Like a total loser (seriously, I am a dork), I tried to figure out what was going on. Wandered through the huge ladies dressing area looking for a locker where I could put my stuff. The woman at the desk had, mysteriously, told me my mat would probably not fit in a locker. Finally found a place for my shoes and the shirt I’d thrown on over my yoga top, and headed out to try to find the Mysore room. There are four large studios at Pure Yoga, and all of them have heavy frosted glass sliding doors. The woman at the desk had indicated that the Mysore room was to the right, so I had two rooms to choose from. Why does this all sound so Kafkaesque?

Tried the first door. Nothing. Just a big room with a bunch of mats on the floor. No people. Tried the second. There we go. About half a dozen folks there, in various stages of practice. Woohoo! Oh but wait, the room is REALLY hot. And I could hear the heater still going. The windows were all foggy, but folks were just going about their business, so I joined in. First order of business was figuring out the mat thing. I have always been bemused when out-of-town yogis email me to say they are coming to visit my shala and then ask about whether they can rent or use a mat. I’ve always hauled mine around. In fact, I even brought the heavy Manduka with me on this trip. But here at Pure Yoga, I was looking at a room full of empty mats. Mandukas. The good ones. I reckon there were about 35-40 mats in the room. I moved one over and rolled out my own, since I’d carried it so far, and also because I can get kind of lonely when I travel, and then I form a weird attachment to my mat. You know, like it’s my true friend. Silly, but there you have it.

Launch into practice, eager to see if I can escape the headache, and also the krink in my thoracic spine which has been dogging me for about 18 hours. At first I am hugely distracted by the heat. I like heat as well as the next person, but not humidity, and Singapore is humid. Oh wait a minute, I just realized that I like to think of myself as easy about temperature, but wasn’t I recently whining about the cold in Florida? Okay, I’ll stop now, because I need to whine a little later about the cold in the hotel.

The teacher, Celeste, showed up when I was at the very beginning of standing poses. She made a beeline straight over and asked me who I was. Very direct and very strong. I told her I was visiting from the US, and told her my teacher sent his regards. “I haven’t seen him in ages!” she said. Then she told me to go ahead and do what I usually do. And off she went to adjust folks in the room. You know how people use the word “tiny” to describe little women? Okay, yeah — this teacher is REALLY tiny. I think she may be as tall as I am, but she can’t weigh much more than 90 pounds, if that.

As I was in Prasarita C, I heard the tiny teacher approaching. I wondered if she’d be challenged to adjust me, given how small she is. Yeah, okay, forget that idea! She grabbed my arms, told me to relax my elbows, refolded me back so my hands were facing in the opposite direction (palms facing out) and cranked me HARD. “Relax, relax,” she said. “Just soften.” Oh the hilarity. I’m not a good softener — and it took her all of, what, 2 seconds, to figure that out. And the other funny thing was how this waiflike person was manhandling me. Rock on. I stood up with aching arms and a heck of a lot fewer preconceptions. Very funny.

I got a good smoosh in paschimottanasana. Not using her weight, but applying pressure on my sides in a really effective manner. She also said, “pull in with your navel, and pull your anus tight.” Shout out to Linda and the folks at her shala — I know you guys hear this a lot, too. 😉

Adjustment again in Marichyasana D. She stood over me on the first side and said, “Put both sit bones down.” I gave a “Yeah, right” snort. She stepped on the down foot and said “Go ahead, you won’t fall.” It seemed like a looooong way to the floor for that other sit bone, let me tell you. I looked up at her at the end of the pose and grinned. She laughed. On the second side, I set up trying to keep the left sit bone down. What I realize now is that I usually shift all of my weight to the hip on the lotus leg side in order to counterbalance as I bind. If I set up without the big weight shift, I can keep the sit bones down. Interesting.

Next adjustment was in Baddha Konasana. She just dug her knees into my upper thighs and pushed on my back, told me (of course) to relax my shoulders and to not pull — to relax into the pose, rather than muscle through it. The interesting thing was how all of the pressure was so focused: it wasn’t about her body weight at all; none of the full-body draping that usually goes on. All I could feel was the pressure on my thighs and then her hands between my shoulder blades.

Last adjustment was in Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana. Mostly verbal. Don’t pull with the arms/shoulders. Don’t use muscular energy; instead, use the energy of the navel to bring the legs in.

What?! NO pulling? How will I practice? LOL! Note to self: Karen, please remember this. It is your most important lesson and one you keep resisting.

I walked out of there feeling like I’m all about overusing my shoulders and being divorced from my core. Gotta re-balance that. Fascinating to go to a new shala, because all of your habits seem so much more obvious than at the home shala, where you can roll through the usual with a huge sense of familiarity. Celeste seems like a very perceptive and very strong teacher. As I was wrapping up she was working on standing-from-urdhva-dhanurasana with someone who is clearly a regular practitioner. It was a nice interaction: a good combination of moral support, instruction, and humor.

By the time I left, there were about 25 people practicing. Seemed very focused and yet every so often I could hear a couple of people murmuring a bit, and occasionally a little laughter. Nice place. I’m happy I went. Tomorrow and the next day are early mornings, work-wise, but I’ll go back after that. I think I can get in two or more practices there before I head home.


6 Responses

  1. Hi Karen
    That’s a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing. Both sit bones on D is the standard method of teaching and adjustment. But there is at least one certified teacher that doesn’t do it in his practice, although he is able to. I’ll try tomorrow to see if I can set up with both sitting bones down.

  2. Yes, I agree with Arturo! Thanks for this.

    What a weird and wonderful experience. In many ways.

    Best wishes for work this week and your eventual return to Yoga Kafka.

  3. i love the opportunity tp practice in new places! and it is amazing to travel to Singapore and have the teacher there know VBG!
    i love the little ashtanga community!

  4. ps, the cappuccino story on the other blog is hysterical!

  5. Fascinating, to read these observations from the other side of the world and realize that mysore is the universal language. Karen, what is Celeste’s background and how does she know VBG?

    As for the overusing shoulder thing, you have strong shoulders from your years in rock climbing and it seems to me that should be an asset in your practice.

  6. Thank you so much for your blog posts re: Ashtanga in Singapore. I lived there for a year after college, and Celeste was my very first Ashtanga teacher. I may still be in love with her! She was such a humble, loving, direct, and intelligent teacher. And, yes, she is perhaps one of the tiniest people I know. Isn’t her strength phenomenal? Such an inspiration. I haven’t seen or heard from her in 6 years, so it’s truly a gift reading a bit about her on your blog. Thank you!

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