Initiation by Fire
Excited to see what our first day of classes held in store for us, we headed up to the shala where we noticed a small fire burning. In order to ceremoniously initiate us into the class, we were having a fire ceremony that morning. As Keshava chanted, we came forward in groups of three and offered different edible goods into the fire. Keshava kept the fire well-lubed by drizzling ghee butter (clarified butter made from cow’s milk) over the fire. The fire is supposed to be a vessel through which offerings can be made and also represents a rebirth. Additionally, the ingredients we added to the fire naturally purified the air within the shala, prepping it for use over the next month.
As we sat and awaited our turn to make our offering to the fire, the teachers came around and tied interwoven red and yellow strings around or wrists into bracelets. The bracelets were tied on the right hand for guys and the left hand for girls. The idea is that there are three main nadis, or energy systems, from the spine to the brain. The nadi on the spinal column itself is Susumna, around which Ida and Pingala interweave, crossing 7 times to make the 7 chakras, or energy centers. Ida is associated with the sun and male energy. Pingala is associated with the moon and female energy. One cannot reach enlightenment until they have learned to balance both their male and female energies; to me this reflects the symbol of the yin yang. (The word Hatha when broken down actually means sun and moon, so one of the goals of hatha yoga is to bring these energies together).
After the ceremony we had our first session of the ashtanga yoga primary series taught by Deepak. This was the first advanced level class I had ever been a part of where everyone else in the class understood all the basic terms and was familiar with the basic postures. From the start it was evident that we were going to be feeling this “power yoga” (which astanga is frequently referred to as) the next day. One we reached the vinyasa portion of the class, in between each move we push ourselves off the ground and support ourselves only on our hands, shoot our feet back into a plank, lower ourselves slowly into chataranga (a pushup hovering off the ground), slide forward to upward dog and back to downward dog. Doing this 20 times, you realize why there aren’t that many yogis looking like Fat Albert.
With sweat cascading off our faces, we finished up the 2 hour class with a 20 minute savasana (corpse pose) that made every grunt, every bead of sweat, worth it. After a few minutes I lost awareness that I was laying on the ground, it may as well have been a cloud for as light as I felt.
The 1 hour astanga series that afternoon was a lot easier by comparison, but still more challenging than most other classes I’ve taken. By the end of the day, everyone was nursing sore muscles and ready for a solid night’s rest to recuperate and bring it tomorrow.