Yoga in London
His name is Shandor Remete. He walks into the London classroom of 49 teachers. My heart, my head, like a magnet, pull to him. For a timeless instant, our eyes meet. I want to be here. I mumble a prayer of gratitude. My imagination names him: "The Darth Vader of Yoga Teachers." Yet he's light, like Luke Skywalker. I'm in awe.
The ritual of our practice begins. I begin to fret that I'm unqualified to receive this level of teaching. I feel my body resist full lotus, our second pose, with no warm up. I breathe deep to release my hips. I don't dare look at the teacher.
I stay in my space. I ignore the other teachers, packed in the room like sardines in a box, yoga mat almost touching yoga mat. We begin to sweat.
His voice is soft but firm. "Again!" he instructs. We enter our 40th sun salutation, falling into Chaturanga Dandasana, a yoga push up. My arms begin to tremble. My strength weakens into jelly. "Okay, kid," I give myself permission. "You may walk away."
Yet I want this. I want this intensity, embracing this wave of humility now washing over me. His instructions are over my head. I can't integrate fast enough the intricacies of his words. I listen hard to hear beyond his accent, while his knowledge, deep and profound, washes over me. I remember the teacher Roshi's words "If you walk in the rain, you'll get wet." I open to the unknown, letting go, loving the fact that I don't understand. I smile as I wipe the sweat from my brow.
My brain moves to neutral, yet my body remembers. The fourteen years of practice do not fail me. My standing poses are strong, my legs like tree stumps. The yoga again feels like an old friend in my bones. A shadow looms over my right shoulder. He in near. "Too wide," he whispers. "Tighten this pose."
He has black hair pulled tight into a noose at the base of his neck. He wears striped tights, his noble chest rising without a trace of fat from perfectly symmetrical legs. His piercing blue eyes dance with fire. His mouth stays soft. I want to be like this man.
Now we're on the floor. My old nemeses, the scar tissue from a scoliosis, healed from the rigors of yoga practice, pull on my right hip. He's back. I feel his presence behind me. He presses hard on the joint of my right toe. I breathe to cooperate. The psoas muscle in my right groin begins to lengthen. He presses harder. I deepen the pose. My back opens like a flower in the sun. He holds my toe, it seems like forever, as he instructs the group. I feel grateful and thank God again for this experience.
The room is filled with reverence. Each person connects, as if playing a part in an orchestra. Some breathe hard, some soft, some look around, some focus inside. The room is alive with energy. The sun streams into the skylights over our heads. Birds sing beyond the open windows.
Shandor has us on our backs again. "Place your hands by your ears!" I know where he 's going. I break the silence, dismayed to hear my own voice: "Oh, no. Backbends." He looks at me and almost smiles.
Our bodies hot, fluid and prepared, lift into backbends like the morning sun rising upon the horizon. I breathe deep to hold the intense pose. The shadow looms. He's behind me again. This time he grabs my elbows. "Ground, here!" he instructs. "Be stable!"
A visceral release, like a strong wave, emanates from my belly. It rushes through my heart and into my throat and eyes. I moan. Tears fill my eyes. The catharsis goes deep. I'm forever changed. My vulnerable heart, too open, too hurt, feels reinforced, protected like it's never been protected before. I release to the floor. I can't speak, think. I am.
He adjusts the woman next to me. She cries. "What are these tears?" he asks as if checking the time, neutral and detached.
I find out later Shandor began studying yoga in Hungary at age six. He was taught by his father as a child, beginning a serious practice with master teacher BKS Iyengar at age 25, with whom he still studies. He teaches throughout Europe, occasionally in the states, and he writes that his method and style of teaching are based on the many efforts of his personal practice. I guess his age to be about 50.
He calls us to the front of the room for lecture. He has this beautiful young man demonstrate a backbend. His toned body gracefully arches into a dancer-like backbend as Shandor points out the liver and spleen. "See the energy stop?" he asks us. He adjusts the young man's feet and shoulders. The student's breathing relaxes. You can see the skin and breath change in this torso as his face turns from red to a normal pink color.
"Ah," he says, obviously pleased with the results of the adjustments. "You see?" his gaze penetrates the room. We saw. We're amazed.
< He has a woman demonstrate a backbend. "The earth is bones," he says and this most of us know from our study. "Where is the water in the body?" Again, I think I may understand, but with this new humility to learn, I remain open. It's in the second chakra, below the navel. "Which direction does it flow?" he asks us.
"Down!" Rivers, streams, lakes move to the Earth, he says now. "Water goes down not to tears in the eyes!" I got it. I don't know how I understood but somehow I sensed my emotional energies of sorrow transmuted during this class. Water goes down! Water goes down! I'm overjoyed at this insight.
The trip to London last month came at a time I was ending yet another cycle of release and grief. I received the Easter week with my family abroad as an incredible gift. I'm transcended.
I walk away from the workshop, mindfully absorbing the unusual miracle of "England" sunshine. The daffodils and tulips fill the landscape with color. I flag a taxi for the ride across the city and instruct the cabby to drop me off several blocks from the flat.
My body feels restored, revitalized, vibrant. Gone was the last trace of jet lag, and, most important, gone was the heaviness in my heart. I bounced as I walked, my shoulder bag swinging. Walkers stared at me and I smiled. "It's the yoga!" I wanted to shout. "It's the good, the bad, the ugly, the dark, the light, the chaos, the peace. It's all good, it's all God."
I stepped into a bakery for a cup of English tea and once again felt grateful for the gift of yoga and this wonderful "presence" of a Darth-Vader-combined-Luke-Skywalker teacher named Shandor.