I had the. er, honour, of attending a free (thanks!) yoga class at Albir’s ritzy new-ish yoga-ish venue, Shakti Albir this Monday past. Mr Bharat Thakur led the 8PM class and sure put us through our paces. Ahem.
I arrived at five to eight and was promptly signed in by the pert blonde on the desk, and given the key to locker number 7. Through the swinging door, a few women were changing after the earlier class, or preparing for the upcoming one. I recognised a lady from school – Russian – and said hi. There was another Russian speaking on her phone, plus some rather more uncertain looking older but well preserved Spanish ladies. Looking for the loo, I found a queue of two in front of the only stall. I was surprised to see the three empty shower stalls on the other side of the sinks. I think that the architect must be a man! ONE toilet for the ladies! I held on.
So, I stuffed my stuff in the attractive, wood panelled locker, turned the key and, past the swinging door, I veered left at the lobby and into the yoga room. Mirrors along the front wall, monkey bars and gym wall apparatus on the far wall, windows at the back and a great big huge square pillar in the middle of the room. The false ceiling wanted to be disguised by a zen-lite stained wood grid, but the rather officey down lights were just as annoying and – well – downwards pointing as anything I have had the displeasure of working beneath. Four rows of eight soft foam (not nonslip PVC) yoga mats were hopefully laid out, but only about half were occupied by the time Mr. Guru turned up. There were people of all shapes, sized and ages there, but Mr Smooth and his assistants didn’t ask anyone about injuries, hernias, dizziness, heart troubles or any of the myriad potentially dangerous conditions a general public might have in these pensioner-friendly climes. I was in the front row and in the sights of the photographer capturing the moment for publici -er- posterity.
Thakur walks up and tells to sit comfortably, “however you like”. Then immediately tells us to stand up. Light chuckle. He then shouts “Are you ready for a TOUGH class?” Murmur from the room. He tries again, gets no response, and decides we are pieces of shit right there and then for not whooping.
We jump straight in, I kid you not, jogging in place. Then came some head circles, shoulder rolls, hip thrusts, knee bends, ankle twists. Oh yes! We’re doing yoga right? He says “exhale on every stretch” when we are swinging our torsos wildly to and fro. So, you mean, hyperventilate? Sorry, didn’t quite understand your precise instruction about breath and movement co-ordination.
Salute the Sun, Dammit!
Thakur dons a headset and mic and launches us into sun salutations with a few mantras then the exhortation to “watch me and do exactly as I do!” The Russian studio owner begins to pace the room, translating quite ably into Spanish. Thakman barks “Breathe in, raise arms, arch back and …HOLD”. Hold? on the first inhale, in a spinal extension with arms up? Hello pressure on the heart, aorta and jugular veins. A few ominous gasps are heard from the second row. He releases us, and gets us through a very simple Sivananda-style surya namaskar on the left leg. He starts the next round the same way, holding on the inhale, then promptly screws up the leg alternations, sending a few of us skipping back to the left leg – as instructed – while the studio owner says “derecha?” (right?). Thakur doesn’t acknowledge, choosing to blunder along through the next two rounds defaulting to “the OTHER leg” lest anyone be confused. I know that nerves, fatigue, whatever, can interrupt a teacher’s right-left thing, but humility dictates observation and recognition of the error, without becoming attached to it. Anyway…the guy behind me almost faints and Thakster rushes to him and tells him to lie his ashen-faced ass down.
Bodies warmed, we lie savâsana. We then stretch the legs, hugging one knee then the other to our chests. We then pull both knees in – kind of apanâsana, but no mention of how to breathe – before parting the legs somewhat to “get the knees down to the floor”. People all around are struggling and straining, but I am helped by Bharat himself who looms over me like a carrior-eater and fixes me with his beady black eyes before pushing my legs roughly back in an adjustment that felt not only inappropriate but might have been frightening to a less mighty woman than myself. I, instead, fixed him with a hard stare and opened my legs wide as they go. Which is very far.
Legs are raised to 45º, held, then 60º, held, then 75º before finally getting overhead. The three instructors race around the room widly pushing people with their unexpected and heavy-handed adjustments. In dvipada-pitâm, I get the undiluted pleasure of another Bharat tip. He grasps and pushes on my hipbones, making me raise my trunk against the pressure of his paws. I do so, again staring him in the eye. I do admit that I came more deeply into the pose than I normally do, but it was probably because by now I was beginning to get pissed off. He asks me, into the mic, if I do yoga. I nod yes. He then walks away and says, into the mic “The trouble with people who do yoga is that they don’t smile.” WTF? Did he just insult me? I don’t think anyone was listening, but that was dirty, buddy. No, I don’t smile much when doing âsana. But look at any picture of Krishnamacharya in postures and you won’t see his lips a flapping. Anyway, in yoga we are looking within, not worrying about our pulchritude, or the opinion of a teacher in need or a reassuring simper. I agree that the mouth should not turn down at the corners, but neutral is more like it, nah?
We flip onto our sad-assed bellies and do bhujangâsana (cobra), then finally, grasping ankles, we raise ourselves into a dhanurâsana (bow) not once but twice.
Nary a second are we out of bow pose before Thakur barks “relaxation with mantra”. We are exhorted to sit comfortably and thus begins 15 minutes of terrible a-capella mantra wailing, headset and mic still in place. We do Shivoham a bunch of times, then something that I failed to interpret “Raneham” or something. Bharat does not deign to explain. He whips our sorry Selves into shape when he blurts out “Shivoham means I am Shiva! I am the universal wisdom. You must chant with FEELING, then the body will follow!” We muster a little and try to make some noise, but we’d be more comfortable singing along at a U2 concert than some dude’s personal ego-fest. (Bono notwithstanding).
At long last, we are released from our misery. Thakur stalks out of the room and disappears. I make a disparaging comment to my neighbour, then decide to shut up. I grab my gear – in through the out door swing swing – drop my key, feign enjoyment (Blonde: “How was it? Me:Good”) and beat it out to the street, still bursting to pee.
I walk to the car through the damp evening air and muse about the strange events I have just witnessed. Yoga is about ego-taming, right? I read a lot on the yoga blogosphere about the strange beast Western yoga has become. But, mostly, I am far removed from it.
The class had no room to relax, to enjoy, to connect, to be still, to center. I know that open-house classes are hard, but presence, humility and joy are unmistakable and people feed off them in an instructor even if the teaching is clear but simple. The voice is the sound of the heart, and Bharat chanting might be genuine, but I didn’t seem heartfelt. I just didn’t hear his heart in his voice at any time, teaching, chanting or otherwise.
Bharat, by way of Russia, is trying to cash in on a yoga franchising idea that will only reel in the innocent and forever taint the message at the heart of the practice. As with so many others gurus and saviours, the suffering of the many soon lines the pockets of the few, while them thieves throw scraps of mouldy manna, grimacing beatific grins.
Again and again, I give thanks for the sense and reason of Claude Maréchal’s teaching of yoga. I am so glad I found my lineage.
The Guru is in you.
(PS This text, while not flattering, is not calling Bharat Thakur a charlatan or anything of the sort. I am sure that he is eminently qualified, and I know nothing. This in only my opinion. Like it or lump it, I am allowed to hold my own opinion, as are you.) Here is the man himself, btw. Imagine that
star stare hovering above you during matwork…