Visualise your ideal place of yoga – pick out a few words from the advertisements of one of the many exotic yoga retreats around the world: set in a campus of wide-open spaces, with large windows that open up to views of grand mountains, or maybe overlooking the ocean, or the rolling meadows. Where the air is so pristine and pleasant you wouldn’t need a fan, and every breath will be suffused with prana. Where the water is pure and the food is freshly cooked – maybe the produce is grown right there. Away from the trials and tribulations of the daily grind, and the distractions of the mundane. A place so perfect, you feel as if transported to another reality.
Not so long ago, such was the place we dreamt of setting up one day. We cant tell if the motivation was to provide an ideal space for the learning of yoga, or a personal ambition of taking an early retirement from the city life.
A few years later, we find ourselves setting up a very different kind of yoga-space. We are now firmly entrenched in the middle of a community with more than hundred students. These committed, enthusiastic individuals make a trip to their yoga class twice a week, every week, for approximately ten months of the year. Some of them have specially moved homes to be closer to their yoga class. Others fend off temptations to leave the neighbourhood. There are a few who live a fair distance away – they have scheduled their lives to leave early from their home and work-places, so they can beat the city traffic and get to the class on time. Many of them insist that the practice of yoga has had a profound influence on their lives.
Our teacher used to say, doing yoga is like taking a bath. We think it is a very appropriate analogy. Almost every day of our lives we make that trip to the bathroom where we cleanse ourselves. Some days are hot and we enjoy the touch of the cool water, some days are cold and we heat the water up. Some mornings, the bath prepares us for an important meeting. Some evenings, we bathe in order to get out for a party. And some nights, we take a shower so we can sleep better. Sometimes it is a quick, hurried wash, on other days it is a long, luxurious soak. Sometimes we are unwell, and it is just a wet toweling of the body. But most of us wouldn’t go through a day without some form of a bath or shower. Each time we come out of the bathroom, we feel cleansed, energised, calmed, and ready to face the world. There is no one ‘perfect’ bath, but each bath is appropriate to the day.
The practice of yoga really is like taking a bath. And the neighbourhood yoga centre is like the bathroom. Not a very flattering analogy. So much nicer to be called an ‘ashram’ or a ‘retreat’. But for now, we are happy to be a space where people come for a regular dip, rather than an occasional immersion. We are happy to be on the ‘Main Street’ of a bustling neighbourhood. Even with a double-panelled glass, the sound of the traffic below will float in, the polluted city air will seep into our breaths during pranayama, and even with a larger studio space, we might get very crowded. At the end of each class, all of us will step out into a polluted, traffic-ridden road, and walk out towards our angst-filled lives. Cleansed, energised, calmed, and ready to face the world.
Meanwhile, ambition of taking an early retirement from the city life has been pushed back by a few years