It is six am, Wednesday, November 13, 2002: the first day of the five day workshop with Ashtanga Guru Pattabhi Jois and his family, in Auckland. The Yoga Academy has opened magically into one large practice space, the storage cupboard dismantled and gear neatly stowed in the women’s changing room. Excitement, anticipation, and a few nervous twinges run high as 100 students, 110 on the biggest day find their places. For many, working with a great yoga master is a totally new experience. Many are beginner practitioners. Then a whisper goes through the yoga room. He’s coming, he’s coming. And an expectant hush falls.
Guruji, 88 years old, leads his team in: Sharath his grandson, who will one day take the mantle of leadership from his grandfather and Saraswati, daughter of Gurji and mother of Sharath. There is a brief moment when these important, world teachers shake off outdoor jackets and stand to face the class.
Samastithi! comes the Guru’s command, clear, steady and with such authority that not only students, but walls, building, the neighboring Skytower, maybe the whole city, comes to that moment of poised attention, alert and ready. And the practice begins. Five mornings 100 bodies come to that same attention, five mornings the primary series is lead in that unmistakable voice.
For five days the energy pours forth, and the bodies bend and stretch and lift and flow, finding new levels of strength, new levels of surrender. For five days 100 faces glow, not just with exertion, but with the delight of being there, participating, linking to this important source of yoga knowledge, discipline and joy. We are all reminded of one of the first important meanings of the word Yoga meaning to join, to link, coming from the Sanskrit root yuj which has also given us our English word yoke. The whole workshop is rich and beautiful with coming together and linking and not just with these special teachers from Mysore but with one another.
The numbers of regular AYA students has been considerably swelled with visitors. Mike and Victoria Grouden from Te Aro Yoga in Wellington (along with a number of their students attend), taking turns so one can always take care of their little daughter. She celebrates her first birthday during the week with a beach picnic with yoga friends and Guruji honours her with a call. Andre from the Yoga Room is there, with Dik Bree and a band of their students and associates. Peter Sanson from Gisborne and Peter Mc Naughton from Hamilton are also present. Also some students from USA, UK, Japan and Malaysia have come down under to be with Guruji. One student visiting from Denmark dips in for a day before he has to fly out for Sydney. He later emails his praises for the sense of friendliness and fun that accompanied the Auckland workshop, with its informal gatherings for breakfast in favourite cafes, and for the opportunities to share social times with Guruji, Sharath, Saraswati, Joseph Dunham and accompanying members of the Family.
The weather is unkind for the first day of The Boat Trip to watch the America’s Cup, but 24 hours later and merry crew take to the Waitemata Harbour on board a luxury charter boat. None has a better time than Guruji, from the width of his smiles! Then there is the Skytower expedition, and again huge smiles and a few astonished gasps at the spectacle from the top of the tower. In one of those
unplannable quirks of timing, doors of the lift bearing the Yoga party up the viewing platform open just as an intrepid Bungy jumper is lowered several meters down, in preparation for his big jump. His gaudily attired body and goldfish face hover for several seconds as the lift unloads, and then suddenly drops. Ho Ho Ho!! laughs Guruji. He initially thinks it is some sort of show. The madness of adventure tourism is explained and he laughs some more, but declines the offer of taking a turn. He has expressed interest in seeing a little of New Zealand’s agricultural prowess though, and on another day students accompany the official tour of the Mt Albert Grammar School farm.
The five days fly by and too soon the farewells are being made. That is also a special occasion, not just for the opportunity to spend a last precious hour or so with these wonderful teachers, and their family: Mr. Rangaswamy, husband of Saraswati and Sharaths father; Shruti, Sharaths friendly and articulate wife and their gorgeous baby daughter; and of course Joseph Dunham, tour manager and a million other things as well. Sweet chai and heavenly bliss balls are consumed, the speeches are made, gifts are presented (beautiful woollen garments for each of the visitors, warmly appreciated when they are unwrapped later, back in their luxury apartment at the bottom of town.)
The farewell ceremony includes the performance of a beautiful song, written by Yoga Academy student and professional musician Karen Hunter and performed with the assistance of Shenoa Chee, and some of the more tuneful of the Academy’s students and teachers. Again, students accompany the party to the Airport and several cars are loaded with the vast array of luggage. After months on the road there have been obvious acquisitions, the piles of suitcases providing yet another challenge for the dutiful Joseph. And then they are gone!