There's something about the energy in Ashtanga Yoga Berkeley that sets itself apart from the other shalas I had practiced in. Perhaps it's because we have something close to 50% of male energy dominating the space. Or that if you go in and practice earlier (which I do), Vance will be doing his own practice right alongside you, which creates a powerful yet serene energy of focus. Or because you can always expect a couple handfuls of regulars to be there, yet every couple of weeks we'd get a new person, shy, slightly nervous, but with eyes beaming with curiosity and excitement. Perhaps because "Chai Fridays" make you always have something to look forward to. Or the natural light coming from the roof. Or the feng-shui, whatever you want to call it. I've been practicing here for about two and a half months now, but I already felt right at home with the shala after a week like I had been part of that community for at least a month. I am still getting to know my fellow Ashtangis, and each new person I meet has an interesting story and background. They are such a dedicated bunch, and still being stuck in marichyasana D after two years doesn't discourage them. They all still show up, rain and sunshine, for another day and another practice.
Today as I was sitting by the side flooding my body with some much needed H2O after my practice, I met Hossein, a well-built guy with a head of dreadlocks and a tattooed body. I've seen him come in pretty much everyday. He told me he's been practicing here for about 3 months, but I could tell from his sincere tone that he, like all the rest of us, is completely smitten by Ashtanga. He said if everyone in the world were to practice Ashtanga, there wouldn't be any wars at all, because it just totally changes your mindset. You enter into this state of constant consciousness of what's happening around you, which then leads you to become aware of how your actions affect others.
Wow, I thought. I couldn't believe this came from a guy who has only been introduced to Ashtanga 3 months ago. It always touches me to see new students come in, unsure of what to expect, then get blown away (both body and mind) by the practice, leading them to come in day after day, wanting to find out more about what this is.
Hossein then went on to tell me how he tried a few vinyasa classes at a local yoga studio (not to be named here) before meeting Ashtanga. He felt the classes were more for "socializing" than entering into yoga. He said that Ashtanga, on the other hand, is such a disciplined practice that really helps keep him on track--the focus, the breath, the vinyasas.
Sure, while socializing, having a community, and keeping classes fun are important aspects of a studio or shala, there's something not right when a yoga class becomes the gossip central.
I'm glad to have Hossein around at Ashtanga Yoga Berkeley, and the 30+ other people, as well as the 4 newcomers over the past couple of months who have been coming back at least 3-4 times a week. It's a community like this that a lot of people crave, and we have it right here. I am truly blessed.
Oh, just a side note, Hossein is also part of the Michael Franti and Spearhead band. Tickets to their concert might be glimmering in my horizon soon!