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October 02


Sophie's Class

- by Abha

Sophie herselfEva, a newcomer from Germany, and I are a little late for Sophie's class on hatha yoga. As we hurry in, Eva's jute mat tightly rolled under her arm, twelve people of varying ages are already seated in the lotus position, watching us with veiled interest. This looks formidable until Sophie's generous smile puts us somewhat at ease. "Pick up a mat for yourself, also a wooden block and a belt", she motions toward the well-stocked shelves along the wall. I find myself dragging out the thick, black rubber mat between two people, one of who smiles at me. After I am seated, I spot Eva diagonal to where I am.

The class begins. On cue, legs stretch out, toes flex, hands reach towards the ceiling in unison. "Sit with your back straight. Feel your spine. Find your spine." Moving between the two rows like a sinuous cat, Sophie issues her instructions in clear, French-lilted English. She demonstrates each asana, each posture, with a flexibility that is as beautiful as it is daunting. Most of the people in the class are Aurovilians, well-versed in varying forms of yoga. The lady next to me, who looks about seventy, is going through the movements with the air of a no-nonsense acrobat. I strain and pull at my obstinate muscles and avoid glancing at my agile neighbour unless absolutely essential. In a space of just twenty minutes, my hair is plastered to my scalp in sweaty strands even with the fans working overhead. I wonder, my head resting upside down on a large wooden brick, if the class is really going to be one and half hours long. Across the room, from my inverted position I watch Eva's flushed face, her blue eyes rounded with concentration, following Sophie's every move.


We come back to normal position. Before I can breathe again, come the next spray of instructions. "The following exercise is very good for the spine". Fourteen pairs of eyes swivel to the side where Sophie is poised to perform on the polished wooden floor. "Tuck your left leg under your left buttock, then cross your right leg over your left knee with the foot flat on the mat. Now bring your right arm over your right leg and clasp your right ankle, with your left hand behind your left buttock resting lightly on its tips." I silently muse over Sophie's delectable pronunciation of the word buttock with its soft 'b' and 't'. The lady next to me is twisted into the right shape within seconds, her face and her body turned resolutely towards the wall on her left. The friendly gentleman on my left, despite his diligent maneuvering, finds himself in a tangle. I look at him encouragingly as Sophie comes and gently straightens him out into the right posture. "Deep breath, keep breathing" she commands the rest. I can hardly breathe in that cramped position but slowly it becomes easier and easier.

We move on to some more stretches, this time with belts and ropes against the wall. We hold out for longer, focusing on each inhalation and exhalation. Finally, Sophie allows us to lie back on the mats in the shavasanic position. After all that straining and pushing, this seems a delicious torpor, a hard-earned rest that my body is longing to enjoy. I close my eyes, let my feet fall away from each other, and relax my hands, palms facing upwards. In the background Sophie's voice, now sonorous as a subterranean spring, courses through my consciousness, speaking to each part of the body individually. "Let your forehead relax, your eyebrows . . . let your eyes relax . . . feel the weight of the eyelids drop . . . let your shoulders relax, . . . your arms sink into the floor, your buttocks, your thighs . . ." From the adjoining room come sounds of strenuous thumping of feet. Probably a dance class in progress. Sophie instructs us to notice the sound, and then to let it go unhampered on its way out of our beings, which seem now to be suspended, afloat in a space that is intangible, between worlds.

The class comes to a close with everyone, still on their backs, drawing their knees up to their chests, letting the body roll away from the centre to the right, and then coming back to the sitting position, with the hands folded in the prayer position. I look at Sophie smiling brightly, and decide to experience this adventure of the body and the spirit again.

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