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.