Traveling to see my guru, Sharath Jois, in Mysore, India usually requires a long journey of trains, planes and auto-rickshaws. With him now in the U.S. on his annual yoga tour for the entire month of May, you’d think a trip to practice with him at Stanford University in California would be much different. Nope. While I wasn’t leaving the Western Hemisphere for the east, I was still taking the long route to practice with the Paramaguru. An impromptu trip to Cuba had inserted itself into my schedule a week before his arrival, which meant I was making my way to San Francisco by way of Havana.
Once in the Bay area, I scouted for my Uber among a throng of car-lift expectants―at least six people deep on the curb―staring into their smart phones. This was worlds away from the post-Communistic island where cars are from the 1950s and testy wifi is sold in forms of perforated cards with long alphanumeric names and passwords by hot spot gangster types on the street. Their hushed-toned solicitations normally reserved for illicit substances intended for mental escape, which is maybe the function of the Internet at times anyway.
No matter where you go, traveling tends to illustrate the world’s contradictions and imbalances. Absorbing San Francisco airport’s exalted tech scene, I told myself that in the future the stark disparities of Havana and San Francisco would somehow be ameliorated by benign, caring, intelligent, and selfless world leadership that included access to both technology and true democracy. However, inside I knew I probably couldn’t count on that. So like a homing pigeon somewhere in the middle of these two worlds, I returned to a sense of place that I’ve come to depend on: My yoga practice.
Wherever Sharath-ji goes, the yoga comes. In Stanford University’s gymnasium, I joined more than 200 Ashtanga yoga practitioners in rolling out our mats. We were a spreadsheet of rows and columns following a formula, a well constructed method, of led primary uniformity, lifting our arms, stepping our feet forward and then backward, pushing and pressing limbs, bending and stretching, focusing and always trying to source the elusive bandhas. I felt incredibly grateful to be here under the sounds of Sharath’s Sanskrit count. All else was quiet tranquility save for the inhales, exhales, hidden nerves, and heart pumping adrenaline.
After two days of challenging led intermediate classes, the nerves had dissolved into the other fun stuff of Sharath’s tours: Seeing old acquaintances and friends, meeting new practitioners, chatting over coffee and organic food, and cruising Palo Alto, where the future is being created and revealed in the surrounding tech campuses. Rolling down the car window the air is fresh and smells of star jasmine and roses. Under crisp blue California skies, I recall Cuba’s pristine countryside, stuck in time, uncluttered by commercial billboards, only consistent doses of primitive looking government propaganda.
The excitement of travel and discovery hadn’t yet faded, but the excess energy that I had brought with me to the tour had turned a tranquil corner. Traveling broadens our perspectives. Perhaps it leads to a better understanding of the world and, thus, a richer, fuller existence. Traveling also returns us home to help us appreciate what we have. This is also what my practice does for me. This is why I always come back to it without debate. My body and mind form some congressional pact for the benefit of the corporeal and spiritual well-being. It happens when I self practice, but not to the degree it does in a large room with hundreds of other aspirants under Sharath’s guidance.
We gather around Sharath for conference. He says that yoga is timeless. That rishis have been doing yoga for millennia to clear their minds. My mind wanders back to the Cubans, their old cars, the dilapidated buildings, neurosurgeons earning the equivalent of two dollars a day. For most Cubans, travel isn’t an option. Most are land-locked buoyed by a distant revolution.
Sharath asks us why we practice yoga. Yoga is for our well-being, he says. It seems both simple and obvious, yet, oftentimes, so out of reach. I wonder how our humanity and our governments have gotten so far off this message. I imagined a world spawned from a new revolution, one that starts with demanding well-being for all that is timeless, that doesn’t greedily consume technology and resources, but distributes those, freely, equitably and not for mental escape, but for clarity and consciousness.
I look around at the practitioners in the room who have taken a moment from their demanding, busy lives to prioritize their well-being, and, ultimately, the well-being of everyone as it’s not something that exists in a vacuum. We all benefit from the well-being of others. I’m glad I’m here among this sentient group. I’m thankful for their sensibilities and intelligence and for those of my guru. He puts his hands in Namaste, thanks us for coming, and I think: I want a yoga revolution.
>>Don’t miss your chance to practice with Paramaguru Sharath Jois on his U.S. Tour. Workshops and drop-in classes are still available in UCLA (May 16 to 21) and NYC (May 26 to 31). Sign up now!
Photography By Danielle Tsi