The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dinner With John

“If I arrange for a dinner with John Scott this Sunday at my place, would you come?” The Elder asked.

Would I want to have dinner with the man to whose DVD I practice, and whose book lies open next to my mat? Would I want to eat barbecued chicken across the man to whom The Elder salutes as her guru? Hell, yes!

For the uninitiated, John Scott is among the revered clan of Ashtanga teachers. A prodigy of Pattabhi Jois himself, his presence graces the shelves, screen and lips of every Ashtanga devotee. The first time I saw Ashtanga in motion was courtesy of his DVD, and the poetry he brought to the screen was breathtaking. Even now, I still scrape my jaw off the floor when I watch him flow through the series.

In a nutshell, I couldn’t accept The Elder’s invitation fast enough.

Driving to The Elder’s house, I called my mother who laughed at my girlish excitement. I felt like a teenager meeting my pop idol.

The Elder greeted me at the door with her usual lovely smile. Clutching my bottle of red, I followed her to the patio, where dinner had already started. John turned and smiled, and all I could think of was, “Gee, he looks so much smaller in person.”

Despite two days of teacher training workshops behind him and another three more ahead, John was relaxed and pulsing with mellow energy. The conversation whipped and whirled in all directions and finally came to rest on (what else?) yoga. Without warning, The Elder looked straight at me and said, “Tell John your problem with alignment.”

All eyes turned on me.

“Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,” she encouraged, as I scrambled to pull my thoughts together.

So I told him. About two minutes into my little speech, his left eyebrow bounced up and down like a yo-yo. He waited for me to finish before standing up and stretching out his arm stiffly.

“Have we met?” he asked. I wasn’t sure what he meant and I said so. He repeated his question, so I stood up and tried to shake his hand. I say tried, because it was funny trying to curl my fingers around his rock-hard hand. Then he relaxed and offered me his hand again.

“Now let’s meet again.”

This time our hands fit into each other’s curved palm snugly. He smiled at me and the light bulb finally flashed.

“Which handshake felt better to you?” he asked.

I conceded that it was the second one but persisted in my argument that alignment is still important, otherwise our bodies would make mockeries of the asanas.

“What is alignment?” John looked at me intently. I thought for a moment.

“Body awareness,” I answered slowly. “It’s knowing what each part of the body is doing at each time.”

“That’s one level,” he agreed. “What else.”

Before I could answer, the voice piped up from the other end of the table, where two teenagers sat.

“Alignment is when all the pieces of the universe are linked to each other. Like a blanket. That’s when everything is in balance. So it’s when we are connected to the world and everything in it.”

John pointed at the teenager. “There’s the yogi,” he grinned.

Then he suddenly grabbed his right foot, pulled it up to his face and stuck his big toe in his mouth. Everyone gasped in shocked delight. Popping its out, he cheerfully announced that the toe in the mouth could be more aligned than the foot behind the head.

“If a screwed up spine is trying to be straight and causing pain in other parts of the body, is that alignment? What feels good for the body? If your asana is perfect but your body is in pain, then that is not alignment. And the breath always comes first in every asana. No point the spine being straight if the breath is ragged. You have to feel that blanket. When your body and breath are connected, then you are aligned.”

I was still thinking about my rounded back in utthita hasta padangusthasana. John probably sensed it because he propped his right heel on the table and held both sides of his foot.

“Watch the masters,” he told us. “They move into forward bends with their backs softly rounded, only then do they glide their body forward and straighten the spine. Many younger practitioners move into forward bends with their upper spine arched like they were moving into a backbend.”

As he spoke, he moved and I saw exactly what he meant. And I realised that arching of the back is exactly what I do to make sure my spine is completely straight…all in the name of alignment. It had always felt right, but as I watched John it looked all wrong.

The conversation danced into the night and pirouetting on different subjects, most of which I wasn’t paying much attention to after John’s little lesson on alignment. The more I watched John talk, the more I understood why The Elder chose him as her guru.

Driving home that night, I felt the high of being around someone who glows from within. And I had every reason to be happy. I was having tea with John in a couple of days.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Starlight,
Thank you so much for sharing John's insight on alignment here. I share your obsession (my frustration lies with paschimottanasana).
I peeked into the studio a few times when John was conducting his workshop - awesome! (for lack of a better word).

I can't wait to read about your chat with John over tea.

May you have a beautiful weekend.
Om Shanti.


9:49 PM  
Blogger starlight said...

Hi Angeline,
I had the same issue with paschimottanasana too!! But yesterday, I tried doing it the way John showed me and I managed to move deeper and more comfortably into the pose! Try it and tell me how you feel.

You didn't go for his workshop???!!! Why not? I have a very valid excuse - I'm not good enough yet ;) But great that you managed a peek and I can imagine how awesome it looked.

You have a lovely weekend too! Hugs.

P/S: and if you're still in touch with Pierre, tell him to come back. My back and I need him!!

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Angeline said...

I couldn't go for his workshop as I was away (for work) on the first 2 days.
You have the same issue too? Ok, I will certainly try it John's way tomorrow :)

Yes, unfortunately Pierre has gone back to the UK (he's planning to do his Masters, I hear). Gael, his replacement is great! I had a session with him a couple of weeks back - a slightly different approach from Pierre (Gael uses a 'healing energy' method which works great). He said my yoga body absorbs his attempts at manipulations. Haha - go figure!

11:27 PM  
Blogger starlight said...

Paschimottanasana is one of the many asana-albatrosses around my neck!!!

Pierre assured me Gael is very good but I haven't been back since he left. I did a five minute session with Gael during my last visit and he's too 'gentle'. My body is so used to Pierre's hands-on manipulations. But since you love Gael, I'll give him a shot soon! :)

1:10 AM  
Blogger David Byck said...

well, it looks like the dinner was a worthwhile experience for you. i'm glad.

have you checked out John's website and STILLPOINT, his retreat centre? here it is: at the top click on, INFORMATION and then on RETREATS.

you should go. you'll never regret it. talk to "The Elder" about it.

love and peace,


2:15 AM  
Blogger starlight said...

yes, have checked it out. it looks awesome! but so far away....well, fingers crossed, i'll be there in the near future.

8:11 AM  

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