September 11th, 2001, New York City, USA.
We had just finished led Primary Series at Chelsea Piers. Guruji was back in New York for another of his "Last World Tours." Post practice, I was having breakfast with a group of yogis when we first heard the sirens. The incessant sound of sirens as I looked out the windows, unmarked police car after unmarked police car with an emergency flasher heading south. To this day, I have never heard such a repetitive, endless sound of siren after siren. The radio inside the restaurant provided the clues to the nature of the incident. A plane had hit one of the twin towers. I had lived three blocks from the Twin Towers, and my father had worked in the American Express building right across the street from them. The first thought that popped into my mind was the thousands of people that worked in that building. That was my old neighbourhood. I had spent a year living in Battery Park City and had spent summers living in that apartment, just a couple blocks away. As we rushed outside, a fog of grey thick smoke greeted us in the distance. This smoke was so thick and black that it obstructed all views and hung ominously over downtown Manhattan. Over the next six hours, I worked my way back to Brooklyn on foot. There was no taxi or public transportation. There was just a sea of people trying to get home. I walked by ash-covered survivors, pale and blank faced. I witnessed extreme acts of kindness as people gave out lasses of water and seats to the elderly who had walked for miles on their way home. New York was in a state of chaos, yet New Yorkers showed incredible benevolence. That evening, as we listened to the happenings blaring on TV, my best friend Heather and I made lasagna for the local Fire House around the corner from her apartment in Brooklyn. They had lost nine men that day. The next evening, we volunteered in a shelter for incoming firefighters who had showed up to help in whatever way possible. And a few days after September 11th, Guruji showed up to the Ashtanga Yoga community. It was an interesting journey by subway into SoHo, where Eddie Stern's studio was located. I passed by a police barricade, the air still smoky from the fire. A much smaller group of students showed up for practice in a much traumatized NYC. There were tears and emotions, but Guruji just stood tall and firm in front of us all.
"Samastithi," he bellowed.
Guruji led us through a fast paced, fluid Primary Series to help us release the pain and tension from the past few days. As we sat in the final meditation at the end of practice, I realized just how fear-struck and panicked I had been those last few days. I felt some of the layers of tension release from my hard outer shell. I relaxed just a bit and felt calm enough to return to the outer world with stability and midline. Guruji embraced tear stained faces and stood like a marble pillar. That was exactly what we needed. He "showed up" just as he had told us to "show up and take practice" for so many years. Guruji told us that he would not return to India but would stay with us and teach. And that he did. Guruji was there for us in body and spirit, in strength and in grace, if that was possible in such a horrendous time. This strength and grace around Guruji carried us. He brought us through September 11th, reminding us of softness and grace, and in so doing Guruji showed me just why we practice Yoga. We practice Yoga for times when situations are challenging beyond what we perceive imaginable. Practice provides us with mula bandha- strength, foundation, and midline.