I stand at attention at the front of my mat. This is where a typical Ashtangi would meld their hands in namaste as they diligently recite the ashtanga invocation: that thread of melodic Sanskrit. I never really knew more than what the Madonna’s song taught me, because you … you — my teacher — you didn’t OM. And you certainly didn’t chant. You just got straight to business — all 4-foot-11 of you. You, the sweetest tiny titan, determined to bring an accessible yoga practice to the modern world, to the next generation.
Now, fifteen years later, thousands of miles away in the solitude of my own home, I stand again at the front of my mat. I remember how, when a substitute took your place, I would just brokenly mumble that invocation under my breath. And I can still remember how the energy would shift when you entered the Mysore room.
Maty Ezraty: The Queen has arrived.
Alignment sharpened. Spines elongated. Eyeballs darted. All were waiting with bated ujjayi breath for that moment when you might come near, when we might bask in your warm light.
I finish my ten Sun Salutations: five sun As and five sun Bs. No modifications or shortcuts. Just the classics, because that’s Ashtanga — the practice that will always hold a place in my heart, the practice I loved so much that I named my first born after it (my beloved puggle, Ashi), the practice that catalyzed my love of yoga, but also the one I long ago scaled back from because my body eventually rebelled against its extreme ways.
“I often wonder what my practice would look like if you hadn’t sold Yogaworks and left Los Angeles,” I confessed on a phone interview with you about four years ago. “I gave up Ashtanga a few years after you left because the sequence was so hard on my body.”
You replied in your signature voice, that charmingly nasal tone: “Ohhhhhhhhh noooooo. Ashtanga didn’t treat you wrong; the teacher did! The practice should support your life and not be another demand you put on yourself. It’s the teacher’s job to nurture you.”
Back on my mat, I transition into the standing poses, wondering if I still lived in Los Angeles, and if you were still alive — no, can’t go there yet. If you were still leading our Mysore room with that overflowing affection and attention to detail, would I be a different person?
Would I be a different person?
I enter Prasarita Padottonasana.
I remember the first time you saw a glimmer of the teacher I could one day become. It was during my 200hr training with you and Chuck at Yogaworks, and we were each assigned a pose that we would teach to our fellow trainees. I was assigned Prasarita Padottonasana C.
A teacher’s assistant shadowed me. I rattled through my rehearsed list of approved cues. Then you made an unexpected cameo, walking over right before I launched into my explanation of the apex pose. My fellow trainees had assumed they were being taken into the A variation of the pose.
“LISTEN!” I corrected them. “LIIIIIIISSSSTEEEEN!” (Oh my god, thinking back on it now: How much I subconsciously sounded like you my first two years as a baby yogi.)
They snapped to attention and adjusted, now reflecting the desired posture. I swallowed hard as I looked into your eyes. Would I see approval, or disappointment? Yours sparkled. You nodded and simply said, “Yes. Verrrrrrry good. Keep them in line!”
At the end of our training, you asked me to join the Yogaworks schedule as a student teacher. I was terrified. The honor was one I believed I was unworthy of, still unprepared for. Yet I was in no position to say no. Saying no to you was impossible. My life’s mission was to make you proud, even if it meant stretching myself, even if it meant possible mortification.
So I said yes. Of course I said yes. You saw a teacher in me, one I never would have given life to. You saw me, well before I saw myself. It took me years to see the version of myself reflected in your eyes.
Back on my mat, I progress into my standing Virabhadrasanas. Your cues dance along my body. Must ground the outer edge of my back foot and square my hips. Good lord, take it out of the lower back. Ribs up! Outer arms long, inner shoulders soft. BREATHE! Goooood. Now contemplate life.
Life. Your life is vibrating in my body; your eternal voice in my ears.
I stop to breathe. Thank god I’ve reached the seated postures. Must sit down.
I sit tall in Dandasana — a pose I would always blow by, because — why not? I mean, you’re just sitting there for eight breaths, right?
“Do you want to be a good teacher or a popular teacher?,” you would always ask. I understood the buried meaning, but found myself impishly responding, “Both!”
In those eight long breaths in Dandasana, I contemplate the past 15 years, my career. I always made it a priority to reach out to you twice a year, whether I could see you or not, to let you know how much I owe you, love you, and will always honor you. I was the candle and you were the flame. I think: I hope I’ve made you proud. I hope my people can see you, feel you, through my teaching.
I jump into Triang Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottonasana (yes, it’s been long enough that I had to Google its name). I once flew into this pose with the grace of a swan. Now I land with the awkward thump of a duckling. I adjust my half-hero leg and extend my torso into the forward fold.
“Why can’t I get my outer hip down and reach my foot?,” the flustered 21-year old version of me asked you.
I would place a block under my hip, a strap over the ball of my foot: a modified version of the pose that suited my body. I diligently executed your directions and looked to you in anticipation of praise.
“Marginally better,” you cooed with a half-cocked smile. That was your classic statement — marginally better — at the end of any valiant attempt. Tough love on the outside; the biggest heart on the inside. We all felt it. You never had children, but you had us. An unruly bunch fit for the ensemble of Annie, but with hearts bursting for your maternal affection. You gave me family in a time that I was desperately searching for it. You disciplined me like a proud mother who always saw their child’s potential, laughed with me like a sister, and reminded me to stay open, curious and tender like a child.
On my mat at home, the practice moves on to my once signature pose: Bhujapidasana. I execute the posture with ease.
I’ve still got it. You would be proud.
I’m feeling confident and attempt the transition of lowering my forehead to the ground (and ideally pulling back up). My head meets the ground with a resounding thud, and I get back up again, but only after I untangle my shape in the wake of my failed attempt — just like I did hundreds of times before, when you first taught me this transition. I would wait for you — bum in the air, ankles somehow tangled near my head as I gazed in-between my arms at an unnatural angle — to come save me from myself. You would always coach me out (or physically maneuver me back to softer pastures), somehow preserving my pride, and then in a half joking, half earnest way leave me with, “Now contemplate god.”
Contemplate god. Are you with god now? Are you helping her with the external rotation of her arms? Maybe she wears her hair in braids like you do? Or was god inside of you, inside of me, or living somewhere in the space between my head and the ground every time I tried to learn and grow.
I finish the rest of the seated series with my own modifications and cuts (you did teach me to listen to my body), kick up into a few handstands (you never would let me take off that damn strap to train my shoulders properly; so, yeah … actually … thank you for that), and enter into my three Urdhva Dhanurasanas.
I don’t practice drop backs anymore, but I can remember practicing them with you like it was yesterday. Your tiny frame bracing my only slightly larger frame, holding my hips and shooting off an artillery of preparatory cues: Ground your legs! Firm your hips! Heels down …. down! Now chest up. Lift your heart more. Open! More … mooooore … MORE!
That lesson will never escape me. You may have wanted my physical chest open, but I will always remember something deeper: that you can never open your heart too much. Never.
I methodically move though the finishing poses and make my way into Savasana.
“You can always judge how successful your class was by the quality of your student’s Savasana.”
I try to take a deep breath, but I can’t.
I lie restless in Savasana, corpse pose — the final pose of class and symbolic posture ending this cycle of life. Something I’ve practiced a thousand times without a second thought, but today, reality hits.
The tears flood my eyes.
Here I am, in Savasana — something you have already mastered — without you.
You, Maty Ezarty — mother of yogis — are gone.
photo: DJ Pierce