“Do you have a practice?” the woman asked as I waited in line to pay my drop-in fee for the last practice I would have at Ashtanga Yoga New York, best known as Eddie’s, on Crosby and Broome, where I had first developed a practice, at its inception, in 2000.
Do I have a practice? It had been about a year, in fact, since I’d been to practice Mysore at AYNY, and I hadn't been a regular for some time. One of the teachers, Yossi, sent me over to an open space in the sea of mats that are lain in front of the Ganesha temple, which is regularly blessed.
I wondered though, did I still have a practice?
I had spent all year being very versatile with my yoga practice and my yoga teaching, across many different styles and levels, mainly practicing where I landed.
When I found out that Eddie’s would close this year, I was affected.
I always liked knowing that I could walk or bike to Eddie’s anytime from where I lived, blocks away.
I used to pay by the month, like everyone else. My practice dwindled down to three mornings a week, and then I was practicing wherever I taught, or with my other longtime teacher, Genny Kapuler. Between Genny’s and Eddie’s, I felt like I had the best of both worlds—the lineages of B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who both studied with Krishnamacharya. I used to do studio work in the school after classes, and I babysat for Eddie and Jocelyn’s daughter, when she was very little. I’d been involved in the scene too, going to all night pujas, and other Broome Street ceremonies. I particularly liked Navaratri, or the nine nights of the goddess, and Shiva Ratri, which is an all-nighter, recently written up in The New Yorker.
I set up my mat in the room of already practicing students, and felt a charge.
I silently chanted the opening prayer to myself, with palms pressed at the heart.
I rose my prayer and looked up. Ekam. There it was. It all came into one place, the first inhalation of Surya A. It was revelatory, transcendent to my energy and outlook. Eddie was there. I saw him when I came in, smiled, and later saw his lizard tattoo out of the corner of my eye, while practicing. I also spied a familiar man, and then registered that it was actor Willem Dafoe. When I practiced more regularly, he would be there. I was glad that he too was there for this last practice at Eddie’s Broome Street location. He’d made me chuckle years before. As he practiced his Garbha Pindasana, he’d made a little comedy of wildly spraying and squirting himself to get Eddie’s attention. Eddie’s attention wasn’t to be had, but mine was. Now Dafoe was doing headstand, and then he coiled into child’s pose. Practice was present and nostalgic, internal and external. I set my intention to flow forward, to take the grooves of Eddie’s, and that space that I had gleaned, forward with me. To be fully present, during another ending in an endless chain of beginnings and endings, to reset my body, mind, and spirit. I considered it my first real practice in a long time. My practice is back. And I was only at Ekam. Dear Eddie’s, you had me at Ekam.
I think the saying goes something like, "when you experience God, everywhere you look, you’ll see beauty." Everywhere I looked on my way to each asana’s drishti, I saw beauty. I saw Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois ahead and beside me. I saw the Sita/Ram temple behind me. I saw bodies breathing and moving, young and old, black and white. My ears were full of the sounds of breathing, other than the heavy construction across the street, which became abstracted. It was all a meditation space. Soon into my practice, I was asked to move my mat further near the wall. I began to effortlessly synchronize my moment with the woman next to me. It was again something that used to happen occasionally—sometimes the breaths lined up with the person next to you.
I was infused with sense memories that I wanted to hold onto. The sweat dripped out of my eyes, like it did in my very first practice—like it did in Mysore, and like it did countless times in Eddie’s school. There is no practice like this. I used to joke that it’s always summer at Eddie’s, even in the dead of winter. Once, in the dead of winter, I came early one morning and witnessed a meteor shower while practicing. I used to bike over, in ice and snow, at earlier hours than I like to get up now, and practice, ending it with warm chai.
The practice opens you up to strength you didn't know you had. It opens you to beauty, to a bigger smile; a calm, a greater consciousness. We are grooves, playing instruments, tuning to the silence of breath. Suddenly, all my 15 years at Broome Street came into one. I was only going to do half-primary, but Kurmasana called. Yossi helped me into the pose, and said, “hold your hands together like your life depends on it.” Lifting up out of the pose, I replied, “It does depend on it!”
Ezra, practicing behind me, called out my nickname, Asha Yashpinsky. Another friend, Lisa, was ahead of me in finishing poses, and we winked. I saw many others from years before, all there practicing as usual, not like it was the last day at Eddie’s. I wore my Crazy Eddie’s Insane Poses t-shirt, and left wearing a new Broome Street Temple t-shirt. It was right at the Supermoon, August 28. This is the true beginning, before the full moon expands. Even though I had to teach three classes in a row, without a break, after my practice, I was still propelled into my day, more enthusiastic, and more detached from overreaction to those things that can too easily trigger one in this city. There’s the feeling that one could do anything after a practice like this. A genuine, solid practice, supported by a special space, curated by Eddie and Jocelyn Stern.
Do you have a practice?
I sat up in front of the Shiva temple. I was thankful for meditation and AYNY. I made prayers for love, creativity, prosperity, children, and peace on earth.
Eddie’s closing party for the space was like a wake. It was packed with people, and boiling hot, like a sauna. There were offerings of cashew milk, watermelon, and Poori chat. It was wall-to-wall people who had practiced, sweated, prayed, and surrendered to the teachings. All the beauty was inside us now. All the photos and temples were dismantled, gone. The walls were bare, stripped of the school’s aura. Eddie was the M.C. of the night, and of these last 15 years. He made us all laugh, acknowledged a woman named Susan, who prevailed in her practice beyond an aneuyrism and Stage 4 cancer. He spoke of the two new practice spaces, and gave plenty of honor to the Crosby and Broome location.
He acknowledged all the teachers who gave us the most incredible assists of our lives. Said that it hadn’t been the easiest space for most of us—that the next space would be totally different than this had been. The important thing was that we remembered the practice, and we came back, even those of us who hadn’t been in awhile. The closing performance was not a kirtan, but a rap—two rappers holding court. It heralded what would next take over the space: a hip hop yoga studio.
A happy, healthy time was had by all. Goodbye AYNY.