Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gokulum Road Vignettes
A blanket wallah bobs along the uneven road. His cycle is stacked with two bushels of blankets tied with rope, towering beyond his head. Tassled ends splay out of the bundle which is, against all odds, bumping and listing without being tied down to the rack on the back of the cycle. I watch him bounce over monsoon-sized potholes, graceful in the way the whole unit- man, cycle, and blankets teeter on the edge of possibility in motion. Typical. If I wanted to buy a blanket, I would certainly holler him to wait and come down from my rooftop to check his wares. Is the quality matching the price?
A family of four on a Kawasaki, stacked like books end to end, ride along the main road on the way to some Friday night affair. Dad mans the handlebars, Mom is on the back, riding side-saddle. A 6-ish year old is sandwiched between them, and a toddler in Mom’s arms. The string of jasmine in her hair whips behind them, she fixes her saree with one hand, holds the child with the other. The one in the middle peeks from between Mom’s breast and Dad’s flapping shirt back, legs sticking out the side like stray hairs from a braid. Dad is concentrating.
A rick-shaw honks at me and I jump onto the dirt. Screaming school children, at least eight, jumbled in the single arm-chair sized space, hang from the bars, yelling “hello foreigner!” School bags are crowded in piles on a hook on the side of the little yellow vehicle. A crush of white and blue knee socks, black braids, and little scuffed shoes go careening by me in a screaming splendor. Look out. When it comes to school kids, the rick-shaw drivers make no compromise. No amount of money can draw them from their commitment to picking up the masses of children. No obstacle in the path will be tolerated on the bumpy journey home. Including wandering yoga students.
The sun goes down and the oil temperature goes up. If you can fry it, you can serve it. The potato chip wallah sets up road side. The dust that fills my eyes and nose inevitably seasons the fry oil. Hand-sliced thins drop into a wok about 5 feet in diameter, balanced on an oil drum with fire inside. A skimmer twice as big as a dinner plate trolls the wok to draw up dripping wedges for the pile of fresh crisps. Served on a paper-thin plate that drips grease through onto your hand (better yours than mine- I don’t eat the chips dude). Next door the Puri wallah has a four-foot high sculpture of tiny, golden flying saucers arranged in a tube-shaped tower with the condiments at the center. The flatbreads are fried to a circle shape and served chat-style. Four puri are plated, the centers of the flying saucers are smushed, filled with tamarind and yogurt, then the four circles are smothered with raw onions, little fried vermicelli pieces, and chopped cilantro. Another cart down we have the Chinese Fried Rice wallah, green coconuts chopped open and served with a straw.
In the heat of an after school afternoon, the Mahaveera ice cream cart jingles along a neighborhood side street. Salmon colored wafer cones in a long bag sway from the top of the cart. Plastic jars, almost empty, cook contents in the sun. A mash green like candied Christmas cherries, something red as marashcino, some brown-color chunky gravy completely indistinguishable. Dusty plastic buckets, the same variety I have in the bathroom for trash, are lined up on the cart, covered with metal plates. A few sticky spoons strewn about. Oh man.
A lorry with a bed full of plastic chairs, stacked a story high, negotiates the road. Bright blue, red, and white chairs high as the eye can see and a man standing among them to control the stacks. A circular label on a chair-back: “Plastics for a Better World!”
Idly is the yogis’ fave. Although there is a sad contingent who eat only western style foods here, south Indian breakfast is worth flying here for! A batter is made of rice and a certain type of lentil which is then steamed and served with coconut chutney and sambhar, a spicy tomato based soup with random veggies in it. Idly is usually only served until 10:30 or 11. Thali happens from 12-3. This is a food combining nightmare consisting of a mountain of rice surrounded by little cups of mushy veggies, more sambhar, yoghurt (called curd- yoghurt is actually “set curd”), a “sweet” which is usually a kheer (rice pudding), one or two chapatti, like a wheat tortilla, and papadam, a fried crispy wafer-like circle made of lentil flour. Dinner is a dream that exists in the lives of those who get up later 3 AM. I think I remember something called dinner…

“First batch” is at at 4:45 Shala Time, which is 15 minutes fast, so we show up at 4:30. Sharath told us at conference this week that he used to ride the motorbike to downtown, 15 or 20 minutes, every morning at 3AM to practice. I suppose I can’t complain (moan). Last night there was a wedding in the neighborhood with extremely loud Bollywood style music until they blew the PA around midnight. So I slept 2 hours.
Coming in to practice at 4:30, the room is having more of the advanced practitioners, people who’ve been here a while, and mosquitoes. Your start time gets earlier as you stay. It’s very quiet but for the breath. Today a man fell out of a balancing pose and Sharath jokes “ don’t break my picture!” There is a photo of him taking Chakrabandasana on the wall there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Back to Mystery and Possibility. The desire to “understand” mentally keeps coming up. Sharath thwarts my efforts at question-asking with terse answers. With Guruji, you could blame it on the English, but with Sharath…at first I took it personally. Of course. As if much of anything has to do with the personality of Kate. I feel her starting to break down. It hurt at first, like a crack along the deep ice I’ve been skating. Now, it feels more like bubbles rising and breaking on the surface of my resistance. For now, I know it, any sensation is always only For Now.
Yesterday’s meditation in practice was to remember, nobody here really cares about Kate except for Kate. Kate wants to be noticed for her efforts, possibly even recognized as something special. Kate wants to know its all for something, please, validate me. But that sort of attention just doesn’t come here. After wondering as usual why the hell I came all this way to be IGNORED along with everyone else, I settle into an anonymity, which has its own gifts to share. I find myself being more careful with my speech. Honestly, I am not sure I have an excess of prana to be squirting out the mouth.
I do relax the intensity of my asana. Indeed, my noble efforts at intensity prove nothing, and are beaten down by the routine of being required to do it every day. This every day element is so important! I just don’t see myself as clearly when I skip the days I don’t feel like looking. When I am tired, I must accept it, pace myself, and move on along. Perfection has no place here. Let me repeat that. PERFECTION HAS NO PLACE HERE. Only Kate wants that kind of perfection anyhow. Purity of intention, reduction of Ego-driven consciousness, faith and devotion- these are the perfect goals of this practice. If anything about this were ever perfect, we wouldn’t call it practice would we? We’d call it the Real Thing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This place brings me back again to the distinction between ambition and aspiration. It seems everything I am involved in here, the yoga, the dance, does not benefit from my effort, but from my relaxation. I always remember Bhavani, my sutra teacher’s words: Relax the intensity of your effort because this journey never ends. Thank goodness the yoga goes to eternity. It will take at least this much. As I get a teeny bit older, I wonder at what point I might meet my end with the progression through the Ashtanga series. Here in Mysore, it is very clear that we are working on the first 3 limbs of yoga. Personal and social consciousness, and asana. What I understand from studying here is that the asana alone can take at least this lifetime. Guruji says to me in the office when I ask any question: “slowly slowly.” Godammit! Slow my ass!
At the jewelry store my friend is in a hurry. The three women it requires to swipe a credit card and generate a receipt get only slower as her impatience flusters them. They huddle over the computer, stressing contagiously. My friend and I begin discussing the important lesson of India: Relax, have chai. When I am rushing or stressing, my belly gets tight. I think, why am I doing this to myself? It will not get me out of this shop any sooner. My soft and wonderful belly, the vessel for the organs of digestion and creation, the seat of all integration, why tweak it? Over what?
The asana- “why you hurry?” Sharath says every week. (He says so little. I am fortunate to be a wordsmith so I can roll over these one-liners and make some deep allegory of it…aaah yes, grasshopper.) I am so humbled by it here. The more I effort, the more ridiculous it gets. Crunching the face in order to get a leg behind my head. Yes, that works, good job. Good thing you are trying so hard, Kate, because if you weren’t killing it in the yoga room every morning you would be ABSOLUTELY USELESS. Your life would be NULL AND VOID.
And what a blessing if it were! Released from the bondage of ambition and free to aspire! To love, to grow high like a beanstalk simply because it is my nature. But yoga tells us the nature of the human mind is to run in circles, chasing our tails. The trip is to remember I am not that chase. Hence the ego smashing. I don’t expect to receive any new poses, any special blessings, any metamorphoses of my human form. This time may be finished for now. The times when each new pose unfolded and always there was this sense of immediate change before my very eyes. Now I am in the slowly slowly stage of practice. The way to bring peace to my life is to be peaceful in it, whatever outward form it is taking.
Such is the practice and the whole trip of Mysore. I stand on my mat before practice every day and imagine giving it up. Giving it all up! Release the effort, the face, the legs, the mind and heart. Just be thankful to be here and know that my very presence in this exact place at this time, on my mat again for the umpteenth time, is a manifestation of the very devotion that sets me free. And so. I have already arrived, before the practice even starts. The entire day stretches before me, ripe with the unexpected. Fragranced by curiosity and wonder.

Then there are those days when I can’t…quite…let it be. Sometimes I am just not satisfied with my uselessness. Back to the work of transforming ambition to aspiration.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Had an “opening” in my left hip yesterday, my first day practicing intermediate after a week of primary series. I have been backing off a lot of the leg behind the head stuff while teaching, and now that I’m in my time to focus on my practice, I am hitting it like a ton of bricks. I felt my soaz in upward dog after the pose going woo-woo. I took faith in the sequence of postures and the kazillion times I have done this practice before and forged ahead. Then I avoided socializing for breakfast, came home, ate like a pig, and fell asleep for two hours. Woke up fine.
I have this tendency to practice like there’s no tomorrow (Did anybody see the movie Shine about the pianist who goes crazy after his teacher tells him he must play like there is no tomorrow? Yikes!). Of course it is only my first week, and inevitably days will come where I am tired. I have been doing an hour of restorative every day, and avoiding eating after lunchtime. If Adam Poock is reading, thanks for the PT!
This overly ambitious approach to the asana is a reflection of the strength of my aspiration, as well as an OCD type refusal to be patient with myself and imperfection. I have a meditation I use while practicing, imagining Mulabandha is my connection to God. As I lift the perineum, I relax my face and imagine I am drawing in God’s love. This meditation works to counteract my tendency to work too hard down here on the ground in this little body. It is impossible to be hurt while focusing on love (Ishvara Pranidhana). For instance, when I take Chakrabandhasana with Sharath or Saraswati (he started me taking the ankles on my third day, gulp) and it comes time to “take” I relax everything but mulabandha until I am in the pose, then I push my hips forward like my savior its waiting to receive them. I put all my desire for the conscious evolution of our species into the forward motion of my hips so I may stand alone in the pose. Almost there.

It is such a tangible manifestation of possibility and limitation co-existing. I am absolutely enthralled.
Ragu the bike man and I are friends at last. My first visit with flat tires after getting the cycle from storage (Bike means motorbike, cycle is the pedal kind) he was dismissive and I thought, oh no how am I ever going to get this thing on the road? The back tire promptly went flat again on my way to meet my dance teacher for the first time. I carried the bike through a back road of cows and squatting women and children, who got quite a kick out of me stumbling along with a cycle on my hip, skirting cow patties.
This being my second visit, he asked if it was my cycle. I told him it was and I bought it used. This he seemed to like and he filled the tire and asked, “what other problem?” I told him the chain was always falling off and he straightened the back wheel, which may well have been smashed by Mr Srinivas’s car while in the garage. The seat keeps going up my crotch, so he tightened the bolts, but I feel there is a structural problem there. Some strange sounds come, but I don’t feel anymore as though the thing is going to fall apart mid-pedal. I don’t think the chain can handle me standing up to pedal up hill, so I have been walking it. Gokulum has many hills, one of which I live halfway up.
I feel quite relieved that, by necessity, I have figured out how to use the air thingy so when Ragu is not present, which is often, I can fill my own tires. I asked him if I needed a new chain and he said I’ve got one more month, same for the back tire, but I have to fill it every 3 days. I would rather just replace the stuff, but this is “not necessary”. So I guess I’ll use it till its dead.
As for my little one-room villa on the rooftop, I am quite pleased. Everything seems to have gotten ironed out. First there was no power, then no water, then no shower, then no hot water from the shower. The men have been crawling up and down the ladder, which goes past my window onto the roof where the water tank is. They have put a new tank, very exciting for all involved, which somehow translates to my hot water coming from the shower. However, the electricity is always going out, so the hot water heater is not available. The hot shower, as always, remains a luxury. Which is fine with me unless I have a fever. (Nothing of the sort so far).
I sweep every day with my straw-like broom with hot pink handle (everything in the place is pink, to my delight). The broom seems to be leaving more debris in its wake then was there to begin to begin with. So I go for the damp towel technique. Amazing how quickly dust gathers. The bug net is up and effective, I use the light of my Ipod to find the ones that get inside and yes, kill them. I don’t know anyone who has contracted malaria in Mysore, and I don’t worry about it much in India at large.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Well I’ve made it to Mysore, along with 250 or so others. The hamlet of Gokulum has become quite the hot spot for yoga studies. I don’t assume anymore when I meet another westerner that she is here to study at the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. They could be here for Bharath at Yoga India, Venkatesh, Mystic Yoga, Bhima Shakti Yoga, or the others which I haven’t heard of yet. Mystic Yoga is an Indian man in his 20s who studied with BNS Iyengar in Lakshmipuram. To be teaching in one’s 20s around here would seem to be a new phenomenon.
Another recent phenomenon which my teacher Robert Moses pointed out years ago, is the possibility of achieving riches or fame through teaching yoga. At conference yesterday, Sharath answered a question about the difficulty of making a living with a yoga studio, and is the teaching meant to be a business or a selfless service. Sharath answered that we should all keep to our professions and keep yoga as a spiritual practice. Yet I notice as he addresses the group of us, he is often speaking as to a group of aspiring teachers.
Many do come here for the “authorization” a new fangled version of having Guruji’s blessing to go teach. The tradition of yoga is changing so much. Krishnamacharya was a poor man. His teacher told him to go teach (which is how it was for many of the old schoolers who guruji told to go teach) and for a man of multiple academic honors to be sent into a life of yoga teaching meant very simple living. For many years, Guruji’s wife owned 2 sarees. Sharath told the group yesterday that one must expect little from one’s service. And no, yoga is not a business venture, but we knew that.
I love the way he looks confused by these questions, “I don’t know why you would ask that,” he says. I feel that the money pouring into this family is viewed as karma. Money is a measure of action/energy. In the west, we have attached many meanings, one being personal validation, to the receipt of funds. (FYI, nobody smashes the Ego like Guruji and Sharath) In a true yogic sense, an influx of some entity which is associated with validation of the Ego would be a dangerous thing, or a timely challenge, depending on the focus of the student. I have watched others in the yoga ocmmuity jockey with this idea called “fame” and the play between serving greater numbers and the dangers of reknown. When I chose to stay committed to Ashtanga Yoga as a practitioner and as a teacher, I knew I wouldn’t be getting famous or rich. Indeed, I have lived very much on the charity of others who want to support “the yoga” by supporting my studies. When I come here to study, I feel I commit to this conscious evolution for the good of all, especially my community in Boston. I can feel that the students there get this, and this is part of what makes the growing relationship between us special.
I started teaching after five years of doing nothing but yoga practices with my teachers and on my own. I was as they say , keen. At some point I was so thirsting for service and I couldn’t imagine doing anything besides sharing yoga. I hunted it; I tried too hard; I started too early; I hurt my body. But I was so tired of waiting tables and cleaning toilets. Seemed like th only choice at the time. I think this is something of the 20s, thinking there is scarcity of choice. Dad always said: your twenties are about learning what you don’t want.
Yesterday when Sharath said to go about your profession, I wondered what mine is? Im certainly not a dentist or a mechanic. I feel my profession is to continue the path of conscious evolution (just another word for yoga) for the betterment of all. One could hardly expect money from this venture. The teaching of yoga then becomes something of a duty. Because the singular focus on personal work must give way to an outward focus and the process of balancing the two. Sharath spoke yesterday of wanting to go live in the forest and do only yoga when his kids are grown. I have been aware for some time now of what a sacrifice he must make to continue this yoga school and I trust him completely, truly. He lights up when he speaks of yoga practice (can’t you feel it? He asks us yesterday) but not when he speaks of teaching. I am so grateful that an authentic “yoga family business” is open for me to come study.
It does feel like a family business. Hundreds of us sweating in the ground floor of their home. Saraswati comes down in her housedress to teach primary. The nanny peeks in with the baby on her hip. The spray bottle for Garbapindasana has kid’s stickers all over it. This ain’t no Italian restaurant, but it’s a family trade all the same.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

FYI: I will be travel blogging next week, arriving in Mysore on Nov 10th. Please join me in the pure atmosphere...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Get Real. A 21-Day Lifestyle Intensive with Kate at Back Bay Yoga. In effect Oct 1-21. Meeting 3 Saturdays Oct 4, 11, and 18. We will be using this blogspot as our on-line support space. Comment on this posting to ask questions, offer advice, rejoice, complain, and whatever else may come up during the 21 day period. I will be checking in daily. Om!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Note: This is a posting from the Back Bay Yoga Blog, I will continue to make personal posts on one-yoga, about once a month.

OK, I'm back (sort of). In Rudolf Steiner's philosophy, the Ethereal Body (kind of like Pranamaya Kosha, as I understand it) follows after the Physical body (Annamaya Kosha) when we travel. It can be a few weeks for the Prana to catch up with the Anna. Thanks for bearing with me, I'm excited to be back. And do you know, Back Bay Ashtangis, you are the context for my yoga these days. Stepping into "teacher space" is a different lifestyle than I have been having. Scot and I were pondering yesterday the differences between our lifestyles and the way of living here in New England. We are working on the reality of keeping daily life simple. The desire to fill the space of my days comes strongly whenever I am here. When I am simply sitting, I hear an old voice inside saying, "what's your life about Kate? What are you DOING?"
Indeed, what are any of us DOING. Well, we are practicing yoga- among many other things. This means many things to many people, yes? What does it mean to you?
What Scot and I work to remember is that "I" am not DOING anything.
A great tale about Sri Ramana Maharishi of South India: When called in as a witness to the local court about a stolen cow, the judge dismissed Maharishi as a witness because, "there is no one here to question." Maharishi kept answering, "I" saw nothing. "I" know nothing. The yoga gives us an opportunity to tap into a reality where the Ego-Mind is not running the show. The more that we settle into stillness, the more we remember what we ARE. We are IT, man. The modern yoga practitioner is a revolutionary. It's truly beautiful and exciting. I am inspired to see you all in there daily doing this work, committing to a remembrance of a deeper, clearer, more simple reality.
The busier daily life gets, the more challenging this is. I slowly slowly reintegrate here, watching the tendencies of the Ego-Mind to start filling the space. I check in with the way life can be here, the daily grind, and I respect you all more and more. I feel called to hold this space of a simple life in Boston (of all places!), remaining committed to this particular expression of yoga. Thanks to you all for your support in this.

Friday, February 29, 2008

02-29-08 Yak Attacks and Flesh Sacks

I bought a yak-skin vest. It's true. From the Kashmiris at the market. Yak puns abound. It was a big move. I feel different about it somehow, than if it were Nike, knowing the guy who raised the yak and makes his living from selling yak products. "The yaks have a happy life," he says to answer my angst, "what is the problem?" It's all a bit more simple when we don't expect yaks to have apartments, sushi, and Ikea furniture.

Things are beginning to thin out here. Last class is on the 10th of March, my second month is up on the 6th, which is Shivaratri, an all-night festival holiday. I'll be on the train to Goa that night, which should be interesting. I'll let you know if the train itself includes an all-night festival atmoshpere. Quite possible.

I'm on auto-pilot with full interemediate and ankle taking and all that. I've been studying Barathnatyam, a style of dance originating in Tamil Nadu. These dances tell the stories of Gods and Goddeses, using a lot of hand gestures (mudras), ankle bells and foot slapping. My legs hurt! It is a serious pursuit and feels wonderful to be dancing again. Some people get all involved with numerous classes while they are here. I know Sharath would rather we don't do things that make us stiff, like dance and cycle riding. After years of life supporting yoga, I am in favor of yoga supporting life. I don't want to lay around all day and read scriptures, really don't. I am not old yet.

A friend said the other day about her frequent pranayama and philosophy classes: "Well I figure we will shed this Flesh Sack soon enough, so best start the inner work now." I heard myself answer, "Lately, I've been thinking how I only get this wonderful flesh sack for a short time. I want to enjoy!"

Does enjoyment include the wearing of Yak Sacks? Not necessarily. Possibly.

Those of you who have known me will see this is a whole new me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

02/24/08 Lead Intermediate Class

In case you were wondering, which I don’t expect you were, but thanks anyways- I got Chakrasana. I can now take just below the knee (with help because my shoulders just can’t make the journey in alone) and stand on my own in the backbend. The key was getting the hands up high enough. Once I became comfortable with the idea (I crack way up high in the thoracic now, not sure exactly where, but its in the center near my neck) I can relax enough to get the hands up there and then find strength. It’s the strength and sweetness together that make it possible, as always, with everything. If we are afraid, neither of these qualities is coming. So much trust of the teacher is required. It is wonderful- and somewhat rare in the American way of life to let someone hold your body in a vulnerable position, encouraging you to breath. Every day.
When I started teaching Ashtanga yoga, I was assisting Nancy Gilgoff in her room on Maui. It was like family members, this crowd. I participated in an “adjustment clinic” and I remember crying, overwhelmed by the beauty of it, that students would allow me to touch them, move them, help them. That this could be my JOB. Even if it means getting up early, forfeiting dinner and evening events of all sorts, the natural rhythm of the city I live in. When it comes down to it, nothing is more important to me than practicing and sharing this yoga, which has brought me so much.

Back to Mysore, yesterday was the Sunday morning lead intermediate series class. Sharath teaches the 4AM primary, Saraswati the 5:45, and Sharath again at 7:15 Intermediate. It only happens once a week, and its invitation only, obviously. My first trip, I remember him telling me to come Sunday intermediate starting that week. I had made it to Supta Vajrasana (outside of Mysore I had been practicing full intermediate for 2 years). How it works here: everybody takes primary first month, or as much of it as you are able. After one month, you will receive one posture at a time, to finish primary or to start second. Some people move slowly, more flexy folks faster. It seems like once Sharath gets you to the back bending sequence of intermediate, he will get you through that part (about half way) within a few weeks. At some point, not the same for everyone, you “split” it, which means you stop practicing full primary before intermediate and jump into Pasasana from Parsvottanasana. This is scary for most, as it means you get less warm up, and within half an hour you are doing some intense backbending. Before you know it sticking that log of a leg behind your head. Yikes! Usually the “split” comes after your first Sunday morning intermediate class.
The class is much smaller. Right now it’s at the biggest, because its busy here (though I think more advanced students are starting to come in the quieter summer months) maybe 40? They start dropping like flies after karandavasana (forearm balance, legs in lotus, lower down and lift up), which is a big cut-off point. When your pose comes (I like to say “nemesis”) you take your mat to the back and finish on your own while the rest of the class forges ahead. Less than half of us make it through. I noticed this week; I was one of three women at the end.

Friday, February 22, 2008

02/17/08 Study at the Seat of Ashtanga Yoga

There is a vibration on the Indian sub-continent like no other. It hums. Its smells constantly waft through the days and nights, sounds tinkling and blaring at intervals. The sense of movement, of teeming life, is omnipresent. A woman in a sari weaves a motorbike around a cow, talking on her cell phone. Palm fronds clack, dogs bark, children beg for rupees. Before dawn, roosters crow, temple bells ring and chanting begins. Somewhere nearby a householder is seated on a thin mat, praying. Prayer is never far away, and this, I think, is the source of the hum. Whatever aspiration we send out is matched by the Divine and it comes beaming into our lives. It’s hard here, in a place where this simple exchange is a part of daily life, not to be infected by it. Open your heart and aspiration spills out.
In Mysore, the restaurant makes offerings at a small altar between shifts. The papaya guy comes through the streets around 9 AM yelling “Papaya! Seedless!” Around most corners comes a westerner with a fat mat bag slung over a shoulder, walking slowly.

I keep getting queries through the Back Bay web site about coming to India to study yoga, so let me address this here. It certainly makes sense to come to Mysore to study. Krishnamacharya, whose teaching of Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, and his own son Desikachar blossomed into much of the yoga we know in the west, was based in Mysore to teach the Maharaji. Mysore has long been a city, which supports academics, arts, and music. Many come from all over to study any variety of subjects. Recently the mayor passed a law requiring new buildings to follow guidelines of traditional architecture, in the interest of preserving Mysore’s history.
Mostly whom I am hearing from are new students to Ashtanga or yoga in general. There is a romance to learning yoga in India, perhaps a sense of heightened authenticity. While it isn’t necessary to learn in India to be “authentic,” there’s no question about it: it’s a great experience and it’s far easier to focus on your studies far away from home (though it still requires discipline as all manner of distraction are here). After college, I came to India for six months of study to return a “yoga teacher.” What I found was how far, how very far, from being a teacher I was. Which, in my experience, is better than coming back from a short period of study ready to impart what I am still integrating.
You needn’t be advanced to find appropriate classes here. The Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute isn’t the only place, either. At AYRI, they are very busy to be sure. New students will take class with Saraswati, later in the morning after she helps Sharath. She is wonderful, and the group is great. You will learn traditional method, the same way we teach at Back Bay- one thing at a time. Once you get here and talk to a few people, you hear about other teachers as well. I think Barath has a web site, he is teaching his own style of yoga. Shashadri and his son teach Ashtanga with lots of emphasis on hands-on adjustments. BNS Iyengar, a student of Krisnamacharya, teaches the Ashtanga system and afternoon pranayama. There’s dance, music, sutra chanting, philosophy- you name it. Just be sure not to overbook, as the India experience requires lots of rest.
Places to land, find them on-line: Green Hotel, Shakti House, Chez Joseph.

02/17/08 Yoga Politics

A friend from Vancouver who works in politics asks an American yoga student if his countrymen have voted in the Primaries yet.
“Primary Series?” he asks, in confusion what all the voting is about.

Yes, we are a bit in our own world out here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

02/15/08 One More!

It’s a full house here in Mysore. When I come out at 7, the foyer is still full, it’s hot, Saraswati and Sharath are back bending students left and right, yelling out “One More!” Most students are a bit sheepish to step into the room and Sharath says, “Come quickly! Why fear?” The cutest thing ever, he was communicating something about my back bending to Saraswati in Kanada and he called her “Mama”. Imagine mother and son working the room together. Guruji is never around in the mornings. I spoke with him once in the afternoon at the office. I try to make it a point to come in every other week to connect and ask some question or other. Guruji looked young and well, if a bit confused in conversation. When he saw me he said his usual, “When you come?” and broke into a huge smile that lit up the whole office. I can see how much Sharath loves his granddaddy, that smile lit him as well.
Guess who never gets a day off around here? Saraswati. She’s maybe, 60? She is in the room starting at 5:30 or so, in Prana sweatpants and a salwa blouse, smelling like some kind of joint rub, adjusting until her own class starts for beginners at 8. She assists the lead classes on Fri and Sun and teaches her own lead class on Saturday mornings. In the afternoons, she teaches Indian students. 7 days a week. And you know she is cooking and taking care of Guruji upstairs. She always smiles. And I complain about getting up early. I’ll be smiling at 3 AM tomorrow. Promise.
02/14/08 Three Deaths You’re Out: A City Bus Experience

Can I tell you about the buses? Everybody’s got a good bus story. Mine is this, maybe you had to be there…in Chennai 1999, an overcrowded city bus…
You should know the buses are huge, absolutely gargantuan. Wide and thick and swaying and precarious, despite their grandeur. Rules of the road: the big guy always wins. So look the hell out for the Indian bus. Two buses coming opposite directions play chicken. Whoever spots the other guy first starts with the horn, one long, unrelenting wail. The other bus joins in. Two horns, unbelievably loud, blare until the buses pass, six inches between them. I have learned, as a rider, not to look. You may be reassured by this urban myth: a bus driver is fired after only three counts of manslaughter while driving. Three deaths you’re out. Assuming he is not beaten to death on the scene, as drunken bus drivers often are. Instant justice prevails.
School kids erupt from the windows with ruck-sacks. Imagine jasmine flowers, braids, a twenty-pound bag of onions, armpits, pomade, and tiny naked babies, all cascading in a careening cacophony of India. Mysore buses are quite nice, actually; new and colorful and not so crowded. But Chennai: The bus is old, older than Arunachala, and looking it. Paint half gone, tires a bit squishy and bulging out like the upper arm out a South Indian sari blouse. I mean you could SEE the weight bearing down on the rubber. Ten or more men dangle from the side bar of the back door entrance all bellbottoms and buttons- if one leg makes a stair, you’re in. The bus rolls up to a stand (bus stops are bus stands here), more crush at the stairs. Pushing. Steadily, patiently, pushing. Same thing goes for the front door. As both the doors are on one side of the bus, that makes for about twenty more people on one side. The bus lists. Something about the shocks around here? All the buses bounce incredibly over bumps, spouting fumes in blasts, dipping almost in slow motion due to their bigness. Boing. And there are always so many bumps.
But this bus is something else. The heavy side of the bus is a visible two feet closer to the ground. With every bump I cringe (riding behind on a motor bike) for sure it would bottom out. Bump! The bus rolls like an ocean wave, defying all the rules of engineering to make it over another pothole. Limbs flap like prayer flags around the side doors. I want to change lanes, badly.
Ah, India. No one falls. The back corner of the bus, three inches from the ground, clears it every time. She pulls up to the city bus stand and twenty men hop down, straighten sweaty collars, link arms, and head off down the street.
02/13/08 Propane and Other Impurities

Well, Im up late tonight, getting gassed by my new propane tank, which somehow isn’t on right, judging by the air quality in here. No worries, the alarm still goes off at 3, so I won’t die in the night.
There is no possibility of bodily purity here, always some chemical or other is there. It is interesting here how “nature,” ie. Roaming animals, poop, and rampant parasites, mingles with human-derived impurities like plastic, dyes, and diesel. I notice the travelers get sick a lot. So many of us are not at 100%. I have these weird yellow dots on the whites of my eyes. We discuss the quality of our digestion often. The sinus, the throat, the eyes get irritated by dust, burning garbage, fumes from the rickshaw’s two stroke engines. (This just in: my friend saw a woman Rick Shaw driver this week. Never before have I seen or heard of it. She had the trademark brown smock on, flowers in her hair. I wonder if she is the youngest of a slew of ugly, dowry-less sisters and she figured, screw it- I’m getting me a rickshaw).
I imagine that all these kriyas, the cleansing techniques of yoga, such as asana, puking salt water (vamana dhauti), flossing the nose (sutra neti), churning the stomach muscles (nauli) were fashioned because they are needed to keep the body well. Yoga is so practical! Here we go thinking its some extremist in a loincloth, when it could be the necessity of keeping clean in a crowded, dusty environment. I practice pretty much the same kriyas here as I do at home. Because I am teaching every day, it is just as important to be clean, for myself and for the students, but in India, it’s a health trip.
Talk about smog. When I ride my bicycle to town, out of the village of Gokulum and into Lakshmipuram (not a huge city by any means, but crowded of course) I wrap my face and head in a scarf. I’m sucking cotton when I pump the gear-less wonder up the hill. Do you know there are more bikes manufactured in India than anywhere else? Probably because A: there’s a ton of people, and B: the cycle is a viable mode of transportation. Imagine if everyone who wanted a car in this country had one?? I saw a Ford Explorer inching up the shala road the other week. Everything had to stop to let the monster pass because the roads just aren’t built for cars. I thought to myself: Ego Passing, Everybody out of the Way!
I like my bike. She’s red, Hercules brand, and as the chain guard tells us, “lite and sporty” like the rider! I started two races with Indian guys last week coming back from town. Toasted them. They thought it was hilarious. So did I. As long as I win. I had to buy a new one as the last got stolen from inside the gate of the building I live on top of. There is more and more trouble in Gokulum the bigger this Ashtanga scene gets. Teen-age boys following western ladies in the evening, theft. I do not go out walking after dark alone. However, while the chance of being harassed here is pretty good, chances of violence are scarce. You make a lot of noise, whack him, and he runs away. Noise is the key. Imagine you want to wake up his mother and have her see the disgrace that has become of her son.

Monday, February 11, 2008

02/11/08 Chakrasana: You Take Ankles

Taking the ankles. If you’ve practiced in the shala in Mysore, you know it, possibly you dread it. The Wheel. The closed circuit backbend. It’s like a Kapotasana standing up. You walk in from Urdhva Danurasana (the backbend with hands and feet on the ground to create an upward facing bow) until your feel touch your ankles and then, usually with help from Sharath or Saraswati, you take the ankles. To avoid the shoulders going out to the sides, its best to go into the pose from drop backs. Sharath grounds your hips and you go back as far as you can, keeping the elbows in. He takes your wrists, very gently, one at a time, and brings them to your ankles. Then, if you are ready, he walks your hands each up the back of the leg. A few inches, eventually the hands are above the knees (I’m working mid-calf these days). At the point of getting to the ankles, I was thinking what the hell am I doing this for? WHY is Chakrasana so important here? Rather than surrender to the pose without question, I have been trying to understand it.
The pose does require surrender, at the same time strength. Surrender comes in when the teacher is taking your arms back. It’s the deepest backbend of the day and it hurts until you press into your legs, straighten out, and join in the breathing fun. The first day Saraswati walked my hands even furthur up my legs, I thought surely she wants to hurt me. Which is ridiculous. But in the moment, anything goes inside the mind. I’ve had three cracks in the pose. They keep moving up the spine. This week I cracked up between the shoulder blades. Exciting to get some movement up there.
It took a month for me to get beyond the point of complete angst inside the pose. There is a feeling of having no control, the breath gets shallow and fast, in the shala there is a lot of grunting going on. I figure if I can’t breathe freely in the pose, I shouldn’t be doing it. However, I had an intuition here that this pose has something important for me. It is one of those poses that Sharath and Saraswati are intense on adjusting. You wait for backbends, and if you try to escape, often he will call you back. Not everyone of course, only intermediate practitioners who are ready for it. Why so important? Is it the connection of hands to ankles? Deep bending of the spine?
I keep talking to others abot their experience in the pose. It seems to bring up fear and resistance. Probably because it hurts, and because we aren’t sure what the pose is about. Sharath taught me last week to press the hips forward, and suddenly, his hands were gone and I was standing on my own in the pose. He said “very good” and the light bulb went on for me. I knew he was looking for something in the pose from me- that’s it, to stand freely. It’s scary. It requires total presence of mind, comfort in the pose, and strong breathing. There’s no way I can calmly stand there in this backbend if I am freaking out in any way.
I conjecture that presence of mind in an extreme backbend is an indicator of a strong nervous system. Therefore, the pose is one of those points we reach that signal to Sharath we are getting somewhere in particular. I’m not sure exactly where that might be, but I trust that he understands the process and he watching all of us, seeing these signals along the path. I completely trust him in this way, and I enjoy learning to understand the system through the experience. It’s the only way to manage so many students, to have set signals to watch for. In this system there are certain poses which are turning points. For example, Utthita Hasta in standing poses tells us when the hamstrings are opening, which is necessary for the primary series. Mareechasana tells us lotus is coming, and the digestion is clearing. As a Mysore style teacher, I tend to get sucked into particulars of my students bodies, but really it’s a big picture, this Ashtanga yoga. What an interesting way to learn all this, by taking the ankles.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

2/08/08 The Trash People

Being in India is a great reminder: when it comes to trash, there’s no such thing as away. You can’t throw it away. An interesting part of my experience in Goa was that I didn’t know what to do with my trash. Everything is packaged in plastic here, whereas it used to be in leaves or newspaper.
In Mysore, there is a trash collection service going. I throw my compostables off the rooftop into the empty lot where any variety may come and munch it: dog, donkey, water buffalo, goat. There’s been a herd of shaggy horses ranging the neighborhood this week, which is a first for me to see. Paper items I’ll keep aside and burn (I am fortunate to have septic that can handle TP, so I don’t have to save and burn that. I haven’t encountered that in some years.) The rest, I put out on the curb for the collection. Of course the dogs come in the night and tear it all up, which is why I don’t put food scraps in there. I don’t like to think of the trash collectors having to scrape it off the street. Last week, as soon as I put my little bag out, a woman was looking inside it. I imagine travelers throw away all kinds of treasures.
They move in pairs, two men or two ladies, pushing a cart. They are wearing green smocks and headscarves, no gloves. The cart has four woven baskets about the size of ten gallon buckets. The trash is separated here, the cart pushed to a central location where there is a lorry to empty the baskets into. I don’t know what happens next. I’m scared to think of it.
At my favorite chai spot today, I saw the trash ladies again. The chai is best here because they use fresh, unpasteurized milk and lots of sugar. The chai is constantly boiling in the back of the tiny shop, which also sells sweets (tasteless cakes, delicious apple balls) and namkeen (endless combinations of fried pulses, rice sticks, green peas, coconut, peanuts). My 8-ounce cup of chai is 10 rupees- about a quarter. Trash service costs 20 rupees per month. A man knocked on my door at the beginning of February to collect.

The trash lady asked for a freebie from the chai guy. He made her wait in the street. She smiled at me in open curiosity, checking out my shoes, my jewelery. When she came near, I smelled trash strongly and it took a moment to realize it was she that smelled like a landfill. She was covered in it. Smears on the smock that covered the top of her sari. Small, course hands, long braid down her back, unusually dark skin. All the trash people are very dark skinned. She took a few minutes break to stand and drink the tiny plastic cup of chai. I watched them push them the cart down the hill as I drank mine. On my yoga vacation in India. How’d I get to be the one with the big cup?
I wonder about the idea of karma, seeing these daily distinctions between poverty and privilege. Accepting the present as the effect of past actions, from lifetimes already lived. Everybody’s got to work her way through it, I guess. Maybe I already did? Maybe I’ll be back there again? There’s no assuming that I can understand what I’m meant to learn in this life, through what vehicles.

Friday, February 01, 2008

1/27/08 If Evolution were a Sensation, It would Feel Like This.

I was part of an amazing photo shoot this week with Tom Rosenthal. Tom has been a number of times to Mysore and is an avid practitioner himself. He had a showing of his work at India Song House this year, a few years in the making. He scouts out amazing spots in and around the city for yoga photos. Because we are all Ashtangis, there tend to be more advanced poses featured. I loved working with Tom because first of all he knows the practice, and loves it. Secondly, the expression of the asana is as important as the rest of the photo. Indeed, it is an alchemy of the yoga and the sacred surroundings. His understanding of the art of photography as well as the yoga, coupled with a wealth of amazing models to choose from, makes for quite a product.
After working with a few others, mostly for clothing, some for yoga books, I was feeling a bit done with photos. The amount of work and love that goes into what one is seeing when seeing me perform an asana (it always cracks me up how Iyengar uses the word perform) really must be appreciated. Photographers get excited about the more interesting poses I can take, but for what? To share that part of myself is important and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with Tom. It hasn’t been easy to find a safe and nurturing place to share the aesthetic qualities of my yoga.
Even more special than the product was the experience of the shoot. To practice in these amazing places! We started at the Naandi bull statue on Chamundi Hill outside the city. An amazing drive up to a huge black bull decorated with flowers, rubbed daily with oil, and a pilgrimage of 1000 steps up to receive a blessing. The site was less crowded than usual and our yoga display was met with delight and respect from the visiting families and vendors who gathered to watch. “You are making very nice yoga, madame. This is very much work you are doing.”
We took photos on the ghats (stairs) leading down to a water tank surrounded by red and white stripes and drawings of Shiva’s trident. The sun was perfect, the stone steps warm. Then a climb up to a tiny temple, about 8 feet by 8, with an ornate carved dome lit by the setting sun- and a candy wrapper full of red ants, it’s always India after all. Practicing in these places, in an area steeped in the holy, for the purposes of capturing this alchemy between a sacred practice and a sacred place; performing this yoga which has been cultivated through years of focus and intention in places which are richly blessed by hundreds of years of the focus and intention of pilgrims…wow.
By the end I was shaking in the subtle way I have learned to recognize as Shakti moving in a heavy dose. If evolution were a sensation, it would feel like this. It was such a blessing to be able to give my gift to these places. When we come all this way to take practice in Mysore, though it may look like MTV’s The Real World meets yoga sometimes, it is a pilgrimage. Every day we journey inwards with this practice, wherever we are, is a pilgrimage to our Source. But here, the response is stronger. The energy we put out is returned exponentially. Evolution is compressed. Some days its glorious, some days exhausting. Like the experience of India itself.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


01/24/08 Transcendental Meditation

I am going downtown every morning after asana for a four-day course in Transcendental Meditation as taught by one of the initiates of Maharaji Mahesh Yogi. The course started with a Puja in the small room where we sit. The room is on an alley that runs between two large households. The dish station is there. A perfect India moment: Naraseema performs the puja, chanting, burning candles, blessing and offering fruits and flowers while two women have a heated conversation in Kanada outside the window, banging a host of stainless steel dishes in the clattering way only stainless dishware can. Couldn’t hear anything but the dishes and the high voices.
We each receive an individual mantra then, very simple. The meditation requires two twenty-minute sits every day, which is quite doable. I resonate with this technique more than any other I’ve been introduced to. The instructions are not to concentrate on the mantra, not to try to stop thoughts- not trying to DO anything except sit there. Rather than “repeat” the mantra, we “wait for the mantra” to come. The mind will eventually be attracted to the mantra more than the thoughts, and in this way, we drop in to meditation.
The meditation is followed by a 90 minute lecture/ question and answer session on Indian philosophy. Naraseema is a Brahman who began reading sacred texts and philosophy of all kinds at age 12. He has now been meditating for 35 years and sleeps an average of 3 hours a night. We can, he says, control the body’s dependency on sleep and food through yoga and meditation. I’m still working on that bit!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

01/22/08 Ashtanga Love

I always liked the expression: dig too many wells you never reach water. Seeking to hold a lineage and devoting myself to the Ashtanga Yoga practice as I have learned it from my teachers is, as Scot says, about faith. The mind does create stories about the necessity for bringing other activites to the mat. To release this mind-sourced tension and practice with ease and enjoyment creates a positive experience regardless. It is an act of trust and surrender to believe in a system of yoga that has been around much longer than we have, and to demonstrate this committment on a daily basis. I have worked very hard to balance other activites, practices, routines, while maintaining the Ashtanga practice as I have been given it. I notice myself questioning from time to time; once or twice a year I go through it, but I always come back, as to a lover I can’t get out of my system. At a point, practice blossoms into what Matt is talking about here, where mat-shmat; it’s all yoga. Everything in life is a chance to express our devotion. Those who get out of bed and practice on a consistent basis, year after year, will be those who find the Ashtanga system a personal expression of that devotion. It’s never about being a fundamentalist. It’s always about being a Lover.

Monday, January 21, 2008

01/20/08 At the Washing Stone

I have been asked twice in the past few days how I do my laundry. Like the butt-washer issue, we are many trying to learn the ropes of the daily routines. A lot of folks bring the laundry to the “laundry centre” which you can find on any corner within a few blocks, for a nominal cost. At the laundry center you’re clothing is likely to be soaked, scalded, soaped, beat against stone, and I mean BEAT, and sometimes lost (aka- ripped off). Not your trusted dry cleaner. I heard a great story last week from a friend who picked up their laundry the appointed two days later and was returned a stack of neatly folded, wet clothes.
Me, I do my own washing. It is a part of the cycle of life for me here, also a way of keeping it real in a country where the dollar makes me rich. Ten rupees less to the dollar than two years ago, but still. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of things more meaningful than taking care of my own cleanliness. I am gifted with a washing stone on my rooftop, in the glorious sun, with a drain off the rooftop. Otherwise, the process of scrubbing and rinsing happens in a tiny bathroom, sweating and squatting down for an hour or so, naked but for the suds. I’ve got a good system now. Since the tap, which used to be attached beside my washing stone (a waist-high, flat piece of some rock or other) has been conspicuously removed from the wall, I drag the buckets in and out of my bathroom like a milkmaid. I keep my house chappals (the inside shoes that never go out in the world) at the threshold so I don’t track roof dirt all into my little room.
I fill the first large plastic bucket with laundry powder and hot water (which makes such a difference after attempting to do laundry in Goa with only cold). Soak the clothes for 30 minutes; more will age them, not as if the whole process does not. This is where I’ve figured it out. Where I used to rinse the clothing in the tiny stream of water from the tap, kneading and whacking it like I’ve seen the women doing here, sweating and lamenting the constant stream of suds that won’t turn to clear water- now I just wring them out and soak them in a large bucket of clean water. A few minutes, take them out, wring them out again and hang them to dry on my rooftop line. Should there be some soiling or staining, I take the plastic scrub brush, lay the piece over the stone and gently brush. The way I see locals scrubbing, I’m surprised the whole town isn’t threadbare. The brush is unforgiving, like a hard bristled tooth brush against your gums. My Banana Republic Modal, my Fab India silk! Anyone will tell you not to bring clothes you actually like to India. Well, sure I’ll just wear clothes I don’t like for 4 months. I certainly don’t plan on bringing any home, but with my new-found washing excellence, they may be ok.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

01/16/08 God Speaks

I haven’t quite figured out which direction to point the butt-washer to avoid spraying water all over the back of the toilet. The “butt-washer” looks just like the sprayer in your kitchen sink, but its coming out of the wall where one might expect to see a roll of toilet paper. Rather than the now old-fashioned method of big bucket-little dipper (a science unto itself) butt-washers are popping up in modern Indian homes. However, the western style toilet has also caught on, which when coupled with the butt-washer, is just plain awkward, in my opinion. I miss squatters. My Amma in Chennai said it best: “I don’t understand this western toilet. I find it much less clean to put the behind where another’s has been than to put the feet.” Amen.
It’s things like this that make India such a unique travel experience. Confusion in the most simple, yet inescapable of arenas. In so many ways, we are all plucked from our lives here and plunked down in a land where what usually validates us is distant. We are called to redefine our routines and expectations constantly. For instance you thought you had the bowel movement thing worked out, but now there’s water everywhere. Next time. And in this, perhaps we may be gifted with the Grace we are all seeking. Validation in our own Divinity.
God speaks through Butt-washers, yes it’s true.
Our mission here, should we choose to accept it, is to let go the need to have it figured out. The western traveler’s face is often an unmasked display of confusion. Sometimes frustration. Rarely playfulness. At the temple sites and cow-filled intersections, you see looks of amazement and sometimes delight, but rarely in line at the train station or while haggling with a rick-shaw driver. Can we keep the drishti on Grace in even these times? Challenging times are more common in India, anyone might tell you that. My friend Mahesh: “Shit man, this place works me and I’m Indian. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you guys.” Amen again.

Sharath is working his skinny butt off with all of us in there, sweating it out as though we might gain some of that Divinity (even a sprinkle?) from the daily pursuit of asana. I have come to know for myself, its more about the “daily” part of it than how jamming I can be today and what anybody else thinks about it. A daily observance of my own evolution, a safe place to do the work, health benefits, and a really fun time (provided I am living a lifestyle of enough sleep and clean food). If I can just remember to laugh at myself; if I can just remember to smile while I move and breath… this is a good start to the day. Maybe when the phone hangs up, internet crashes, belly hurts, I will be that much closer to smiling. Life is a Vinyasa, start to finish. It’s the same thing always we are remembering, despite the shapes and sounds we are making in this world.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

01/10/08 More Limbs than a Nataraj: The Shala Opens in Mysore

I was expecting throngs here in Mysore, but it’s not bad at all. Registration on the weekend went smoothly, though Sharath seemed stressed. I walked out of the office thinking oh God, I hope we can all have some FUN around here. Guruji was there, but Saraswati is quite protective of his space. He wasn’t very talkative. Neither was Sharath. But first day lead primary (I was in the foyer, people were practicing in the changing rooms) Sharath was cracking jokes and smiling. He seems to be enjoying being here and teaching- after all so many of us have known him as the teacher for a while now. Things are running like clockwork (a big change!) in the Mysore room with everyone assigned a time in half-hour intervals, and people actually coming at their correct times. Sharath is doing an excellent job managing all these people. However, we are still under 200 and there are only two lead classes this Friday. I think some folks are still on their way. Lead intermediate won’t start until next week.
I went to speak with Sharath about my wrist story yesterday. I was surprised that he knew me by name after 2 years. I think it’s because I am, as he said, “like Nicki’s sister”. Can you imagine having hundreds of students all over the world? So, he said wear a wrist support. Like a good ashtangi, I ended up with an ace bandage migrating all over my arm during practice this morning and the clippy things ended up on my neighbor’s mat. I’ll have to work on that. Sharath and Sarawati are giving me plenty of space to practice the best I can, skipping anything that puts much pressure there. I told Sharath before backbending “it’s been a looong time.” He laughed and said, “you take anything.” I think his mellow vibe is an important shift that is keeping the scene here grounded and sweet. He watches a lot, getting to know us all again, adjusting sparingly. I move slowly and the crowd around me changes as everyone else finishes and I am… still…going. It’s fun to practice close to so many new people. Giggling when we stick our legs in each other’s armpits. I made a great friend when a guy smacked me while coming up from backbends. I used to be attached to getting my legs wide in Soopta Konasana and things like that, but now the pose looks like Ubaya Padangustasana and I have no qualms.
The vibe on this trip continues to be about family and community. I think there are enough of us now who have been on this path for a number of years that we stand on our own as yoga enthusiasts. Now there are too many students for everyone to have an intimate connection with certain teachers. As the Guru/disciple relationship is not the model for yoga asana in the west on the majority, it seems we are creating a learning community amongst ourselves. We support each other in a shared love for this practice, creating home and family as we travel and study. Then those of us who are teaching return to the communities of students we are supporting (and being supported by) at home. I come to Mysore to connect to this community of teachers. When I am in Boston, where I have few connections outside the yoga world in which I am holding teacher space (most of the time, and the crew there is great in giving me space to be me), it’s great to know all these others from all over who are in the same boat. Then we end up teaching at each other’s schools, subbing for each other, and the families knit together. Ashtanga yoga becomes a uniting force.
Coming out of the finishing room today, I stepped into the main practice space, which was still jamming at 7:30, two and half hours later. I don’t realize it when I am in there at 5, but WHOA. Talk about energy. Everyone in that room (maybe 60 at a time?) has come a Long Way to do this short practice every day and they are giving their all. The breath is deafening. The air is thick (we know about that in Boston). It smells. Faces are intense. To get from one side of the room to the exit is like an obstacle course. More limbs than a Nataraj in there. For me, I concentrate on slow, even breath. The last thing I need when I’ve moved by body through all sorts of realities in the last four months is to get more jazzed (Debatable, as I certainly like to get high). I love to experience this practice as grounding. Only Primary first week, we are all loving it. Backbending next week, oh yes, shit hitting the fan. Love it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

01/09/08 Yoga in Goa

I flew from Goa with a handful of others to Bangalore and shared a taxi the three hour ride to Mysore. Our driver didn’t know the way to Mysore and we drove around the city for 2 hours, but made it in the end. The wheel has been ripped off my luggage, making the bag quite heavy. I put it in my head to climb to the fifth floor where my “capsule” is. The room is a studio with single burner, fridge, shower including hot water that comes out a spout down low, as opposed to the shower head. A big step up from Goa.
Practice with Rolf and Marci Naujokat in Arpora, Goa was excellent. Rolf is a German who has been living and studying in India for many years. Marci is an American who has a strong Iyengar backround, but an ashtanga practice these days. They are both very welcoming and personable, doing a great job of remembering the many new students who came for the time the shala in Mysore was closed. We had somewhere around 60 every morning, Monday-Friday. First batch starting at 5:30, the room beginning to empty after 9. Rolf and Marci keep the room to 20 at a time, a big room in their small house adjacent to the bedroom. It instantly felt like family for me.
I started out staying at a guest house in Anjuna and taking a motorbike taxi in the morning and walking the hour or so home. Stopping for chai and coconuts along the way. I had no stove which was quite a challenge for that week. Then I ran into a friend from Auroville I have known for 7 years and he had an extra room in his place north of the shala, in the village of Siolim. I borrowed his mountain bike to cruise the 30 minutes to class in the mornings. I like to make pedal power a part of my travel life, otherwise we end up hanging out talking and riding scooters all the time. Biking around I get to see a larger picture than walking, and it feels good to move.
I have a wrist story still going on, but Rolf and Marci were supportive and I pretty much just do the practice very slowly and skip jump throughs and jump backs. It’s frustrating sometimes, after 2 months, but I am learning to correct a very old pattern that is the source of the trouble. Patience doesn’t always come easy for the Ashtangi. Often, we work to the point of trouble, at which point we are forced by the injury to step back and learn how to use the body in new ways. This is how I change my patterns with Ashtanga yoga. Of course it’s never just physical and I begin to see all other sorts of patterns as well. Having time in life for self-study is an important part of my world, though not always easy. Those interested in a strong practice like Ashtanga had best be interested in looking deeply. Because this is what we get.