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.