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...