Ashtangi weekend!

Ok..so I’m tired. Waking up at 2:30ish every morning to practice at the shala before sunrise, while not really shutting down until after 9 pm on a good night, is catching up to me. I’ve been weird ( more than usual) weepy and forgetful. Sigh…not operating at full gear is tough..and I was in denial about it until this morning. Too many monkey brain distractions, not enough Hanuman. Did you know hanuman never gets fatigued? I wore someone else’s black haviana flip flops back home from breakfast…

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Now, granted, black flip flops are quite common, and I was distracted by the pack of monkeys that were climbing over our heads and sitting on the fences around us.

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Photo credit..Brian Ennis!

But, I was not wearing my black havianas this morning! When I went back for the exchange, everyone laughed as I put back on my red Toms..

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The Saturday and moonday combo this weekend of two days off is a much needed respite! I think it’s not just me either, as even Sharath lost his count a couple of times in led primary this morning, chuckling to himself about needing stronger coffee. I’m not much of a napper, so for now relaxing poolside at a local resort watching swim lessons😉

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Temples tomorrow after a good nights sleep!

Lessons of impermanence

Everyday as I walk back from practice, I see different families taking care of their homes, sweeping and watering down their front walkways and driveways. There is always a new layer of accumulated daily dust and the debris of nature. For many here in southern India, that early morning routine also contains the ritual of a new kolam design. Done as a welcoming symbol of good intentions for the day. These geometric and artistic symbols are made by the women of the household, and usually taught, from mother to daughter.

Traditionally they are made with rice flour or sandstone powder, though some women now use chalk sticks. The daily designs range from simple to complex, done in white. The more colorful rangolis kolam designs are saved for holidays and special occasions. I truly appreciate the love and pride of home, as well as the lesson of letting go for the elements to wash away the kolam, just to start fresh, a new dawn, a new day, a new design. Here is a sampling of yesterday’s

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“Nothing endures but change.” Heraclitus

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Conference notes March 23, 2014

Last conference of the season…

Sharath opened by stating this was it! He wondered if any one had any doubts or questions, because as he put it, without them there are no answers. 🙂

Someone opened by asking about count, is it a mantra?

Sharath basically stated it’s a count no more no less. His son was sitting next to him and started the count, “One!” It was very funny and cute.

Ahimsa came up next from a more philosophical perspective of the point that there are infinite consequences..how do you decide what is ever right?

At first Sharath humorously stated if we dwell on every possible outcome we’d never leave our beds! However, though fate may exist with everyone having a time go be born or a time to die, ensuring your actions are purposeful is all you can do. Think first. God has given us all the power to think and gauge our choices. Yoga helps make you wiser, utilizing the tools of all the limbs helps you to think more clearly. By enacting the eight limbs, the impurities of the body and mind can be destroyed, so spirituality and wisdom can grow inside.

Sharath said his wife was helping him with his hair and back in his oil bath yesterday, and they were talking about spirituality. He said he told her that children are born pure, up until about five years old there is really nothing but a good heart and stable mind. As we age and are exposed to more trauma, people, places, knowledge, it gets more confusing and disturbing, to latch on to that earlier place but the process of yoga can bring your mind there again. Bringing the senses inside to see your true nature, versus all the outside perceptions and distractions.

Asana starts the process, and then curiosity takes hold first to ahimsa, than satya and the transformation starts. It goes deeper and deeper, into your actions and changes how you act as well as how you treat others.

As an aside someone asked later about the importance of ahimsa over satya in possibly hurting others through what you say…his answer was that there is an art to learning how to make others understand without humiliation or judgement.

How hard should you push yourself?

With a smile, unto you feel pain, everyone laughed. But then more seriously, until your body shows resistance. Your body is clever, it knows when to stop. Primary series should take about an hour and fifteen minutes. If you do too many asana, it’s like eating too much food, it can really make you sick. One practice a day is enough.

Why is there “Shala Time”?

Sharath said it was too keep us from being lazy with a laugh. But then said it was a tradition of parampara dating to Guruji always being five minutes early, he felt it was very important to be on time.

Questions about bundhas and stamina, shaking during or after practice?

Bundhas, were briefly addressed with basics stating it was too much information to cover here but there was plenty of information available and that they develop over time and consistency. As for the shaking, this is a high energy practice and the body slowly needs to get used to it over years, again stressing to never do too many at a time.

Certified teacher trainings versus authorization?

Sharath answered saying what can he do? Police it? Yoga can’t be trademarked, it’s like the sun, or air, it just exists. It is his duty to educate, teachers trainings don’t possibly cover enough, in good ones, you end up realizing how much more you need to learn. Everyone needs training and a proper foundation, like the banyan tree, it starts out small and grows slowly, this is yoga. The commitment and sacrifice is great.

When is Shat Kriya appropriate?

When you are Ill. Asana cures in of itself if done properly. For example, primary series is designed to cure internal diseases. The digestive organs are cleansed by pressing on the lower abdomin. Backs are strengthened in forward folds and pain goes away. Belly fat goes away from forward bending. First it makes you fit and healthy, then strong organs and bundhas.

When should you start drop backs?

Not until primary is completed. It is important to have a sound forward bend before drop backs, otherwise you compromise kormasana. Balancing is important, too much of anything can effect the rest of your practice. For example, handstands compromise kapotasana, too many, unneeded, will effect ability to backbend properly. It is unnecessary to do more than your practice.

Coconut oil rubbed on the joints after practice then washed off with hot water will help make the joints more flexible.

What about catching?

Sharath stated without it you can’t see the stars, with a laugh. But more seriously noted it will strengthen your back more after all the foreword folding of primary. He as well pointed out how strong and straight the backs of old yogis were such as Krishanamachara and Guruji.

In closing he spoke of obstacles to practice from yoga sutra 1.30..
Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained — these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles. We can make our minds stronger through practice. While he was on Safari, in a tent practicing as he was getting into kapotasana there was a lion roaring right outside the tent. He smiled and said it was his best kapotasana ever. God bless you all with happiness and prosperity. Namaste!

Concerto

Though I know a basic ashtanga ritual everywhere is led primary, usually on Fridays. There is something to be said for waking up at 2:30 in the morning to be ready and waiting at a gate at 3:30 with a large group of others doing exactly that too. Sitting in quiet anticipation and contemplation for lights to come on and doors to be opened for a led primary series with Sharath. The first notes start with the rattling of keys and doors inside, we arise as one, getting ready to gently surge forward as a mass to head up a stairwell through a bottleneck doorway to find a spot for our mats to align tightly inside the shala. Bags quickly tucked in changing rooms, last minute bathroom breaks. Talking if at all is bare minimums, energy is saved for asana. The fine tuning of quiet stretches, small mantras and prayers still us until Sharath comes out of his office and we all come to standing at the front of our mats.

From the moment Sharath steps forward to conduct the chant, the energy sweeps around us all, in synchronized breath and movement. The melody is our breath, while his count is our rhythm. The beauty of the orchestration, arises in not just the intensity, but also in letting go. In the speed, proximity of bodies, and staying in breath count, the balance of just doing the best you can, in that moment, that day, really comes into to a crescendo for the week. The choreography of bodies having to sometimes acquiesce full form over consideration and safety of those around you, working together. Finding the sweet spot of asana, comes, I think more easily in just giving up because the count is already there, comically I think in Mysore style I don’t realize I’m there yet sometimes, there is a fine line with working too hard in effort, that led forces you to let go.

I was really sick with either food poisoning, a bad 24hour flu, whatever, the day before, and honestly didn’t know how any part of my practice was going to work. Just grateful to be well enough to wake, shower, and make it to my mat. I wish I didn’t need those reminders of illness or hardships to break away from the ego of self criticism and all the other stuff and just always appreciated practice everyday with that same sense of non-attachment. Regardless, I’m still looking for the ease in the effort. It’s just more difficult to find when your mind stresses as your body tries to relax, caught up in being your own teacher. In led, at least once the sequence is fully ingrained, the mind can find the stillness by letting the conductor lead the way.

Gateways

“Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it, without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it, without recognizing it.”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Walking the streets here in Gokulam, I pass by so many different houses. They each have commonalities, such as entry gates. I truly enjoy the unique aspects and art that takes hold of the utilitarian principles of what could be such basic structures, helping make such welcoming and beautiful homes.

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It’s getting a little hot here..

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So I just copied the next week of weather off Yahoo! For Mysore. It is not due to be less than 100F or 38C until a week from today..but only by a single degree..ugh. At least I’ve been here building up to the heat. It certainly makes it challenging to get anything accomplished in the afternoons!

Thankfully practice now starts before sunrise, though the room is hot just from the bodies moving. I, as well as everyone here, need to keep a slightly slower pace to compensate for the heat! Hopefully the blackouts will be rare and short! There is no air conditioning anywhere here, but at least there are fans for circulation. I’m ending practice with a two coconut drink now…maybe three by tomorrow! There is nothing quite like a fresh cut open coconut when you are thirsty, after you are done it can even be split to get the meat. I like to have each of the coconut cart and stand owners slice it at an angle so I can sip it without a straw. For some here the split is part of their daily ritual, but I only go for the meaty part occasionally for the afternoon walk coconut, they are priced to sell at a reasonable 18-20 rupees depending on whether you go to the cart or slightly further walk to the stand. Sunny days ahead!

Mysore, India Weather
Right Now
91°F
Mostly Cloudy
Feels Like 89°F

20. Mar
101°
High
74°
Overnight Low
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21. Mar
101°
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75°
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CHANCE OF RAIN
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22. Mar
101°
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76°
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Mostly Sunny
CHANCE OF RAIN
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23. Mar
100°
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75°
Overnight Low
Mostly Sunny
CHANCE OF RAIN
0%

24. Mar
100°
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74°
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Mostly Sunny
CHANCE OF RAIN
0%

25. Mar
100°
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73°
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CHANCE OF RAIN
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26. Mar
99°
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72°
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27. Mar
99°
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73°
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CHANCE OF RAIN
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WIND
ESE at 9 mph
Expand DetailsFri
28. Mar
101°
High
74°
Overnight Low
Sunny
CHANCE OF RAIN
0%

Temple Run

Sunday was a full moon day, no practice in traditional ashtanga. I decided to explore some history and culture of the surrounding areas. A friend who had been here before suggested we take a group trip out to see a few ancient temples and waterfalls. I was quite excited at the prospect and most assuredly I’m really glad I went. However, I had not quite grasped the driving. I’m guessing sleeping in the four hour trek from Bangalore airport to Mysore had saved me more than being tired!

I had asked how far, and all those types of things, and though I thought I has a basic understanding of driving here in India, I was wrong. There were four of us in the group, plus a driver in something similar to a small suburban, but with no seat belts or air conditioning. This was not the car from the brochure. The air conditioning, however, was really the last of my worries. I was terrified, truly frightened beyond the ability to even scream at one point, and cackling with nervous laughter at others. Highway driving or countryside driving as I’m not sure what moniker to define it with is more like driving in a video game like Mario Cart, Frogger or Temple Run. Ahh yes we were on a temple run, so why not? There were golden statues at the end!

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The driver, who seemed completely at ease with two busses barreling at us in a road only the size of one and a half lanes, with one veering off at the last second, just to have a car be hidden right behind him that we somehow magically squeezed between like the knight bus in Harry Potter, just absolutely deserves a medal. Some of the major roads are done relatively well and new, but as with many things, the infrastructure of transportation is very much still a work in progress. There were at least three different times we had back ups and waits just to have a bus try and fit past other cars or trucks on single lane roads that now have two way traffic, built long before cars were a major or even minor part of daily life here.

Marc, one of my fellow adventures noticed as we were stuck on a bridge in one of these instances, that the steel from the bridge came from a British company he was familiar with. This bridge shook and shimmied from side to side as we waited for the bus to eek slowly forward through the bottleneck that had now formed packing our whole side of it. I commented back, that I was relatively certain the bridge dated back to colonial British times. I could see as I snapped pictures of the boaters below us that new pillars were being set for a new bridge, and I’m happy to have avoided the present one’s failure, I hope all continues to work until the next, improved larger one is complete!

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I loved every minute of it. I certainly would never attempt a drive like that myself here, not without being in India for some time, but as with many things here, it is a point of trust and surrender. This insanity works here, at least the majority of the time, and driving through villages, rice paddies, sugar cane fields and the majestic and vibrant landscape was a gift to all my senses. The Keshava Templein Somnathapur in of itself was worth it, everything thing else was the cherry on top.

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The rings in the last picture and corner stone they are linked too are all cut from one stone together, but I loved the ceilings best of all!

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Just breathe

Yesterday morning, after led primary, the woman next to me asked, “Where did you learn to breath like that?!” I smiled, and thought of my teacher, and told her it’s taken hard work. Someone once said to me breathing is the most intimate relationship we have throughout our lives. The very first thing we do in this body, as well, the very last, is take a breath. Coming to terms with and surrendering to our breath, or fighting it, is a daily battle for many of us. You would think, as something we usually take for granted and in most parts of our days, the breathing process is just automatic and therefore we are experts. Throw activity, irritants, heat, cold, anxiety, fear, pain, laughter, hiccups, sickness, deviated septums, and choking among others I’m most certainly forgetting right now, into the mix and breathing can go haywire. However learning to control your breath can completely change your life, bringing relaxation, calm, mindfulness, and serenity.

I admit, I wasn’t very good at it. Health issues, fear and just my basic constitution had all inhibited my ability to breath right. I’m still no expert..everyday brings it’s own new struggles and moments to learn from.

Ashtanga yoga is all about the breath. When I first started ashtanga, I could barely keep my mouth closed, that was enough of a struggle, and yet I was also trying to control my breath count as well, in led classes I would even feel as if I was just holding my breath, and never could get enough back inside. It was an immensely masochistic activity. So much intensity and effort went into to each and every inhale and exhale. I shudder at the memory, yet I kept coming back to the mat. I had moments where all went well for a nanosecond but backbending and the traditional pachimottanasa afterwards were a combo one two punch for all the good work I had done leading up to it. My past impressions of fear of suffocation would seize my brain making me hyperventilate..I cringe feeling sorry for whomever was practicing nearby me in those moments.

I had teachers always working with me on it. To me, I felt It was the weakest link of my asana practice. No prana no true asana. Sometimes if I let myself get too quickly paced, which I’m naturally inclined to do, I still can lose it in parts of practice, but I’m usually able to reset back down a notch or two. A favorite thought is imagining my breath as calm but powerful waves on the ocean, ebbing and flowing. Melting in an asana and staying until there is equilibrium between inhale and exhale helps, but the key for me is exhaling fully, enjoying the natural pause, then inhaling, ideally, as deeply.

Getting there has been a physical as well as mental part of practice. Aristotle so wisely said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Stop believing the false impressions. Surrender, faith, letting go, and ultimately relaxing in the knowledge that the worst case scenario is that I’d pass out so my autonomic function could reset, in a computer like reboot..I’m quite happy that has never actually happened! But all learned from practice, from guidance of a highly skilled teacher. I was taught to practice sutra neti as well. (Don’t mock it till you try it!) The intimacy of breath and vulnerability of the fear that losing your breath can bring forth are intense aspects of the practice, at least for me. I can say now, I’m immensely grateful for all those assists, by every teacher, past and present, more so than for help in any asana. The power of breath, and learning to control it versus being controlled by it, is central to practice. Yoga Sutra 1.34 prachchhardana vidharanabhyam va pranayama. The mind is (also) calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice. I’m grateful for the meditative state and calm it brings to me everyday, especially when it works!

Hope for a better world

I worked this week and plan to go back and do more at Odanandi. I helped plant a sustainable garden, or at least the beginning of one, at their young children’s and women’s home. Much of the soil there is now compacted and drained of most of the nutrients. The absolutely fabulous volunteers in charge of the project, tried to set it up so that the older children on site can not just reap the benefits of healthy food choices in the near future, but also learn another way to take care of themselves. We put about 9 fledgling trees into the ground perimeter to help replenish the lost nutrients and prevent further soil erosion. In all honesty, it really doesn’t look like much now, but time, sun, rain, and care could all potentially help make this a successful fruit and vegetable garden.

The children at the facility were all so beautiful, with big smiles and hugs, “Hi sister!” Is what they say in greeting me. The young ones shyly smile and reach out to hold your hand, or pet your hair, affectionate and bright eyed. We brought them small gifts, to help with some basic needs, in looking around, it was obvious, they need so many more supplies. Regardless, the children were happy, and as sad as I was about the reasons that brought them all to Odanandi, I knew their futures, now had as much potential as the garden, maybe even more, because they were free, being looked after, educated and loved. Each of them now has the opportunity to change the world for the better, each has a voice to say human slave trafficking should not exist in our future.

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Yesterday, was an international event, called yogastopstraffick The children, women, and all in charge here in Mysore led this world wide event of awareness against the human slave trade. One of these amazing leaders said that if all people in the world truly practiced yoga, as she listed off the eight limbs of yoga, they would no longer be human slavery. That is a seed worth cultivating.

I’m excited to work and play with the children again this week. I’m planning to bring them art supplies and have some fun. I cried that first day some tears of sadness, from their plight. The director was working hard and said there was a crisis of some sort at the moment, I smiled and said in any family there is always some sort of crisis, but it’s wonderful, they have someone as remarkable as you in charge to smooth it over. I’m hopeful.

Lotus of the Heart

As I have always been fascinated by the subtleties of different word choices, particularly in translations. Our perceptions can change just by how we define a word, or in sentence structure. I’m taking a class here on the Yoga Sutras. I have no less than eight books on the sutras at home, all giving subtle variations as well as some in depth analysis of the meanings behind each thread. However, there is something to be said in hearing, even the same words, that you’ve read out loud. The inflection in someone’s voice can make a world of difference. I really like the teacher at the shala, he has not only a vast amount of knowledge on Sanskrit and the sutras, but a great way of telling stories to explain what he means in a clear and entertaining fashion.

As an example, we were going over The Yoga Sutras 1.33-1.44, describing how it is not easy to keep the mind happy, in undisturbed calmness, and the various possible ways to go about it. One in particular struck a chord in me:

Sutra 1.36 Meditation by fixing the mind on the inner light, which is beyond sorrow, the lotus of the heart.

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He explained it as a baby lotus in the center of the heart, blooming in deep meditation.

“The light within the heart is always there, no matter what you do, no matter where you go in consciousness.”

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

I made the mandala above when I came home from sutra class. I love the process of painting and drawing, regardless of the outcome, it is definitely one of my meditative states. I only brought some water colors and a silver brush pen here to India. I am excited to head to the market and get some of the powdered pigment paints to experiment with! Maybe if I’m ambitious a class on kolam design.