7th series

It’s that time of year for ashtangis to head to Mysore. I have friends there now, I’ve been seeing at least some of their lives unfold there online, on Facebook. Some inquiries as well, will you be there, have you sent in your golden ticket? It was tempting, no doubt, especially with all the photos online. The cows walking through town, trips to nearby temples, and the food shots, as well as the occasional gratuitous asana, all in real time pictures. I will admit, between that and the wonderful friends I made in my journey at the end of last winter into spring, yes it has a pull. And though those reasons are all the fun extras of the culture and like minded friends, it’s really all about the practice and study, isn’t it? That, for me, is where the true magic awaits.

I take nothing away from my experiences in going, it was a gift and blessing to have been to the source and feel the energy, for that I thank my family. However, my family comes first, leaving them again, is just not possible now, and might never be. My duty, if I can use Sharath’s definition of duty being a love, is to and for my family. Though I hate the word selfish in the pejorative aspect that has been given to it, I am selfish, we all should be, in the sense I mean. Do no harm, ahimsa, is compassion and forgiveness for all, including yourself. The yogic principles don’t have an outward drive, but instead, inward, to the light, so if that defines me as selfish, by all means, I’ll take it, I want that inner light in my heart.

My best efforts on this ideal path often lead to failures, but within those moments of humanness I know that I have a place in this world. My duty and loving devotion is to my family. I have not relinquished my connections to the daily grind with the ability or desire to give up my duty to my life with my family, quite the opposite. I have in yoga, been able to enjoy it all the more. I have found peace in knowing all I can do is try, to the best of my capabilities, to work, to be a partner, a parent, a teacher, and all the other roles I partake. To hopefully not repeat the same transgressions as I age, if not evolve, to find wisdom in my experiences. To put it simply, I practice yoga because it makes me feel better, physically and emotionally, which in turn helps me be a better person to all…even that guy that cuts me off driving.

Traveling to Mysore is a wonderful experience. I don’t condemn anyone with a family choosing to go on that journey, I know I too have felt that pull, and I’d be lying to myself if a future though remote opportunity wouldn’t make me happy to attempt it, if the stars aligned. I know it’s a sacrifice, for all, but timing is everything, and for now, I’m needed at home. I may never step foot on Indian soil again. It’s not going to halt anything in my practice, except that I most likely won’t receive authorization.

Personally, I most assuredly can attest, authorization is not the goal I strive to attain, I want something much more than a piece of paper, I want the whole enchilada, samadhi, enlightenment, bliss, as Guruji says in Yoga Mala, the mind seeks the Universal Self, or Atman. ( whether authorization alone makes someone a capable teacher or not, is a debate I am not addressing in this) I practice to try to my best duty, to strive towards that goal, and yes a Guru, such as Sharath can help you find places to explore on the path in your map. However, at some point, the guru is also inside you, whether you trek to a master or practice quietly at home or a local shala with an experienced teacher, the stilling or harmonizing of the sense organs to achieve inward direction towards the realization of ones true nature, can happen without traversing half way around the world, or not. I whole heartily believe in parampara and all that it means in having a teacher, but I will go farther to say a month in India with Sharath is fantastic but will not guarantee any enlightenment, nothing can.

There are so many factors, and though each human, we all have our own unique biases, strengths, and weaknesses. Daily practice? Absolutely. What does that mean? I can’t answer that for anyone but myself.

Oh the tangled web we weave.

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I saw this majestic banyan tree while driving out of Mysore one my one day trip to visit temples. It was simply stunning and I had wanted to stop but there wasn’t enough time. I love trees. I always have. Climbing them, drawing them, sitting underneath the canopy, I don’t know why, the beauty, the energy, the roots. I knew I had to try to see it up close.

I asked my old teacher ( he’s 11 years younger than me, love the irony of that statement) about the tree, and he was familiar with it and suggested a trusted rickshaw driver to take me back one morning. I was so excited and set up a 7 am pick up after practice. My friend Brian came along for the adventure and closer look as well. I was bubbling with excitement over visiting the tree, the drive was exquisite, the streets through Mysore were empty with all the street vendors just starting to set up for the day and a loop past the Mysore palace as the sun was just rising, so much beauty and the bizarre contrast of a mostly quiet ride through the city that usually bustles with an energy you most definitely hear.

It was everything I hoped to see, and more. There was a circle of benches spaced far enough back in a circle around it to sit and admire this gift of nature, and at the base of one side of the trunk, an alter of sorts for prayer and puja offerings. I smiled when I saw the spiritual tribute, as in my own way, I felt it too.

I’m not sure how long we had been there, walking around, taking pictures and admiring the tree when I walked past this spot of the tree again.

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There was a branch, huge, jutting out from the tree that almost brushed the ground right in front of me. It just seemed to beckon me, climb, touch me, run up my arm! I impulsively just kicked off my flip flops and ran barefoot up the wide and sturdy branch. I felt like Mowgli in The Jungle Book! I was just starting to feel some adrenal surge inside me realizing how high up I had managed to get, when I saw and heard Dev, my rickshaw driver, running towards me from the road screaming. I couldn’t tell what he was saying at first, as the expanse of field between us was quite vast. However as he got closer, it was a voice of panic screaming for me to get out of the tree. I had no idea why at first, but Dev was adamant and scared. Repeatedly screaming to get out of the tree while waving his arms above his head. I was at least 20 feet off the ground, and I yelled back ok, I would start back down, but Dev said, “Get out now! Jump!” I was confused and frightened by his reaction, so somehow hung down and jumped from where I was, miraculously not hurting myself.

As Dev approached, I saw his concern, and I’m sure he saw my trepidation. He explained that banyan trees are sacred and the bark is considered to be a part of Lord Shiva. He was trying to protect me from the wrath of a deity and any remote chance of a passerby seeing me, thinking I was desecrating a holy place. I felt terrible for my ignorant, though innocent slight of dis honoring part of Dev’s culture. I hadn’t thought to have done any research in advance of this little excursion and had no idea of this significance. I apologized, stating I obviously had no clue, laughing a bit from my nerves, and Dev nodded and smiled, he said not to worry, he was just glad I hadn’t gotten hurt.

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I spent a few more precious minutes at the tree afterwards, I kept laughing to myself and Brian while shaking my head at my pure ignorance and feeling the raw nerves start to ebb away from the high leap as well as the unsettling thoughts of Dev being scared enough to think someone seeing me in the tree would have put me in danger. Just how sacred was this tree, and what did that mean culturally? I certainly would never have marked the tree or even broken off a twig, and though the base had been riddled with spiritual offerings, actually going on it was taboo.

I reached out to my teacher after, explaining my idiocy and asked how I could make amends to Dev and Lord Shiva without extending my trip to include a trek to the Ganges for a purifying dunk. I was completely serious, as I felt awful about any perceived desecration in my ignorance. He said Dev had probably dropped me off and went straight to make an offering of puja for my transgression, but not to worry, as now I know.

Well, I have had this bizarre superstition ever since that occasionally hits my brain with worry in how to make an offering for atonement, yes I gave Dev a generous tip, for almost giving him a heart attack, but for my own heart, I decided I would paint a picture of the tree with Lord Shiva in the bark. I have yet to start it, as my hands have not cooperated. Part of the consequences of getting so sick in India re activated my RA and my thumbs are paying the price, my ode to a comfortable pincer grasp, will you be mine again? Either way I will have to deal with it and figure out how to draw and paint again so that I can still function after, but I haven’t yet, so the picture remains in my minds eye for now. I’m hoping putting my intention out will help it manifest.

On a last note, when I first got back someone I was friendly with asked how the trip went? I kind of laughed in my nervous way as there was too much to say in passing and I hadn’t yet figured out how to just say, “Incredible.”, and leave it at that. So instead I shook my head and though I don’t know why I said I don’t know where to start, the worst I did was climb a sacred tree. Before I could continue, she just freaked out. Well, I can attest everything can be misunderstood, as she looked at me and shut her eyes off. It was so disarming and I tried to explain, but she wanted to know no more. I felt sad as someone would misinterpret my action as so callous. I just didn’t know. There were no signs, no one gave me instructions, I didn’t even think it could be looked up on the web, until afterwards…in any case, I’m sorry.

1,2,3,4,5 senses working overtime.

Yoga is the restriction or stilling of the changing states of the mind. Yoga Sutra 1.2. Yes the second sutra defines what yoga is meant to achieve, but stopping thoughts popping into your head is about as easy as stopping a tsunami or hurricane. ( the wise words of Prof. Rao) I’m pretty sure as soon as someone even says to me in a guided meditation, “Clear your mind, ” I end up immediately filled with everything around me and inside me. I start hearing traffic, wondering if my foot will fall to sleep in a minute from its semi uncomfortable placement, and a multitude of the subconscious thoughts bubbling to the surface, fears doubts, nightmares, my kids, my responsibilities, work, illness, do I have enough gas in my car to get to the station, the wafting smell of something yummy or too much perfume, am I warm enough…and so much more. So I ask, is it possible?

I would have said no five years ago. I was trying to meditate then, but I just didn’t have the right tools or enough compassion for myself to be patient and not judge what arises. A gazillion inane, insane, obscure, trivial and important thoughts are just there, pretty much all the time, that is the human condition plain and simple. Just get over it, seriously, get over it. Nothing will make your mind a blank canvas, not even asana, however, the reaction you have to what pops in your head can be altered. Just as asana most certainly wasn’t at all stabile when I started yoga, why would I think meditation would be any different?

Sitting still has never been one of my gifts, at least not without something to focus my mind intently on on such as a book I’m reading, or a painting, or writing. I think that’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to Ashtanga, the intensity of the asana with dristhi, breath, and bundhas, allowed me to figure out how to calm my mind and body just enough to attempt sitting quietly without wanting to fidget, at least for a half an hour. (If I’m lucky!) Like with anything else, I fail…frequently

I meditated this morning, at points it went well, and that is the best I can achieve for now. Trying, again and again, no judgement or annoyance at what decides to be present with me, just acknowledge and move back to my breath or whatever focal point I’ve chosen to help me stay grounded. If the thoughts were important enough, I can get back to them later, let’s face it those thoughts just won’t go away…

Now you do.

I’m a budinski…I know, not everyone wants or likes unsolicited advice. I really really work on not doing it, I swear I do, but occasionally stuff just blurts out. I was practicing in the usual dristhi mind my own space way a couple of days ago and was just about to start my seated closing when the lovely practitioner next to me was being taught and adjusted in to full garba pindasana. Her lotus was deep and fine, and her body type is that enviable natural hip opener kind…so when they were struggling with getting her left arm through, I couldn’t help myself…( um impulse control police? ) I whispered over, telling them to try and push the left knee and leg closer to her body to create a bigger gap to get through. The teacher smiled at me and said everyone has different body types, so that advice may not work. I smiled and nodded, and then went back to meditative breathing with my mind now racing with my lack of control and hoping I hadn’t offended either one of them with my ridiculous uncontrollable desire to help out. Awareness is the first step right?

I’m not losing sleep over this particular transgression, but yet it got my thinking, reminiscing my own feeble first attempts to get my arms through that impossibly small space between thigh and calf in full lotus to then reach up to your face and cover your ears. I admit the action of getting there can be extremely uncomfortable, and if your elbows don’t get deep enough, painful. Oh the joys of being almost there, but instead of enjoying the yummy back stretch, feeling the pain of a bony elbow hitting into the top of your foot or ankle bones! Yes, it hasn’t come easy, but shorts and sweat help. Water is a nice gliding friction to ease the transition, wether sprayed on or ideally naturally produced in sweat equity.

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So comfy looking right? ūüėČ

I had the distinct pleasure to be adjusted fully into it the first time by the gracious, yet formidable Saraswati Jois.

In April 2012, when Jois Yoga was opening in Connecticut, Sharath and Saraswati had come to do a week of led primary. I was beyond excited for the opportunity to meet them and practice under their guidance. I had been practicing slightly under two years, and though I was doing a full primary, my garba was most assuredly a work in progress. I could get my hands though that impossible space between, but not beyond the start of my forearms yet. It was frustrating, and at led pace, I felt it was inaccessible, so I usually just wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them in, instead of even attempting to waste time going for it. ( I love the rationalizations we all make for ourselves, truly) Looking back, I was giving myself a pass to avoid the discomfort, I am not criticizing my choices, but in hindsight, it was just not where I had wanted to put the right focus yet, or believe.

I had signed up to practice for two glorious days at Jois. As I was driving there the first day, making my 40 minute commute, I was wondering if I’d be stopped at any point, or adjusted. I actually had a flash of dread that someone would try to help me with garba. I shook my head to get the negative thoughts away and laughed at myself for getting ahead of the game. Practice is practice, everyday is different, you can’t project or assume how anything will go, just keep trying, right?

So, there I was, in the back of the room, excited, nervous, but practicing. All was moving along, packed bodies, lots of energy and sweat, and along came garba pindasana. I thought nothing of it. It was led pace by Sharath, I didn’t even try to push my hands through my legs at first, I just automatically curled my hands around my knees. In a split second, Saraswati was kneeling in front of me. I was in awe and nervous. She asked me why I hadn’t put my arms through, was I injured? I said, no, I’m fine, I just haven’t really done that yet. She smiled at me at grabbed hold of my right hand and placed it in that impassible space and then used her foot as leverage and yanked it completely though! I was stunned, as she quickly did the same thing to my left hand. Saraswati looked at me and the shocked expression on my face, and said, with a smile, “Now you do.” She then preceded to roll me around nine times. My arms felt a bit like they had a slight rug burn, but it was incredible to experience the asana under her compassionate but tough guidance. I felt like I could lift myself to a higher plane with the adrenaline now running through me in kukutasana.

I didn’t want that adjustment, not that day, or any other, but I was so fortunate to get it. Not because it was Saraswati, not because it was extremely uncomfortable to get there ( have I mentioned before that I hate pain? ) but because it showed me I needed to stop shirking away from what asana I had trouble with, I had to realize this piece of the sequence wasn’t going away, and I also needed to see the potential inside me to get there. I had to take a leap of faith that the seemly impossible is possible with patience, instruction, time, and ideally some sweat to help ease the slide through.

As I sat and overstepped my boundaries a few days ago, it was really Saraswati in my head, pushing my own left leg forward to ease my arm through that arose inside me, in that same way I shudder when watching my children procrastinate on their school work. (Why did they inherit my terrible flaw of writing papers at the last minute?) Samskaras will get you every time! I don’t know how much longer I would have continued to avoid working at garba pindasana if it weren’t for that assist, but it made me continue to work at it, knowing the potential was there. Sweat is still my friend in that pose, and now, in winter here, a water sprayer does the trick if I haven’t built enough heat yet.

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Thank you Sarawsati! ‚̧ԳŹ

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

I had an amazing year, I hope you did too. I had laughter, adventures, in-depth study, beauty, wonder, joy, friendship, breakthroughs and love. Conversely, depending on what you focus on, it was without a doubt, a hard, stressful year too. I had a cancer scare requiring emergency surgery with an ocular oncologist plastic surgeon( who knew that mouthful of a specialty existed?) ten days before leaving for India. I almost died of salmonella and heat stroke. My husband had a virulent antibiotic resistant form of e-coli that kept him in a biohazard room for much of the summer and nearly took his life. As he was mending, he broke his right(driving foot!) so badly the surgery required pins and wiring, and lots of nursing. During his last week of pins sticking out of his toes, I developed kidney stones one night completely incapacitating me but before he could drive so I had a grueling 16 hours or so at home three weeks ago…there’s more, I could go on, but I think that’s enough to mull over. It was quite a bit of stress.

Through it all, I did my best to count my blessings, and continue to practice. I admit it wasn’t easy, and sometimes some cursing my have preceded such moments of gratitude. I have barely practiced in the last few weeks after the kidney stone, and am unsure when to pick up to speed again, but happy I didn’t completely give in to the little voice to just cry in the corner. (My side job as one of Santa’s elves for my babies helped motivate me! ) Because, of course I’m grateful to not have cancer, be disfigured, to have survived, my hubby surviving, his foot mending still, but mending none the less. I did not need any of that stuff, I’ve had my share of lessons, thank you very much, nor do I wish such hardships on anyone else, but in the midst of it all, when I’m sure my coping skills were done and I was in kidney stone hell curled in a ball crying unable to get to the doctor, my husband held my hand. That simple gesture was enough. It was support, hope, love, and partnership. It was solace. I have a loving family, a home, my pups, my practice, and nothing else truly matters. This too shall pass, just next time can it be a little quicker and less painful please?

I have no idea what this new year ahead holds for any of us. My mantra is for it to flow smoothly, and I wish the same to all.