One More

We are all such creatures of comfort and routine, even where we set up our mat. Whether at home or a shala, everyone seems to have a favorite spot to set up and get to it. Is it in the corner, by the window, front and center, in the back, near the wall, away from a mirror? Non-attachment anyone? A perfect fix for it is a trek to the shala in Mysore. 



It’s a stunning space. I think it’s even more amazing when filled with sweaty bodies. However, the key word is filled. When you arrive and complete your registration, part of that is practice time, as in what time to show up for practice, anytime between 4:30 am till about 9:30 am depending on it being high season. Regardless of the time on your card, it’s really fifteen minutes earlier, also known as shala time.



The first day I walked in for practice, I was nervous. I had been warned to show up early and that you wait your turn in the front vestibule until called. In retrospect, navigating past the shoes on the staircase outside, would be a decent indicator of just how crowded the practice room now was. The doorway to the shala space was open and yes, one lucky soul is pretty much right on the other side practicing, oblivious to the small crowd waiting and possibly watching the magic within. We all were sitting on the marble floor, quiet in those early morning hours. Just inching forward like a snake in the humidity created but the warm bodies within, as the next person went through the doorway inside. Sharath’s voice would sound out, “One more!” 

One more. Finally, it was my turn, and quite frankly, at first I walked in just trying to not step on anyone, maneuvering around the mats and bodies contorted and filling the space. Sharath was just finishing up a forward fold adjust after back bending and pointed to that spot. So, you set up your mat in the place where the last person ended. It didn’t matter where it was, unless of course you are extremely tall, a few spots like the stage or under an overhang don’t work well with taller practitioners…but I didn’t have any height on my side, so, basically you get what you get and you just deal. In the rows on the rugs, by doorways, on the bare marble in the back, front sides, or up on the stage. 

Mat down, you head off to the changing room to get off your street clothes. The sound of breathing and the heat of warm bodies permeate everything. The changing room is filled with gear and ashtangis doing their closing sequence. The maze is never ending and so the best choice is back out to the mat, your island sanctuary, in this sea of bodies and movement. 



The first day, I literally was put in the spot next to the door. I groaned because, it was originally, from my vantage point waiting to go in, under such scrutiny. Nothing like the fear of failure of my ego encroaching my practice! Coming to stand at the front of my mat, hands together in prayer, I whispered the opening chant, Vande Gurunam, and just started my practice. Tristhana held me and I held it, breath, dristhi, and stability in asana. Focus and the magical energy of the room, nothing else to see, nothing else to hear but my breath and the occasional adjustment from Sharath or whom ever was assisting in the shala. 

I practiced almost everywhere in the shala by the end of five weeks time, I never developed a favorite spot, though there were a few places I ended up more frequently. Looking back my favorite adjustment from Sharath was one of the many times I ended up on stage. Oh the joys of him saying, ” one more, small! “, knowing that meant the stage or under the overhang, both spots are just bare marble covered in condensation….back drops on marble are a practice in letting go of fear:) 

Sharath was sitting reading the paper in a chair in the center of the stage. I was in the corner by the vertical blinds. When I came up in Upavishta Konasana, my foot caught the metal cord between the blinds. I halted my movement to avoid the blinds crashing down and started to shift my foot away. Sharath looked up from his paper at me and laughed saying, don’t worry about the curtains, concentrate on the asana, keep your focus. In the moment, I thought, sure, laughing in my head, bring the blinds falling down on me while on stage seems par for the course! However, his point was about me breaking focus, yes being mindful of other bodies or sharp edges..but keeping my tristhana. Practice happens best, not in the perfect spot, in the perfect temperature, but with an attempt to hold a perfect mindset. The work is not about achieving a picturesque asana but the journey of letting go and surrendering to a meditative state. 

One more! Circumstances change, too hot, too cold, too big, too stiff, too tired, too fidgety, too small, too lumpy, too soft, too hard, Goldilocks had it wrong, because it’s all just right, best effort under whatever circumstances, that’s the work and the prize, smiling helps:) 

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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.

Dive in

I had the good fortune to go to eight precious hours of lecture by Sanskrit scholar, Prof. Rao, while he toured through the United States. As the amount of time was limited, he touched upon points in the Upanishads, the Gita, as well as the Yoga Sutras, in broader strokes than he would normally teach. He was absolutely charming and quite engaging, and he warned us that he could only cover so much. However, what I found interesting was how he described this overview. Prof. Rao compared it to a road map. He said he was merely showing us points of interest in an overhead visual map, his coverage was just dots marking where we could chose to explore further.

In this same way he described a quest for spirituality or meditation. Though he said it could be done in a universal approach, solo, that it was usually easier by concentration on one with guidance from a guru. He compared it to teaching young children to swim. Though you could just have them jump in or throw them in to flounder and struggle, more likely than not, only a few may do well that way. However, many would be safer and more at ease if they wore floaties on their arms to have support and while gaining confidence to learn the right motions before diving in alone. Self exploration is easier when a foundation is present, even then there can still be a coach or teacher to help with nuances on the way.

I’m teaching my son to drive right now. He will be taking his test in a few weeks to get his drivers license. The first day I took him out with his permit, we started in a quiet and mostly empty school campus parking lot. He was nervous, more than I had expected, so I had to really show him calmly that I trusted him and get him confident in his speed and stopping capabilities in a big circle before adding anything else to the mix. He’s now up to night, rain, and highways. He’s pretty good, I had him take a drivers education course that included eight hours behind the wheel and thirty hours of classroom instruction. I’ve had them work on ensuring he’s capable and competent in not just what is included on the test but my weakest areas of instruction..parallel parking.

Comically, I’m excellent at parallel parking, (years of living and driving in NYC) but yet, somehow, lack the right words to instruct it properly for a beginner. I think sometimes, when things come effortlessly to you, it makes it harder to teach. If you’ve never had to think about how to go about it, how do you tell someone else how to do it other than the basics? I think this perspective holds true in teaching asana as well, it’s easier to help or assist someone in a place where I’ve struggled, like backbending, versus one that I could just do…though believe me, there aren’t many of those! In some point of any instruction, there is a point of letting go, of trusting that the exploration needs to be within the individual. That success comes through their own trials and errors.

A road map of spirituality can show the highlights of places to visit, but it doesn’t cover the journey. What will be in the path? Will it be a straight shot on the expressway or meandering country roads? Will it involve a specific religion, all, none? Will the knowledge gained in the trip be understood, explored, questioned, enjoyed or just memorized? Just as I have to let my son explore the roads alone, it’s not always going to be sunny days and clear visibility. There will be stormy nights and accidents. There will be times, you just want to be along for the ride, a passenger just relaxing and enjoying the scenery, but instead your in charge. Have I given him the confidence to trust his capabilities and the right tools to navigate his travels behind the wheel? Does he know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, that his duty is to focus in the moment and avoid harm, and that what arises may be beyond his control? I’ve been thorough and done the best I could. Regardless of my vivid imagination, I must let him undertake this right of passage, my growing pains of letting go, and pangs of all the what ifs out in the world, only impede his own journey now, just like an Olympic swimmer would be by floaties. It’s time to let him dive in.

The Feet of the Guru

While studying in India, we had chanting classes three mornings a week. I was particularly fond of this part of learning. Though there were some I was completely familiar with, a few were new to me. The Guru Ashtakam was one. I loved it’s meaning, sounds, and intention. Devotion comes from the teacher within. It’s not just what we do, or learn, but what we take within us. The lotus feet are sometimes said to be spiritual wisdom itself, or pure consciousness.

My Teacher, M, left this week to study at KPJAYI for the next two months in a teacher intensive study. The training is sold out as well as a new offering. Though I will miss her guidance, I’m very excited for her as well. I hope this time of study and immersion will enhance not just her capabilities as a teacher, but also as a practitioner, a person. I wish her joy, wonder, wisdom, love and relaxation!

I think M has a phenomenal practice already, not just because of the beauty and strength in her asana, but because of her dedication. Her voice as an instructor is thoughtful, compassionate, and astute. There is no question of her expertise. Yet, what truly makes her a fabulous teacher, is knowing she doesn’t have all the answers and that there is always more to learn.

At our shala, we have been left in very capable hands. M has brought in another level 2 certified instructor to watch over us this summer, so far so good! S is a highly proficient ashtangi, with a focus on alignment. Something everyone needs reminders in maintaining and striving for more. Parampara and all that, but even so, we each teach it with our own personality coming through.

My first teacher told me a story a while back about a student who went to a weekend workshop with a highly regarded instructor, and came back exclaiming that so and so finally taught her the right way to do a downward dog! It was obviously a pose that our teacher had worked with her on and adjusted her just about everyday she practiced. There had already been so many changes in that dog since her very first one, some incrementally, others more obvious, yet this particular weekend, under someone else’s guidance, it all clicked. Don’t get me wrong, that is awesome, and I’m sure whatever occurred did help better align her down dog but ultimately it’s the whole process that gets you there, not just the last piece of the puzzle.

I have no idea what pieces of the puzzle will finally fit for me this summer, as I come to the mat and get advice from a new set of eyes. S has already picked up on my need to RELAX….more. I guess there is no need to even share with him, that I’ve improved greatly in this endeavor, to unmask that my innate temperament is so tightly wound? Do I so readily forget my biggest challenges like not noticing the stain on the rug until company is coming over? Its funny because it’s not that in either instance I don’t want to work on it, but sometimes distractions and other challenges seem to get in the way and then I lose track of my inner to do list. I chuckle writing this as my defense mechanisms come into play logically explaining my shortcomings. Hopefully someday, I won’t feel that urge, and then maybe I will relax!

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My teacher once asked me what my favorite asana was, I didn’t answer her, because I had never really thought about it, but to answer her, it’s not just one, it’s the whole closing sequence, probably because I sometimes relax in it;-)

The ripple effect

While studying in India, part of the after morning practice routine was a well needed stop at the coconut stand. Most mornings I was just spent and blissed out greedily quenching my thirst, not taking in much around me other than the fact that there were others in the same transfixed state of needing to replenish some lost fluids with this amazing gift of nutritious coconut water gloriously and skillfully machete chopped open right before my eyes.

Certainly as a place of congregation there was always snippets of conversation floating about. Though many spoke of details of practice, struggles, or bragging rights, there was also just some getting to know each other. I made a few friends by the stand. I overheard a conversation where someone was discussing something about his astrological chart, he mentioned that the astrologer had told him, in this life he wasn’t meant to do anything great or spectacular. I couldn’t help myself, but to turn, and say, wow, that wasn’t a very good astrologer, because how could they possibly know the full ripple effect of your existence? Maybe you won’t be the next Gandhi, but who’s to say that you smiling at a random stranger didn’t change them, or something you said didn’t inspire someone else to start a revolution of peace or kindness or just getting back on the right path? I mean it’s like past life regression, not everyone was Joan of Arc or Confucius, but maybe, if you believe in it, maybe you were the person who gave Da Vinci his first paper and charcoal or read Shakespeare his first poem? Who knows how fully our actions effect this world around us, and why wouldn’t just showing compassion be great enough? The gift of love is liberating and inspiring. We became friends.😊

This morning, my son was telling me a story of his experiences doing community service in Sicily two summers ago. He was working with a group of teens helping build and refurbish a community center and orphanage. As they were only there for two glorious weeks and all aspects of this work was done in stages, his stage was part of some of the finishing touches around the main home. The home was already completed but a courtyard still needed to be made and construction debris, which was basically stone, that had to be moved to a safer place or where it could be used. So much of their work involved literally picking stones up from one side of the road and bringing them to the other side. One of the other boys, my son explained, complained that this work was boring and didn’t seem as grand or noble, to just pick things up and put them down again. The counselor in charge shook his head laughing stating it might not seem like much, but that each facet was just as important to making the project a success. I was thrilled my son understood this. That all the work to make this project safe and welcoming was needed, that the cherry on top came from the effort and the process may not always be glamorous but that the little things matter.

Who will come from that home? Who will be raised there? Will they change the world? Will they have a better life? Will my son? Will I? I have no idea, but I will try to appreciate and love this journey of life. With everything, it’s about the process, not the product. The Bhagavad Gita states in 12.12 “Give up the belief that inner peace depends on results of action. That result-renouncing state is pure inner peace.” So lovely to think, yet I know how hard that is to maintain, hence 99% practice!

Did you know the coconut is a drift nut?
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Read the fine print.

I love coffee. I brought my own supply of French coffee to India with me, as I had heard there were differences in preparation, etc. A French press was my coveted, most needed appliance. A morning cup or two of coffee starts my day. I am quite thrilled with the expression, no coffee, no prana. It fits me and my habits enabling my need to drink a cup of Java before doing anything else.

Within this ritual, I enjoy coffee with half in half, whole milk will do in a pinch, and life in India was all a pinch;) Milk is not in cartons in India. Rather instead it comes in pint sized plastics bags.

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Many people still have it delivered every morning by a milkman, left in bins outside their doors. I was picking it up at a local bodega. I was in awe the first time, with the packaging, figuring out how to get it open, not spill it, and then transfer my precious milk to another container for safe storage in the refrigerator. Yes, I know, quite a bit of thought just in milk, but my coffee is important, and I really don’t enjoy it as much black, though desperate times can call for desperate measures.

I didn’t think much of it when the packaging was a different color one morning out replenishing my milk supply.

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However, I was wrong. The next morning, as I poured my lovely milk into my precious coffee, and went for my first glorious sip, I almost choked! I thought maybe the milk was spoiled but it was also spicy? Was it goats milk, or something else?! How could milk be spicy? Well, in India it can be. I read the packaging, and there were ingredients, beyond cows milk. Unknowingly, I had been given buttermilk accidentally by the store clerk. Unlike the buttermilk here in the States or elsewhere, this had spices in it like cumin and coriander, not exactly what I wanted to be flavoring my morning cup of Joe…sigh, it was stomach churning and yet as with everything there being so precious, I felt so wasteful in not being able to consume it. Joyfully I had made enough coffee for a second cup, which I drank black, but at least not filled with cumin. Funny how something can seem heaven sent, even when it’s not your ideal, as it’s better than none, or at least palatable! Another lesson learned, read the fine print, no cumin in my milk please.