It comes and goes

What’s your motivation? Like most people I vacillate between various states, I’d say there are really just two underlying everything, love and fear. When love is in charge, all is good, even when it’s not, because there is empathy, compassion, clarity, understanding, among other positive points, however, fear, though at times helpful, brings out worry, anger, irrational thoughts, impulsive choices, and stress. Firefighters are helpful when needed but they break doors and windows to get the job done…in other words you don’t need to pull out the cannons to get rid of the anthill, keep perspective! 

About three weeks ago, I started noticing a new pain in the top of my hands. It came on suddenly one morning, so badly I couldn’t put any weight into them, especially the right. I couldn’t do a sun salutation at all, and I panicked. I knew aging and my Rheumotoid arthritis could alter my practice, but I never thought I’d lose a basic down dog. It scared me, badly. I mean, seriously, yoga helped me through my worst, first starting out, what could I do without being able to put any weight in my hands? I freaked out inside because if a flare could take away this, I just wanted to give up…..( fear negating rational and compassionate thought!) 

I went into denial on the outside. I wrapped my right hand for support, went back to practice and teaching the next day popping a couple of Advil. But I wasn’t ok, I was afraid. Afraid of losing control, and as a recovering control freak, this was unpleasant at best. I haven’t always been so kind to myself, everyone is their own worst critic usually, and I can admit, my self loathing had been a consistent piece of who I was, until I found peace on the mat and forgiveness in my failures. I clearly remember the first moment that sensation of compassion filled my heart, ( yet even as I write that statement, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in my head from The Terminator talking about skynet becoming self aware..lol) it was overwhelming in the best way…yet as a human being, I forgot to remember it’s ok to still fail at times in things we don’t usually fail. Oh the joys of a monkey brain! 

The most remarkable part of this is I didn’t figure out why I was being such a crazed impatient psycho until I was quietly suffering from a massive panic attack during intense turbulence on a flight down to the Caribbean for a family vacation last week. I was breathing through it, knowing the competence of the pilot, knowing the logic of the safety of air travel, when it dawned on me, I wasn’t in control of the plane, just like I felt I wasn’t in control of my illness.  I had forgotten to have faith because I had let fear be my motivator for the past few weeks in just about everything, instead of love. 

What’s funny is about a month prior I had reached out to anatomy guru, David Keil, for insight on how to keep my grips with a crappy pincher grasp due to this on going flare, his response was awesome, but at the time I wanted something more concrete: 

I think you know the answer to your own questions. But just in case you need to hear it from someone else…. Modify as necessary when you’re flaring. More importantly, work on the inner judge who is having a problem with the modifications when they’re necessary. Look at the frustration, which of course is anger. Be compassionate to yourself.

The asanas themselves are not that important, but how you relate to doing them is critical for growth.

Om shanti,

David

Yes, how I relate to doing them. In other words, motivation through love of trying not fear of failing. Thank you David! 

The week away of vitamin D did me well to soothe my soul, relax and let go of the fear…the view didn’t hurt either!  

 

As for practice on vacation? Everyday, nice and smooth, I’m happy to say, with the toughest part in picking where…the tile floor of the hotel room or the “sanctuary” room off the gym, that had the uncanny ability to blast Party Rock Anthem while attempting kapotasana:) I went for the music distractions over the cement floor. 

 

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.

Chaos theory

I went to a concert last night, an old favorite, Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I’ve seen them before, great shows, and really loved them. However, last night was not their A game. Besides the oddities of the audience around me, the super loud ” HoHoHo!” deep laugher behind me, the 6″4 wall sitting in front of me, and the guy next to me that surely used a whole bottle of Old Spice…well it takes a lot to ruffle my feathers and I was just kind of chuckling about my perceived inconveniences of my where a bouts, but alas, these amazing performers, who have been doing this since I was a baby, just completely forgot about sequencing. The set list was at best an indulgent mishmash of three guys just randomly picking songs that had no correlation to what came next, or even to warm up their voices…sigh. I ended up leaving before any encore and felt relieved to avoid the bottleneck of traffic on the way out, not something I’ve done before.

What’s funny about it to me, is that I have a quirky radio station near me that has the strangest playlists ever. One morning as I was driving with my son we heard Man in the Box, followed up by the Macarena , and finally Kansas, Dust in the Wind. We were laughing so hard, wondering if the dj had stepped out putting their own iTunes account up on shuffle. It was a brilliant travesty of pain, superficiality, mindfullness. It actually worked, at least for us that morningūüėä

Though I’m glad that wasn’t the only time I saw them perform, I wonder if my expectations and therefore enjoyment would have been different if all had been unknown, or like the eclectic radio station, appreciated for the absurdity…I don’t know, but in the randomness of it, I found this great explanation of what random means made by vsauce. Enjoy it! What is random?

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.

Random acts of kindness

I have only not written this immediately, because I still tear up every time it think of how wonderful all the people were who helped me get home from India. My friends and family of course, and I adore you all the more, but in-between the Bangalore airport and finally arriving in JFK 23 hours later, was a lot of sick, pathetically weak me, needing compassion and help and getting it. I did my best, truly, but it wasn’t very good considering I had checked myself out of the hospital against my doctors advice. I was pretty much a feverish lump with a pulse. She really didn’t think I was well enough to travel, and I’m certain she was right, not without help. I’m pretty sure I looked like deaths door, but instead of dread or fear, I was met with offers of help as people asked if I was ok.

Lufthansa’s flight crews were wonderful. Doting on me, with teas and crackers, extra blankets, stretching out in their private areas. My seat mate from Bangalore ensured I was taken care of in Frankfort to make my next flight, as there was only 50 minutes, a jaunt through security and need of a wheelchair. He soothed my rattled nerves on board as well, my coping skills were spent and old fears of flying had crept into my thoughts, he saw it, and occupied me with conversation until he knew I was tired enough to rest and sleep. Once on the way to New York, my legs swelled on board the next flight from my electrolyte imbalances and the air pressure. It was very painful and terrifying, but the crew called out to all the doctors on board. They not only came forward, but read through my medical reports, checked my vitals and assured me I would make it to New York alive. One German surgeon stayed with me, for pretty much the rest of the flight, ensuring I was alright, abating my anxiety.

My wheelchair and attendant in NYC’s JFK was a charioteer, gently but quickly getting me through customs and baggage all the way to my husband and then helped us out to the car. I’m pretty sure world records were set for expedited customs and luggage. It was so needed. My prayers that day were for everything go flow smoothly and they were answered in the kindness of strangers. I thank you all from the depths of my soul. As much as this week has been one of physical recovery for me, it would have been so much worse, without the help I received. I am forever grateful xo.