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.

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Devaraja market

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“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” Yes, I love Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and this favorite line perfectly denotes the Devaraja market in Mysore. Though I will admit I mostly saw the madness!

I went there on a Saturday after being at Mysore palace in the early morning. It was really an excursion to take in the experience and maybe get some essential oils and powdered pigments for painting. There had been a man hawking anklets in front of the palace, I rebuffed, telling him I was headed to the market, saving my rupees for shopping later. Who know he would be following me for the rest of the day?

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I was obviously with friends, as the open market in Mysore is not somewhere to explore alone, and preferably with a guide or someone who has been there before. My friend Stan had mentioned a great place to get incense and oil in the market that he had been too ten years prior. He had told me about a young boy, Syed, he had met and taken videos of that had very high quality goods. No sooner had we walked into the full vibrancy of chaos, when Syed was right in front of us, now a grown up 23 year old!

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Syed was so wondeful. He, as well, remembered the earlier visit! He took us into the back of his storefront and happily started ordering us chais to get from his workers as we sat and smelled his incense and oils. Oh, the swelling pride that glowed in his face as he described his mother hand-making the incense, and showing us the difference in color as well as scent in ingredient choices! A true labor of love handed down generationally. His grandfather had won awards in Mysore for his craft with oils. Syed was passionate and joyful in his duty to continue the family business.

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I admit, I wanted them all! The scents were divine, heady and intense, but also pure, subtle, and refreshing, a great combination! My order was ready after drinking about four chai. The conversation was worth the time spent. I loved learning about Syed, his family, his exhuberance, and his work. When all was finally said and done, yes, with the anklet guy still hovering right outside the kiosk, I bid Syed farewell, and said I was going to explore the rest of the market. He looked at me and exclaimed, “But you can’t! Don’t you see, you are so blonde and white, you are the Mark of the market!” I laughed and assured him I was in good hands with my friends and that we were only going to loop through, no more purchases, he was confident with that and let me go.

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The anklet man was quite persistent. he not only followed me and found me at the market, but stayed with me negotiating all the way back outside to the scooter..he earned my purchases that day!

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A Change Of Plans

I had an unexpected turn of events last Friday. Unbeknownst to me, my body was busy fermenting salmonella as I sat in a rickshaw in 102 F weather, not a great combination, it brings about heatstroke. (Eggs are not refrigerated in India, temperatures over 100 degrees for two weeks straight, really are a disaster waiting to happen if you eat them) Without going into the gory details, I survived it all mercifully with friends, family, faith, and medical attention. A brief stint in a hospital in India and a whirlwind trip back to the States, I’m home recovering. Blessed and grateful to be back in the loving fold of my family. My practice right now is savasana.

I didn’t get to say goodbye, not how I wanted too, not how I had planned. Yes, certainly it’s a bittersweet feeling to miss those I met and those I already knew, in India, without those proper and tidy ways we are accustomed in our ideals of hugs, handshakes, last photos and words. I didn’t know my last practice at the Shala was my last. There was much still on my list, but I’m alive. My list, my desires, of course didn’t all get accomplished, yet, its completely fine.

I certainly guess I can choose to play out a should’ve could’ve would’ve scenario of what I fantasized about, but I’m not. In my heart, in my soul, I’m still breathing, still feeling, still here, present, experiencing all of it, the full gamut of what living brings, and in and of itself it is wonderful, truly.

I have a few more things I’m sure to write about my experiences in India..I will get to them in time! But for now, just prayers of gratitude for being alive, for kindness, for love, for strength, for family and friends, for breathing, for compassion, for everything, even for pain, yes…because it let me know to get help. Pain saved me first, it was my wake up call to ask for help and get it.

For now, no goodbyes, because part of me we always be there, my energy, my heart, my soul, so I prefer to say, 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.

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.

Crazy yogi

So, here I sit, in Mysore India, it’s 90 degrees. My family is home in Connecticut sleeping as there is ten and a half hours and 80 degrees cooler(brrr!) between us. I’m gone from their daily routines for a total of 38 days while I immerse in study, in my yoga practice at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Institute. I adore my family, yet left, albeit briefly in the large scheme of things, and they can’t quite understand why, and better yet, I have an extremely difficult time putting it into a coherent rational explanation.

They all see me going to practice six days a week. I hope they feel the peace and grounded mindfulness it brings me and ideally my interactions with all of them. They have even all at minimum tried it! My husband has been going with greater regularity and though he states it makes him feel good, he still doesn’t grasp my spiritual connection to the practice. That’s ok, because I do, and he respects that. It’s not a cult, I’m not worshipping a new diety, but I do pray each and every time I get on the mat, grateful for life, contentment, love, joy, and wonder. My practice is not always picture perfect, far from it, sometimes I’m stiff, in pain, annoyed, sad, impatient, frustrated, possibly even in tears, but I always feel better for the attempt, for the realization of my best effort of that day and that moment. Grateful for the energy and heat the sun salutations ignite all the way till the end of practice cooling down in rest where I’m ready to start the rest of my day.

I first felt a calling or whisper in my head saying go study a few years ago, I felt it was a pipe dream. Mysore is about as far from home as I could go. Eighteen hours of flying time( I abhor air travel), 6 hours of driving and a 3 hour stopover in Frankfort. My knowledge of India up to this point had been watching Slum Dog Millionaire, Magnolia Hotel, and Monsoon Wedding. As a recent addition, friends had recommended reading Culture Shock India and Shantaram: A Novel. I’m not a jet setter, though I have travelled, just no where in the Far East, it always had seemed a world away, too far off my comfortably beaten path. I should also add I’m somewhat of a homebody and have never, not once in my life lived alone, or been alone for more than a week, and that week was a tough one.

So why, why would I choose to leave my happy, stabile life for this? Why for missing my husband, my children, my dogs, my bed, fresh water, and a hot bath for a bucket shower, distilled water, and cow dung in the streets? To study ashtanga yoga Mysore style with Sharath at KPJAYI, to chant, to study the yoga sutras, take Sanskrit classes, to immerse without the daily minutiae, without any distractions and face my demons without the excuses that are all too easy in the life of a busy bustling family, because they are the most important pieces of my world. They are the people I love and cherish and live to be with and desire to be happy and healthy. Weather, homework, chores, running around, cooking, work, emotions, effect all of us all day everyday. I’m not running away from them, I desire all of it, and right now a big piece of me has a painful void missing it, yet I’m here, because another piece of me has been begging inside to delve deeper into my practice, to seek and understand those moments on the mat of what yoga truly brings, a stillness of the mind, exploring outside the comfort zone of security, structure, love, and home, no distractions just focus.

My husband worries about non-attachment, will I come back uncaring or cold? I don’t view it that way, non-attachment is not indifference nor does it mean that I would ever relinquish my very loving blessed life at home, but maybe it means I’ll learn to not stress as much about how everything turns out, maybe the negative emotions of worry and fear will fade away to allow me to be completely present, enjoying this moment without attachment to what comes or doesn’t come next. Knowing that all I can ever do, regardless of what happens is my best effort of that day and that moment. I do experience that at times before my brain starts on the list of what ifs, and yes thankfully I’ve added some decent tools to my inner toolbox to try and let them go as they arise inside, but hey I’m human like everyone else and it’s all just practice. For now, I hope and pray my family, who I miss beyond words, will be ok without me for this small period of time, because I know, that their days are longer in missing my presence. I send them loving thoughts and feel tremendous gratitude that they are doing the daily grind without me until April 5th.