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:) 

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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Try and try again.

I read an old letter today, that Kurt Vonnegut wrote in response to a private high school English class sending letters to him asking his advice. Here is his response in full:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Practice without attachment to the outcome. Try, with best effort. That alone is it, isn’t it? Be creative, be active, try and try some more. Learn who you are and soothe your soul through not just your joys and triumphs but as well your frustrations and epic failures.

In my art work, that message is easier to encompass than with my asana practice…I don’t know why I’m harder on myself in my physical capabilities, quite odd considering how uncoordinated I always had been, and having some damage from rheumatoid arthritis in my joints. Though most certainly asana has helped me be more graceful so to speak, sometimes I still trip over absolutely nothing, as my husband has coined, “The ground came out of no where!” Art on the other hand is just something I enjoyed, I never tried to be more with it, just engross in the process. I think I need to learn to stop criticizing myself more, and just be.

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A pastel still life versus

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I will say that regardless of the moments I’ve let that judgement come to the surface, I am always happy after practice! Go figure.

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.