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;-)

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.