The Undiscovered Country

I don’t know if other countries allow medicines to be advertised as freely as they are in the USA, but it seems every time the tv is on there is some ad for something that cures or treats some terrible affliction, like restless leg syndrome. What I find most remarkable is the list of side effects, read quickly so that maybe you might not think much of these bizarre complications like uncontrollable gambling or sexual urges. The fact that these potential oddities are included, makes me wonder, just how many poor hapless souls lost their fortunes or morals before the correlation was figured out? Just how many test subjects count, to make the warning? 

I thankfully don’t have restless leg syndrome, but I did have the flu, and some minor complications from it, the walk in clinic prescribed me an antibiotic. Four little pills changed my life last week. Four doses of levaquin. Here’s the FDA’s warning box about it.

Tendon rupture or swelling of the tendon (tendinitis).
• Tendon problems can happen in people of all ages who take LEVAQUIN. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
Some tendon problems include pain, swelling, tears, and inflammation of tendons including the back of the ankle (Achilles), shoulder, hand, or other tendon sites.

So, that happened, rather abruptly, painfully, unexpectedly, to me. I haven’t been able to walk in over a week. It is still unknown what my recovery will be, from a stand point of can the tendons regenerate and heal, or was four pills enough to cause permanent damage. Regardless, I have 5-6 weeks of extremely limited movement based on my hospital stay last weekend, and follow up with an orthopedist and amazing infectious disease antibiotic expert. I let the pity party last a week, no shame, I needed to cry, let my frustrations and fears get out instead of fester. Practice has taught me more than anything else, to accept myself when I’m vulnerable, when I need help, because nothing makes you stronger or more capable of compassion, than allowing compassion for yourself. That knowledge has been a a great gift. 

So I’m no longer wondering if I’ll be able to come back up on my own in karanvandasana when Sharath is in New York next month. I don’t know if I will even go, except to watch, if I’m allowed 🙂 I’m not quite sure when I’ll be standing in samasthiti or holding a down dog again…it depends on when and how I heal, if my tendons rupture, if they unravel. I sure hope not, I hope they are mending.  But what I do know is this, I will be at my son’s high school graduation cheering him no matter if I’m in a wheel chair or crutches and I will get on my mat again. I will try. I don’t know what my practice will look like. What does that even mean? I obviously work at my asana, that’s just my wiring, I want to figure them out finding stability and ease though alignment synchronized to breathe. Quite frankly I never know how I look. Is my correct, correct, and what is correct exactly? I just know how I feel, when it’s aligned,  tristhana, breath, bundhas, and gazing point, making magic. 

So I plan on trying to make some magic, modifying creatively, with some advice from sports medicine experts, with mindful intent that this is a practice for life, done to enhance my life, not to live for practice, much less a picture perfect one.  I may cry, I may laugh, I may get scared,  I may heal, one breath at a time. I just know that I will try, with compassion. The possibilities are endless. 

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Blinded by the Light

My daughter Dani asked me a few weeks ago one of those ridiculous questions that you really have no right answer for…if you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?

Saying I’m nearsighted just doesn’t quite convey how absolutely blind I am without my contacts or glasses. If you understand amounts, my prescription is -1150 or what I see at about 20 feet away is equivalent to someone else looking at over a third of a kilometer away. As a child, like so many others with poor vision, I had no idea other regular people could see so much better. My older brother wore glasses and I complained to my mother that I thought I might need glasses too. The first eye doctor I saw in forth grade, didn’t believe me when I said I could see nothing on the chart. He chided me for exaggerating and told my mom I just wanted to be like my brother and until I could be honest, he wouldn’t examine my eyes again. Well Dr. Bologna , I wasn’t lying. It took three more years of me fumbling through life before I finally went to a new eye doctor who most definitely grasped just how poor my vision was.

Looking back I wince, not because I was accident prone, though I was, (I was known on a first name basis at the local emergency room.) because there is only so much reaction time when nothing comes into focus farther than a meter away, but because of my lack of sight, I was not very good at sports with balls. These were the days of alpha males in gym class that always picked me last and with a groan or two, pulling me aside, basically saying to just stay out of the way. Tennis and volleyball were comical, I mean really where did that ball come from? Some mysterious place from the far fuzzy reaches on the other side of the net…

Anyway, after the miracle of sight, leaves on trees, seeing the board at school, seeing peoples faces, I was awakened! My nickname in school of “space” because I just daydreamed off out the windows no longer applied. As well, though somewhat shy, I was certainly viewed as aloof or odd as I never had returned smiles or waves but now I saw it all in real time and was participating. My new sight was spectacular, beautiful and vibrant but also dirty and harsh, nothing comes without it’s darker spectrums, does it?

It wasn’t quite up to my level of myopia now, I gradually lost more and more until finally leveling off in my mid twenties. Contacts have been a godsend. I can not see as well with glasses, because of the severity of nearsightedness, I have no real depth perception in glasses and no peripheral vision. I’ve relied on my contacts faithfully and with gratitude, until a few months ago. Sometimes these subtle things just happen, and I have developed a reaction to the silicon in the lenses. (I’m really thankful I never had the courage to get my boobs done, because I can’t fathom the reaction on the inside! ) I keep trying different brands but there are only so many that go up to my strength…so glasses it’s been mostly. I’m not purposefully vain about it, but they do make my eyes look five times smaller than they are, sigh, and even with ultra thin lenses, they are still pretty thick. I also can not practice yoga in my glasses, it’s impossible. They slide off and distort from the very first down dog, so I’ve been practicing blind.

Nothing comes into focus until it’s about a hands width away from my eyes at this stage. Colors fade just as much as shapes. On the bright side, there can be no visual distraction while I’m practicing, because I can barely make out my own hand. Drishti is awesome if sometimes blurry, and I realize how much reliance I have had on sight, yet conversely have learned how much my mind sight can work in it’s place if I trust it. Muscle memory and knowing how an asana feels.

Balance is the biggest challenge. Without sight, there is no true focal point, at least with my eyes. I by no means have perfected my balance even when I see, but I’ve been learning to “see” with my other senses. The feel of being in samasthiti, of finding a plum line, it’s hard not to depend on sight when it’s available, but equilibrium and distribution of weight really don’t require any sight, at least outwardly. Comically it’s when I remember that I can’t see that I wobble and lose my steadiness. Trusting, the same way I trust that my glasses are exactly where I left them, or that no one rearranged the furniture allow me freedom to move. Whether it’s instinct or mind sight guiding me, there is always a silver lining to the obstacles that trip us up. I find hope in Degas and Monet painting in spite of their vision problems.

As to the initial question? I copped out and said none. As long as I can see light, feel hugs, taste strawberries, hear music and smell flowers, I will. IMG_0748.PNG

Accidents will Happen

“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”
— Dr. Seuss

Part of practice, of life, are those moments where you really are truly completely mortified. Human moments, I’ve had plenty. I think I sometimes envision my mat as this intimate private space where I’m protected, invisible from judgement, free to explore. Yet, most of the time even though I’m in my bubble, there is usually an instructor in the room guiding the process, as well as fellow practitioners working just as hard, around me. On any given day in the shala, there can be laughter, tears, sighs, moans, grunts, panic, fear, sweat, flexibility, stiffness, injury, pain, accomplishment, meditation, envy, awe, enlightenment, flailing, falls, farts, and smells….yeah, and that’s just in the confines of my own mat!

Embarrassment. Yes, I’ve had my moments all throughout every aspect of my life, why would my expectations of these moments occurring in yoga be any different, or less frequent? The physical aspects of attempting asana have taught me so much more than just how to figure out what muscles to use and how to put all the components together to find ease and stability. Non attachment to the outcome and trying your best everyday is a fabulous aspiration, however, it doesn’t stop the epic fails nor days when your best is just plain awful. A sense of humor helps, I just don’t always remember that during these foibles, though in retrospect, it’s been a great salve.

As Sharath is planning his next jaunt to the United States, I was reminiscing his last visit here, in April of 2013. A week of led with Sharath is exciting, crowded and challenging under the best of circumstances. Mat to mat next to strangers, acquaintances, and friends, all in the common mass of wanting to practice under Sharath’s guidance. My fear of such a tight space was always related to getting kicked, or kicking someone, but I learned a new lesson in personal space last time.

Oh, how I love the standing sequence! As it falls in the category of done first, therefore done with greatest frequency, it is the most rote and routine part of practice for me, not that there aren’t areas to go deeper or improve, but it gets me in a great meditative place of stillness in the movement, a safety net that guides me to where my strengths and weaknesses are for that day, showing me in how my body responds to the asana, where to be most mindful. For instance, I have been trying since forever to open my shoulders more, and prasarita padotanasa C is one of those spots I work on it. A week or so before his visit I over zealously tried to get my hands to the ground over my head in it and ended up doing a funky summersault instead. It was unexpected, comical, but no harm to me or anyone else, just my ego! It fell in that category, don’t worry nobody saw that, except everyone here;-)

So now here I was in led, trying to loosen up and relax my shoulders once again, but not yet releasing the mindfulness of falling, and not wanting to fall on anyone in such a crowded space! I happened to be next to an acquaintance that day. A very quiet and reserved gentleman who practiced occasionally at my shala. Though I didn’t know him well, his dedication to his practice and his kind if shy nature were both familiar and comforting…So there I was hands clasped behind my back, legs spread, exhaling my head down to the floor. Sharath’s count began and I tried to relax my shoulders open more to get that elusive touch to floor with my hands and not just my head, I did relax and stretch more forward, if the floor was touched, alas, at this point I don’t recall, because, I was so relaxed, for once, in a crowd, in count. It was time to come up and out, I was moving slowly appreciating my inhale, oddly, my hands came into contact with something soft. I wasn’t really thinking, in that meditative zone and all, but I guess in curiosity I groped slightly, trying to figure out what I was in contact with before rising completely. It was this poor innocent fellow’s testes. I was cupping his balls, seriously! Though I’m sure in the cosmos of the universe, this all took place, I’m hoping at least, in a split second of time. In my shock and horror, I flew back, away from his personal space and private parts, and promptly landed on my rear. I couldn’t look at him, and in the mercy of led pace, picked myself back up on the double to get into prasarita D.

There were no words spoken, neither of us ran away, we continued to practice, I was really at a loss for how to address it, and was grateful for the time and asana to diminish my transgression. As we finished up after our final rest, I gave this lovely man a contrite smile with a nod of my head, lowering my eyes in true regret. In it I was trying to convey, hey, it was an accident, I really really didn’t want to fondle you, I’m very sorry for the intrusion and over reach, literally…He very politely gave me a smile and nod back, I hope accepting my unspoken apology because words would just make it more awkward than it was….so yes, I still fail, I make mistakes, and I feel safe in my bubble on the mat, but now keep a little more awareness and though I’ve had my share of mishaps since then, I plan on stacking during prasarita this September with Sharath.

Going rogue

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
― Marie Curie

I cheated on my ashtanga practice yesterday. It felt really good. I highly recommend it. I’m only half joking in my choice of words as I am a pretty devoted student. However, as a student, I also think it’s important to see outside of the box we each carefully construct for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I would never say ashtanga is easy, far from it, I’m challenged every single time I get on the mat, but the difference between trying a new yoga style versus ashtanga is that in my own practice, pretty much the sequence is for the most part, un changing. The differences arise in who I am that day, how I feel both physically and emotionally, the weather, my teachers choices in where to push me and the types of adjustments I may get, or gulp, a new asana to tack on, but I still usually have the comfort of my shala, the usual suspects in the room with me, sustaining our energy together, a comfort zone to anchor me. In another style, well, I may as well be in a foreign country with a guide map written in a language I’ve never seen before. I hadn’t tried any other type of yoga when I first went in an ashtanga room, only when I decided to do a teacher training student immersion, that my teacher told me to venture off the tribe and not just read about other types and styles of yoga but to try them, so I did, for awhile at least. I tried quite a few, some I liked, some, I just didn’t but at some point about two years ago, I just really stuck with my tried and true first love, ashtanga.

My sister in law is not just a fabulous person, but as well a fantastic yoga instructor. She teaches vinyasa flow and trained as well as is mentored by a highly regarded instructor. At his shala, they have started teaching a new style called sridaiva. I met her there last night to take an all in hour and a half class. Though, I’m not changing faiths, I must admit, I really enjoyed it and found it vigorous but also restorative and uplifting. I honestly was as sweaty as the most intense Mysore session but had an noticeable boost of energy and sense like I could fly when I was done. It was awesome and fun.

Sridaiva, was not just rearranging a sequence, as I sometimes refer to flow styles as ashtanga improv, but a whole different way to hold your body and stay up on your toes, big toe and pinky toe to be exact, ideally with your heels lifted and a bounce thrown in, or not, up to you to find your edge. The posturing engaged bundhas merely through the action in your glutes, spinal curve, rib cage fully open and subtle but active pulling in of the femurs through the glute and thigh action. Everything looked wonky and felt so odd at first, but alas it kicked my asana in the best way, completely new, unknowns, uncertainty, fears, but yet taught and communicated in such a thoughtful, precise, fun, and compassionate way that failures didn’t matter, ego went out the window and some yummy soul soothing vulnerability in such a trusting and guided way was able to manifest within me. What a gift.

I was afraid I would be sore and achy today, not because it hurt, but just because it was so different and new, I wasn’t sure if I had awakened any new muscle points, but was happily surprised to feel really good, better, in fact than my old, sore body had felt in quite awhile, my normal twinges were quiet, but I did feel some minor soreness in my lower lats and obliques, in that sweet way of new strength and release of facia.

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;-)

Judgement…can we ever let it go?

“Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.” Albert Camus

Damn…how true is that? I read a great article today on cognitive biases. Here it is in full! Please take a look. As I was reading through all of the different ways we humans rationalize everything, I couldn’t help but think of the five kleshas, or obstacles: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. Each of the biases stems from at least one of these. I’d love to say I’ve conquered these foibles in myself, but alas I must be truthful, I fail, epically at times.

Though much commonality exists in being human, the differences that make us unique also give rise to judgement. I mean really, what is normal? Normal upbringing, normal social constructs, normal what exactly? I can attest as a child, I knew what normal was in my family. It was not exactly traditional. There was a bible on the coffee table, church choir on Sundays, but we also had beautiful sensual charcoals on the walls by Betty Dodson, my mom read astrology charts and palms at the kitchen table, and five siblings working as child actors mostly in commercials and on broadway. Opening night parties at cabaret clubs were par for the course for the 8 year old in my house. I admit it did not help me make friends in my peer group at parochial school. Judgement, fear, only seeing the differences, jealousy, I don’t know the rationales, nor does it matter anymore. I learned a long time ago, not every one will like you, but you won’t like everyone either. Be compassionate and kind, but not a doormat!

“I ask myself, is it a sin, to be flexible, when the boat comes in?” Depeche Mode20140624-165824-61104011.jpg

With that lovely photo, David posted on Yoga sutra 1.20: Others follow a five-fold systematic path of 1) faithful certainty in the path, 2) directing energy towards the practices, 3) repeated memory of the path and the process of stilling the mind, 4) training in deep concentration, and 5) the pursuit of real knowledge, by which the higher samadhi (asamprajnata samadhi) is attained. By utilizing those principles in our gestures, can we stop the other nonsense? Maybe😊

We spend an inordinate amount of wasted time trying to be alike, striving for perfection, judging ourselves and others. Yet, in that we lose sight of how alike we are, very much so, all human, experiencing joy, love, wonder, pain, and sorrow. We each require sleep, nourishment and protection from the elements. The journeys are different. What we choose to take from the journey is different. Even if the goal is the same, and ultimately contentment, with who we are and what we are, feeds that purpose, we will go about it with our own choices.

Sutra 2.2 introduces the subject very clearly: “The goal of Yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking: it is the realization of an already present reality. Yoga practice removes the obstacles that obstruct the experience of samadhi, or the state of complete absorption.”

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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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