#FOMO #FOM #FO #F — A post about fear, ashtanga and (attempts at) pregnancy

drop

Born in the year of the dragon, my father sometimes says about me — with a temper to match.

“She’s so chill,” said no one ever about my disposition.

Back when I worked in the high-stress marketing department of a hospital system, a former colleague was stunned when she learned that I enjoyed practicing yoga when I could find the time. “You’re not asking the right question,” I told her. “You can’t ask why yoga doesn’t make me calmer at work. You have to ask what I would be like without it.”

I fell in love with the ashtanga yoga practice somewhere around 1999 or 2000. I practiced only sporadically for the first many years. It took me a very long time to find my ashtanga teacher, but I have been doing the traditional six-day-a-week practice since, and found that it has done wonders in helping me deal with conditions ripe for stress. Take the last two years alone, when I’ve had a miscarriage, a major car accident, a work upheaval, and the launch of my own small business. Amazing people — and my consistent practice — have helped me through every part of those journeys.

And . . . tomorrow is the last day I get to practice for at least three months. I’ll be slinging a hammock of rest over the hot summer months, starting with Tuesday’s new moon. It’s not because I’m pregnant, but because I’ve been trying for just over a year to get pregnant. And it’s not because I have evidence that the change offers a concrete way to increase my chances of getting pregnant.

What am I doing?

***

Last fall, I was practicing second series up to karandavasana. For the past few months, I haven’t even been practicing full primary series. More recently, I’ve been stopping at navasana. My directive, I know, is to not let myself heat up too much as I try to nurture a conducive physical and emotional environment for conception and pregnancy. (As a side note, my ob/gyn says that the silver lining of my miscarriage two years ago is that I know I can conceive. But there is also the thing about being 39 — no one says it’s too late. But . . . even I agree that it feels harder.)

And then something came out of left field. It was explained to me a few weeks ago that there are women who ended up stopping their practice entirely before finally getting pregnant. In the ashtanga world, we hear of women who practice — and hard — up until delivery. We also hear of women who stop for the first trimester. And I think we hear of just about everything in between. But stopping to try to get pregnant was an interesting concept for me to consider. (To be honest, I initially viewed it as nothing short of the nuclear option.) These stories were not offered to me as a “you should,” but as a “you might want to know.” It was also emphasized that this had to be my decision and no one else’s — only I could know what the best course is.

I resisted the idea of it — of course I resisted the notion of not practicing for three months. But I was also intrigued. “Faith is the opposite of certainty,” I was told earlier this year, and the spirit of it has stayed with me.

***

I should admit that I was a tad concerned about writing this post because I didn’t want any other ashtangi trying to get pregnant to look at it and see it as an endorsement one way or another. The more I know about pregnancy and practice, the less I feel qualified to say anything about the relationship of the two. How much to practice? What to practice? When to practice? My answer pretty much goes along these lines these days: “A woman should talk to her teacher and work it out with her teacher, her own observations, and her wisdom about what is best.”

I decided to write this post anyway, but promised myself that I would be very clear in saying that I can’t weigh in on the whole practice-and-pregnancy question beyond simply sharing what is happening with me. This is a koan I am living, and I can’t verbalize any answers that would be satisfying to the intellectual mind.

***

So, last week, I gave serious thought to the idea of stopping practice temporarily and then decided it was not for me. I didn’t make that decision out of a fear of missing out, as the #FOMO hashtag in our culture signals so well. I’ve never been competitive about my practice. I don’t care what I practice to, and I don’t care if I look bad-ass like the yogis on Instagram. And I’m not afraid to lose my community of fellow ashtangis, because I can stay in their energetic orbits without being the shala space.

I told myself that hitting “pause” was not for me because I had not been given enough evidence that there was any benefit to stopping practice outright versus doing half-primary and modifying it any way necessary to ensure I don’t heat up too much. Nothing can guarantee that I will get pregnant, so why deprive myself of my emotional-plus-some regulator?

But two things happened to convince me otherwise. I can’t get into them here, but let’s just say that I try to listen to the universe, and I talked to two very strong and insightful women hours apart who uttered two very short questions that made me reconsider. (One practices ashtanga, and one does not practice yoga at all.)

I went back to my teacher and told her that I had changed my mind, and would be going for what was behind door number 2.

***

This morning, during what I knew would be my second-to-last practice, I started to cry. It has only been post-decision that I have started having a more subtle understanding of what I had been holding on to.

On the long drive home, I cried some more. Sad? Yes. Scared? Yes. Optimistic? Yes. Happy? Yes.

Discovery and liberation come in many forms.

The universe has given me so much in the past two years. But it has asked a tremendous amount from me too, and I have learned, and gained, with every loss. There are people and things and habits and countless other stuff too that we all feel we cannot live without. And if they are taken away, we sometimes realize that we didn’t really need them after all — at least we didn’t need them in quite the way we thought we did.

What percolated as I drove through the rainy, steamy humidity this morning was that I was afraid to give up my practice — for however long; the amount of time is not the point — because I was afraid of who I would be without it. How would I make any big decisions in my life? Would I return to being a stress case? Would I return to being Rose circa 2007, 2005 or 2003? (It seems so obvious to type it out now, but I had been missing that element of sheer fear before.)

Here’s the thing: The very thought of not practicing meant I had to stare down the smoky barrel of the question I had been avoiding all this time.

Who am I without this practice, and why is that person not enough?

Fluctuations and flow

Alan Watts flow

March 20, the first day of spring. Where I live, in Michigan’s state capital, it’s all about basketball, brackets and March Madness—so, as one who does not share the obsessions, I observe like an anthropologist. I’d rather geek out over other annual rites of spring, like ayurvedic cleanses and the soon-enough return of farmers’ markets.

I’ve been enjoying the attention paid to today’s springtime coincidence, which is certainly not an annual occurrence: a new moon, a solar eclipse and the equinox. I love the treatment that the ashtangi favorite The Yoga Comics gives to this day. See it here. (“The EQUINOX is here on March 20th 2015 and a powerful portal is opening up with a TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE and New Moon in Pisces on the same day! #theyogacomic by @boonchualliscoming #ashtanga #yoga”)


Ever since my husband blogged from Spain using Medium, I’ve been relishing the finds over there.

This piece via Medium by Emily Jacobi beautifully explores the celestial collision of coincidences:

And it so happens that the March equinox/eclipse of 2015 is the first in a series of four spring equinox solar eclipses that will repeat themselves this century, at 19 year intervals. 2015, 2034, 2053 and 2072 — each one of these years will see a solar eclipse — a process whereby our moon temporarily blocks the light of the mighty sun — coinciding with the first day of spring, the day when the sun evenly distributes its light across the planet’s hemispheres. This pattern will repeat itself again, but not until 2387, when there will be a series of five Vernal Equinox Solar Eclipses at 19 year intervals, lasting until 2463. Wow. Learning this fills me with awe.

In other words, we’re not just experiencing a one-off event on March 20th, we’re experiencing the start of a series which will shape the course of the 21st century, and won’t recur again until for 315 years. Through some grand geometric rhythm I can only begin to grasp, we are entering a new pattern of rotation (one that has happened before; one that will happen again) that will last the next 76 years, or about 3 generations, then disappear for three centuries. How often do we even consider things that far distant in the future? And yet what was happening at the time of the last spring equinox eclipse has profoundly shaped our reality today.

The essay goes on and uncovers whimsical fluctuations–give it a scan.


Last night, I finally finished a breezy book by physicist and novelist Alan Lightman called The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew. It’s gorgeous, and it has catapulted to become one of my favorite books. Take this passage, which comes after a discussion of how all matter behaves both like particles and like waves, and how the world of quantum physics “is so foreign to our sensory perception that we do not even have the words to describe it”:

It is an irony to me that the same science and technology that have brought us closer to nature by revealing these invisible worlds have also separated us from nature and from ourselves.

Lightman reflects on his walks in the park, and notices how many people walk while talking on their phones:

Where are their minds and bodies? Certainly not present in the park. Nor can they be located in the electromagnetic waves and digital signals flowing through cyberspace. Only their voices can be found at the other end of their conversations, in the offices and boardrooms and homes of the people they are talking to. They are attempting to be several places at once, like quantum waves. But I would argue they are nowhere.


Earlier this week, I wrapped up my sixth ayurvedic cleanse. I usually go through it with my Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew, but they won’t be starting until April, and the dates don’t’ work for me. I began the cleanse just as the snow started to (finally!) melt in my part of Michigan. It was a badly needed cleanse. I (finally!) had time and energy to reflect on my own patterns. The ones in my physical body. The ones in my energetic exchanges with the world. The ones in my mental thoughts.

I am practicing primary series these days, for a mix of reasons. The discomfort of the areas I am working on/through right now have my attention in a big way. In working through all this, I realize that I am completely head over heels in love with the rhythm of the practice. It’s not that I’m ever far from this feeling, but I am just overwhelmed by how captivating the flow of this practice can be.


There is a line in a Radiohead song: “You are my center when I spin away.” Ever since that song was released, I’ve told my husband that he has always been that for me. And he always will be.

But other forces and other people have been compassionate enough to play a similar role in my life. My parents, my sisters. My yoga teacher. My practice. Unexpected life events.


On so many levels, with so many things, I’ve spun away and returned and told myself, “Never again.” But there is usually an again, just in a different way.

It’s a rhythm, and it’s the consistent daily practice that gives me a tool by which to observe this pattern–and a way to change it.

 

Un año

One year ago today, it was a Friday afternoon and I was landing back in Michigan after my month spent in Mysore. It was Super Bowl weekend, and I remember feeling a bit of culture shock on game day. I was back at work that Monday, and there was some culture shock there too.

Today? I no longer work at the agency where I had been employed for four years. My husband and I struck out on our own late last year — we leapt without even getting to catch our breath, making 2014 my life’s single most intense year on record. (You can note this too by the gaps in my blogging since last summer — there was so much to blog about, and so little time to even sleep, much less blog.)

Did that trip to India play a role in this cataclysm change? Ashtangis like to joke about the effects that going to India has on us; I would never argue the point with anyone.

It’s Saturday, but I don’t even distinguish between weekdays and weekends anymore. I work every day. I work from the time I am done practicing at the shala or at home until I go to bed (save for my occasional salsa lessons). Today I worked on some administrative things for my start-up, hopped on a call with a person in New York who wants us to conduct a social media training for an alumni network of nonprofit advocates, taught a yoga private, and then did a personal development coaching session.

I’m still in awe of how integrative everything has felt since The Leap/Liberation Day. I used to bristle whenever anyone tried to tell me: ‘You know the old saying: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life…'” Tell me how I can find that perfect shangri-la of a job, I used to think to myself.

Today didn’t feel like work. No day since this new endeavor has.


I have to leave in a few minutes to pick up my husband from the airport. He’s spent the past two weeks studying Flamenco guitar in Andalusia. What going to Mysore was for me, going to Sevilla was for him. Call it whatever you would like — a pilgrimage, forging into the unknown, a hero’s journey mythos. What struck me in reading this blog post was how he ended it:

I was picked up at my apartment at 8 a.m. this morning (that’s, like, 4 a.m. Spanish time, especially on a Saturday) by a bleary-eyed, profoundly nice employee from the school I studied at — his name was Carlos. We jammed my luggage into his tiny VW and set off for the airport. His English was quite good, so we chatted about my trip. When we got to the departures drop-off, I thanked him profusely for his generosity and kindness.

“De nada, Scott,” he said, taking his time to annunciate an unfamiliar name. “Come back, we will wait for you.”

He initially refused this trip. But I asked him to reconsider — for both of us and for our business. I reminded him that, thanks to his help, I was able to take my bucket list trip of a lifetime last January. If we’re going to launch this business and truly manifest our creative potential, I said, you should consider doing something on your bucket list. Exploration is important.

“What’s on your bucket list?” I asked him.


Last January, I never could have predicted that this is where we would be one year on. And one year from now? There is no way to know, so I will continue to practice six days a week.

Sweetness

I’ve missed blogging so damn much. (My last post was, sigh, back in August. I have a couple posts from October and November that I basically finished but thought better than to post. And I had about half a dozen others I wanted to write that had to remain in my head space.

It’s been quite a ride and all I want to say on this last day of 2014 is thank you. Thank you, sweet Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor spirits I have the honor to practice with. Thank you, sweet students in Lansing (at Hilltop Yoga and the Michigan Athletic Club) whom I used to teach, before I had to gave up those classes due to my schedule. Thank you to the sweet spirits I met in Mysore in January. I could have illustrated this sweetness in countless ways. Here are three that happen to be on my phone — because the holidays are a a poignant reminder that it’s not about the gifts per se, but the gifts of friendship and gratitude that keep on giving.

aya2retreat aya2apprenti

roses

#thestruggle

My current favorite hashtag is #thestruggle. As in the hashtag that could be applied to this brilliant Audrey Hepburn/Facebook-themed number, which I saw on a friend’s Instagram:

iloveyou

I laugh every time I see it. (On a side note, thank goodness I’ve never had to date in the age of Facebook. Come to think of it, I’ve really “dated” in the traditional sense ever, but that’s not a story relevant to YogaRose.net.)

And my favorite set of memes would have to be, of course, Ashtanga Memes (shout out to Aaron!). Putting the two together, #thestruggle for me this week can be summed with this one:

badluckbrian

Except, of course, I wouldn’t necessarily be talking about poses.

You know how it goes….

  • You realize the moon day is here to relieve your crazy schedule, except you’re kind of afraid enter this particular work day without having had the benefit of practice first. (Tell me again what I would do without this practice?)
  • Kapotasana works on that heart-space cage of yours, then you realize what it means to live that exposed.
  • You feel one vibrational channel open up, only to witness another flicker as its lack of a circuit breaker becomes exposed.
  • You write a blog post like this one then remember that you’re an introvert and need time to recharge, except you don’t have that luxury.

And so on. During a much-needed walk yesterday with my husband, we talked about #thestruggle — how once you pass certain portals, you can never go back. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to live in that new awareness space. But what are you going to do? Keep on keeping on, as one of my favorite bosses used to tell me whenever the newsroom got ridiculous.

And the older I get, the more I believe that humor — not taking any of this too seriously — helps. Thank you, Internet memes! (Actually, if it sounds a little like I am trying to convince myself, you are correct. Some of this stuff just does seem so heady and heavy — the stakes can be high.)

In any case, if you have your own version of #thestruggle this week, know that I’m right there with you, friend.

(Photo credit: Click on the images to go to the source pages.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Himalayan goose

If I were a poet, this post would honor Rumi’s gift of making the world appear pregnant with infinite possibility. If I were a dancer, this post might invoke Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Movements, and move us to dance each other into trance. If I could paint a self-portrait, the canvas would vibrate with the transparency of the strokes that outline my form. If I were writing this post with my intellect, I might explain that this past week, I figured out one last big piece of the “who/how can I be?” puzzle; that after five years of doing deep internal work and finding clarity on so many issues (which is different from solving them), I was finally, when I least expected it, was made to understand something fundamental about what it is I need from my professional life.

giacomettiRight now, though, I am simply an observer of coincidences. I can observe that the last time that time seemed to fold on itself, I was in India. (Was that directive something from the Ramayana or something I will someday say?) I can observe that I found myself walking a razor’s edge of internal alignment the same week that the guru of enlightenment through alignment of the koshas passed in this form. I can observe that the week I realize what I really want to do when I grow up is actually what I have been doing on some level all my life – telling stories – is also the week when I write a blog post whose tone I can’t seem to control, because sometimes energies just envelope us.

I can observe that my cells and some subtle (body) drive of my life felt transformed the same week that I was given the pose karandavasana. Coincidence? Undergrad psychology professors made us promise we would not confuse correlation with causation, so I don’t know if I can say that. The pose inspires different things to different people. Awe, head-shaking, maybe a chuckle. For me, it is fascinating and fitting.

karandavasanaKarandavasana is sometimes called “mighty duck,” though I prefer the translation of “Himalayan goose.” What I love about this pose that I cannot yet do by myself is that it doesn’t make any sense — and it is perfect. It is life telling you the risks and the rewards just got amped up – but you have to surrender to not minding that you’re now upside down and backwards and trying crazy moves in the context of a practice that promised to not have anything to do with Cirque du Soleil. So yes, the same week that I started this ridiculousness of trying to balance on my forearms while floating up into pincha mayurasana, folding my legs into full lotus, controlling down and then coming back up and releasing my legs – all without knocking out my teacher’s teeth out — is the same week that I hear a quote I’ve never heard before: “Things are the way they are because they got that way.” So how do you manifest then? Or maybe the question is, how can you do anything other than manifest?

I can observe that the same week a sage owl told me to “keep the feeling” is the same week that I finally — after seven years of missed opportunities — got to see, live, how people on the same wavelength can make unbottleable music together. Rodrigo on lead guitar has the speed and power, but it is Gabriela on rhythm guitar who closes her eyes and lets her hands explore the landscape like no one else can. Can partnerships like that change destinies? I hope so.

I notice that the words I can’t stop feeling are shraddha and manifest. The pop songs and the preachers and the Sanskrit philosophers are right – you need faith. (“Patanjali says that Yoga has to be practiced without interruption, for a long time and with a firm, positive faith that the practice will get the results.“)

Dear reader, if you are still with me and are wondering what the hell I am trying to say, it is perhaps that I have more faith than ever that if you keep practicing with earnestness, you keep trying to soften that hardened heart space of yours and you work hard to “alchemize your word” — leave no space between your words and your actions — then some day, who knows. The universe lines up chance (?) meetings and things change — but in a way in which you are careful to not dream too specifically and in which you don’t ask for certainty from any circumstance or anyone. You just want to keep the feeling that there is a deeper well of creative shakti in you, and you are willing to walk along the edge of believing that there is something bigger you can work for. And you accept, finally, that your heart does break when values of people you respect are in discord with yours. And you accept that maybe, fine, fuck it, you’ll say it — maybe security is overrated and maybe you do care about being part of something big and maybe you won’t even use scare quotes around the idea of changing the world.

internalflamePeople matter. I cannot believe the court of sages and healers I have between my family, my friends, and strangers who are not strangers. And were it not for my husband and my ashtanga teacher (and, um, I really need a more accurate descriptor for her), I wouldn’t have had the courage to write this post about how I have stayed faithful to the ashtanga practice and Pattabhi Jois was right, all was coming. So much potential, huge mistakes. Redemption and luck. Integration, vibratory changes. The wheel of fortune turning for someone who, if nothing else, at least values gratitude and generosity – and yes, the shit gets real, fast. But surround yourself with the right people, and the universe acts as your tuner, coaxing sour notes into harmony. The rest will figure itself out — if you keep practicing with earnestness . . . and so on. And then the shit gets real again, and you are asked to return to the battlefield with Krishna, trembling from decisions that have to be made. The karmic wheel turns and rather than be afraid to say it even to yourself, you put it out there, even if people most definitely not on your wavelength might see the link.

And when, in a dream-like state, you loop back and try to be logical again and ask what any of that has to do with the ashtanga practice — and what happened this week, exactly? — you realize the pose is called Himalayan goose. As it should be.

===

Post playlist 😉

  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Tamacun
  • Zoe Keating,  “Fern

(Photo credit: Karandavasana shot via milopeng’s Flickr photostream thanks to Creative Commons. Giacometti pic taken at the Getty in May 2014 and yoga room shot taken last night.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

La mujer de viaje, el mat de yoga y El Arco

elarco

I joined six other women in Cabo San Lucas this past weekend to celebrate my youngest sister’s bachelorette. I’ve never been to a bachelorette of any kind before — much less one in Mexico — so it was an eye-opening experience on many levels. 😉 And it was a blast. A truly special trip in which I could get closer not only to my two sisters, but to four new friends.

After a crazy long travel day/day 1 of the celebrations and, as you can expect, very little sleep, I still had to find a spot to roll out my mat for practice. That’s how practicing six days a week works, right? (Very different scene than the last time, back in May, that I went more than 24 hours without sleep!)

Even before I found a daily ashtanga practice, I enjoyed seeking out local studios to try a yoga class in the same way that runners like to see a new city by doing their daily run through the neighborhoods. I remember thinking how upscale Vancouver’s yoga scene was back in 2009, how years before that I realized Dallas had something for me despite my assumptions otherwise, and so on. I still enjoy finding studios when I can, but now I usually practice on my own when traveling.

What was most salient about rolling out my mat this weekend was that I wanted to use the practices less in a location scouting kind of way to get a feel for a town’s surface vibe, but to tap into that particular place’s deeper energy (such yogi talk, I know!). Cabo San Lucas is famously home to El Arco (“The Arch”), which is also known as Land’s End. And it happens to be where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean — so talk about juicy energetic swirls. (Here is a random gorgeous shot of El Arco that I found online.)

The wisdom of yoga and meditation masters frequently returns to the idea that we need to be fully present. In the past, I have used practicing in different locales to learn more about myself, to work through knots, to unload baggage, and all the rest. This weekend, perhaps I found another way of experiencing being present to a place rather than using the place as a tool for my inner work. Not surprisingly, it was through that wonderful piece of real estate known as the yoga mat.

Did it feel any different? I don’t know. But maybe setting that intention helped me be more receptive in general to those coordinates, to the people I was traveling with, and to the strangers I was meeting. One man in a lovely jewelry shop in San Jose del Cabo didn’t seem to roll like the rest of the shopkeepers surrounding him. He told me he was from Mexico City, went to college in at the University of Texas at Austin, and was back in Cabo to help run the family business. And still, there was something I couldn’t put my finger on. Finally, he moved his arm to show me something and I saw his om tattoo. Ah. An Iyengar practitioner, it turns out. One far away from his teachers, and faced with practicing on his own every day. We had a nice talk about that, and that was my memento from his shop. (Not that I didn’t want some of the gorgeous jewelry, mind you. 😉 )

If it hadn’t been for my sister’s bachelorette, I probably would have never visited Los Cabos — would have written off Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo as too touristy and too much of a party central kind of destination. (I mean, I loved that bars advertised their 2-for-1 happy hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Yes, starting at 7 a.m., you can load up on your cervezas! :-) ) And had I let my preconceptions and prejudices rule my travels, I would have missed out on meeting this shopkeeper. On meeting a sweet and fun gay couple from Seattle on their honeymoon. And on seeing and feeling this amazing part of the world.

P.S. — The pic of my Mysore rug rolled up to double as my meditation cushion is dedicated to C.G., whom I don’t get to talk to or see much, but who I think about frequently. :-)

cabosanlucaspractice

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My swift-footed, pranic summer

A little sleep-deprived, I’m writing this on a plane as I travel internationally again. This time I’m headed to my youngest sister’s bachelorette party in Los Cabos, Mexico, and I’m so excited to share this blast of a milestone with her a month before her wedding. It’s a wedding that’s been more than two years in the planning and years and years in the making.

This summer has moved so quickly and the energy has felt so pranic that I wonder whether Vayu, the god of wind, is in the director’s chair. There’s has been so much upward-moving energy that over the past few weeks, I try to fairly frequently spend a few minutes taking longer exhales than inhales, to make sure I am as grounded as I need to be.

Consider the milestones of last week:

  • I finished my 200th hour of assisting in the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore room, which means I finished my 300-hour apprenticeship with Angela Jamison. So. Incredible. More on that in a bit.
  • A Pure Michigan tourism ad that my husband and I are in launched, causing a flurry of activity, with people around the country messaging us about how they saw us on the Food Network. More on that in a bit too.
  • My husband and I finally finished our side business’s new website. Whew! It’s not that it took us that much time to finish, but given everything else going on, it did feel like a sprint.

And the past couple of months generally?

  • Creatively, this spring, My husband and I made a little weekend retreat for ourselves to recommit to nurturing our creative writing energies. I am so grateful for this blog, but it’s a very specific kind of writing, and I’d like to broaden the scope of what I write about. This week, a piece I submitted to Rebelle Society was published (not quite a departure from what I’ve been writing, but it was fun), and last month, a local publication ran a story I wrote about World Cup soccer. So I’m trying…
  • I’m also trying in other ways. My husband I are back trying to get pregnant.

Pregnancy, or lack thereof

I wrote about last summer in the post “My long and apanic summer being pregnant – and miscarrying.” July 2013 was especially trying. That month, I spent about three weeks deep in the miscarriage process. I learned in the worst possible way from an ultrasound tech that rather than being 12 weeks pregnant, I had probably miscarried around seven weeks (bedside manners matter, and this person had none). I spent more than a week trying to miscarry naturally to avoid a D & C. I spent another four days or so in a fair amount of pain using misoprostol to try to get the job done (this is a ulcer drug used off-label for women trying to complete a miscarriage). Finally, I gave in and went to the hospital for the D & C. For weeks, I couldn’t even say the word “miscarriage” without taking a deep breath and tearing up; I ended up having to write about it to hasten my emotional healing process. I’ve written a lore more about it since – especially the role the miscarriage played in getting me to India.

The Mysore room

I’m not ready do The Blog Post yet about completing the 300-hour apprenticeship with Angela – too much to reflect on. The one-two spiritual punch of the meditation retreat in May with this milestone – both coming after the trip to India – is a lot to digest, and I don’t want to rush it.

(Truth be told, I wrote a draft while in India about what I had learned from the apprenticeship by that point, but it wasn’t the right time to flesh it out. So I set it aside. I’ll take another peek at that later this summer or in the fall and see how I feel about it.)

The short answer of what this means, though, is that outwardly, nothing really changes. ☺ I’ll still be assisting and I’ll still be learning. And importantly, I’ll remain so tremendously grateful for my teacher and for the students in the room who become the teachers through their presence and support of the apprentices.

How an introvert geeks out over being in a commercial

There’s a specific reason that I included in the milestone list the fact that Scott and I were cast in a national television commercial: It speaks to the process of becoming comfortable in my own skin. And how that happened has everything to do with yoga, meditation — and probably writing too.

Don’t get me wrong – it has been a total hoot to be in this commercial. We had such a fun time starring in this Pure Michigan ad in which we get to talk about how much we love visiting Traverse City, set on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.

But it’s also been fascinating to consider it from a more spiritual point of view. I’ve created a good many narratives about who I am – not a morning person (until I became one), not an extrovert (well, OK, still not an extrovert!), etc. I am realizing that when capable of being more in tune with the flow – however one conceptualizes that – boundaries become a lot more permeable. If my husband and I had been asked even a year ago if we wanted to be considered for a national television commercial – even if it was for something we loved – we wouldn’t have been comfortable enough to say yes – it wouldn’t be the kind of thing that we did. When this opportunity came up in May, we thought, “Sure, why not? Let’s see where this takes us.”

So . . . all this pranic energy. I’m going with the flow and interested in where it takes me. For now, it’ll need to get me through a bachelorette party (my first!) in Mexico in one piece. 😉 Good thing I’ve got my travel mat and Mysore rug (which doubles as a meditation cushion) in my suitcase to keep me grounded.

puremichigan

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Rebelle Society: Does your calendar rule your life?

The_Scheduler

 

Rebelle Society has published a little piece I wrote titled “Does Your Calendar Rule Your Life: 5 Ways To Fight Serial Scheduler Syndrome.”

Do you ever daydream about a superhero alter ego?

In my reveries, I’m a mad scientist remixing the brain chemistry of the clinically depressed and injecting the chronically unconfident with invisible vials of self-love. I’m changing the world, in short, by sharing one Yoga or meditation practice at a time.

I recently realized I possess a truly epic skill set, but it’s hardly what I would hope for it to be. No, I have this uncanny ability to deprive myself of any free time whatsoever.

My superhero power would probably be to make like a daily-planner-wielding ninja and strike down free time anywhere I sense it lurking.

What’s that on the horizon? Is it a free Saturday afternoon I spot? Bam! Two hours unsullied one nice summer evening? Ka-Pow! Is that really what it appears to be? A free weekend morning? Let’s write some web copy for a fledgling local small business. Or clear out the inbox. Or catch a concert.

Let’s do anything but allow for that particular emptiness that comes with spaciousness of time and effort. Let’s keep moving and saying Yes and Sure and Why Not – because all those actions carry potential. They carry the potential of meeting interesting people and discovering new experiences.

I’m more stoked than Johnny Storm — the human torch — to light my fire for a new mission, however. I’m taking what I’ve learned from my daily Ashtanga Yoga practice about how it’s possible to systematically open up parts of my body — tight shoulders, office-desked hips — and applying it to my habitual pattern of closing in on any open spaces that exist in my mental and physical calendar.

Want to join me on this quest? Here are five ways I’m creating more space in my life.

>>Read the rest here.

rsjuly22

Whenever I’m not blogging here, it’s because of my schedule. Gaps between posts are rarely there because I don’t have anything to share — it’s more that my priorities have to be that juicy householder yogi’s mix of work life, home life, practice and teaching practice (not necessarily in that order).

And to be present enough for my practice and teaching practice, getting enough rest has been especially key the last few months. What used to be needing six hours of sleep has crept up to seven. I’ll chalk it up to increased wisdom rather than the fact that I turned a year older a couple months ago. 😉

Beyond that, though, my proclivities have changed a bit too — I find myself actually craving more tranquility and less intensity. Should I credit India and my first week-long meditation retreat for that? Quite possibly. It reminds me a bit of how Ayurveda taught me that spicy food was actually challenging, rather than appeasing, my digestive needs….

(Graphic credit: YogaRose.net, designed by Brittni Stefanides)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are we all just Messi on the mat?

messi

World Cup 2014 ends on Sunday. When it started, I thought for sure that I’d be a soccer widow, losing my husband to a month’s worth of matches. But as I wrote in this guest column in a local publication, I decided to get into the game myself — and in short order, I’ve become quite the fan.

A year or so before the World Cup started, actually, I had decided that I would be an occasional FC Barcelona fan because of one man — Lionel Messi — who happens to be the best futbol player on the planet. (Sorry, Ronaldo fans!) Here’s a video of some of Messi’s best goals, if you’ve never seen him in action.

In any case, a piece in Slate that promised to explore how “Lionel Messi has figured out how to win matches by moving less than everyone else” recently caught my eye because — you guessed it — it reminded me of lessons learned on the mat:

FIFA’s post-match data confirmed the impression that Messi had expended less energy to exert more influence than anyone else on the field. He moved 10.7 kms in 130 minutes of game time, meaning he covered less ground than any other outfield player who completed the match. He also spent less time engaged in medium- and high-intensity activity than any other outfielder. And his 31 sprints were fewer than any other outfielder who completed the match except Federico Fernández and Fabian Schär, who are both central defenders.

No doubt Messi’s economy of effort was part of the reason why he had the strength, in the 118th minute, to accelerate beyond the exhausted challenge of Schär and roll that precise assist into the path of di María. Messi’s run to set up the goal was clocked at 27.58 km/hr, and it was the fastest he had moved in the match.

To say that Messi limits his running because he wants to save his energy for when he really needs it is probably true, but misses a larger point. Lots of players know how to pace themselves. Only Messi has figured out how to win matches by moving less than everyone else.

Do you remember first learning sun salutations? For most of us, they seemed hard — total work. Over time, though, through consistent practice, we start to learn the energetic dance. We are given tristhana, the three places of attention, which includes a sequence stunningly choreographed to work with our nervous system. We learn how our bodies and our minds move. And we start to flow. We start to find movement with less effort, less resistance and more focus.

In short, what Messi makes look so natural on the field with the ball, we start to find as well in the form of flickers of flowing with our physical body, our energy body, and maybe even other sheaths.

If I’m sounding awfully poetic about this, I would have to admit that it’s not necessarily my practice that inspired this feeling. It’s been the honor and privilege of watching the progression of students’ practice by serving as an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor apprentice for the past two years and teaching led ashtanga classes at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing for four years now.

When I see someone like Messi on the field, as inspiring as his brilliance and athleticism are, an undercurrent of what strikes me is how that aspect of being at one with something — a soccer ball, a field of players, whatever — can be achieved each time we’re on the mat. Unlike sports, of course, ashtanga is not about competition and winning — and certainly, no cheering crowds or titles await. The progress might not even be evident on the outside.

But the achievement? Who’s to say it’s any less magnificent to witness?

(Photo credit: Via BBC.com)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Location scouting

I was in Marquette, Michigan, for the Fourth of July holiday this past weekend. It was less scheduled than most of my getaways, which gave me the opportunity to spend time checking out potentially interesting practice spaces.

What I realized during my location scouting in Marquette was how much my attitude had changed toward practicing while traveling. Next month will mark three years since I began practicing six days a week. During my first winter of daily practice, I wanted to plan everything in advance when traveling: What type of space will I have? Will there be heaters? What if there aren’t heaters? Will I have any moon days or rest days during the trip? I wanted conditions as close to ideal as possible.

Now I just take my mat and usually, I find the most conducive, workaday spot. Hotel room, crash space, state park cabin — there’s always a spot with enough room. This weekend, though, having time and the warmth of summer on my side allowed me to have a little fun. Such a treat!

This was where I wanted to practice — a little slab in Marquette’s Lower Harbor, with just enough space for a mat. It actually looked to me like it was designed for a mat. Maybe I’m a little biased, though.

slab

But the morning I could have practiced there, it rained. Even though I’m less into ideal conditions, I wasn’t about to practice in cold rain. :-)

One day, I was hiding in plain site in the courtyard next to the town’s oldest hotel. It was a great spot, made even greater by the incredibly loud noise coming out of the hotel’s generator (or whatever the huge contraption hiding behind that fence was). Pratyhara seemed to arise easily with that wall of sound.

courtyard

My second day of practice, I found the same hotel’s Sky Room, where weddings and other functions are held. It’s a beautiful space on the top floor of the six-floor Landmark Inn, and it overlooks the water.

skyroomfloor

The best part of this space was the ceiling — which, of course, if drishti — our passive gaze that is maintained during practice — is properly kicked on, you’re not supposed to pay attention to. I must admit that I got a kick out of the cherubs, though.

skyroom

I don’t have a photo of what has to be the single most unusual place I’ve ever practiced: the inner sanctum of the one of the Masonic temples in Vancouver, Canada. I went to a David Swenson workshop in 2009 and I’ll never get over the fact that on the final day of the training, we were moved from the normal room that they usual rent out to groups to a room with thrones and portraits. We all knew this was the room where Important and Secretive Matters Are Discussed. And were practicing ashtanga yoga in it. It was — just so damn cool.

How about you? Any particularly interesting or unusual practice spots?

While we’re on this topic — earlier this year, did you catch the inspiring Runways poster from Small Blue Pearls? It features one of my photos, of my mat and rug next to a hotel swimming pool. (Preferences aside, heat does matter, and if heat is an issue — especially in hotels with a proclivity for blasting the A/C — I have found that if there’s a pool room, the extra heat and humid helps.) And have you ever caught what inspired this poster project in the first place? On occasion, you’ll find practice photos — Runways — on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Retreat of the mind-monkeys, protests from Catholic peacocks: My first meditation retreat

retreat_view

My first week-long meditation retreat just ended. I’m trying not to be sad about this (though I certainly have techniques to work with if I do just start to bum out or, worse, have re-entry aftershocks), and I’m also thinking about what I’ll tell people who have never been to a meditation retreat who will curiously ask, “So, how was it?”

I’ll want to use words like “inspiring, invigorating, deeply restful, transformative.” It was a game-changer on the same order as going to a six-day-a-week ashtanga practice was. Or I could instead say that it felt like summer camp for my spirit. Rather go horseback riding or kayaking, I had seven glorious days to get closer to nature by letting the mind settle, and then settle some more.

Researchers are demonstrating again and again that that our minds love to be still. Consider the 2010 study “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind,” which was published in Science. The authors of the study say: “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Using a smartphone app they developed for this study, they found:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

They also found that on average, “respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except” — you guessed it — during sex.  

More on this later (the research, not the sex).

Perhaps I could talk about interesting specifics from the retreat: How, for instance, on the fourth night, my husband and I made it through an all-night sit with a group of nearly a dozen other folks. I might add some surprising elements about this yaza:

  • It wasn’t that bad! (It helped that we had a great group and a fantastic group leader.)
  • Time had a different flavor that night.
  • The meditation felt restful.
  • By 7 a.m. the following morning, I did my ashtanga practice and it felt rather breezy.

(Here’s more on meditation duration training, by the way.)

yazees

I could talk about how I think using one of the meditation techniques focused on during the retreat helped me to, for the first time perhaps, truly eat mindfully. (Yes, for faithful blog readers: even Ayurveda has not been able to help me achieve this particular piece of what happened this week on the mindful eating front. More on that later too.)

I could also mention that this was my husband’s third time in Southern California, and this Michigan native finally experienced an earthquake — well, OK, it felt more like a tremor than a quake. But it was his first shaking, and it happened during one of the dharma talks Shinzen held – right on cue, too. Of course.

Catholic peacocks and secular Buddhism

peacockPerhaps I would need to take a step back and tell people who ask about the retreat that it was held in Rancho Palos Verdes, California on a gorgeous Catholic retreat center campus. The Mary & Joseph Center features thoughtfully designed gardens and meeting spaces, very sweet staffers, comfortable accommodations and sweeping views of Los Angeles. Another supremely wonderful benefit of this location was that I was able to spend last weekend (was it only last weekend?) with my parents and sisters, who all live in my former home state. (Fun fact: The retreat center is also home to some peacocks. I’ve never spent time with peacocks before, and friends who have have told me about about how loud they are. Now I know why. I think their calls sound like what would come out of an offspring of a cat and a bat. I personally found the peacocks and all their diva-ness endearing, though.)

The retreat was led by Shinzen Young, an American who has spent a significant part of his life studying in hardcore Asian monasteries. He has created a straightforward meditation system called Basic Mindfulness that is completely secular, but absolutely compatible with vipassana techniques.

shinzenShinzen is brilliant to the max and tremendously generous with his knowledge, time and energy. He is also totally accessible, humble and hilarious. (I love that he sometimes wears a hat that he is the first to say might be mistaken to be a Heisenberg hat from “Breaking Bad,” but is actually a hat a student got him from a Blues Brothers movie.) I can’t fully convey to you how inspiring it is to spend time with him, because he leaves you feeling jazzed not only about your practice and your potential, but about all of human existence, really. That’s not always an easy feat, depending on which part of human existence you’re contemplating.

If you’re at all interested, here are some links:

The ins and the outs of mindfulness

Maybe for this post I should simply talk about what mindfulness is – the concrete, down-and-dirty details — in case anyone who asks me about the retreat asks me about mindfulness in general. MIndfulness seems to be the talk of the town of late, with Time featuring it on its cover earlier in the year — using the attention-grabbing word “revolution” in the headline, no less — and with prominent  stories in Wired, NPR, etc.

Shinzen covers it comprehensively in this free download called What is Mindfulness?. One crux of the piece is this part (from page 51, if you’re looking for it) in which he talks about how you can group the effects of mindfulness into five broad headings:

  • Reduction of physical or emotional suffering
  • Elevation of physical or emotional fulfillment
  • Achieving deep self knowledge
  • Making positive changes in objective behavior
  • Developing a spirit of love and service towards others

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Then again, so does yoga.

orange

If you skip to page 69, you get a taste of how this works:

So how do concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity work together to reduce suffering?

Any experience of discomfort, whether mild or intense, will involve one or a combination of four sensory elements:

• Uncomfortable physical sensations in your body.

• Uncomfortable emotional sensations in your body.

• Negative talk in your mind.

• Negative images in your mind.

For simplicity, let’s say that the maximum intensity of any of these elements is level 10. Now, let’s assume the worst case scenario: all four elements are at level 10, the maximum body-mind distress that the human nervous system is capable of generating. How much suffering will this cause? The rather surprising answer is—it depends.

What usually happens is that the physical body sensations, emotional body sensations, mental images and mental talk get tangled and therefore mutually reinforce each other. In other words, they multiply together, giving you the impression that you are suffering at level 10 × 10 × 10 × 10. That equals 10,000…and suffering at that level is utterly unbearable. People will do anything to escape from that level of body-mind distress. If distress at that level without escape continues, their thoughts may move toward suicide.

The first step in getting out of this hell involves sensory clarity. You learn to untangle the elements. First, separate the body part from the mind part. Then in the body, separate the physical from the emotional. And in the mind, separate the visual from the auditory.

If your sensory clarity skills are really good, this will dramatically reduce your suffering because the elements are no longer multiplying with each other. You’re experiencing only what is going on, not what seems to be going on. So the elements just add together: 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 equals 40. What a difference between having to carry 10,000 pounds versus only having to carry 40 pounds. The relief is dramatic. But we can do even better.

Concentration Power is defined as the ability to focus on what you want, when you want, for as long as you want. If you have really good concentration power, you can focus on just your emotional body sensations, or just your mental talk, or just your mental images, or just the physical sensations of the pain. That way, at any given instant, you would only have to experience a single “10.” So you can go from a 10,000 to a 10 by Concentration Power and Sensory Clarity alone. This represents a 1,000-fold reduction in distress. The body-mind events have not changed at all. What has changed is your relationship to those sensory events. You’ve gone from a tangled, scattered experience of the sensory challenge to a clear and concentrated experience of it.
A 1,000-fold reduction in suffering without any actual change in the content of experience is pretty miraculous,
but we can do even better!

Let’s say that you’re focusing on just the physical discomfort and your concentration is so great that your mind and emotions have faded into the background for awhile, and there’s just the physical sensation of the pain itself. But it’s still at level 10, which represents the maximum, so that’s still significant suffering.

Now you bring equanimity to that physical discomfort sensation. That means you ask your body to open to its own creations, to stop fighting with the physical discomfort it’s producing. You try to greet each wave of body sensation with a gentle matter-of-factness. At some point you fall into a deep altered state where your body

stops fighting with itself, time slows down and everything gets very still. It then becomes evident that the “10” itself is made up of 2 × 5: 2 units of actual physical discomfort multiplied by 5 units of resistance to that physical discomfort. As the equanimity goes up, the resistance goes down until you are left with nothing but level 2 sensation, which is all that was ever actually there!

And because there’s no resistance, that level 2 sensation flows as a kind of wavy energy and no longer causes any real suffering at all.

That’s how a “Turn Toward It” strategy works to bring relief from suffering. If your level of concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity has been permanently elevated through practice, then the associated relief is also permanent. When treatment or medications can’t eliminate the pain, there’s still something you can do—develop sensory clarity to separate the elements, develop concentration power to focus on just one element at a time, and develop enough equanimity to melt the internal resistance. At that point, what’s left of the sensory challenge will flow like a river.

As with any experience like this, I have at least 10 blog posts in my head already, but given that I’m heading straight back to work – I literally arrive back in Michigan 2.5 hours before I have to start the work day on Monday morning — I don’t think 10 posts will happen. I will get to the topics of eating mindfully and the emerging science of mindfulness in future posts.

In the meantime, I am excited to see my sister and soon-to-be-brother-in-law, who will pick us up so that we can enjoy dinner together (eaten more mindfully than ever!) before catching the redeye to DTW. I’m pretty sure the flight it won’t be nearly as restful as the meditation all-nighter, although I have a few more refined tricks up my sleeve now to expand and contract with the experience and not resist the discomfort. 😉

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Vishvavajra as a talisman of stability and ‘grounded, lightning-clear awareness’

vajrapendant

Who are the people, and what are the practices, that give you stability and clarity? I’ve been reflecting a lot about this lately, and perhaps as a result, I’ve been seeking out talismans that represent strength, stability, clarity, harmony. One beautiful traditional image I’ve been drawn to is that of the double vajra. (Apparently, vajra is the Sanskrit term and dorje is the Tibetan term.)

For my second wedding anniversary last week, my husband inspired the gorgeous pendant pictured above to come into my life. And for my birthday, my sisters gifted me with these two stunning handmade vishvavajra pieces:

vajrapendants

I first found out about the double vajra in an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor newsletter item:

 

doublevajraThe image above is a vishvavajra or double-vajra. I put one in the window at the shala to introduce this image to those who are learning the intermediate series postures named for it – laghu vajrasana (petite thunderbolt) and supta vajrasana (sleeping thunderbolt). The vajra image shows up all over the yoga tradition, and the crossed version is most often found in tantric Buddhism. In Tibet, it’s stamped at the base of statues of ecstatic deities, perhaps to moor them here in the immanent, physical world. This is because the vishvavajra connotes grounded, lightning-clear awareness, and the stability of the physical world. It’s also a kind of amulet warding off delusion and self-deception.

Lightning-clarity can manifest as sudden realization, especially symbolized by the single vajra – a scepter-like image you’ll find on the cover of the most important east-west spiritual book of the last generation, Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Awesomely, the single vajra is said to have this quality of cutting through – cutting through illusion, cutting through the BS stories we tell ourselves about who we are, cutting through the internal chatter that traps us in self-delusion until the coup by which we slice ourselves free. But the double vajra is said to summon harmony along with insight. I see it as an amulet for scintillating clarity combined with compassion in action. That’s not necessarily us, but it could be.

I have felt more clarity, harmony and stability in the past year than I ever remember experiencing as an adult — despite some challenges like my miscarriage — and I credit a rope of practices and people for this. Individually, the fibers of the rope are pretty numerous. But they might roughly be unwoven into the following four main threads:

  • ashtanga yoga (complemented by the other Indian wellness science of Ayurveda)
  • meditation
  • teachers
  • family and friends

While I have felt so much abundance with all of these stability points — how lucky am I with the intensity of love I have from family and friends? — I haven’t even begun to experience the full intensity of what can come from meditation. I’m fixing that tomorrow, as I head to the orientation of my first-ever weeklong meditation retreat.

What helps shape your vishvavajra?

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Out of the frying pan into the . . . void?

I am writing this as my husband drives. Our check-in suitcases for our weeklong meditation retreat with Shinzen Young are in the back seat and of course mine is a mess because as of 2 a.m. last night I still hadn’t finished packing.

The week heading into trips like this always feel like some sort of sprint-marathon. So much to finish at work, so much feels undone as the plane starts to taxi. “Out of the frying pan into the –” I started to say yesterday to my husband. “The void?” he helpfully offered.

I have some idea of what to expect and no idea of what to expect either on my first meditation retreat. Finding a consistent sitting practice has helped mitigate the aversion I used to have to trying to watch the mind; I used to very much identify with what Anne Lamott once said:

My mind remains a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.

I have come to savor what watching the mind has to offer. It’s not always pleasant, but overall, the practice feels grounding and cathartic. And necessary, as necessary as my Ashtanga practice feels.

We are seated in the cabin now, about to take off for a 1,973-mile flight. Not our longest trip,” I just said to my husband as we were waiting to board. “But maybe our longest trip.”

Don’t stir the kitchari. And oh, bring flowers to work!

I’m closing out the third day of my fourth seasonal Ayurvedic cleanse — hard to believe it’s round four! — and scribbled in my notes from yesterday’s cooking class with Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston is:

DO NOT STIR THE KITCHARI!

I adore kitchari to the point of craving it fairly frequently, especially in its hardcore, cleanse-style form without ghee or tastier accoutrements. But since my first cleanse in the fall of 2012, I have always had the sense that I improperly prepare this mix of basmati rice, split mung dahl and spices.

After tasting Kate’s concoction yesterday, I feel validated in my suspicions. :-)

So for the rest of this cleanse, I will let the kitchari cook on the stovetop longer, I will add water as I go along if needed, and, for heaven’s sake, I will not stir the batch as I go. I’m looking forward to whipping up kitchari that is soupier than risotto — and I can’t wait to add a strip of kombu to the mix.

Kate, by the way, is working on an Ayurvedic cookbook, and I am counting the months until it’s released. I’ll share that info here when it happens.

kateodonnell
This weekend’s sessions with Kate, hosted in Ann Arbor by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, included introductory sessions on the fundamental concepts of Ayurveda and also a cooking class. I can’t tell you how geeked I was to get to meet Kate in person after a year and a half of only seeing her through laptop and iPad screens for online cleanse meetings and individual consultations. I’m not sure where I would be today — digestively or otherwise — if Angela Jamison hadn’t set up that first online cleanse program with Kate in 2012. In the stew of A2, as Ann Arbor is called, the twin sciences of ashtanga and Ayurveda have transformed my lifestyle and therefore my life.

kitchari.jpg
If I only had one word to describe this weekend, it would be community. How cool is our ashtanga shala community? We have the likes of Anne Kellogg, who took the photo of Kate above, and Eric Fileti, who made delectable batches of local organic ghee to share. And in my head, I’m scanning the room and seeing everyone else who brought their smiles and experiences and questions. I mean, by the end of the weekend, we were laughing about our debate over preferences for castor oil sources (I am taking my purgation this Friday, and will be using the drug store variety).

ghee
I needed this weekend. My job has tested me on just about every level for the past couple months — physically, with the hours and the stress, and emotionally with some dynamics going on. I was especially geeked for the opportunity to meet individually with Kate — our first consultation not done via Google+ — in which Kate could look at my tongue and feel my pulse. It was a true treat to be able to sit across from each other and talk.

A lot of the talk was centered on my elevated vata dosha (not a surprise to me, believe me — I have felt this keenly since returning from India and being thrust back into my professional life).

One ridiculously simple and extremely lovely suggestion Kate had was to bring flowers to work. I can hear my mom telling me the exact same thing, and really, many of the gems of Ayurveda remind me of what my mom has told me all my life (get outside! take a walk!).

Like with so much of Ayurveda — as Kate reminded us during the weekend workshops — this is stuff we already know. But we’re human, and we need to be reminded. I bought these flowers from a lovely shop near my workplace today, and I am happy to say that this, too, is part of my Ayurvedic practice.

flowers

(Photo credit: Top photo by Anne Kellogg)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Moons, paper, words, dreams

March 2014 moon cycle

I listened in India, and perhaps what I heard were not so much words but echoes pointing toward images I didn’t understand.

Since returning home, I’ve sought out ways to set aside words — what I understand (or think I understand) best — and connect to images.

The Moon, Hanson Roberts deck

The Moon, as envisioned in the Hanson-Roberts Tarot deck

The world I live in is saturated with words, so this took some conscious effort (and, it turned out, the effort did end up involving reading lots of printed pages). I wrapped myself in Kabbalah and the Power of Dreaming: Awakening the Visionary Life by Catherine Shainberg and I climbed down into my first work of fiction in years — the 925-page tome of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami, a novel in which characters look up into a sky with two moons.

***

And since I’m on the subject of moons . . . I feel as if I haven’t been able to stop looking at the moon these last couple of nights. It took deepening my ashtanga practice to start to more viscerally feel the effects of the moon, and now I am madly in love with the experiences of our tethered energies. (Have you also been feeling the effects of closing in on the full moon? If you have and don’t have anyone to talk about it with, you might want to check out “Moon Swings.”)

Murakami opens IQ84 with these lines from “It’s Only a Paper Moon“:

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,

just as phony as can be,

But it wouldn’t be make-believe

if you believe in me

It was my husband — an ardent Murakami fan who has told me for years that I need to read this guy’s stuff — who told me about the famous story, set in a baseball stadium, of how the Kyoto-born jazz club owner become a writer. That story is recounted here:

Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and could not relate either to the esoteric delicacy of his parents’ traditions – they practised Buddhism and taught Japanese literature – or the hyper-capitalism taking shape around him.

“Most young people were getting jobs in big companies, becoming company men. I wanted to be individual.”

As a teenager, Murakami had read “all the great authors” – Dostoevsky, Kafka, Flaubert, Dickens, Raymond Chandler. He spent his lunch money on pop and jazz records. He wanted a lifestyle that guaranteed maximum exposure to the warmth of Western books and music, so he opened a jazz club where the music was too loud for conversation and read books at the bar until his customers considered him anti-social.

And then there was an epiphany. “Yes, epiphany is the word,” he says.

It is, he says, the only truly weird thing that has ever happened to him. He was watching a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp one day in April 1978. A US player called Dave Hilton hit the first ball way out into left field. And at that extraordinary moment, Murakami realised he could write a novel.

“It was very strange,” he says. “My customers didn’t believe it. My wife was so surprised. I had no ambition to be a writer because the books I read were too good, my standards were too high. But that’s what happened. I bought pens and papers and started to write that day.”

The first line of his first novel, Hear The Wind Sing, went like this: “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.” And so Murakami began a story with no plot or meaning. He was writing but he had nothing to say.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is the role of led ashtanga classes?

bookbindeknife

Is trying to learn the ashtanga method through led classes a bit like trying to use a paring knife to cube a butternut squash? Pictured here: Persian bookbinder’s paring tool and knife.

I returned to teaching my led primary series class yesterday — it was quite sweet to be back after my hiatus while in India — and it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time. I would have done it after one of the led classes in Mysore, but alas, it never happened.

Here’s the question: What is the role of led, or guided, ashtanga classes? I touched on this a year ago this month when the Mysore SF blog posted this:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.

At least in yoga studios in the U.S. that embrace eclectic styles of yoga, the role of led classes seems to be to both learn and practice the method. Part of a class description might go something like this:

Don’t know the entire sequence? Come to class and be guided through each pose with instructions that will include modifications to allow students at all levels to safely practice. 

What you often end up seeing in led classes at studios will be a class with some students who are new to the practice and struggling to get a handle on it and keep up, while others are primary series veterans and flowing like water through the practice. The verbal instructions of the teacher must accommodate the full spectrum, and teachers are left to teach both the state of the poses and the transitions into and out of them.

At a traditional Mysore-style ashtanga yoga shala, it’s rhythmic, and about surrender: To step on your mat and flow through the practice on the vinyasa count presented by your teacher.

Love to take extra breaths getting into the marichyasanas in your daily practice? You get five breaths here. Tend to take shorter breaths in the navasana section? You’ll stay for these five full breaths.

It should be noted, for those who have never experienced it, that in led classes at traditional shalas, you stop at the same pose you stop at in your Mysore practice.

The metronome of the count, combined with tristana, can make for a deep experience of pratyhara. OvO, writing from India, recently put it this way: “Mysore Fridays are a dream within the dream. The will is worn out, as is the body, so you just let the vinyasa carry you through.” It’s hard to even approach letting vinyasas carry you through if you don’t quite have a handle on the poses and yet are trying to get through them at a good clip.

***

The difference between Mysore-style and guided classes was, to me, quite stark while studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute last month. The Mysore practice days were electric — being on my mat, surrounded by practitioners from all over the world each doing their practice and having their unique experience. In that special quiet — where the sounds you heard were street noise, the collective breathing, and Sharath or an assistant periodically calling “One more” as space opens up — the conditions were ripe for you to truly be in your practice and maybe even have an epiphany or two.

Led classes? Not so electric — but the value was apparent.

They happened twice a week: Everyone took led primary on Fridays, and on Sundays, there were two led classes for primary series and one led class for intermediate series.

At one of the Sunday conferences, someone asked about bandhas. Sharath started his answer by saying that sometimes people ask him why he holds ut plutihi in led for so long — it is legendary that the space between his count of “one” and “two” seems like eons to Gokulam newbies like me — and he said, “Mula bandha, the best thing is to do ut plutihi.” He added, “Ut plutihi and navasana, very important to bring strength to the waist and help mula and uddiyana bandha get strong.”

It works, too. My teacher often holds navasana in led classes for what seems like three times my count — and going through those counts for all those classes taught me more about the relationship with the bandhas and the low belly and the pose than I would have ever learned if I had kept to my own navasana rhythm. And going through (read: enduring) ut plutihi under Sharath’s counts in January taught me about how far I have to go. 😉

***

So to me, on one level, led class offers quality control and a different approach to letting the practice instruct you.

In India, I saw the value in other ways too.

Everyone’s experience was different, but my experience of led was that the conditions of these classes were more ripe for putting a mirror up to your triggers rather than for getting deep into the poses.

It’s notoriously crowded for led class, and if you didn’t arrive over an hour early to wait, you would definitely have to hustle and sprint to find a space. Even if you did arrive over an hour early to wait, you would still have to hustle and sprint to find a space. (It’s like waiting for doors to open for a Radiohead or Arcade Fire show: No matter how congenial everyone might be, there will be jostling.) This bothered some and didn’t bother others. So while some people were triggered by getting into the room, others were trigged once in: Where you found a space, for instance (maybe there were no spots left in the main room, and you had to practice in the changing room or the foyer; or maybe you got a space, but it was where the rugs overlapped, and you didn’t like that; or maybe you got a space by one of the windows and it was drafty; and so on.)

There are no adjustments in led classes, and some days, because of the crowds, not even time to take rest after practice; Sharath would tell us to go home and take rest. And if you’ve never experienced the minimalism of a traditional led class, know that the verbal instructions really are just counts — no verbal instructions about how to get into the poses or anything like that.

***

In talking to practitioners about how led classes are used versus how they should be used, I’ve likened led classes to a paring knife. Led classes — a slightly misleading term, if you think about it in the Mysore context — were designed with a particular use in mind, but here in the U.S. at least, it seems to be more widely used for something entirely different. We’re trying to use a paring knife to cube a butternut squash. That is hard. Can it be done? That’s how I initially learned it, but as the Mysore SF blog reflected, I do think I had to relearn/unlearn key aspects of the practice when I entered a traditional Mysore room. (What, you ask? Breath was one area. Intuitive to someone who practices Mysore and maybe counterintuitive to someone who doesn’t, when an instructor is telling you when to breathe, the more subtle lessons don’t necessarily sink it.)

So when I see blog posts hand-wringing about whether ashtanga is various iterations of hard or even dangerous, I wonder whether we would have half as many of these online reflections if everyone learned the method through the Mysore system. Yes, ashtanga, no matter how you cut it, is hard. But trying to learn it through a led class environment can turn an already challenging practice into what feels like a sprint, and that can not only cause head trips for practitioners, but potentially set the stage for injuries as well.

***

I will say one quick thing about teaching guided ashtanga classes, which I have done in some form since 2009.

These days, I teach a led primary series class once a week at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing, Mich. What keeps me teaching this class is that I love my students. I love their resolve, their focus, and dedication to refining this practice. Are they learning? Absolutely. I’ve seen so much progress — especially in students I have had consistently for a long time.

But because I only see them once a week (and often not every week, if they don’t come like clockwork), and because it’s a led class, I don’t feel that I can go as far with them or as quickly with them as I could if I saw them in a Mysore environment, where I would be able to get in tune with their unique breath pattern and take more time in adjustments.

For led students I don’t see much at all — and therefore students whose practices and bodies I can’t possibly know as well — I sometimes have to trade potential for progress with security of safety. It’s a trade I wouldn’t trade, because what is most important to me, above all, is that they are physically and emotionally safe in that space. I won’t do deep adjustments if I don’t see a student often enough to know their practice and their body well. And if I’m not their main teacher, I won’t try to change their practice routine, even if I think some tweaks might help them get better in touch with the benefits of certain poses.

So for what it’s worth, what do I see as my role as an instructor? I use my interactions with students in the context of led classes to try to accomplish the following:

  • Maintain a clean and consistent rhythm both for new and advanced students during the class itself. For new students I try to do this compassionately, so that they don’t feel like they’re in a race and so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. For seasoned practitioners, I try to do this to keep them to a rhythm that they might not stay with in their other practices during the week.
  • Inquire about the state of their practice, so that in class, I can adjust as helpfully as possible, and perhaps afterward I can share relevant resources for other aspects of their practice — for instance, if they are working through an injury.
  • Ignite a curiosity about practicing on one’s own.

I frequently mention the benefits of a home or travel practice to my led students. I know that one led class a week can be the start of something life-changing — even if it’s a knife used for a different purpose, it’s still got that cutting edge. But it can only take them so far if it doesn’t lead to more practice, so I try to open that door to practice environments that can take them farther, whether it’s private sessions, home practice or practice while traveling.

So, I’ve just used quite a few words to talk about something that probably doesn’t need to be hashed out to this extent if we were on the mat practicing together. What do you think about led classes?

(Photo credit: Persian Bookbinder’s Paring Tool and Knife via the takomabibelot Flickr photostream) 

 

>>Did you miss the Mysore dispatches?

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

Lord, help me get through this month. I am trying to reintegrate post-India — DURING MERCURY RETROGRADE. Thank goodness for ashtanga yoga and meditation — or everyone around me would surely politely ask me to start looking for a flight back to India. 😉

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

Total miles flown to get to India: 8,839. And yet somehow, I always felt at home over the course of the month I was in Mysore.

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

dragon

The last several days have been frustrating in that resort-to-tweeting-in-all-caps kind of way. This weekend and today, trusty Monday, have been the most frustrating of all. Yesterday, for instance, after learning about some additional car-related hassles, I dropped a pack of newly purchased Kleenex into a pool of snowy mud that was the store’s parking lot. In that moment I thought, “It feels like Mercury retrograde. This must be Mercury retrograde.”

Then I got it.

If I were in India, I would have been primed for such frustrations and chalked it up to what India does to teach Westerners about surrender. Back at home, though, the default status I expect is that of smooth. And I had even scheduled in some transition time, so that should have been enough, right?

So, universe, I get it:

  • As discussed in my last post, you want me to read Murakami.
  • What happens in Mysore — equanimity for everything, all the time — should not stay in Mysore. I should maintain that sort of meta receptivity to whatever comes now that I have returned to my normal routine.

***

When I was in Mysore, one of my favorite night-time wind-down routines was to find a video or three on meditation teacher Shinzen Young’s ExpandContract YouTube channel.

Here’s a sense of his way of thinking about expansion and contraction:

Expansion and Contraction can take many forms…

  • Increase in intensity is Expansion; decrease in intensity is Contraction.
  • Speeding up is Expansion; slowing down is Contraction.
  • Spatially spreading through the body or elsewhere is Expansion; shrinking is Contraction.
  • Puffing up is Expansion; thinning out is Contraction.
  • Outward pressure force is Expansion; inward pressure force is Contraction.
  • Stretching is Expansion; squeezing is Contraction.
  • When your attention is scattered, that’s just Expansion!
  • When your attention is gripped by something, that’s just Contraction!

Sitting here now in my kitchen, I can see that through this lens, it’s not so much that I miss being in India (though I do); my life is here, in Michigan. It’s not that I miss the structureless days, because actually, I had a fair amount of structure (though of a slightly different type than I am accustomed to) to my days in Mysore. It’s not that I miss only being able to think about and experience yoga, because that is not how Mysore went for me either.

Perhaps it’s that I tasted, maybe for the first time, an extended period (a glorious month!) in which I could access a sense of deep, deep expansion. Though my days were structured, I could still, if I wanted, take 45 minutes to do one thing. The concept of multi-tasking was half a world away. The only times in my life that I’ve had this since childhood, probably, has been on vacation — perhaps why time off from work matters so much to me. Getting to be off the clock and getting to experience other cultures thousands of miles away are virtually the only ways as an adult that I have experienced that depth of expansion; the farther away I am from my life back home, the more I can be in tune with what is around me without worrying about all the things I normally worry about.

So for the past week, anything that I have felt as a contraction, I have either lashed out against, per my once-typical pattern of unleashing my temper like a dragon’s snarl (unexpected presentations thrown at me at the last minute) or recoiled from (driving in yet more snow without the security of snow tires — I drove to work with my husband three days last week just to avoid that anxiety).

To mix perspectives a bit, I was thinking this evening about expansion and contraction from the perspective of the gunas. Perhaps it’s not useful and even misleading to mix it up like this, but I’ll throw out what I thought about anyway: The way I’ve experienced the past week, expansion would — for me — roughly map onto tamas, and contraction would map onto rajas. I know from rajas; my normal daily life is rajas, and being able to hold onto that little injection of tamas that I found so nourishing in India would just feel so sweet right now. Except it can’t last — unless I find equanimity. Equanimity — and not a boarding pass back to Mysore — is my ticket to equilibrium, or a more sattvic state.

Um, no matter how you view it, this is hard. Can I just buy a plane ticket instead?

***

This morning, while straining to listen in on a work conference call and waiting inside the dealership’s lobby for the mechanics to fix my tire pressure monitoring system sensor, I was mentally retracing my steps at home to figure out where I had lost my keys (it would only be the first time today that I lost them).

Lost keys in the midst of all this, really? I couldn’t help it — I checked one of my favorite single-purpose websites: Is Mercury in Retrograde?

And this was the answer:

mercury

Deep exhale. I am trying to reintegrate post-India — DURING MERCURY RETROGRADE.

Lord, help me get through this month. :-) Thank goodness for ashtanga yoga and meditation — or everyone around me would surely politely ask me to start looking for a flight back to India.

(Photo taken at the “Golden Temple” in Bylakuppe, Karnataka)

>>The Mysore dispatches:

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

Total miles flown to get to India: 8,839. And yet somehow, I always felt at home over the course of the month I was in Mysore.

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

[Mysore dispatch] My month in Mysore, by the numbers

Featured

Mysore by the numbers

Here’s a little overview of my time studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in the city of Mysore, located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Travel

  • Total miles flown: 17,678
  • Total hours on a plane: 36-plus (It wasn’t too bad, if you think about how far I traveled.)
  • Hours Mysore was ahead of the time back home: 10.5
  • Weight of my check-in suitcase going to India: 47 pounds
  • Weight of that same suitcase returning: 64 pounds(!) (Still working on the whole traveling light thing, but I am quite pleased that I at least came in under the weight limit on the way there — baby steps, people.)

Flight map

Dosas, upma, Mysore pak, chai and coffee

  • Days I ate Indian food: 33 out of 33
  • Days I took pictures of my food: Probably 33 out of 33 ☺
  • Number of those meals eaten in the home of the cook: 8
  • Times I craved something other than an Indian meal: 0 (Seriously — although I did have a hankering after a while for avocados and cranberry juice.)
  • Chaat dinners: 2 (My dad told me that he thought chaat dinners are sort of like Indian dim sum, and he was right. How awesome!)
  • Pieces of the special regional dessert called Mysore pak that I tried: 1/3 (couldn’t do any more of those – so sweet!)
  • Cooking classes I took: 2
  • Odds that I’ll be able to make the dishes covered in those classes for you: Nearly nil (Masala dosas, for instance, basically require 24 hours advance planning/prep – um, that is not gonna happen with my schedule…)
  • Times I thought, “I can resist this dosa”: 0
  • Times I got to try the perfectly prepared chai, dosas and idlies at the place known to ashtangis simply as “the secret breakfast place”: 1 (Thanks again, JC!)
  • Times I thought, “I can take or leave this South Indian/North Indian thali — now, where’s that dosa/idli/upma?”: Lots :-) (It’s all about the dosas, idlis, upma, bisi bele bath for me!)
  • Times Sharath said “No coffee, no prana” directly to me: 1
  • Cups of chai I drank (estimated): 75 (They’re itsy cups compared to U.S. cups. But still!)
  • Cups of chai I wanted to drink (estimated): 150 (Yes, I have a chai problem.)
  • Cups of coffee I drank: 3 (Proving that while it was hard to give up coffee last year, it would be much harder to give up chai if I lived in an area with easy access to good chai.)
Secret dosa

It’s hard to tell from this photos, but this was the absolutely perfect dosa — and from a place I could never find on my own.

Life in India in January (external)

  • New Year celebrations that fell in the month I was there (Jan. 1, Sankranti, Chinese New Year): 3
  • Christmas trees I saw still up in January: 2
  • Times I was head-butted by a cow: 1 (I was just minding my own business!)
  • Old friends in town while I was there: 7
  • News friends from all over the world I made while there: So many ☺
  • Times I thought, “India is way too hot for me.”: 0
  • Mornings I thought, “Man, it’s chilly here…”: 5 (Mornings were in the low- to mid-60s)
  • Times my husband, who was shoveling through the record-shattering polar vortex that brought wind chills of nearly -30 Fahrenheit, gently warned me not to complain to him about the chilly mornings: 1 (I did not need a second warning. But I did get around this by tweeting one other time about the cold.)
  • Temples visited: 8
  • Steps walked up for one of those temples: Nearly 700
  • Optional steps that I could have walked up for one of the other temples: 1,000 (I told the rickshaw driver to go straight up and skip the steps!)
  • Palaces visited: 1
  • Days I dealt with something worked-related: 13
  • Blog posts posted: 21 (I would have had at least one a day, but when work started up, blogging had to take a back seat.)
  • Blogs I would still like to post: At least 3 (We’ll see if I have time this week — I am looking at my work schedule and I won’t hold my breath.)
  • Times it took me on the back of a scooter to feel comfortable: 1 (This was a surprise to me! I thought it would take longer for me to feel safe.)
  • Times I missed driving: 0
  • Number of massages (though I was tempted!): 0
  • Visits to the pool (didn’t bring a bathing suit so that I would not be tempted): 0
  • Castor oil baths I took in my bathroom: 4
  • Graphic novels read: 1 (While everyone else was rocking out with heavy literature, I was finishing Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Usually Hardcore Dharma Book and a graphic novel I round at Sapna Book House about a modern-day incarnation of the goddess.)
  • Times the Japanese author Haruki Murakami came up in conversation around Mysore: 3 or 4 (I get it, universe. I should read Murakami!)
  • Episodes of the new Sherlock season I watched: 3 out of 3 ((I have exactly one pop culture obsession, and Sherlock is it.) Happily, all the new episodes aired on a Friday night before a rest day — proving that India doesn’t always avoid cooperating with you. ☺
sankranti

Happy Sankranti!

Life in India in January (internal)

  • Times I thought, “What am I doing here? Why did I come?”: 0 (Everything felt so familiar, and as it should be.)
  • Times I thought, “I could live here!”: 0 (I am really grateful for my life in Michigan — even though it would have been easy for me to stay another month. :-) )
  • Nights I lost sleep to crying over love in the past: 1 (I am guessing one night of sleep lost to crying is a low number, if you were to talk to people. For so many people, part of this pilgrimage involves uncorking emotions — it makes sense, right?)
  • Mornings I woke up to terrible, heart-wrenching news about a friend back home: 1
  • Friends back home who took their own life over the holiday season: 2
  • Sacred places, and places made sacred, where I commemorated them: 2 (India is a good place to honor those who have passed.)
  • Times I thought, “Well, damn, this is awfully personal. Should I really blog it?”: 2 (And I went ahead and blogged anyway here and here — it’s India, where the boundaries between internal and external felt a little different to me. Or maybe that was the effects of the meditation practice. Or maybe I just overshared! :-) )
  • Vivid dreams: 32, maybe? (India is a good place for dreaming.)
  • Vivid dreams I remembered enough to write about: 15
  • Vivid instructive dreams that immediately, surface-level, taught me something: 1
  • Times it hit me like an air-conditioned train from Mysore to Bengaluru that so much of traveling to Mysore is not about the practice at all (though of course the practice is so important): 2
Chamundi

Chamundi Hill

Practice, practice

  • Led classes at the shala: 6
  • Led classes in the changing room: 1
  • Mysore practices: 13
  • Times I got a “small” spot (estimated): 8
  • Times I had to pinch myself that I was waiting in the foyer for my turn while getting to observe my teacher assist in The Shala: Quite a few :-)
  • Beginning practice start time: 9:45 a.m.
  • Ending practice start time: 8 a.m. (Not much movement over the month, given how busy it was. More on this record-breaking season in the note at the very bottom of this post.)
  • Practices in my room (days that fell before and after my registration period): 2
  • Moon days: 3
  • Times Sharath made me laugh: So many!
  • Extra number of weeks I feel I could have easily stayed (although it would have, admittedly, been hard to be away from my husband that long): 4
  • Items checked off my bucket list with this trip: 2 (To get to practice in this electric room, shown below, and to hear Sharath himself say — to me — “No coffee, no prana” 😉 )

Shala door

The details, if you want ’em:

  • I flew out of Detroit on Dec. 27, 2013 and arrived in Mysore two calendar days later, on Dec. 29. My first practice in the shala was Dec. 30 and my last was Jan. 29, 2014. I headed out of Mysore on Jan. 30, flew out from Bengaluru International Airport at 2:29 a.m. on Jan. 31, and, given the time difference, arrived back at home on the same day, seemingly just 12 hours later than I had left.
  • It was a record month at KPJAYI, with so many students that start times began at the normal 4:30 a.m. but went all the way until 11 a.m. I met a certified teacher my last day there who had the best attitude about how much has changed since he started coming in 2003. Yeah, it’s a little more crowded, he said. But it is what it is, and things haven’t changed that much. I heard him to basically be saying that the practice is still the practice; he wasn’t sweating the rest.
  • Acclimating to Mysore was no problem; returning to life in Michigan was a little harder. After arriving home on a Friday afternoon, I was very thankful to have the weekend to spend with my husband, with minimal time near a computer screen and nothing to force me to be out in the cold and snow. It’s now Monday morning – straight back to work!

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Mysore dispatch] Etched

ring

I have this ring that I wrote about a while back, made by a creative woman with a cool Etsy shop. It’s got three spinning bands and inside is inscribed, “Do your practice and all is coming.” The outside is etched “om shanti.” Before I left Gokulam, I knew I had to take a photo of it with the shala sign reflected behind.

As you know, for all these years, I did not believe it would happen, that I could come to Mysore. But yes, part of me kept some faith.

***

It will be impossible to not reflect on the trip during the three- or four-hour  drive to Bengaluru International Airport. (Did know, by the way, that the city of Bangalore is actually officially called Bengaluru? It’s been that way since, um, 2007. News to me too, until this trip.) The themes that surfaced initially kept coming up for me: That sense of familiarity — none of this seemed foreign — and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. My time here was so consistent that way.

Over outstanding (sugarless and jaggery-less) chai at Chakra House yesterday afternoon — the beginning of a series of non-awkward good-byes, thank goodness — a couple friends and I talked about what had emerged for each of us. And here is the thing with ashtanga yoga, for anyone who thinks it’s boring to do the same thing over and over again. Sit in that foyer as you wait for your turn, and watch what is happening externally in a person’s practice. Think you have a clue as to what’s actually going on?

Then talk to different people, or read their blogs, and it underscores how each person’s experience on the mat that day — yes, doing the same poses they just did the day before — has such depth and distinction. The same goes for their entire experience in Mysore. I haven’t had time to read too many blogs, but I did catch Isabella Nitschke’s Mysore summary, and Karen Kelley’s post on her theme. (I need to give a shout-out to Karen, by the way, for doing the vignette-style format on her posts, which I totally started ripping off — and not nearly as well.)

***

It was a treat to have time to blog daily during the first part of my trip. Once work started rolling, I didn’t get to write as much as I wanted to, so there may still be a few blog posts to come, if I get to writing during the long wait at the airport or during the 17-plus hours I’ll be on a plane. (It took two calendar days to get here, but I will land back home the same calendar day I leave. I touch down Friday, and I’ll be back to work on, gulp, Monday.)

In the meantime, I should note that I did manage to post lots of sets of photos on my Tumblr, if you’re into a ridiculous number of photos of food, temples and quirky area sights.

For now, though, I am saying my last good-byes and packing my bags and joining the many other ashtangis who are also heading home now that it’s the end of the month.

***

Mariela Cruz wrote about the Mysore rhythm in a December elephant journal piece  in which she writes: “Always go back. Mysore marks you. The Shala stays with you all year long.”

As your final practice date nears, your fellow ashtangis, along with all the local business owners and rickshaw drivers, ask the exact same thing: Are you coming back next year? I’ve been offering a long, convoluted answer about how hard it would be to convince my employers to let me do this again, how my husband and I will be trying again this year to get pregnant, and . . .  and . . .

But I’ve now decided that the easier answer, and the one I’m going with from here on out, is that I will let the universe decide.

If I find myself dwelling on it in months to come, I’ll simply spin those bands on my ring and meditate on change and impermanence. And maybe on faith too.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Mysore dispatch] Lingua franca

bilingual signs in Mysore

Always helpful when a sign around town is bilingual.

Sometimes when someone has tried other forms of yoga and wants a brief explanation of how ashtanga is different, I will talk about how no matter where you go, you can still have your practice – you won’t be dependent on finding a yoga studio as long as you have enough room to roll out a mat. I talk about how you can travel anywhere in the world and if you do find other ashtanga practitioners, you won’t need to speak a common language to be able to unroll your mat next to theirs and share a common practice. And in that way, you will be speaking the common language of this transformative practice.

After all these years of taking my mat with me when I travel, it has been such a treat to have spent the past month in Mysore with ashtanga practitioners from all over the globe. We descend on the Gokulam neighborhood with different cultural backgrounds and different native tongues — my new friends may say “capsicum” and I may say “bell pepper” — but we share a reverence of, and a belief in, the benefits of the ashtanga practice.

Yesterday, I chatted with friends over papaya fruit juices, ginger teas and healthy smoothies that you eat out of a bowl (we hit not just one, but two popular yogi hangouts: Chakra House and Anu’s Cafe). We talked about the corporate world, dharma and teaching yoga, the promise of 2014, how generosity is expressed in different parts of the world, and so many other threads of life. These conversations have created so much of the texture of my time here.

***

Chai with sugar

Chai = friend. Sugar = frenemy.

Back at home, I rarely eat sugar – I don’t keep any in my house, never add it to my drinks and generally only ingest it when I’m eating out and a dish or dessert has had sugar added to it.

For my first three weeks here, I indulged in my chai addiction, and the default chai here is not only addictively good (did I mention I have a chai problem?) – it has sugar to the hilt. I prefer chai without sugar, though. I tried a few times to ask for chai without sugar but got looks that ranged from blank to quizzical.

I finally asked a friend who has been taking classes in Kannada, the local language, how to say “sugar.” She said it’s basically sugar with an Indian accent.

Ah, so that told me that I was misreading those looks. It wasn’t that my words were not being understood. It was that the people I’ve been making this request to just can’t grasp why anyone would want chai without sugar. “But . . . the chai with sugar is right here,” I now understood them to have been saying with their perplexed facial expressions.

So now, I’ve learned to ask for both “chai, no sugar” and “sugarless chai” a few times while simultaneously trying to indicate through awkward body language that I am a sane person despite making this request. It’s been mostly successful, and I’m happy to report that for my final two weeks of my stay, I’ve been able to indulge in chai without sugar. This is good, because I was starting to really feel the effects of sugar on my practice – starting to feel a heaviness set in.
(The bad news is that the caffeine has guaranteed that my pitta levels continue to remain sky-high – but I’m willing to deal with this for a month while I get to be in a place that takes good chai seriously!)

I’ve decided, by the way, that sugar is the ultimate frenemy. I suppose that’s a thought for another blog post.

***

Sharath's office door

Yesterday, I went to Sharath’s office hours to say good-bye to him. I knew it would be awkward. How could it not be? I mean, what could he possibly say to me and what could I possibly say to him that was more meaningful than the energetic exchange that happens during practice?

But officially saying the words “thank you” and “good-bye” were important to me because that’s how I roll, so I went. I wasn’t nervous to meet Sharath or practice under his watchful eyes, but it cracked me up that it turns out I was super nervous to bid him farewell. I had thought about a couple things to say, and instead, as soon I got into his office, I got flustered, muttered a few words about being grateful to have the chance to the come study, slid a card and a small memento across his desk, and basically leapt out of the chair and back out into the foyer (where I realize that I had also forgotten that I was going to ask him to sign his book). I think the entire exchange took about 20 seconds.

It’s the Wednesday morning before January’s third moon day, and I’m off to my last practice with Sharath. I’m looking forward to a silent good-bye this time – the real good-bye. At KPJAYI, here is the way students leave the main shala space when they are done with practice: They wait at the door until they make eye contact with Sharath – usually, he offers a smile or a nod or both – and only then do they step out into the foyer and through the main shala doors to leave.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that if any place can prove that silence speaks volumes, it is this buzzing shala space.

Shala door

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Mysore dispatch] In due time

Kukkarahalli Lake

Here in the Indian city of Mysore, my iPhone tells me that it’s the morning of January 24 — although in my experience, both time and place have been sort of folding on themselves, and I wouldn’t have been sure of this otherwise . . . because I feel like I’ve been at this moment already, a few days ago. And who knows, maybe I’ll feel like I’ve returned again a few days from now. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been here, and I suspect no explanation is needed if you have.

In some parallel universe in which my pregnancy that began last year had gone to term, this calendar date would have been the due date. The date around which my entire life — and that my husband’s, and probably those of our parents too — would have revolved.

Today, it’s just a Friday — my last, physically, in Mysore. Dates are only important if you make them so.

Led class just finished and I’m headed to Kukkarahalli Lake, which I visited a couple weeks ago and found invitingly tranquil — a much-needed oasis in a city that feels so vibrant and full of life, but also pretty arid. It’ll be a short visit, because around lunch second breakfast time, I’m slated to start the car ride out to Namdroling Monastery, more commonly known as the Golden Temple, located in the Tibetan refugee settlement of Bylakuppe.

I didn’t plan it this way, to head to a renowned temple on the due date. But I’m so happy a friend invited me on this excursion, because it seems like an appropriate place to be to honor a brief pregnancy that brought me tremendous spiritual gifts. Those gifts included having the clarity to realize that it could happen, this pilgrimage to Mysore to taste the source of the ashtanga practice. That pregnancy was also when, as a pescetarian, I had deep rumblings of wanting to go fully vegetarian — vegan even. And it was the beginning of what would become the most fruitful time I’ve ever had in terms of meditation practice.

After the miscarriage, I wrote about the emotional difficulties of returning to practicing yoga for one. At the risk of sounding too woo-woo, as my friends are fond of saying — mother India has a way of doing this, though, doesn’t she? — I can’t help but think this trip is energetically for more than just me. The images and phrases are all mixed up and flow together — KPJAYI, shala time, return to the source, ekam, water, salty water, lake water, flow, India, return to the source . . . I wouldn’t recommend reading too much into it; for my part, right now, I don’t particularly need or want to make sense of it or even to a create a narrative, which I am always so inclined to do.

Today, I’m looking forward to simply trying to stay with the here and now.

***

In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part:

When we let go of our battles and open our heart to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice. Only in this moment can we discover that which is timeless. Only here can we find the love that we seek. Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy. Only in the reality of the present can we love, can we awaken, can we find peace and understanding and connection with ourselves and the world.

Love in the past is simply memory . . . yes and yet . . . and yet.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Mysore dispatch] Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore

workfrommysoreg

Thinking about traveling to Mysore, but put off by the fact that you would have to work during your stay? Here are four ashtangis who are making work — well, work.

This post features a few profiles of ashtangis who are working on and off the mat. Karen, Jared, Jimmy and I share experiences telecommuting from Mysore, and also offer tips for folks considering going this route.

  • Karen Kelley: Plugged in to the hilt, and working on U.S time while physically in India
  • Jared Westbrook: Putting in hours of daily work to keep up with milestones for a Ph.D. dissertation due in a few month’s time
  • Jimmy Crow: Armed with two laptops, two backup batteries, and working 7 days a week, 8 hours a day to hit all project deadlines
  • Rose Tantraphol: Keeping projects running smoothly for clients through advanced planning and a hybrid work arrangement

Have you done it? Please share your experience in the blog comments! It would be great to give folks who are considering telecommuting a wider range of examples and potential sounding boards. (Facebook comments are of course awesome as well, but fewer people will see it.)


MYSORE, Karnataka — Coming to the K. Patthabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute to practice ashtanga is no yoga vacation. In an important sense, everyone enrolled at the shala (“school”), as it is called, is working, because everything revolves around this six-day-a-week practice. This is a way of life, a discipline — and it’s not easy.

Work also extends far beyond the mat for many. Name a work/life arrangement, and you’ll probably find an ashtangi here who fits the bill.

A great many, as you might imagine, are yoga teachers. Some are officially sanctioned to teach by KJPAYI, so for these teachers, regular trips to study in Mysore are required to maintain their status as authorized instructors. A good number are yoga teachers working toward that authorization, and some are simply here to deepen their understanding of the method.

Among those who aren’t yoga teachers, there are ashtangis on paid vacation time, those on unpaid vacation time, and those taking care of their small business from here. There are people practicing whatever series they practice in the room, and “seventh series” the rest of the day — that is to say, caring for young children who are in India with them.

And then there are people working in the corporate and higher ed sense of the word — plugged in and connected to an office back home. Based on my informal survey of those I’ve met, these ashtangis are in the minority as they juggle the demands of their non-yoga jobs while still trying to remain receptive to the unique experience of spending one to three months studying ashtanga at its source.

nilaya

I am interested in how members of this group are finding their experience — not just because I’m part of that group, but because I think it’s a potentially precarious position to put yourself in. Tip the work/yoga scale too much one way, and something may give — perhaps work overshadows the trip, or perhaps the work doesn’t get done.

On the other hand, strike that perfect balance — bridge the rigors of a deadline-driven culture with the depths of an eastern method rooted in ancient wisdom — and you might just achieve a remarkable embodiment of the householder aspect of this practice.


KKworkspace

Karen Kelley
Scottsdale, Arizona
Director of Learning & Research Management at a global HR association

How many times have you been to Mysore?
3

Why are you working while here?
My original plan was to take PTO, but at the last minute we had some organizational changes so I decided to work through my stay.

On my first visit, in 2011, I didn’t work at all. In 2012, I worked half the time I was here — largely because my team said that my absence in 2011 made their lives difficult. At this point, they understand that I’m going to be in India for 5 or 6 weeks every year, and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to them. So I’m really hoping to NOT work on my next visit.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
If you working arrangement, you mean hours, I’d say my arrangement is fluid. :-) I was a teleworker for almost a decade in the 90s, so I am accustomed to working at all kinds of hours. Before I came to India, I moved all of my calls with direct reports to early morning (4:30 – 7:30 AM) or early evening (7 – 10 PM). Those hours overlap with their working hours back home. So I am on the phone early each morning and again in the evening — usually 4 – 6 hours a day. Then I do email and other work for another 2 – 3 hours whenever I like during the day — generally before my evening calls. I have a few calls that I have to take between midnight and 3 AM, and on those nights, I just take my early evening calls, nap, then take my midnight – 3 AM calls, then crash until the 4:30 – 7:30 AM calls. Then I try to grab an extra nap the next day.

doorway

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
My schedule doesn’t affect my practice schedule at all. Like everyone else, I’d love an earlier start time — but the fact is, if I get moved back, I’m going to have to reschedule my appointments. So I’m trying to contain my eagerness to practice earlier and just stick with what I’ve got.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
I don’t have as much social time as someone who’s not working. I don’t really mind, though. I like my work and I’m not a huge social butterfly anyhow. Having to keep up with work means I have to stay grounded (as much as possible!).

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
I agreed to share an apartment with some folks I met last year — and once I found out I’d be working while here, I had to check in with them to make sure my late night and early morning phone calls wouldn’t drive them crazy. They were fine with it — so I went ahead with the roommate arrangement. As it turns out, I’d overlooked how loud India is: the overhead fans and the traffic and people and dog noise drown out my late night conference calls. My roommates are never awakened by my being up for work.

The only significant requirement I had for work was the need to for a good internet connection. As it turned out, the wifi in my apartment is kind of sketchy — certainty not robust enough to support hours of conference calls. I got a USB modem and a big data plan & now that problem is solved!

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
It’s hard to be in two places at once — which is what teleworking full-time kind of requires of your consciousness. I don’t know that there’s any solution for that — except practice, I guess.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
It’s totally do-able. It’s also a great way to show your organization that you can be in India for 5 or 6 weeks every year & still be productive. I think what my organization sees is that they can be flexible with me (in allowing me to go to India for a good chunk of time) and I will be flexible with them (in working as much as is necessary to keep business rolling).

Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone is considering teleworking while practicing here in Mysore, I’m happy to talk with them.

More

 


 

Jared

Jared Westbrook
Gainesville, Florida
Graduate student

How many times have you been to Mysore?
This is my first time.

Why are you working while here?
I aim to finish my Ph.D. dissertation this May. It is imperative that I continue working while I am India to meet deadlines. Eight months prior to my trip to Mysore, I asked permission from my advisors to study here for one month. We came to an agreement on milestones to reach before coming to India and work priorities while in India.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I work from my room at Urban Oasis. There is Wifi, but it tends to be much slower than what I am used to at home. I’ve been working about 4-5 hours per day, split between a 1-2 hour morning session and 3-5 hour session in the evening.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
The practice and class schedule affects my work more than the other way around. Right now, I have a late practice time of 10:45 am and I am taking Sanskit and Yoga sutra classes in the afternoons. Meals and socializing take more time than my streamlined patterns at home. This does not leave much uninterrupted time in morning and afternoon to work. This is not a complaint, I am grateful for the opportunity to study yoga and philosophy in the heartland of Ashtanga yoga. Let’s see how much I suffer later on working long hours to meet deadlines.

space

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
I haven’t taken as much time at the pool or as many long trips to temples and festivals on my days off as some my friends. Instead I have taken shorter trips around Mysore including to the market, the palace, and Chamundi Hill. There is plenty to explore in Mysore. Work gives me something to focus on while I am not studying or practicing yoga. It is a comforting retreat into something familiar within a novel environment.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
Access to wifi is very important. In cases where you do not have wifi at the place you are staying, you can buy a USB stick that allows you to connect to wifi via the local cell phone network. Also, you may need a universal plug adaptor for your laptop. I did not have one when I came, but I bought one at the Loyal World supermarket.

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
I have scaled back on my expectations on what I can actually accomplish. Getting acclimated took about one week, and I did not accomplish much then. Now that I am a bit more settled, there have been a few evenings where I have dropped into deep focus for 3-4 hours while working alone in my room.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
Do not be overly ambitious with your work goals. Strike your own balance with being open to new experiences and having discipline to work. For me that means planning some outings, being socially engaged, but not lingering too long.

Anything else you’d like to add?
There is much to discover by word of mouth from others that have been here before. Make some friends!

More

 


JImmy_Crow_workstation

Jimmy Crow
I live in Nacogdoches, Texas and Chicago, Illinois.
Graphic Designer/Web Designer. I own and operate a screen printing business as well called Tattoo Productions.

How many times have you been to Mysore?
2

Why are you working while here?
Both times I have visited Mysore, I knew that I would be working during my stay. If I didn’t work, visiting Mysore would not be possible.

I do all the art, design and prepress work for my printing business and if I didn’t get it done, things would grind to a halt. I also do freelance work for several other screen printing companies as well as my web design company, and even though I’m not in the USA, those orders
keep coming as well.

I can be here to practice and work because of my excellent staff in Texas. They not only keep everything running in my absence, but convince my client base that even though I’m in India their work will be completed correctly and on time.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I try to get 10 hours of work done in about 8 hours each day. I’ve actually been very lucky and have been quite busy lately but that success can cut into my rest and recreation time. As of today I’m working 7 days a week trying to keep up.

My largest concern when I get here is, will I be able to connect to the Internet? Without it, I am dead in the water. I know it will be slow, so I have to plan my work around it. If I have to upload an entire website, it could take hours, so I try to do that before I go to bed or when I leave for practice. Working on sites live can be slow as well, so I’m usually doing two art tasks at once to keep things flowing (I bring two laptops for just this reason).

Working from here does have its advantages. I can get more done when I get very few emails and NO phone calls, since during my workday, it’s the middle of the night back home. Waking up to over 150 emails each morning can be a bit daunting though.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
I try to be done with work by 8 p.m. each evening so I can get some sleep and be alert when Sharath calls for “One More!” As soon as practice
ends, I get home and sort through emails from the night before and prioritize my day’s work and hope I can get it all done.

I have a very set schedule worked out with my staff, so we are days ahead on each order and have time to troubleshoot any problems and still make our promised due dates. There have been several “emergencies” that have resulted in middle-of-the-night calls for me to make changes to some jobs that had to go to press immediately. Those nights have made for some tough practices in the morning.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
Practice is the most important thing, but I’m in a position where if I don’t get my work done, everything back home stops. If everything back home stops, I don’t make any money. Without money, I can’t come back to India. This makes work a top priority but I can say I have never missed one practice while in Mysore because of work and I don’t plan to. I didn’t come all this way to miss even one second in the Shala, and I would go without sleep if that is what it meant to get work and practice done.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
I have been very lucky finding places to live and work on both trips thanks to my teacher in Chicago, Todd Bowman, and my girlfriend, Kitty Schuz. I would be happy to have anything with roof and a bathroom as long as it had the Internet but my accommodations on both trips have made working in Mysore very easy and I owe that to the both of them. If you are going to work while here DO NOT do what a lot of nomad yoga teachers do and just try to find accommodations when you arrive. There is nothing wrong with looking when you get here, but if you have any special needs, you should have those worked out before you come.

There are lots of excellent resources to finding apartments here, but the best way is to talk to Ashtangis that have been here before and have the lay of the land. When you are here, make contacts with landlords or families that rent apartments so you can do it yourself on your next trip.

wall

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
My first trip was a learning experience for me and my staff back in Texas, since we could only guess how things would work out.

This trip, I took what I learned in 2010 and have had a pretty seamless transition from working at home to working here. The one precaution I did take this time was bringing two laptops loaded with all the software that I need to keep things running. If one computer goes down and I can’t fix it, I can just switch to the backup. I’m so dependent on them that if they both failed I would have to pack up and go home immediately because I cannot work without the software on them.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
It can be done, so do not use that as an excuse to not come. I actually spend half my time in Chicago so I have experience working away from the office. Maybe you could do a test run and work a few days away from your office comfort zone and see if you can do it with just a telephone and the iInternet. Prepare to deal with power outages and downed phone lines when you least expect them, because that is gonna happen (I actually bring two large backup batteries for my computers so I can always work).

My first trip I came when things are slower for me at the office and it allowed me to get out and see some of the wonderful places and things around Mysore. Try to see if you can plan some 4-day work weeks to coincide with moon days and weekends and you will get a chance to see everything as well and still bet your work done.

Anything else you’d like to add?
5 years ago, I went to a Kino MacGregor seminar and she said, “Anyone can go to Mysore, you just have to stop making excuses and go.” At the time, I thought there was no way I would ever be able to go, but after hearing her say something that simple, I stopped looking for reasons not to go and instead found a way to get here. Now every time I arrive, I start thinking about my next trip.

I hope anyone that is making excuses for why they can’t come will do what I did and get here as soon as possible. Mysore is a magical place if you are an Ashtangi, but you’ll never know if you don’t come.

Some morning in the future when Sharath calls for “One More!” he may just be talking to you.

More


Rose_workstation

Not sure how ergonomic it is, but when I only need one screen most of the time, I like sitting on the bed.

Rose Tantraphol
Lansing, Mich.
Communications professional at a public relations and social media marketing agency

How many times have you been to Mysore?
This is my first time. So that I don’t get disappointed, I’m thinking of it as a “first and only” situation, a one-shot deal. That said, I know it’s difficult for ashtangis to resist returning — once you’ve made the pilgrimage to the source of this practice, it’s hard to stay away.

Why are you working while here?
I work at a very small firm — there are only 10 or so of us — and that makes having one staffer gone for a month incredibly difficult. I’m incredibly grateful that the owners of the firm so believe in supporting a work-life balance that they entertained my crazy idea! They knew how much this meant to me, and they were receptive to working out an arrangement to make it happen.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I went to my bosses with the following request: Could I take the entire month of January off as unpaid leave but be online for two of those weeks to help keep everything running smoothly for my clients? To be practical and give myself enough time to settle in, I said I would work the middle two weeks (though I will end up doing a bit of work in my final week here as well, which is totally fine). I figured this would give me a couple weeks to get to my grounding and establish a rhythm. And it would allow me to use my last week here to wrap everything up and say my good-byes (also hard!) without any work pressures.

workdesk

And here’s the desk set-up for multiple screens. (My work email account is most easily accessed through the iPad, but I edit and write on the laptop.)

I set aside a few hours a day (in a morning slot and a late afternoon-through-evening slot to accommodate the 10.5-hour difference at home) to respond to emails, check in on websites we maintain, edit press materials, stay on top of news developments relevant to my clients, and the like. Right now there is a media event I am helping to plan, so I do have to respond within certain windows of time for everything to go according to schedule. I also manage the internship program at my firm, so I am in frequent contact with our students, making sure that they have prioritized their workloads and that the projects are evenly distributed even though I’m not there.

I think it’s important to note that I did do a lot of prep work before coming. For clients whose social media accounts I manage, for instance, I scheduled posts out for the entire month so that I wouldn’t be doing that type of task here. November and December were more intense because of it, but I’m so happy I did it this way.

A note on the finances, because that is a big issue for a lot of us. Cutting my income for 2014 by 1/12 was not an easy decision — especially when I plan on trying to get pregnant this year. But my husband and I both live by the tenet that you can’t take it with you. We’ll figure it out, and the loss of income is totally worth it to have the chance to come to KPJAYI after dreaming about it all these years.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
It doesn’t affect my practice schedule at all. Everything revolves my practice schedule, so I schedule my windows of working around that.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
Because I had to leave those works slots available, I haven’t had as much time to take some of the other types of available classes, such as sutra or Sanskrit classes, that I might otherwise have.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
Reliable wifi, reliable wifi, reliable wifi. That meant that I narrowed down the field of possible accommodations to hotels, basically. A high percentage of ashtangis rent room or apartments from families, and that was off the table for me (we’re in a region of the world where daily rolling blackouts are common, and most families don’t have back-up generator power the way a hotel does). Even the most reliable wifi here would cause complaints of missed or lacking service back home, but it’s been fine for what I need — the spottiness hasn’t interfered with my ability to stay connected.

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now that you are actually here?
I am in the happy position of having less intensity of working than I thought I would.

During my second week here, for instance, I went to the two sites in Mysore that I thought were must-sees — Mysore Palace and Chamundi Hill — because I figured I would not have time for anything else the following two weeks while working.

But two factors have helped tremendously: The advanced planning noted above and the awesomeness of my colleagues. (For instance, I offered to be on the weekly staff meeting call which would have been 7:30 p.m. local time, but my bosses said no need — enjoy your time in India.) So, thanks to those two factors, even though I’ve been working each day, I have been able to do things I wouldn’t have thought I could do, such as steal away on the moon day a tour of historic ancient temples.

This is the upside of not being paid during this time, I suppose. :-)

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
I don’t think I would have had the confidence to even submit the request to come here if I hadn’t personally picked the brain of someone who had done it before. That person was Karen, and I am eternally grateful to her for sharing her experiences with me.

I hope this post serves as a confidence-boost for anyone considering coming to KPJAYI but initially ruling it out due to work constraints. That said, every situation is unique, and I think being able to talk to people about it may help with setting realistic expectations and strategizing a bit about how to make it happen.

Anything else you’d like to add?
We have a lot of time to wait in the foyer of the shala for our turn to be called. One thing I love about this is that the period I am waiting is also when Sharath’s kids get ready for school. Sharath handles fatherhood and shala directorship seamlessly. He’ll do an assisted dropback, hear his son calling for him as the school van approaches, come out into the foyer, give his son a kiss (or three), then return to the room for the next adjustment. It is seamless.

In my own way, working from Mysore in a seamless fashion is part of an off-the-mat practice I’m developing. I think if I can work while studying at KPJAYI without giving in to stress, frustration, resentment or any negative feelings (even useless comparative thoughts of “How cool would it be to not have to work!”) — a feat that requires both good advanced planning and surrender upon arrival — then I will have strengthened my relationship to work when returning home.

While I haven’t returned home and reintegrated yet, I do think that if more of us from the corporate world are able to find ways to do this, the transformative aspects of coming to India could be of great benefit to our organizations. As much as I would wish any ashtangi who wants it the chance to be in Mysore in a wholly supported way — that is, sans work — I think seeing a trend of more yogis telecommuting from Gokalum could actually be a positive trend. This experience doesn’t have to be reserved for people with flexible schedules, those in between jobs or ashtangis already earning their living through teaching yoga.

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>>More Mysore dispatches:

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[Mysore dispatch] So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.

Ashtanga is a householder’s practice, and the students at KPJAYI are people with family and professional commitments to the hilt. Some have their kids with them in Mysore; others Skype daily with theirs. Some are here with their partners; others Skype daily with theirs. Some are teleworking for their companies; others, such as shala owners, are managing their businesses remotely. If you are going to come at all, you’re required to uproot from your life for at least one month. How does it all work?

If it takes a village to raise a child, I’m convinced it usually takes a little block’s worth of people to send an ashtangi off to Mysore — from supportive significant others, family members and coworkers (“Yes, go, we’ll find a way to take care of the kids/get your work covered/pay the bills”) to flexible friends and neighbors willing to provide surgical-strike-style acts of helpfulness at key moments (“Yes, no problem, I’ll take your child/pet to the doctor/vet the day that your spouse/family member can’t.”).

So on the broadest level, this post is a thank-you note of sorts to anyone who has ever made a sacrifice to help an ashtangi get to Mysore to study.

And this post is a thank-you note in particular to my husband, who, today, for the first time since we’ve been together, celebrates his birthday without me.

***

One of the first questions people usually asked me back home when I told them I was going to take this pilgrimage to Mysore was, “Is your husband going to go with you? Or will he at least visit you?”

I explained we like to joke that no, he would not be coming with — someone has to stay back and do the work.

In our case, it’s literally true. Scott and I work at the same firm, and whenever I’ve pulled a going-away-to-deepen-my-yoga-practice thing, he always ends up doing some of my client work. Also, in this case, it’s the first time I’m going away while taking an unpaid leave of absence — the only way I could get one month off from work — so my husband is holding down the fort so that we can pay the bills as I can make my dream of practicing at KPJAYI come true.

From the beginning, it was Scott who told me we could make this trip work on all fronts — office, home, financial. When I totaled my car just before leaving for India and had to take on a new car payment and worried about adding that financial burden on top of this trip, it was Scott who told me not to worry. When I told him in my second week in India that based on budget projections, being here would cost a little more than I had budgeted, it was Scott who said it was no big deal (and then proceeded to downgrade the scale of his birthday weekend escape to get some cross-country skiing in).

Happy birthday, Scott! From, um, this creative person on Flickr and a generous Creative Common license. :-)

Happy birthday, Scott! From, um, this creative person on Flickr and a generous Creative Common license. :-)

It’s not just that he’s an incredible life partner. It’s not just that he is a salt-of-the-earth, stand-up guy. It’s that, even though his grounding comes from playing guitar and practicing Okinawan karate, he knows how much ashtanga yoga means to me, and he wants to help me, in any way possible, to create space for transformation. He supports me in big ways, like with India, and in small ways, like telling me the nights before I have to get up at 3 a.m. for practice that he will do the dishes so I can get to bed sooner.

I can see him now, shaking his head that I wrote this post knowing full well that he would hate being the center of it. To which I would say: Honey, a Benedictine monk said in a TED talk that happiness is born from gratitude. So it’s making me happy to express my gratitude for you. :-) Thank you. For everything.

And happiest of birthdays to you.

***

gratitudeSo, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while. 😉 Tell them I said thanks as well, because having you here — having this awesome community in Gokulam — is, to me, an important part of what makes this practice so life-affirming. 

(Photo credit: Happy Birthday, Scott via Katsuja Cisar’s Flickr/Creative Common license and Gratitude via Shannon Kringen’s Flickr/Creative Commons license)

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola

belur

I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But thanks to the initiative and organizational drive of a new friend from Calgary whom I met through an old friend from Calgary — I love how the instant ashtanga community works — I was able to join four other ashtangis on this moon day for an eight-hour, 334-kilometer (208-mile) temple tour to Belur, Halebid and Shravanabelagola.

Our driver took us three hours northwest of Mysore for the first stop, Belur. The photo above was taken there. I was amazed by the detail and the artistry of the Hoysala architectural style. Another thing I found noteworthy was how uncrowded it was, especially compared to Chamundi Hill, where I paid a visit last week.

Here is the (yes, highly filtered) highlights reel.

I usually take pretty lousy photos because I’m more interested in, say, an ironic sign or a chipmunk lurking between the detailed carvings of an ancient temple. But if you’re curious, here are some of the photos I took today. The sets may load slowly if you’re on the spottiness that is wifi in Mysore. If you’re in the U.S. or other areas with fabulously fast and reliable wifi, enjoy!

As for Shravanabelagola, the Jain pilgrimage site that is home to what is apparently Asia’s tallest monolithic stone statue of Gomateshwara: I just googled it, and it seems there are nearly 700 steps. It’s not quite the 1,008 steps that you can opt to take at Chamundi Hill, but it’s a hike. (I skipped the steps at Chamundi and let the rickshaw take me all the way to the top).


nandi
I was thinking as we were walking up that it would be an interesting ritual, after you are given the last pose to any ashtanga series and are feeling pretty damn good and strong, to walk up those steps and see how you feel. :-) As I was doing my snail’s pace up and taking breaks to boot, a man who looked to be in his 70s or 80s skipped the steps and glided — awfully quickly, it seemed to me — up the slope instead. Young men sprinted parts of it.

By the way, normally, my photos stay on my iPhone for weeks, if not months or years, untouched — I forget to post them on Facebook or Tumblr or anywhere else. You’re talking to the woman who got married in 2012 and still hasn’t processed all her wedding photos (I am not proud of this fact). So I decided just today that at the end of every day here in Mysore, I will process — delete the crappy ones, upload the good ones to Tumblr, whatever — as part of my evening routine.

That said, it’s time to start winding down for bed. We’ll see how Friday led primary class feels after all those stairs at the Jain temple!

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Mysore dispatch] Thank you, interwebs and wifi

wifiandpeople

When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug — to step away from the digital networks I’m part of and to turn off the information hose of those channels.

But I have to work on this trip, so that option was out.

Now that I’m here, I realize that I’m loving staying digitally connected. It allows me to stay in touch with friends back home and here in Gokulam, the Mysore neighborhood where the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute is located.

Staying connected has allowed me to see, for instance, that back in the States, Small Blue Pearls has a lovely new Runways poster out — photos that practitioners all over the world have submitted of their self-practice while traveling.

It’s allowed me to stay in touch with yogis through my blog (because as I confessed here and here, I apparently have a problem), and through reading the posts of other ashtangis. There are conversations about life and practice that happen at the coconut stand at 9th Cross and Contour Road — or even closer, over breakfast on the rooftop of my building — and there are conversations about life and practice that happen over Facebook. Both have been interesting, and usually not redundant.

Posting from my building, there’s The Green Yogi and Yogiblog, featuring the adventures of Clive and Mark. Among my other friends, OvO has posted about joy rides, London-based Susan has updated Susananda, and Karen, a home practitioner from Arizona, has been juggling working and blogging via Journey to Mysore. Who else . . . Suzy has left Mysore, but Isabella continues to post faithfully about Conference. And so on. These are just the ones I am thinking of off the top of my head. Please throw down your blog link in comments if I failed to link to it here!

insight_timerBeing connected is even cool for my meditation practice, which is a big priority for my time here (probably as big as the ashtanga practice). I use the Insight Timer app for iPhone (it’s available for Android too), which tells you how many people are meditating when you are, and where in the world they are. Pretty cool. (If you’re looking for a good meditation app, I highly recommend this one. It’s even got a journal feature and guided meditations. )

Back over the Thanksgiving holiday, I wrote about my constant need for mini digital sabbaticals. Here in India, I am being careful to prioritize being here over being online, but it turns out this is quite easy to do, since I can only be connected when there’s wifi access, which is pretty much just when I’m in my room. I so far haven’t felt like my digital life is crowding out the spaciousness I need.

Tomorrow, I start telecommuting. I’m interested to see if this feeling holds. Will my digital access start to feel like a leash?

(Photo credit: Wifi by güneş in wonderland via Flickr Creative Commons license)

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done

It’s 4:30 p.m. on the rest day, and what I’ve accomplished so far is sleeping in until nearly 9, eating breakfast, drinking too much chai (a morning ritual for me, apparently), doing laundry, taking my first bonafide Saturday castor oil bath, and doing a 75-minute meditation on the roof the building. I think when you’re studying yoga in India that’s considered productive. At home, I would probably have felt that this should have all happened by noon.

One thing I realized today is that I have been enjoying being relatively inefficient. It’s a new concept to me, and I’ve been pretty content with it for these past two weeks. (Perhaps I’ve enjoyed it a little more than I might have otherwise because beginning on Monday, a new schedule begins: I will be online a couple hours a day to make sure all is well with my work clients back in Michigan.)

At home, I have to live at the height of efficiency in order to get things done. My daily calendar frequently gets parceled out by the quarter hour. I run personal errands outside the house in an order that hits stops clockwise and never requires backtracking, because left turns and retracing your route are a total waste of time and gas. I take advantage of time-saving tools like the delayed-start button on my washer, so that a load can start while I am sleeping and be ready for the dryer when I get up.

Here, I haven’t had to over-scheduled and haven’t had to multitask, unless you consider bucket-washing my laundry after I have just finished showering multitasking.

That said, I currently have a long list of things I should do — mostly in the form of Facebook messages and emails to respond to. I’ll get to them eventually!

P.S. The cumulative effect of a castor oil bath followed by meditation is that I think if anyone tried to hold a real conversation with me right now, my circuitry might just short. (Somehow, blogging doesn’t count.)

P.P.S. — If you’re coming to Mysore this year and wondering about castor oil, Green House, which I am told opened last year, is located on the same street as the shala — so just up 8th Cross, on the left. You can’t miss the green sign on the iron gate. The 70-rupee organic castor oil felt velvety, and the 75-rupee herbal bathing powder also sold there works as well as Dr. Bronner’s soaps back in the States, in my opinion.
castoroil

>>More Mysore dispatches:

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] And then there were four — led classes, that is

In case anyone is wondering whether it really is the busiest season ever at KPJAYI or whether it just feels that way, here’s a clue. On Fridays for led primary, there are three classes: 4:30 a.m., 6 a.m., and 7:30 a.m. The earlier the start time of your Mysore practice, the earlier your led class.

Having just gotten here at the end of December, I’m in the last group, and today I once again got a spot ideal for shorties — in the first row way off to the right, under a beam. There were so many people today, though, that Sharath told those who were still standing with their mats rolled up at 7:30 to wait outside, and he would hold a class at 9 a.m. Gokulam veterans I talked to today said this is the first they’ve seen of four led classes.

It appears that part of the problem was that some people whose Mysore practice time had been moved up didn’t know that they also needed to move up their led class time. Sharath explained that the 7:30 led class was for people with 8:30 a.m. and later Mysore start times. Oh, and speaking of the weekday practices, since last I wrote about it, an even later Mysore start time has had to be added — 11 a.m. is now the latest Mysore practice group.

Sharath also announced at the end of our class that he’s not sure how the led classes on Sunday will go — he may have to add a fourth then as well.

I’m kind of loving how crowded it is because it’s making me wonder about what the draw is right now. Why are so many people here? Seasons — holidays, and climates and all that good stuff — matter, and given the cold back home, it seems like an especially good time to be here, especially for Americans and those from Scandinavian countries. Sure, this has to be a sign about the increasing popularity of ashtanga, which makes me happy to see.

From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, here now, at the dawn of 2014?

CompassedShoes


Someone yesterday made the comment that trying to retrieve your shoes after class is like tracking down your suitcase in baggage claim. So true! I am prone to misplacing my belongings even before the spaciness that can follow a practice, so I clip my compass wristlet around my flip flops to keep them together and to increase my chances of finding them.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice

I just finished taking my second shower of the day, which is enough to make you feel guilty when staying as a foreigner in a place where reliable running water is not a given. And it was a nice and hot shower, which is enough to make you feel really guilty, given what an all-out luxury having reliable, hot running water is around here.

Because I shared my shower with a bucket of laundry — and because my nervous system feels cleansed from this morning’s pre-practice meditation and, of course, from practice itself — I’m feeling quite refreshed as I get ready to head out for a meal that I could consider a second breakfast/late lunch/early dinner.

***

I love that in Mysore, ashtangis talk about having first breakfast, and often second breakfast, and/or lunch. But I don’t really hear anyone talking about dinner — late afternoon/early evening samosa or smoothie, maybe. But dinner? Not so much. When the first group of ashtangis are starting their practice at 4:15 a.m. local time. (4:30 a.m. shala time), it sort of puts a damper on a thriving dinner culture, unless it’s the evening before a rest day or a moon day.

***

Speaking of food, the Huffington Post recent ran this:

 Guy Sums Up How We All Feel While Watching You Instagram Your Precious Food

HuffPo food shot

My husband sent the piece to me because I am obnoxious about taking photos of food. And I don’t just take photos of my own dish — I’m like that woman reaching over the table, taking photos of my companions’ dishes too, like I did when my friend ordered this north Indian thali special the other day.

I mention this to say that I acknowledge that talking about how a practice room feels can be a lot like taking a picture of your dish — no one else is really to be able to savor it the same way, and you run the risk of . . . well, making people feel like this guy above. But I’m living my dream of practicing at KPYAYI, so I’m going to do it again today.

So, this morning, Sharath called out: “One more, 9 o’clock, small.”  I was the only shortie in the 9 a.m. group left waiting in the foyer, so I was up. Sharath motioned toward the practice spot on the tile right in front of his office door.

I loved the spot. It reminded me of something the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog recently addressed in a post about practicing by yourself:

Create a tight container. In the words of Iyengar teacher Paul Cabanis, the mind loves to be bound. Give yourself 90% of the time you think you need, and 90% of the space you think you need. Use these constraints to press your energy into a more concentrated stream.

I was hardly practicing by myself, but there was something to this concept of being a bit constrained while flowing with the big energy of the shala space. The room was steamy, and I was breathing with it.

My disorientation at the end of Monday’s practice inspired me to slow way down during yesterday’s practice, and it felt like I had finally settled into the room Tuesday. (By the way, as a post-script to that post, on Tuesday, Sharath didn’t have to tell me to slow down, and he had me catch. It felt sublime.)

I continued with the rhythm today, and it once again felt electric.

I’d write more, but it’s time to meet up with some friends for a chaser to my lovely first breakfast of upma.

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?

findingfeet

Ah, there you are.

Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

I’ve never been great with crowd counts, but I think it’s safe to say there are well over 200 students here right now (and if you told me the number is closer to 250 or more, I wouldn’t even be surprised). The earliest Mysore practice start time is, I believe, 4:30 a.m., and the latest one I know about is 10:45 a.m. There are three led classes on Fridays and Sundays.

A small group stayed on Sunday to observe the 7:30 a.m. led second series class. On one occasion, Sharath came to the door and it looked like he only glanced into the foyer before turning his back to us to watch the room. But suddenly, he turned around and asked one student who he was studying with.

“Saraswati,” came the reply.

How does he know? There are so many new faces, so many first-timers registering each day. 

I had only had one practice down last week before my cycle started, so on what would have been my second day of practice, I had to take a ladies holiday. I figured Sharath would never remember me, since we had only been in the same room twice by that point, once to register and once to practice. But I was also kind of concerned that on the off-chance he did, would he think I had flaked out and skipped? And indeed, he asked my teacher about where I was that day.

How does he know?

These are just the surface examples — the deeper, more subtle ones, speak to the core of what we need in our practice. On the Journey to Mysore blog, Karen wrote this about her first practice back in Mysore:

Here’s the thing I love about Sharath: he remembers that when I first came here three years ago, I was *just* managing to stand up from backbends, and he remembers that last year I struggled mightily with kapotasana and walking in to my heels. He knows where I’ve been and he sees where I am and he gives me credit for the work that he can see I’ve done.

How does he remember? Not only are there so many students — it’s not like he sees anyone all year long.  

Today, rather than guide my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks like he did last week, Sharath had me take my hands to the floor and walk in — all the way in, toward my feet. I thought I knew where my feet were, but apparently I didn’t, because I kept only finding Sharath’s feet. “My feet,” he would say, spurring me to move my hands. “Still my feet.” It seemed to me that this went on for about 10 minutes. He said “spread your hands” a couple of times, and it finally occurred to me that I needed to move my hands out. I was so grateful to finally make contact with my feet.

Maybe Sharath just figured my back wasn’t up for catching today. Or maybe it was something else. We all like to find meaning in our interactions with teachers we deeply respect, and whatever the objective truth might be, I think that process is a decent way to put a mirror up to the issues we need to spend some time with — especially when we’re lucky enough to be practicing in a space with the kind of special energy that KPJAYI is infused with.

So . . . I took this to be a lesson on rushing.

I’ve now had three assisted dropbacks with Sharath, and each time, he has told me I need to slow down the dropping-back part. I think part of this is that it’s still so exciting to me to be here, so I know that as I get settled, that speed part will settle. Still, each time, I make a note to adjust for next time, and next time, when I think surely this will be the time I’m not seen as rushing, I get the same instruction. Today, once my hands hit the mat, I rushed that too — walked my hands in quickly without taking the time to let proprioception happen, to really feel things out — then got frazzled and tried to correct without any sense of direction.

Off the mat, I constantly feel like I’m in this epic battle against the clock — there is always something, somewhere, that I should be getting done that I’m not getting done, and the clock is ticking. Is it possible that perhaps that even when I think I’ve slowed down, I’m still sort of rushing? That at least my mind and energy have that velocity? It’ll be an interesting thing to reflect on during my time here.

In any case, once again: How does he know? :-) 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[Mysore dispatch] Start of the work week and no time to practice?

clock_professional

It’s the start of the work week back home, and for many, it’s coming on the heels of a long holiday. (Not to mention that back in Michigan where I live, a polar vortex — that is not a joke — has hit. So, stressful conditions all around, and lots of time taken up with shoveling and trying to stay warm.)

In short, this week has the potential to really suck — the work will be piled up, and everyone will feel the need to make up for lost time. How to keep up your practice on the mat when time is such a rare commodity?

At Sunday afternoon’s conference session — a time when R. Sharath Jois, whom I came to India to study with, discusses a variety of topics and answers students’ questions — someone asked about how to deal with practice on days when there’s simply no time.

Sharath said, as he has in the past, that if you have time for Facebook, you have time for practice: “The best thing — as soon as you get up, 15 to 20 minutes, you do your practice.”

No matter what profession you’re in, he said, getting a little less sleep to get a short practice will give you more energy.

Earlier in the conference, as part of a longer discussion on the benefits of sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and sirsasana (head stand), Sharath had said that if you don’t have time to do your entire practice, do the surya namaskaras (sun salutations), then sarvangasana, sirsasana, and padmasana.

Very beneficial!

If you’re reading this and sighing over the kids’s practice schedule or your meeting calendar or whatever and thinking that it’s easy to say “practice a little each morning” if what you do is teach yoga in India, consider this: Sharath gets up at 1 a.m. every day to do his own practice before he starts teaching teaching in the pitch dark, going for hours until the last students are done. How long is that? I think that this week, the last group of students start their practice at 10:45 a.m., which means Sharath is probably teaching until about 12:30 p.m. or so.

That’s just the Mysore class portion of his day — he also has his office hours, not to mention his duties as a father and husband. Someone asked how much sleep Sharath gets. He hesitated and smiled and sheepishly admitted that he gets 3.5 or 4 hours of sleep a night. Looking around the standing-room-only shala space, he then said, “Maybe two hours [a night] this month, so many students.”

Good luck getting your practice in, wherever you are. I hope you find some inspiration in the simplicity and straightforwardness of Sharath’s advice.

P.S. I also liked another thing Sharath reminded everyone of yesterday. What is a good practice? It’s not doing the fullest expression of that pose that’s been challenging you. “Getting up and being on your mat and doing what you can — that is sufficient, he said. “That is good practice.”

(Graphic credit: “Clock Work Man” from Sean MacEntee’s Flickr Photostream via a Creative Commons license)

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[Mysore dispatch] So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

coconuts

Although I tried to not place too many expectations on this trip, I did have the idea that at some point, I would think, “What am I doing again? Why did I think it would be a good idea to leave my life behind for a month and travel halfway around the world to study ashtanga?”

I know it’s only been a week, but what’s surprising to me is that — with the exception of the afternoon when I got extremely lost walking back from Loyal World Super Market :-) — I have felt nothing but a sense of familiarity with the place. It’s different here, of course. The idiosyncrasies are at once perplexing and entertaining (oh, the protocols required to walk from the first floor to the second of Sapna Book House if you are carrying a basket of merchandise!). But when I think that surely a fleeting sense of absolute foreignness is about to kick in, I realize I just feel more . . . familiarity.

It helps that I’ve seen blog posts and tweets about the coconut stand where everyone meets after practice, that I’ve heard about people practicing in the shala dressing room, that I’ve seen Sharath in videos.

It helps that when I was young, my parents took me to their native Thailand. So it doesn’t throw me off to see things like the bathroom set-ups here (lack of separation for a shower area, for starters) and the absence, to American eyes at least, of traffic regulations (to say the least!).

It helps that I landed knowing half a dozen people here — including a friend from Ann Arbor, my teacher, a Facebook friend, and a few ashtangis I’ve spent time with during extended yoga workshops and trainings.

It helps that a reader of this blog whom I didn’t previously know sent me an email earlier this week. He is originally from Michigan and now lives in Mysore, and wanted to get together for lunch, which we managed to do on New Year’s Day. (It was a blast — thanks again, NP!)

It helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone. Walking along 2nd Main (the official name that no ashtangi uses for this street) / Anu’s Road (the name every ashtangi uses), a man who introduced himself as Joseph and I struck up a conversation. At some point I turned to him and said, “Are you in the Mysore Magic DVD? Because I think I quoted you in a blog post once.” Yep, it was the same Joseph who had said in that documentary, “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.” We talked about the truth of that observation, and about his schedule here in Mysore and mine. And then we continued on to run our errands, which in my case involved my third swing by the mobile phone stand that all the ashtangis go to in order to get a cheap little local phone to work normally. (Good news, by the way. After some technical hiccups — oh, the protocols surrounding getting a phone set up — it finally works normally now and I can text like a veteran Mysore ashtangi!)

It helps that when walking up the stairs to my room this afternoon, the woman I passed but didn’t look closely at called after me: “Rose?” I didn’t recognize Dana at first because of her sunglasses, but there she was — a real treat since the last time I saw her was at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in 2012 and before that, it had been three years since I had met her in Vancouver.

It helps that the more people I know through this practice, the more inevitable it is that I feel hooked in and grounded. What a gift to be part of a global community in which I don’t need to know every name or recognize every face to feel like everything is all somehow  . . . familiar.

And . . . it helps that the force that drew me here is channeled through my mat and Mysore rug. No matter where I am in the world, if I am on that 71-inch-by-26-inch piece of real estate, I feel comfortable. It has always been that way with my ashtanga practice, and I can’t think of any other aspect of my life I can say that about.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me

No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] Rain down on me

I got some rough news really early this morning before my led primary class. I made it to led primary, made it through breakfast, and, back in my room, as I pulled out my bucket to start washing the day’s clothes, I started crying. This happens to everyone who makes this pilgrimage to study ashtanga in Mysore, right? Some variation of being half-naked in your room with tears flowing — maybe for a particular reason, maybe for no reason.

These tears were for a friend who has just taken his own life. I’m guessing the start of a new, dark year was too much to bear.

It was my second friend in as many months who has decided death is the lesser of two evils. (For the depressed, is there a more searingly brutal time than the holiday season?)

I have so many — so many — people I can lean on here in Gokulam, but I wanted most to talk to my husband, who also knew this friend. But it was the middle of the night in Michigan.

Perhaps then . . . a little Radiohead to soothe the soul. Neither Pandora nor Spotify were available with my Indian IP address. I had a split second of panic and thought of last.fm. Only a Radiohead fan would find it comforting to be in India and able to listen to Thom Yorke’s nasaly voice singing, “Rain down, rain down / Come on rain down on me. / From a great height / From a great height…”

No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

And . . . as I type this, last.fm has just started The Eraser’s (Thom’s side project) “Harrowdown Hill,” about biological warfare expert David Kelly who was either murdered or committed suicide in 2003.

Life is so fucking hard, and both of these friends sought solace in yoga of different stripes. I remember reading Eddie Stern’s bit on human suffering in the Huffington Post a couple years ago:

. . . everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

Yoga helps. In both of these cases, I am convinced yoga helped either prolong their life or lessen the day-to-day pain somewhat. But yoga alone isn’t necessarily enough to set the train of depression on an entirely new course.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[Mysore dispatch] Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

When I saw my cranial-sacral therapist after my car accident last month, we talked about the adventures I would have in India. She said it’s like appliances — I’m accustomed to a 120V life and the people who would be around me here, though they may look ordinary, are “220V inside.”

I loved the visualization, and I’ve boiled it down to simply thinking of coming here to plug myself into a 220V environment.

My first practice felt incredibly grounded, reminding me that so much home practice over the years has taught me that quality of practice is not reliant on practice coordinates.

Today’s practice, my second at the KPJAYI shala — if you’re doing the math and scratching your head, I’ll explain: I had my first practice on Monday, then a ladies’ holiday on Tuesday, then the moon day yesterday — reminded me that hell yeah, the environment in which you practice can have a profound effect. Why else trek halfway around the world to do a practice that can be done at home?

This morning felt electric, but perhaps not the power surge I thought might come. It felt lit up but balanced — as if my mat was playing surge protector.

And when, in assisted dropbacks, Sharath led my hands to my ankles, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

Converter in India


Can anyone explain the outlet system in India? I packed a few different converters with me because I wasn’t sure which would work. It’s a good thing I did, because most of them don’t. This little universal adapter does the trick, but I’m not quite sure how, because the plug space doesn’t seem to match the outlet design. With enough tinkering, however, I am able to charge my stuff.In any case, I’m just pleased that tapping into the shala’s energy is far less confusing than figuring out how to run my electronic devices. 

P.S. I put up this post last night, and as I get ready for led primary, I realized I should have added this link to an NPR.org piece called “Take Four Minutes To Reflect On Your Place In The Cosmos.” The animated video “may not help you with your New Year’s resolutions,” the writer warns, “but it will fill you with a sense of pure wonder.”

I do want to help you with your New Year’s resolutions, though. :-) What’s your 220V environment? Where have you always wanted to go? And how can you make it happen? In my very unscientific and informal survey of friends and local folks not associated with yoga whom I’ve met here, I think there’s something about the promise of 2014 that has already spurred plans for some big bucket-list adventures.

I hope you discover yours.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

#gratitude #possibilities

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[Mysore dispatch] #gratitude #possibilities

meditation mat

MYSORE, Karnataka — My first meditation of the year! Sixty beautiful minutes spent on the rooftop of the building where I’m staying — followed by a lovely Indian breakfast of upma and chutney, along with the perfect cup of chai.

About this set-up: I found the perfect little rug for meditation at the local Loyal World Super Market. (I guess it’s supposed to be used as a welcome mat for the home?) It’s got enough thickness so that I don’t mind being on a hard surface. It cost 255 rupees, or about $4.11. (As a side note, for anyone with kids or a yoga-inclined pooch, I think this would triple as the cutest Mysore rug for yoga practice.)

Because I couldn’t fit my meditation cushion or meditation bench in my suitcase without going over the weight limit, I decided I would rely on folding my yoga rug over my two “whatever” cushions to make the perfect cushion for the way I like to sit in meditation. (I’ve found that sitting in virasana pose is the way that’s happiest for my pelvis and low back.)

I’m looking forward to my month spent studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute — and to my month of a mini-meditation retreat. I was talking to my friend Karen last night about how New Year’s is, hands down, my favorite holiday of the year — a way to revel in a cross-cultural celebration focused on new beginnings and boundless possibilities.

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

When the challenges start to roll, remind me of this post, will ya? :-)

Cheers!

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[Mysore dispatch] Emptying the cup

On Transmission, Jack Kornfield says he once asked Ajahn Chah, “What is the biggest problem with the new disciples?”

Ajanh Chah responded, ‘Opinions. Views and ideas about all kinds of things — about themselves, about practice, about the teachings of the Buddha.’
. . .
It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.

Happy New Year, dear readers! May your cup runneth over in 2014.

Now, I’m off to find some breakfast chai. :-)

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Fresh coconut juice (sipped through a stainless steel straw, of course!) before my first practice at KPJAYI.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

[Mysore dispatch] #235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

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Life is only two minutes long: one minute you are born, the next minute, you die. In between, only a flash of lightening.” — Pattabhi Jois

MYSORE, Karnataka — I never post datelines for my blog posts, but since I’m halfway around the world, I thought it might be a fine occasion to do so. Back in my journalism days, when I was working in New England, it was a treat to file stories from places like New York since it meant that I was somewhere reporting on something out of my ordinary pace.

And man, talk about pace. So here I am, Tuesday, Dec. 31, the last day of 2013, and I find myself in the midst of my third day in Mysore. For someone whose daily life works only if calendar appointments are precisely inputed and rigorously adhered to — as I juggle my full-time job, my six-day-a-week practice, my apprenticeship at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, my yoga teaching schedule in Lansing, Mich., and carving out quality time with my husband — it’s a bit surreal being here, barely knowing what day and what time it is.

I started my journey from Michigan on a Friday and landed here on a Sunday, a place that is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time. If your practice start time is 9:45 a.m., like mine is, that really means be at #235 8th Cross at 9:30 a.m. So ironically, for a place that on the surface seems much more chill — no Type-A vibes here! — I have, for the first time, had to override my iPhone date and time setting to set it to shala time.

Here’s the time travel that I am feeling most viscerally, though: A time that started somewhere around 1999, when I was a reporter living in Northampton, Mass., having discovered my love for this practice but, without having a teacher and without the tools to cultivate the discipline of daily practice, only having limited access to the potentially transformative effects of the endeavor. Fast forward to today, when I have a teacher I see each morning before the day starts to throw challenges my way, a teacher who holds space for my practice and holds me accountable.

I definitely feel like a different incarnation of the Rose circa 1999; so much of that Rose’s perspective and outlook and habits are unrecognizable to me — except for that love of the practice piece. I loved the practice even when I didn’t know which way to turn in marichyasana B and even when I couldn’t watch YouTube snippets of Sharath talking theory during Conference sessions.

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Yesterday, as I was on my mat doing my first set of sun salutations in the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute — holy holy, the one and only KPJAYI, the place I never thought I’d be able to make a pilgrimage for a decade or more to come! And with Sharath! — I worked on tristhana.

Not too surpsingly, some thoughts leaked through, and I was surprised that one piece of internal monologue I caught was:

I am at The Shala! And. . .this feels like my normal practice.

Coordinates

This year, I’ve practiced plenty at the shala in Ann Arbor. I’ve practiced at home. I’ve practiced on retreat in lush Mexico. I’ve practiced in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in sub-zero weather, with stuffed snowmen watching over me. The practice has felt like the practice in all those places. I’m not saying the electricity of a place like KPJAYI doesn’t offer unique opportunities for learning and transforming, but it no longer feels like potential for insight is reliant on the coordinates of my mat.

So there, in the middle of the place I have longed to experience for so long, I felt a deep connection to all the home ashtanga yoga practitioners out there who struggle with finding consistency in the practice and who feel as lost as I did without a teacher. 1999 to 2013 is a long time, and at the same time, it’s gone by in a heartbeat. And faith in the practice eventually led me find a teacher.

Parampara

Here, under Sharath’s watchful gaze, here, with my teacher practicing in the same room, here, where the practice was started, here, where thousands have sweated through the years, and laughed, and cried, and made profound and not-so-profound observations, I can feel the transcendence of parampara. It was my journey — my karma, if like that language — to have to search for so long (and my karma, even now, to live an hour away from my home shala). But I am grateful for all of it, because it has made me that much more resonant with the vibration of teachers who have the boundless wealth of parampara to share.

Ordinary

It has been such a long journey to get here. I have such appreciation for everyone I’ve met along the way, and I’m looking forward to the people I have yet to meet. And after all those years of longing and searching for a teacher and a community, trying to figure out the password to the transformative effects of the practice that I had some sense, deep down, were there . . . after everything it has taken to get to the point, there was a glistening moment on my mat yesterday when I realized that all that effort can culminate in making each practice . . . simply ordinary.

And that is about as magical as anything.

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Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

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I love seeing the blog posts and Facebook status updates of the Mysore veterans — the ashtangis who are old hands at making the long journey to study at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI). Pack, schmack — grab a suitcase the day of, retrieve the passport and the acceptance letter, toss a smattering of things together, and it’s all good.

As a serial over-packer and a first-timer to KPJAYI, I don’t even want to estimate how many hours I’ve spent over the past few weeks working with baggage of various stripes. For this post, I thought I’d lay out some of what I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

==What I packed==

A narrative

You might say the overarching narrative that I’ve brought with me is one of gratitude to the people who have helped make this trip a reality.

After my miscarriage this past summer, I tried to be present and receptive to the experience for what it had to teach me. But I also knew that I had a choice in how I came to terms with it. So I deliberately chose a narrative that would offer me the most opportunities for transformation. What could I do that I couldn’t have done had I given birth in January 2014?

I’ve wanted to make this trek to Mysore for years, but I currently work at a firm of about 10, and figured this would be the last place I could get away with checking a trip to the shala off my bucket list. After miscarrying, though, I realized my bosses, coworkers and clients would have had to live without me for six weeks of maternity, so by comparison, four weeks of an absence should be doable, right?

Still, I second-guessed myself. No way would they go for it. It was my husband, who has been incredibly supportive of the practices that have changed me most, who convinced me that I was wrong to assume. So I thought about it, and presented my bosses with a deal I hoped they couldn’t refuse — four weeks of unpaid leave in January, our slowest month of the year, and for the two middle weeks, I would be online for a couple hours a day to handle any client work that needed handling. I’m grateful to work for two men willing to support a journey that means so much to me.

And there are many more, including friends Karen and Jade for navigating me through the visa process — fun!

Shinzen Young, Jack Kornfield, Daniel Ingram

I’ve stashed away the wisdom of some heavy hitters for this trip.

My iPod is loaded up with Shinzen Young’s Science of Enlightenment audio course, which is quite possibly the single best course of any kind that I have ever experienced — and it’s simply a collection of dharma talks. Thanks to the number of miles I drive each week, I’ve had ample opportunity to listen to most of the sessions on the 14-CD audio program three or four times, and they never get old. It’s actually sort of like watching a good movie — rather than be bummed that you know the dialogue that’s coming, you’re psyched about what’s ahead. (“Can’t wait for the stone Buddha dancing part!”) Some day, I picture a marathon session when I’m listening while on a couch rather than in a driver’s seat, and maybe enjoying some ghee-covered popcorn to boot.

The iPod also has Jack Kornfield’s Transmission, which is lovely. I started listening to it as part of my apprenticeship and can’t wait to finish it.

Daniel Ingram’s cult classic (among the Buddhist Geeks set anyway), Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, is taking up a good chunk of space in my carry-on backpack. I’ve made a good dent in it over the past year, but I am looking forward to finishing it so that I can start it all over again.

Apps

Tango, Skype, Google+ Hangout — to stay in touch with family and friends.

I plan on getting a local phone as all the ashtangis who don’t or can’t jailbreak their phones seem to do.

Despite all this, because I have two-step verification on all my accounts (which means I can’t log into gmail, say, on a new browser until I type in the code sent to my phone), I also paid for 200 international text messages for my mobile.

Para Cleanse, ginger honey lemon tea and the like

Kate O’Donnell has a lovely article titled “How not to get sick in India” in which she gives great advice, including lay off the sugar (bug love it!) and pack Para Cleanse.

She also says to stay positive. I’d like to, but . . .

. . .as I write this, I am on an eight-hour flight from Detroit to Paris, where I’ll have a short layover before the nine-plus-hour flight to Bangalore. I’m at one end of a three-person row and the woman on the other side has been hacking (and I mean hacking) and coughing and sneezing for 2.5 hours (just five hours of this to go!).

With the kind of germ fest going on so far, as much as I’ll try to stay positive, I’m going to be realistic in assuming something will get me on this trip — either the contagion rolling in row 18 or the parasites ready to spring into action upon my arrival in India.

In any case, my carry-on luggage has some stuff designed to help me maximize my defenses. I have ginger tea bags and little packets of lemon juice and honey because I’ve traveled enough to know that even harder than finding nourishing food at an airport or on a plane is finding nourishing beverages. When I get to the airport, I find a coffee shop and ask for hot water, which I plunk my ginger tea into and then add the lemon juice and honey. While it pales in comparison to the fresh ginger honey lemon tea that I credit with saving with these past of winters (that, along with ecinachea tincture), it’s better than the alternative. I also have a roll of Airborne tablets . . . which I just took.

This morning, I paid more attention to my abyangha, and my checked suitcase includes travel almond oil because Kate said it would take me a minute to find the spots that carry everything I want. I have my net pot, neti salt, tongue scraper and dry brush.

What else . . . I went to my acupuncturist this morning for an immune-boosting session, and I slept and slept and slept over the Christmas holidays. Will any of this help my my immune system withstand what’s floating around in this cabin, for starters? Who knows — but I’m glad I at least tried.

A stainless steel straw

I have OvO to thank for this one. Among the myriad of things I would have never given a second thought to, coming from the U.S., is the level of hygiene of straws in India. Apparently, it is common for them to be reused. So a sturdy, non-plastic straw is a good idea!

This reminds me of when I was a kid visiting my parents’ home country of Thailand. I loved that vendors would — so they could get money for the cans — sell you soda out of a sandwich bag with a rubber band tied around one corner as a handle and give you a straw to drink it with. My parents got a kick out of the fact that I was giddy about this way of drinking soda.

Happily, it’s not too late for me to pack more of that child-like wonder and excitement that things aren’t like the way they are at home. As adults, we can hold on so tightly to what we know and what we want.

I was thinking about clinging and attachment after my husband dropped me off at the airport. He hadn’t been gone for five minutes and I was already wondering what I’m doing, and how being apart from him for a month will go. I used to view the requirement to spend a minimum of a month at the shala as being about ensuring that students have enough time to get acclimated to the place and to let their bodies and minds settle enough to receive the lessons of the practice and the lineage.

In that moment of looking at my passport wondering how this internal journey of missing my husband would go, I realized that this minimum requirement probably has as much to do about asking you to observe and calibrate your relationship with every aspect of the current life you hold so tightly to.

==What I didn’t pack==

Sherlock

I watch virtually no TV and I don’t watch movies either. But I recently fell victim to a Sherlock addiction, and in a moment of weakness, I seriously considered (?!) taking Sherlock DVDs with me.

I didn’t leave the addiction at home though. I am so taken by Benedict Cumberbatch’s character that I’m not-so-secretly hoping to catch the January season premiere live in Mysore.

Stickiness from my car accident

At least I hope I’m not carrying repressed issues halfway around the world…

I had this holy-shit-I-am-alive?! rollover in early December that left me uninjured in any concrete way, though I knew better than to assume I hadn’t been affected. I met up with a few members of what I affectionately and seriously call the Rose Wellness Team (because it takes a village…) to try to release anything about the accident I was holding on to. I didn’t want to repress it, period, and I certainly didn’t want to carry it to Mysore. I wanted to help ensure that any healing and cleansing effects, if they happen to happen while on this pilgrimage, would have a shot at working on deeply held samskaras without new issues getting the way.

So I had a yoga-and-meditation private session with my ashtanga teacher, an acupuncture appointment, and a cranial-sacral therapy appointment. Each of these modalities was critical in releasing some physical and emotional blocked energy that I could feel I experienced from the rollover.

Meditation cushion

I’m hoping to use my 33 days in Mysore as a mini-meditation retreat. The idea is that I’ll do what I don’t have time to do in my workaday life at home — a long-ish sit each morning before my asana practice. Back in November when I first pulled out my suitcase, I had given prime real estate for my cushion as a down payment on this investment, but after about 5 rounds of dumping stuff and shifting things around, the cushion kept putting the weight of my suitcase over the 50-pound limit.

This matters because I only this year found the one meditation pose that I don’t fidget in. So I need a cushion that allows me to sit this way.

In rooting around an old tote I was stashing away, I found a little fortune cookie slip last night that said something like, “You will find solutions in unexpected ways.” And lo and behold, this morning, I realized I could fashion an acceptable cushion by creatively folding two under-the-knee small square cushions into my Mysore rug.

Whew. That brought my suitcase to 47 pounds. Relief and victory! :-)

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‘Surrender to the count’

icepocalypseEkam inhale…

On the first and third Sundays of each month at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, Mysore is replaced by an 8 a.m. full led primary series class and a 9:30 a.m. half led primary class. Sometimes Angela starts out by going over a specific topic or theme, and the other week, the message at the start of the half-led primary class was:

Surrender to the count.

We’ve all been there — wanting to spend a few more breaths in this pose, or wanting to quicken the breath in that pose to have it over with sooner. Interesting what happens when you let the rhythm take you through the practice.

…dve exhale…

Surrender to the count: I’ve sort of used this phrase as a mantra in the weeks since. I’ve been trying, in other words, to surrender to all the counts of life, not just the counts I like.

A week after those led classes, I totaled my car in an accident and, just six months after finishing paying off my last used car, faced having to buy a new car just before going on four weeks of unpaid leave to travel to India. Can’t I have just another year without car payments?  

It will all work itself out, my husband keeps reminding me. Surrender to the count. 

…trini inhale…

As part of surrendering, I dropped my usual resistance to dealing with everything that I typically have such aversions to: Financing paperwork, calls with insurance companies, hospital bills. Because every so often in my life (I think my last big car accident was roughly a decade ago), this is the count I have to deal with. And you know what? I haven’t been nearly as stressed out or as annoyed as I usually am by all the hoops. That is not to say that it’s been 100 percent smooth sailing either, because I’ve had my moments, but the journey has been better than normal.

…catvari exhale…

This morning was supposed to be the last time I assisted at the shala until mid-February; I was really looking forward to it. But an ice storm — or Icepocalyse, depending on who you ask — rained down overnight over the greater Lansing area, and it would have been an extremely bad idea for me to try to make the drive to Ann Arbor.

So I practiced at home. That was the count for my practice today — samastitihi on my mat in my home shala instead of at AY:A2. While I missed the breath and energy of my fellow AY:A2 practitioners, and while I missed assisted dropbacks with my teacher, my overall experience with the practice itself didn’t feel dependent on external conditions such as who is practicing around me and how well is the room heated?

There was a time not too long ago when practicing at home would have meant a practice with less intensity, less (subjective experience of) internal heat, less seeming potential for wringing out. Things started to change when I surrendered to the count of practicing six days a week. Can’t I take today off? I have an early-morning news conference and, oh right, a wedding to plan after I get home from work. OK then, how about taking today? I’m traveling for the holidays.

Surrender to the count.

…panca inhale…

Speaking of self-practice, I know many practitioners who have been very grateful for this recent AY:A2 blog post on practicing alone that includes this advice:

Create a tight container. In the words of Iyengar teacher Paul Cabanis, the mind loves to be bound. Give yourself 90% of the time you think you need, and 90% of the space you think you need. Use these constraints to press your energy into a more concentrated stream.

Now, do not faff around. You don’t have the time and you don’t have the space. If you’re noticing the dry skin on your toes, you still have too much time and too much space. Also, do abhyanga later.

Ask companions or family to respect the bounded time-space of your practice.

Here’s the entire “How to practice by yourself” piece.

…sat exhale…

There was a time — again, not too long ago –when the entire season of winter was a total bummer for me. Resistance to the cold, to the snow, to the dreary skies and to the dark started around the beginning of fall and lasted through early spring. I’ve made a concerted effort this winter to try to see the silver lining of the season.

mooncyclesAyurveda, with its emphasis on flowing with the seasons, has helped. I’ve started to look forward to my cooked root vegetables in the fall and winter, and while I still cannot bring myself to enjoy driving in wintry conditions, I am at least more calm about it because I don’t resist it so damn much.

Being receptive to lunar cycles has helped. (For a radiant piece on that, check out OvO’s “Moon Swings.”)

 

…sapta inhale…

There are at least three more topics I’d like to write about just today, but the various digital clocks that rule my life have a thing or two to say about that. I’ve got to pack for our holiday trip to visit my in-laws (low of -1 degree tomorrow night in the Upper Peninsula!), and immediately after that, for my trip to Mysore (88 degrees next weekend!).

Surrender. To. The. Count.

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The art and science of surrender (car accident edition)

Grace.jpg

Look at that photo. It’s something else, isn’t it? Somehow, I managed to step right up out of the driver-side door without so much as a cut. I’m saving this photo to my phone and my work desktop as an inspiring memento of three instructive reminders from yesterday’s rollover:

1. While an accident can pin you down, it’s the kindness of strangers that will really floor you.

A woman whom I’ll just call V. hugged me — hugged me tight, wrapping my entire short frame in her radiant maternal embrace — as soon as I stepped out of the car. She hugged me and asked if I was OK for quite some time as other kind strangers offered other ways of help, starting with the cool guy who opened up the car door that allowed me to get out the first place.

I accepted a ride to the hospital for tests because I was most concerned that I felt fine but could have a hairline fracture. I just kept thinking about the angle I stepped out of the car from, and about how many times I had rolled over. (Surprisingly, the air bags did not deploy.) Anyway, the paramedic and his crew? Fantastic in every way. The trauma team that ran a battery of tests to make sure there wasn’t deeper damage? Awesome. (They also thought they were comedians, which I appreciated. They said that had I been wearing Lululemon, they would have spared cutting my clothes. Luckily, I have other panopticon-branded AY:A2 tanks.)

This tank would have been spared the shears in the trauma room 3 if only they had been Lululemon. ;-)

This tank would have been spared the shears in trauma room 3 if only they’d been Lululemon. ;-)

The police officer who showed up? Sweet — down to accommodating my request that when the tow truck show up, he rescue not only my mobile and wallet, but also my Mysore rug (what can I say — it’s a security blanket). He totally came through.

2. You never know.

Really, you never know. So you might as well not sweat the small stuff. (More on this in a bit.)

We all tell ourselves this and I’m convinced we all believe it, deep down. But we tend to believe it most when Big Life Events happen — not during the day-to-day. This helped me recommit big-time to keeping my eyes on the prize as moments as possible every day, not just on days like this.

3. Relaxing, rather than resisting, helps in any kind of situation.

Anyone who has struggled to learn how to go up into a yoga headstand has probably at one time or another heard the instruction to relax while falling out of it.

Let me be clear: I think I wasn’t harmed because of my guardian angels, pure and simple. But, more than 24 hours later, I am still stunned that I walked away untouched, and it was a reminder that the tremendous relaxation you can feel when in something like a multiple-roll spill like this comes in handy. Had I tensed up and locked my arms on the steering wheel, for instance, who knows what might have happened.

As meditation teacher Shinzen Young formulates it:

Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Post-accident, I’m going to take this to heart and not let myself get freaked out about the expense — especially given that it’s coming just ahead of when I’m looking at taking four weeks of unpaid leave to go study in Mysore. I could do the math, or I could look back at the rollover photo and shake my head again at how I was not hurt and no one else was either.

Shinzen offers this related formulation too:

Taste of Purification = Pain x Equanimity

Trying to avoid suffering is one thing. Can I reach this level? That’s a tall order but I think it’s possibly within reach, if it stare at the rollover photo enough. And if that doesn’t work, I can look at my tiny little rental, which somehow makes me laugh. I think my huge Saka cargo mat bag fits in the trunk . . .

Fiat rental

Back to sweating the small stuff

For anyone willing to read past the list portion of this post, I’ll say that the feeling I had yesterday was similar to the feeling I had during the accident I experienced maybe a decade ago now, when a guard rail saved me from going over a mountainside in northern Vermont after I had skid on black ice. The same time-slows-incredibly-dooooown phenomenon happened yesterday when I couldn’t correct out of the median: I quite calmly observed what was happening and figured that one of two things — both out of my control — would happen. I would either die or be severely injured, or I would be protected and would be fine.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t on some level want to work on not sweating the things that don’t matter. To different degrees, we all want to stay out of the fray when it comes to getting worked up over things we know — we know! — just don’t matter in the end. But dammit if the small things just have a tremendous capacity to gnaw, goad, get under the skin. For me, the most recent big little problem that I got truly pissed over just happened this past Friday — and this is at a time in my life when I have learned to surrender more than I ever have.

Equanimity via different paths

In my world informed by the discipline of ashtanga yoga and by meditative technologies, it seems to me that there are three pretty reliable ways to make progress on keeping it together in the face of life’s really annoying agitations:

1. Go through a tough experience.  

This year has been an interesting one. I witnessed my husband in more pain than I had ever seen him, as I watched helplessly in the ER as he tried to pass a kidney stone. I was back in the same hospital’s operating room (OR) not too long after that for my D & C after my miscarriage. I was back yesterday in the ER — with the same nurse who helped my husband! — for the tests to make sure I wasn’t hurt.

2. Get on your mat six days a week to practice a series that at first seems impossible, then seems doable, then eventually seems impossible again, and so on.

As OvO has so eloquently put it, put yourself on the mat to undertake a systemic series of constraints on the ego.

During the ambulance ride to get the tests that would confirm that I am indeed OK, despite what my mental images of the accident scene would have me believe, I was talking to a paramedic-in-training who said, “I’m just not flexible enough to do yoga.” It was a little awkward to talk to this student, with my neck in a restraint and my body secured to a long spine board per standard operating procedures when being taken to a trauma unit (with a rollover at 70 miles per hour, which is what the speed limit is in Michigan, an accident like this one is considered a trauma, even if you can talk and walk and attest you feel fine).

I started to try to explain that that isn’t what yoga is all about, but instead it out something like, “You don’t need to be flexible to start yoga. You gain that flexibility as you go.” Finally, realizing my words were being garbled by the fact that I couldn’t really move my jaw too much, I said, “You should give yoga another shot.”

It wasn’t my most persuasive elevator pitch for yoga, which last year I decided might go along these lines: “Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.” Aka neuroplasticity ftw!

3. Get on a meditation cushion every day

I’m going to give embarrassingly short shrift to this one because I technically should be getting back to dealing with my insurance company. But I’ve been truly amazed at the results this past year of keeping at meditation.

Why meditate?

And a fourth?

In any case, having tried these three paths, I’ve found that each contributes a different type of instruction/reminder, and the lasting effects vary. It does seem like the synergistic effects are most powerful when all three are experienced together.

Interestingly, I had spent the earlier part of yesterday afternoon engaged in fun conversations with other area yogis are planning on studying at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, and the theme that kept coming up again and again was: To truly experience Mysore, you have to surrender to the experience.

So by the end of the month when I travel to Mysore, perhaps I’ll understand first-hand that I can add another sure-fire way of learning to surrender? That one would be labeled as: Make the sacrifices you need to make to get to the shala in Mysore. 

!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Before enlightenment, check email, share link. After enlightenment, check email, share link.

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I listened to an interesting Buddhist Geeks podcast late last week as I was packing for my trip to see my family for the holidays. Here’s a snippet from a discussion with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about technological determinism:

There’s a great technology writer in Seattle named Monica Guzman who makes the point that taking digital sabbaths is like having an ocean recede. It’s like having low tide.

What happens with our high tech lives is that the waters slowly come up so that you don’t even really notice them. They bring all kinds of things with them. Sort of unspoken assumptions, sort of habits that you get into without realizing. It’s only when you let those waters recede that you’re able to see down to the bottom and to see all of the other things that have come with this technological tide.

The two-part podcast deals with “how the daily rigors of [Pang’s] work with technology damaged his mental focus, and how he turned to meditation to regain that focus. By viewing his work through the lens of his meditation practice he was led to new questions and ideas about how to change mankind’s relationship with technology, how to go from being distracted to more focused and mindful, and the real dangers of taking a passive role in our daily relationship with technology.”

Negotiating the tensions

A day rarely goes by when I’m not on some level negotiating the digital-information tensions: Managing clients’ social media accounts and managing my email inbox are a big part of my job (at work, I have a two-computer-screen set-up and sometimes resort to using my iPhone or iPad as a third screen, and the end of the work day doesn’t mean I get to stop monitoring accounts). Engaging in social media is the primary way I keep up-to-date on the goings-on of those who mean most to me, and it’s also the most reliable way I’ve found to be exposed to the most helpful and provoking thoughts about life on the mat and cushion.

Keeping up with everything can be draining, though — it sometimes feels like playing tetris with an infinite scroll of data. When I feel that information-overload onslaught, what gets zapped isn’t just my energy. My concentration feels scattered, which makes me feel like I’ve lost capacity for clarity about matters. I feel less efficient, less productive, less patient and less present. What happens when too many apps are running on a smartphone or tablet? The battery charge drops so quickly.

#Unplugged

I did my first social media unplug in 2008, and even though that was before I had a six-day-a-week asana rhythm and a regular meditation practice, I knew how vital it was to experiment with this type of recharge.

When Baratunde Thurston walked way from the Internet earlier this year and wrote about it for Fast Company, he discovered four things: He had become obsessed with “The Information,” he shared too much, he was addicted to himself, and he “forsook the benefits of the Industrial Age”:

The first season of Downton Abbey features a remarkable scene in which the Dowager Countess, who is always quick to offer a sharp retort in defense of tradition, responds to another character’s announcement of weekend plans with a truly confused inquiry: ‘What is a weekend?’ One major feature of industrialization was the adoption of leisure time for those of us not among the leisure class. Yet one major feature of the Networked Age is our de-created ability to disengage. Will the concept of downtime have been a temporary blip in the history of civilization?

Thurston, whom I was lucky enough to meet once years ago on a yoga retreat in Michigan, found that by unplugging:

The greatest gift I gave myself was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness. I don’t need to fill every time slot with an appointment, and I don’t need to fill every mental opening with stimulus. Unoccupied moments are beautiful, so I have taken to scheduling them. Once a quarter, my chief of staff and I institute a zero-appointments “Blank Week,” and almost every week I tune out of the Matrix for hours at a time (yes, while I am awake and conscious). Perhaps the most life-affirming change is that I rarely walk down a street while looking at or tapping on a device. My reading or writing can wait, especially if it means I will be alive later to deal with it.

Media blackout

The degree to which I’ve guarded my social media — or any media — down time has steadily intensified as the rhythm of my morning ashtanga practice has steadied and deepened. And the need to disengage crescendoed this summer during the short time I was pregnant, and following my miscarriage, it felt almost like a doctor’s order: Ingestion of media is contraindicated!

The feeling that kept coming up for me during that time had to do squarely with spaciousness. I needed spaciouness of body, mind and spirit in order to process emotions in real-time; not doing this, I felt, ran the risk of my avoiding the necessary processing, which would have meant suppressing experiences and feelings, and dealing with them down the road. It didn’t seem to me that I could achieve a state of spaciousness if I was hyper-connected.

Social media indigestion?

Since then, I’ve engaged even more frequently in micro-unplugs. But something interesting happened in October after the seasonal Ayurveda cleanse: I came out of it feeling like I had more digestive fire for a lot of things, including social media. To be sure, the fire is stronger and weaker on certain days. I’m on vacation right now, for instance. Sometimes being on vacation means I embrace the digital sabbath. I’ve been all over Facebook this week, however — and it’s felt fine, if not outright lovely. (Facebook is the social network that I find myself guarding against the most when I feel I need mental quiet and spiritual spaciousness.) This is the flip side of the unplugs: When I feel like I can digest it, I try to be on, to be part of the community.

This will only last so long, though, and eventually, I’ll start to close the sense gates again, only being on Facebook to do what I need to do.

Adding perhaps an interesting additional dimension to this topic is the fact that I recently took a personality test after avoiding it all these years. The results, for whatever they’re worth, said I’m an INFJ. Traits of the INFJ include: “…the sensitivity of INFJs allows them to connect to others quite easily. Their easy and pleasant communication can often mislead bystanders, who might think that the INFJ is actually an extrovert….As introverts, INFJs need to have some ‘alone time’ every once in a while or otherwise their internal energy reserves will get depleted really quickly. If this happens, the INFJ may surprise everybody around them by withdrawing from all their activities for a while – and since other people usually see INFJs as extroverts, this can leave them both surprised and concerned.”

Monkey mind

In the second part of the Buddhist Geeks podcast — this one focused on contemplative computing — Pang talks about how he started asking digitally connected monks and nuns how they manage to spend hours online without it becoming a distraction. He says:

Universally, they turned the question around: ‘Why is it that you think the distraction comes from the technology?’ And their argument was actually the monkey mind is a far greater engine of distraction than any external technology, and that once you understand that spending hours playing video poker or watching cats on YouTube is not just a kind of inevitable consequence of human evolution…but rather probably reflects other kinds of disatisfactions in our lives rather than reflects a love of shiny, blinking Internet things, once you see that, then the problem resolves itself. It may not be a kind of position that everyone can take ,but I think it is a really powerful one. Ultimately, what the argument is that that distraction does not come from technology, distractions comes from within. You deal with it the way you deal with distractions for the last 2,500 years…

Later in the podcast, Pang talks about potential ways of fighting back against the distractions. It’s an interesting listen, if you have the time.

What’s your take on technology and distraction, information and emptiness? I would love to hear how you negotiate the digital world in relation to your various practices.

(Graphic credit: “Rip Tide” via rkag’s Flickr photostream)

My long, apanic summer being pregnant — and miscarrying

Featured

I’m in the back seat of our Ford Fusion, feeling a tad sleepy as I type on the iPad that’s balanced on my lap. My husband is driving, my sister Alisa is in the front seat, and Atoms for Peace’s notes roll through the speakers as gently as we’re coasting over these northern Michigan curves and hills. The fall leaves haven’t quite turned yet, but the drive is gorgeous nonetheless.

My husband and I were so happy we could take my sister, who is visiting from California, out for a fabulous weekend in Traverse City. But it was more than just a weekend getaway for me. The last time Scott and I were here was in the spring, and this was where we discovered I was pregnant. Now, post-miscarriage, I wanted to return and face the incongruity of my current reality versus what had been my visions for fall.

I had expected to be very pregnant and really showing by now, modifying every aspect of my life in my second trimester. Instead, I’m eating for one, able to wine and dine as I please in this foodie town. Friday night we passed the riverfront area where we had called our parents from to share the good news, and I thought about how the two people who had been so excited that day in spring have had to mature quite a bit in intervening months.

I didn’t write about the pregnancy on this blog because I was waiting until the second trimester to generally announce that I was pregnant; I agreed with the advice that you should wait until the second trimester, when the chances for miscarriages decrease substantially, to share news of pregnancy. Never did make it to the second trimester, and dealing with the miscarriage process was too intense for me to write about before I had fully processed it. (In hindsight, I think that for me, not writing about being pregnant made initially talking about the miscarriage that much harder. Should I get pregnant again, I’m not sure I would take the same approach.)

I did finally write about my pregnancy and my practice. Rebelle Wellness published that piece a couple weeks ago:

Rebelle Wellness

A garland of moon days

I learned I was pregnant on a beautiful, radiant moon day in May. It was on a somber moon day in July that I learned the baby who had been growing inside me no longer had a heartbeat and was, instead, a gray, two-dimensional embryo projected onto the ultrasound screen. And it was on a moon day in August — after four emotionally and physically intense weeks of trying to actually miscarry — that my body finally gave the signal it truly understood I was no longer pregnant. That tremendous relief came after having tried to let nature take its course, then taking a drug that triggers intense cramping to induce it and — when, inconceivably to me, even that did not work — finally relenting and taking the surgical option.

During this challenging time of waiting for the expulsion of, as clinicians like to put it, “products of conception,” I stayed with my practice — though there were days when I had to significantly modify it, paring it down to barely anything more than the opening invocation and the closing invocation with sun salutations, standings, and the last three poses hammocked in between.

So I went from the downward-flowing apanic energy of pregnancy straight into the even more intensely apanic energy of trying to miscarry. It’s no wonder I experienced the summer as heavy, lethargic and leaning toward the depressive. Having decided that I could only take so much apana, I’ve spent the last several weeks consciously shifting toward cultivating upward-moving — pranic — energy. I’ve been grateful for the accompanying boost in creative energy that has come with that shift.

Being in Traverse City in a different season has helped me energetically scrub away a sense of loss and longing from one of my favorite places. For me, fall — even more than spring — is a great reminder that everything is changing, all of the time. And today just happens to be the fall equinox — a fitting marker to confirm that my long, apanic summer is fully behind me now.

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(Photo credit: “The life cycle of a leaf” first seen via The I fucking love science Facebook page. The beautiful photo was taken by Rob Herr.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sleepylicious: Meditation and insomnia

Baby trying not to wake up

I went to bed last night at 9 p.m., before it was even completely dark here. Thanks to a particularly intense bout of insomnia, however, I figure I only got about three hours of actual sleep. This should have been a problem since Tuesdays are my day to wake up at 3 a.m., assist at the shala, and then practice (and then head straight to work).

But a strange thing happened when I woke up, and continued throughout the work day — I felt fine, and wasn’t dragging the way I normally would with that amount of sleep. (I get 5-6 hours most days, and 7-8 hours one day a week. I’ve learned that anything less than five doesn’t feel very good.) I’m sure the morning Mysore practice did wonders for my energy level, but I’m also wondering if practicing a specific meditation technique while in bed had also helped. A couple evenings ago I happened to see a tweet about a new blog post by Shinzen Young on insomnia:

Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a very common complaint. Mindfulness can help but one must first radically revision the nature of the problem.

People tend to get into a negative feedback loop with insomnia: Not getting to sleep leads to worry, leads to further difficulty sleeping, leads to more worry, leads to…. What to do? One possibility is to start thinking about the night in a different way. This is a conceptual reframing, a profoundly different paradigm regarding the issue of sleep.

The normal paradigm is:
“I have to get a good night’s sleep or I’ll be a mess tomorrow”.

The new paradigm is
“If I get a good night’s rest, I’ll be fine tomorrow”.

Amazingly, it’s possible to get a good night’s rest without necessarily sleeping much or at all. Two things are required:

(1) that the body get rest by lying very still and corpse-like.
(2) that the consciousness get rest by engaging in a systematic focusing technique.

He offers concrete recommendations in the rest of the blog post. I hope I don’t have much opportunity to practice the recommendations — I’ve spent years of my life fighting with insomnia — but I am grateful to have something other than reading or drinking warm almond milk to try the next time I can’t sleep.

(Photo credit: Via Lars Plougmann’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Guru Purnima

Today’s full moon marks Guru Purnima, known to ashtangis the world over as the day commemorating the auspicious 1915 birth of K. Pattabhi Jois. With each passing year, this day feels more and more like a celebration to me — the kind of celebration you don’t get dressed up for, and one you probably aren’t talking to your co-workers and neighbors about. Instead, it’s the kind of celebration marked quietly, internally, and honored outwardly in different ways by the ashtanga diaspora — perhaps over Facebook shares and blog posts and, if you’re in New York City, attending the evening puja, changin (and surprise) at Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga New York.

  • The incredibly prolific Grimmly has, not surprisingly, provided a wealth of information about Pattabhi Jois in a new post that includes old interviews, videos, photos and student reflections. (And as my next meeting is about to start and I am about to hit “publish,” Grimmly has just announced that he has already updated this post to include interviews with early students.)
  • Here is a photo slideshow by Barry Silver that’s making the rounds.
  • Ashtanga Yoga Library’s Elise Espat posted this “Weekend Edition #15” post on Guru purnima.
  • The Confluence Countdown has been posting videos leading up to today.

Barry Silver tribute to Guruji

I’m sure there’s a ton more out there, but that’s all I’ve got time for on this lunch break. All I will say is that if you haven’t read Guruji yet, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to be in a led class once in Montreal with Pattabhi Jois, but what resonates most with me is how much this larger-than-life spirit inspired the teachers who are today inspiring a new generation of ashtangis — helping them find transformation in their lives in ways that go far beyond the mat.

Back to work I go, with Guruji and parampara on my mind.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

AY:A2 ashtanga session ‘bootlegs’

 
Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.One of my favorite practices of the year takes place at the summer Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat held inside a beautiful decommissioned church called the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. (Here’s a peek inside last year’s retreat.) At today’s retreat, about 50 practitioners from three countries and at least five states started out the morning with a Mysore practice. The 35 or so who had snagged a spot for the sold-out retreat itself stayed for a delicious lunch (we all know good food is important to yogis) and a multi-faceted day spent discussing, and playing with, listening — as discussed in this snippet from the official retreat description:

This retreat, and the sensitizing exercises of the next six weeks, are about raw listening. Close listening. Naked listening. Minimalist listening. A sort of receptivity that not only (1) sets the stage for consciousness to fall into a restful state, but is also (2) completely OK with the fluctuations of the mind just as they are.

Classical yoga offers thousands of techniques to change our inner experience. This is good. But having a body means that fluctuations will arise. The same is true for having a mind. If you breathe, there will be vrittis.

So, in addition to having the tools to quiet or the mind, it is also good – and surprisingly enjoyable at times- to be able to step back and let experience be whatever it wants to be. No fix-its. No analysis. Just hanging out, consciously, with the mind as it is.

Minimalist listening of this sort is a big part of yoga. It is a kind of self-acceptance. And as the patterning of the mindbody’s blips and bump become clear, a door in consciousness opens to calm, curious self-appreciation. It brings on a John Cage sort of laughter… the kind doesn’t mean anything at all.

Stone Arch retreat Mysore practiceAs with most of Angela Jamison’s workshops, it’s impossible to write a blog post that would do justice to the session’s subtleties and refreshing refracted perspectives on the eight limbs of the practice — so I won’t. (Sorry!)

I will, however, point you to some videos that were posted last month of a session Angela held for beginners to AY:A2. (I would have written about it sooner, but life has presented me with some challenges over the past few weeks.) Though designed for beginners, the clips touch on topics relevant to practitioners at any stage of development of the practice.

There’s the whole session and short clips segmented by topics:

Each session comes with an overview, so check out the “about” tab for that.

What I highly recommend, though, is leaving this space and heading over to Grimmly’s blog, where he posted an excellent overview of the videos — which he aptly called bootlegs — and links to relevant posts and other interesting notes. The post includes his review of the AY:A2 House Recommendations book designed by Laura Shaw Feit of Small Blue Pearls, on which the House Recommendations segment is based. If you haven’t already taken advantage of the free download of the 24-page book, I suggest you go do that, stat. I took the option of buying a copy for $3.84, since I prefer the antiquated method of reading things in hard copy.

HouseRec

Even better yet — as I always recommend with good teachers — find a way to travel to study with Angela in person. 😉

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Goodnight, Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis

Goodnight, Moon

The Way-Before-Breakfast Club — the one for morning-challenged ashtangis — said its final goodnight with this week’s full moon.

The club was born when, on a beautiful whim last August, I received a blog reader’s email asking if I would be interested in essentially being her accountability buddy in getting up early, consistently, to practice. The who and the why went something like this:

Who/What

Welcome to the Way-Before-Breakfast Club, a cheerleading squad/support group for those of us who have a deep-seated desire to wake up at brutally early hours to practice Ashtanga yoga.

Why

  • Because we’re night owls.
  • Because we’re morning people when morning = 7 a.m. or something more sane like that.
  • Because we’re really busy.
  • Because we’re really, really busy.
  • Because we love to sleep.
  • Because we love to dream.
  • Because we live in cold regions of the world and it’s so damn cold at that hour.
  • Because we live in warm weather climates and even though it’s not cold at that hour, it’s still that hour, which is bad enough.
  • Because we don’t like to wake up when it’s pitch dark.

And the ground rules — such as they were — went something like this:

  • Prospective members need to be committed to practicing yoga six days a week, and earlier than they want to (so you may work nights, and maybe 10 a.m. is your early morning. The key is that doing this means sacrificing something important to you — e.g., sleep, time for other things, etc. — to make this work).

  • Yoga does not have to equal Ashtanga every day, but it should have a strong Ashtanga mix. It’s not that I don’t want other styles of yoga here — I just think it’s better for a community to stay focused on the common ground of this practice. This too is relative — maybe you really sort of hate Ashtanga, but you want to like it, and and practicing it twice a week would feel like a ridiculously strong mix to you. If you already <3 Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, well, that’s a five- or six-day-a-week practice, I’m afraid.

  • Members commit to either joining a calendar feed or deciding to skip the feed, but committing to posting a progress update on the page at least once a week.

  • Members must commit to keeping themselves accountable, but not beating up on themselves for the days they fall short. We all have to have positive motivation for this . . . .

  • . . . . that said . . . . So, life happens. And we fall off the wagon sometimes. But if there comes a point when a member has to give up trying and eight weeks have lapsed, that person will be asked to take a hiatus from the group. This would be done in the spirit of keeping the energy of the group a motivating and focused one.

For our virtual club, we used a pretty new platform called Mightybell (if you’re in the social media world, you would recognize the founder of this space, Gina Bianchini, as the founder of the groundbreaking Ning years ago). Mightybell was a fantastic space for us to use because we could make the space invite-only and comment on each others’ text, photos and documents.

All in all, there were about 18 members who passed through the club at one point another, along with a stellar coach/advisor/confidant/guide who has studied in Mysore and maintains a dedicated six-day-a-week home practice because there is no shala in her town. We hailed from seven countries and eight U.S. states.

By my recollection, for the first six months or so, the conversations ranged from fun and funny to juicy and even edging on transformative. Perspectives were changed, that I know for sure. Members were engaged, candid, supportive and resourceful. Here were yogis who had never met dedicating practices to one another. There were many practices that would not have happened had it not been for the encouragement of the group. And it wasn’t just about what was happening on the mat. There were some very intimate conversations about significant others and how that relates to practice; about our jobs; about how a sitting practice affects an asana practice; and on and on. Fascinating, and important, stuff.

Somewhere along the line, however, the momentum slowed. Members got quieter and quieter. Over time, everyone’s energies appeared to flow somewhere other than the humble breakfast club.

I suppose I could try to dissect what worked and what didn’t. If I’m ever involved in trying to start another virtual club of this kind, I will certainly do that. But for now, I’d rather approach the club — which one of our members dubbed the Ashtanga Fight Club, since what was discussed in the space stayed in the space — the way we approach our daily asana practices. When we roll out mats in the morning, we’re there to be in the moment. When the practice is done, when we roll up our mat, we’re done. No matter how the practice might have felt, we move on with our day knowing that we’ve got better energy coursing through us than we would have, had we not practiced that morning.

And so what started with a wonderful, spontaneous thought ended with the power of this week’s supermoon — the largest full moon of the year. Thank you to each of you who made the the Way-Before-Breakfast Club a reality. It was an honor to be part of this community.

(Illustration credit: Goodnight Moon via brillianthues’ photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

From halahala to challah . . . and more challah!

challah

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it felt like the challah was giving me a big hug. If that’s not comfort food, I don’t know what is.

A work drain triggered my needing some emotional nourishment today. I found it in a loop of self-practice that began with meditation and the opening invocation of the ashtanga practice and continued with comfort food in the form of a delicious vegetarian sandwich made with out of this world challah bread. I couldn’t help but think of this nourishing loop as exhaling halahala and inhaling . . . challah! :-) (Sorry, I really couldn’t resist — in the same exact way I couldn’t resist this sandwich.)

On the restorative front, it helped that I had the chance to eat dinner outside, with the sun warming my skin — something we do not take for granted here in Michigan, because you never know when spring and summer may mean overcast, chilly (for me, anyway) days. My husband and I had never eaten at Marie Catrib’s of Grand Rapids, but I had heard rave reviews from friends.

The restaurant has a focus on local farms, and it offers plenty of vegan and vegetarian fare. Why the menu was particularly exciting to me now is that fresh off of plowing through Salt Sugar Fat and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am now listening to the audiobook of — thanks to the suggestion of Omiya — Jonthan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

This is the book description:

Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood—facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf—his casual questioning took on an urgency. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.

This book is what he found. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. (Here’s an excerpt of this 2010 2009 book.)

It’s a perfect time for me to be reading this book. Nourishment — of all kinds — is what I’m thinking about most these days, and while it has been nourishing to dive deeply into the stories these books have to tell, there can be a bit of what I think of as shitty food fatigue. Even more than with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I find myself, as I get deeper into this book, questioning why I ate such crap for so long — and what exactly got me to quit. I recently hashed out my meat thoughts, but perhaps what I have thinking about even more of late is the vibration of the food — both meat and dead and denatured processed food — I ate all those years and the effect it was having on me.

To be a bit more concise than I was in the last blog post, perhaps what ultimately got me to stop desiring meat in particular was that the combination of the six-day-a-week ashtanga practice, the daily meditation practice, and the Ayurveda program got me quiet enough and receptive enough to tune in to the vibration of the meat and the eggs I was eating. The scale of the animal suffering experienced in factory farms is so immense that I simply don’t believe the final products that arrive on our plates can escape it. The vibrations have to transfer on some level, right? But it’s easy to build a protective wall of avoidance and denial to block that kind of information from seeping in. (As I’ve said, I think my days of enthusiastically eating seafood are numbered too, but there are a few reasons I’m sticking with it for the moment.)

Never yuck someone else’s yum (yucking your own is OK though)

Eat Taste Heal reminds its reads of the vegetarian etiquette: “Never yuck someone else’s yum!” I’m not at all trying to do that; this is about coming to terms with my decades-long lack of mindfulness about what I’ve put into my body. I think it’s perfectly legit to yuck on my own past yums, and I’ve been finding that deconstructive process informative and even a bit cathartic. The flip side of this deconstruction — and the shitty food fatigue that can accompany it — is the constructive process of cooking in my own kitchen and seeking out establishments that are passionate about having guiding principles (farm to table/vegetarian-friendly/gluten-free/etc.) that look beyond the easy formulation of salt, sugar and fat to amp up a diner’s dish — not to mention the restaurant’s bottom line.

So when I have a wild rice and lentil burger patty on the most delicious piece of challah I can ever remember having, it’s about a lot more than ingesting fuel for my body or lighting up my taste buds. It’s about supporting an overall practice of nourishment.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

‘Sahana Vavatu’ shanti mantra, assisted dropbacks — and trust

Assisted backbends

Since learning “Sahana Vavatu” — one of the “shanti,” or peace, mantras — during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Xinalani retreat, I’ve found it can provide a space of solace that I can return to at any time. Because I find it powerful, beautiful and deeply reassuring, I’ve used it as a talisman, going over it in my mind in situations in which I am struggling with uncertainty, doubt or anxiety. There are times I recite it quietly to myself simply because I want to connect with its meaning and its meditative qualities. And I like to chant it as I’m nearing the end of my hour-long drive to the yoga shala in the dark of the early morning.

There’s also something else about this chant. For me, “Sahaha Vavatu” forms the perfect soundtrack to a Mysore room’s sacred student-teacher bonding ritual of assisted backbends.

Behind the chant

Here is one exploration of the chant:

In many schools, the Sahana Vavatu is recited before the asana practice. These schools include the Sivananda and the Satyananda schools, as well as most of the traditional ashrams such as the Kaivalya Dhama of Lonavla and the Shantiniketan of Rishikesh.

ॐ सहना ववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु
मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Om sahana vavatu sahano bhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navaditamastu
Ma vidvishavahai
Om shantih shantih shantih.

Om. May He protect us both (teacher and student). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the Scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other. Om peace, peace, peace.

This invocation is found in several Upanishads among which the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is probably the most famous after the Gayatri. As a shanti mantra, it advocates peace between student and teacher, encouraging both of them to study and to practice yoga, without mentioning any particular god or any particular book.

Like ashtanga’s opening and closing mantras, every translation reads a little differently. I am drawn to this translation’s juiciness — the idea of studying vigorously and working together with great energy:

Om may he protect us both together, may he nourish us both together
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective,
May we not mutually dispute
Om let there be peace in me
Let there be peace in my environment
Let there be peace in the forces that act on me
Om peace peace peace.

I like the straight-forwardness of this recitation of the chant by Lakshmish Bhat, recorded at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore (it’s the second chant in). And I might as well admit here that given how much time I’ve spent in yoga workshops of various stripes, it’s surprising to me that I was never taught this chant before this year. It’s not exactly hard to find; here is Ravi Shankar’s take.

Finally, here is commentary on the mantra by author and scholar A.G. Mohan, a student of Krishnamacharya.

Assisted dropbacks

There are many invigorating and reassuring aspects of practicing in a Mysore room, from the undulation of the room’s collective breathing to the consistency of joining a group of people in showing up to the same space day after day to practice.

One of my favorite aspects of a Mysore practice — versus a home practice or the led ashtanga environment that was my first exposure to ashtanga — is the time for assisted dropbacks before you begin your finishing poses.

It’s hard for me to believe now, but I didn’t officially switch from a mostly home-based practice to mostly practicing in a Mysore setting until about six months ago, when I committed to making the drive from Lansing to Ann Arbor at least three days a week. These days, it’s become just another part of my day to make the two-hour-round-trip-drive before heading in to work a few weekdays a week and to make the drive on weekends too, but it was a big deal for me to make the lifestyle changes I needed to make to get up at that early hour even three days a week.

For me, having the opportunity to work on assisted dropbacks was an integral part of settling into a Mysore groove. I still remember the transition of my teacher having me learn to walk my hands toward my feet in urdvha dhanurasana to one day walking my hands in far enough that my hands could be gently placed around my ankles. To step back from the process, it seems like the most unnatural thing to be doing at the crack of the dawn (or really at any time of day). Staying present in the moment, however, it feels like the most natural thing to do after reaching the pose you’ve been stopped at. What I love about assisted backbends is not just that they provide a gorgeous example of how a teacher can coax a student to going farther than she ever thought possible — it’s that I get to start my day out with a ritual built on absolute trust in another human being and absolute surrender to being in the moment. It’s harder to walk through the world questioning the intentions of people around you when you started the day out in the radiance of someone who, without a doubt, has your best interest at heart, and it’s harder to go through your day resisting things you can’t control when you have already let go so deeply.

What does it mean to approach life from a heart-centered place? That answer differs for each of us, but for me, starting out the day with assisted dropbacks helps prime me for greater receptivity.

Grabbing your what?

If you’ve never seen this very ashtanga practice, Kino MacGregor shows it in her video on chakra bandhasana, the formal name for grabbing your ankles:

In my experience, deep backbending with an experienced teacher means the difference between a safe, strong and effortless backbend versus one that comes from a place of overcompensation or recruiting flexibility from another part of the body. I have a pretty mobile low back, so had it not been for Angela Jamison teaching me how to stand strong in my legs, I would probably have eventually been flexible enough to grab my ankles even if I didn’t have the safest technique — and then I’d be unnecessarily taking the brunt of it in my low back. (Learning how to stand strong in my legs — I could do a whole post on just what that says about my relationship with myself in this world.)

More on trust

A few months ago, Kaz posted an awesomely candid post titled “Trust” on her Realizing Mysore blog. She talked about how, halfway through her month assisting Sharath in Mysore, she struggled with assisting students in grabbing their ankles during assisted dropbacks:

A couple of days later, I am still dodging students with flexible backs. And I decide to get up the courage to speak to Sharath, hoping for guidance, moral support–if you practice with this man, you probably know where this is going…

“Hi Sharath, um…so…I’m kind of afraid to take people to their ankles.”

He looks at me and says matter-a-factly, “I know.” He knows!

“Ahhhh…” I wait for some advice, encouragement, anything, but there is only awkward silence before he walks off to back bend someone himself.

Hokay… So much for feedback from the boss. In my optimism, I think he’s leaving it to me to figure out on my own. It’s not the first time. Last, year I struggled with a new posture. There was no feedback. No assistance, not even with back bending. At some point, I felt very alone as I muddled through the emotions that came up from it. By the end, however, the “personal time” was good for me. I learned a lot from it.

In practice, Sharath knows when to help and when to back off. I believe it’s one of his superpowers of perception. I’m going to read his acknowledgement paired with lack of input in this particular instance as a sign that he trusts me to figure it out myself.

I know it isn’t about strength. I’m dropping back guys much bigger than my petite Asian self. I understand the technique, more or less. I’m familiar with the ankle routine in my own practice. But I lack confidence. There is fear there…

Sharath’s right to leave me on my own. My fear is my responsibility. I know that I can’t continue to be afraid. I’m only halfway through the month of assisting and will not be able to avoid dropping back someone bendy enough for ankles. At some point I will be caught edging away from open backs, though Sharath probably sees my slipperiness already, probably smells the fear across the room. Most importantly, I just want to get on with it, I want to be totally present as I assist, and this fearfulness is getting in the way.

I look at my own practice. I ask myself, how am I at going to my own ankles? I can manage with more ease with Sharath helping me, but it is difficult when I am being assisted by someone else other than him, always stiffer somehow, a little less sure. I realize that I wasn’t always “successful” (for the lack of a better word) with assistants. It didn’t add up.

Maybe it’s easier with Sharath because I trust him so much. But what cause do I have to mistrust the assistants? Something in me stiffens when they are before me as I come up from backbend. Perhaps, it isn’t them at all, but rather something in me. Do I trust myself in this process? Or am I relying on Sharath’s magic touch to make what I still thought impossible possible? Did my mind create the conditions that made the fear difficult with others?

How can I expect others to trust me, if I myself had a hard time trusting? How can I ask someone to surrender to me, if I can’t manage surrendering myself?

Eventually, there is a breakthrough:

Then, one morning, I’m standing in front of a female practitioner who comes up from urdhva dhanurasana. She says something and all I catch is “ankles.” Here we go.

Something definitely shifts. I’m calm. And things go smoothly as we both do our part. I trust myself. And what’s more, I trust her. I reckon she trusts me too. With the breath–both of us breathing together–she extends the spine and arches back. It’s so fast and at the same time so beautifully slow. For me, it is an amazing moment of synchronicity and surrender between two people that don’t know each other.

I reach for one wrist and then the other. There is no forcing, only a little guidance. And there in that place of trust, I find a sweet balance between being able to support her and also stepping out of the way, allowing her to reach.

I realize then that with this ankle grabbing business, I’m not supposed to do all the work. I’m support crew. People generally don’t go there unless they can and the real task is not up to me really but in the heart of the practitioner finding space to go the extra distance. And for those making that first leap into this strange territory, Sharath’s usually there, guiding them towards their feet.

By the end, I ceased running from ankle grabbing. But I didn’t chase it either. If I was called, I would do, trusting in the process of practice, trusting in the abilities of the student, and trusting in myself. With more confidence, it all worked out fine–thank goodness!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m helping people to their ankles or not, whether we’re grabbing ankles or even dropping back on our own. What matters is that the practice cultivates the courage to go beyond, to see past the fears and the limitations of our own mind, and that it refines our ability to trust, trust in others as much as trust in ourselves.

Holding space

I’ve actually started this post a few times in my head since returning from the retreat, but it never seemed the right time to actually get these thoughts out. It’s interesting that I’m inspired to finally write this during a week my teacher is gone from the shala. She is on a silent meditation retreat several states away, and while I knew I’d miss her this week, I was surprised at how much I’ve still felt her presence in the Mysore room, and in my own practice, this past week.

Angela has told our group of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor apprentices that our job is to hold space. It’s not to adjust, though of course we provide a lot of adjustments. Our fundamental job in a Mysore space is to hold that space for students and their practices. We breathe with each student individually, and we breathe with the room collectively. To hold space, we need to be present, receptive, grounded, and heart-centered.

The balance that Kaz talks about in her blog post on trust — the balance of supporting a student while also leaving enough room to step out of the way so the student can reach — seems fundamental to holding space.

Your job is to hold space. It was such a simple and yet revolutionary idea the first time I heard it, and I think I’ve been able to feel the magnitude of this powerful concept so intensely this week precisely because Angela’s been gone. She has held space so consistently, so honestly, and so firmly, for her students who arrive every day at the Phoenix Center on Main Street in Ann Arbor’s vibrant downtown that even when she’s gone, her influence is palpable. It’s palpable in the way her students approach practice, and it’s palpable in the way her apprentices approach students. When the shala’s amazing senior apprentice, Rachel, comes by for assisted dropbacks while Angela is away, I feel the same envelope of support from her — and I hope she feels the same trust I have in her. I have this belief that when space is held as consistently and transparently as it is held in this shala, trust — the kind that’s earned and deserved — can become contagious.

So for me, an extension of the “Sahana Vavatu” mantra is that once the bond of the teacher-student relationship has been established, the lessons can expand and continue even if the teacher and the student aren’t in the same physical space. In consistently heading to the Mysore room to step on my mat, I have been consistently stepping into a space of self-discovery that has been held for me. I am realizing that as I live my life, I can actively choose to expand that space of learning and insight beyond the Mysore room. That space can, if I set my intentions with clarity, be expanded exponentially — to include just about my entire universe.


About the photos at the top of the post: I had thoughts about this theme of trust even before I went to the Xinalani retreat in Mexico, which is why I asked Angela if she’d be willing to take some photos with me to illustrate assisted backbends. She kindly said yes, and we held a short and sweet photo shoot in the yoga retreat’s distinctive Jungle Studio (so short and sweet that, without the benefit of a practice first, I definitely wasn’t going into any ankle-grabbing!). Thanks to the handy camera work of my friends Tim and Jade, I’ll always have the photos at the top of this post as visual mementos of this aspect of the sacred student-teacher relationship that means so much to me.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

A time to digest

Eat Taste Heal

These days, it feels like I’m ingesting more information about food than I seem to be ingesting food itself — which is a good trend for me, considering that portion control had been a major challenge for quite some time. Thanks to the genius design of ashtanga’s six-day-a-week practice (I mean, is there anything that maintaining this practice can’t help with?) and thanks to discovering the wisdom of Ayurveda, I finally feel like I’m eating what my body signals is enough food, rather than what my emotions felt was enough food — two very different scales, for sure.

At the same time, I’m awash in outstanding books on Ayurvedic cooking and on journalistic examinations into America’s sick and broken food system:

  • During a recent weekend getaway to celebrate our first anniversary, my husband and I picked up a classic to add to my growing collection of Ayurveda books — Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad.
  • For my birthday, my sister Alisa bought me Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Livinga gorgeous and brilliant execution of a cookbook that offers up recipes and then notes recommended modifications for people of different doshas. The recipe for roasted leek and fennel bisque, for instance, says that pitta-types should omit the walnuts, and that kapha-types should substitute eggplant for fennel and soy milk for cream.
  • I finished Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us a couple months ago, and now I’ve moved on to the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, the national bestseller published back in 2006 that I’ve long been interested in but somehow never got around to read.

Dear journalist: What should I eat?

I love that from the get-go, Pollan writes that “Industrial food is food for which you need an investigative journalist to tell you where it came from.”

That reminds me that one of my favorite non-fiction books that I read in my 20s was Fast Food Nation. Yet somehow, reading that book wasn’t enough to spur any lasting dietary changes at the time. I mean, yes, OK, I had tried, in my 20s, to change my eating habits:

  • I tried to avoid some of the worst menu items at fast-food places, but I would still eat at fast-food joints from time to time (and I still craved the saltiness of McDonald’s french fries, even though Fast Food Nation’s accounts of how they are made should have disabused me of that).
  • I had a terrible experience at a Chinese restaurant in college and gave up pork on the spot (the bad experience was a plate of sweet and sour pork, and the pork tasted too . . . fleshy. It felt like an unhappy animal had died unhappily and had been prepared by an unhappy restaurant worker).
  • After college, I gave up poultry because I had read about the horrific conditions on poultry farms.
  • And eventually, I gave up red meat because I thought I should, for health reasons. (I always kept eating seafood.)

I made managed to make it a few years of not eating pork, poultry or red meat. But eventually, as my energy levels continued to be compromised and as my hair continued to thin — clumps would fall out whenever I washed my hair — I decided I needed to return to eating meat. My body was telling me that I was missing something crucial. I had been a lazy pescatarian, so I didn’t do any research about what I should do to balance out my diet. And one day, while driving, I had a vision of a hamburger. I figured my body was trying in a big way to signal to me that I needed to change something, so I started eating meat again, and I came back with a vengeance — even venturing, when offered, to try pate and veal. (I regret both choices to this day.)

This time, it’s different.

Another interesting thing happened — again, while driving — a few months ago. It was still the dark of winter, and I was headed one early morning to the yoga shala.

I ran over a rabbit.

He jetted out from the side of the highway and there wasn’t much I could do. But I felt terrible. Just simply awful. Sick to my stomach. I told myself that if I had been more alert, I could have avoided him somehow.

For whatever reason, I gave up meat that day. It’s not like I have ever eaten rabbit and felt pangs of guilt. But there was something so visceral about running over this little creature that connected me to the experience of eating meat that I decided it was finally time to give up eating those forms of flesh. (I haven’t been able to eat poultry for quite some time, and I barely ate pork and red meat anyway, but I pledged to go meat-free entirely that day.) I’m content to continue eating seafood at the moment — for now, my body is telling me that all that protein and those omega-3s are serving me well — but I could easily see there coming a day when I give that up as well.

So I am back to where I was some 15 years ago, once again going the pescatarian route. This time, however, I have a good feeling about these habits sticking. It’s not that I’m more informed, necessarily — even though I am. It’s that I have a consistent ashtanga and meditation practice — along with my Ayurveda program — to ground me, and to connect me to my intuition about what’s beneficial and what’s not. I think part of what didn’t allow my first go-around, in my 20s, to be successful was that I didn’t have any practices that kept me in tune with my intuition. Working the long hours that I did, living with the stress that I lived with both at work and at home, I kept drifting farther and farther from my sense of self. I was able to build up a thick coating of justifications for bad habits (“This microwaveable meal isn’t all that bad for me!” “This vending machine snack will be exactly what I need to get through until I get home” and so on). It’s a vicious cycle, and the thicker that coating, the harder it is to return to a state of mindful living.

I’m so very grateful to be where I am at now. While I still have a lot of work to do, I know it’s work in the right direction. I didn’t blog much about the spring Ayurvedic cleanse that I went through in April (I simply didn’t have the time), but the long and the short of it is that I felt digestive bliss for the first time during that cleanse.

By digestive bliss, I mean that I felt nothing. I didn’t feel discomfort after meals. My old friend acid reflux stayed at bay. In our asana practice, we know about sthira sukham asanam — about poses feeling steady and comfortable. For the first time, I think, I felt that way about my digestive system. The feeling of not feeling an out-of-balanced digestive system was refreshing — and surprising. That that state was a possibility was so deeply inspiring that I think it will help serve as a compass for times down the road when I will want to be tempted by less-than-advisable choices on the consumption front.


The Smart Fitter blog, which I’m a fan of, today posted on Facebook a piece about Michael Pollan in which he says, “Cooking is a political act.” The deeper I get into all this food stuff, the more I have to agree. (I wonder if it’s possible that that’s one many of the reasons why, over the past few months, I’ve been enjoying cooking at home exponentially more than I ever have in the past? 😉 )

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Road to redemption

How is it Thursday already? Yesterday morning, I woke up and saw Tim Miller’s weekly blog post, which always publishes on that juju-laden day of Tuesday. It had a promising start:

I think the Universe should issue a high-surf advisory for the coming week.

Intrigued, I kept on reading:

Wednesday morning at 2:27am PDT the Full Moon will occur in the Nakshatra (lunar mansion) called Hasta, “The Hand.” Hasta provides us with “Hasta sthapaniya agama shakti”—the power to put the object of desire in one’s hands. It is ruled by Savitur, the “Rays of the Morning Sun”, a deity who symbolizes the generative energy of the Universe.

Savitur has a jovial, light-hearted persona—he is often portrayed laughing. He is a playful deity interested in all kinds of tricks, amusements, and games of all sorts—mind games and physical sports—who is extremely clever with his hands. Hasta falls within the sign of Virgo, which is ruled by Mercury, exalted here in this nakshatra. Savitur is thought of as a combination of the vitality of the Sun and the cleverness of Mercury. The word “Has” means laughter, something that Savitur is fond of doing. Under the influence of Hasta we feel playful and want to have fun. Just as our fate is written in our “hand”, we also have the ability to determine our fate, to some extent, by taking matters into our own “hands”. Hasta stimulates a desire to change and grow and provides the necessary energy and playfulness required to confront the resistance that rears its ugly head when the status quo of our lives is challenged.

Speaking of challenging the status quo, we have a very interesting triple planetary conjunction on Thursday, when the Sun, Venus, and Uranus get together in the Nakshatra called Uttarabhadra. Located in the sign of Pisces, Uttarabhadra is associated with the deity known as Ahir Budhnya, “Serpent of the Depths”, the ruler of the celestial ocean and a symbol of wisdom much like Neptune. Ahir Budhnya relates to varshodyamana shakti—“the power to bring rain”–spiritual rain from the celestial ocean of consciousness with the opening of the crown chakra. The Sun and Venus together give us a desire to express ourselves through creativity and relationships. We want to be noticed and put ourselves out there in warm and friendly ways to attract the attention of others. Everyone gets a little more charming under this influence, but we may be susceptible to over indulgence and believing that we are the most fascinating beings on the planet, when others are thinking that we are incredibly vain and foolish. When Uranus joins the party, all hell breaks loose as we are given a jolt of liveliness intended to shake us out of our dreary, lifeless routines. Uranus is the planet of rebellion, striving to free us of whatever shackles we feel are binding us. Our samskaras (inherent tendencies) will be very much in evidence now and we will be faced with the choice of riding this big wave of electric and transformative energy, or trying to ignore it (not recommended).

Hmm: Choose to either ride this wave of transformative energy or choose — inadvisably — to ignore it. I guess it was the kick I needed. I had written the blog post below late Tuesday night, some 20 hours after I had gotten up. It was a pretty personal post written at the end of a very long day, and I wasn’t sure if I should publish it. (It’s rare that I wait to publish a post. Normally, I post as soon as I finish writing — strike while the iron’s hot, so to speak. Wait too long, and you start to tinker too much.)

But reading all this stuff about heightened desires, and accompanying heightened currents of energy, to change and grow inspired me to decide to go ahead and get it out there. I would have done it last night, after yet another long day, but it was pretty late and I had to get up early to practice (of course).

I’m getting back in my car right now to drive about an hour to a work event — maybe I’ll dig up a little Bruce for the ride.


During the 2004 Vote for Change tour, when I was living in New England, I boarded a plane from Hartford, Conn., to Detroit to see Bruce Springsteen live. I was newly obsessed with Springsteen, and soaking up his back catalog. I needed to see him live, and I couldn’t get any decent (as in, pit) tickets to a show on the eastern seaboard unless I was willing to pay cut-throat rates from resellers. Any reasonable person would fly to a show they could get clean GA tickets to, right? (Hardly flush with cash, I did it by getting a cheap ticket and not paying for a hotel, opting to crash overnight at the airport instead — not something I’d do today.)

That night, standing in the front row of the pit — I got lucky with the ticket lottery — I was finally experiencing what it felt like to be with thousands of Boss fans under one roof. I understood how people worshipped at the altar of Bruce. I understood that Cobo Arena was that evening’s church.

What was I seeking there? Hope? Maybe. Solace? Yes. Redemption?

Absolutely.

The promise of redemption runs deep in Springsteen’s songs, and there was something going awry in my life. I was emotionally not equipped for some of the stuff I was dealing with, but I didn’t know it then. On the surface, things were fine. Inside, shit was getting twisted.

I needed Springsteen’s word that redemption was possible. But over the years, rock ‘n roll was never able to show me the actual path to it.


I woke up this morning at what is now my usual Tuesday time: 3:20 a.m. That allows me to get dressed, make the 60-minute drive to the ashtanga yoga shala, practice for 90 minutes, and then assist for another 90 minutes before starting my work day.

Was it the couple dozen backbends I did on my mat, rolled out in the long room’s first row? (I think I had an extra kapotasana today, for a total of four, and I don’t know, maybe 20 notes of urdvha dhanurasanas. My back-of-the-heart armor is slowly finding some movement.)

Was it assisting in a room of 25 to 30 super sincere practitioners, all so earnestly and honestly doing this challenging practice as a devotional song to a more harmonious life? (Talk about a powerful energy as concentrated as any space I’ve ever been in.)

Maybe it was the proximity to the full moon.

Or maybe it was that this was a normal Tuesday for me now.

On my commute back to work, I cried for much of the way along US 23 North, not quite composing myself until I hit I-96 West. As much as I believed it was possible, standing on the thundering concert floor and paying homage to something bigger than myself on the concert floor wasn’t enough to orient me. The guitar riffs and lyrics that rang so true weren’t enough to help me figure out how to bridge the gap between who I wanted to be and who I was.

But showing up to stand at the top of my mat day in and day out, breathing and moving in a silent Mysore room — this has somehow been enough.


I thought about what the orienting questions my ashtanga teacher asks herself in challenging times: “Who am I, and why am I here?”

The “who am I?” part is something I can only experience, and share, as a vibrational quality.

The “why am I here?” part — an answer found me today.

I am here to share the gifts that have been shared with me.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

A few of us who went on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani earlier this month did so with a goal of leaving behind online and social media distractions. I was one of them, taking my iPad only to write, and using my iPhone for photos and video. Given how intensely relaxed everyone was able to be, I was a bit shy about asking my teacher and our retreat leader, Angela Jamison, if she would be willing to sit down for a YogaRose.net Three Questions set. On the other hand, when else would we have this setting, and this time? So I asked, and she sweetly said yes.

We set up a chair in the retreat center’s dining area, and you can hear the waves of Xinalani Beach below her as she speaks. (Thanks to the gorgeous lapping of the waves, if you have headphones, I think that’s the best way to listen to these videos.) The videos are listed first, and then some thoughts follow.

What is radical f-ing acceptance? (Hint: Think equanimity with an edge.)

What are the slowest openings? (Hint: Think about the places with the least tangible structures.)

What are questions to live by? (Hint: Think about orienting questions that keep teachers close.)

Radical f-ing (or is it effing?) acceptance

At the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2) shala, we talk a lot about radical f-ing acceptance, so this has become part of my vocabulary.

As an AY:A2 apprentice, I had the chance to observe Angela teach a workshop in Canton, Mich., last month for a group of mostly vinyasa yoga-based practitioners who didn’t have radical effing acceptance in their parlance. This discussion came up in the context of a student’s question about what she can do about the feeling that her ribs are being crushed in twists like marichyasana C. Instead of launching into an anatomy answer, Angela starting by talking about a two-step process that can help remove resistance in our practice.

The first step involves this radical effing acceptance, which can help take that first level of judgment out of the picture: “Most of the time we’re subtlely kind of fighting with our experience,” she said. She explained that learning on a subtle level to cut the nervous system’s circuit of attraction-repulsion — to learn how to step away from the fight for a minute — is a skill in and of itself, and it’s not an easy one. The next step is to work with the energetics of this: “OK, this is information. It is what it is and it’s OK. If you don’t have that baseline of just radical acceptance, you won’t actually get access to all that information.” In step 2, in other words, if you’ve confirmed that you’re safe, then can you see if there’s a way to relax? Is there a way to let that experience flow?

Yoga practitioners in the ashtanga lineage know that asana is just one of eight limbs, and the physical practice is not the end all, be all of the practice. But it’s so easy, in that moment of trying to twist and bind — or get your leg behind your head or whatever — to not get caught up in it, and only it. Using a two-step process like this can help us turn every challenge in our asana practice — and we all know how many there are every day, much less over time — into a teachable moment for our nervous system.

‘Almost no experience in the body is solid’ — except perhaps thought forms

In that same workshop, Angela noted that in most poses, there is no stasis in our bodies. “Almost no experience in the body is solid — ever. Even when we’re lying in savasana for 15 minutes, there’s almost no stasis,” she said.

The most solid aspect, for instance, of what happens in the body’s zone that includes the belly, diaphragm and ribs — which are so much air and water — are our thought forms. “If we have a thought form of, ‘Oh, this is what my belly is, and I have this belief about it’ — that’s pretty stable. And we reinforce it and we think it again, and that stays. But really, in the meantime, the physical and energetic structures are always moving,” she told the group.

And maybe in that moment, a practitioner can simply exhale.

That idea made immediate sense to me — at the same time, it blew my mind to view our body-mind connection this way. Thought forms as more solid than what is actually happening in a body? Absolutely — I mean, think about eating disorders and socially constructed self-hatred-driven body image issues that both women and men deal with.

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

Although the Xinalani ashtanga retreat, held the first week of March, was set in a secluded paradise, there were workshops each afternoon for teachers and aspiring teachers that talked about everything from karma yoga to questions to live by, which is the focus of the third question above.

We also talked about when it’s appropriate for someone to start to teach ashtanga yoga. Angela writes about this in a fantastically candid blog post she wrote a few days ago on the AY:A2 apprenticeship program:

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

We talked about this last point — that move from scarcity motives to abundance motives —  in detail during the retreat. While there is a kind of useful fire that can be generated from scarcity motives, there are dangers if someone doesn’t actually believe he or she has all the money, attention, sex and power needed, because that leaves open the opportunity to use the teaching to try to get it.

“Usually it’s not appropriate to teach ashtanga until the transition of scarcity needs to abundance motives has been met,” she said during one of our workshops. Here’s an example: Coming from a place of scarcity motives, other yoga teachers and studios can be seen as competition; from a place of abundance motives, the same teachers and studios are viewed as colleagues. It’s a world of difference, and it can have such a significant impact on how someone chooses to transmit the practice, interact with students, run a business, and everything else that surrounds the act of teaching.

My next beach reading

Back to the third video about questions to live by. Asking yourself: “Who am I and why am I here?” as a way to remain alive in an experience, no matter what it is — I’ve tried this since the retreat in ways large and small, from eating choices to teaching schedules, and it’s been interesting how it generates slightly different answers than I might get from thinking about an issue without these types of big-picture questions.

This reminds me that I want to reread the Bhagavad Gita. Again. I’ve read the classic Eknath Easwaran translation twice in the last couple of years, but on the retreat, Angela mentioned Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, published in 2007 by Graham M. Schweig. It sounds like a lovely translation, and I will start it as soon as I can get my day job to stop being so demanding. (In other words, if only I had a beach to read it on without any distractions . . . .)


Want to watch one more video? See Angela discuss “What is mula bandha?,” which was part of this Xinalani retreat blog post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Flames, tapas and bandhas

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani bonfire

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2013 AROUND 11:35 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

Mysore-style ashtanga retreats, with early practices, aren’t conducive to late nights. But it’s our last night at Xinalani, and for the first time all week, most of us made it past 10 p.m. After another spectacular dinner, we enjoyed a bonfire overlooking Xinalani beach. With the new moon just around the corner, the tide was particularly strong and high, lapping right up, it seemed, to the edge of our dining space.

It turns out Angela Jamison, our ashtanga teacher (and yoga camp leader!), is a pro at stoking fires. I found great symbolism in that, since one of the premises of the ashtanga yoga practice is that of stoking the sacred fire of tapas.

Bandas, our energy locks, help us build up that internal heat that burns and transforms, and I had an interesting study in bandhas — or lack thereof — in this morning’s practice. I should probably be taking ladies’ holiday today, but it’s the last full day of the retreat and happily, exceptions can be justified. I was instructed to practice without revving up the bandhas. So I stepped vinyasas rather than did jump-backs; kept my feet on the floor for navasana; practiced malasana instead of bhuja pidasana; and so on. I’ve never practiced primary series this way, and it felt like a sweet restorative primary series practice. But upping the ease in the practice by turning off my energy locks also took away the internal heat, and I was reminded that if I always practiced this way, it would be quite difficult to ever discover edges — physical, mental and otherwise.


Talking about bandhas is always a great opportunity to revisit the perennial ashtangi question of what the heck mula bandha is in the first place. Ask any teacher or pick up any book, and you’ll see vastly different answers. I loved Richard Freeman’s take, which I heard late last year, that mula bandha can be something you serve.

So, what is mula bandha? Angela was kind enough to spend time today answering some questions for this blog, and this is what she said in response to this question:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] The eyes (well, dristi) have it

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced each morning

The Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced our dristi each morning. The fact that it was such an amazing space meant it also offered potential distractions — and thus even more reason to hold our gazes!

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013 AROUND 10:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

As the keys of my little iPad Bluetooth keyboard click away, the waves are rolling and music from the retreat center’s salsa night blares down below in the lounge as the other yogis on vacation here drink and dance a bit. (All the ashtangis, however, are in their rooms, and most are no doubt asleep. I should be too, but what else is new?) It’s a strange mix of sounds, but everything fits somehow.

Seeing the evening’s salsa instructor stroll in as I headed up to my room to start settling down to bed reminds me that it’s been far too long since my husband and I have had our own salsa lesson. One of the last times I saw my salsa teacher, he told me — as he does every time I see him — that I need to relax.

I remember the exchange really well. “I am relaxed,” I insisted.

“No you’re not,” he said. I must have given him a look, because he continued, “Do you know how I know?” I shook my head.

“Your eyes.”

He was right, of course. My head, as usual, thought I was relaxed, but some part of my body, as usual, gave it away that I wasn’t truly. Being the yoga dork that I am, I immediately thought of dristi at the moment, and how important it is to the ashtanga practice.

I’ve been blessed: My extreme near-sightedness has helped me keep my awareness on my own mat even early on in my yoga practice, when I didn’t have an ashtanga teacher to teach me about tristana (the concentration practice of breath, bandha and dristi). People just several feet away aren’t defined by clear lines; I see them as blobs if my glasses aren’t on. So even if I wanted to dart my eyes around the room, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything clearly enough anyway.

These days, I get to employ dristi to help deepen my internal awareness, and the more tools I have to keep the discursive mind at bay, the better. It’s also just a relief: I spend much of my time at work needing my eyes to flitter between my two computer screens (a set-up I love, don’t get me wrong) and sometimes my iPhone too. In the 700 miles or so that I drive each week, my eyes have to be focused and also scanning to keep me driving defensively and safely on the road. Only focus on one place during practice? I’m all over it.


Each evening this week, we’ve had an evening workshop that looked more closely at a couple of topics key to an asana practice or to a meditation practice, and the workshop yesterday on dristi sparked a lot of interesting discussion. Angela talked to us about two emerging fields that involve therapeutic use of eye movement: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting.

Fascinating stuff. I know there is some resistance, and even controversy, over some of these techniques. But knowing the power of dristi — whether it’s in the yoga practice or in life and literature (eyes give lovers away all the time, don’t they?) — the concepts instinctively make sense to me.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why I’m addicted to ‘The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food’

There is a Tumblr devoted to photos of vending machines located in print newspaper buildings, and it reminds me that between graduate school and most of my career doing the daily grind, I ate far too many snacks and pseudo-meals out of vending machines like these:

“I work at a famous American newspaper,” the Tumblr creator explains. “In September 2011, the snack machine went from ‘bland but respectable’ to ‘where flavors go to die.’ Here, I will depict the fall of print journalism through the plummeting quality of newspaper snack machine offerings.” This is endlessly hilarious — and accurate — if you’ve worked in a newsroom.

The cover story in today’s The New York Times Magazine called “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” reminded me about my sad culinary habits of years past, and it reminds me of two main observations I’ve noticed over the past three weeks:

  • Even though I’m now fully on the Ayurveda eating program — as noted in “Life after Sriracha: Transforming my eating habits with Ayurveda” — I’ve been working 11-, 12-hour days and weekends over the past two or three weeks, and the stress level has been pretty damn high. Here’s the thing: Anxious and exhausted, my cravings totally reverted to my pre-Ayurveda days. I’ve been craving carbs — oh, those salty snacks in the afternoon — and chocolate. In a couple short weeks, my few months of retraining my taste buds to crave whole grains and the like can’t seem to fight my ingrained habit of turning to salty and sugary snacks in times of stress.
  • It is so incredibly hard to find food that’s not ridiculously processed, not full of carbs and not full of sodium and empty calories. Coffee shops — even the good ones — offer croissants, wraps, banana nut bread. Conveniently packaged snacks that are healthy to boot? I have to go to make a specific trip to a natural food store to find those.

This article by Pulitzer Prize-winning Times investigative reporter Michael Moss, which is based on book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us coming out later this month, details in striking detail how we got to this point in this country.

Here’s a bit about the snack industry’s “bliss point” calculations:

The military has long been in a peculiar bind when it comes to food: how to get soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. They know that over time, soldiers would gradually find their meals-ready-to-eat so boring that they would toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. But what was causing this M.R.E.-fatigue was a mystery. “So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring,” [food-industry legend Howard] Moskowitz said. The answers he got were inconsistent. “They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough.”

This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Moskowitz worked on a big Dr Pepper campaign:

Finding the bliss point required the preparation of 61 subtly distinct formulas — 31 for the regular version and 30 for diet. The formulas were then subjected to 3,904 tastings organized in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Dr Pepper tasters began working through their samples, resting five minutes between each sip to restore their taste buds. After each sample, they gave numerically ranked answers to a set of questions: How much did they like it overall? How strong is the taste? How do they feel about the taste? How would they describe the quality of this product? How likely would they be to purchase this product?

Moskowitz’s data — compiled in a 135-page report for the soda maker — is tremendously fine-grained, showing how different people and groups of people feel about a strong vanilla taste versus weak, various aspects of aroma and the powerful sensory force that food scientists call “mouth feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. These are terms more familiar to sommeliers, but the mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce.

In addition to taste, the consumers were also tested on their response to color, which proved to be highly sensitive. “When we increased the level of the Dr Pepper flavoring, it gets darker and liking goes off,” Reisner said. These preferences can also be cross-referenced by age, sex and race.

On Page 83 of the report, a thin blue line represents the amount of Dr Pepper flavoring needed to generate maximum appeal. The line is shaped like an upside-down U, just like the bliss-point curve that Moskowitz studied 30 years earlier in his Army lab. And at the top of the arc, there is not a single sweet spot but instead a sweet range, within which “bliss” was achievable. This meant that Cadbury could edge back on its key ingredient, the sugary Dr Pepper syrup, without falling out of the range and losing the bliss. Instead of using 2 milliliters of the flavoring, for instance, they could use 1.69 milliliters and achieve the same effect. The potential savings is merely a few percentage points, and it won’t mean much to individual consumers who are counting calories or grams of sugar. But for Dr Pepper, it adds up to colossal savings. “That looks like nothing,” Reisner said. “But it’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Millions.”

The soda that emerged from all of Moskowitz’s variations became known as Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, and it proved successful beyond anything Cadbury imagined. In 2008, Cadbury split off its soft-drinks business, which included Snapple and 7-Up. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group has since been valued in excess of $11 billion.

It’s been years since I drank soda on a regular basis, but when I did, Diet Dr Pepper was one of my preferred.

Have you ever had Cheetos?

To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

All I can say is that I’m quite grateful I’ve found Ayurveda as a method for short-circuiting the types of highly programmed eating habits described here. The magazine piece is well worth the time to read, and I can’t wait for the book’s release.

Shout out, by the way, to Michael Moss, who spent four years reporting the book that this magazine piece is based on. A reporter at the Wall Street Journal at the time, he was one of my favorites instructors at Columbia J-School. I learned a lot of subtle and important lessons from him, and I still remember that he took the time to sit on a campus bench one day to talk to me about why I had decided to go to graduate school in journalism, and what I had hoped to do post-graduation. I couldn’t have predicted then that Ashtanga yoga and blogging would eventually be such an important part of my life, but unlike our apparent collective, calculated taste for junk food, some things simply aren’t that predictable.

the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food

[Graphic credit: Cover of the Feb. 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine]

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Community + practice = glowing (or, how to practice in a Michigan winter when the furnace has blown)

Cartoon of a cold practice, via Michael Joel Hall

When I arrived at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor this morning at 7 a.m., my fellow AY: A2 apprentice Rachel was practicing in the finishing room, and my teacher, Angela, was on her cell phone.

Clearly, something was amiss.

Namely, the heat was nowhere to be found.

Today got up above freezing so it was warm in contrast to what temperatures have been hovering at for the past few weeks here. Still, it’s winter in Michigan, and it was in the teens when I got out of my car. The new big furnace fueling the Phoenix Center had given out for reasons I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say it made for an early morning bandha adventure (should “bandha adventure” come with a yoga superhero jingle?). Despite calls with the building’s owner and messing with fuses, the furnace never magically kicked back up.

Rachel and I had our marching orders: Do our normal practice in the finishing room — with only two space heaters and, of course, our bandhas to heat us — and move at a faster clip than we usually do. We needed to help heat the room and we needed to avoid claiming valuable real estate for too long, since we would need to open up spots for students coming in. (The Sunday invocation is at 8 a.m., but students start showing up well before that.)

So I did what is normally my two-hour practice (all of primary series through eka pada sirsasana in second series) in a record 90 minutes — and it didn’t feel like I was artificially or frantically rushing either. When I got to kapotasana, Angela came over to adjust and afterward she said, “This environment is good for you.” (She said also said what I joke is the single scariest word in a Mysore room: “Again.” :-) But she says that every day I am there. I’ve learned to love that word.)

I knew exactly what Angela meant when she said that environment was good for me. I am by nature so cautious — in my practice, in my career. I know I could practice a little faster, but I also don’t want to go so fast that I wear myself out too soon, especially when I am going on not enough sleep due to burning the candle at both ends, like I have been lately. So I try to find a steady pace that I know I can stay with. (If only I drove this way! I’m one of those terrible speed up/slow day kind of drivers.) I am so cautious with my career; as one example, I went to graduate journalism school because I wanted to make sure I had time to learn from some of the best people in the field before I started reporting for a living. I don’t think these are bad tendencies — I have always believed that the measured among us help balance out the manic energy of the “shoot first, ask questions later” types. I truly think organizations need both to succeed, and societies need both to advance.

But yeah. This was a great reminder that seemingly unideal conditions can actually be the ideal environment to bring out the best in us. The lack of space in the physical room reflected the lack of space for my mind to wander. I was on a mission: Help heat the room, and move through my practice fast enough to not take up space for too long. That left little room for dinking, roving thoughts, etc.

It turned out that we had exactly the right number of spots for the number of people who came, and I don’t think anyone had to wait too too long before a spot opened up for them. The body heat got up so high that we didn’t even need the space heaters on after some point. Even the new students of the shala’s once-a-week drop-in class, called Mysore Light, seemed to enjoy the super sweaty, detoxifying heat. The huge, steamed-up windows were glorious to see — like a piece of art that everyone in the shala had helped to create together.

The cartoon at the top of this post was posted on AY: A2’s Facebook page last month by D.C. ashtangi Michael Joel Hall. (Thanks, Michael! Hopefully you and I will get to meet some day — perhaps when I get a chance to go out and see Jen Rene.) I thought of that cartoon today, and it made me laugh.

Today’s whole escapade is also a great opportunity to bring up an aptly titled blog post from earlier this week: “How to practice when hell’s freezing over“:

Anyone else cold and nauseous? Darn if this is not a cold, cold ocean. So. Are we going to practice with this situation or what?

It’s not actually about practicing in cold temperatures. But it is about practicing in cold, adverse conditions — perhaps the coldest and the darkest kinds, the kinds our unenlightened nervous systems create for ourselves.

I guess this post is dedicated to anyone struggling with finding the wherewithal to establish a consistent morning yoga practice. This morning could have totally, like the furnace, blown. But community + practice = glowing. No matter what the conditions when you start, everything alway ends up better by the time you’re done.

Steamy Mysore room

(Graphic credit: Via Michael Joel Hall’s Facebook photos. Photo credit: Courtesy of Tim Veeser)  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.’

Mysore room, post-practice

My Mysore sanctuary, post-practice on a recent Sunday

I had dinner with a good friend the other night and we were talking about led classes versus Mysore classes. She, like me, grew up (in that yoga coming-of-age kind of way) in an environment of power/vinyasa classes mixed in with accents of led Ashtanga classes. She — like me, before I found my Mysore sanctuary at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor — didn’t quite get all the nuances of how a Mysore room operated. I used to suspect that I would have foundered had I learned Ashtanga in the traditional Mysore way. I envisioned Rose in a parallel Mysore universe having gotten frustrated from being stopped and fleeing the whole yoga scene, never to return.

So funny to realize now how welcoming and deeply nurturing a Mysore room actually is — how “getting stopped” is the way our go-go-go Type A culture describes the very compassionate philosophy of not pushing you faster than you should go.

Enter the Mysore SF blog, with a new post titled, “How to learn Ashtanga Yoga. Led Class versus Mysore class?”:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room. By the way the Mysore room is the big sister to vinyasa classes. She is the mama from which vinyasa/power and all its hybrids come from so if and when you’re ‘ready to deepen your practice’ Mysore is the inevitable truth for you…my sincerest apologies.

“All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.” I love this concept, and in fact, I’ve been going through an unlearning curve for less than a year as a Mysore student and, more recently, as an apprentice of Angela Jamison. It’s a fascinating process unlike any other I think I’ve experienced.

(And one of these days when I haven’t worked 11 hours and when I’m not trying to beat the clock to bed so that I can get up early enough to practice — well, one of these days, I’ll have to write more about it.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Kino MacGregor making news in the Ashtanga world — why is this not surprising?

Kino MacGregor on ElephantJournal.com

I ate two meals at my desk today and barely got up from my chair over the course of eight hours  — headphones on because I had so much to finish that I needed laser focus — and yet I still managed to learn about Kino MacGregor’s new piece in elephantyoga.com (while managing a client’s Facebook account, I saw the share in my newsfeed):

People love and hate me. I am, after much deliberation, okay with that.

I’m a bad Ashtangi.

I wear small shorts and mascara. I’m not a natural blonde. I color my hair and blow dry it, even while in India. I’m also vain and I love beautiful and sometimes expensive things. I’ve been called an Ashtanga cheerleader, a slutty yoga teacher (I’m married), a good businesswoman (as if that’s a derogatory term for a yoga teacher) and a sell-out for fame and fortune. I’ve lost really important friendships and hurt the people I love the most through the delusion of blind ambition. I am far from perfect, most likely more flawed than most.

In the mad rush to success I have produced five Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, written two books, started a line of yoga products, filmed online yoga classes, taught in over 100 different cities all over the world, co-founded a yoga center on Miami Beach (Miami Life Center) and founded Miami Yoga Magazine. I’ve figured out how to use social media and build an online presence, dare I say my own “brand.” I tweet, blog, vlog and film for my YouTube channel.

For all these reasons I am, as Guruji used to say, a “bad lady.”

But I’m also a good Ashtangi. I practice six days a week and follow the guidelines for practice as best I can from my teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore. I go back to Mysore to continue my studies and be a student at least once a year. I follow the simple vegetarian diet that my teachers recommend. I do my best to be self-reflective in everything I do, I try (not always successfully) to be a nice person all the time.

I work hard at everything I do, take nothing for granted and am above nothing. I am thankful every day for my students, both the real people in my classes and the real people watching my videos and reading my books at home. I wasn’t strong or patient when I started the practice, and yoga has taught me both strength and patience. You can only push so hard before you break—I’ve learned that all the rest of success in both yoga and life you have to receive through grace and surrender.

So maybe I’m also a little bit good.

Some people would say that what I do is all in the interest of building my own personal yoga empire, in the aggrandizement of my ego. To them I am something akin to the Kim Kardashian of the yoga world.

But to myself, I hope I’m more like Oprah Winfrey. I would love to take the message of yoga to millions of people, because I believe in the power of yoga to transform the world. Someone once asked me,

“If you knew you could reach a billion people with the message of yoga and half would hate you and half would you love you, would you still do it?”

Yes, for sure.

I honestly, perhaps naively, believe that if every person in the world practiced yoga it would be a better place. I would personally like to be a vehicle of inspiration for people to practice yoga, and if having some people hate me is a price I pay for putting my message out there, then I am strong enough to pay that price. At the same time, I admit that I am not as saintly as that sounds. I enjoy seeing myself in videos, on the covers of my books and I like seeing the results of my efforts. I also like that my husband and I can make a good living doing something we love and believe in. While I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of what I’ve done, I do feel a sense of self-confidence that comes from the real world experience of accomplishing some of my dreams.

It’s hardly surprising that Kino MacGregor has managed to become the focus of a lot of attention — she is brilliant at that, and she explains in this piece why she is so driven.

I only had time to take a quick glance earlier today. Now that I am home, I just read it through, even though I should be finishing up the work I need to email out by tomorrow morning. My first reaction, though, is that I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I used to love Ashtanga yoga gossip. OK, I still do — but I think I will probably be in a better place to reflect on this after practicing tomorrow morning. There’s a lot of fodder for juicy considerations here — a nexus of a low-fi yoga method rooted in India (nothing glitzy or sexy about the silent transmission of the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system) as experienced in a highly visual age of digital marketing, social media promotion and unapologetic entrepreneurship (all of which swirl in a sphere where you can find lots of glitz and sex).

Hilltop Yoga, where I teach one Ashtanga class each week, put this up on its Facebook page tonight:

We couldn’t be more excited for Kino’s visit to Hilltop this coming April. As you can tell from this article, she’ll have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to share with all in attendance. We are honored to be hosting a yogi who is both real and in the world, while still honoring her lineage and the tradition of this practice. Registration details coming soon. You won’t want to miss this!

My second reaction is that I give Kino props for laying it all out there the way that she did. She sounds sincere in saying:

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for teachers who teach an under-the-radar Mysore program early in the morning with little advertising and get their students through the power of their own dedication and word of mouth. You rock! I love each of you for your humility, your quiet strength and the un-sung heroism of your work.

I, however, am not one of you. It’s not my path. It’s not that I want more, I want different. I want to be the ambassador of yoga in the “public” sphere. I want to share the message of yoga, authentic real, lineage based yoga, with as many people as possible. I want to be a bridge between the average person and the authentic experience that I’ve known in India with my teachers and the Ashtanga Yoga method.

I work in the marketing communications world now and I think a lot about how effective use of social media can help spread yoga. And yet part of me wonders whether an Oprah-like figure can transmit the heart of this type of lineage authentically.

And in the next instant, I wonder if that is even a relevant question.

The Confluence Countdown, by the way, offers up this:

This is sure to dominate Ashtanga blogs and more than a few studios in the days ahead. What I imagine will be even more exciting will come after her planned arrival in Mysore next week.

We aren’t going to add to that chatter. The main reason is that we don’t know Kino MacGregor. Like any Ashtanga practitioner who doesn’t live in an Internet-less cave, we know of her. (We have always heard more positive than negative, but we have heard the negatives she addresses.) But nothing more. And so we can’t and won’t judge whether we think she’s being honest, whether she is serving the Ashtanga tradition faithfully or if one can be a good yogi and color her hair. (I’m kidding. We don’t think that matters.) We will continue to look forward to her coming to Los Angeles this spring so we can meet and can learn from her. Probably like anyone else, once we have spent a weekend workshop with her, we will reach some kind of basic judgement about her.

Steve instead returns to a past I’ve found interesting and have long wanted to blog about (though the thoughts are still simmering on this one): the “controversy” in the 1990s over then-up-and-coming style of power yoga versus Ashtanga yoga.

I would say more, but work really does call. I have a fair amount of work left to do tonight, and tomorrow is another early morning. I suppose being a householder has its advantages: I have to stay focused on what needs to get done, or something — either practice or work — gets thrown out of balance. (Otherwise, I’d be staying up late thinking about this some more and checking to see what ashtangis are saying over social media and on blogs.)

Making your living through Ashtanga yoga does seem like a fantasy to me, but the need for Kino to share this brutally honest piece reminds you that living the dream can come with a price; there are some weighty decisions you get to avoid when that door is closed.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Plow, baby, plow (or, how to create new patterns)

Old and new patterns“Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.” –Sri T Krishnamacharya

I shared this graphic on the YogaRose.net Facebook page today, and I liked it so much I thought I would share it here as well. (I saw it by way of Yoga Hana‘s share, and as far as I can tell, the original came from Tim Kelleher Yoga.)

Here is what I said about it on Facebook:

So this was a perfect thing for me to catch today. It’s been such a long week (already, and it’s only Wednesday!) and I realized this afternoon that today I started to fall into old patterns of stress. I identified this and took a little break from work because I wanted to short-circuit the pattern. One of the things practicing six days a week has helped me do is not eliminate old patterns — yet — but identify them and decrease the frequency and duration of them.

And here is what had happened: I had felt like a big weight had been lifted by mid-afternoon because I had just wrapped up a two-hour training session that I was co-leading. It was a fun and fruitful session, and having it behind me allowed me to get to the rest of the deadlines I have for the end of the week. But when I got back to the office, a couple of things I had checked off my list had boomeranged back to me, which was a bit frustrating. (What’s arguably worse than not being able to check something off my list is checking it off and having it reappear again.) I think old-pattern Rose would have then spiraled into feeling more stressed and would have powered through and tried to get as much done in the afternoon as possible, even if it meant a darkening mood. New-pattern Rose took a step back, realized Project Boomerang could be dealt with the following day, left the office for about half an hour, and returned feeling a lot better.

Zap, the sound of the short-circuiting of an old pattern.

Traces

I’ve seen this Krishnamacharya quote before, but seeing it again today reminded me of a passage I particularly like in the book Myths of the Asanas about halasana, or plow pose:

According to yoga philosophy, all of our actions and thoughts leave traces in our consciousness. Our actions in this world can either remove impressions from the landscape of our consciousness or carve new ones. Just as Haladhara [Krishna’s older brother] dragged the Yamuna [a great river] to him with his plow, the yogi seeks to draw the mind back from its negative wanderings in order to absorb the positive. There is a sutra in the fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutra that talks about this kind of ‘plowing of the mind’:

nimittam-aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ-varaṇa-bhedastu tataḥ kṣetrikavat

Essentially, what this sutra says, just as a farmer plows his field to introduce water to the field for irrigation, if we remove the obstacles in our path toward yoga, we can lead our mind toward it. In this way, the plow of our mind leads us to liberation, based on the quality of our thoughts. The plow pose provides an excellent opportunity to plow the field of our mind with positive thinking.

And finally, this reminds me of a David Swenson quote posted on Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page (and shared 25 times) earlier this month:

I have understood that meditations, prayers, asanas are just a tool. And this tool can be used to plough the soil and to make it fertile. This is what practice does – it makes the soil fertile. If a person fulfils difficult asanas or prays constantly it does not mean yet that this person is spiritual. It simply means that inside him there is a fertile soil. And what the person plants into this soil will grow. Therefore, the more intensively we practice, the more cautious we should be. If you plant an ego into this fertile soil it will grow up much more than an ego of a usual person. Spirituality is not defined by practice. Spirituality is defined by concentration, intention and actions of a practitioner.

zerodegreesIt’s the middle of winter — my least favorite season — here in Michigan. The weather last week was a frosty 0 degrees before you took wind chill into account. Yesterday and today? A balmy 55 degrees. In a couple days it will be back in the teens. The roads have been an absolute mess and the commute has required even concentration than usual. It’s most certainly not the time to think about gardening, growth and abundance.

And yet . . . maybe this is actually a wonderful season to nurture and cultivate new plantings. Since I’ve never actually had a garden myself, here’s some random gardening advice I just found online:

Regular tilling and amending of your soil will make it easier to work with as years go by….Preparing garden soil is a long-term, continual process. It can’t be done in one growing season. Fall may be the best time to begin soil improvement, but it’s also possible to begin now.

As with a garden, so with our consciousness?

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chai and LCD Soundsystem

 

Ready for the drive back to work

Ready for the drive back to work!

I had two choices today: Skip the drive to the shala because I had to be at work earlier than normal on a Wedneday, or wake up even earlier than I normally do.

So, for the first time ever, I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make the hour-long drive to the shala. A few months ago, I couldn’t manage the 5:30 a.m. alarm without snoozing . . . and snoozing some more.

Even when we try not to, we mark milestones in our practice — the first time we almost reach a bind in marichyasana C or D, and the time we actually achieve it. The first time we could hang in a headstand without wobbling. The first time savasana took us somewhere else.

Today was one for me. I have struggled for so long and never thought I could turn myself into a morning person, but slowly — so very slowly — rhythms started taking over, just like they do in the practice itself.


On the two weekdays when I make the drive to the shala, it’s like I have three journeys before I even begin my work day. There’s the journey eastbound on Interstate 96 to practice, the journey on the mat itself, and the journey back westbound on the highway to be in my office chair more or less on time. Today, a warm cup of chai and the eccentric sounds of James Murphy helped the drive over seem shorter and more relaxed than normal, despite the slick roads. On the mat — well, suffice it to say that backbends are teaching me quite a bit about what’s stuck, and perhaps tucked, into my body.

On the journey back — that was interesting too. As I found comfort sipping my Ginger Dragon (ginger honey lemon tea), I passed one rough-looking accident after another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many spinouts on highways when there wasn’t rain or snow. But the light drizzle of the morning made for some serious black ice and unaware drivers were thrown off off-ramps. In one case, an 18-wheeler was hibernating in a ditch as a little crumpled car faced the wrong direction on the highway shoulder. Once many years ago, I hit a patch of black ice driving on a Vermont highway in the dark of night. Had the guardrail not been there, I would not be here. So when I pass accidents, part of me migrates outside my car and I am with the drivers of the cars on the side of the road, wondering if they also experienced a slow-motion feeling — the kind when you can observe yourself thinking, “Hey, this might be it. I guess I have to be OK with that.”


Two weekends ago, I cleaned out another pocket of my belongings — perhaps the last of three little areas in my house where I’ve let stuff accumulate. In doing so, I found a manilla folder I had started in, I think, 2010. I had printouts of general info on traveling to Mysore and on how to register. Not sure why I wasted the paper to print this out, but I looked at this little outdated folder and recycled it all with some measure of finality. It was my little letting go of trying to hope for that journey, my promising myself to let the twists and turns of life take their course without me constantly pointing to a map with a suggested destination. Maybe it will happen. I know it’s still possible. (Anything must be possible, right, if I can get up at 4:30?) But I won’t wish for a particular destination, just like we’re not supposed to wish to finally get that bind.


It is indeed that time of year when ashtangis from all over the world board planes with Mysore as their final destination, and that means interesting new blogs or the rekindling of others.

But one ashtangi who isn’t making the trip this year finds that staying put is a journey in and of itself.


You wanted it real
But can you tell me what’s real?
There’s lights and sounds and stories
Music’s just a part

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Showing up (for backbends, Capitol lawn protests, etc.)

Right-to-work protests at the Michigan Capitol buiding today. (Photo by Romain Blanquart via the Detroit Free Press.)

What is it that you show up for? I mean, really show up for? Your yoga practice? Your job? Your kids? Your marriage? Your church? A cause? Why do you do it? How do you do it?

I’m thinking about this on a day full of people showing up in vastly different ways. I started my morning at the yoga shala in Ann Arbor, rolling out my mat for Mysore practice at 6:15 a.m. The collective energy was, as always, powerful and grounding. All the ashtangis around me have had their own journeys of training themselves to change their lifestyle enough to show up at ridiculously early hours to practice, and why they do it week after week is like a fingerprint — unique to them. Yet the collective feel of a group of people working toward a similar goal is palpable in that space.

The 60-minute drive back to mid-Michigan, where I live and work, took 90 minutes this morning, thanks to cars clogging the highway as they headed toward Michigan’s capital city to protest right-to-work legislation. I work two blocks from Lansing’s Capitol building, so my coworkers and I — a mix of former journalists and news junkies — couldn’t help but to follow what was happening as thousands of protestors and two branches of government did their thing. The sound of helicopters above only added to the day’s heightened feel, but the most notable feeling for me, as I walked through the crowds in the bitter cold, was how upbeat the collective energy of the protestors felt. This was absolutely a politically driven event, but I’m not making a political statement here. To me, it was interestingly apolitical that the men and women who showed up in Lansing today seemed to believe that their presence in that very particular spot of the world was vital, even though all the pundits and analysts said it was game over for their side (and it was).

After work, I headed straight to the athletic club where I teach a beginning-level vinyasa-flow class. Tonight there were twice as many students as usual who were ready to challenge themselves with a mind-body practice. Some students I have seen every week for a year, and several were new. The feel in that room was one of determination — yoga may not necessarily come easily to them, but they weren’t going to give up and walk away.

I suppose what I’m saying is that in every setting I was in today, I was surrounded by people who had to make a conscious decision to show up — which is sometimes the hardest part. True, the shala and the gym’s yoga room aren’t divisive spaces like the protest grounds, which had an intense police presence, riot gear ready. Yet the collective feel in each was one of a group of people willing to do what it takes to show up to help create what they believe to be a set of better circumstances.

(What’s pretty inspiring on the yoga front is that it you can’t just marshal up that motivation once; it’s not a one-shot deal the way a protest might be. But I think that’s where collective energy can be so helpful to keep you fighting the good fight against laziness, inertia or a crazy schedule.)

So back to the questions. What do you show up for? I find that showing up to my yoga practice helps me be more present in everything else I do — my work, my marriage, my friendships, even how I process the feel of something like a right-to-work protest. And how do you go about being present once you’ve shown up? For me, I think that lately I’ve been working on putting forth the effort but trying to avoid clinging to what I want to happen (e.g., “I want to feel my body to feel light and my spine to feel supple this morning”), which allows me to be more receptive to what comes (note the emphasis on “trying”).

By the way, on the point of receptivity: Working on deep backbends — can you say kapotasana? — seems to help with the whole surrendering process (no kidding, right?!), which in turns seems to help me with the whole receptivity process.

That said, every new day is a test. I failed a couple of tests today (post-practice) and I passed others. We’ll see how tomorrow goes — starting with those backbends.

The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space (2011) (Courtesy of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor)

(Photo links: Free Press aerial shot; Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[VIDEO] Three questions for Jayashree and Narasimhan / The sutras as ‘a single string that gives a single meaning’

20121116-211845.jpg

Long day, up at 5 a.m. in my Eastern time zone, where it’s now the middle of the night. It’s only 1:30 a.m. here in California, where I just landed — a state that hasn’t been home for a decade and a half, yet still feels very much like home. Being a bit turned around on the whole space and time front seems like a fairly apt time to talk about how I started the week — with two evenings spent in workshops with Indian scholars Dr. M.A. Jayashree and M.A. Narasimhan, hosted by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor. The sessions, as promised, went a little like this: “Monday, we will have an introduction to Indian philosophy and some chanting of the Samadhi Pada. Tuesday, we will focus on the eight (ashtau) limbs (anga) that asht-anga yoga comprises.”

Looking back, though, I can’t really separate day 1 from day 2, and one of my favorite quotes from the evenings was when Jayashree explained that Patanjali goes on like loops. Some people say “sutra” (singular) rather than “sutrani” (plural) to describe the yoga sutras, because every sutra is linked with the other (just as each of the four chapters of the books, or padas, of the Yoga Sutras are linked with the other):

It is a single string that gives a single meaning.

At minimum, we were told, “to understand one sutra, you need the previous, and the next.”

Jayashree, whose bright smile reminded me of my mom’s joy and radiance when she sings classical Thai songs, later illustrated the idea by the idea by sticking out her arm. “Can I call my hands as ‘Jayashree’? Can I call my eyes as ‘Jayashree’?”

‘Ashtanga is yoga’

When I was in Maui this spring for my honeymoon, I had the good fortune to meet the gorgeous and ginormous Banyan Tree (pictured above) that graciously unfolds in the town of Lahaina. One tree, many trees — it’s hard to tell, because you can’t quite discern where one ends and one begins. It reminded me of M.C. Escher drawings.

At some point, Narasimhan started discussing viveka and at some point, he said: “In the Indian system of thought, there is no black and white. No right or wrong. Shades of gray.” (This, in turn, reminded me of what I’ve been learning about Ayurveda, and the idea that there is no “good” or “bad” herb or mineral, for instance. Just the appropriate one for the appropriate condition.)

Loops

Here are some impressions, some moments:

  • One way to view yoga’s purpose? To create optimistic, happy and connected people who can in turn help make society happier and more connected.
  • It’s not accurate to view India as having many Gods. “There is only one primordial force,” Narasimham said. “We always follow the primordial force.” What, then, of all the images of deities — such as the unmistakable Ganesha, with his elephant head? Think of them as creative forces. “Creatives forces are represented as a god — small ‘g’ god.”
  • Ganesha is the remover of internal obstacles. A human being has a spinal column and two hemispheres, and from the back, the human body can appear like an elephant’s head.
  • Bramacharya is “controlled sex” rather than celibacy. So, even if you are married, you only have sex under certain circumstances, not just whenever and wherever; and that schedule is given in the scriptures.
  • The nervous system is the bridge between the physical and the mind.
  • Kriya yoga as physical, mental, emotional –> tapasya, svadyaya, isvara pranidhana –> action, knowledge, devotion/love –> karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga.
  • The electrical attraction between a cloth and dust creates a dirty cloth. You remove dirt by using a cleaning agent such as soap. Tapasya acts as a cleaning agent to help separate us from guilt, much the same way other cleaning agents work to break attraction. The eight limbs of yoga cleanses us physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Processes abound, but effort does not necessarily need to accompany those processes. Asana –> pranayama –> pratyahara. Dharana –> dhyana –> samadhi. You cannot put forth effort to express samadhi, which is the opposite of what happens in the external world, where typically, the more effort you put forth, the more you are rewarded.

I could share more impressions and more moments, or I could let you hear a little from the brother-and-sister team yourself. In the first video, they offer an unforgettable analogy of samadhi to none other than a cup of coffee — while name-checking Starbucks to boot. In the second question, they discuss subjects and objects. I think the springboard for the third question (questions and answers sort of overlapped, as you might imagine happens in this kind of discussion) was about Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, who was described as essentially a psychologist, with his work being more relevant today than ever before.

Three Questions

What is samadhi?

The second yoga sutra discusses “citta vrtti,” which you describe as loops. How can the first few sutras help us as human beings understand consciousness and our relationships with objects, and how can the sutras help us change our relationships with loop patterns?

What changes with yoga?

I am such a devotee of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice because I love its design. It’s beyond brilliant. And every time I learn more about the aphorisms that collectively make up Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, my respect grows. For me, listening to Jayashree and Narasimhan discuss the sutras — and chanting in Sanskrit along with them — helped illuminate the intricate yet I suppose ultimately simple architecture of the sutras. The images I’ve been feeling in the days since have been Escher-esque bridges, ropes and branches that loop, pathways that only appear linear, trap doors that actually liberate, and beginnings and ends that connect and recoil. It doesn’t matter where in this spiritual design you start. Walk along whichever foot path intrigues you most to discover a universal journey through your individual experience.

Links

(Photo credit: The famous Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, via echobase_2000’s Flick Creative Commons license)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Workshop dispatch: Richard Freeman resources

I first tasted the teachings of Richard Freeman when I read The Mirror of Yoga earlier this year as part of an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat. I first met Richard at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this past March, where I was introduced to his vibrant and rich imagery — oh, that cobra hoodie! — and where I was lucky enough to get a nearly indescribable dropback adjustment from him (what I refer to as my Oh. My. God. dropback adjustment).

Miro Barn near Columbus, OhioWhen I met Richard again this past weekend inside a beautiful converted barn in Columbus, Ohio, I told him about that backbend, whose energy I think I still have in my body. He simply said, “Hmm. I must have slowed down your backbend.” There he was, being humble. I sort of wanted to shout, “THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ALL YOU DID! COME ON, COP TO THE MAGIC POWERS YOU HAVE!” But I just smiled and we moved on to another subject.

At the end of the three days with Richard — after he was cool enough to talk to me for my Three Questions video series — I got into my car for the four-hour drive back home. Before I hit the highway, I had popped the first of his six-CD audio set, The Yoga Matrix, into my player, and I just finished the last CD. (All this really means is that I am ready to start round 2 of listening — there is just so much packed into these discussions.)

You probably already know this, but the guy is amazing. Here are some ways to get more Richard Freeman right now:

The Mirror of Yoga [book]

I got really into the book and read it about this time last year, and I also did a blog post here and here.

The Yoga Matrix: The Body as a Gateway to Freedom audio course

The Yoga MatrixAlthough I got a lot out of The Mirror of Yoga, for me, The Yoga Matrix is where it’s at. While Richard covers many of the same themes, it makes a big difference to be able to hear his voice, his intonation and his cadence. At the time I’m writing this, you can get the audio download for about the cost of three drop-in yoga classes ($36.73).

Pranayama: Unfolding the Secret Breath

This is what I woud love to dive into next (probably won’t have time until next year, though). From the official description:

Pranayama (literally “to release life energy from its bounds”) is considered the central practice that will lead you into the true promise of yoga: the experience of freedom itself. When performed correctly, this powerful form of conscious breathwork reveals the intricate web of your thoughts, physiology, and energetic patterns—helping you learn to quiet the mind, heighten receptivity, and open to what is referred to in yoga as the intrinsic radiance of being. Featuring six video sessions with Richard Freeman plus a wealth of lessons and exercises, Pranayama will teach you advanced yogic meditative techniques that will serve as a solid base for a longstanding practice.

The cost? An incredibly reasonable $49.

Classes, workshops, intensives, and archived studio talks

I know someone attending Richard’s intensive this January, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Find all the details of Richard’s travels, intensives at his home studio, studio archives, and the occasional blog post, here. (Just a quick note to say that Richard has a scheduling conflict and won’t be teaching at the second annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in 2013.)

Social media

See his listing on the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid.

Have you studied with Richard Freeman? Would you add anything?

Richard Freeman head shot

Related links:

>>[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman

Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor

Richard Freeman and his wife, Mary Taylor, before the start of a workshop session. Mary, a total sweetheart and a beautiful teacher in her own right, assisted every workshop session.

The YogaRose.net Three Questions series has been on a long hiatus. It’s not because I haven’t been around fascinating teachers (because I have), and it’s not because I haven’t been taking video (because I have). But I try to go with the flow whenever I’m lucky enough to be in the presence of amazing teachers, and if it doesn’t feel right to ask them to answer three questions for the blog, then I don’t. (On a couple of occasions, video would have happened, but we ran out of time — you know how it goes during a short weekend with someone.)

In any case, Three Questions is back with a vengeance (a vertical vengeance, you’ll note). Thanks so much to Richard Freeman for being gracious enough to talk to me at the end of the three-day workshop he held in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend, and to Yoga on High for hosting him.

What is alignment?

You talked earlier about how mula bandha is not something you do, but rather something you serve. Could talk a little about that?

What is the importance of imagery?

As a follow-up question, could you talk about one image you particularly like?

I guess that was technically four questions. It’s hard to stop at three — or 300 — when you’re in his sphere. 

Related links:

>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The practice of the yoga of politics (whatever that means), post-Election 2012

Practice (Obama's Hope version)

I forced myself to go to bed around 1:30 a.m. last night, after Mitt Romney made his concession speech. I desperately wanted to wait up for Barack Obama to give his speech, but I knew that would have definitely killed my chances of making the 60-minute drive to my shala for morning practice.

Stumbling around in the pre-dawn dark of my closest, I thought about wearing my Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Pattabhi Jois shirt tee done in the iconic style of the famous Obama “Hope” image but decided against it, given how charged this election was. Plus, I thought, better to continue the conversation by blogging the image instead.

There has hardly been a unified front among “the yoga community” about the incredibly high-stakes #Election2012 — but I think the conversation that has been taking place has been vocal and, as Matthew Remski called for, “muscular.” It goes without saying that yogis — especially the #yogisforobama crowd — continued to share their feelings today about the election.

Kino #yogisforobama tweet

Intent Blog today published “Is Yoga Political?” by Angela Jamison. Here’s a juicy slice of it:

I’m sympathetic to the apolitical argument. It goes like this: Yoga is in the transcendence business. Think like the Cosmos. The rest is and always has been small potatoes.

Now, there is a growing, healthy tendency for critical-minded yoga people to get very pissed off at transcendence teachings. We counter with the message of immanence: Here! Here! Now! Now! Relationships, Physicality, Food, Form! Fine, fine. But now that immanence is having its day in western yoga, let’s not throw the transcendence out with the bathwater. Or, phrased even worse: you can transcend your cake and eat it too.

To the question of whether yoga is historically apolitical, I can only speak casually to my own lineage. I’m a student of the direct students of Pattabhi Jois; and for extra edification and clarity of transmission I study with senior a senior Iyengar teacher, a senior student of TKV Desikachar, and others whose line goes directly to Krishnamacharya. Nobody knows what yoga is. But I do at least know my family line; I teach the way my teachers in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois taught me to teach, and only because they support me in doing so. Lineage gives me a sense of history and accountability, and helps me answer hard questions like: Is yoga political?

WWKD? WWSKPJD? Q.E.D.

Yes, it’s apparently political. I’ll start from the root. The mula guru of my lineage was outspoken and crazy progressive in his politics. This singular man, T. Krishnamacharya, took radical political initiatives. If he hadn’t, would we even be here?

Krishnamacharya went to work for Wodeyar, a prince who in the early 1900 was in some ways more politically enlightened than Mitt Romney (Wodeyar championed public health and, if I am not mistaken, was one of the first Indian politicians to support some form of birth control for women). He pushed the envelope of the teachable to encompass women and foreigners, and wrote the radical book Yoga Makaranda in a passionate effort to legitimate yoga practice (previously considered punk ass nonsense) among everyday people. Word is people said he was crazy.

From there I only know about my own branch of the lineage – that of Pattabhi Jois. What I know is mostly conversational – part of the oral tradition I have recieved – but what does seem clear is that SKPJ took Krishnamacharya’s envelope and expanded it further in some places. (Some say SKPJ convinced his guru to expand that envelope in the first place.) More foreigners and more westerners were given the teachings, and eventually he broke with his rumored refusal to teach Muslims (to this day, Mysore city is extremely segregated, and there is significant tension and oppression between Hindu majority and the large population of Muslims). In time, and especially with my teacher Sharath’s leadership of the ashtanga yoga lineage, more women would be empowered as senior teachers.

At this moment, the environment is coming online in my lineage as a zone of political responsibility. The week before last, Sharath spoke to students gathered in Mysore, saying that instead of having a third child, he will plant a tree. He told the students to plant trees and take care of the environment, and said that this is part of yoga.

The popular argument that yoga is apolitical comes not from an understanding of modern yoga history, but from a mistaken grafting of “yoga” on to the definition of “business.” BUSINESS is apolitical. Politics in America are one part culture wars and three parts class warfare. And for godsakes if you want to make money, you do not participate in class warfare.

Over at YogaBrains, Derek Beres wrote today:

At YogaBrains we had our most trafficked weekend in our young history after posting a series of articles endorsing Obama. While we received push back on various blogs and comment sections about bringing politics into the yoga community, we heard more positive feedback than not. In my practice, the heart of yoga is not about debating what some text written 2,500 years ago by someone I will never meet from a culture I will never be able to properly imagine ‘means.’ I prefer to stick to the basics: unity, discriminative thinking, self-reflection, non-harming and -stealing. My ‘practice’ is defined by the life I live, not the 90 minutes I spend a few times a week exercising. This, inevitably, means engagement with the culture I live in.

So while I was thrilled to see so much activity regarding politics over the last few weeks, I can only say: Don’t stop now. Politics is not only an election-time process. Lately I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people argue that Obama did not push through a number of issues, without stopping to consider that we just experienced the most divided Congress in our nation’s history, which put forth a record number of filibusters. The GOP banked on people not paying attention, and in many ways, they achieved that goal without trying much. That allowed them to craft new arguments over the last two months with little concern, knowing that the majority of Americans were asleep at the wheel.

If it is to be us who helps define the route our country is taking, we must stay engaged and involved politically. Put aside your time for meditation, breathing and postures; just don’t spend it all there. That calm force you cultivate must be put into action in the country that helped create an environment for you to freely practice your spiritual ambitions.

Pattabhi Jois’ 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory — does it/should it apply to politics as well as yoga? All I know is that until this week, I would never have never considered sharing my political allegiances in a presidential race on my yoga blog. (Part of that is that I was trained as a mainstream journalist in the old-school tradition that dictates that you avoid airing your personal political views at all costs — you don’t ever so much as sign a petition). But as I continued to step on my mat six days a week, as I read more and more of what thoughtful yogis were saying, and as I reflected about why I backed the candidate I backed, it seemed more yogic — not less — to share my concerns about the direction one of the candidates would lead this country down should he be elected.

Our political leaders hold tremendous responsibilities. As citizens and yogis, so do we.

Related links:

>>I rolled out my mat, and then I voted. #Election2012
>>Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

Yoga culture taboo, or sign of the times?

I’m impressed by the amount of in-your-face, get-off-your-asana, get-out-the-vote activism that yogis backing President Barack Obama have been demonstrating of late. Four quick examples out of a ton I could have chosen from:

  • This weekend, when I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a Richard Freeman workshop (more on that rich experience in blog posts later in the week), I ran into a friend and local yoga teacher. Wearing an Obama T-shirt, she told me she would only be staying for the first day because she had to canvass all weekend. And I remembered back to this spring —  when I last saw her during Tim Miller’s workshop at Yoga on High — about how excited she had told me she was for this November visit. Yoga matters, but so do politics — and she chose to hit the pavement rather than step on her mat for a workshop with a premier senior Ashtanga teacher.
  • A yoga studio in California whose e-newsletter I receive sent this short dispatch last week: “In support of our privilege and duty to vote and as part of the YOGA VOTES effort we are offering free classes all day Election Day Tuesday 11/6/2012. Just sign in! Thats it! Dedicate your practice to our future. Thank you!” We know it’s not easy running a financially sustainable yoga studio, so for Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose, Calif., to give up proceeds from a full day of classes is an excellent show of support for the importance of the process.
  • Yogis have also taken to Twitter, my favorite of the social networking platforms. See the trending #yogisforobama hashtag. Kino MacGregor has been tweeting pro-Obama political tweets for at least a few months (that’s just based on what I’ve caught here and there — she tweets so much that there’s no way I could always be on top of it), including reminding folks back when the deadline to register to vote was coming up.
  • The yoga blogophere seems to be heating up recently. Check out “Yogis Stand Up and Endorse Obama” on YogaBrains, take a look at this recap from YogaDork, and read this post from Neal Pollack, who writes, “Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values.”

Viveka — this is all a form of the discernment that we cultivate while on the mat, right? Why would we cultivate these skills through our yoga practice and then not exercise our right to act based on them?

Normally, this is the kind of post I would avoid writing. I have one foot in the political world through my public relations job, and I try to keep politics out of this space. But . . . well, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too soundly tonight. Despite Nate Silver’s statistics-based optimism — currently, that Obama has a high chance of winning — it’s close enough, and I am concerned enough, and the stakes are high enough, that I decided I should.

>>LINK: Have you seen the What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far website? 

Not 100 percent happy with Obama? Angela Jamison addresses that:

We are evolving politically. The expansion of the rights of citizenship is inevitable; the expansion of the definition of the human scope of responsibility (from tribe, to nation, to species, to planet) is inevitable. Unless we stall, take too many steps backwards, and thus all kill ourselves first. Obama is about 50 years ahead of Romney when it comes to the political enlightenment process. So you are another 50 years ahead of Obama. Duh. We need you to be. Don’t hate him for not expressing your exact values. If he did, he would never have gotten this far.

I work in Michigan’s state capital, and a fair amount of my work intersects with politics (not to mention that a few years ago, I worked in the belly of the political beast itself). I’ve seen how hard it is for any legislation to get passed. Think everyone wants to protect puppies? Think again. Unless you’ve worked in the political system, you have no idea how many deals have to be cut for anything — even the seemingly most mundane or obvious things — to move forward. The fact that Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through still sort of astounds me.

>>LINK: Your Election Eve moment of zen: Replay of the infamous Mitt Romney 47 percent video

Yes, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in our two-party political system. Yes, there’s a ton of BS. Yes, there’s a ton of power-grabbing and power-hungry people. But no, it is not the case that who is in elected office doesn’t matter. No, it’s not true that in the end, everyone wants the same thing and all will be well, which I’ve been hearing a few yogis say in recent weeks. As anyone who has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition — an injustice the ACA, which critics love to call Obamacare, has dealt with — can tell you, that’s not the case.

In the first verse of the Ashtanga closing prayer, we say:

“May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Tomorrow in the United States, we have a chance to do more than channel good vibrations about responsible leaders.

(Photo credit: Obama T-shirt for sale on Cafe Press.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


 

 

 

 

 

Radiant sources, power lunches and the influence of all those wordy words

Star Ruby

Dominic had a ring with a mesmerizingly radiant stone, and before I had to say goodbye to him I finally asked him what the stone was. Turns out it was a star ruby. Pictured here is a star ruby housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dominic Corigliano, my teacher’s teaching mentor, guest taught at the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor shala this past week during, appropriately enough, the waxing moon — a time when the moon is making its way around the earth, looming larger until it reaches its full state.

When Angela Jamison announced that Dominic was coming, I was looking forward to seeing how this would work. For one thing, yoga students like to meet their teacher’s teacher. I think part of it is awe: Who is this person who inspired someone as inspiring as my teacher? Part of it is curiosity: Will this person be anything like I’ve pictured him or her to be? Part of it is simply excitement.

For another, I’m accustomed to Ashtanga workshops structured around themes: bandhas, adjustments, and so on. So I wondered: What happens during a highly anticipated visit by a Mysore teacher to a highly traditional shala when there were no workshops or guided classes scheduled? How does all the juicy stuff — the subtle and mind-blowingly important observances culled from decades of practice, learning and teaching — get passed on?

~~~

Dominic was wearing a T-shirt with “Shiva” written in a KISS font the first morning I met him, before the Mysore class got underway. He struck me as a down-to-earth ashtangi with a quiet punk rock vibe. HIs adjustments were firm yet gentle, and when he did use words, they were quite matter-of-fact.

By the end of his visit here, I realized I have been drinking from the energetic currents of Dominic’s teachings for years now — much in the same way you are infused with the rhythm and the passion of the pioneering blues masters when you listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest work.

~~~

"Before, Again II"

“Before, Again II” by Joan Mitchell, housed at the DIA. The image links to a video that discussing the artist’s influences.

The third time I was in his orbit, it was for a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts with a small group from AY: A2. I joined the group late, however, and contemplated calling someone’s cell phones when I arrived to avoid the goose hunt of trying to locate half a dozen people in a huge building. For whatever reason, I decided to wing it instead. I walked slowly and tried to let my intuition guide me and I guess I didn’t do too badly, considering that I found them in about five minutes. I squinted down hallways for Angela’s spritely movements, but how I actually found the group was by spotting, for a second, a ponytail gliding down a hallway. Dominic could have been any museum-goer, but there was such a calm about this figure that I figured I was in the right place. He was totally enthralled with the pieces he was viewing when I caught up. One thing I’ve noticed with the senior Western teachers I’ve met: They are so present in everything they do.

~~~

After the DIA, we all headed to a cute little cafe called Le Petite Zinc, a healthy and delicious lunch spot a short drive away. I don’t remember what prompted this, but I asked Dominic about teaching Ashtanga yoga versus teaching its hyper-popular offshoots of power yoga and vinyasa yoga. Dominic knew that I’ve studied with Tim Miller, so he explained that he and Tim go back a long, long way — back to Encinitas, where the power yoga style was inadvertently sparked as they tried to offer Ashtanga in a way that would appeal to settings such as health clubs.

Dominic said tweaks to the method — such as modifying poses for people with knee problems — were always done in the service of trying to help students eventually connect back with the traditional Ashtanga method. The same goes for using music, which Dominic pioneered. He explained that he used music as a way of working with states of hypnosis. (What he didn’t do was use iconic songs with familiar riffs and lyrics the way some of the most popular vinyasa teachers today do.)

~~~

I’m going to pause here to say that yesterday on the Inside Owl blog, Angela reposted one of her posts from 2007, in which she talks about Dominic’s teaching method and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (emphasis below is mine):

Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.

A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.

I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural. No big deal.

This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.

Imagine what would have happened had Angela circa 2007 been introduced to this pose — “’Siva’s terrible aspect,’ a posture in honor of the deity’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side” – in a way laden with verbal cues telling her what the pose would be like or should be like for her.

~~~

Back to the lunchtime conversation. Dominic told me that he approached non-Mysore classes as how to use fewer and fewer words. He put it so well and I wish I had taken notes (actually, that’s not really true — I don’t wish I had taken notes, because that would have destroyed the casual lunch vibe). We basically talked about the constraints placed on students when too many words are used. I was fascinated by whether some of the most seemingly feel-good words in a yoga class can actually serve as distractions from a deeper type of empowerment that could happen if a teacher were to do more of holding space than creating space.

(As we ate our crepes and salads served up at a place dedicated to simple and classic cuisine, it was interesting to think about sourcing Ashtanga instruction the way food is sourced — whether as a consumer only or both a consumer (because all teachers have to be students first) and a producer. No matter what kind of sustenance, tapping into a strong current whose source remains vibrant and clean helps us flourish. What types of food are going into this body? What types of instruction are passing into this nervous system? As a teacher, I need to ask myself whether the words I’m using are organic — what will their effects be? Or am I relying on pretty words with artificial flavorings and empty calories, void of any true nutritional properties?)

And as Dominic talked, I had a flash to a post from earlier this year on Angela’s other blog — the AY: A2 blog — about the poverty of verbal instruction:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Sitting across from Dominic while hearing bits of this blog post rolling around my mind felt a bit like watching time-elapsed parampara.

If you’re not familiar with parampara, it helps to go back to the KPJAYI website (emphasis below is mine):

Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara.
The dharma, or duty, of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga — lies beyond simply mastering the practice; knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways. Surrendering to parampara, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the tradition he or she follows is true and selfless.
Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.

~~~

It’s only now crystallizing for me that the legacy of Dominic’s teachings have been filtering to me through strong and distinct currents:

  • The power yoga classes I started taking in 2009 as part of a yoga teacher training program I had enrolled in not for the purpose of teaching, but to deepen my understanding of the eight limbs of yoga. (Interesting to reflect on power yoga classes as adaptations — sometimes truer to the original and sometimes highly marketed, far-flung versions of the original — of an Encinitas-based yoga experiment to make the Ashtanga practice more accessible all those years ago.)
  • The clean and direct transmissions as experienced through my embodied teacher’s presence when I am in her room.
  • The way my teacher writes about the practice — from a 2012 blog post about the use of language all the way back to a 2007 post on use of language in a room, as written in the Inside Owl blogger’s voice.

Here I was, having my first true conversation with a man who until now had just been a name and a relationship — Dominic, my teacher’s teacher — and what happens? The conversation we gravitated toward dealt with the subconscious — the not-quite-apparent layers. Manifestations of my teacher were playing at the edges and communicating between us at times, but those versions, while offering something, also provided inadequate words for the experience. Also inadequate was trying to use this conversation as a mirror to check out how all of this energy is being integrated within me, and how it flows out of me when I write and when I teach.

~~~

Looking back over the week, how did transmissions happen? It wasn’t through a guided class. It wasn’t through a workshop lecture. It wasn’t even the words that were actually exchanged at lunch. 

Dominic hopped on a plane out of Detroit yesterday, and I’m wondering if his energy, his physical adjustments, and the post-practice conversation all has to simply be understood. I believe in the power of technology — of social media in particular — to help ashtangis around the world stay connected as a community. But it’s the quieter moments of being in the sphere of brilliant and deeply present teachers like Dominic that reminds me of the limitations of those mediums. What’s being passed on isn’t data — parampara is necessarily so present, so personal.

(Photo credit: “The Midnight Star” via Islespunkfan’s Flickr photostream and “Before, Again II” via Dia.org.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Why is there a tongue scraper in our bathroom?” — and other adventures in trying my first Ayurvedic cleanse

Ghee and tea, oh my

For the past week, my husband has put up with more of my yogi ways than usual around our house. The other night he came out of our downstairs bathroom and asked very matter-of-factly: “What is a tongue scraper?”

I explained that I had bought the tongue scraper now housed in the bathroom because scraping your tongue in the morning is part of the 10-day Ayurvedic fall cleanse I’m participating in.

He didn’t ask me any more questions after that — although I’ve kept him more informed than he probably wants to be about the morning ghee protocol, the evening oil massage, and the castor oil purgation to come.

This is my first-ever cleanse. I’ve always been weary of cleanses, because most of the ones I’ve been told about have instructions that boil down to: Don’t eat, take these supplements and stay close to a bathroom for two days. Thanks, but no thanks.

I was much more intrigued when the opportunity to participate in this cleanse came up, since it’s based on the principles of Ayurveda. Sweetening the pot even more was that I would not be doing this cleanse alone, but rather going through it with a group from Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor.

Ayurveda as a way of life

Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston, who provides Ayurvedic consultations (remotely if needed) and is leading our cleanse, describes Ayurveda this way on her website:

Ayurveda is not merely a system of medicine, it is a way of life.

Ayurveda originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is the oldest continuously practiced health-care system in the world. Ayurveda is the science of nature, largely preventative medicine, enhancing self-awareness to help us make choices that support well-being. This system encourages us to catch imbalance before it begins to create disease.

We had a kickoff meeting last Friday evening, with Kate, who also teaches Ashtanga, joining us from Boston via a Google+ hangout. It was extremely helpful that she started out with the fundamentals. According to the principles of Ayurveda, toxins are stored in the body’s fat, because the fat’s not going anywhere. So the design of this fall cleanse — to de-gunk the body — is to get the body to start burning stored fat. How to do that? Well, start by not feeding the body any fat — which means eating only three non-fat meals a day (no snacking in between!) spaced far enough apart that the body goes into fat-burning mode.

And the cleanse addresses more than what we consume. There’s the morning neti pot and tongue-scraping. (See the Kiki Says video on the practice of scraping the tongue.) There’s also dry brushing and abhyanga, the art of the oil massage.

In short, this is not about weight loss. This is about flushing toxins, regaining an effective digestive system, and maybe even gaining a new lifestyle that’s balanced and supports well-being on the deepest levels.

Three tracks — and don’t be a fundamentalist

This cleanse was billed as one that you could do while still going about your daily routine — the third reason why I decided this was the cleanse I wanted to try. Kate was great about emphasizing that this is not the time to be a fundamentalist, and she offered three different “tracks” depending on how your life is going at the moment. In our cleanse manual, Kate writes:

The largest cause of dis‐ease is stress, so if you are uncomfortable or stressed out, you can always shorten the cleanse. The nervous system must be calm in order for the body to burn fat and remove toxins. There is no reason to force yourself to do anything. Use this time to explore yourself, not to give yourself a hard time.

Our group members all went through three days of a pre-cleanse together, in which we cut out caffeine, soy, dairy and meat. We focused on whole grains such as quinoa and rice, and on cooked greens and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Then, people took different routes for the main cleanse:

  • Some stayed with the pre-cleanse diet for five days.
  • Others changed to a mono-diet of non-fat kitchari, the yogi comfort food of basmati rice, split mung beans, steamed vegetables and spices. Kitchari is very easy to digest.
  • Some opted for the full cleanse, which is the mono-diet but with the added component of taking warm ghee — clarified butter — in the morning. The idea with this version is that the ghee starts to permeate our tissues, dislodging toxins and bringing them down to the colon.

Some, like me, are doing a four-day main cleanse. Others are going for five.

‘Gheetotaler’

Organic gheeSo yeah, the ghee. I was waffling on whether to go the mono-diet route or the full cleanse with ghee, and in the end — thanks to my husband’s encouragement, actually — I went the ghee route. I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I’ve been able to go about my daily business even with the ghee protocol. And shhh — I didn’t mind the teaspoons of warmed up ghee in the morning. (I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it either.) As my friend Tim (who has decided he is now a “gheetotaler”) described it, “It’s like taking in the essential spirit of the best bucket of popcorn you ever had.” Some in our group decided that the ghee is great with a ginger tea chaser (which is allowed in this cleanse).

Taking the plunge

Tonight, I’ll be taking the castor oil purge (!), which is the end of the main cleanse. That’s another first for me, as you can imagine — I’ve never even tried the castor oil bath that ashtangis are enamored of, much less ever ingested the stuff.

Bathroom counter

Part of the Ayurveda seasonal cleanse toolkit: neti pot, tongue scraper, dry brush (in back), sunflower oil. (Sesame oil is actually recommended for the oil massage, but I am allergic to the stuff.)

After that, it’ll be three days of a post-cleanse that’s similar to the pre-cleanse — and from there, return to what will hopefully be a new normal. I loved the pre-cleanse diet, and hope to start integrating more of those types of meals into my daily life. I already use the neti pot and I’m not adverse to incorporating the daily dry brushing and the tongue-scraping. (Not sure what my in-laws will think about all these new additions to the counter space when they visit next weekend, since they’ll be taking over that bathroom.) The oil massage does feel lovely, but it’s too time-consuming for me to do more than once in a while.

That said, I must admit that I am looking forward to drinking coffee and pomegranate oolong tea lattes again. I was surprised that I wasn’t really hungry during this cleanse — found it quite filling, in fact. Who could guess that I had the discipline to not snack. What it turns out I missed most were my drinks, like cranberry juice and almond-milk-based tea lattes.

Goodbye for now, rajas

Especially since this is my first cleanse, I can’t say enough how important it was to have a skilled cleanse leader in Kate — and to have the support of the group (we stayed connected through a Google group). A cleanse can bring up some intense emotions, and it’s helpful — and more fun — to go through it with friends.

During the pre-cleanse, my body was, as apparently happens to many people, achy. Since starting the ghee protocol, I have definitely felt the need to go slower — way slower — during my day (a very strange feeling for me to have!). Heading into the cleanse, Kate had cautioned us to only practice primary series during the cleanse, but said that some of us may need to do very abbreviated practices. (Turns out I was in the latter group — more than anything, my body has needed time to rest this week).

What’s been so interesting to me is that my mind has seemed quieter somehow during the main cleanse. If my head space were a college town, it feels like the end of the term, when students have all left for the break. While I do miss the rajas a bit — you should see how much I am putting off until next week — I have to admit that this is nice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Visualizing our journeys — on and with — our yoga mats

Two new projects developed by urban ashtangis — one in Chicago and another in Boston — seek to help visualize our relationships with our mats. They’re both about our journeys — on and with — our mats, and they’re both projects you can contribute to.

Morgan Lee’s “The Path of Yoga” Kickstarter project

If enough Kickstarter backers come through, Morgan Lee — a registered nurse, yoga instructor and all-seasons biker in Chicago — will create a photo book documenting his travels with Ashtanga yoga from the perspective of his yoga mat. According to his project’s  Kickstarter page:

I believe that there are no limits to where the physical practice of yoga can take an individual. Through documenting the journey of my travels from the perspective of the mat, I will show that the Path of Yoga is more than practicing postures, asana, and regardless of location steady focus lends to the peace-fullness within the practice. Through the images in this book I will show that no matter where yoga is practiced, it leads to transformation.

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Why the donations?

Using analog 120mm film and a Holga camera (skinny jeans included) to capture a moment from the back edge of the mat creating a ‘dream like’ image, I will compile the images into a book that can be shared with you. Your money will go directly into funding the film and cost of publishing 100 copies of the ‘Path of Yoga’.

This project needs $3,000 in contributions by Oct. 31 to fly. At the time I’m posting this, 32 backers have pledged $1,750. Backers can help support the project with as little as a $1 pledge.

The Runways Gallery

Runways -- screenshot from the Small Blue Pearls websiteLaura Shaw Feit, a book designer from Boston, has recently relaunched the Small Blue Pearls website, and she’s got a lot of energy out of the gate with the Runways Gallery project:

Whether rolling out your Manduka on a silky white beach in Thailand, or sharing space with Mom’s Land Rover in the garage, no matter where you are on this great blue planet all you need is a mat’s worth of space to do what yogis do.

We’re collecting photos from all over the world of the hectic and serene, the dirty and pristine, the cramped and cavernous places people have laid out their mats in order to practice—either when traveling or just in the course of their normal day. Once we have a critical mass of these runways—approximately 750 of them (yeah, we know that’s a lot!)—then we promise you, they will be put to a really good use 😉 Stay tuned! In the meantime, we’ll feature them here on the site.

 

 

 

This project came about this way:

The Runway series was originated by Angela Jamison, founder and teacher at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2). Inspired by her brother Aaron’s habit of taking photos of everyplace he set up his laptop to work, Angela started taking photos of all the places she found herself practicing. When Aaron saw Angela’s photos, he declared them ‘runways’, which we think is just brilliant. We’d like to say thank you to Angela and Aaron, for the inspiration and the permission to take this fabulous idea and turn it into art.

See if you can spot my iPhone shot of my rug, which was taken in Maui during my honeymoon earlier this year. I have shots from far less glorious locations too, but I’ll have to dig through my iPhoto archives to find them. I know you’ve you’ve got some old photos to dig up too.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

21 tips for dragging your sleepy butt out of bed to practice yoga in the mornings

Sleepy Puppy

>>Skip to the tips

There’s been a fair amount of ruminations lately about that unique time before and around dawn, and I wonder if it has something to do with the equinox and the changing of seasons. Just this morning, Mysore SF posted this Rumi poem on its Facebook page:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

A friend of mine in Ohio noted her reflections on finally getting back to the mat today. And the AY: A2 blog recently posted “How to get up for yoga, again,” an update to the shala’s popular 2011 post, “How to wake up for yoga.” Earlier in September, Claudia Yoga posted “7 morning habits for a great yoga practice,” which includes how she deals with social media — what can be a beast lurking in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about practicing at home in the mornings for years but didn’t manage to actually start trying in earnest until 2011 (“How to wake up for yoga,” along with support and encouragement from my teacher, helped me tremendously). The first months were the hardest, and just this August, I started in on my second year of practicing Ashtanga yoga six days a week. During this relatively short amount of time, I’ve felt tremendous benefits from practicing early in the morning (and I’ve felt the difference between practicing in the morning versus the evening).

So I too have been thinking a lot about how to bridge that gap of getting up early, because I wonder what it would have taken Rose circa 2009 — the one who slept around 2 a.m. every night and didn’t ever think she had the chops to change — to be able to start (starting, for me, was the hardest part).

Below are 21 tips for starting. They’re a mix of things I learned the hard way, advice I received from my teacher and tips from other practitioners.

Will they work for you? Only experimentation will tell.

Sunrise
Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
Because I had practiced for years in the evenings, I had to recalibrate my expectations about how a practice physically feels. I had to accept that when I practice in the morning, my body is cold and stiff. A pretty cool thing happened over the course of a few short months, however: I started minding less and less. The “I’m a natural evening practitioner” mantra I had chanted for so many years had been a myth that I created, bought into, and perpetuated by making others believe it as well. That detachment from needing my body to feel supple led to a greater sense of equanimity with the body I happened to have for that practice, and that ability to find equanimity started extending to other things. In becoming more detached from desiring that yummy factor I was accustomed to from the physical practice, I was working through a process that also helped me clean out my emotional closets.

. . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
I fell in love with this description of pratyhara from the Insideowl blog when I first read it:

Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

If you can tap into the warm, bright and stimulating carnival of your inner spaces, the room around you may start to matter less to you. Turning your gaze inward won’t happen overnight, but you can help the process along by not staying fixated on the external. Easier said than done, I know, which is why there are 19 more tips to go.

Trumpet

Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
This simple device will save you! I got one of those tall ones that can oscillate if needed, and it cost about $70. It was $70 of the best dollars I spent in 2011.

If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
This gives you one less reason to resist practicing at home (because, let’s face it, unless you have a beautiful yoga room at home, it’s so much nicer to practice at a dedicated yoga studio).

Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
We all love our mats, but we love our beds too. The problem is that a bed — and particularly the pillows on a bed — transform overnight: everything gets softer, plusher and more inviting. So not only do you have to find an alternative to hitting the snooze button, you have to commit to it before you go to bed. Your Plan B might be that when the alarm goes off, you will jump in the shower before you give yourself the chance to hit snooze and fall back into your super comfortable bed.

Start hydrating the night before your practice.

CoconutAshtangis should be well-hydrated anyway, but I found that I had to make a special effort to hydrate at night in order to start a consistent morning practice. (The reason being that one of the big deterrents for me in going from practicing in the evening to practicing in the morning is that I usually wake up feeling totally parched.) What has worked for me: drinking a juice-box-sized coconut water before bed, drinking another one when I wake up, and generally consuming more liquids throughout the day.

On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
After a year of practicing six days a week and mostly in the morning — but not super early morning — I realized that to get my practice to the next level, I would need to start waking up earlier. Otherwise, I would forever be confined to less-than-full-primary-series practices. In terms of time, the gap between 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. isn’t huge, but experientially, it felt as insurmountable as trying to leap across an ocean. The advice from my teacher, Angela Jamison, to start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before was instrumental in taking that leap. Key to that was thinking about my digestive patterns. Because of my schedule, I normally eat dinner pretty late — sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. What has been working for me to wake up in that magical pre-dawn space is to eat no later than 8:30 p.m., and to eat a light dinner (“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” has been a good guideline for me). Experiment, figure out what works best for you digestively, and roll with that as your schedule.

Consume sleepiness . . . 
I drink a little fennel tea before bed, and it’s been lovely. Maybe herbal melatonin is your preferred boost of ZZZs? Perhaps it’s skullcap? (I can’t speak to the latter two, but see the comments found here.)

. . . instead of consuming alcohol.
Wines constantly I know, I know. But it’s just really quite hard to train yourself to wake up super early if you drink the night before, even if it’s a glass of your preferred pinot noir with dinner. Perhaps try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a difference?

Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
If your mornings are typically rushed affairs like mine are, even 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference. I set out my clothes ahead of time and I set up the coffee pot so that all I have to do is hit start when I get up (see coffee tip below). This prevents an opening to start procrastinating in the morning.

Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
Pattabhi Jois is known for saying, “no coffee, no prana.” I resisted the idea of drinking coffee before practice because I didn’t want to depend on it and because I didn’t have time to make coffee before practice. But now that I’m waking up earlier, I’ve found lately that a few sips has helped me feel warmer and move with a little more oomph. Coffee can dehydrate me, though, so that’s another reason why it’s so important to start hydrating the night before. And by all means, if you can do this without coffee, go for it. But since we’re discussing ways to help get a practice up and running, I think it’s worth a consideration.

Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
A few practitioners I know have morning rituals that include different things — for instance, lighting a candle, burning incense, or dedicating that morning’s practice to someone. For some, it’s reading. Claudia Azula says that for her, “Good yoga literature helps me get inspired in the morning . . .” Good literature would totally derail my morning — I would never get to work on time. Thinking about rituals is a good reminder that so much of this stuff is personal — and if it works for you, roll with it! If it doesn’t, drop it.

.. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
No social media before breakfastUnless I know my work day will absolutely blow up if I don’t address an email right when I get up, I don’t allow myself to get within 10 feet of either of my email inboxes, my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, because if I do, I’ve just lost 20 – 30 minutes of my morning. I force myself to stay clear from the types of distractions that are delivered through mobile devices and laptops because it makes for a less anxiety-ridden practice if I am not worrying about all the work-related things I will need to think about beginning in two hours.

Take a hot shower before practice.
On super cold days when your mettle is still being strengthened, a hot shower can be the perfect external support. Just don’t stay too long and give yourself another space to procrastinate in. 😉

Ramp it up if you have to.
If you are ready to start practicing six days a week right off the bat, awesome! For most of us, it’s hard to go from a sporadic practice to practicing six mornings a week at home, in the cold and dark. Consider committing to practicing three mornings a week at first. Commit, and don’t veer. Enjoy the four days off you have, and do what you need to do to get on the mat those three days. Over the time, the practice might just naturally coax you into practicing additional days a week . . .

Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
My teacher told me to get to the mat, and practice in the time I have — and it was the single most important thing for me to hear. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, Nancy Gilgoff said during one panel discussion about practicing six days a week: “Sometimes your practice may be 15 minutes . . .” See the above tip: I truly believe that over time, the practice will naturally help you find a way to lengthen your time on the mat. In my first year of practice, when I was trying to buy a house, plan a wedding, teach yoga, blog and hold down a deadline-driven full-time job, there were days when I literally was running out of time. The way I gauged a practice was: Did I practice long enough to have to invest something of myself? And did I practice long enough to find a challenge? Practicing for 15 minutes can give you that — investing time that you would have rather been checking to-do items off your list, for instance. As for challenge — well damn, the hardest part of an early morning practice for me is often the sun salutations, when I might be questioning why I am doing this as I body seems to creak with every bend. The good news? It gets easier. It really does. :-)

Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
Hopefully, you have supportive friends and family members. Explain what you’re trying to do. They’re on your side, so if they know how important this is to you, they can start to help support your practice in ways large and small (it might be as simple as moving up the time of a dinner date so that you’re not sleeping so late).

Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
You don’t have to start your own online Way-Before-Breakfast Club like a small group of us did back in August, but if you can find even a couple of yogis to start this journey with you, the camaraderie, support and feedback can be invaluable. You can keep yourself accountable with local yogis, or, if you can’t find any local yogis, we’re living during such an expansive and global world these days — find a couple yogis who live halfway around the world if that’s what ends up working best. Our group of a dozen currently has members from four countries.

Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .  
The other week, I overhead a little boy ask his father who had just finished practicing yoga, “Why do you do yoga?” His dad answered simply, “Because it makes me feel better.” You are trying to practice more consistently because yoga first and foremost makes you feel better, right?

. . . and have a little faith too.
This practice is so evidence-based. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take anything on faith. Instead, you get to try something out and see for yourself how it feels. But I think it helps to have a little faith in the idea that the practice changes if you can find it consistently. (I think we can practice without attachment to a result while still practicing with faith in transformation.) The traditional Ashtanga method is designed in a very particular way, and the effects build — exponentially, it feels sometimes to me — over time. So this is a rare moment when I will say to take my word — and the word of I don’t know how many ashtangis all around the world — who have experienced the difference between practicing randomly all over the map versus practicing consistently six days a week. During those dark mornings when you’re sleepy and stumbling over your two left feet, when you’re cold and crabby and thinking you should just head back to bed, know that it is all worth it. And have faith that you are not alone: There are practitioners all over the world doing the exact same thing, probably feeling lots of the same things you’re feeling.

‘Alchemize your word.’
I love this phrase, and I think of this advice as the yogic translation of Nike’s “Just do it” edict for athletes. The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog began the recent essay about how to wake up for yoga with the advice to “alchemize your word”:

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Here is the whole blog post, which, as I noted at the beginning of this blog post, is essentially part 2 to the 2011 post on how to wake up for yoga.

If you’re a list type of person, here’s a summary:

  • Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
  • . . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
  • Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
  • If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
  • Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
  • Start hydrating the night before your practice.
  • On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
  • Consume sleepiness . . .
  • . . . instead of consuming alcohol.
  • Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
  • Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
  • Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
  • .. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
  • Take a hot shower before practice.
  • Ramp it up if you have to.
  • Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
  • Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
  • Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .
  • . . . and have a little faith too.
  • ‘Alchemize your word.’

Happy practicing!

(Photo credit: Sleepy puppy by Nicole Kelly; Coconut and trumpet via Stock.Xchng)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

Have you seen this YouTube video posted by Argentina-based OmarYoga of two men practicing primary series, one doing the traditional sequence and one adapting the sequence to accommodate a broken femur? It was posted in 2011, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. I can’t get over how seriously beautiful and brilliant it is in how it reimagines the Ashtanga practice while staying true to the design of the practice.

The video has about 9,785 views at the time I’m seeing it — kind of a shame, especially when compared with what has been reported as the Ashtanga YouTube video with the most page views (nearly 2.7 million views).

On the subject of injuries, here’s another one in which Kino MacGregor demos one way for someone with wrist injuries to practice Ashtanga and still maintain heat:

Paul Gold recently wrote a blog post about healing injuries with Ashtanga:

If one gets injured practicing yoga, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Also, if one gets injured doing some other activity, yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Finally, if one begins yoga practice with a preexisting injury, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. From my experience, yoga practice is an amazing healer.

Healing an injury with Ashtanga Yoga is possible and requires daily practice. Taking days off regardless of how one’s feeling is ultimately detrimental to the healing process. Unlike working out, the effects of yoga practice are cumulative. The body’s natural reaction to injury is to contract and armour. Yoga encourages the afflicted area to move when it wants to petrify. Taking days off between practices just makes the body stiffer under normal circumstances, but even more so with an injury or chronic condition.

Students often wait until their aches and pains are gone before returning to class. They’ll disappear and return saying they needed to rest their injury. The truth, however, is that the pain is not gone and the injury hasn’t healed. The problem simply went underground while they were resting and was patiently waiting to return. Whatever imbalance or bad habit caused the pain or injury hasn’t been addressed or corrected. The pains and injury return as soon as the student is back on the mat.

It is a shame that some students who aren’t willing to follow the prescription for daily practice end up quitting and saying that “ashtanga yoga doesn’t work” or “yoga made my pain worse.” This just isn’t true.

The first thing a student must do when using the practice to heal and rehabilitate is adapt. It is necessary when injured to scale back practice so that it’s appropriate as therapy. That very often means having a very basic and short practice for awhile where the level of sensation to the injured area is deliberately kept at zero.

The comments section of the post show dissenting views on the idea of practicing through injury — to a point where the Paul Gold devoted a second post to the one particular comment.

Richard Freeman has also recently addressed injuries on his blog:

If you’re practicing a series other than primary and you end up injuring yourself due to problematic alignment or technique, do you recommend going back to primary until the injury heals? Or should you stick to the same series you were practicing when you were injured, adding modifications necessary to work around the injury?
– Erica

 

That would depend on the exact nature of the injury or of the problem. Sometimes the primary series can cause problems—even those that crop up in more advanced series. It’s helpful to learn the anatomy and biomechanics associated with the problem area.

Working carefully and intelligently with injury is an important part of any yoga practice. Yoga should make the body healthier rather than harming it. Though one has to be intelligent rather than fanatical and mechanical. Having a good teacher to give guidance and feedback, and listening carefully to the internal cues that your body is giving you is very important.

I think Richard ends with what is the key point for me, at least: Having a good teacher is important.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Evening yoga practice vs. morning yoga practice

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I’ve been doing pretty well, relatively speaking, in my effort to wake up earlier each morning to get in a fuller Ashtanga yoga practice — working through full primary most days, plus playing with pasasana. Last night I meditated for a few minutes before bed, and my head was comfortably on the pillow by 11 p.m., which is only half an hour later than my new bedtime goal (that’s better than usual). Tomorrow will be great! I thought.

Um. I never hit the snooze button this morning, but I didn’t wake up either. I ended up getting out of bed with only enough time to get ready for work. Oops.

It’s been months since I’ve done my home practice in the evening, and I had two main observations about my practice at dusk:

  • I had forgotten how delicious it feels to practice later in the day, when your body isn’t as cold and stiff.
  • On the mental front, I was using my practice reactively rather than proactively.

The first one is pretty straightforward. As for the second . . . work was draining today, and I realized I was using the practice to try to erase all the little irritants that had accumulated in my body — drip, drip, drip straight into my upper back — and in my mind. This is how I practiced for years: shedding my day on the mat. It’s a beautiful use of a yoga asana practice, and how wonderful that we have that option.

The proactive versus the reactive was interesting to reflect on. If my koshas were like hardwood floors, practicing in the morning feels like adding a nice, smooth protective coat. (I’m standing at our kitchen island while I type this, noticing how beautiful the shiny hardwood floors look.) In the evening, it would be more akin to scrubbing away that day’s dirt and grime on a surface that’s only lightly treated.

I better stop here and start getting ready for bed. Tomorrow’s another long day, and I need any added treatment I can get.

Treated hardwood floors

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flushing away bad eating habits (my TMI post on acid reflux)

Garden hose

Before I get to how excited I was to see today’s Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party post on the most excellent Heavy Metta blog, I have to tell you about last night, one of those times when life throws a big fat wrench into your plans.

Around 12:30 a.m., about an hour after I had gone to bed, I found myself hunkered down in the bathroom, throwing up my diner. It would take two more rounds over the next couple of hours for my body to be content that enough had been ousted. It didn’t feel like food poisoning to me, because the expulsion lacked a certain . . .violence. It was quite matter-of-fact, very workmanlike: Hello, dinner, welcome! And . . .  oh, you’re leaving so soon? And out the front door nonetheless? Well, OK, goodbye!

Reflecting more on it this afternoon, it occurred to me that it could have been a really, really unfortunate acid reflux reaction. I suppose it could have been something else too, but that’s the theory I’m rolling with for now.

I’ve had acid reflux for years. Doctor’s orders? No coffee, no caffeinated soda, no chocolate. I ignore two of the three (not a big soda drinker). While I had been better about coffee for a few months, I’ve been back on the bandwagon for the past few weeks. And over the course of the day, I realized, I had had many of the most common triggers, in addition to morning coffee: garlic, onion, tomatoes, processed chicken (funny, because I rarely ever eat chicken anymore), potato salad (I never eat this stuff, but I did yesterday as part of my lunch — didn’t even enjoy it), high acid fruits and cranberry juice. Add the typical low-grade levels of workday stress and it was probably a perfect storm.

Some thoughts:

  • Can the yoga asana practice do anything about acid reflux? Friends have told me the control of stress alone is helpful. What about the digestive juices themselves?
  • Eating ginger before a meal has helped me in the past, but I’ve let that slip because I thought things were under control. I’ll have to start again.
  • I’ve found Nexium to be the only thing that has really helped me, but it’s so expensive under my current health insurance plan that I’ve stopped filling the prescription in the past few months. (It costs me $90 a month, because my infinitely wise insurance company refuses to believe the other stuff truly doesn’t work for me. After last night, though, I’m back on Nexium too, expenses be damned.

Very helpfully, Maria over at Heavy Metta posted a whole post earlier today about acid reflux, Ayurveda and pitta-types. Me, pitta? Had she read my mind? 😉 Check out her blog, even if you don’t care about acid reflux, because you get choice lines like this one, found in the section on Mastic Gum:

. . .I’m just a very curious layperson who loves Ayurveda and who happens to do a lot of nutrition-related research for a living at my day job. I don’t advocate any particular kind of treatment, but information is always helpful. And where else will you get Ayurveda, health and heavy metal in the same blog? Freaking nowhere, man!

Screenshot of Heavy Metta blog

Screenshot of the Heavy Metta blog post “Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party”

By the way, my dinner tonight was much improved. I prepared a remix of a great little recipe for Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero from SmarterFitter, one of my favorite food blogs. My visit to Tuscany last year instilled an appreciation in me for those oh-so-simple-and-plain cannellini beans, and I’ve been looking forward to trying this SmarterFitter recipe. Rebooting the way I eat — I don’t want to spend my nights last last night ever again — seemed like the perfect time.

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Do you live with acid reflux? What do you do?

(Photo credit: Don’t Breathe by JenSmith826 via Flickr Creative Commons. The actual photo is pretty cool — an experiment in narrative structure. Head over to see.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Good day, moon

Goodnight Moon by brilianthues Flickr

I live in the ‘burbs now (how did this happen again?), and one thing I’ve noticed lately about this Midwestern subdivision is that while there are definite rhythms, all of them are based on human-directed events. On Labor Day, like clockwork, curbsides were empty because trash pick-up was delayed by a day due to the holiday. Post-Labor Day, with the start of school, cars predictably started to clog the main street out of our subdivision, with parents shuttling their kids to elementary school. Except for the light gardening that goes on, the closest the neighborhood seemed to get to being at one with natural cycles this summer was when families, each bemoaning the drought, set their sprinkler system to run.

As I start my second year of trying to maintain a six-day-week Ashtanga home practice, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more and more intrigued by the idea of being more attuned to something other than manmade timetables or manmade inventions — birth control is what I think of first — that impose an artificial rhythm on us. Hitting up farmers’ markets this summer has helped me be less preference-driven (I only love to eat mangos all year long!) and more open to eating fruits actually being harvested locally — currently — rather than shipped in or otherwise artificially brought to us during the wrong time of year.

Tomorrow is a new moon — which in the Ashtanga tradition means we take a day of rest. This month, both moon days happen to fall on Saturdays, which are also the weekly days of rest. Where I look the calendar and see a more challenging month because I have two fewer days off from practice, Insideowl sees cyclical clicking:

For Mysore practice, the moons fall on the calendar’s Saturday free spaces all the way until mid-October. The Gregorian rhythm (Saturday rests) and the Hindu ritual rhythm (moon day rests) are moving in their biannual phase of alignment. Click. I love it when this happens.

On that note, I need to get back to today’s calendar-scheduled rhythm of work and personal to-dos — which has been, until now, the only rhythm I truly allowed to determine my groove.


By the way, if the whole moon day thing is new to you, here is how Tim Miller explains it:

Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. What is the reasoning behind this?

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expan