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.

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] Pink kurta

pinkkurta

Yesterday’s breakfast was spent with friends of my friend Eliza — a Tibetan couple who live in Ooty, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is apparently a not-for-the-faint-of-heart five-hour journey from Mysore. Not only did they prepare delicious chapatis that we ate with almond butter and blueberry jam that Eliza had lugged from Michigan, they brought me my first kurta. So wonderfully generous of them.

That means that today, for the first time, I’m rocking a kurta — a pink one at that.

* * *

While bucket washing my clothes this morning, I had a flashback to one of Tim Miller’s Asana Doctor workshops when someone asks Tim for help with a particular pose. A common diagnosis for lack of range of motion? “It seems you have some areas of density,” Tim likes to say.

And I was thinking about how, 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.

* * *

One of the things I hold on tightly to is planning and being in control and knowing what’s ahead. Have you ever seen a map of Venice? It is impossible — literally impossible — to get into trouble by getting lost there.

venice

Even knowing that, I freaked out when my husband and I got lost there during our trip in 2011. We were on a touristy island and I freaked out anyway, because it was not about being in Venice on the wrong street; it was about getting triggered and feeling this deep-seated fear fear of now knowing what would come next, a fear fueled by endless speculation of possible future scenarios.

Anyway, my second day here, I faced this very trigger when trying to return from Loyal World Super Market, what I think of as the local Target (except, it’s nothing like Target). I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying that I got so lost that I walked for nearly two hours. I was determined to face this this time, so I refused a scooter ride from a really sweet woman at a gas station and I didn’t call for a rickshaw for the first 90 minutes or so of getting lost (I finally did get one, when I realized I was not going to get back to my place at this rate!). I guarantee that I will get triggered again the next time I am alone and get really lost — but I am working on it.

As I walked that day, I breathed into my belly to calm myself and I noted my physical sensations — noted the rate my heart was beating, noting if my hands were clenched, noted the thoughts going through my head, especially the ones that had nothing to do with what was happening at that moment (“What happens if the sun sets and I’m still here? What happens if I’m the only woman left on this street at night?” And so on.).

* * *

Back to the kurta. I resisted the color pink for most of my life — something about being a women’s studies major back in the day — but I’m tickled that a couple years ago, I decided one day that it was time to embrace it. What’s the point of resisting a color, for heaven’s sake? 

I don’t own a lot of pink things, so this beautiful gift will be a great addition to my closet back home.

>>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] 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] 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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What’s an ashtangi stuck on an island pulsing with the energy of inebriated schmoozing to do?

I am on a boat headed to a big work-related conference that I am not looking forward to. Not. At. All. (I sort of feel like a pouty character in Dr. Seuss book saying this out loud.) Business and politics and schmoozing and drinking — lots and lots of drinking — are the name of the game at this conference. I’m not feeling like doing any of these things right now, and certainly not for the rest of the week.

What’s an ashtangi to do? Tell me what you would do. Hare are some things I’m doing:

    • I’ve been replaying, in my head, snippets of a fantastic short little film based on a David Foster Wallace commencement speech that Paul Gold posted on his blog recently. Unfortunately, due to some copyright fights, the viral video, done by The Glossary, is no longer available. But you can still listen to the powerful speech in its entirely. (I hope the copyright rights are resolved, because it was an important video to have out there.)
    • I went to the shala a bit earlier than normal for a Wednesday so that I could practice and still meet my carpool on time to get here. I have my yoga mat and Mysore rug so that I can practice each morning, and the Mysore rug will double as my meditation mat for this trip. I file all this under the category of “help with shock absorption.” (This one kind of goes without saying, right?)
    • I brought my Ayurvedic teas and such with me. It’s nearly impossible to stick to my overall pitta- (and, now) vata-balancing) Ayurvedic program here, but I’ve found lately that the more I stick to it in general, the less I feel the fluctuations when I have to go off it. (Plus, long story short, my sage Ayurvedic counselor told me earlier this month that I went so far with my original pitta-balance program that now the name of the game for me is to “relax the program.” Such a pitta problem to have!)
    • I’ll try yet again to embody Shinzen Young’s awesome definitions of equanimity.
    • Oh, right — I’ll also try to find the humor of being stuck on this island. (This is the kind of place where people dress up in period costume for the tourists, and where the fudge flows freely. I kind of judge both things, but I’ll try to be less judgmental while here. 😉 )

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© 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] PVR –> DTW, without leaving the magic behind

Xinalani signage

One week ago today, after spending seven nights in the breathtaking seclusion that is Xinalani, I boarded a direct flight from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit. The flight home is normally when I take a deep sigh and realize that (1) while I will be so happy to see my family, (2) it will be like taking a cold shower to return to the daily grind of work and domestic obligations (project deadlines, home task lists, bills to pay . . . when’s my next vacation again?). During winter, I get the added dread of (3) returning to the cold weather.

Reentry is so damn hard.

This time, to my surprise, I was pretty zen about leaving — and it wasn’t because I didn’t love every second of the retreat (I absolutely did). I think part of it is that I went in with the right attitude, and part of it was that this six-day-a-week practice has helped me deal with everyday stress to such an extent that returning doesn’t seem like such a hard landing.

I thought in this post I’d share a few ideas I’ve been kicking around this past week for how to make the most out of a dream yoga vacation — in other words, how to not dread the flight back.


The very first evening of our Xinalani retreat last week, Angela Jamison talked about how she likes to do daylong retreats that people experience in the middle of their normal lives. Retreats in spectacular getaways like this one, she said, can be challenging. If we become happy only because we’re in this space, we’re relying on circumstance-based happiness.

“What do you do when you when you leave?”

I don’t know that we ever returned to that question, but asking it on the first evening of the retreat was a sweet way to help each of us frame the retreat.

The last time I went away to a hypnotic place to practice yoga, it was 2011 and Mt. Shasta. I was with about 20 other yogis who were as thrilled as I was to have the chance to practice yoga and hike daily with Tim Miller. It was that retreat that kick-started my consistent six-day-a-week practice.

I’ve done weekend retreats to beautiful settings in Michigan, but a dormant volcanic and a beach-meets-jungle setting are my two anchors of going away — truly going away — to find something deeper. Based on these two experiences, I’ve thought about five possible ways to extend the fruits of your trip indefinitely.

1. Start the retreat like a sleuth on the trail of sparks of inspiration.
Flowers seen in the town of Yelapa, a short boat ride from XinalaniYou’re a detective, and the mystery is how you can make this trip last longer than your physical time there. The clues will show up in places large and small. I try to bottle up the space of feeling carefree that I’m experiencing, but in reality, that feeling can be so fleeting; the minute I get in that customs line back at home, I’ve long since forgotten what it feels like to not have a care in the world. So I try to collect momentos: I take pictures of clouds and waves, I blog about moments, and I record relaxing sounds. Far from enlightened, I need some concreteness to my inspiration.

 

2. Once home, use the inspirational sparks you’ve collected a little differently.

Xinalani rocksI used to look at beach pictures on my work desk and sort of sigh internally — if only I had won the lottery and were lying on that beach instead of sitting where I was. That is such an unproductive pattern of thinking, I realize now. I’m never going to win the lottery.

Or maybe I already have, time and time again, by being surrounded by incredible people day in and day out, and by finding this ashtanga practice.

These days, when I look at photos of paradises visited, rather than try to jump back into that picture, I try to pull out the essences of that place and time and import the feelings into my current space. That feeling of completely surrendering on the beach — I can’t have that at my desk, but can I drop my shoulder blades down my back and find a calming exhale?
Girl meditating via Viktor Egelund's Facebook pageA friend of mine shared a ridiculously cute photo of a little girl meditating a couple days ago, along with this Rumi quote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” That flip was helpful, and I started thinking about Xinalani and Mt. Shasta, and how maybe I can see these divine places not as thousands of miles away from me, but thousands of ways already part of me. (This probably obvious to most everyone reading this, but it was a revelation for me. 😉 Old mental habits are hard to break!)

3. Journal every day

Write a little something every day, whether it’s with a smooth pen in your favorite notebook or using an iPad. Your journaling doesn’t have to be related at all the to the retreat, but getting your thoughts on paper can be incredibly therapeutic.

4. Spend a little time alone every day

I think this tends to happen naturally during retreats, but if it doesn’t, then consider taking some time alone each day. I think this helps to focus your energies on you — what you’re experiencing, what you’re getting in touch with, what you’re trying to avoid.

5. Start a new habit during the retreat, and stick with it for at least 30 days after returning home, starting with your first day back

The day that you stopI think retreats are invaluable. I know they’re expensive, but saving up for them — like I did for this one, $25 at a time — is worth more than any material possession you can buy. To make it more than just an escape, I try to use the experience to plant new seeds on the levels of the body, mind and spirit. That might mean using the retreat to work on re-patterning how I think about one very specific thing (work, an old relationship, a new relationship, or whatever). It might be to start a new habit, like a regular asana practice or meditation schedule. It might be to forge better eating habits.

That said, don’t look at your whole lifestyle and decide you want to change it all at once on this one retreat. It’s not going to happen, and you’re setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Instead, pick one or two concrete things and run with it . . .

. . . and promise yourself — hold yourself accountable — that as soon as the plane touches down on the runway, you’re going to do whatever it was that you told yourself you would do. I’ve learned from very wise women in my life that trying something for a month or 40 days does wonders to help the habit stick.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

(Photo credit: Meditating girl, as shared on Viktor Egelund’s Facebook page; Self-destructive sign, as shared on the Love, Sex, Intelligence Facebook page)

© 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.

 

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.


 

 

 

 

 

Mysore Magic: A DVD for Ashtanga practitioners with desires and doubts

Mysore Magic screenshot

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source — Released 2012. Directed By R. Alexander Medin. Produced by R. Alexander Medin, James Kambeitz, Angie Swiec Kambeitz.

Yesterday was a treat — my personal Mysore Monday. Because I had the Labor Day holiday off, I was able to attend morning Mysore at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY: A2), which I can’t attend on a normal workday because I live an hour away. I closed out the day by watching Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source.

The film directed by certified teacher R. Alexander Medin, released early this year, clocks in at just 22 minutes and includes striking Mysore Magic:Yoga the Source filmfootage — taken inside the practice room of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Gokulam, Mysore — that’s woven into interviews with a range of compelling and articulate practitioners talking about why they were originally drawn to Mysore, and what the practice has done for them.

But the copy of the film I ordered a couple months ago indicates on the cover that this DVD is a new version, in that it includes six special features. The short film is quite well done — and, yes, it makes you want to book a ticket to India, stat — but for me, the gem of this 63-minute DVD can be found in the bonus features, which include segments on the following topics:

  • Guruji
  • Portraits
  • Family
  • History
  • Obstacles
  • Transformation

I was particularly drawn to the “Obstacles” section, in which you hear these oh-so-familiar thoughts spoken by different yogis:

  • “You are confronting your own shortcomings daily . . . “
  • “Some days are incredibly difficult to get up and go practice . . .”
  • “Whatever it is, it is guaranteed to come up in the practice  . . . “
  • “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.”

Sound familiar? I was wondering if perhaps they had actors reading from a script of thoughts that run through my head way too frequently. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about obstacles — and how to overcome them when you practice alone, at home, and don’t have the benefit of the energy of a Mysore room, much less the opportunity to travel to the source — thanks to the daily support I’ve been getting as part of a group of yogis, most of whom I’ve never met, who are part of the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. We meet in a little digital lounge where we can talk about our obstacles to practicing, help each other work through them, and generally cheer each other on.

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

In “Obstalces,” Kino MacGregor talks about her struggles in the practice. Yes, that Kino — the ubiquitous one who is all over social media, making everything look easy. The one who looks like she was born with a body made for this practice. The one who wears those trademark short shorts that make practicing things like arm balances even harder, because you don’t have fabric to use as friction.

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

I’ll note one of MacGregor’s quote because I think she’s probably the most well-known of the yogis in this section, between her videos, blog posts, tweets, Pinterest boards, and all the rest. Sitting comfortably in a Led Zeppelin tee, she tells the filmmakers:

What does strength mean? Where does it come from?
For me, that’s been a really big journey, actually, because I wasn’t strong when I practiced — not mentally, not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. So when I found this blockage in my practice — like, I couldn’t lift my butt off the ground — not at all in the beginning — I just remembered thinking, ‘What’s this about for me?’ And what does this say as a state of mind that I want to quit all the time? What does this say as a state of mind? Who is this person that can’t find any strength, that can’t, you know, accept this part of myself?

Fourth Estate

My first career was as a newspaper reporter, and I remember, early on, thinking that I was not fit for this field. I looked around at all these reporters who were tearing it up with A1 stories, investigative packages, beautiful long-form features. They seemed to me like they were born to do this — that they must wake up feeling confident every morning, that they have some uncanny ability to stroll into the newsroom around 10 a.m. and get their sources to spill by noon. Words seemed to flow out of their typing fingers as fast as coffee was streaming out of the newsroom coffee pot. Then I started to get to know people better. I started to learn about their sleepless nights. About the sacrifices they had made over the years to get their sources to trust them. I learned how some reporters would even get their doctors to prescribe Ativan when they were facing their toughest deadlines. Being part of the Fourth Estate — when done with integrity to ethics and dedication to the idea that citizens require information and truth to make informed decisions — can be hard. It was important to me to know I was not alone in feeling this way.

You are not alone, ashtangi

Back to Ashtanga yoga. It’s hard! This is not news. For some of us, it can be helpful to hear from people we think never had to work hard to achieve something, because it can make the endeavor seem more accessible. Some of us need to hear that nope, actually, these guys struggled too — and continue to struggle — just like the rest of us.

To be sure, there is also a kind of inspiration from knowing that someone else like you is still keeping at it and trying their best, despite their doubts, anxieties, frustrations, fears and everything else. Sometimes we get so beholden to our challenges that we lose all perspective. I think this is one way in which connecting with one another — whether over social media or by watching a DVD like this one — can support practices.

Checking out the film

There are renting options and purchasing options with the film — follow this link. I don’t believe renting the film — streaming it online for $4.99 — offers you the bonus features. It looks to me as if the DVD option, for $24.99, is the best way to go — and you should know that 50 percent of revenues go to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Charitable Trust.

Here’s a sampling of some discussions of the film when it originally came out.

If you watch it, I would love to hear what you think.

(Photo credit: Screenshot from Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source)

© 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.

 

 

 

‘Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina’: Maui and the early ashtangis

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Well, here I am at LAX during a three-hour layover. We boarded a red eye from Maui around 10 p.m. last night, and we’re scheduled to land in Detroit around 5 p.m. today. What this means is that the honeymoon is undisputedly over. I’m not coping with that fact very well — reentry into my normal life is going to be incredibly difficult — but I’m trying to not dwell on it.

While a honeymoon is not exactly the ideal time to savor books, during our six days in Maui, I at least finished the first section of Guruji: Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern. Since the book was published in 2010, I’ve been looking forward to having the time and space to delve into it. Maui was the perfect place to read the section on “The Seventies: How Ashtanga Came to the West,” since it seems that each interview in that first section involves Maui in some way, shape or form.

David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff both settled in Maui early on. Ricky Heiman hosted Guruji at his home on the island three or four times over the years. Tim Miller took over the Ashtanga shala in Encinitas, Calif., after his first teacher, Brad Ramsey, left for Maui. David Swenson recalls how he first got to Mysore, and the story — of course — involves Maui:

One day I got a call from David [Williams]. ‘David, this is David. Nancy and I are going to Msyore and we want you to take over all our classes for us while we are gone.’ And I’m thinking well, Houston, Texas, or Maui? Houston, Texas, or Maui? I was on the next plane to Maui.

And the yoga room there was basic, capital B. The floor was made from dirt, and on top of the dirt was carpet that we got from hotel rooms that were remodeled. We would just roll the carpet over the dirt floor. We built the room with eight walls like an octagon . . . .

Because of our lack of funds — we were a bunch of hippies living in tree houses and nobody really had much money — people used to just give us papayas and things for class. We stapled clear plastic on the roof as covering. This was a little silly but it was all we could afford. Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina. Lahaina in Hawaiian means ‘relentless sun,’ so this was basically a greenhouse, good for growing tomatoes. (p. 88-89)

It was there, in Maui, that David Swenson decided to make the trek to Maui.

So for our honeymoon, Scott and I stayed in a gorgeous hotel on West Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach, which is just north of the now artsy town of Lahaina. Lahaina is pretty hopping on Friday nights, and that’s when we visited town, strolling along the Front Street area. During our search for a particular ukelele shop (Scott’s quest, not mine), our walk took us past a yoga studio in a strip mall (no Ashtanga taught there — I checked). But overall, what a contrast to the ’70s scene described by David Swenson.

It’s always such a great reminder to hear the stories about how difficult it was for the first Westerners to find Ashtanga yoga — traveling overland to India, setting up yurts in seaside towns. We have it so easy now.

During our trip, I took our rental Jeep one morning for the roughly one-hour drive from our hotel to the town of Pa’ia, where, as far as I can tell, there are two places to practice Ashtanga — at the Ashtanga Yoga Maui Mysore Style and at Paia Yoga, both within a stone’s throw from each other. Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen is a few miles beyond this town. (I learned back in March when I met Nancy at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego that she would not be on the island when I was. Next time!)

Pa’ia is where Ricky Heiman first witnessed the Ashtanga yoga system in action. As he recalls in Guruji, he met Pattabhi Jois by accident in 1979 when Pattabhi Joi happened to be at a fruit stand in Kihei, on the island’s south side. Guruji’s hosts were:

. . . doing a workshop on the other side of the island, in an area called Paia, on their first trip to Maui. I went the next day to watch them do this practice. I was actually shocked, watching sixty, seventy people sweating like I never saw before, and this little gentleman jumping all over the room helping everybody. So it looked like a party to me. As I found out later, it wasn’t a party — it was hard work.

The Ashtanga practice is still incredibly hard work, but I am grateful that getting to the mat isn’t necessarily hard work anymore, thanks to enthusiasm and tenacity of these early ashtangis.

And finally, about Maui itself: Now that I’ve been there, I absolutely see the appeal. If I ever win the lottery — ha! — I’d be happy to add to the roster of ashtangis who pack up from the mainland and settle down on the island.

(Map credit: GoHawaii.about.com)

© 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.

Not a bad way to practice floating to bakasana

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My penultimate practice in Maui — at least on this trip. I have to get back here one of these days!

Here is how I practiced floating to bakasana this morning. Even though you might think being three floors up would scare me, that incredible view was just so inspiring. I pretended the breeze was waiting just beyond the glass to catch me as I floated into crane pose, a transition that happens in Ashtanga’s second series. I used a trick I learned from Tim Miller, which was to take a huge pillow to dampen my fear of face-planting. In this case, I used one of the hotel room’s couch cushions.

I found that with this set-up, it was very calming to practice floating into bakasana.

So my husband is about done grilling our burgers for our picnic. I’ll catch you later. Mahalo!

Hello from Maui

Hello — I mean, aloha — from Maui, in which I savor the fourth day of my honeymoon. (The gap in blogging represents the last several weeks of homestretch wedding planning. The wedding itself was this past Sunday, on May 20. It was a new moon that day, which I am told made for an auspicious day for nuptials. On a more practical level, I was thrilled to not have to get up before 5 a.m. to practice, since my hair appointment was brutally early at 7:45 a.m.)

Anyway, Wailea Beach is a stunning place to be. If you’ve been lucky enough to be here at some point, you know. If you haven’t been here yet, just add wind, sun, good vibes, the refreshing smell of salt water and a collective, deep sense of enjoying the moment to get the idea:

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I get how back in the day, ashtangis like David Williams and Brad Ramsey, who had the good fortune to be in SoCal, went to Maui and somehow decided to not leave. I mean, any place that makes Encinitas seem . . . well, just OK, is pretty amazing.

As a California girl now setting down roots Michigan, I feel deprived most of the time of vitamin D and the liberating sounds of a coastal town. But it’s more than that. I am most in my element in the heat — when my skin feels warm to the touch. I feel most capable of dealing with life’s challenges, and I feel most at peace. Not surprisingly, I have enjoyed, and appreciated, every minute Scott and I have been here in Maui. I mean, take a look at the view from Ashtana Yoga Maui Mysore Style, a relatively new studio in the town of Pa’ia:

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Pa’ia, by the way, is near where Nancy Gilgoff’s studio is located. Nancy isn’t in town at the moment, so I’ll have to miss out on feeling her shakti in her home studio this time around.

I’m not blogging to share honeymoon photos — that’s the other blog — I’m blogging to share a not totally formed thought on sense of place. Here’s my practice spot outside my hotel room:

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Crazy! I won’t lie — sustained dishti can be a challenge. You sort of want to let your eyes sweep the ocean view before returning to the focal point of your nose in up dog. As they would hashtag on Twitter, I know this is the stuff of #firstworldproblems. I would be happy to be challenged by this type of drishti distraction, and I honestly think it would feel like less effort to sustain the six-day-a-week practice.

But I don’t live in Maui. I no longer live in California. I live in the middle of the Mitten State. Being here has reminded me of how much place can matter, even if you have your mat as your daily refuge. It’s true that if you have your tristana, you have what matters. You could be surrounded by a mess of boxes and practicing on carpet, and none of that matters one iota, because you are doing the yoga practice that is liberating you incrementally, day by day.

But for me, going away is inspirational for the return to my home base. Much like I learned by going to Mt. Shasta last year, short trips away can help me shed layers of baggage I might have with the place that I have to call home — physically, where I live, and emotionally, in the mental spaces I inhabit. What I hope to bottle from Maui is that overarching sense that you can move a little slower on all fronts — starting with driving! — and still be living to the fullest.

P.S. — I just saved the draft of this post and told Scott, “I just wrote a blog post but I have no idea if it makes any sense or not.” Without skipping a beat, he said, “Who cares?”

:-)

Florence travel journal (part 5): Itineraries + essential guides + getting there

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 5: Itineraries + essential guides + getting there

This is the final installment of the barely tangentially related to yoga 😉 travel series on my trip to Firenze over New Year’s Eve. This one is all about getting there and getting around. (I would have finished it by now, except I’ve spent much of the past week KO’d by a bug I’m convinced we picked up on the flight from Amsterdam back to Michigan. As I’ve said elsewhere — I’m not complaining about this. All I wanted was to not be sick in Italy, and I felt great the entire trip.)

>>Getting there (or, why we <3 our travel agent more than we can tell you)<<

So here’s the deal. Scott and I have never ever used a travel agent. We were under the impression — that, we have found, many of our friends were under as well — you have to pay travel agents to do things you can do yourself online. Not true. We didn’t pay a dime to book our flight and hotel through our travel agent — and here’s the killer part — we paid half what we would have paid on our own. Half. We went online and checked a package that included the same number of nights at our hotel, on the same flight (departure and arrival day), and I’m not kidding, this trip was half that price. So, had we done this on our own, one of us would have gotten to take this trip (we joke that we both know which one of us would get to go), or we would have been able to afford three nights rather than seven.

We worked with Classic Travel based in Okemos, MIch. Joy Thrun and the excellent team at Classic Travel literally made this trip happen for us. Scott and I can’t thank them enough. And part of the reason, I think, is that Joy and her husband, Tom, truly love traveling, and sharing that passion. Here’s a snippet from the Classic Travel website:

Time flies when you are having fun. Probably the oldest cliché in the world, but for us at Classic Travel, it certainly holds true. It does not seem possible that we have been selling travel and all the exciting things that come with it for thirty one wonderful years. And thanks to you, our well-traveled clientele, we have had the pleasure of sharing in your globe-trotting adventures for the past quarter century.

Over this time we have witnessed events that have changed the world and impacted our industry. Travel is our business, but above all, it is our passion. We believe that travel contributes immeasurably to the overall quality of life. No matter how well traveled you may be, each trip you embark on brings knowledge and new experiences. Travel is continuing education and we will never run out of exotic places to go. One of the most precious rights that we have is the ability to move freely around this fascinating world of ours. To experience the diversity and richness of far away places creating memories that will last a lifetime, we are proud to be one of the most experienced travel companies in the entire industry, but we continue to grow in many different areas.

We also have to thank Sara Metz, whose trip to Morocco with her husband, Will (catch him live here), inspired me to ask her about traveling. She promptly put me in touch with Joy.

So if you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never visit Italy, I want to say that I didn’t think I’d get there either — at least not any time soon. Life works in strange ways sometimes. Stay realistic, but hopeful, that you’ll eventually find a way to make the trips you dream about.

And if you do go to Florence, here was our itinerary, along with some tips on finding the right guides.

>>Itineraries<<

We flew out of Detroit two days after Christmas, stayed all seven nights in Florence, but took the following day trips (one-way travel time by fast train in parenthesis):

  • Venice (two hours)
  • Rome (1.5 hours)

In addition, we devoted an entire day to taking a 12-hour tour aboard a comfortable bus that allowed us to visit the following towns in Tuscany:

  • Sienna
  • San Gimignano
  • Pisa

I don’t have travel stats to bear this out, but I have this idea that Americans tend to gravitate more toward Rome and Venice. Before this trip, I had very little sense of geography of this boot-shaped country, and probably would have been happy to spend seven days in any of these cities. After this trip, I thought Florence was the perfect — truly, the best — home base for me. It’s a compact but lively, walkable city (apparently it was once rough for pedestrians but has, thanks to car-free zones, become quite pedestrian-friendly — though you still have to watch out for that crazy Italian driving!). Florence is home to the Renaissance and a cultural cradle. Seeing Michelangelo’s David in person is awe-inspiring. You’re a hop and skip away from fascinating and gorgeous Tuscan towns. All the culinary Italian specialties I’m so enamored of — like tiramisu and pappardelle — have roots in the Tuscan region. What’s not to love?

>>Essential guides<<

Rick Steves’ Italy 2012

It got to be a joke at some point that every American we met on our travels toted a dog-eared copy of the Rick Steves Italy book like their travel bible. We bought Rick Steves this time because his London guide served us so well last year, and his Italy book proved to be every bit as useful as the London edition. In addition to the overviews, tips and details you need from a good guidebook, I really appreciated the extras — like the appendix that includes an annotated copy of an actual train ticket so you know what each part of the ticket says.

 

Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary

This pocket book was the one I pulled out of my purse most frequently. I’d argue that you need this compact little thing even if you get the Rick Steves country book. The phrase book has a menu decoder divided by theme — desserts, wine, etc. — and sections on hailing a taxi, getting a room, and so on. There are also handy Italian-English and English-Italian dictionaries tucked inside. I was happy to see that this book included phrases such as “I’m allergic to” (“Sono allergico[a] al…”) and “Sorry for the mess” (“Scusi per il pasticccio”).

 

Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Florence & Tuscany

This slim number was a wonderful reference to check on everything from masterpieces of art located in the Uffrizi Gallery to masterpieces of the culinary kind brought to your dinner table.

Great Eats Italy

I really liked this book for the introduction, which gives some great tips for finding good eats throughout Italy. The book then provides specific recommendations by neighborhood.

Hotel concierge

A guidebook can only get you so far. The concierge at the Grand Hotel Baglioni got us a reservation at what was, hands down, our best meal in Florence (Buca Mario). (By the way, there doesn’t seem to be a standard recommendation for tipping for concierge services, but I recommend tipping, especially if they book something for you.) This hotel, which is ridiculously centrally located and a place we really enjoyed, would normally be way out of our price range — see the travel agent section above on how we managed that.

Your tour guides

I highly recommend paying the extra however many euros it takes to see the Uffrizi and Accademia Gallery with a tour rather than on your own. For one thing, you skip the unbearably long line and go right in with your group. For another, especially if you’re traveling as a couple, it’s a nice way to get out of your couple bubble and meet fellow travelers. We met a great family from Pittsburgh on our Uffirzi tour, and if we’re ever in Pittsburg, we’ll be dropping them a line. Maybe we just got lucky, but every single one of our tour guides were awesome — full of character quirks and full of passion for their beautiful city. Tour guides are also great sources for general tips and restaurant recommendations.

>>Random travel tips<<

Some of my random travel tips:

Tell your friends, family members, colleagues and travel agent about your fantasy trips.

You never know if a tip they might hear about and send your way could get the ball rolling for a getaway. If you have the kind of lifestyle where you could leave quickly for a trip, sign up for notifications about last-minute deals. Ask around for good travel agent recommendations, and let them know your parameters.

Barter presents at home for better meals abroad.

This year, Scott and I agreed: No Christmas presents. Believe me, every bit we saved on that, we spent in Italy. Knowing that our families would insist on getting us Christmas presents, we told them about our plans, so that they could get us something related to the trip, thus decreasing our expenses that much more. Scott’s parents got us fantastic luggage that could handle the abuse of international travel, and my parents got us the gadgets that we couldn’t live without (namely, the converter for our iPhones and iPad) and a great Italian Berlitz CD set and computer program that taught us how to properly say, “Parla inglese?”

Avoid credit cards if it’s possible (and safe)

Credit cards typically charge you a percentage of each transaction (a small percentage, but it adds up quickly), so if you’re traveling in a pretty safe area, see if you can roll with cash. Exchange a chunk of currency before you go (in the Lansing area, we got great rates at Liberty Coin), limit the number of times you use the local ATMS, and try to avoid credit cards. Scott and I didn’t pull out our credit cards once in Italy — and again, every bit we saved on transaction fees, we spent on meals. :-)

Keep your info handy

Electronically saving your passport information via a scan using Google Docs, Evernote (thanks to Kate Tykocki for this idea) or by dropping in Dropbox, just in case you’re in a jam and need it. Perhaps online security experts will tell me this is a bad idea, but I think not having access to your info is also a bad idea. And hey, here’s a recent story about a guy who had to resort to using a copy of his passport scanned on his iPad to get back into the country — honestly, your personal odds of getting back into the U.S. with a scanned passport is probably a big fat 0.0 percent chance, but it’s an interesting tale if nothing else.

The little things

Ask your hotel concierge before you leave home how much a trip from the airport to the hotel by taxi should cost, so that you’re not scammed by drivers who claim a different flat fee (not all airports post the mandated flat fees).

Travel like you won’t be back

Rick Steves likes to say in his guidebooks that you should assume you’ll return. I think he’s saying it to encourage Type-A American travelers from rushing from point A to point B so much that they don’t actually experience the trip. I say, however, travel like you won’t be back — so if you are wondering what something tastes like, by all means, taste it. Spend the extra euros to skip the two-hour-long line to get into the museum, so that you’ll have two more hours to wander, explore and be surprised. You can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for as long as you need to when you return to make up for the extra little flourishes that you’ll remember for years to come.

>>Smart phones and iPads<<

Verizon vs. AT&T

Finally, if you are considering an iPhone or an iPad and don’t know whether to go with Verizon or AT&T, you might consider how important it is to you to be able to use the device when you travel abroad. Verizon and AT&T devices are built on different technologies, and AT&T devices are more likely to use the the same GSM technology used in European countries. When I bought my iPad, I chose AT&T over Verizon, and that was one of the main reasons. Before we left, we added an international data plan and took what we needed from the Apple World Traveler Adapter Kit my parents had gotten us. For more on this issue, because I don’t have the patience to think any more about it, see The New York Times‘ “How to beat roaming fees while traveling abroad.”

>>Worth the trouble?<<

There’s alway that moment in a trip abroad when I am remember how much work it is to travel. How awkward it can be. How exhausting. And then there’s always that moment when I remember why it’s worth all the trouble — all the scrimping and saving, all the research, all the harried, last-minute (in my case) packing.

At the end of our Uffrizi tour, Antonio, a very proud Florentine who spoke with a heavy Italian accent, said, “May you travel a great deal. The best money is spent on holiday.”

He is absolutely right.

As for us…I know we said we wouldn’t be heading back to Italy any time soon. That is true. But when we do, we already know the area we’re most interested in making our home base for exploring — with at least a day trip to Firenze, of course.

Arrivederci!

(Graphic credits: Florence’s Porcellino: Via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PorcellinoFlorence.jpg, Why this statue? Tuscany map: Screen capture of map from http://www.italyguides.it/us/italy/tuscany/tuscany-italy.htm. )

© 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.

Florence travel journal (part 4): Five romantic spots in Florence (and why I found Florence more romantic than Venice)

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 4: Five romantic spots in Florence (and why I found Florence more romantic than Venice)

Gelato and a carousel ride in the Piazza della Repubblica

Have a little post-dinner fun at a gelataria. Ask for a couple of tastes of gelato (“un assagio, per favore”) before settling on your choice. With Italy’s best gelato in hand, make your way to Piazza della Repubblica, a famous square where intellectuals used to pass the time. Take a carousel ride — if it’s not high season, you may get the carousel all to yourself — and then slide into one of the cafes on the square, where you can sink into some chairs and order a drink or two.

Atop the Duomo cupola at night

Walking up the 463 steps it takes to reach the pinnacle of Florence’s Duomo isn’t exactly foreplay — and nothing kills a lascivious mood like the dome’s horrific paintings of hell, which you view along an inner terrace before making the final ascent — but once you’re at the top, the journey is quickly forgotten. On a clear night, there’s no better way to have your breath taken away by this view — of both the city and your love interest.

Hotel Baglioni’s rooftop terrace restaurant with a view of the Duomo

Florence is a compact city, and Il Duomo is a constant presence, quietly but undeniably looming large. The enclosed rooftop terrace restaurant on the fifth floor of the Hotel Baglioni is a beautiful place for a romantic dinner. Make sure you request a window table before confirming the reservation, since there are a limited number of those prime seats. The evening view is perfect, but if a pricier bill (il conto) ruins the mood for you, book a lunch together instead.

Ponte Vecchio and other points along Fiume Arno under the moonlight

Area around Ponte Vecchio and Fiume Arno Take a nighttime stroll in the moonlight along the Arno River and the Ponte VecchioPonte Vecchio (Old Bridgeis Florence’s most famous bridge — a beautiful span over the river that divides Florence into its northern and southern areas. In the early days of the Ponte Vecchio, butcher shops lined the bridge, but they were ousted in the 16th century to allow goldsmiths and silversmiths to fill in those spaces.

I’ll admit I have a bias for this area. Around 3 a.m. after a night of celebrating New Year’s Eve, we decided we would head back to the hotel. But Scott suggested that we walk down by the river before we go. And when we crossed onto the Ponte Santa Trinita, a little bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio, he got on one knee and asked me to marry him. Our wedding’s been planned since August, but we’ve been joking that we need a better story of our nuptials-to-be. (The real story being that we were unromantically sitting on the couch one day and figured we should probably get married, buy a house, try to have a kid, all that good stuff.) Of course, I said yes. Fully and absolutely, yes. That moment by the river — it was the sweetest moment I could have asked for.

To be determined

There were lots of places I could have chosen for the fifth slot, including getting out of town and heading north to Fiesole or south to Siena for dinner. But I’ll leave this as a placeholder for you to find your own unique, not-guidebook-driven romantic spot.

Who’s the most romantic of them all?

Venice is so often touted as the romantic city in Italy. That wasn’t the case for me. Obviously, I spent far more time in Florence than I did in Italy, since we were only in Venezia for a day.

Not to take anything away from the city’s inherent beauty, its fascinating history and the lovely time couples from all over the world have on the narrow, winding stone paths, but the city as it stands now feels too touristy for me — too much of a Disneyland with ready-made moments of romance. It’s strange knowing that you’ll be surrounded by pretty much only two categories of people: tourists like yourself and local Italians who work in the tourism industry to ensure that tourists like yourself have a good time.

Venice had other factors going against it too — starting with the weather. It was cold, wet and overcast the day we paid a visit.

For me, though, perhaps the ultimate rub goes back to the fact that everyone says Venice is so perfectly romantic. I’m admittedly stubborn on some things, and I don’t like being told what to do or think or feel.

The Yoga Sutras talk about isvara pranidhana — translated so many different ways, with one being “surrendering to the divine.” Part of our yogic journey asks of us a huge, groundbreaking thing — being able to see beyond ourselves and let go. To surrender.

The backbending portion of the Ashtanga practice is one place where we can see a stark example of a surrendering process. The basic idea is that you have to learn to trust your teacher to dip you back toward a full backbend three times before you’re gently released to flow into the full form.

Here’s an example, recorded during Tim Miller’s two-week teacher training course last year:

If you don’t practice yoga, that dropback can seem almost harrowing. But I can attest that when you trust your teacher, there’s an immense sense of security and stability in a dropback. That’s the key — you have to trust your teacher, and your teacher has to be worthy of that trust. When that’s in place, the surrender is beautiful.

Back to romance and relationships. It’s not easy for all of us to let go and fully surrender into what a relationship has to offer. I don’t think I’ve been able to do that in the past — I was very selfishly gripping to my sense of self.

I’m ready now.

–>Read the other installments of this travel journal 

© 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.

Florence travel journal (part 2): Eating our way to culinary innocence

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 2: ‘A tavola non si invecchia.’(‘At the table, one does not age.’) On eating our way to culinary innocence

 

–>A tavola non si invecchia
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried
–>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)
–>Catch up with Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

>>’A tavola non si invecchia‘<<

I was born in New Orleans, where it’s said that locals are already thinking about the next meal before finishing the current one. So I love that there’s an Italian saying that goes, “A tavola non si invecchia,” which translates to, “At the table, one does not age.” When done right, food fuels the soul. Food brings us familiarity and comfort when we need it, surprise and inspiration when we’re ready for it. When done wrong, food can be soul-sucking — reminders of what’s lacking not just in our personal lives, but what’s wrong with the society in which we live.

What was so wonderful about eating these long, leisurely meals in Florence was that we got to experience how food is community. How strangers who don’t speak the same language can laugh together over something happening in the restaurant. How tourists can get a glimpse, however uninformed, about a region’s history through a simple meal.

A McDonald's billboard near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Needless to say, we didn't eat there.

In one short week in Italy, Scott and I enjoyed so many memorable meals. I think about our gastronomic journey as one that returned us to culinary innocence. As two people born and raised in America — a country that can, for the middle and upper classes at least, too easily be a land of excess and waste — we were reminded that abundance does not equal gluttony. Simple can be refined. Eating meat, when the animal in question was not as a matter of course raised and killed as part of an ugly and despicable industry, can feel joyful.

While we couldn’t take those meals back with us, we did take back with us the inspiration we felt while dining in Italy. Between the two of us, Scott is the only one who can actually put together a good meal. He’s an excellent griller, for instance. But left to his own devices, he too easily resorts to college-era habits of eating greasy, cardboard pizza. Most 11-year-olds probably have a better sense of how to work a kitchen than I do, and while I have good tendencies toward healthier foods, I also eat way too much in any given setting.

In any case, we’ve decided we are going to try to get ourselves into better dietary patterns. We’re excited to start trying to prepare meals together not as a chore, but as something to look forward to each week, much like our salsa dancing lessons. We’ll start with very, very simple dishes, such as cooking pasta and adding a couple dashes of white truffle oil, and going from there.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing<<

In restaurants around Florence, you have an antipasti (appetizer), followed by a primi piatti (first course, usually a pasta) and the secondi piatti, a second, usually meatier course (or fishier, depending on the region you’re in). Some places offer a vegetable with the main dish, and at others, you have to order a separate contorni (side). I always loved it when fried artichokes was on the menu as a side — Italians do beautiful, beautiful things with artichokes (carciofi). Then, of course, there’s dessert, such as cantucci with Vin Santo, followed by — if desired — espresso and perhaps a digestive liqueur (digestivo) such as limoncello, if you want sweet and refreshing, or grappa, if you want quite the opposite.

Here are five dishes I’m already missing.

Pappardelle di cinghiale

I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.

It’s my favorite pasta of all time — topping even gnocchi, which is saying quite a lot. The first time I had pappardelle was, funny enough, in Miami, at an absolutely fantastic Italian restaurant (Hosteria Romana, if you are ever in the area). I loved pappardelle on first bite. (No matter what the cuisine, I like my noodles flat and wide. In Chinese cooking, I’ve preferred dishes with the big flat rice noodles for as long as I can remember.)

Unless I’m going to all the wrong joints, it’s rare to find pappardelle in the U.S. I bought some pappardelle back with me from Florence, though I know we won’t be having it di cinghiale, the traditional preparation with wild boar sauce.

>>Where I had my favorite pappardelle di cinghiale: Where didn’t I love pappardelle di cinghiale? But if I had to choose, I’d have to split it as a tie between: Buca Mario in Florence and Trattaoria del Pennello in Florence. And, although not made with wild boar meat and sauce, a special shout-out goes to Peperoncino in Florence, which didn’t have pappardelle di cinghiale on the menu but made a custom order of pappardelle for me.

Bistecca alla fiorentina, or a steak for a giant?

So there’s a special breed of cattle found in Tuscany called Chianina. They have distinctive long, white hair. Chianina make incredible bistecca alla fiorentina, which looks like a T-bone steak cut for a giant. I didn’t order it myself, but I tried it when Scott ordered it. It was simple and perfectly cooked — amazing.

>>Where I had my favorite: Buca Mario in Florence

Fagioli all’Uccelleto — only Tuscans can do beans like this

It sounds kind of unsexy, but the bean dishes offered by Tuscan restaurants are excellent. One of our guidebooks said Tuscans are nicknamed mangiafagioli, bean-eaters, because of their fondness for these beans. The SmarterFitter blog has an interesting take on — along with a good recipe for — Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero.

>>Where I had my favorite: Pangie’s in Florence. I wish I could remember the name of the actual antipasti, but Pangie’s lathered olive oil on a large piece of bread, topped the bread with a green that tasted like a cousin of spinach, and put the beans on top of all that. It probably doesn’t sound very good, but somehow all the ingredients come together to leave your taste buds with an unexpected and very welcome pop.

Crostini with porcini mushrooms (or really, anything al funghi)

I had a piece of out-of-this-world crostini (small rounds of toasted bread brushed with olive oil) topped with a delicate but intense spread I couldn’t even begin to describe. It was made from porcini mushrooms and if I could bottle that stuff and ship it to Michigan, I would in a heartbeat. Incredibly, I also had crostini with chicken liver pate that didn’t make me want to throw up. (I have a visceral reaction to how liver smells, and after having it once as a young child, I’ve never been willing to try anything with liver again — until now. Whatever these restaurants did to the liver pate to make it tolerable crostini — and perhaps even slightly enjoyable — I’ll never know.) People say Tuscan cuisine manages to make tripe — which is also found in Chinese cuisine, which is how I know I don’t like it — tolerable as well, by stewing it with tomatoes, sage and parmigiano cheese. Despite the reviews of Tuscan preparations of tripe, I still had zero interest in trying it.

>>Where I had my favorite crostini: Ciro & Sons in Florence

And so ends the search for the perfect tiramisu

About 10 years ago, I decided that I loved tiramisu enough that I would start a worldwide quest to find the best tiramisu. Since tiramisu is the most classic of Tuscan desserts — made of ladyfingers, mascarpone and coffee — it’s not surprising that in Tuscany, you don’t have to search too long for a gorgeous execution of tiramisu. I had two of the best expressions of this dessert that I’ve ever had, two nights in a row. One seemed to be a more traditional, homemade preparation. It had the perfect consistency and taste. The other seemed to put a modern twist on the dessert. I loved them both, and I’ll always think of those bites I enjoyed whenever I have my OK tiramisu in American restaurants.

>>Where I had my favorite tiramisu: Tie. Buca Mario in Florence and Ciro & Sons in Florence

I’m also missing pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese that’s aged for two months and has, to me, a sharp edge. And then there’s cantucci, a small, hard, almond cookie that’s the Tuscan version of biscotti. In Florence, many restaurants offer a dessert of cantucci and Vin Santo, a sweet wine you dip the cantucci into to soften it up so it’s perfect for consumption.

But where’s…

Are you wondering if I forgot about the gelato? Many people think Italy has the world’s best ice cream, and that within Italy, gelaterias in Florence do it better than anyone. I have to admit that I don’t love gelato! I really like it, but don’t go gaga over it.I know this is hard to believe, but I prefer high quality, creamy small-label ice cream choices in America, such as lavender ice cream from Jeni’s in Columbus, Ohio. My single favorite flavor of ice cream might be green tea cream.

We did stop by one shop near the Arno River for some gelato. I got hazelnut (Italians know their hazelnuts!), and it was delicious to be sure. But I didn’t really seek out the best gelato, so sorry, no recommendations. You’ll have to visit and find out for yourself.

Like some other European countries, dinner starts later in Italy — around 9 p.m. One of the many ways to out yourself as an American tourist is to head over to a restaurant at 7 p.m. for dinner. I also like to eat dinner pretty late, which runs counter to eating well in the United States unless you’re in New York or L.A. It’s always a treat to be in a place where late dining is the norm, so while not a specialty, I will also miss this aspect of Tuscan dining.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried<<

In a shop near Ponte Vecchiowe picked up Tuscany at the Table, a great little book that talks about the history of dishes from Tuscan province and offers recipes from each locale. (I’d link it for you, but I looked the book up on Amazon, and don’t see it.) Of the many interesting tidbits I’ve learned from this book is that Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt. That would explain why, if there was one thing we didn’t love in Tuscany, it was the bread. It seemed to lack some flavor. I had assumed this was because Tuscans viewed bread as a vehicle to sop up sauces. But this book explains that:

Olive oil reigns supreme in the dishes often accompanied by Tuscan home-style bread, strictly salt-free. The origin of this usage dates from the 12th-century, when Florence and Pisa struggled for supremacy. The Pisans closed their ports to the Florentines for the salt trade, and they responded merely by breaking bread that is ‘sciocco,’ without a grain of salt.      

Not surprisingly, the book has a whole chapter on wine and talks about how, beginning in the 15th century, the production of Chianti was governed by precise procedures dictated by the “Chianti League.” Panoramic wine tours are now offered along 14 routes of the “Strade el Vino.” There are the well-known reds of Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Solaia, Tignanello and Brunello di Montalcino. Did you know this region produces white wines and roses? They include Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Bianco di Pitigliano, Val di Cornia and Rosado di Toscana Igt.

So, here are five Tuscan specialties mentioned in this book that I would have loved to have tried:

  • Marzolino — another type of sheep’s milk cheese
  • Budino di riso — sweets with a rice-pudding center and sugar on top
  • Baccaialata — Salted cod cut in strips, dressed with tomatoes, chopped onions, carrots, garlic, celery, pepper, olive oil and parsley, and baked
  • Topini (“little mice”) — A smaller variation of potato gnocchi
  • Gnochi mes’ci di castagne — Rectangular-shaped gnocchi made of chestnut flour, excellent dressed with olive oil and grated pecorino  

>>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)<<

A major theme for me in 2011 was struggling with how to close the gap between wanting to consume healthier food and actually changing the way I eat. I have frequent discomfort most days of the week from acid reflux and a feeling of bloatedness.

In Florence, even when keeping with the local tradition of two- to four-hour meals and even while eating a ton of carbohydrates in the form of pasta, my acid reflux barely bothered me and my digestive complaints stayed mostly under control.

What happened?

My theories include:

    • We ate better food, period. Our very first dinner in Florence was at Buca Mario (which I highly recommend, if you ever go), a nice restaurant, where everything was homemade and the ingredients were fresh. It was then that I realized how odd it was, after a large meal, to feel clean as a whistle, digestively speaking.
    • The bigger the meal, the slower we ate, allowing for ample time to digest.
    • When we ate, we focused on the experience of eating. We weren’t at our desks working. We weren’t watching TV.
    • We were on vacation. No deadlines! No emails. I wasn’t stressed. I think this is huge. Even though food is my main concern right now, I feel as if stress contributes significantly to my acid reflux.)
    • I didn’t eat any processed foods. When we did eat cheaply and on the go, it was still something like a panini — something that, while the ingredients were hardly great, had been made earlier that day. (By the way, in Italy, if a restaurant offers something on the menu that’s been frozen before, this item has to be marked with an asterisk. How amazing is that? Can you imagine how many crappy restaurants here would have to star their entire menu?)
    • We were usually doing something — walking somewhere, on a train headed somewhere, looking at something, etc. The point being that we were usually engaged and therefore not in a position to snack. My biggest problem when I’m at the office all day is grazing. At home, I’m trying to do better, but there is definitely snacking going on.
    • I didn’t have eggs in the morning. Our hotel offered a lovely and free breakfast buffet. The mornings I stuck to croissants, meat, cheese and fruit, I felt fine. The one morning I had eggs, I did not feel so fine. I will have to continue to experiment with this one to see if cutting out eggs does indeed help me.

There are two that I consider truly inspirational when it comes to cooking. One is my ancestral home of Thailand, which I have been to and hope to return to some day. The other is Italy. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to visit Italia for the first time and bring back all these lessons from the dining tables there.

>>In this series:

© 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.

Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

 

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 1: Firenze, Italia as home base

–>Trip snapshot

–>Five sketches from Florence and Tuscany:

–>A word about the travel journal
–>Future posts in this series

>>TRIP SNAPSHOT<<

Some visitors to Italy fall in love with Venice. Others fulfill their dreams by making a pilgrimage to Rome. For me and my finance, Scott, the trip of a lifetime took us to Firenze, Italia, our home base for a seven-night visit that included New Year’s Eve. We walked and ate our way around Florence and left the city limits for a day to peek into some of the hill towns of Tuscany. Thanks to frecce alta velocita, Italy’s low-carbon-footprint and fantastically fast train line, we also got day-trip glimpses of cities to the north and south that capture so many imaginations.

Italy is a country we have independently longed to visit, and what better time than half a year before our wedding, after which time it’ll be…well, time to settle down. This was our chance to make sure we would never have to say, “If only we had…” It was our honeymoon before the honeymoon — a chance to revel in the kinds of culinary beauty and artistic genius that only Italy can offer, and an opportunity to take some of that inspiration back with us to deepen the hues through which we view the world.

Scott and I unloaded our suitcases not too long ago — we’re back home later than scheduled, thanks to a delayed departure in Florence, a near missed connection in Amsterdam and unfavorable headwinds back across the Atlantic. But of course we’re already asking ourselves if we’ll ever return. We hope so. To help our odds, before we left Florence, we paid homage to a popular bronze statue of a wild boar and did as many visitors do — slipped a coin into the mouth of the cinghiale, rubbed its snout and made a wish to return to the city that historically was the cradle of Renaissance arts and personally has become a cradle of new shared memories.

I’m starting this travel series with five sketches from our week there. Check back for future blog posts that will include:

>>Five sketches about Florence and Tuscany<<

463 STEPS
Not for the weak of heart (physically or romantically): What a cathedral whose dome became the model for Renaissance domes can teach us about confidence and faith

On our very last evening in Florence, we capped off our trip by climbing the 463 steps up to the cupola of Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), Florence’s stunning Gothic cathedral. What makes this cathedral remarkable is not just that the dome, which took 14 years to build, was the first Renaissance dome, or that it was the largest since Rome’s Pantheon. What’s incredible to me is the story that’s told about the cathedral — that it was originally constructed with a gaping hole where the dome would go, because no one quite knew how to create a dome that could span that space. Can you imagine the immovable belief that things will all work out? And indeed, things did work out, because architect Filippo Brunelleschi came up with an ingenious double shell construction in which the skeleton of a dome was filled in by interlocking bricks fashioned together in a herringbone pattern. This created a dome that relied on its own support as it grew slowly upwards.

Not surprisingly, the 463-step trek up is winding, steep and claustrophobic (there are several passes so narrow you get pretty intimate with tourists making the return journey), and there’s really not much of a warning about any of that when you slide over 8 euros (about $11) for the entrance ticket. I would have expected an impossible-to-miss notice for anyone who is pregnant or has a heart condition, but perhaps that is the overly cautious American in me.

Neither the guidebooks nor Duomo officials adequately prepare you for the trip up — or for the view at the pinnacle. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a perfectly clear evening and marveled at the Campanile, the 270-foot bell tower designed by Giotto. Walking around, we could see the Accademia, where David — created by Michelangelo Buonarroti when he was just 26 — is showcased. Here were all the avenues lined with holiday lights and over there was the Uffrizi Gallery, where you can find Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We could easily see Santa Croce Church, famous for housing the tombs of Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo. We slipped one euro into the binocular stand and looked with disbelief into the windows of the rooftop restaurant where we had enjoyed our divine New Year’s Eve dinner a couple nights before.

After the initial shock of this perfect view, it seemed most couples realized the romance of the winds and the perch, and shared quick kisses or longer expressions of their gratitude for each other.

>>IF YOU GO. We started the climb about an hour before the last entry, and we’re pretty sure we got lucky with the best possible conditions anyone could have walking up. Florence’s high season is April though October, although July and August can be unbearably hot. It must be a snail’s pace up to the top when the crowds are in town, and I’m sure temperatures rise accordingly in those narrow corridors. After this trip, Scott and I are sure we prefer traveling during a destination’s off season, even if it means cooler temperatures and higher chances of some closures. No matter what the season, if you go, take into consideration whether you want a daytime or nighttime cityscape, and get in line very early in the day or late in the evening. Make sure you’re hydrated going up (that’s the yoga teacher in me), but not so much so that you’ll need to use the bathroom any time soon.

>>LESSONS FROM THE CLIMB. Rick Steves describes the Duomo climb in his guidebook as “463 plunges on a Renaissance StairMaster,” but the journey reminded me less of exercise and more of a journey of faith that all these stairs were leading somewhere worthwhile. You’re placing your feet on each stony step, unable to see ahead and cognizant of the futility in looking back. I had this same type of feeling many times during Hilltop Yoga’s tough 300-hour yoga teacher training program, when I was wondering whether I should stop the emotional and physical gauntlet — a good yoga teacher training program provokes some heavy and often unwanted self-reflection — and turn around. But after the formal program ended and I taught my first Ashtanga class — after I saw the practice of yoga from that vantage point — I knew it had been the right journey.

If you’re ever in Florence, take the climb up, and see what the journey evokes for you.

WHO NEEDS A CAPPUCCINO
Try the cioccolata calda instead

Americans do not know how to appreciate hot chocolate. Italians do. People always talk about Italy and the espresso and cappuccino available there. But what about the hot chocolate? The first time I ordered a cioccolata calda I looked around to see if anyone else was drinking the same thing, and whether they were pouring milk or something in the cup to cut it. I couldn’t accept the fact that the beautifully thick, smooth molten chocolate inside this cup was mine to enjoy as is. What do Italians do when they visit the United States and have their first cup of hot chocolate? Crying seems like an appropriate response. I might not mind winter in Michigan so much if we had this kind of creamy expression of warmth. (OK, I’d probably still mind just as much, but it would at least be a little something to look forward to on the coldest days.)

>>IF YOU GO. Try cioccolata calda in Siena at the Caffe A. Nannini. And by the way, about cappuccinos — for Italians, it’s a breakfast drink. Restaurants will serve it all day if that’s what tourists want, but if you want to do as the locals do, only order this frothy goodness in the morning.

>>LESSONS FROM THE SIPS. Too often, I try to split the difference. In my brief visit, I found that Italian culture fosters making a commitment — whether it’s heavy hot chocolate or a three-hour dinner — and that, in turn, can allow you to live more fully in the moment.  

WILD FOR WILD BOAR
Giving something a (second, third, fourth…) chance

Cinghiale (cheeng-GAH-lay), wild boar, is a noted Tuscan specialty. I’ve never loved the other white meat (though as you know, I’m having issues with the main white meat these days), but when I paid a visit to Memphis a couple of years ago and had ribs down there, I understood, for the first time, the appeal of ribs. Following in the same spirit, I gained a new appreciation in Florence for prosciutto (cured ham), salami and cinghiale. When done right, these meats have a refined and comforting flavor. My single favorite dish from the entire trip (more on that in the next blog post) was pappardelle di cinghiale, wild boar with Tuscany’s extremely wide, flat ribbons of pasta.

>>IF YOU GO. Unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t be afraid to try cingahle in a few of the various forms available — in pasta, as salami, as a main dish or in a stew. If you hate it, at least you’ll know you gave it all the chances it deserved.

>>LESSONS FROM THE BITES OF BOAR. Location, location, location. I’ve learned that about so many things now — that you risk missing out on something pretty cool if you are too quick to write something off when you haven’t tried it in the right context.

THE TOWN OF SIENA IS DELIGHTFUL 
Who wants prenup?

Drive 35 miles south of Florence and you’ll hit Siena, Florence’s historic archrival and interestingly the first European city to ban automobile traffic from its main square. Siena is, in a word, delightful. An intense horse race called Palio di Siena is held twice every year on the grounds of Il Campo, the town center.

Our local tour guide explained that the city is comprised of 17 neighborhoods, or contradas. It sounds as intensely tribal as a city can get. Each contrada has its own church and fountain (and sometimes museum too), along with its own flag, a mascot (our tour guide made sure we knew she was from the rhinoceros group) and a rival neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a horse that, if chosen by lottery (the town center can only accommodate 10 horses out of the 17), runs the Palio di Siena. It’s a bareback race, and the first horse to cross the finish line — with or without a jockey still hanging on — wins.

Laughing, our tour guide also explained that two people from different neighborhoods who get married will sometimes determine their children’s allegiances in a prenuptial agreement. That sounds to me like a Michigan State University fan and a University of Michigan fan signing a prenup determining if the kids will wear blue or green. Incredible.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t breeze through town like a tourist, reading the guidebook and looking at buildings and architecture. You have to talk to local residents to realize why this town sparkles. I know that’s true of pretty much any place worth traveling to, but it’s so true here.

>>LESSONS FROM THE TOWN. That I need to go back to spend more time there.

 CARING ABOUT CARBON FOOTPRINTS
That’s the ticket

Floating around one of our guidebooks as a bookmark is my Venice fast train ticket. Right on the ticket there’s a number — 26 Kg — that’s confusing if you’re not used to taking these trains. It turns out this number indicates the estimated amount of CO2 saved by taking this particular trip you’ve just paid 43 euros for. The trip we took to Rome — also at 43 euros each way for second class — saved 32 Kg of CO2 each way. What a sensible idea — telling people in concrete terms how the decisions they are making right now are making a difference right now.

I also learned on this trip that Smart cars — which as you can image are ubiquitous in this part of the world — can also park perpendicular to the curb, as seen here:

People say Italian drivers are crazy. After this trip, I see why and while I agree, I’d add that they are crazy skilled. It’s beyond me how people can drive even small cars through some of these narrow streets, navigate confusing city-center traffic-free zones, snake their way into a too-small parking spot, not kill anyone along the way, and keep their cool the whole time.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t rent a car. Period. Let professionals (taxi drivers, bus drivers and train conductors) get you from point A to point B.

>>LESSONS FROM THE RIDES. Every single trip I’ve made to Europe (I’m up to four now) has underscored how much farther the U.S. could be when it comes to public transportation. The technology is there — we just have to care enough to put the policies into place that would make it happen.

>>A word about the travel journal<<

I’ve long wanted to follow up my various trips with blog posts that offer something of a yoga-themed travel journal, but it simply hasn’t happened, mostly due to time constraints, I suppose. On this trip, I spent seven hours on fast trains getting to and from Venice and Rome, and nearly 20 hours on planes to and from Florence — so I had time to start in on some blog posts before returning home. I hope that with this post, I’ll start to make it a point to do similar types of guides when I travel — some heavier on yoga and others, like this one, much less so.

If you’ve been to this region, please share your experiences and tips in the comments! I would love to hear about your trips, whether yoga-related or not.

Ciao, till the next post.

© 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.

Buon 2012

20120101-235012.jpg

Buon anno from Firenze, Italia. We arrived in Florence on Wednesday, and it’s hard to believe that last night, we rang in the new year in this vibrant city. We have two full days left and I intend to soak up as much as I can during that time. On the plane ride back across the Atlantic, I’ll start writing up a blog post about some of the tastes, sights and sounds from the trip. For one thing, I have to emote about pappardelle al cinghiale, bistecca fiorentina and porcini anything.

20120101-235142.jpg In the meantime, a short note to say that my first practice of the year was in my hotel room — a quiet practice punctured only by the bells of Santa Maria Novella, the church nearby. I’ve practiced yoga in a lot of surreal spaces — perhaps most notably in the inner sanctum of a Masonic lodge in Vancouver. No matter where I am, it’s fair to say I never feel far from a feeling of gratitude that I have access to this life-altering practice. The farther from home I am, the more I’m reminded of the portability and flexibility of the eight limbs of yoga.

How was your first practice of the year?

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The sixth time’s still the charm

I’m writing this at half past midnight, thinking about how later today, I’ll be heading to Chicago for Tim Miller‘s workshop at yogaview (yes, the studio’s name is lowercase). This will mark the sixth time I’m getting to see Tim since I took my first workshop with him in April 2010. Getting to see your teacher three times a year doesn’t seem nearly frequent enough, but on the other hand, I am grateful for every opportunity (and sadly, three times a year is actually more often than I get to see my family out in California in a typical year).

Three times a year means three chances to be reinspired, reinvigorated and infused with a greater level of subtlety in the Ashtanga vinyasa practice. It always seems that I leave a visit with Tim with enough inspiration, energy and experiences/ideas to tide me over until the next time I see him.

The Confluence Countdown recently did a post on what you can learn from a workshop you don’t attend, and I liked that idea. In a similar vein, then, what follows are the descriptions (exactly as written on the yogaview website) for each of the workshops being offered this weekend. I think it’s the same schedule as last year when I attend Tim’s workshop at yogaview, and — much like the Ashtanga practice itself — the fact that a workshop’s theme is the same hardly means it will be repetitive to me. I learn so much each time — maybe I pick up on stuff I missed before or maybe I am able to connect with something a different way based on more recent developments in my life. Our bodies and minds are always in constant states of flux, and that affects our perception of, and therefore our experience of, a yoga training of any kind.

I always seem to have at least four or five blog posts kicking around in my head. One that I’m getting close to writing has to do with what draws us to certain teachers. I’ll put some more thought into this topic this weekend. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear what you think are the most important qualities of a good teacher — yoga, martial arts, sports, academics, or otherwise.

In any case, without any further ado, here’s what I’ll be spending my time engaged in this weekend:

Ashtanga Yoga with Tim Miller
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient and powerful discipline for cultivating physical, mental and spiritual health. Progressive techniques of breath, posture and movement, cleanse, stretch and strengthen the body as well as focus and calm the mind. A deeper experience of the self becomes possible through consistent practice.

Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Tim has a thorough knowledge of this ancient system, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. “My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.” Tim teaches workshops and retreats throughout the United States and abroad.

Roots and Wings – The Mysterious and Elusive Bandhas
Please join us as we explore the application of bandhas to a variety of asanas as a way of enhancing concentration, stability, comfort, alignment, and lightness. We will also use a variety of pranayama techniques to explore the connection of breath to bandhas and a refined sense of awareness.

Primary Series as an Archetype for Practice
This class will explore the philosophy of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras combined with an in depth examination and practice of Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series: Yoga Chikitsa.

Adjustments Clinic and Q & A
Open to all interested in deepening their knowledge of the use of adjustments and alternative approaches to asanas found in the Ashtanga system. Examine problematic asanas and patterns and explore how adjustments and modifications can enable freedom and balance

The Heroic Journey – Sadhana as an Exploration
Please join us for this invigorating improvisational vinyasa flow class addressing the layers of the self (the koshas) using asana, pranayama, mantra, and sacred poetry.

The Art of Breathing
This class will focus on cultivating a deeper sense of the breath as it applies to our practice. We will continue to explore the subtle, yet powerful, use of pranayama techniques. At the heart of Vinyasa the proper use of the breath enables a sense of freedom and ease in our practice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

 

 

 

 

Ashtanga yoga — apparently, now there is actually an app for that

Michael Gannon Yoga releases iPhone/iPad app
(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)

Mexico-based world traveler and Ashtanga yoga instructor Michael Gannon announced on his website over the Labor Day weekend that he has released the first Ashtanga Yoga Mobile App for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The app, available through the iPhone App Store, costs $2.99.

Features include:

  • Content for beginners and advanced students alike.
  • A free option to download the information from the app into PDF format on your computer.
  • Technical support from NakedBuddha.org, a techie firm (tag line: “the new age just grew up”) whose aim is to “improve people’s psychological and emotional well being by the use of digital products and services.”

YogaRose.net, curator of the just-launched Ashtanga Yoga + Socia Media Grid that includes Gannon in the database of digitally connected ashtangis, wonders if this will make your must-have app list.

(Image via MichaelGannonYoga.com)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Mt. Shasta –>Work (Why is reentry so hard?)

It’s been way too long since my last blog post, which I wrote on the last day of my Mt. Shasta-based Ashtanga second series retreat. It was such a luxury to have the time to hike, take bubble baths (!), start each day with two-and-a-half hours of yoga and write a daily blog post. I returned home last Monday evening and went to work the next morning. I can summarize the time since with just one word.

Slammed. 

Work has been so intense. (I always say that, and it is nearly always true.) Yesterday, in the midst of other looming deadlines, my colleagues and I helped staff four concurrent news conferences aimed at getting more kids enrolled in one of the state’s free or low-cost health insurance programs. (By the way, if you know any family who would benefit from this program, please help spread the word. About 127,000 children across Michigan don’t have health insurance.) It’s been really, truly rewarding to work on this project. But it has admittedly consumed so much of my time of late, and it’s just one of several projects I have right now with lots and lots of moving parts.

No matter what you come back to, I’ve found that the post-yoga-getaway period triggers the same realization time and again: reentry is hard. In a retreat setting, you’re not in many situations that test your level of reactivity. I mean, what was confrontational about Heart Lake in the Mt. Shasta region? When you return to your daily grind after this, it’s especially jarring every time your reactivity is tested — whether it has to do with deadlines queuing up or things not going according to plan.

In any case, though I’ve had radio silence here, I did squeeze in some updates over on the YogaRose.net Facebook page — such as the news that the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is now sold out (hope you got in, if you had wanted to get in!). I also shared that news with the Ashtanga Yoga Professionals group on the professional social networking service LinkedIn. If I had had more time (I already don’t get enough sleep as it is), I would have done a blog post by now about how there is still room in Tim Miller’s October trip to Tuscany (please note this link opens as a PDF).

Even when I’m too swamped to produce much of my own personal social media pushes, though, I still consume when I can. One of the many reasons I love social media is that it keeps me connected to ashtangis around the world. And it has seemed that the more I’ve had to hunker down over the past several days, the more Steve and Bobbie over at the Confluence Countdown have been stepping it up in terms of blog post volume and frequency. And thank goodness, because I needed something for my post-Shasta fix.

Have I mentioned that reentry is hard?

P.S. — This has nothing to do with Ashtanga yoga, but now that I have you here, maybe you’ll want to check out the public service announcement about Enroll Michigan and getting kids signed up for MIChild or Healthy Kids. Anything you can do to spread the word could really end up helping a family in need.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Departures and arrivals

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As I am starting to write this post — with just one minute left until midnight — I just received a text from a fellow Mt. Shasta retreater saying she just arrived where she was headed to. She sounds happy but tired, which is how I feel as well, sitting with my sister and my brother-in-law in their living room. Our retreat officially ended this morning with what’s become known as a circle of tears. A box of Kleenex gets passed around, and tears are shed as each retreat participant offers a few words about their week. Once eyes are dried, everyone grabs a quick breakfast in the garden across from our lovely hotel and then zips back to their room to pack. In between, several rounds of goodbyes are shared and Facebook friend requests are made from our mobile phones before we finally face the reality that we have to leave.

In my case, I had more than five hours of driving to do so that I could see my sister, who just so happens to be celebrating her birthday today. It’s been years since I’ve been able to be with my sister on her actual birthday, and I am grateful for this chance this year.

I didn’t post at the end of Friday, the final full day, because too much was going on. Too many great late-night conversations. I have thoughts from today but I’ll have to owe you a raincheck on that too.

Suffice it to say that this retreat ended without ending — for each of us as individuals, and for this blog space. I’ll be posting more about the retreat as soon as I get some time. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep checking out Steve and Bobbi’s blog posts about the first week of the retreat.

Final thought for now: if you’ve never been to this retreat but have had your curiosity piqued, it’s never too early to start plotting how to get here and experience Mt. Shasta with Tim Miller for yourself next year. Check out the info on this year’s retreat, along with contact info for more information. Mt. Shasta is one of those places where it’s about the journey, yes, but about the destination too.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Feeding the body, mind and spirit: An exercise in less is more

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On the first day of this Ashtanga yoga retreat held in the sacred space of California’s Mt. Shasta region, Tim Miller explained the itineraries for yoga practices, open discussions, hiking trips and — last but not least — meals. He told us the retreat aims to feed our body, mind and spirit.

We have been fed in abundance when it comes to fodder for the mind and spirit. Not so when it comes to sustenance for the body.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve eaten very well, with breakfast buffets that have included yogurt parfaits, lunches with veggie goat cheese wraps and dinners featuring risotto and corn cakes. What’s key, however, is that we’ve been fed, but not overfed.

The result? With just a day and a half left in this weeklong retreat, my gastrointestinal system feels better than it has in a long time. My acid reflux hasn’t acted up at all. My little purple pills — my prescription Nexium — have stayed in the little Altoid case I use to hold my assortment of reflux pills, vitamins, and the like.

I’m not the worst eater you’ll find — it’s not as if I live on fast food back home — but I am not the poster child of someone who maintains an enviable diet either. With the exception of the occasional omelet or scrambled egg plate, I don’t cook. If I do make something for myself at home, it’s most frequently achieved by assembling wraps, sandwiches and the like.

But my real downfall when it comes to food is portion size. I have that skewed American perspective of what constitutes an acceptable meal. It’s the perspective that makes us as a society view plates of food the way you might see things in a carnival funhouse — totally out of proportion. This was totally driven home to me during a visit in 2005 to Thailand, where my parents were raised. The portion sizes all seemed to be about a quarter of the typical American meal.

And yet I returned from that trip and continued eating the way I aways have.

This week, however, I have avoided getting seconds when that’s been an option, and I have been moderate about desserts. I usually skip the bag of chips put out with our bag lunches. Even though I’ve been expending a great deal of calories through our daily yoga practices and our hikes, I haven’t been hungry at all — proving once again that so much of what we think is our body talking is really our mind talking.

When it comes to healthy eating, food, much like words, falls into the category of less is more. I’m going to take this feeling and these meal habits to heart when I return home and try to get myself on a better eating routine than I currently have.

Sleep, on the other hand, does not for me fall into the category of less is more. Since I’m getting up at 6 a.m. for our last pranayama (breathing) class, I should call it a day. Goodnight.

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The flexibility of fearlessness

Check out the roughly 40-foot (that’s a best guess) drop of Middle Falls, located in the McCloud River Loop, where our group hiked today, the second full day of this Mt. Shasta Ashtanga second series retreat.

Now check out yoga studio owner Jayson Barniske from Brawley, Calif., as he jumped into the water after climbing up the ledges:

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I did a quick Google search and apparently, fearless kayakers like to careen down the falls. I find that absolutely incredible.

I seek fearlessness on a much smaller, perhaps even imperceptible scale to most. I recently “finished” (note: I did not say “graduate from” :-) ) an adult swimming class, and yesterday I faced another fear: getting into a sweat lodge. I had been in one once and had a horrible time — it reminded me of not being able to breath during an asthma attack when I was a kid, and that triggered anxiety and panic. I swore I would never do the whole sweat lodge thing again, ever. Yesterday, I not only went back into one, I stayed the whole time. I didn’t say “door” to be let out, as I thought I would surely have to. I found it really powerful, and I think it helped loosen some of the emotional barnacles I wanted to dislodge on this trip.

But I was sort of second-guessing myself earlier today and wondering whether it’s sort of pathetic, these fears I’ve been working on recently. Swimming and a sweat lodge? Really, Rose? Suck it up already. In the scheme of human challenges, these two are barely specs of dust, overshadowed by mountains of real fears, like war, famine and so many types of unspeakable calamities.

In my less self-critical moments, I think about my issue with getting into water and getting into a small confined space that feels like it’s slowly being filled with a suffocating heat as deep-seated fears that invoke abhinivesha, the yogic concept that can be viewed as fear of death or change. In cases like these, I think opening the mind up can be process similar to opening up the body. In a yoga practice, we are trying to increase our own range of motion — be it in our hips, our shoulders or our perspective.

Looking at someone else and wishing you had their flexibility or their fearlessness won’t make that happen for you. Persistence and patience on the mat can help chisel away at your hard-as-rocks shoulders and it can start to erase snippets of a negative reel constantly running through your mind.

Perhaps fittingly, Tim Miller reminded us today that in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that “Better one’s own duty (dharma) though deficient, than the duty of another well performed.”

Back to the waterfalls today. It was a blast to watch Jayson and also Amy Williams, who owns a yoga studio in Provo, Utah, make that jump. I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to get Amy mid-flight, but here she is at the top:

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She seemed to have so much fun getting to that spot, and she seemed to effortlessly jump in. When Amy came up out of the water onto the comfy rocks the rest of us were watching this dive show from, we asked her how it felt. She said fine — cold, but fine.

“I’ll take this over second series any day,” she said with a big smile.

And yet here she is on this second series retreat. Huge props in my book.


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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

‘Volcanic legacy’

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I got a kick out of this sign I saw yesterday on the drive toward McCloud, Calif., home base for a week of learning about Ashtanga second series — with some gorgeous hiking on Mt. Shasta interspersed each day. Getting closer to Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano, made me think of different kinds of heat and their effects. My first thoughts were drawn to the kind of fiery energy that’s not so productive — a fiery explosion that causes destruction.

I know a thing or two about a fiery energy of the emotional kind. Ask anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being in the car while I was driving angry. I get worked up about something and get enraged and I spew harsh, negative energy. What good does it do?

I’ve been trying to work on it, and I do better some days than others. My father used to say I was born in the year of the dragon, and I had a temper to match a dragon’s fiery breath. Yoga helps. Being around people who are always calm and have their wits about them helps.

I hope eventually, my emotionally volcanic days are also a mere legacy and not an active status. :-)

In the yogic tradition, there’s another kind of fire that is productive because it purifies. It’s called tapas. That’s a far better kind of heat, and it’s the type of heat I am especially seeking this week.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our first morning class — guided Ashtanga second series, followed by a short road trip to a sweat lodge.

>>Read about the first week of this year’s Mt. Shasta retreat from the Confluence Countdown team.

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A girl, a volcano and a ring

I am headed to Mt. Shasta, located in the upper reaches of California and rising more than 14,000 feet. Tim Miller and his sweet wife, Carol, lead two trips each year to this mesmerizing place. They spend one week with folks who want to hike and explore a dormant volcano while practicing Ashtanga primary series, and another week with folks who want to focus on Ashtanga second series.

I chose the second series option for a few reasons. For one thing, I want to learn more about second series, a sequence with backbends, extreme hip openers and arm balances requiring you to be the boss of your core, center of gravity. The sequence intrigues me and frustrates me. Maybe practicing second series in a different place will help me reset that relationship. But I don’t expect the process to be easy. (I asked for permission to attend this week, since I still have a couple postures in primary series I am working on — supta baddha konasana being the main one — and since there are a few postures in second series I can barely even approach. Access was granted, and the course was set.)

The other is timing. I’ve decided I should try this whole settling down thing. I traveled to Encinitas, Calif. last year to spend two weeks in a primary series teacher training, and I’ve given myself this year to find the yoga adventures I want to find — second series is top of that list — and then set my wanderlust aside, at least for now. (Part of me had hoped I could fit a trip to Mysore, India, but I’ve let that go. Maybe later in my life.)

I used to set artificial deadlines for myself — by this age I want to so-and-so, and by this time of my life I hope so-and-so — but adulthood taught me the perils of doing that. You can only control what you control. This isn’t an artificial timeline — it feels right.

So I’ve come to Mt. Shasta to be in Timji’s orbit to practice second series — “nadi shodhana” in Sanskrit. Nerve cleansing. Unlocking dormant energies so they can transform into something positive. I am pretty sure something is going to erupt this week. And I am pretty sure it won’t be Mt. Shasta. (Though if Mt. Shasta does blow, I promise to try to live-blog or at least live-tweet the historic event. 😉 )

Why do I feel ready to face this now?

That’s where the ring comes in. I am a ridiculously fortunate girl to get a fresh start on a new adventure with someone who is as rock -and-roll bad-ass — and yet somehow deeply deeply zen — as they come.

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Need a yoga travel agent? Check out my itineraries. (Or take a yoga staycation right on your mat.)

I ran into two fellow yoga instructors the other evening when I was at the Michigan Athletic Club (MAC) to teach my weekly vinyasa yoga class, and both of the separate conversations somehow flowed toward fun discussions about visiting yoga studios while traveling and about traveling to yoga trainings.

This had me wondering — for a hot second — whether YogaRose.net could branch out into the yoga travel industry. It reminded me of a day last year — a day when I was already daydreaming about finding a less stressful career — when a colleague sent me a link to a New York Times “Practical Traveler” article. My buddy John had found the dream job for me — teaching yoga at resorts around the world. How glorious. I still haven’t figured out how to apply to any of these places, but I’ve got that yoga resume ready to go.

I’m of course mostly kidding. While I would love to start traveling year-round to “research” national and international yoga retreats and the like (Which resort truly has the warmer water? Which has the deepest hues of turquoise?  Which offers the widest ranges of massage options? Trying to resolve tough questions like that), I somehow doubt that starting the YogaRose.net travel agency will be my ticket out of working full-time and praying that this country still has some social safety net when (if) retirement comes. Plus, it wouldn’t even be the most advisable yogic path.

Fantasies aside, I always try to connect people to a dreamy yoga destination or a deeply fulfilling training. Let me know what you think of some of the itineraries I find myself frequently recommending:

The yoga ‘staycation’

For most of the days out of the years when yogis can’t afford the time off or the money to travel, I remind them to consider time on their mat as a “staycation” for the body, mind and spirit. A 90-minute yoga staycation may not feel quite the same as practicing on the beach in a Caribbean climate, but most of the time, it’s the most practical, and the overall best, option. Yoga is about quieting the mind and turning the senses inward — sun, sand and Swedish massages are not technically mentioned in the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita when discussing the aim of yoga.

But even the most dedicated yogis need a spark of inspiration and practical, hands-on guidance to deepen their practice. The most affordable way to achieve this is with a weekend workshop that’s within driving distance.

One-gas-tank getaway

After visiting the fantastic Yoga on High studio in Columbus, Ohio for the first time last year to take a workshop with Ashtanga instructor extraordinaire Tim Miller, I returned to Lansing and spread the word about how much I enjoyed the programs and the people in this town that’s a relatively easy four-and-a-half-hour drive from mid-Michigan. A few friends returned with me later that year for a workshop with the incredible Maty Ezraty. A few ashtangis made the pilgrimage to Tim Miller when I returned this year, and a fairly sizable contingent of Hilltop Yoga students went to Columbus last month to study with Maty Ezraty this time around.

In short, I like instigating one-gas-tank yoga caravans. But sometimes, there are events so powerful that I have to recommend students make the sacrifices they can make in order to plan for a big trip — like the one taking place in San Diego next March.

Converging where powerful streams of influence come together

I’ve been sharing my excitement — over Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and, of course, here on WordPress — over the prospect of the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. I think at least a few folks from the greater Lansing area are already intending to make the trek — how very cool. Whether you are attending or not, I highly recommend getting in the spirit of the drumbeat leading up to the gathering by checking out The Confluence Countdown blog.

Ask a fellow yogi

When I can’t sleep, I am usually up reading (or writing) about yoga (most of my blog posts are written between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. — no joke! It’s the only real time I have to blog). When I travel, I try to find a local yoga studio to visit as a way to get to better know that place. When I get mischievous, I start plotting how to get to my next yoga retreat or training (such as the one I embark on in just over a week — working on Ashtanga second series with Tim Miller set against the backdrop of sweeping Mt. Shasta).

If we know each other in daily life and you have thoughts on a yoga getaway but don’t know exactly where to go, try me. If we don’t know each other except through this blog, try me anyway! Throw down a comment — the blogging community will certainly have ideas where I don’t.

Can yoganidrasana (“yogi’s sleep posture”) make dreams come true? 

If nothing else, let me know what you consider your dream yoga getaway. If you know me well, you probably know that mine is to be able to take the required month off of work to make the pilgrimage — and it is a pilgrimage — to Mysore, India, to study Ashtanga yoga in the city that serves as home base for this challenging and brilliantly designed practice. (There are pretty strict rules governing the  Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, including the rule that you study for a minimum of a month at a time — no drop-in sessions or weekend workshops here!)

If I ever do get the chance to make this trip, I am all set because fellow Ashtanga yoga blogger Claudia Yoga, who is based in New York, has already created this guide to traveling to Mysore. I love the Ashtanga yoga blogging community dispersed around the world — they are some of the best built-in yoga travel guides you could ask for.

(Photo credits: YogaRose.net/iStockphoto(andreart) (top); “Acro Floating Yoganidrasana” via Yogable (bottom))

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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 took my breath away today: The schedule of the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The fine folks organizing the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence announced today that registration is now open.

I just read the schedule. You should too, because it will take your breath away.

Basically, you’re getting the chance to study with five of the most amazing Ashtanga teachers on this planet — Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern. You get to deepen your understanding of everything from asana, pranayama, puja ceremonies and the Hindu deities Ganesh and Hanuman. And you’ll get to hear music by MC Yogi.

You’ll be doing all this while staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa in San Diego. I’m actually less excited by the venue because as amazing as it looks, the organizers could have held the conference in Alaska (if you know me, you know I am not a fan of cold weather of any sort) and I would be as excited.

When this conference was first announced, “first annual” was not included in the title. The fact that this is currently envisioned as an event every year is pretty awe-inspiring. Start saving now!

Seriously, I am really having to really focus right now to take deep breaths. This is incredible.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Do your summer travel plans include a yoga workshop?

Tank of gas: $3.79
Average cost of a weekend workshop class: $50
Firing up your agni (fire, vital spark): Priceless

Urdvha dhanurasana

Before I moved to Michigan from Massachusetts in 2005, I didn’t know much except that it was close enough to Chicago. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate a lot about Pure Michigan — from the Third Coast beaches (growing up in California, I refused to believe these beaches could possibly compare) to Hilltop Yoga, my home studio, a place that has truly changed the course of my life.

What I’ve also come to appreciate is that a lot of damn good yoga teachers come through the Midwest. That’s what sparked me to create the “Travel your yoga section” of YogaRose.net. Although I focus on Ashtanga yoga teachers, I do include teachers from different styles of yoga who are coming within an easy driving distance of mid-Michigan.

If you haven’t checked it out in a while, you might be surprised to see who’s visiting — from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago.

Have a question, addition or feedback on a workshop you did attend? Comment below! If you have specific questions you’d like to ask me directly, drop me an email at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

Happy traveling!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

More evidence that Ashtanga yoga is for me: Sharath is a Mac user!

My MacBook Pro and the Ashtanga practice sheet featuring R. Sharath Jois

Claudia
over at ClaudiaYoga.com is in Mysore right now, and I’m loving her blog posts and tweets about her experience. For the non-Ashtangis reading this blog, it’s necessary to know that Mysore — which is located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka — is to the Ashtanga devotee what Asbury Park, N.J. is to Springsteen fans or Cooperstown, N.Y., is to baseball fans. It is the place that you are drawn to and know that you have to visit before you die. (I haven’t been yet, and the place is calling me — but more on that in another post.)

I could make this post longer than necessary, but I’m not going to because I want you to head over and read Claudia’s observations and tales. But before I go, I will say one thing: Claudia has reported that R. Sharath Jois — who is the grandson of the late K. Patthabhi Jois and the new director of the  Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Instituteuses a Mac.

As if I needed more evidence that Ashtanga is for me. 😉

How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)

Madonna in high heels, with one leg behind her head--because why not?

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

Between work, family, and just life, it’s hard enough for most of us to maintain a truly consistent yoga practice. But when you throw holidays and travel into the mix, it can seem damn near impossible not to lose the yoga practice that you rely on to keep you grounded.

Maybe Madonna — who is, from what little I’ve read about her practice, a pretty committed Ashtanga practitioner — can teach us a thing or two about doing what you need to do to do yoga. You might have read recently about the outrage that emerged when Madonna was allowed to leave a stranded plane well before the rest of the passengers on her flight bound for London.

What’s worse, some bloggers wondered? Was it that Madonna dared to do some yoga in the aisles before her VIP departure?

I’m writing this blog post 430 miles from home myself, and I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past month — all of which has led me to think about ways to maintain a yoga practice while on the road. Here are five tips for me.

5. Take a cue from Madonna and do some yoga in the aisle.

Granted, Madonna and her entourage surely fly first class, where the aisles are luxuriously wide when compared with coach. But if you’re facing a long layover at the airport or stranded on a plane, I vote for doing whatever yoga you can fit in.

Earlier this year, on the way to the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., for a teacher training program with Tim Miller, I posted a Facebook status update that read:

Rose Tantraphol highly recommends finding a quiet corner of the airport — esp if your flight’s been delayed for two hours and counting — and taking 25 breaths in a headstand. You’ll feel much better while providing fellow weary travelers with some free distractions.

Several of my friends liked the posts, and a few more gave left kudos as comments. I had found a quiet corner of a gate that wasn’t being used, and made a point to tell the nearest person there that I was about to stand on my head to release some tension. I thought she might be a little weirded out, but she shrugged and never looked up once.

Was the Material Girl being insensitive on that plane? My guess would be probably not. I absolutely understand if other passengers were frustrated that she was able to deplane hours before they were able to, but that’s a different issue than her doing some yoga in the aisle. It’s one thing to do bhastrika if everyone were trying to sleep on a red eye, but based on these accounts, I don’t see how this was inappropriately intrusive.

4. Use the opportunity to travel your yoga and drop in on classes in new studios.

I love checking out new studios whenever I travel. Some people learn more about the new city they’re in by running through local neighborhoods; I do the same thing by visiting local yoga studios. Drop-in classes are typically between $18 and $20 a class—not the cheapest way to go, but if you have the funds, it’s well worth it to spend the money and get to see how different studios have found their unique ways to share yoga with a community. It’s also a fantastic way to get outside your comfort zone and try new styles of yoga.

On this note, I just got a new iPhone, so let me know if you have a favorite app for finding local studios. I’m a planner, so I usually do research in advance of a trip and plan out all my studio options beforehand. But a studio-finder app would be great to have on hand.

3. Pack a travel mat (and maybe a heat source) when you’re prepared to practice on your own.

Especially with Ashtanga yoga, traveling provides a perfect chance to practice on your own. I find it challenging to motivate myself to consistently practice at home while I’m not traveling, because I live in a community with an amazing yoga studio. But it’s much easier to want to practice on my own when traveling.

I’ve practiced on my sister’s L.A. apartment balcony, a wooden dock in back of a beautiful Traverse City, Mich. bed-and-breakfast, a second-floor apartment in Montreal, Quebec, and the list goes on. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every time I practice on my own, I learn something new. When I practiced on that narrow dock in northern Michigan, for instance, I was so surprised to realize that I’m far less connected to the earth — far less evenly grounded in the way my weight is distributed through my feet — than I had realized. Changing where you practice can change what you become aware of in your practice.

Hilltop Yoga, where I practice and teach yoga, is a heated studio where rooms are typically kept between 87 and 94 degrees. That means I am used to heat, and it really affects my practice when that external heat is missing and I feel cold (especially since you don’t have the benefit of other people’s body heat when you’re practicing alone). Whether heat is a crutch is fodder for another conversation, but lack of heat is, for me, probably the toughest part of practicing alone while traveling.

If you’re traveling by car and have room to spare, you might consider investing in a small space heater to take with you.

2. Remember that there are, classically speaking, eight limbs of yoga.

Postures, or an asana practice, represent just one limb of the eight-limb yoga path. If you’re pressed for time in between flights or family gatherings, see if you can at least find 15 minutes a day practicing another of the limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras — pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawal) or dhyana (meditation) seem to make the most sense.

1. If all else fails, and you really can’t practice, roll it with — after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In an ideal world, we’re all practicing yoga six mornings a week. Most of us don’t live in this utopia where we can honor this schedule every week of the year. So do your traveling, do what you can to keep up your practice, and if all else fails, use that lack-of-practice frustration that builds — on the level of the body, mind and spirit — to recommit that much more when you return home.

Those are my thoughts on maintaining a practice. How do you maintain your practice while on the go?

(Photo credit: http://ninieahmad.com/category/yoga-101)

Horsing around (London edition)

Horse-face posture

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel to London last week. It was my first visit there, and I hope it won’t be my only. Let’s get the obvious question out of the way – what’s going on in the photo?

This was the result of sheer playfulness. We stumbled on this perplexing statue of a horse’s face, and I couldn’t resist getting into vatayanasana. The Sanskirt translates into horse-face posture, so this was meant to be a visual pun of sorts for the geeky ashtangi. Vatayanasana — which involves having one leg in half lotus while the opposite leg’s foot is firmly planted on the floor — appears near the end of the second series sequence. According to Gregor Maehle, this posture begins the energetic wind-down of the series.

For this trip, though, this posture marked the energetic wind-up. As with any city of this size, and this much history, there was only time to taste the sights and sounds, from checking out the actual Rosetta Stone displayed in the British Museum to having Champagne afternoon tea (yes, this is a thing! You can have a glass of Champagne before the tea comes – fantastic).

If time weren’t an issue, I would have gone to a different yoga studio every day. I managed to make it to two traditional shalas – Ashtanga Yoga London in Central London, and The Shala in South London. Both were wonderful studios — extremely welcoming and very traditional.

In the yoga classes I teach, I will sometimes say that learning Ashtanga is like learning a language – one that allows you to communicate with a deeper part of yourself, and also one that allows you to roll out your mat anywhere in the world and be able to participate in a shared experience with a group you’ve never met before. That’s absolutely what happened for me in London. At Ashtanga Yoga London, a Mysore-style shala that is so traditional you practice your finishing postures in another room, I immediately felt the familiarity of the ujjayi breathing and the walls gently sweating from the collective heat built up that morning. At The Shala, I took a led primary series class, and on the first ekam (“one” in Sanskrit) of surya namaskara A (sun salutation A), I knew I was where I should be.

To be sure, there were some minor differences in sequences. I think of them as accents of a sequence, if that makes sense. These minor differences, such as whether you enter include a rounded-back baddha konasana (bound-angle pose) or only do a flat-back baddha konasana, probably most reflects when the instructor studied in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois. Although we say Ashtanga is the same sequence, it’s not exactly the same.

The most salient feeling I came away from my visits to the studios was how grounded I felt. Thousands of miles away from home, in studios I had never been in before, I felt at home because my practice was with me.

Padmasana

Padmasana in Trafalgar Square