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

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

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

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

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

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

What am I doing?

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Discovery and liberation come in many forms.

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

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

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

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

Fluctuations and flow

Alan Watts flow

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

 

#thestruggle

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

iloveyou

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

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

badluckbrian

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

You know how it goes….

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Himalayan goose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

===

Post playlist 😉

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

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

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

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

elarco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cabosanlucaspractice

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

In Rebelle Society: Does your calendar rule your life?

The_Scheduler

 

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

Do you ever daydream about a superhero alter ego?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>Read the rest here.

rsjuly22

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

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

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

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

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

Are we all just Messi on the mat?

messi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Via BBC.com)

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

 

Location scouting

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

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

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

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

slab

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

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

courtyard

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

skyroomfloor

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

skyroom

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

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

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

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

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

vajrapendant

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

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

vajrapendants

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What helps shape your vishvavajra?

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

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

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

DO NOT STIR THE KITCHARI!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flowers

(Photo credit: Top photo by Anne Kellogg)

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

Moons, paper, words, dreams

March 2014 moon cycle

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

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

The Moon, Hanson Roberts deck

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

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

***

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

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

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,

just as phony as can be,

But it wouldn’t be make-believe

if you believe in me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the role of led ashtanga classes?

bookbindeknife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

>>Did you miss the Mysore dispatches?

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

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

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

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

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

dragon

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

Then I got it.

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

So, universe, I get it:

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

***

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

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

Expansion and Contraction can take many forms…

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

And this was the answer:

mercury

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

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

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

>>The Mysore dispatches:

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

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

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

[Mysore dispatch] Etched

ring

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] Lingua franca

bilingual signs in Mysore

Always helpful when a sign around town is bilingual.

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

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

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

***

Chai with sugar

Chai = friend. Sugar = frenemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Sharath's office door

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

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

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

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

Shala door

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] In due time

Kukkarahalli Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore

workfrommysoreg

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

nilaya

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

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


KKworkspace

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

How many times have you been to Mysore?
3

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

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

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

doorway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jared

Jared Westbrook
Gainesville, Florida
Graduate student

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

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

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

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

space

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

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

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

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

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

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JImmy_Crow_workstation

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

How many times have you been to Mysore?
2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rose_workstation

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

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

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

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

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

workdesk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And happiest of birthdays to you.

***

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] Thank you, interwebs and wifi

wifiandpeople

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CompassedShoes


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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

Speaking of food, the Huffington Post recent ran this:

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

HuffPo food shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

findingfeet

Ah, there you are.

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

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

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

“Saraswati,” came the reply.

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

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

How does he know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

clock_professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very beneficial!

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

coconuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

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

Rain down on me

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

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

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

#gratitude #possibilities

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

Emptying the cup

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

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

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

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

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

[Mysore dispatch] 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.

 

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

20131228-082834.jpg

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! :-)

20131228-083200.jpg

‘Surrender to the count’

icepocalypseEkam inhale…

On the first and third Sundays of each month at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, Mysore is replaced by an 8 a.m. full led primary series class and a 9:30 a.m. half led primary class. Sometimes Angela starts out by going over a specific topic or theme, and the other week, the message at the start of the half-led primary class was:

Surrender to the count.

We’ve all been there — wanting to spend a few more breaths in this pose, or wanting to quicken the breath in that pose to have it over with sooner. Interesting what happens when you let the rhythm take you through the practice.

…dve exhale…

Surrender to the count: I’ve sort of used this phrase as a mantra in the weeks since. I’ve been trying, in other words, to surrender to all the counts of life, not just the counts I like.

A week after those led classes, I totaled my car in an accident and, just six months after finishing paying off my last used car, faced having to buy a new car just before going on four weeks of unpaid leave to travel to India. Can’t I have just another year without car payments?  

It will all work itself out, my husband keeps reminding me. Surrender to the count. 

…trini inhale…

As part of surrendering, I dropped my usual resistance to dealing with everything that I typically have such aversions to: Financing paperwork, calls with insurance companies, hospital bills. Because every so often in my life (I think my last big car accident was roughly a decade ago), this is the count I have to deal with. And you know what? I haven’t been nearly as stressed out or as annoyed as I usually am by all the hoops. That is not to say that it’s been 100 percent smooth sailing either, because I’ve had my moments, but the journey has been better than normal.

…catvari exhale…

This morning was supposed to be the last time I assisted at the shala until mid-February; I was really looking forward to it. But an ice storm — or Icepocalyse, depending on who you ask — rained down overnight over the greater Lansing area, and it would have been an extremely bad idea for me to try to make the drive to Ann Arbor.

So I practiced at home. That was the count for my practice today — samastitihi on my mat in my home shala instead of at AY:A2. While I missed the breath and energy of my fellow AY:A2 practitioners, and while I missed assisted dropbacks with my teacher, my overall experience with the practice itself didn’t feel dependent on external conditions such as who is practicing around me and how well is the room heated?

There was a time not too long ago when practicing at home would have meant a practice with less intensity, less (subjective experience of) internal heat, less seeming potential for wringing out. Things started to change when I surrendered to the count of practicing six days a week. Can’t I take today off? I have an early-morning news conference and, oh right, a wedding to plan after I get home from work. OK then, how about taking today? I’m traveling for the holidays.

Surrender to the count.

…panca inhale…

Speaking of self-practice, I know many practitioners who have been very grateful for this recent AY:A2 blog post on practicing alone that includes this advice:

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

Now, do not faff around. You don’t have the time and you don’t have the space. If you’re noticing the dry skin on your toes, you still have too much time and too much space. Also, do abhyanga later.

Ask companions or family to respect the bounded time-space of your practice.

Here’s the entire “How to practice by yourself” piece.

…sat exhale…

There was a time — again, not too long ago –when the entire season of winter was a total bummer for me. Resistance to the cold, to the snow, to the dreary skies and to the dark started around the beginning of fall and lasted through early spring. I’ve made a concerted effort this winter to try to see the silver lining of the season.

mooncyclesAyurveda, with its emphasis on flowing with the seasons, has helped. I’ve started to look forward to my cooked root vegetables in the fall and winter, and while I still cannot bring myself to enjoy driving in wintry conditions, I am at least more calm about it because I don’t resist it so damn much.

Being receptive to lunar cycles has helped. (For a radiant piece on that, check out OvO’s “Moon Swings.”)

 

…sapta inhale…

There are at least three more topics I’d like to write about just today, but the various digital clocks that rule my life have a thing or two to say about that. I’ve got to pack for our holiday trip to visit my in-laws (low of -1 degree tomorrow night in the Upper Peninsula!), and immediately after that, for my trip to Mysore (88 degrees next weekend!).

Surrender. To. The. Count.

© 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.

The art and science of surrender (car accident edition)

Grace.jpg

Look at that photo. It’s something else, isn’t it? Somehow, I managed to step right up out of the driver-side door without so much as a cut. I’m saving this photo to my phone and my work desktop as an inspiring memento of three instructive reminders from yesterday’s rollover:

1. While an accident can pin you down, it’s the kindness of strangers that will really floor you.

A woman whom I’ll just call V. hugged me — hugged me tight, wrapping my entire short frame in her radiant maternal embrace — as soon as I stepped out of the car. She hugged me and asked if I was OK for quite some time as other kind strangers offered other ways of help, starting with the cool guy who opened up the car door that allowed me to get out the first place.

I accepted a ride to the hospital for tests because I was most concerned that I felt fine but could have a hairline fracture. I just kept thinking about the angle I stepped out of the car from, and about how many times I had rolled over. (Surprisingly, the air bags did not deploy.) Anyway, the paramedic and his crew? Fantastic in every way. The trauma team that ran a battery of tests to make sure there wasn’t deeper damage? Awesome. (They also thought they were comedians, which I appreciated. They said that had I been wearing Lululemon, they would have spared cutting my clothes. Luckily, I have other panopticon-branded AY:A2 tanks.)

This tank would have been spared the shears in the trauma room 3 if only they had been Lululemon. ;-)

This tank would have been spared the shears in trauma room 3 if only they’d been Lululemon. ;-)

The police officer who showed up? Sweet — down to accommodating my request that when the tow truck show up, he rescue not only my mobile and wallet, but also my Mysore rug (what can I say — it’s a security blanket). He totally came through.

2. You never know.

Really, you never know. So you might as well not sweat the small stuff. (More on this in a bit.)

We all tell ourselves this and I’m convinced we all believe it, deep down. But we tend to believe it most when Big Life Events happen — not during the day-to-day. This helped me recommit big-time to keeping my eyes on the prize as moments as possible every day, not just on days like this.

3. Relaxing, rather than resisting, helps in any kind of situation.

Anyone who has struggled to learn how to go up into a yoga headstand has probably at one time or another heard the instruction to relax while falling out of it.

Let me be clear: I think I wasn’t harmed because of my guardian angels, pure and simple. But, more than 24 hours later, I am still stunned that I walked away untouched, and it was a reminder that the tremendous relaxation you can feel when in something like a multiple-roll spill like this comes in handy. Had I tensed up and locked my arms on the steering wheel, for instance, who knows what might have happened.

As meditation teacher Shinzen Young formulates it:

Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Post-accident, I’m going to take this to heart and not let myself get freaked out about the expense — especially given that it’s coming just ahead of when I’m looking at taking four weeks of unpaid leave to go study in Mysore. I could do the math, or I could look back at the rollover photo and shake my head again at how I was not hurt and no one else was either.

Shinzen offers this related formulation too:

Taste of Purification = Pain x Equanimity

Trying to avoid suffering is one thing. Can I reach this level? That’s a tall order but I think it’s possibly within reach, if it stare at the rollover photo enough. And if that doesn’t work, I can look at my tiny little rental, which somehow makes me laugh. I think my huge Saka cargo mat bag fits in the trunk . . .

Fiat rental

Back to sweating the small stuff

For anyone willing to read past the list portion of this post, I’ll say that the feeling I had yesterday was similar to the feeling I had during the accident I experienced maybe a decade ago now, when a guard rail saved me from going over a mountainside in northern Vermont after I had skid on black ice. The same time-slows-incredibly-dooooown phenomenon happened yesterday when I couldn’t correct out of the median: I quite calmly observed what was happening and figured that one of two things — both out of my control — would happen. I would either die or be severely injured, or I would be protected and would be fine.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t on some level want to work on not sweating the things that don’t matter. To different degrees, we all want to stay out of the fray when it comes to getting worked up over things we know — we know! — just don’t matter in the end. But dammit if the small things just have a tremendous capacity to gnaw, goad, get under the skin. For me, the most recent big little problem that I got truly pissed over just happened this past Friday — and this is at a time in my life when I have learned to surrender more than I ever have.

Equanimity via different paths

In my world informed by the discipline of ashtanga yoga and by meditative technologies, it seems to me that there are three pretty reliable ways to make progress on keeping it together in the face of life’s really annoying agitations:

1. Go through a tough experience.  

This year has been an interesting one. I witnessed my husband in more pain than I had ever seen him, as I watched helplessly in the ER as he tried to pass a kidney stone. I was back in the same hospital’s operating room (OR) not too long after that for my D & C after my miscarriage. I was back yesterday in the ER — with the same nurse who helped my husband! — for the tests to make sure I wasn’t hurt.

2. Get on your mat six days a week to practice a series that at first seems impossible, then seems doable, then eventually seems impossible again, and so on.

As OvO has so eloquently put it, put yourself on the mat to undertake a systemic series of constraints on the ego.

During the ambulance ride to get the tests that would confirm that I am indeed OK, despite what my mental images of the accident scene would have me believe, I was talking to a paramedic-in-training who said, “I’m just not flexible enough to do yoga.” It was a little awkward to talk to this student, with my neck in a restraint and my body secured to a long spine board per standard operating procedures when being taken to a trauma unit (with a rollover at 70 miles per hour, which is what the speed limit is in Michigan, an accident like this one is considered a trauma, even if you can talk and walk and attest you feel fine).

I started to try to explain that that isn’t what yoga is all about, but instead it out something like, “You don’t need to be flexible to start yoga. You gain that flexibility as you go.” Finally, realizing my words were being garbled by the fact that I couldn’t really move my jaw too much, I said, “You should give yoga another shot.”

It wasn’t my most persuasive elevator pitch for yoga, which last year I decided might go along these lines: “Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.” Aka neuroplasticity ftw!

3. Get on a meditation cushion every day

I’m going to give embarrassingly short shrift to this one because I technically should be getting back to dealing with my insurance company. But I’ve been truly amazed at the results this past year of keeping at meditation.

Why meditate?

And a fourth?

In any case, having tried these three paths, I’ve found that each contributes a different type of instruction/reminder, and the lasting effects vary. It does seem like the synergistic effects are most powerful when all three are experienced together.

Interestingly, I had spent the earlier part of yesterday afternoon engaged in fun conversations with other area yogis are planning on studying at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, and the theme that kept coming up again and again was: To truly experience Mysore, you have to surrender to the experience.

So by the end of the month when I travel to Mysore, perhaps I’ll understand first-hand that I can add another sure-fire way of learning to surrender? That one would be labeled as: Make the sacrifices you need to make to get to the shala in Mysore. 

!

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

My long, apanic summer being pregnant — and miscarrying

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I’m in the back seat of our Ford Fusion, feeling a tad sleepy as I type on the iPad that’s balanced on my lap. My husband is driving, my sister Alisa is in the front seat, and Atoms for Peace’s notes roll through the speakers as gently as we’re coasting over these northern Michigan curves and hills. The fall leaves haven’t quite turned yet, but the drive is gorgeous nonetheless.

My husband and I were so happy we could take my sister, who is visiting from California, out for a fabulous weekend in Traverse City. But it was more than just a weekend getaway for me. The last time Scott and I were here was in the spring, and this was where we discovered I was pregnant. Now, post-miscarriage, I wanted to return and face the incongruity of my current reality versus what had been my visions for fall.

I had expected to be very pregnant and really showing by now, modifying every aspect of my life in my second trimester. Instead, I’m eating for one, able to wine and dine as I please in this foodie town. Friday night we passed the riverfront area where we had called our parents from to share the good news, and I thought about how the two people who had been so excited that day in spring have had to mature quite a bit in intervening months.

I didn’t write about the pregnancy on this blog because I was waiting until the second trimester to generally announce that I was pregnant; I agreed with the advice that you should wait until the second trimester, when the chances for miscarriages decrease substantially, to share news of pregnancy. Never did make it to the second trimester, and dealing with the miscarriage process was too intense for me to write about before I had fully processed it. (In hindsight, I think that for me, not writing about being pregnant made initially talking about the miscarriage that much harder. Should I get pregnant again, I’m not sure I would take the same approach.)

I did finally write about my pregnancy and my practice. Rebelle Wellness published that piece a couple weeks ago:

Rebelle Wellness

A garland of moon days

I learned I was pregnant on a beautiful, radiant moon day in May. It was on a somber moon day in July that I learned the baby who had been growing inside me no longer had a heartbeat and was, instead, a gray, two-dimensional embryo projected onto the ultrasound screen. And it was on a moon day in August — after four emotionally and physically intense weeks of trying to actually miscarry — that my body finally gave the signal it truly understood I was no longer pregnant. That tremendous relief came after having tried to let nature take its course, then taking a drug that triggers intense cramping to induce it and — when, inconceivably to me, even that did not work — finally relenting and taking the surgical option.

During this challenging time of waiting for the expulsion of, as clinicians like to put it, “products of conception,” I stayed with my practice — though there were days when I had to significantly modify it, paring it down to barely anything more than the opening invocation and the closing invocation with sun salutations, standings, and the last three poses hammocked in between.

So I went from the downward-flowing apanic energy of pregnancy straight into the even more intensely apanic energy of trying to miscarry. It’s no wonder I experienced the summer as heavy, lethargic and leaning toward the depressive. Having decided that I could only take so much apana, I’ve spent the last several weeks consciously shifting toward cultivating upward-moving — pranic — energy. I’ve been grateful for the accompanying boost in creative energy that has come with that shift.

Being in Traverse City in a different season has helped me energetically scrub away a sense of loss and longing from one of my favorite places. For me, fall — even more than spring — is a great reminder that everything is changing, all of the time. And today just happens to be the fall equinox — a fitting marker to confirm that my long, apanic summer is fully behind me now.

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(Photo credit: “The life cycle of a leaf” first seen via The I fucking love science Facebook page. The beautiful photo was taken by Rob Herr.)

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

Guru Purnima

Today’s full moon marks Guru Purnima, known to ashtangis the world over as the day commemorating the auspicious 1915 birth of K. Pattabhi Jois. With each passing year, this day feels more and more like a celebration to me — the kind of celebration you don’t get dressed up for, and one you probably aren’t talking to your co-workers and neighbors about. Instead, it’s the kind of celebration marked quietly, internally, and honored outwardly in different ways by the ashtanga diaspora — perhaps over Facebook shares and blog posts and, if you’re in New York City, attending the evening puja, changin (and surprise) at Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga New York.

  • The incredibly prolific Grimmly has, not surprisingly, provided a wealth of information about Pattabhi Jois in a new post that includes old interviews, videos, photos and student reflections. (And as my next meeting is about to start and I am about to hit “publish,” Grimmly has just announced that he has already updated this post to include interviews with early students.)
  • Here is a photo slideshow by Barry Silver that’s making the rounds.
  • Ashtanga Yoga Library’s Elise Espat posted this “Weekend Edition #15” post on Guru purnima.
  • The Confluence Countdown has been posting videos leading up to today.

Barry Silver tribute to Guruji

I’m sure there’s a ton more out there, but that’s all I’ve got time for on this lunch break. All I will say is that if you haven’t read Guruji yet, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to be in a led class once in Montreal with Pattabhi Jois, but what resonates most with me is how much this larger-than-life spirit inspired the teachers who are today inspiring a new generation of ashtangis — helping them find transformation in their lives in ways that go far beyond the mat.

Back to work I go, with Guruji and parampara on my mind.

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

 

 

 

 

AY:A2 ashtanga session ‘bootlegs’

 
Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.One of my favorite practices of the year takes place at the summer Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat held inside a beautiful decommissioned church called the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. (Here’s a peek inside last year’s retreat.) At today’s retreat, about 50 practitioners from three countries and at least five states started out the morning with a Mysore practice. The 35 or so who had snagged a spot for the sold-out retreat itself stayed for a delicious lunch (we all know good food is important to yogis) and a multi-faceted day spent discussing, and playing with, listening — as discussed in this snippet from the official retreat description:

This retreat, and the sensitizing exercises of the next six weeks, are about raw listening. Close listening. Naked listening. Minimalist listening. A sort of receptivity that not only (1) sets the stage for consciousness to fall into a restful state, but is also (2) completely OK with the fluctuations of the mind just as they are.

Classical yoga offers thousands of techniques to change our inner experience. This is good. But having a body means that fluctuations will arise. The same is true for having a mind. If you breathe, there will be vrittis.

So, in addition to having the tools to quiet or the mind, it is also good – and surprisingly enjoyable at times- to be able to step back and let experience be whatever it wants to be. No fix-its. No analysis. Just hanging out, consciously, with the mind as it is.

Minimalist listening of this sort is a big part of yoga. It is a kind of self-acceptance. And as the patterning of the mindbody’s blips and bump become clear, a door in consciousness opens to calm, curious self-appreciation. It brings on a John Cage sort of laughter… the kind doesn’t mean anything at all.

Stone Arch retreat Mysore practiceAs with most of Angela Jamison’s workshops, it’s impossible to write a blog post that would do justice to the session’s subtleties and refreshing refracted perspectives on the eight limbs of the practice — so I won’t. (Sorry!)

I will, however, point you to some videos that were posted last month of a session Angela held for beginners to AY:A2. (I would have written about it sooner, but life has presented me with some challenges over the past few weeks.) Though designed for beginners, the clips touch on topics relevant to practitioners at any stage of development of the practice.

There’s the whole session and short clips segmented by topics:

Each session comes with an overview, so check out the “about” tab for that.

What I highly recommend, though, is leaving this space and heading over to Grimmly’s blog, where he posted an excellent overview of the videos — which he aptly called bootlegs — and links to relevant posts and other interesting notes. The post includes his review of the AY:A2 House Recommendations book designed by Laura Shaw Feit of Small Blue Pearls, on which the House Recommendations segment is based. If you haven’t already taken advantage of the free download of the 24-page book, I suggest you go do that, stat. I took the option of buying a copy for $3.84, since I prefer the antiquated method of reading things in hard copy.

HouseRec

Even better yet — as I always recommend with good teachers — find a way to travel to study with Angela in person. 😉

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

 

 

Goodnight, Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis

Goodnight, Moon

The Way-Before-Breakfast Club — the one for morning-challenged ashtangis — said its final goodnight with this week’s full moon.

The club was born when, on a beautiful whim last August, I received a blog reader’s email asking if I would be interested in essentially being her accountability buddy in getting up early, consistently, to practice. The who and the why went something like this:

Who/What

Welcome to the Way-Before-Breakfast Club, a cheerleading squad/support group for those of us who have a deep-seated desire to wake up at brutally early hours to practice Ashtanga yoga.

Why

  • Because we’re night owls.
  • Because we’re morning people when morning = 7 a.m. or something more sane like that.
  • Because we’re really busy.
  • Because we’re really, really busy.
  • Because we love to sleep.
  • Because we love to dream.
  • Because we live in cold regions of the world and it’s so damn cold at that hour.
  • Because we live in warm weather climates and even though it’s not cold at that hour, it’s still that hour, which is bad enough.
  • Because we don’t like to wake up when it’s pitch dark.

And the ground rules — such as they were — went something like this:

  • Prospective members need to be committed to practicing yoga six days a week, and earlier than they want to (so you may work nights, and maybe 10 a.m. is your early morning. The key is that doing this means sacrificing something important to you — e.g., sleep, time for other things, etc. — to make this work).

  • Yoga does not have to equal Ashtanga every day, but it should have a strong Ashtanga mix. It’s not that I don’t want other styles of yoga here — I just think it’s better for a community to stay focused on the common ground of this practice. This too is relative — maybe you really sort of hate Ashtanga, but you want to like it, and and practicing it twice a week would feel like a ridiculously strong mix to you. If you already <3 Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, well, that’s a five- or six-day-a-week practice, I’m afraid.

  • Members commit to either joining a calendar feed or deciding to skip the feed, but committing to posting a progress update on the page at least once a week.

  • Members must commit to keeping themselves accountable, but not beating up on themselves for the days they fall short. We all have to have positive motivation for this . . . .

  • . . . . that said . . . . So, life happens. And we fall off the wagon sometimes. But if there comes a point when a member has to give up trying and eight weeks have lapsed, that person will be asked to take a hiatus from the group. This would be done in the spirit of keeping the energy of the group a motivating and focused one.

For our virtual club, we used a pretty new platform called Mightybell (if you’re in the social media world, you would recognize the founder of this space, Gina Bianchini, as the founder of the groundbreaking Ning years ago). Mightybell was a fantastic space for us to use because we could make the space invite-only and comment on each others’ text, photos and documents.

All in all, there were about 18 members who passed through the club at one point another, along with a stellar coach/advisor/confidant/guide who has studied in Mysore and maintains a dedicated six-day-a-week home practice because there is no shala in her town. We hailed from seven countries and eight U.S. states.

By my recollection, for the first six months or so, the conversations ranged from fun and funny to juicy and even edging on transformative. Perspectives were changed, that I know for sure. Members were engaged, candid, supportive and resourceful. Here were yogis who had never met dedicating practices to one another. There were many practices that would not have happened had it not been for the encouragement of the group. And it wasn’t just about what was happening on the mat. There were some very intimate conversations about significant others and how that relates to practice; about our jobs; about how a sitting practice affects an asana practice; and on and on. Fascinating, and important, stuff.

Somewhere along the line, however, the momentum slowed. Members got quieter and quieter. Over time, everyone’s energies appeared to flow somewhere other than the humble breakfast club.

I suppose I could try to dissect what worked and what didn’t. If I’m ever involved in trying to start another virtual club of this kind, I will certainly do that. But for now, I’d rather approach the club — which one of our members dubbed the Ashtanga Fight Club, since what was discussed in the space stayed in the space — the way we approach our daily asana practices. When we roll out mats in the morning, we’re there to be in the moment. When the practice is done, when we roll up our mat, we’re done. No matter how the practice might have felt, we move on with our day knowing that we’ve got better energy coursing through us than we would have, had we not practiced that morning.

And so what started with a wonderful, spontaneous thought ended with the power of this week’s supermoon — the largest full moon of the year. Thank you to each of you who made the the Way-Before-Breakfast Club a reality. It was an honor to be part of this community.

(Illustration credit: Goodnight Moon via brillianthues’ photostream)

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

 

‘Sahana Vavatu’ shanti mantra, assisted dropbacks — and trust

Assisted backbends

Since learning “Sahana Vavatu” — one of the “shanti,” or peace, mantras — during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Xinalani retreat, I’ve found it can provide a space of solace that I can return to at any time. Because I find it powerful, beautiful and deeply reassuring, I’ve used it as a talisman, going over it in my mind in situations in which I am struggling with uncertainty, doubt or anxiety. There are times I recite it quietly to myself simply because I want to connect with its meaning and its meditative qualities. And I like to chant it as I’m nearing the end of my hour-long drive to the yoga shala in the dark of the early morning.

There’s also something else about this chant. For me, “Sahaha Vavatu” forms the perfect soundtrack to a Mysore room’s sacred student-teacher bonding ritual of assisted backbends.

Behind the chant

Here is one exploration of the chant:

In many schools, the Sahana Vavatu is recited before the asana practice. These schools include the Sivananda and the Satyananda schools, as well as most of the traditional ashrams such as the Kaivalya Dhama of Lonavla and the Shantiniketan of Rishikesh.

ॐ सहना ववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु
मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Om sahana vavatu sahano bhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navaditamastu
Ma vidvishavahai
Om shantih shantih shantih.

Om. May He protect us both (teacher and student). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the Scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other. Om peace, peace, peace.

This invocation is found in several Upanishads among which the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is probably the most famous after the Gayatri. As a shanti mantra, it advocates peace between student and teacher, encouraging both of them to study and to practice yoga, without mentioning any particular god or any particular book.

Like ashtanga’s opening and closing mantras, every translation reads a little differently. I am drawn to this translation’s juiciness — the idea of studying vigorously and working together with great energy:

Om may he protect us both together, may he nourish us both together
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective,
May we not mutually dispute
Om let there be peace in me
Let there be peace in my environment
Let there be peace in the forces that act on me
Om peace peace peace.

I like the straight-forwardness of this recitation of the chant by Lakshmish Bhat, recorded at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore (it’s the second chant in). And I might as well admit here that given how much time I’ve spent in yoga workshops of various stripes, it’s surprising to me that I was never taught this chant before this year. It’s not exactly hard to find; here is Ravi Shankar’s take.

Finally, here is commentary on the mantra by author and scholar A.G. Mohan, a student of Krishnamacharya.

Assisted dropbacks

There are many invigorating and reassuring aspects of practicing in a Mysore room, from the undulation of the room’s collective breathing to the consistency of joining a group of people in showing up to the same space day after day to practice.

One of my favorite aspects of a Mysore practice — versus a home practice or the led ashtanga environment that was my first exposure to ashtanga — is the time for assisted dropbacks before you begin your finishing poses.

It’s hard for me to believe now, but I didn’t officially switch from a mostly home-based practice to mostly practicing in a Mysore setting until about six months ago, when I committed to making the drive from Lansing to Ann Arbor at least three days a week. These days, it’s become just another part of my day to make the two-hour-round-trip-drive before heading in to work a few weekdays a week and to make the drive on weekends too, but it was a big deal for me to make the lifestyle changes I needed to make to get up at that early hour even three days a week.

For me, having the opportunity to work on assisted dropbacks was an integral part of settling into a Mysore groove. I still remember the transition of my teacher having me learn to walk my hands toward my feet in urdvha dhanurasana to one day walking my hands in far enough that my hands could be gently placed around my ankles. To step back from the process, it seems like the most unnatural thing to be doing at the crack of the dawn (or really at any time of day). Staying present in the moment, however, it feels like the most natural thing to do after reaching the pose you’ve been stopped at. What I love about assisted backbends is not just that they provide a gorgeous example of how a teacher can coax a student to going farther than she ever thought possible — it’s that I get to start my day out with a ritual built on absolute trust in another human being and absolute surrender to being in the moment. It’s harder to walk through the world questioning the intentions of people around you when you started the day out in the radiance of someone who, without a doubt, has your best interest at heart, and it’s harder to go through your day resisting things you can’t control when you have already let go so deeply.

What does it mean to approach life from a heart-centered place? That answer differs for each of us, but for me, starting out the day with assisted dropbacks helps prime me for greater receptivity.

Grabbing your what?

If you’ve never seen this very ashtanga practice, Kino MacGregor shows it in her video on chakra bandhasana, the formal name for grabbing your ankles:

In my experience, deep backbending with an experienced teacher means the difference between a safe, strong and effortless backbend versus one that comes from a place of overcompensation or recruiting flexibility from another part of the body. I have a pretty mobile low back, so had it not been for Angela Jamison teaching me how to stand strong in my legs, I would probably have eventually been flexible enough to grab my ankles even if I didn’t have the safest technique — and then I’d be unnecessarily taking the brunt of it in my low back. (Learning how to stand strong in my legs — I could do a whole post on just what that says about my relationship with myself in this world.)

More on trust

A few months ago, Kaz posted an awesomely candid post titled “Trust” on her Realizing Mysore blog. She talked about how, halfway through her month assisting Sharath in Mysore, she struggled with assisting students in grabbing their ankles during assisted dropbacks:

A couple of days later, I am still dodging students with flexible backs. And I decide to get up the courage to speak to Sharath, hoping for guidance, moral support–if you practice with this man, you probably know where this is going…

“Hi Sharath, um…so…I’m kind of afraid to take people to their ankles.”

He looks at me and says matter-a-factly, “I know.” He knows!

“Ahhhh…” I wait for some advice, encouragement, anything, but there is only awkward silence before he walks off to back bend someone himself.

Hokay… So much for feedback from the boss. In my optimism, I think he’s leaving it to me to figure out on my own. It’s not the first time. Last, year I struggled with a new posture. There was no feedback. No assistance, not even with back bending. At some point, I felt very alone as I muddled through the emotions that came up from it. By the end, however, the “personal time” was good for me. I learned a lot from it.

In practice, Sharath knows when to help and when to back off. I believe it’s one of his superpowers of perception. I’m going to read his acknowledgement paired with lack of input in this particular instance as a sign that he trusts me to figure it out myself.

I know it isn’t about strength. I’m dropping back guys much bigger than my petite Asian self. I understand the technique, more or less. I’m familiar with the ankle routine in my own practice. But I lack confidence. There is fear there…

Sharath’s right to leave me on my own. My fear is my responsibility. I know that I can’t continue to be afraid. I’m only halfway through the month of assisting and will not be able to avoid dropping back someone bendy enough for ankles. At some point I will be caught edging away from open backs, though Sharath probably sees my slipperiness already, probably smells the fear across the room. Most importantly, I just want to get on with it, I want to be totally present as I assist, and this fearfulness is getting in the way.

I look at my own practice. I ask myself, how am I at going to my own ankles? I can manage with more ease with Sharath helping me, but it is difficult when I am being assisted by someone else other than him, always stiffer somehow, a little less sure. I realize that I wasn’t always “successful” (for the lack of a better word) with assistants. It didn’t add up.

Maybe it’s easier with Sharath because I trust him so much. But what cause do I have to mistrust the assistants? Something in me stiffens when they are before me as I come up from backbend. Perhaps, it isn’t them at all, but rather something in me. Do I trust myself in this process? Or am I relying on Sharath’s magic touch to make what I still thought impossible possible? Did my mind create the conditions that made the fear difficult with others?

How can I expect others to trust me, if I myself had a hard time trusting? How can I ask someone to surrender to me, if I can’t manage surrendering myself?

Eventually, there is a breakthrough:

Then, one morning, I’m standing in front of a female practitioner who comes up from urdhva dhanurasana. She says something and all I catch is “ankles.” Here we go.

Something definitely shifts. I’m calm. And things go smoothly as we both do our part. I trust myself. And what’s more, I trust her. I reckon she trusts me too. With the breath–both of us breathing together–she extends the spine and arches back. It’s so fast and at the same time so beautifully slow. For me, it is an amazing moment of synchronicity and surrender between two people that don’t know each other.

I reach for one wrist and then the other. There is no forcing, only a little guidance. And there in that place of trust, I find a sweet balance between being able to support her and also stepping out of the way, allowing her to reach.

I realize then that with this ankle grabbing business, I’m not supposed to do all the work. I’m support crew. People generally don’t go there unless they can and the real task is not up to me really but in the heart of the practitioner finding space to go the extra distance. And for those making that first leap into this strange territory, Sharath’s usually there, guiding them towards their feet.

By the end, I ceased running from ankle grabbing. But I didn’t chase it either. If I was called, I would do, trusting in the process of practice, trusting in the abilities of the student, and trusting in myself. With more confidence, it all worked out fine–thank goodness!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m helping people to their ankles or not, whether we’re grabbing ankles or even dropping back on our own. What matters is that the practice cultivates the courage to go beyond, to see past the fears and the limitations of our own mind, and that it refines our ability to trust, trust in others as much as trust in ourselves.

Holding space

I’ve actually started this post a few times in my head since returning from the retreat, but it never seemed the right time to actually get these thoughts out. It’s interesting that I’m inspired to finally write this during a week my teacher is gone from the shala. She is on a silent meditation retreat several states away, and while I knew I’d miss her this week, I was surprised at how much I’ve still felt her presence in the Mysore room, and in my own practice, this past week.

Angela has told our group of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor apprentices that our job is to hold space. It’s not to adjust, though of course we provide a lot of adjustments. Our fundamental job in a Mysore space is to hold that space for students and their practices. We breathe with each student individually, and we breathe with the room collectively. To hold space, we need to be present, receptive, grounded, and heart-centered.

The balance that Kaz talks about in her blog post on trust — the balance of supporting a student while also leaving enough room to step out of the way so the student can reach — seems fundamental to holding space.

Your job is to hold space. It was such a simple and yet revolutionary idea the first time I heard it, and I think I’ve been able to feel the magnitude of this powerful concept so intensely this week precisely because Angela’s been gone. She has held space so consistently, so honestly, and so firmly, for her students who arrive every day at the Phoenix Center on Main Street in Ann Arbor’s vibrant downtown that even when she’s gone, her influence is palpable. It’s palpable in the way her students approach practice, and it’s palpable in the way her apprentices approach students. When the shala’s amazing senior apprentice, Rachel, comes by for assisted dropbacks while Angela is away, I feel the same envelope of support from her — and I hope she feels the same trust I have in her. I have this belief that when space is held as consistently and transparently as it is held in this shala, trust — the kind that’s earned and deserved — can become contagious.

So for me, an extension of the “Sahana Vavatu” mantra is that once the bond of the teacher-student relationship has been established, the lessons can expand and continue even if the teacher and the student aren’t in the same physical space. In consistently heading to the Mysore room to step on my mat, I have been consistently stepping into a space of self-discovery that has been held for me. I am realizing that as I live my life, I can actively choose to expand that space of learning and insight beyond the Mysore room. That space can, if I set my intentions with clarity, be expanded exponentially — to include just about my entire universe.


About the photos at the top of the post: I had thoughts about this theme of trust even before I went to the Xinalani retreat in Mexico, which is why I asked Angela if she’d be willing to take some photos with me to illustrate assisted backbends. She kindly said yes, and we held a short and sweet photo shoot in the yoga retreat’s distinctive Jungle Studio (so short and sweet that, without the benefit of a practice first, I definitely wasn’t going into any ankle-grabbing!). Thanks to the handy camera work of my friends Tim and Jade, I’ll always have the photos at the top of this post as visual mementos of this aspect of the sacred student-teacher relationship that means so much to me.

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

A time to digest

Eat Taste Heal

These days, it feels like I’m ingesting more information about food than I seem to be ingesting food itself — which is a good trend for me, considering that portion control had been a major challenge for quite some time. Thanks to the genius design of ashtanga’s six-day-a-week practice (I mean, is there anything that maintaining this practice can’t help with?) and thanks to discovering the wisdom of Ayurveda, I finally feel like I’m eating what my body signals is enough food, rather than what my emotions felt was enough food — two very different scales, for sure.

At the same time, I’m awash in outstanding books on Ayurvedic cooking and on journalistic examinations into America’s sick and broken food system:

  • During a recent weekend getaway to celebrate our first anniversary, my husband and I picked up a classic to add to my growing collection of Ayurveda books — Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad.
  • For my birthday, my sister Alisa bought me Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Livinga gorgeous and brilliant execution of a cookbook that offers up recipes and then notes recommended modifications for people of different doshas. The recipe for roasted leek and fennel bisque, for instance, says that pitta-types should omit the walnuts, and that kapha-types should substitute eggplant for fennel and soy milk for cream.
  • I finished Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us a couple months ago, and now I’ve moved on to the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, the national bestseller published back in 2006 that I’ve long been interested in but somehow never got around to read.

Dear journalist: What should I eat?

I love that from the get-go, Pollan writes that “Industrial food is food for which you need an investigative journalist to tell you where it came from.”

That reminds me that one of my favorite non-fiction books that I read in my 20s was Fast Food Nation. Yet somehow, reading that book wasn’t enough to spur any lasting dietary changes at the time. I mean, yes, OK, I had tried, in my 20s, to change my eating habits:

  • I tried to avoid some of the worst menu items at fast-food places, but I would still eat at fast-food joints from time to time (and I still craved the saltiness of McDonald’s french fries, even though Fast Food Nation’s accounts of how they are made should have disabused me of that).
  • I had a terrible experience at a Chinese restaurant in college and gave up pork on the spot (the bad experience was a plate of sweet and sour pork, and the pork tasted too . . . fleshy. It felt like an unhappy animal had died unhappily and had been prepared by an unhappy restaurant worker).
  • After college, I gave up poultry because I had read about the horrific conditions on poultry farms.
  • And eventually, I gave up red meat because I thought I should, for health reasons. (I always kept eating seafood.)

I made managed to make it a few years of not eating pork, poultry or red meat. But eventually, as my energy levels continued to be compromised and as my hair continued to thin — clumps would fall out whenever I washed my hair — I decided I needed to return to eating meat. My body was telling me that I was missing something crucial. I had been a lazy pescatarian, so I didn’t do any research about what I should do to balance out my diet. And one day, while driving, I had a vision of a hamburger. I figured my body was trying in a big way to signal to me that I needed to change something, so I started eating meat again, and I came back with a vengeance — even venturing, when offered, to try pate and veal. (I regret both choices to this day.)

This time, it’s different.

Another interesting thing happened — again, while driving — a few months ago. It was still the dark of winter, and I was headed one early morning to the yoga shala.

I ran over a rabbit.

He jetted out from the side of the highway and there wasn’t much I could do. But I felt terrible. Just simply awful. Sick to my stomach. I told myself that if I had been more alert, I could have avoided him somehow.

For whatever reason, I gave up meat that day. It’s not like I have ever eaten rabbit and felt pangs of guilt. But there was something so visceral about running over this little creature that connected me to the experience of eating meat that I decided it was finally time to give up eating those forms of flesh. (I haven’t been able to eat poultry for quite some time, and I barely ate pork and red meat anyway, but I pledged to go meat-free entirely that day.) I’m content to continue eating seafood at the moment — for now, my body is telling me that all that protein and those omega-3s are serving me well — but I could easily see there coming a day when I give that up as well.

So I am back to where I was some 15 years ago, once again going the pescatarian route. This time, however, I have a good feeling about these habits sticking. It’s not that I’m more informed, necessarily — even though I am. It’s that I have a consistent ashtanga and meditation practice — along with my Ayurveda program — to ground me, and to connect me to my intuition about what’s beneficial and what’s not. I think part of what didn’t allow my first go-around, in my 20s, to be successful was that I didn’t have any practices that kept me in tune with my intuition. Working the long hours that I did, living with the stress that I lived with both at work and at home, I kept drifting farther and farther from my sense of self. I was able to build up a thick coating of justifications for bad habits (“This microwaveable meal isn’t all that bad for me!” “This vending machine snack will be exactly what I need to get through until I get home” and so on). It’s a vicious cycle, and the thicker that coating, the harder it is to return to a state of mindful living.

I’m so very grateful to be where I am at now. While I still have a lot of work to do, I know it’s work in the right direction. I didn’t blog much about the spring Ayurvedic cleanse that I went through in April (I simply didn’t have the time), but the long and the short of it is that I felt digestive bliss for the first time during that cleanse.

By digestive bliss, I mean that I felt nothing. I didn’t feel discomfort after meals. My old friend acid reflux stayed at bay. In our asana practice, we know about sthira sukham asanam — about poses feeling steady and comfortable. For the first time, I think, I felt that way about my digestive system. The feeling of not feeling an out-of-balanced digestive system was refreshing — and surprising. That that state was a possibility was so deeply inspiring that I think it will help serve as a compass for times down the road when I will want to be tempted by less-than-advisable choices on the consumption front.


The Smart Fitter blog, which I’m a fan of, today posted on Facebook a piece about Michael Pollan in which he says, “Cooking is a political act.” The deeper I get into all this food stuff, the more I have to agree. (I wonder if it’s possible that that’s one many of the reasons why, over the past few months, I’ve been enjoying cooking at home exponentially more than I ever have in the past? 😉 )

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

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. 😉 )

20130529-153006.jpg

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

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

A few of us who went on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani earlier this month did so with a goal of leaving behind online and social media distractions. I was one of them, taking my iPad only to write, and using my iPhone for photos and video. Given how intensely relaxed everyone was able to be, I was a bit shy about asking my teacher and our retreat leader, Angela Jamison, if she would be willing to sit down for a YogaRose.net Three Questions set. On the other hand, when else would we have this setting, and this time? So I asked, and she sweetly said yes.

We set up a chair in the retreat center’s dining area, and you can hear the waves of Xinalani Beach below her as she speaks. (Thanks to the gorgeous lapping of the waves, if you have headphones, I think that’s the best way to listen to these videos.) The videos are listed first, and then some thoughts follow.

What is radical f-ing acceptance? (Hint: Think equanimity with an edge.)

What are the slowest openings? (Hint: Think about the places with the least tangible structures.)

What are questions to live by? (Hint: Think about orienting questions that keep teachers close.)

Radical f-ing (or is it effing?) acceptance

At the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2) shala, we talk a lot about radical f-ing acceptance, so this has become part of my vocabulary.

As an AY:A2 apprentice, I had the chance to observe Angela teach a workshop in Canton, Mich., last month for a group of mostly vinyasa yoga-based practitioners who didn’t have radical effing acceptance in their parlance. This discussion came up in the context of a student’s question about what she can do about the feeling that her ribs are being crushed in twists like marichyasana C. Instead of launching into an anatomy answer, Angela starting by talking about a two-step process that can help remove resistance in our practice.

The first step involves this radical effing acceptance, which can help take that first level of judgment out of the picture: “Most of the time we’re subtlely kind of fighting with our experience,” she said. She explained that learning on a subtle level to cut the nervous system’s circuit of attraction-repulsion — to learn how to step away from the fight for a minute — is a skill in and of itself, and it’s not an easy one. The next step is to work with the energetics of this: “OK, this is information. It is what it is and it’s OK. If you don’t have that baseline of just radical acceptance, you won’t actually get access to all that information.” In step 2, in other words, if you’ve confirmed that you’re safe, then can you see if there’s a way to relax? Is there a way to let that experience flow?

Yoga practitioners in the ashtanga lineage know that asana is just one of eight limbs, and the physical practice is not the end all, be all of the practice. But it’s so easy, in that moment of trying to twist and bind — or get your leg behind your head or whatever — to not get caught up in it, and only it. Using a two-step process like this can help us turn every challenge in our asana practice — and we all know how many there are every day, much less over time — into a teachable moment for our nervous system.

‘Almost no experience in the body is solid’ — except perhaps thought forms

In that same workshop, Angela noted that in most poses, there is no stasis in our bodies. “Almost no experience in the body is solid — ever. Even when we’re lying in savasana for 15 minutes, there’s almost no stasis,” she said.

The most solid aspect, for instance, of what happens in the body’s zone that includes the belly, diaphragm and ribs — which are so much air and water — are our thought forms. “If we have a thought form of, ‘Oh, this is what my belly is, and I have this belief about it’ — that’s pretty stable. And we reinforce it and we think it again, and that stays. But really, in the meantime, the physical and energetic structures are always moving,” she told the group.

And maybe in that moment, a practitioner can simply exhale.

That idea made immediate sense to me — at the same time, it blew my mind to view our body-mind connection this way. Thought forms as more solid than what is actually happening in a body? Absolutely — I mean, think about eating disorders and socially constructed self-hatred-driven body image issues that both women and men deal with.

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

Although the Xinalani ashtanga retreat, held the first week of March, was set in a secluded paradise, there were workshops each afternoon for teachers and aspiring teachers that talked about everything from karma yoga to questions to live by, which is the focus of the third question above.

We also talked about when it’s appropriate for someone to start to teach ashtanga yoga. Angela writes about this in a fantastically candid blog post she wrote a few days ago on the AY:A2 apprenticeship program:

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

We talked about this last point — that move from scarcity motives to abundance motives —  in detail during the retreat. While there is a kind of useful fire that can be generated from scarcity motives, there are dangers if someone doesn’t actually believe he or she has all the money, attention, sex and power needed, because that leaves open the opportunity to use the teaching to try to get it.

“Usually it’s not appropriate to teach ashtanga until the transition of scarcity needs to abundance motives has been met,” she said during one of our workshops. Here’s an example: Coming from a place of scarcity motives, other yoga teachers and studios can be seen as competition; from a place of abundance motives, the same teachers and studios are viewed as colleagues. It’s a world of difference, and it can have such a significant impact on how someone chooses to transmit the practice, interact with students, run a business, and everything else that surrounds the act of teaching.

My next beach reading

Back to the third video about questions to live by. Asking yourself: “Who am I and why am I here?” as a way to remain alive in an experience, no matter what it is — I’ve tried this since the retreat in ways large and small, from eating choices to teaching schedules, and it’s been interesting how it generates slightly different answers than I might get from thinking about an issue without these types of big-picture questions.

This reminds me that I want to reread the Bhagavad Gita. Again. I’ve read the classic Eknath Easwaran translation twice in the last couple of years, but on the retreat, Angela mentioned Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, published in 2007 by Graham M. Schweig. It sounds like a lovely translation, and I will start it as soon as I can get my day job to stop being so demanding. (In other words, if only I had a beach to read it on without any distractions . . . .)


Want to watch one more video? See Angela discuss “What is mula bandha?,” which was part of this Xinalani retreat blog post.

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

[Retreat dispatch] The eyes (well, dristi) have it

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced each morning

The Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced our dristi each morning. The fact that it was such an amazing space meant it also offered potential distractions — and thus even more reason to hold our gazes!

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013 AROUND 10:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

As the keys of my little iPad Bluetooth keyboard click away, the waves are rolling and music from the retreat center’s salsa night blares down below in the lounge as the other yogis on vacation here drink and dance a bit. (All the ashtangis, however, are in their rooms, and most are no doubt asleep. I should be too, but what else is new?) It’s a strange mix of sounds, but everything fits somehow.

Seeing the evening’s salsa instructor stroll in as I headed up to my room to start settling down to bed reminds me that it’s been far too long since my husband and I have had our own salsa lesson. One of the last times I saw my salsa teacher, he told me — as he does every time I see him — that I need to relax.

I remember the exchange really well. “I am relaxed,” I insisted.

“No you’re not,” he said. I must have given him a look, because he continued, “Do you know how I know?” I shook my head.

“Your eyes.”

He was right, of course. My head, as usual, thought I was relaxed, but some part of my body, as usual, gave it away that I wasn’t truly. Being the yoga dork that I am, I immediately thought of dristi at the moment, and how important it is to the ashtanga practice.

I’ve been blessed: My extreme near-sightedness has helped me keep my awareness on my own mat even early on in my yoga practice, when I didn’t have an ashtanga teacher to teach me about tristana (the concentration practice of breath, bandha and dristi). People just several feet away aren’t defined by clear lines; I see them as blobs if my glasses aren’t on. So even if I wanted to dart my eyes around the room, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything clearly enough anyway.

These days, I get to employ dristi to help deepen my internal awareness, and the more tools I have to keep the discursive mind at bay, the better. It’s also just a relief: I spend much of my time at work needing my eyes to flitter between my two computer screens (a set-up I love, don’t get me wrong) and sometimes my iPhone too. In the 700 miles or so that I drive each week, my eyes have to be focused and also scanning to keep me driving defensively and safely on the road. Only focus on one place during practice? I’m all over it.


Each evening this week, we’ve had an evening workshop that looked more closely at a couple of topics key to an asana practice or to a meditation practice, and the workshop yesterday on dristi sparked a lot of interesting discussion. Angela talked to us about two emerging fields that involve therapeutic use of eye movement: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting.

Fascinating stuff. I know there is some resistance, and even controversy, over some of these techniques. But knowing the power of dristi — whether it’s in the yoga practice or in life and literature (eyes give lovers away all the time, don’t they?) — the concepts instinctively make sense to me.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

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

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

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

Community + practice = glowing (or, how to practice in a Michigan winter when the furnace has blown)

Cartoon of a cold practice, via Michael Joel Hall

When I arrived at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor this morning at 7 a.m., my fellow AY: A2 apprentice Rachel was practicing in the finishing room, and my teacher, Angela, was on her cell phone.

Clearly, something was amiss.

Namely, the heat was nowhere to be found.

Today got up above freezing so it was warm in contrast to what temperatures have been hovering at for the past few weeks here. Still, it’s winter in Michigan, and it was in the teens when I got out of my car. The new big furnace fueling the Phoenix Center had given out for reasons I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say it made for an early morning bandha adventure (should “bandha adventure” come with a yoga superhero jingle?). Despite calls with the building’s owner and messing with fuses, the furnace never magically kicked back up.

Rachel and I had our marching orders: Do our normal practice in the finishing room — with only two space heaters and, of course, our bandhas to heat us — and move at a faster clip than we usually do. We needed to help heat the room and we needed to avoid claiming valuable real estate for too long, since we would need to open up spots for students coming in. (The Sunday invocation is at 8 a.m., but students start showing up well before that.)

So I did what is normally my two-hour practice (all of primary series through eka pada sirsasana in second series) in a record 90 minutes — and it didn’t feel like I was artificially or frantically rushing either. When I got to kapotasana, Angela came over to adjust and afterward she said, “This environment is good for you.” (She said also said what I joke is the single scariest word in a Mysore room: “Again.” :-) But she says that every day I am there. I’ve learned to love that word.)

I knew exactly what Angela meant when she said that environment was good for me. I am by nature so cautious — in my practice, in my career. I know I could practice a little faster, but I also don’t want to go so fast that I wear myself out too soon, especially when I am going on not enough sleep due to burning the candle at both ends, like I have been lately. So I try to find a steady pace that I know I can stay with. (If only I drove this way! I’m one of those terrible speed up/slow day kind of drivers.) I am so cautious with my career; as one example, I went to graduate journalism school because I wanted to make sure I had time to learn from some of the best people in the field before I started reporting for a living. I don’t think these are bad tendencies — I have always believed that the measured among us help balance out the manic energy of the “shoot first, ask questions later” types. I truly think organizations need both to succeed, and societies need both to advance.

But yeah. This was a great reminder that seemingly unideal conditions can actually be the ideal environment to bring out the best in us. The lack of space in the physical room reflected the lack of space for my mind to wander. I was on a mission: Help heat the room, and move through my practice fast enough to not take up space for too long. That left little room for dinking, roving thoughts, etc.

It turned out that we had exactly the right number of spots for the number of people who came, and I don’t think anyone had to wait too too long before a spot opened up for them. The body heat got up so high that we didn’t even need the space heaters on after some point. Even the new students of the shala’s once-a-week drop-in class, called Mysore Light, seemed to enjoy the super sweaty, detoxifying heat. The huge, steamed-up windows were glorious to see — like a piece of art that everyone in the shala had helped to create together.

The cartoon at the top of this post was posted on AY: A2’s Facebook page last month by D.C. ashtangi Michael Joel Hall. (Thanks, Michael! Hopefully you and I will get to meet some day — perhaps when I get a chance to go out and see Jen Rene.) I thought of that cartoon today, and it made me laugh.

Today’s whole escapade is also a great opportunity to bring up an aptly titled blog post from earlier this week: “How to practice when hell’s freezing over“:

Anyone else cold and nauseous? Darn if this is not a cold, cold ocean. So. Are we going to practice with this situation or what?

It’s not actually about practicing in cold temperatures. But it is about practicing in cold, adverse conditions — perhaps the coldest and the darkest kinds, the kinds our unenlightened nervous systems create for ourselves.

I guess this post is dedicated to anyone struggling with finding the wherewithal to establish a consistent morning yoga practice. This morning could have totally, like the furnace, blown. But community + practice = glowing. No matter what the conditions when you start, everything alway ends up better by the time you’re done.

Steamy Mysore room

(Graphic credit: Via Michael Joel Hall’s Facebook photos. Photo credit: Courtesy of Tim Veeser)  

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

‘All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.’

Mysore room, post-practice

My Mysore sanctuary, post-practice on a recent Sunday

I had dinner with a good friend the other night and we were talking about led classes versus Mysore classes. She, like me, grew up (in that yoga coming-of-age kind of way) in an environment of power/vinyasa classes mixed in with accents of led Ashtanga classes. She — like me, before I found my Mysore sanctuary at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor — didn’t quite get all the nuances of how a Mysore room operated. I used to suspect that I would have foundered had I learned Ashtanga in the traditional Mysore way. I envisioned Rose in a parallel Mysore universe having gotten frustrated from being stopped and fleeing the whole yoga scene, never to return.

So funny to realize now how welcoming and deeply nurturing a Mysore room actually is — how “getting stopped” is the way our go-go-go Type A culture describes the very compassionate philosophy of not pushing you faster than you should go.

Enter the Mysore SF blog, with a new post titled, “How to learn Ashtanga Yoga. Led Class versus Mysore class?”:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room. By the way the Mysore room is the big sister to vinyasa classes. She is the mama from which vinyasa/power and all its hybrids come from so if and when you’re ‘ready to deepen your practice’ Mysore is the inevitable truth for you…my sincerest apologies.

“All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.” I love this concept, and in fact, I’ve been going through an unlearning curve for less than a year as a Mysore student and, more recently, as an apprentice of Angela Jamison. It’s a fascinating process unlike any other I think I’ve experienced.

(And one of these days when I haven’t worked 11 hours and when I’m not trying to beat the clock to bed so that I can get up early enough to practice — well, one of these days, I’ll have to write more about it.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Kino MacGregor making news in the Ashtanga world — why is this not surprising?

Kino MacGregor on ElephantJournal.com

I ate two meals at my desk today and barely got up from my chair over the course of eight hours  — headphones on because I had so much to finish that I needed laser focus — and yet I still managed to learn about Kino MacGregor’s new piece in elephantyoga.com (while managing a client’s Facebook account, I saw the share in my newsfeed):

People love and hate me. I am, after much deliberation, okay with that.

I’m a bad Ashtangi.

I wear small shorts and mascara. I’m not a natural blonde. I color my hair and blow dry it, even while in India. I’m also vain and I love beautiful and sometimes expensive things. I’ve been called an Ashtanga cheerleader, a slutty yoga teacher (I’m married), a good businesswoman (as if that’s a derogatory term for a yoga teacher) and a sell-out for fame and fortune. I’ve lost really important friendships and hurt the people I love the most through the delusion of blind ambition. I am far from perfect, most likely more flawed than most.

In the mad rush to success I have produced five Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, written two books, started a line of yoga products, filmed online yoga classes, taught in over 100 different cities all over the world, co-founded a yoga center on Miami Beach (Miami Life Center) and founded Miami Yoga Magazine. I’ve figured out how to use social media and build an online presence, dare I say my own “brand.” I tweet, blog, vlog and film for my YouTube channel.

For all these reasons I am, as Guruji used to say, a “bad lady.”

But I’m also a good Ashtangi. I practice six days a week and follow the guidelines for practice as best I can from my teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore. I go back to Mysore to continue my studies and be a student at least once a year. I follow the simple vegetarian diet that my teachers recommend. I do my best to be self-reflective in everything I do, I try (not always successfully) to be a nice person all the time.

I work hard at everything I do, take nothing for granted and am above nothing. I am thankful every day for my students, both the real people in my classes and the real people watching my videos and reading my books at home. I wasn’t strong or patient when I started the practice, and yoga has taught me both strength and patience. You can only push so hard before you break—I’ve learned that all the rest of success in both yoga and life you have to receive through grace and surrender.

So maybe I’m also a little bit good.

Some people would say that what I do is all in the interest of building my own personal yoga empire, in the aggrandizement of my ego. To them I am something akin to the Kim Kardashian of the yoga world.

But to myself, I hope I’m more like Oprah Winfrey. I would love to take the message of yoga to millions of people, because I believe in the power of yoga to transform the world. Someone once asked me,

“If you knew you could reach a billion people with the message of yoga and half would hate you and half would you love you, would you still do it?”

Yes, for sure.

I honestly, perhaps naively, believe that if every person in the world practiced yoga it would be a better place. I would personally like to be a vehicle of inspiration for people to practice yoga, and if having some people hate me is a price I pay for putting my message out there, then I am strong enough to pay that price. At the same time, I admit that I am not as saintly as that sounds. I enjoy seeing myself in videos, on the covers of my books and I like seeing the results of my efforts. I also like that my husband and I can make a good living doing something we love and believe in. While I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of what I’ve done, I do feel a sense of self-confidence that comes from the real world experience of accomplishing some of my dreams.

It’s hardly surprising that Kino MacGregor has managed to become the focus of a lot of attention — she is brilliant at that, and she explains in this piece why she is so driven.

I only had time to take a quick glance earlier today. Now that I am home, I just read it through, even though I should be finishing up the work I need to email out by tomorrow morning. My first reaction, though, is that I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I used to love Ashtanga yoga gossip. OK, I still do — but I think I will probably be in a better place to reflect on this after practicing tomorrow morning. There’s a lot of fodder for juicy considerations here — a nexus of a low-fi yoga method rooted in India (nothing glitzy or sexy about the silent transmission of the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system) as experienced in a highly visual age of digital marketing, social media promotion and unapologetic entrepreneurship (all of which swirl in a sphere where you can find lots of glitz and sex).

Hilltop Yoga, where I teach one Ashtanga class each week, put this up on its Facebook page tonight:

We couldn’t be more excited for Kino’s visit to Hilltop this coming April. As you can tell from this article, she’ll have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to share with all in attendance. We are honored to be hosting a yogi who is both real and in the world, while still honoring her lineage and the tradition of this practice. Registration details coming soon. You won’t want to miss this!

My second reaction is that I give Kino props for laying it all out there the way that she did. She sounds sincere in saying:

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for teachers who teach an under-the-radar Mysore program early in the morning with little advertising and get their students through the power of their own dedication and word of mouth. You rock! I love each of you for your humility, your quiet strength and the un-sung heroism of your work.

I, however, am not one of you. It’s not my path. It’s not that I want more, I want different. I want to be the ambassador of yoga in the “public” sphere. I want to share the message of yoga, authentic real, lineage based yoga, with as many people as possible. I want to be a bridge between the average person and the authentic experience that I’ve known in India with my teachers and the Ashtanga Yoga method.

I work in the marketing communications world now and I think a lot about how effective use of social media can help spread yoga. And yet part of me wonders whether an Oprah-like figure can transmit the heart of this type of lineage authentically.

And in the next instant, I wonder if that is even a relevant question.

The Confluence Countdown, by the way, offers up this:

This is sure to dominate Ashtanga blogs and more than a few studios in the days ahead. What I imagine will be even more exciting will come after her planned arrival in Mysore next week.

We aren’t going to add to that chatter. The main reason is that we don’t know Kino MacGregor. Like any Ashtanga practitioner who doesn’t live in an Internet-less cave, we know of her. (We have always heard more positive than negative, but we have heard the negatives she addresses.) But nothing more. And so we can’t and won’t judge whether we think she’s being honest, whether she is serving the Ashtanga tradition faithfully or if one can be a good yogi and color her hair. (I’m kidding. We don’t think that matters.) We will continue to look forward to her coming to Los Angeles this spring so we can meet and can learn from her. Probably like anyone else, once we have spent a weekend workshop with her, we will reach some kind of basic judgement about her.

Steve instead returns to a past I’ve found interesting and have long wanted to blog about (though the thoughts are still simmering on this one): the “controversy” in the 1990s over then-up-and-coming style of power yoga versus Ashtanga yoga.

I would say more, but work really does call. I have a fair amount of work left to do tonight, and tomorrow is another early morning. I suppose being a householder has its advantages: I have to stay focused on what needs to get done, or something — either practice or work — gets thrown out of balance. (Otherwise, I’d be staying up late thinking about this some more and checking to see what ashtangis are saying over social media and on blogs.)

Making your living through Ashtanga yoga does seem like a fantasy to me, but the need for Kino to share this brutally honest piece reminds you that living the dream can come with a price; there are some weighty decisions you get to avoid when that door is closed.

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

Plow, baby, plow (or, how to create new patterns)

Old and new patterns“Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.” –Sri T Krishnamacharya

I shared this graphic on the YogaRose.net Facebook page today, and I liked it so much I thought I would share it here as well. (I saw it by way of Yoga Hana‘s share, and as far as I can tell, the original came from Tim Kelleher Yoga.)

Here is what I said about it on Facebook:

So this was a perfect thing for me to catch today. It’s been such a long week (already, and it’s only Wednesday!) and I realized this afternoon that today I started to fall into old patterns of stress. I identified this and took a little break from work because I wanted to short-circuit the pattern. One of the things practicing six days a week has helped me do is not eliminate old patterns — yet — but identify them and decrease the frequency and duration of them.

And here is what had happened: I had felt like a big weight had been lifted by mid-afternoon because I had just wrapped up a two-hour training session that I was co-leading. It was a fun and fruitful session, and having it behind me allowed me to get to the rest of the deadlines I have for the end of the week. But when I got back to the office, a couple of things I had checked off my list had boomeranged back to me, which was a bit frustrating. (What’s arguably worse than not being able to check something off my list is checking it off and having it reappear again.) I think old-pattern Rose would have then spiraled into feeling more stressed and would have powered through and tried to get as much done in the afternoon as possible, even if it meant a darkening mood. New-pattern Rose took a step back, realized Project Boomerang could be dealt with the following day, left the office for about half an hour, and returned feeling a lot better.

Zap, the sound of the short-circuiting of an old pattern.

Traces

I’ve seen this Krishnamacharya quote before, but seeing it again today reminded me of a passage I particularly like in the book Myths of the Asanas about halasana, or plow pose:

According to yoga philosophy, all of our actions and thoughts leave traces in our consciousness. Our actions in this world can either remove impressions from the landscape of our consciousness or carve new ones. Just as Haladhara [Krishna’s older brother] dragged the Yamuna [a great river] to him with his plow, the yogi seeks to draw the mind back from its negative wanderings in order to absorb the positive. There is a sutra in the fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutra that talks about this kind of ‘plowing of the mind’:

nimittam-aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ-varaṇa-bhedastu tataḥ kṣetrikavat

Essentially, what this sutra says, just as a farmer plows his field to introduce water to the field for irrigation, if we remove the obstacles in our path toward yoga, we can lead our mind toward it. In this way, the plow of our mind leads us to liberation, based on the quality of our thoughts. The plow pose provides an excellent opportunity to plow the field of our mind with positive thinking.

And finally, this reminds me of a David Swenson quote posted on Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page (and shared 25 times) earlier this month:

I have understood that meditations, prayers, asanas are just a tool. And this tool can be used to plough the soil and to make it fertile. This is what practice does – it makes the soil fertile. If a person fulfils difficult asanas or prays constantly it does not mean yet that this person is spiritual. It simply means that inside him there is a fertile soil. And what the person plants into this soil will grow. Therefore, the more intensively we practice, the more cautious we should be. If you plant an ego into this fertile soil it will grow up much more than an ego of a usual person. Spirituality is not defined by practice. Spirituality is defined by concentration, intention and actions of a practitioner.

zerodegreesIt’s the middle of winter — my least favorite season — here in Michigan. The weather last week was a frosty 0 degrees before you took wind chill into account. Yesterday and today? A balmy 55 degrees. In a couple days it will be back in the teens. The roads have been an absolute mess and the commute has required even concentration than usual. It’s most certainly not the time to think about gardening, growth and abundance.

And yet . . . maybe this is actually a wonderful season to nurture and cultivate new plantings. Since I’ve never actually had a garden myself, here’s some random gardening advice I just found online:

Regular tilling and amending of your soil will make it easier to work with as years go by….Preparing garden soil is a long-term, continual process. It can’t be done in one growing season. Fall may be the best time to begin soil improvement, but it’s also possible to begin now.

As with a garden, so with our consciousness?

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

Chai and LCD Soundsystem

 

Ready for the drive back to work

Ready for the drive back to work!

I had two choices today: Skip the drive to the shala because I had to be at work earlier than normal on a Wedneday, or wake up even earlier than I normally do.

So, for the first time ever, I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make the hour-long drive to the shala. A few months ago, I couldn’t manage the 5:30 a.m. alarm without snoozing . . . and snoozing some more.

Even when we try not to, we mark milestones in our practice — the first time we almost reach a bind in marichyasana C or D, and the time we actually achieve it. The first time we could hang in a headstand without wobbling. The first time savasana took us somewhere else.

Today was one for me. I have struggled for so long and never thought I could turn myself into a morning person, but slowly — so very slowly — rhythms started taking over, just like they do in the practice itself.


On the two weekdays when I make the drive to the shala, it’s like I have three journeys before I even begin my work day. There’s the journey eastbound on Interstate 96 to practice, the journey on the mat itself, and the journey back westbound on the highway to be in my office chair more or less on time. Today, a warm cup of chai and the eccentric sounds of James Murphy helped the drive over seem shorter and more relaxed than normal, despite the slick roads. On the mat — well, suffice it to say that backbends are teaching me quite a bit about what’s stuck, and perhaps tucked, into my body.

On the journey back — that was interesting too. As I found comfort sipping my Ginger Dragon (ginger honey lemon tea), I passed one rough-looking accident after another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many spinouts on highways when there wasn’t rain or snow. But the light drizzle of the morning made for some serious black ice and unaware drivers were thrown off off-ramps. In one case, an 18-wheeler was hibernating in a ditch as a little crumpled car faced the wrong direction on the highway shoulder. Once many years ago, I hit a patch of black ice driving on a Vermont highway in the dark of night. Had the guardrail not been there, I would not be here. So when I pass accidents, part of me migrates outside my car and I am with the drivers of the cars on the side of the road, wondering if they also experienced a slow-motion feeling — the kind when you can observe yourself thinking, “Hey, this might be it. I guess I have to be OK with that.”


Two weekends ago, I cleaned out another pocket of my belongings — perhaps the last of three little areas in my house where I’ve let stuff accumulate. In doing so, I found a manilla folder I had started in, I think, 2010. I had printouts of general info on traveling to Mysore and on how to register. Not sure why I wasted the paper to print this out, but I looked at this little outdated folder and recycled it all with some measure of finality. It was my little letting go of trying to hope for that journey, my promising myself to let the twists and turns of life take their course without me constantly pointing to a map with a suggested destination. Maybe it will happen. I know it’s still possible. (Anything must be possible, right, if I can get up at 4:30?) But I won’t wish for a particular destination, just like we’re not supposed to wish to finally get that bind.


It is indeed that time of year when ashtangis from all over the world board planes with Mysore as their final destination, and that means interesting new blogs or the rekindling of others.

But one ashtangi who isn’t making the trip this year finds that staying put is a journey in and of itself.


You wanted it real
But can you tell me what’s real?
There’s lights and sounds and stories
Music’s just a part

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

[VIDEO] Three questions for Jayashree and Narasimhan / The sutras as ‘a single string that gives a single meaning’

20121116-211845.jpg

Long day, up at 5 a.m. in my Eastern time zone, where it’s now the middle of the night. It’s only 1:30 a.m. here in California, where I just landed — a state that hasn’t been home for a decade and a half, yet still feels very much like home. Being a bit turned around on the whole space and time front seems like a fairly apt time to talk about how I started the week — with two evenings spent in workshops with Indian scholars Dr. M.A. Jayashree and M.A. Narasimhan, hosted by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor. The sessions, as promised, went a little like this: “Monday, we will have an introduction to Indian philosophy and some chanting of the Samadhi Pada. Tuesday, we will focus on the eight (ashtau) limbs (anga) that asht-anga yoga comprises.”

Looking back, though, I can’t really separate day 1 from day 2, and one of my favorite quotes from the evenings was when Jayashree explained that Patanjali goes on like loops. Some people say “sutra” (singular) rather than “sutrani” (plural) to describe the yoga sutras, because every sutra is linked with the other (just as each of the four chapters of the books, or padas, of the Yoga Sutras are linked with the other):

It is a single string that gives a single meaning.

At minimum, we were told, “to understand one sutra, you need the previous, and the next.”

Jayashree, whose bright smile reminded me of my mom’s joy and radiance when she sings classical Thai songs, later illustrated the idea by the idea by sticking out her arm. “Can I call my hands as ‘Jayashree’? Can I call my eyes as ‘Jayashree’?”

‘Ashtanga is yoga’

When I was in Maui this spring for my honeymoon, I had the good fortune to meet the gorgeous and ginormous Banyan Tree (pictured above) that graciously unfolds in the town of Lahaina. One tree, many trees — it’s hard to tell, because you can’t quite discern where one ends and one begins. It reminded me of M.C. Escher drawings.

At some point, Narasimhan started discussing viveka and at some point, he said: “In the Indian system of thought, there is no black and white. No right or wrong. Shades of gray.” (This, in turn, reminded me of what I’ve been learning about Ayurveda, and the idea that there is no “good” or “bad” herb or mineral, for instance. Just the appropriate one for the appropriate condition.)

Loops

Here are some impressions, some moments:

  • One way to view yoga’s purpose? To create optimistic, happy and connected people who can in turn help make society happier and more connected.
  • It’s not accurate to view India as having many Gods. “There is only one primordial force,” Narasimham said. “We always follow the primordial force.” What, then, of all the images of deities — such as the unmistakable Ganesha, with his elephant head? Think of them as creative forces. “Creatives forces are represented as a god — small ‘g’ god.”
  • Ganesha is the remover of internal obstacles. A human being has a spinal column and two hemispheres, and from the back, the human body can appear like an elephant’s head.
  • Bramacharya is “controlled sex” rather than celibacy. So, even if you are married, you only have sex under certain circumstances, not just whenever and wherever; and that schedule is given in the scriptures.
  • The nervous system is the bridge between the physical and the mind.
  • Kriya yoga as physical, mental, emotional –> tapasya, svadyaya, isvara pranidhana –> action, knowledge, devotion/love –> karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga.
  • The electrical attraction between a cloth and dust creates a dirty cloth. You remove dirt by using a cleaning agent such as soap. Tapasya acts as a cleaning agent to help separate us from guilt, much the same way other cleaning agents work to break attraction. The eight limbs of yoga cleanses us physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Processes abound, but effort does not necessarily need to accompany those processes. Asana –> pranayama –> pratyahara. Dharana –> dhyana –> samadhi. You cannot put forth effort to express samadhi, which is the opposite of what happens in the external world, where typically, the more effort you put forth, the more you are rewarded.

I could share more impressions and more moments, or I could let you hear a little from the brother-and-sister team yourself. In the first video, they offer an unforgettable analogy of samadhi to none other than a cup of coffee — while name-checking Starbucks to boot. In the second question, they discuss subjects and objects. I think the springboard for the third question (questions and answers sort of overlapped, as you might imagine happens in this kind of discussion) was about Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, who was described as essentially a psychologist, with his work being more relevant today than ever before.

Three Questions

What is samadhi?

The second yoga sutra discusses “citta vrtti,” which you describe as loops. How can the first few sutras help us as human beings understand consciousness and our relationships with objects, and how can the sutras help us change our relationships with loop patterns?

What changes with yoga?

I am such a devotee of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice because I love its design. It’s beyond brilliant. And every time I learn more about the aphorisms that collectively make up Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, my respect grows. For me, listening to Jayashree and Narasimhan discuss the sutras — and chanting in Sanskrit along with them — helped illuminate the intricate yet I suppose ultimately simple architecture of the sutras. The images I’ve been feeling in the days since have been Escher-esque bridges, ropes and branches that loop, pathways that only appear linear, trap doors that actually liberate, and beginnings and ends that connect and recoil. It doesn’t matter where in this spiritual design you start. Walk along whichever foot path intrigues you most to discover a universal journey through your individual experience.

Links

(Photo credit: The famous Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, via echobase_2000’s Flick Creative Commons license)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Workshop dispatch: Richard Freeman resources

I first tasted the teachings of Richard Freeman when I read The Mirror of Yoga earlier this year as part of an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat. I first met Richard at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this past March, where I was introduced to his vibrant and rich imagery — oh, that cobra hoodie! — and where I was lucky enough to get a nearly indescribable dropback adjustment from him (what I refer to as my Oh. My. God. dropback adjustment).

Miro Barn near Columbus, OhioWhen I met Richard again this past weekend inside a beautiful converted barn in Columbus, Ohio, I told him about that backbend, whose energy I think I still have in my body. He simply said, “Hmm. I must have slowed down your backbend.” There he was, being humble. I sort of wanted to shout, “THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ALL YOU DID! COME ON, COP TO THE MAGIC POWERS YOU HAVE!” But I just smiled and we moved on to another subject.

At the end of the three days with Richard — after he was cool enough to talk to me for my Three Questions video series — I got into my car for the four-hour drive back home. Before I hit the highway, I had popped the first of his six-CD audio set, The Yoga Matrix, into my player, and I just finished the last CD. (All this really means is that I am ready to start round 2 of listening — there is just so much packed into these discussions.)

You probably already know this, but the guy is amazing. Here are some ways to get more Richard Freeman right now:

The Mirror of Yoga [book]

I got really into the book and read it about this time last year, and I also did a blog post here and here.

The Yoga Matrix: The Body as a Gateway to Freedom audio course

The Yoga MatrixAlthough I got a lot out of The Mirror of Yoga, for me, The Yoga Matrix is where it’s at. While Richard covers many of the same themes, it makes a big difference to be able to hear his voice, his intonation and his cadence. At the time I’m writing this, you can get the audio download for about the cost of three drop-in yoga classes ($36.73).

Pranayama: Unfolding the Secret Breath

This is what I woud love to dive into next (probably won’t have time until next year, though). From the official description:

Pranayama (literally “to release life energy from its bounds”) is considered the central practice that will lead you into the true promise of yoga: the experience of freedom itself. When performed correctly, this powerful form of conscious breathwork reveals the intricate web of your thoughts, physiology, and energetic patterns—helping you learn to quiet the mind, heighten receptivity, and open to what is referred to in yoga as the intrinsic radiance of being. Featuring six video sessions with Richard Freeman plus a wealth of lessons and exercises, Pranayama will teach you advanced yogic meditative techniques that will serve as a solid base for a longstanding practice.

The cost? An incredibly reasonable $49.

Classes, workshops, intensives, and archived studio talks

I know someone attending Richard’s intensive this January, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Find all the details of Richard’s travels, intensives at his home studio, studio archives, and the occasional blog post, here. (Just a quick note to say that Richard has a scheduling conflict and won’t be teaching at the second annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in 2013.)

Social media

See his listing on the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid.

Have you studied with Richard Freeman? Would you add anything?

Richard Freeman head shot

Related links:

>>[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman

Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor

Richard Freeman and his wife, Mary Taylor, before the start of a workshop session. Mary, a total sweetheart and a beautiful teacher in her own right, assisted every workshop session.

The YogaRose.net Three Questions series has been on a long hiatus. It’s not because I haven’t been around fascinating teachers (because I have), and it’s not because I haven’t been taking video (because I have). But I try to go with the flow whenever I’m lucky enough to be in the presence of amazing teachers, and if it doesn’t feel right to ask them to answer three questions for the blog, then I don’t. (On a couple of occasions, video would have happened, but we ran out of time — you know how it goes during a short weekend with someone.)

In any case, Three Questions is back with a vengeance (a vertical vengeance, you’ll note). Thanks so much to Richard Freeman for being gracious enough to talk to me at the end of the three-day workshop he held in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend, and to Yoga on High for hosting him.

What is alignment?

You talked earlier about how mula bandha is not something you do, but rather something you serve. Could talk a little about that?

What is the importance of imagery?

As a follow-up question, could you talk about one image you particularly like?

I guess that was technically four questions. It’s hard to stop at three — or 300 — when you’re in his sphere. 

Related links:

>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

Yoga culture taboo, or sign of the times?

I’m impressed by the amount of in-your-face, get-off-your-asana, get-out-the-vote activism that yogis backing President Barack Obama have been demonstrating of late. Four quick examples out of a ton I could have chosen from:

  • This weekend, when I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a Richard Freeman workshop (more on that rich experience in blog posts later in the week), I ran into a friend and local yoga teacher. Wearing an Obama T-shirt, she told me she would only be staying for the first day because she had to canvass all weekend. And I remembered back to this spring —  when I last saw her during Tim Miller’s workshop at Yoga on High — about how excited she had told me she was for this November visit. Yoga matters, but so do politics — and she chose to hit the pavement rather than step on her mat for a workshop with a premier senior Ashtanga teacher.
  • A yoga studio in California whose e-newsletter I receive sent this short dispatch last week: “In support of our privilege and duty to vote and as part of the YOGA VOTES effort we are offering free classes all day Election Day Tuesday 11/6/2012. Just sign in! Thats it! Dedicate your practice to our future. Thank you!” We know it’s not easy running a financially sustainable yoga studio, so for Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose, Calif., to give up proceeds from a full day of classes is an excellent show of support for the importance of the process.
  • Yogis have also taken to Twitter, my favorite of the social networking platforms. See the trending #yogisforobama hashtag. Kino MacGregor has been tweeting pro-Obama political tweets for at least a few months (that’s just based on what I’ve caught here and there — she tweets so much that there’s no way I could always be on top of it), including reminding folks back when the deadline to register to vote was coming up.
  • The yoga blogophere seems to be heating up recently. Check out “Yogis Stand Up and Endorse Obama” on YogaBrains, take a look at this recap from YogaDork, and read this post from Neal Pollack, who writes, “Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values.”

Viveka — this is all a form of the discernment that we cultivate while on the mat, right? Why would we cultivate these skills through our yoga practice and then not exercise our right to act based on them?

Normally, this is the kind of post I would avoid writing. I have one foot in the political world through my public relations job, and I try to keep politics out of this space. But . . . well, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too soundly tonight. Despite Nate Silver’s statistics-based optimism — currently, that Obama has a high chance of winning — it’s close enough, and I am concerned enough, and the stakes are high enough, that I decided I should.

>>LINK: Have you seen the What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far website? 

Not 100 percent happy with Obama? Angela Jamison addresses that:

We are evolving politically. The expansion of the rights of citizenship is inevitable; the expansion of the definition of the human scope of responsibility (from tribe, to nation, to species, to planet) is inevitable. Unless we stall, take too many steps backwards, and thus all kill ourselves first. Obama is about 50 years ahead of Romney when it comes to the political enlightenment process. So you are another 50 years ahead of Obama. Duh. We need you to be. Don’t hate him for not expressing your exact values. If he did, he would never have gotten this far.

I work in Michigan’s state capital, and a fair amount of my work intersects with politics (not to mention that a few years ago, I worked in the belly of the political beast itself). I’ve seen how hard it is for any legislation to get passed. Think everyone wants to protect puppies? Think again. Unless you’ve worked in the political system, you have no idea how many deals have to be cut for anything — even the seemingly most mundane or obvious things — to move forward. The fact that Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through still sort of astounds me.

>>LINK: Your Election Eve moment of zen: Replay of the infamous Mitt Romney 47 percent video

Yes, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in our two-party political system. Yes, there’s a ton of BS. Yes, there’s a ton of power-grabbing and power-hungry people. But no, it is not the case that who is in elected office doesn’t matter. No, it’s not true that in the end, everyone wants the same thing and all will be well, which I’ve been hearing a few yogis say in recent weeks. As anyone who has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition — an injustice the ACA, which critics love to call Obamacare, has dealt with — can tell you, that’s not the case.

In the first verse of the Ashtanga closing prayer, we say:

“May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Tomorrow in the United States, we have a chance to do more than channel good vibrations about responsible leaders.

(Photo credit: Obama T-shirt for sale on Cafe Press.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


 

 

 

 

 

Radiant sources, power lunches and the influence of all those wordy words

Star Ruby

Dominic had a ring with a mesmerizingly radiant stone, and before I had to say goodbye to him I finally asked him what the stone was. Turns out it was a star ruby. Pictured here is a star ruby housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dominic Corigliano, my teacher’s teaching mentor, guest taught at the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor shala this past week during, appropriately enough, the waxing moon — a time when the moon is making its way around the earth, looming larger until it reaches its full state.

When Angela Jamison announced that Dominic was coming, I was looking forward to seeing how this would work. For one thing, yoga students like to meet their teacher’s teacher. I think part of it is awe: Who is this person who inspired someone as inspiring as my teacher? Part of it is curiosity: Will this person be anything like I’ve pictured him or her to be? Part of it is simply excitement.

For another, I’m accustomed to Ashtanga workshops structured around themes: bandhas, adjustments, and so on. So I wondered: What happens during a highly anticipated visit by a Mysore teacher to a highly traditional shala when there were no workshops or guided classes scheduled? How does all the juicy stuff — the subtle and mind-blowingly important observances culled from decades of practice, learning and teaching — get passed on?

~~~

Dominic was wearing a T-shirt with “Shiva” written in a KISS font the first morning I met him, before the Mysore class got underway. He struck me as a down-to-earth ashtangi with a quiet punk rock vibe. HIs adjustments were firm yet gentle, and when he did use words, they were quite matter-of-fact.

By the end of his visit here, I realized I have been drinking from the energetic currents of Dominic’s teachings for years now — much in the same way you are infused with the rhythm and the passion of the pioneering blues masters when you listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest work.

~~~

"Before, Again II"

“Before, Again II” by Joan Mitchell, housed at the DIA. The image links to a video that discussing the artist’s influences.

The third time I was in his orbit, it was for a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts with a small group from AY: A2. I joined the group late, however, and contemplated calling someone’s cell phones when I arrived to avoid the goose hunt of trying to locate half a dozen people in a huge building. For whatever reason, I decided to wing it instead. I walked slowly and tried to let my intuition guide me and I guess I didn’t do too badly, considering that I found them in about five minutes. I squinted down hallways for Angela’s spritely movements, but how I actually found the group was by spotting, for a second, a ponytail gliding down a hallway. Dominic could have been any museum-goer, but there was such a calm about this figure that I figured I was in the right place. He was totally enthralled with the pieces he was viewing when I caught up. One thing I’ve noticed with the senior Western teachers I’ve met: They are so present in everything they do.

~~~

After the DIA, we all headed to a cute little cafe called Le Petite Zinc, a healthy and delicious lunch spot a short drive away. I don’t remember what prompted this, but I asked Dominic about teaching Ashtanga yoga versus teaching its hyper-popular offshoots of power yoga and vinyasa yoga. Dominic knew that I’ve studied with Tim Miller, so he explained that he and Tim go back a long, long way — back to Encinitas, where the power yoga style was inadvertently sparked as they tried to offer Ashtanga in a way that would appeal to settings such as health clubs.

Dominic said tweaks to the method — such as modifying poses for people with knee problems — were always done in the service of trying to help students eventually connect back with the traditional Ashtanga method. The same goes for using music, which Dominic pioneered. He explained that he used music as a way of working with states of hypnosis. (What he didn’t do was use iconic songs with familiar riffs and lyrics the way some of the most popular vinyasa teachers today do.)

~~~

I’m going to pause here to say that yesterday on the Inside Owl blog, Angela reposted one of her posts from 2007, in which she talks about Dominic’s teaching method and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (emphasis below is mine):

Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.

A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.

I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural. No big deal.

This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.

Imagine what would have happened had Angela circa 2007 been introduced to this pose — “’Siva’s terrible aspect,’ a posture in honor of the deity’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side” – in a way laden with verbal cues telling her what the pose would be like or should be like for her.

~~~

Back to the lunchtime conversation. Dominic told me that he approached non-Mysore classes as how to use fewer and fewer words. He put it so well and I wish I had taken notes (actually, that’s not really true — I don’t wish I had taken notes, because that would have destroyed the casual lunch vibe). We basically talked about the constraints placed on students when too many words are used. I was fascinated by whether some of the most seemingly feel-good words in a yoga class can actually serve as distractions from a deeper type of empowerment that could happen if a teacher were to do more of holding space than creating space.

(As we ate our crepes and salads served up at a place dedicated to simple and classic cuisine, it was interesting to think about sourcing Ashtanga instruction the way food is sourced — whether as a consumer only or both a consumer (because all teachers have to be students first) and a producer. No matter what kind of sustenance, tapping into a strong current whose source remains vibrant and clean helps us flourish. What types of food are going into this body? What types of instruction are passing into this nervous system? As a teacher, I need to ask myself whether the words I’m using are organic — what will their effects be? Or am I relying on pretty words with artificial flavorings and empty calories, void of any true nutritional properties?)

And as Dominic talked, I had a flash to a post from earlier this year on Angela’s other blog — the AY: A2 blog — about the poverty of verbal instruction:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Sitting across from Dominic while hearing bits of this blog post rolling around my mind felt a bit like watching time-elapsed parampara.

If you’re not familiar with parampara, it helps to go back to the KPJAYI website (emphasis below is mine):

Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara.
The dharma, or duty, of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga — lies beyond simply mastering the practice; knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways. Surrendering to parampara, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the tradition he or she follows is true and selfless.
Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.

~~~

It’s only now crystallizing for me that the legacy of Dominic’s teachings have been filtering to me through strong and distinct currents:

  • The power yoga classes I started taking in 2009 as part of a yoga teacher training program I had enrolled in not for the purpose of teaching, but to deepen my understanding of the eight limbs of yoga. (Interesting to reflect on power yoga classes as adaptations — sometimes truer to the original and sometimes highly marketed, far-flung versions of the original — of an Encinitas-based yoga experiment to make the Ashtanga practice more accessible all those years ago.)
  • The clean and direct transmissions as experienced through my embodied teacher’s presence when I am in her room.
  • The way my teacher writes about the practice — from a 2012 blog post about the use of language all the way back to a 2007 post on use of language in a room, as written in the Inside Owl blogger’s voice.

Here I was, having my first true conversation with a man who until now had just been a name and a relationship — Dominic, my teacher’s teacher — and what happens? The conversation we gravitated toward dealt with the subconscious — the not-quite-apparent layers. Manifestations of my teacher were playing at the edges and communicating between us at times, but those versions, while offering something, also provided inadequate words for the experience. Also inadequate was trying to use this conversation as a mirror to check out how all of this energy is being integrated within me, and how it flows out of me when I write and when I teach.

~~~

Looking back over the week, how did transmissions happen? It wasn’t through a guided class. It wasn’t through a workshop lecture. It wasn’t even the words that were actually exchanged at lunch. 

Dominic hopped on a plane out of Detroit yesterday, and I’m wondering if his energy, his physical adjustments, and the post-practice conversation all has to simply be understood. I believe in the power of technology — of social media in particular — to help ashtangis around the world stay connected as a community. But it’s the quieter moments of being in the sphere of brilliant and deeply present teachers like Dominic that reminds me of the limitations of those mediums. What’s being passed on isn’t data — parampara is necessarily so present, so personal.

(Photo credit: “The Midnight Star” via Islespunkfan’s Flickr photostream and “Before, Again II” via Dia.org.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visualizing our journeys — on and with — our yoga mats

Two new projects developed by urban ashtangis — one in Chicago and another in Boston — seek to help visualize our relationships with our mats. They’re both about our journeys — on and with — our mats, and they’re both projects you can contribute to.

Morgan Lee’s “The Path of Yoga” Kickstarter project

If enough Kickstarter backers come through, Morgan Lee — a registered nurse, yoga instructor and all-seasons biker in Chicago — will create a photo book documenting his travels with Ashtanga yoga from the perspective of his yoga mat. According to his project’s  Kickstarter page:

I believe that there are no limits to where the physical practice of yoga can take an individual. Through documenting the journey of my travels from the perspective of the mat, I will show that the Path of Yoga is more than practicing postures, asana, and regardless of location steady focus lends to the peace-fullness within the practice. Through the images in this book I will show that no matter where yoga is practiced, it leads to transformation.

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Why the donations?

Using analog 120mm film and a Holga camera (skinny jeans included) to capture a moment from the back edge of the mat creating a ‘dream like’ image, I will compile the images into a book that can be shared with you. Your money will go directly into funding the film and cost of publishing 100 copies of the ‘Path of Yoga’.

This project needs $3,000 in contributions by Oct. 31 to fly. At the time I’m posting this, 32 backers have pledged $1,750. Backers can help support the project with as little as a $1 pledge.

The Runways Gallery

Runways -- screenshot from the Small Blue Pearls websiteLaura Shaw Feit, a book designer from Boston, has recently relaunched the Small Blue Pearls website, and she’s got a lot of energy out of the gate with the Runways Gallery project:

Whether rolling out your Manduka on a silky white beach in Thailand, or sharing space with Mom’s Land Rover in the garage, no matter where you are on this great blue planet all you need is a mat’s worth of space to do what yogis do.

We’re collecting photos from all over the world of the hectic and serene, the dirty and pristine, the cramped and cavernous places people have laid out their mats in order to practice—either when traveling or just in the course of their normal day. Once we have a critical mass of these runways—approximately 750 of them (yeah, we know that’s a lot!)—then we promise you, they will be put to a really good use 😉 Stay tuned! In the meantime, we’ll feature them here on the site.

 

 

 

This project came about this way:

The Runway series was originated by Angela Jamison, founder and teacher at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2). Inspired by her brother Aaron’s habit of taking photos of everyplace he set up his laptop to work, Angela started taking photos of all the places she found herself practicing. When Aaron saw Angela’s photos, he declared them ‘runways’, which we think is just brilliant. We’d like to say thank you to Angela and Aaron, for the inspiration and the permission to take this fabulous idea and turn it into art.

See if you can spot my iPhone shot of my rug, which was taken in Maui during my honeymoon earlier this year. I have shots from far less glorious locations too, but I’ll have to dig through my iPhoto archives to find them. I know you’ve you’ve got some old photos to dig up too.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

21 tips for dragging your sleepy butt out of bed to practice yoga in the mornings

Sleepy Puppy

>>Skip to the tips

There’s been a fair amount of ruminations lately about that unique time before and around dawn, and I wonder if it has something to do with the equinox and the changing of seasons. Just this morning, Mysore SF posted this Rumi poem on its Facebook page:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

A friend of mine in Ohio noted her reflections on finally getting back to the mat today. And the AY: A2 blog recently posted “How to get up for yoga, again,” an update to the shala’s popular 2011 post, “How to wake up for yoga.” Earlier in September, Claudia Yoga posted “7 morning habits for a great yoga practice,” which includes how she deals with social media — what can be a beast lurking in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about practicing at home in the mornings for years but didn’t manage to actually start trying in earnest until 2011 (“How to wake up for yoga,” along with support and encouragement from my teacher, helped me tremendously). The first months were the hardest, and just this August, I started in on my second year of practicing Ashtanga yoga six days a week. During this relatively short amount of time, I’ve felt tremendous benefits from practicing early in the morning (and I’ve felt the difference between practicing in the morning versus the evening).

So I too have been thinking a lot about how to bridge that gap of getting up early, because I wonder what it would have taken Rose circa 2009 — the one who slept around 2 a.m. every night and didn’t ever think she had the chops to change — to be able to start (starting, for me, was the hardest part).

Below are 21 tips for starting. They’re a mix of things I learned the hard way, advice I received from my teacher and tips from other practitioners.

Will they work for you? Only experimentation will tell.

Sunrise
Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
Because I had practiced for years in the evenings, I had to recalibrate my expectations about how a practice physically feels. I had to accept that when I practice in the morning, my body is cold and stiff. A pretty cool thing happened over the course of a few short months, however: I started minding less and less. The “I’m a natural evening practitioner” mantra I had chanted for so many years had been a myth that I created, bought into, and perpetuated by making others believe it as well. That detachment from needing my body to feel supple led to a greater sense of equanimity with the body I happened to have for that practice, and that ability to find equanimity started extending to other things. In becoming more detached from desiring that yummy factor I was accustomed to from the physical practice, I was working through a process that also helped me clean out my emotional closets.

. . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
I fell in love with this description of pratyhara from the Insideowl blog when I first read it:

Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

If you can tap into the warm, bright and stimulating carnival of your inner spaces, the room around you may start to matter less to you. Turning your gaze inward won’t happen overnight, but you can help the process along by not staying fixated on the external. Easier said than done, I know, which is why there are 19 more tips to go.

Trumpet

Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
This simple device will save you! I got one of those tall ones that can oscillate if needed, and it cost about $70. It was $70 of the best dollars I spent in 2011.

If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
This gives you one less reason to resist practicing at home (because, let’s face it, unless you have a beautiful yoga room at home, it’s so much nicer to practice at a dedicated yoga studio).

Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
We all love our mats, but we love our beds too. The problem is that a bed — and particularly the pillows on a bed — transform overnight: everything gets softer, plusher and more inviting. So not only do you have to find an alternative to hitting the snooze button, you have to commit to it before you go to bed. Your Plan B might be that when the alarm goes off, you will jump in the shower before you give yourself the chance to hit snooze and fall back into your super comfortable bed.

Start hydrating the night before your practice.

CoconutAshtangis should be well-hydrated anyway, but I found that I had to make a special effort to hydrate at night in order to start a consistent morning practice. (The reason being that one of the big deterrents for me in going from practicing in the evening to practicing in the morning is that I usually wake up feeling totally parched.) What has worked for me: drinking a juice-box-sized coconut water before bed, drinking another one when I wake up, and generally consuming more liquids throughout the day.

On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
After a year of practicing six days a week and mostly in the morning — but not super early morning — I realized that to get my practice to the next level, I would need to start waking up earlier. Otherwise, I would forever be confined to less-than-full-primary-series practices. In terms of time, the gap between 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. isn’t huge, but experientially, it felt as insurmountable as trying to leap across an ocean. The advice from my teacher, Angela Jamison, to start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before was instrumental in taking that leap. Key to that was thinking about my digestive patterns. Because of my schedule, I normally eat dinner pretty late — sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. What has been working for me to wake up in that magical pre-dawn space is to eat no later than 8:30 p.m., and to eat a light dinner (“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” has been a good guideline for me). Experiment, figure out what works best for you digestively, and roll with that as your schedule.

Consume sleepiness . . . 
I drink a little fennel tea before bed, and it’s been lovely. Maybe herbal melatonin is your preferred boost of ZZZs? Perhaps it’s skullcap? (I can’t speak to the latter two, but see the comments found here.)

. . . instead of consuming alcohol.
Wines constantly I know, I know. But it’s just really quite hard to train yourself to wake up super early if you drink the night before, even if it’s a glass of your preferred pinot noir with dinner. Perhaps try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a difference?

Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
If your mornings are typically rushed affairs like mine are, even 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference. I set out my clothes ahead of time and I set up the coffee pot so that all I have to do is hit start when I get up (see coffee tip below). This prevents an opening to start procrastinating in the morning.

Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
Pattabhi Jois is known for saying, “no coffee, no prana.” I resisted the idea of drinking coffee before practice because I didn’t want to depend on it and because I didn’t have time to make coffee before practice. But now that I’m waking up earlier, I’ve found lately that a few sips has helped me feel warmer and move with a little more oomph. Coffee can dehydrate me, though, so that’s another reason why it’s so important to start hydrating the night before. And by all means, if you can do this without coffee, go for it. But since we’re discussing ways to help get a practice up and running, I think it’s worth a consideration.

Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
A few practitioners I know have morning rituals that include different things — for instance, lighting a candle, burning incense, or dedicating that morning’s practice to someone. For some, it’s reading. Claudia Azula says that for her, “Good yoga literature helps me get inspired in the morning . . .” Good literature would totally derail my morning — I would never get to work on time. Thinking about rituals is a good reminder that so much of this stuff is personal — and if it works for you, roll with it! If it doesn’t, drop it.

.. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
No social media before breakfastUnless I know my work day will absolutely blow up if I don’t address an email right when I get up, I don’t allow myself to get within 10 feet of either of my email inboxes, my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, because if I do, I’ve just lost 20 – 30 minutes of my morning. I force myself to stay clear from the types of distractions that are delivered through mobile devices and laptops because it makes for a less anxiety-ridden practice if I am not worrying about all the work-related things I will need to think about beginning in two hours.

Take a hot shower before practice.
On super cold days when your mettle is still being strengthened, a hot shower can be the perfect external support. Just don’t stay too long and give yourself another space to procrastinate in. 😉

Ramp it up if you have to.
If you are ready to start practicing six days a week right off the bat, awesome! For most of us, it’s hard to go from a sporadic practice to practicing six mornings a week at home, in the cold and dark. Consider committing to practicing three mornings a week at first. Commit, and don’t veer. Enjoy the four days off you have, and do what you need to do to get on the mat those three days. Over the time, the practice might just naturally coax you into practicing additional days a week . . .

Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
My teacher told me to get to the mat, and practice in the time I have — and it was the single most important thing for me to hear. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, Nancy Gilgoff said during one panel discussion about practicing six days a week: “Sometimes your practice may be 15 minutes . . .” See the above tip: I truly believe that over time, the practice will naturally help you find a way to lengthen your time on the mat. In my first year of practice, when I was trying to buy a house, plan a wedding, teach yoga, blog and hold down a deadline-driven full-time job, there were days when I literally was running out of time. The way I gauged a practice was: Did I practice long enough to have to invest something of myself? And did I practice long enough to find a challenge? Practicing for 15 minutes can give you that — investing time that you would have rather been checking to-do items off your list, for instance. As for challenge — well damn, the hardest part of an early morning practice for me is often the sun salutations, when I might be questioning why I am doing this as I body seems to creak with every bend. The good news? It gets easier. It really does. :-)

Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
Hopefully, you have supportive friends and family members. Explain what you’re trying to do. They’re on your side, so if they know how important this is to you, they can start to help support your practice in ways large and small (it might be as simple as moving up the time of a dinner date so that you’re not sleeping so late).

Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
You don’t have to start your own online Way-Before-Breakfast Club like a small group of us did back in August, but if you can find even a couple of yogis to start this journey with you, the camaraderie, support and feedback can be invaluable. You can keep yourself accountable with local yogis, or, if you can’t find any local yogis, we’re living during such an expansive and global world these days — find a couple yogis who live halfway around the world if that’s what ends up working best. Our group of a dozen currently has members from four countries.

Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .  
The other week, I overhead a little boy ask his father who had just finished practicing yoga, “Why do you do yoga?” His dad answered simply, “Because it makes me feel better.” You are trying to practice more consistently because yoga first and foremost makes you feel better, right?

. . . and have a little faith too.
This practice is so evidence-based. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take anything on faith. Instead, you get to try something out and see for yourself how it feels. But I think it helps to have a little faith in the idea that the practice changes if you can find it consistently. (I think we can practice without attachment to a result while still practicing with faith in transformation.) The traditional Ashtanga method is designed in a very particular way, and the effects build — exponentially, it feels sometimes to me — over time. So this is a rare moment when I will say to take my word — and the word of I don’t know how many ashtangis all around the world — who have experienced the difference between practicing randomly all over the map versus practicing consistently six days a week. During those dark mornings when you’re sleepy and stumbling over your two left feet, when you’re cold and crabby and thinking you should just head back to bed, know that it is all worth it. And have faith that you are not alone: There are practitioners all over the world doing the exact same thing, probably feeling lots of the same things you’re feeling.

‘Alchemize your word.’
I love this phrase, and I think of this advice as the yogic translation of Nike’s “Just do it” edict for athletes. The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog began the recent essay about how to wake up for yoga with the advice to “alchemize your word”:

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Here is the whole blog post, which, as I noted at the beginning of this blog post, is essentially part 2 to the 2011 post on how to wake up for yoga.

If you’re a list type of person, here’s a summary:

  • Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
  • . . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
  • Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
  • If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
  • Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
  • Start hydrating the night before your practice.
  • On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
  • Consume sleepiness . . .
  • . . . instead of consuming alcohol.
  • Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
  • Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
  • Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
  • .. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
  • Take a hot shower before practice.
  • Ramp it up if you have to.
  • Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
  • Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
  • Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .
  • . . . and have a little faith too.
  • ‘Alchemize your word.’

Happy practicing!

(Photo credit: Sleepy puppy by Nicole Kelly; Coconut and trumpet via Stock.Xchng)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Evening yoga practice vs. morning yoga practice

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I’ve been doing pretty well, relatively speaking, in my effort to wake up earlier each morning to get in a fuller Ashtanga yoga practice — working through full primary most days, plus playing with pasasana. Last night I meditated for a few minutes before bed, and my head was comfortably on the pillow by 11 p.m., which is only half an hour later than my new bedtime goal (that’s better than usual). Tomorrow will be great! I thought.

Um. I never hit the snooze button this morning, but I didn’t wake up either. I ended up getting out of bed with only enough time to get ready for work. Oops.

It’s been months since I’ve done my home practice in the evening, and I had two main observations about my practice at dusk:

  • I had forgotten how delicious it feels to practice later in the day, when your body isn’t as cold and stiff.
  • On the mental front, I was using my practice reactively rather than proactively.

The first one is pretty straightforward. As for the second . . . work was draining today, and I realized I was using the practice to try to erase all the little irritants that had accumulated in my body — drip, drip, drip straight into my upper back — and in my mind. This is how I practiced for years: shedding my day on the mat. It’s a beautiful use of a yoga asana practice, and how wonderful that we have that option.

The proactive versus the reactive was interesting to reflect on. If my koshas were like hardwood floors, practicing in the morning feels like adding a nice, smooth protective coat. (I’m standing at our kitchen island while I type this, noticing how beautiful the shiny hardwood floors look.) In the evening, it would be more akin to scrubbing away that day’s dirt and grime on a surface that’s only lightly treated.

I better stop here and start getting ready for bed. Tomorrow’s another long day, and I need any added treatment I can get.

Treated hardwood floors

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Good day, moon

Goodnight Moon by brilianthues Flickr

I live in the ‘burbs now (how did this happen again?), and one thing I’ve noticed lately about this Midwestern subdivision is that while there are definite rhythms, all of them are based on human-directed events. On Labor Day, like clockwork, curbsides were empty because trash pick-up was delayed by a day due to the holiday. Post-Labor Day, with the start of school, cars predictably started to clog the main street out of our subdivision, with parents shuttling their kids to elementary school. Except for the light gardening that goes on, the closest the neighborhood seemed to get to being at one with natural cycles this summer was when families, each bemoaning the drought, set their sprinkler system to run.

As I start my second year of trying to maintain a six-day-week Ashtanga home practice, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more and more intrigued by the idea of being more attuned to something other than manmade timetables or manmade inventions — birth control is what I think of first — that impose an artificial rhythm on us. Hitting up farmers’ markets this summer has helped me be less preference-driven (I only love to eat mangos all year long!) and more open to eating fruits actually being harvested locally — currently — rather than shipped in or otherwise artificially brought to us during the wrong time of year.

Tomorrow is a new moon — which in the Ashtanga tradition means we take a day of rest. This month, both moon days happen to fall on Saturdays, which are also the weekly days of rest. Where I look the calendar and see a more challenging month because I have two fewer days off from practice, Insideowl sees cyclical clicking:

For Mysore practice, the moons fall on the calendar’s Saturday free spaces all the way until mid-October. The Gregorian rhythm (Saturday rests) and the Hindu ritual rhythm (moon day rests) are moving in their biannual phase of alignment. Click. I love it when this happens.

On that note, I need to get back to today’s calendar-scheduled rhythm of work and personal to-dos — which has been, until now, the only rhythm I truly allowed to determine my groove.


By the way, if the whole moon day thing is new to you, here is how Tim Miller explains it:

Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. What is the reasoning behind this?

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it.

(Photo credit: Goodnight Moon by Brillianthues’ Flickr photostream)

© 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.

 

Lost yoga ring found! (Insert your own symbolism.)

Yoga ring with "Do your practice and all is coming" etched on it.

In 2009, I ordered a custom spinning ring from a beautiful Etsy shop — it’s the ring you see in the blog’s current header. Inside the ring I had asked the designer to etch Pattabhi Jois’ famous saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and as I recently wrote, I decided against ordering a replacement because I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Photo taken in 2010 by Michelle Haymoz.

Today, I had to clear out my super messy car because I’m taking a caravan of hip young Lansing-based coworkers for a little drive to Ann Arbor for their first Intro to Ashtanga Yoga class with my teacher. In cleaning out the car, I found my ring! Not in some crazy crevice, but buried deep in the crap shoved into my glove compartment.

All this time, I had had no clue that the ring was actually quite close, just an arm’s reach away.

So, feel free to spin your own symbolism into this story. I have.

>>Related?: A girl and a guru

© 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.

[Version 2.0] Updated Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid updated for fall 2012

 

Labor Day weekend 2011, I was wrapping up the back-end changeover that moved YogaRose.net from a WordPress.com blog to a WordPress.org blog. (I <3 WordPress in that slightly obsessed kind of way, and I still kind of get warm and fuzzy thinking about the transformation.) The change gave me a lot more flexibility in what I could do here — allowing me, for instance, to use the simple but powerful WP-Table Reloaded plugin (thanks again, Tobias!) to create the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid. (More recently, having a .org allowed me to utilize a Google calendar plugin for the new Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged asthangis.)

I made a few updates to the social media grid the first few months after launch, but had to let go of keeping it fully updated due to the craziness of my life through — well, this summer. Thanks to the break I’ve had over Labor Day weekend 2012, I just finished a major update to the grid.

Bullet points for the grid’s changelog:

  • Guy Donahaye started up a new blog earlier this year called Mind Medicine, which I think is a pretty damn good thing for all of us. That resource is now included.
  • David Swenson’s website now features a blog section for news and updates. (And thanks to David’s team for posting this YogaRose.net video from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence on the blog back in July.) I believe David also changed his Facebook profile to a Facebook page — that page is linked.
  • Tim Miller also went from having a Facebook profile to a Facebook page. I guess that’s what happens when you have more than 5,100 friends (which was roughly the number the last time I checked, which was last year).
  • More opinion (mine, of course) sprinkled throughout the grid (e.g., a tidbit on the Eddie Stern buzz at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and how sweetly quirky Stern’s blog is).
  • I originally included info on Cathy Louise Broda because I wanted representation in the grid for something — anything! — related to Ashtanga and pregnancy, which seems to present a big question to many practitioners. But Cathy’s Baby Blog was last updated in April, and I haven’t found other platforms she posts to in a way that speaks to community-building (if I am wrong, tell me). Her blog remains on the YogaRose.net links section and was included in my recent post on resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy.
  • New rows for three shalas that I have been turning to in recent months for sharing high–quality content: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (where I practice), Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala and the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. If you were to think of my Chrome browser as my shopping cart for yoga-related media I consume, I’ve felt that the links and such from these three sources have been enriching — pretty low fat content on the posts, tweets and such that they’re distributing. This is stuff I would feel going about applying a read-share-repeat mode to.
  • New introduction on the page.

Sadly, my Labor Day weekend is coming to an end, and so must this post. Enjoy connecting via the grid, v. 2.0. And thank you for connecting here with me, by reading and commenting over this past intense and fascinating year.

P.S. — If you’re ever bored and want to see what types of Ashtanga-related tweets people are sending, you can manually set up a search on Twitter.com or a stream on Hootsuite. Or you can go to a silly little page I put up last year called Twitteranga. I’m sure you’ll find some lean-cut tweets, some with nothing but fat, and everything in between for your consumption.

Twitteranga on YogaRose.net

 

© 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.

An elevator pitch for a steady, consistent yoga practice? (Or, thank neuroplasticity for what happens when your brain is on yoga.)

Elevator via Zero-X's photostream

I spent four hours yesterday listening to a replay of Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction, a telesummit organized by Yoga U, a platform for high-profile yoga teachers to host webinars. Not multitasking is not my strong suit, so while I posted a bit about it on the YogaRose.net Facebook page, I mainly used this span of time to listen to the interviews with eight speakers while cleaning out my home office space — the last room of our new house to receive a cleaning-out-the-closets treatment.

The cleaning-out was great. So was the telesummit — particularly the first two speakers. Roger Cole rocked out a refutation of the infamous New York Times article by William Broad that triggered the telesummit (I think paying for the full pass for the event would probably be worth it for this segment alone), and Timothy McCall, M.D., the medical editor for Yoga Journal, provided some juicy elevator pitches for the benefits of yoga.

I say “elevator pitch” probably because I enjoy teaching beginning yoga students and find myself thinking about how to quickly explain the benefits of yoga, and because I work in the public relations arena, in which you frequently need to assess whether your clients have a clear sense of their goals and objectives. What message are they trying to get across? Can they distill it into a pitch short enough to make during an elevator ride? If they can’t, maybe the overarching message is too muddled.

Anyway, based on his presentation, I looked up some of McCall’s past work and found a little gem. Unless you’re in an elevator ride gone awry, McCall’s 2009 piece titled “Your Brain on Yoga” is a tad too long to qualify as an elevator pitch, but at a brisk 332 words, it’s still a short, breezy and extremely accessible read. I’m sure there are excellent distillations out there, but this is one of the best I’ve stumbled over that supports, from a scientific and holistic point of view, why we should practice yoga consistently:

When I was in medical school in the 1980s, we were taught that after a certain stage of childhood development, the architecture of the brain was fixed. Brain cells, or neurons, couldn’t be replaced; at best, we could slow the rate of their loss by cutting down on alcohol and other damaging habits.

But now, due to the growing sophistication of neuroimaging technology like PET scanners and functional MRIs, we understand that brain structure can change over time based on what we do. Recent research shows that even aging brains can add new neurons.

Scientists coined the term neuroplasticity to refer to the brain’s ability to reshape itself, confirming what the yogis have been teaching for millennia—the more you think, say, or do something, the more likely you are to think, say, or do it again. With every activity, neurons forge connections with one another, and the more a behavior is repeated, the stronger those neural links become. As neuroscientists like to say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali offers a recipe for success in yoga: steady and enthusiastic practice without interruption over a long period of time. This ideal formula takes advantage of neuroplasticity to rewire the brain. Swami Vivekananda once said, “The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits.” As your yoga practice deepens over time, it becomes a strong new habit that can compete with old patterns.

In yoga, you are systematically awakening your ability to feel what’s happening in your body, heart, and mind. As your awareness becomes more refined, it can guide you in all areas of your life. You begin to observe which foods make you feel best, which work you find most fulfilling, which people bring you joy—and which ones have the opposite effects.

The key is steady practice—whether it’s asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, visualization, service, or all of the above. Just a little bit every day is enough to steer you step-by-step toward true transformation.

 

Establishing new habits to compete with old ones . . . in the telesummit, McCall talked about how that is a weakness of the medical system — when people are told to quit smoking or eat healthier or whatever the case may be, but aren’t given any tools to create new habits. I know nothing except for yoga has ever truly worked for me when it comes to trying to be a less reactive person, to eat better, etc. etc. — so where would I be right now if I didn’t have these tools?

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about how redirecting my practice pattern — practicing at least a little bit six mornings a week versus only a few evenings a week — has totally !!! my world. (By the way, I do promise to blog about something else soon! :-) ) I wondered if I could distill the neuroplasticity idea even further — into the 140 characters of a tweet — and ashtanga-fy it a bit (not because other methods don’t work, but because this is the only method I can personally attest to) while alluding to the concepts of a conditioned mind and illusions that arise from the Yoga Sutras. I came up with:

Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.

What do you think?

What would your elevator pitch be?

Pain relief?

So what is it that happens when we are capable of practicing detachment?

Bringing this up reminds me of workshop I attended last year with orthopedic surgeon, yoga practitioner and author Ray Long, M.D. I loved how he brought up painkillers in an analogy for how yoga helps decrease human suffering. I am paraphrasing big time here, but basically, he discussed how local anesthesia works to numb an area, while morphine works on the central nervous system. What people have recounted about being on morphine is that they are still aware of the pain, but it doesn’t bother them.

I’ve heard Tim Miller use a line he got from a Vedic astrologer in India: Yoga makes us human shock absorbers. And I just found this interview with David Swenson in which he responds to a question about finding peace (definitely not an elevator pitch, but good stuff):

I think that peace just means, that even though I may die today, I’m living my purpose. And that’s the peace. It doesn’t mean that there’s no stress in life. It doesn’t mean that we just float along and there’s never any problem. Peace just means that we feel like we’re living the life that we should be living. And many times we have to live a lot of lives that we realise we shouldn’t be, in order to find out what we should be doing. It’s an ongoing journey. To find balance, sometimes we have to understand imbalance by moving through extremes. In my life there have been different extremes… to swing like a pendulum. And the balance or the peace comes from the middle road. As humans we find it easier to live in extremes, “I’ll only do this. I’ll never do that.” That’s where religion plays a part, where you’re just told to do this and that and you follow. But peace comes from some sort of inner feeling that the life we’re living is a life that we should be living. And it doesn’t have to be that you’re in a monastery, or that you’re doing some grandiose thing. It could be aligned with raising your children, getting them to soccer games on time, being at peace with the life that we have chosen, or the life that has chosen us, but finding our place within that. Certainly I can’t say that every moment at the day I’m walking around in some bliss bubble. Certainly I have problems, I have stresses, or I get upset. But underneath all that, as a yogi, we learn to observe our emotions, these ups and downs, and we try not to become too attached to one of them. Great joy or great sadness, both of those are going to change. Instead of this rollercoaster ride, we can become the observer, but it doesn’t mean that we’re some emotionless robot.

Shanti.

(Photo credit: Elevator photo via Zero-X’s Flickr photostream.)

© 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.

 

Introducing the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis

Featured

The Breakfast Club: Five Strangers With Nothing in Common, Except Each Other

I’m old enough to have grown up in the era of Molly Ringwald movies. If you are too, remember The Breakfast Club? I’m optimistic that our Way-Before-Breakfast Club can bring together some strangers with nothing in common except a love of Ashtanga.

>>Coming soon: Setting up your own digital lounge for a group of morning-challenged ashtangis! 

Long story short, an email from Meryem in Toronto about waking up early six days a week to practice has turned into the establishment of the Way-Before-Breakfast Club designed for morning-challenged ashtangis.

Since writing about my rough start trying to wake up at 5:30 a.m. — six mornings a week — to practice after managing to maintain a six-day-a-week practice for a year, I’ve had a few responses from yogis who are in similar positions. The question is always how — but in the case of this particular email this past weekend from Meryem (who emailed me cold turkey, by the way — we don’t know each other), it was also about with whom? Meryem felt that perhaps a buddy system is where it’s at, when it comes to trying to start up an early-morning practice at home.

That most excellent suggestion sparked the idea of creating a password-protected section of this website for a small group of people who want to help encourage each other and sustain a good level of compassionate accountability for revving up a committed early-morning practice.

Ground rules:

  • Prospective members need to be committed to practicing yoga six days a week, and earlier than they want to (so you may work nights, and maybe 10 a.m. is your early morning. The key is that doing this means sacrificing something important to you — e.g., sleep, time for other things, etc. — to make this work).
  • Yoga does not have to equal Ashtanga every day, but it should have a strong Ashtanga mix. It’s not that I don’t want other styles of yoga here — I just think it’s better for a community to stay focused on the common ground of this practice. This too is relative — maybe you really sort of hate Ashtanga, but you want to like it, and and practicing it twice a week would feel like a ridiculously strong mix to you. If you already <3 Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, well, that’s a five- or six-day-a-week practice, I’m afraid.
  • Members commit to either joining a calendar feed or deciding to skip the feed, but committing to posting a progress update on the page at least once a week.
  • Members must commit to keeping themselves accountable, but not beating up on themselves for the days they fall short. We all have to have positive motivation for this . . . .
  • . . . . that said . . . . So, life happens. And we fall off the wagon sometimes. But if there comes a point when a member has to give up trying and eight weeks have lapsed, that person will be asked to take a hiatus from the group. This would be done in the spirit of keeping the energy of the group a motivating and focused one.
I have a hard time picturing a queue of folks interested in this, but it’s good to set parameters from the get-go, so I’ve decided that this group would be limited to a dozen (including me).
Why?

Since the page is password-protected, I’ll share some of the content from it:

Who/What

Welcome to the Way-Before-Breakfast Club, a cheerleading squad/support group for those of us who have a deep-seated desire to wake up at brutally early hours to practice Ashtanga yoga.

Why

  • Because we’re night owls.
  • Because we’re morning people when morning = 7 a.m. or something more sane like that.
  • Because we’re really busy.
  • Because we’re really, really busy.
  • Because we love to sleep.
  • Because we love to dream.
  • Because we live in cold regions of the world and it’s so damn cold at that hour.
  • Because we live in warm weather climates and even though it’s not cold at that hour, it’s still that hour, which is bad enough.
  • Because we don’t like to wake up when it’s pitch dark.

When/How

If you’re reading this, it’s because you have a password, so you and I have talked, and decided this club might be for you. We’ve gone over the option of you giving me your Google Calendar feed so I can add it to the calendar, my adding you to my Google Calendar feed, or you sending me your stats for the week, if we’ve agreed on going that route.

We’ve also gone over how the most important part is for you to use the comments section of this page to:

  • Share tips.
  • Announce your victories.
  • Vent.
  • Find commiseration for your less-than-stellar moments when you kept hitting the snooze button until you were eventually late for work, much less late for your pre-work practice.

How the system works:

I found a WordPress plugin that allows you to pull multiple Google Calendar feeds. This allows the flexibility for members to track their progress on their own calendar, which I can pull in. The plugin is called, simply enough, Google Calendar Events (god bless all the WordPress developers out there!), and I’m keeping it CSS-free and allowing it maintain its default look:

Way-Before-Breakfast Calendar on YogaRose.net

For each day, there’s a simple X/X system:

Key

[Name]: [Yes or No on did you practice?] [Yes or No did you practice at the early-morning goal you’ve set for yourself?] (Any other notes, such as any detail you want to give, or how Y/N was N/A because it was a moon day, rest day or a ladies’ holiday).

Here’s how it looks when the mouse hovers it:

Example of moon day entry

The idea is to have accountability, so I create each day as just a label (checking the all-day mark) and don’t worry about marking the actual time. Sometimes, though, I might add a little more detail. Like, the other morning, how 5:30 was destined to be a no-go because my husband and I were in Detroit until 11:30 p.m. at a sold-out (and awesome!) Dave Chappelle show. (In case you’re wondering, on days like that, I still practice — but later in the morning, which means I am rushed.)

If you want to join the Way-Before-Breakfast Club, drop me a line at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com, or send me a Facebook message here. Update 8/29/12: The group’s Google calendar is going strong, and we’ve created a digital lounge in which we chat about the practice — 99 percent practice, 1 percent posting 😉 — here on Mighybell, a new social network (I think of it as Pinterest meets private Google Group) created by the founder of Ning.

As I wrap this up — looking at the time, which is a very late 11:45 p.m. (yikes!), Hold Steady’s Stay Positive album is playing. This might have to be one of my top 10 albums of all time because it’s just so fun and inspiring. So I’ll say that if you’re trying to start that crazy early-morning practice and meet fits and starts, remember: You gotta stay positive.

‘Cause it’s one thing to start it with a positive jam
And it’s another thing to see it on through
And we couldn’t have even done this,
If it wasn’t for you

Whoahoho
We gotta stay positive
Whoahoho
We gotta stay positive
Whoahoho
We gotta stay positive

 

 

(Graphic credit: The Breakfast Club poster via this site.)

© 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.

Daydreaming about Mt. Shasta, Mexico and milestones

Globe via libertygrace0 Flickr

It was a distracting day to be in Lansing, Mich., because there was so much going on in the Ashtanga world elsewhere.

Mt. Shasta and McCloud, Calif.

Tim Miller started the distractions that turned into daydreams when he posted a dispatch from Mt. Shasta, where he is leading his annual weeklong second series retreat. I was there last year, and it was the beginning of what I’m seeing now as a yearlong emotional shed that began last August in Mt. Shasta, hit a crescendo during my honeymoon in Maui in May, and went all the way up to settling into a new house last month. The friends I met last year who returned to Mt. Shasta this year were posting about their exploits on Facebook, and I would have rather been there with them than at my work desk.

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence and San Diego, Calif.

By afternoon, the Confluence Countdown blogging husband-and-wife team posted that the schedule for the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was out. It looks amazing. That brought my mind forward to March 2103 and back to this past March, when I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first-ever Confluence. I won’t be headed to the Confluence next year, however, because money is pretty tight right now, and I’m saving up for . . .

Ashtanga Mexico Retreat with Elise Espat and Angela Jamison

My Ashtanga teacher will be co-leading a retreat near Puerto Vallarta next March, and I want to be there. It seems like an incredible way to experience my practice, and a perfect opportunity for some sort of mental and emotional deep-dive. I wanted to get on a direct flight other Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor folks are taking — and get on it while the prices are still low — so I’ve bought my ticket yesterday. This afternoon, I realized my name was spelled incorrectly on the reservation, which means it doesn’t match my passport, which means it could cause some trouble during the actual trip, so I called Delta today to fix that. Calling the airline got me all excited again for this trip.

I think getting away for yoga trainings and retreats is important not just for deepening a practice, but for the purposes of rekindling inspiration and creating an environment for some healing work. I know these retreats sound like vacations — and they totally are. But if you want them to be, they can also be work — intense and not always pleasant emotional work.

I’d say I hope tomorrow will be a little less distracting, but having too many Ashtanga events to think about is a pretty good problem to have — more opportunities to get away as part of a journey to settle back home.

(Photo credit: “WTF — Globe!!” via libertygrace0’s Flickr

 © 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.

A yoga room of one’s own

 

Yoga room

When my husband and I started the hunt for our first home back in February, we had a hard time settling on what we wanted. Neither one of us had grown up in one home. His parents were ninjas at fixing up houses, so he lived in about eight different addresses growing up. (Incredibly, all these homes were located in one tiny — as in, population: less than 1,200 — town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) My family seemed to move from one region of the country to another every five to seven years, so what I knew growing up consisted mostly of rentals.

We were set on one thing, however: We needed to find something in our price range that allowed me to have a yoga room, and gave him space for his guitars. At some point during every open house visit we made, Scott would ask, “So which one would be the yoga room?” Usually it was obvious, and when it wasn’t, that house had no chance of making the cut.

When we walked into the house we eventually closed on in May (the same week as our wedding, no less), we knew it was the one. There was one bedroom that had been used as an office, so it lacked a closet and featured interesting display shelves. The room faced east, had a skylight, and featured double French doors. I felt as if I had won the yoga room lottery, especially given how unideal our apartment had been when it came to a home practice.

The French doors were beautiful, but I did want some modicum of privacy, to maintain the  sense that this space is separate from the rest of the house on both a practical level and a symbolic one. So, after we moved in in late June, my father-in-law and husband covered up the glass panes with beautifully delicate rice paper.

Yoga room window

The centerpiece of the room is a stone tray with a Ganesha puja spoon and a Ganesha murti. Ganesha, son of Shiva, is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and it’s fitting inspiration for me on so many levels. I wrote about this in my last blog post.

Ganesha part of yoga room

To the left of Ganesh is a Nandi bell, which I picked up at the Ashtanga Yoga Center based on my fascination with, and affinity toward, Shiva thanks to his seemingly paradoxical — though ultimately, it’s basically a seamless dynamic — energy of creation and destruction.

Nandi bell

To the right of the Ganesha centerpiece is a crater bowl formed using Maui clay that I picked up during my honeymoon in May. The lava-like nature is a result of being pulled from a burning inferno at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees, and the molten pieces are placed in pits filled with leaves and Koa wood shavings. Thinking about fire, smoke and raw elements – and what they can do together – reminds me of the sacred fire of tapas that can transform an ashtangi on such a deep level.

Raku bowl

I love the incarnation of Shiva as Nataraja. I picked this up the last time I was Yoga on High  in Columbus, Ohio.

Nataraja

I have a penchant for collecting Ashtanga yoga practice cards, and on one shelf, I’ve displayed some of the cards I own.  Beyond being graphically gorgeous, I think practice cards are great reminders that while the physical practice of the Ashtanga system is a traditional, set sequence, it has elements of fluidity. Poses do change somewhat, depending on when the practitioner studied in Mysore. The slight differences from one practice card to another offer reminders that while the design of the sequence is brilliant, it does change to accomodate different types of practitioners, different time periods, and different areas of focus. I think if we can embrace the power of the tradition without holding on too tightly to rigid rules (two paschimottanasanas! no, four!), we can remain more fluid and enhance our ability to receive a particular moment’s lesson.

Practice cards

On one of the shelves sits a frame my mom made for me. In Thai is written, “Everything in this world is created, is sustained, and fades away.” She made that for me to help me during a time when I hated my job. I needed to be reminded that this job — and my whole situation in life at the time — would not last forever. I know the flip side is also true, so while I am grateful for everything I have right now — fresh off a wedding, honeymoon, and the grounded blissfulness of having your own new space in which to make a new start — I know that life’s ups and downs will continue to take their course.

Thai plaque

The other shelves hold yoga books, along with binders, folders and notebooks that contain the notes I’ve taken during workshops and trainings over the years.

The yoga room also houses my meditation cushion, which I hope to start using more frequently than I am now (finding a daily sitting practice is my goal for the latter half of 2012).

One final note: the yoga room currently has carpet. When funding allows (perhaps 2014, at the rate I’m going?), I’d like to replace the carpeting with bamboo floors. Right now, though, I’m practicing on my LifeBoard in this perfect space, and all is good.

© 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.

About this blog’s new header

New blog header July 31, 2012

From left to right, one set of triple gems in my life.

Ganesha centerpiece

Inspiration

Ganesha is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and here you have a Ganesha puja spoon purchased in 2010 from the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., and a Ganesha murti gifted to me and my husband when we moved into our new house in 2012. They’re both resting on top of a stone tray given to me by my sister Alisa. I’ve been waiting for years to find the perfect use for this tray, and I finally have.

The tray is the centerpiece of my new yoga room, and below it are the blue-and-gold Thai sashes I wore in May for a marriage blessing at Dhammasala, a Thai Theravada forest monastery in, of all places, Perry, Mich. My mom and dad bought the Thai outfit for me, and my sisters meticulously pinned all the pieces of the outfit for the short ceremony. The sashes are there, in short, because objects from my family are important to me. My parents and my two sisters, along with my husband, embody the qualities I want to nurture in myself — kindness, patience and generosity. The yogic system encourages humans to see the divine in all things; I’m not there yet. But I can always find a type of divine inspiration in the radiant spirit of my loving and wise family members.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Teachings and teachers

This photo was taken by Michelle Haymoz, a photographer based in Encinitas, Calif., who always seems to capture the most striking and compelling aspects of the human spirit. Luckily for the yoga world, she enjoys turning her lens to the practice. Here, she used her camera for photos of the summer 2010 primary series teacher training led by Tim Miller. Tim has a loyal, worldwide following — he’s the kind of teacher students uproot their lives for, to be close enough to study with him — and is the first American certified to teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I first met Tim at a workshop in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2010, and within five minutes of being in his presence, I knew I had to make the trek to his studio some day (which I did, at the urging of my now-husband, later that same year). Tim has a gift for synthesizing the Yoga Sutras and the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice — a gift for mapping the yogic principles contained in the 196 aphorisms of the sutras to foundational elements of the Ashtanga practice. The powerful sense of equanimity he conveys is, in and of itself, instructive.

I’m in the foreground in padmasana wearing a custom spinning ring I bought myself in 2009, when the beginning of a shift started to take place. That shift was from a perspective of fitting yoga into your life to fitting your life into your yoga, and it really started when I decided to deepen my sporadic Ashtanga practice (the product of living in areas of the country lacking Ashtanga teachers) by taking a 200-hour vinyasa-based teacher training program with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I had absolutely no desire to teach yoga at the time, but I was drawn to the possibility of what I could learn from Hilaire, who is a pistol of a woman with a passion for offering students the level of challenge they need in their practice to start to make discoveries about themselves. She did exactly what she promised she would do during that teacher training and a subsequent 500-hour training I took with her in 2010 — she opened doors for further exploration, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

Inside the ring was etched, “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and while I’m still sad about it, I decided against ordering a replacement. I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.

Community

This is a photo of the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. — a church that’s been beautifully converted into an event space — taken mid-morning during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor summer retreat, just after the Mysore practice time ended. The energy inside the main space of the Stone Arch was tremendously calm during the practice — and if you’ve ever practiced in this style, you know there is nothing quite like a Mysore room and the pulsing of the rhythmic breath of your fellow practitioners. The work being done on each of the 30 or so mats was so individual, and yet so communal.

Angela Jamison, who has been building AY: A2 since moving to Michigan a few short years ago, invests deeply in helping her students find their individual paths, and she also works to strengthen the Ashtanga community by connecting practitioners from different areas — whether it’s different parts of Michigan or different parts of the world.These AY:A2 retreats are, much like events such as the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, tremendous opportunities to bring more people who are interested in the eight limbs of the practice into your orbit.

I met Angela in person in 2011, after returning from an important (in that shedding kind of way) trip to Mt. Shasta. While I wish I had met her years ago, it was also the perfect time for our paths to cross. Thanks to her teaching, and her guidance by example, I’ve been able to integrate many threads of a more yogic life. These threads — such as practicing six days a week and finding ways to let go of deeply seated emotions — were threads that I would start to braid, but they would unravel for one reason or another. Often, it was work demands. Sometimes, it was simply life. Others, for reasons I can’t understand even now.

I’ve been told the first part of my last name, “Tantra,” means “to weave” in Sanskrit. My three-and-a-half-decade journey has shown me that it helps to have a lot of help in this enterprise of weaving strands of your life together. Triangulation with a triple gem. I started out my career with a vague sense that I wanted to tell people’s stories, so I went into journalism. I had a love/hate relationship with the field — it was like playing the right song in the wrong pitch. (Now, as a communications professional, I work for clients who need their story told.)

I started this blog in the summer of 2010, when my life was more or less on track, but in a pretty different place — a much more unsettled, frazzled and searching place. To the extent that I can, I’m sharing my own stories, as they come. You won’t find an enlightened yogi in these posts, because it’s two steps forward, three steps back for me. But if you follow the trajectory of the blog, you might see that the thread of the Ashtanga yoga method has been working wonders in slow and unpredictable ways. A decade and a half after I started out trying to tell everyone else’s story, I’ve come to realize that perhaps all these journalists, poets and novelists were right: You have to write what you know.

© 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.

Retreat dispatch: A simple (though maybe not easy) way to ratchet down reactivity

The Stone Arch event space

The Stone Arch event space in Saline, Mich.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor‘s summer retreat was held this weekend inside the Stone Arch, a beautiful and expansively intimate church-turned-event-space located in a cute Michigan town called Saline. This was my third retreat with Angela Jamison of AY: A2, and, as with any good yoga workshop, each one of these seasonal confabs has offered me an array of inspirational, intellectual and practice-based nourishment. Some I digest right away (along with, I should mention, actual tasty nourishment in the form of fantastic lunches), and some I can’t until much later.

Something I digested in real time today had to do with an exploration of how to decrease your reactivity during potentially tension-filled situations — whether that’s at an academic talk, a corporate meeting or a personal conversation. There’s a one-word answer and then a longer answer. The one-word answer: Listen. (If you’ve already started judging this word, hold on — listen for a couple paragraphs longer.) The longer answer requires a look at a person’s five koshas, or sheaths. Koshas go from the outside in, starting with gross manifestations (the body) and move toward more subtle ones:

  • Annamaya kosha: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosha: Energy body
  • Manomaya kosha: Mental body
  • Vijnanamaya kosha: Wisdom body
  • Anandamaya kosha: Blissful body

Rather than starting to build up your own wall of defenses — your feeling on the matter, your justifications, or whatever it may be — while someone else is talking, try really listening. Become very, very receptive to what is said, rather than work off a loop of assumptions and proactive counterarguments. The self-help industry is full of advice of listening, but in this yogic framework of koshas, what you’re doing is allowing a quick downshift from the mental body to the wisdom body, and allowing reactions to come from a more refined place. It’s not easy to let go this way, but the payoff can be tremendous.

I seriously love framing this shift in consciousness like this, because I do this. I. Do. This. I do this all the time, in fact. I don’t consider myself overly analytical, but probably starting with my time on the high school speech and debate team and on through my work in deadline-driven professionals, I’ve always seen arguments — even healthy ones — as an us versus them proposition with winners, losers and a ticking clock. Time is limited. Get your idea out there before a worse one gains popularity. (Working in corporate America has done nothing but reinforce my patterns.)

Speaking of digestion . . . in my ongoing efforts to start waking up at 5:30 a.m. six days a week to practice, Angela has suggested that I stop eating dinner at my usual 8, 9 or 10 p.m. and try to eat earlier. The retreat flew by today, and between that, the 75-minute drive home, and a quick errand on the way home, it’s getting awfully close to my usual dinnertime. I have lots of great vegetables from yesterday’s trip to Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Famers Market, so I better go.

© 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.

 

Shut up and play the quiet

My concert buddy and I drove an hour west to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Mich. last night to watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final, epic (I think “epic” is the right word here) show at Madison Square Garden. It’s a superbly executed music documentary that includes snippets of a great interview of James Murphy led by Chuck Klosterman — thought-provoking and entertaining stuff.

While watching, I thought a little about how much my music tastes have changed. I used to only listen to bands that had the typical rock or pop construction of guitar chords, refrains, etc. Over time, though, I’ve been increasingly drawn to bands that don’t stick to the template — bands like LCD Soundsystem and, more recently, Caribou. These outfits create soundscapes, including lyrics when they’re needed and not including them when they’re not.

I’m a journalist by training, so words are the tools of my trade. But more and more and in different situations, the mantra of “less is more” (something my favorite journalism professor always stressed) has been sinking in. From filler lyrics to the thoughts that run on a loop in our heads, words can clutter so much of our external and internal spaces.

Over the past 11 months, as I’ve been working to deepen my Ashtanga yoga practice by committing to practicing six days a week, I’ve noticed I’m more able to tolerate stillness and quietness while working, running errands or doing stuff around the house. (A big exception is that I do already love quiet yoga rooms — the less chatter, the better.) I used to rely on having a TV on, or music playing, when at home. Basically, these days, I don’t feel the symptoms of withdrawal from chatter/sounds/white noise as frequently or intensely. And I wonder if part of my shifting music tastes is my ability to enjoy more space in my soundscapes. As strange as my description may sound, a track like “Bowls” feels like it has more room now to pulse and resonate.

Speaking of less is more on the monkey mind front: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page had this recommendation yesterday:

So if you’re looking for meditation | remixed, give this meditation app a try. I’ve been so swamped lately, but I’ll check out ReWire one of these days — along with another fascinating app called Brain Wave, which says it “uses sequences of binaural tones combined with soothing ambient nature sounds and atmospheric music to stimulate specific brainwave frequencies and induce different states of mind. Includes programs for sleep.” I don’t know anything about binaural tones, but my concert buddy just told me Pearl Jam had an album that used this technique — titled, appropriately enough, Binaural.

Side note: I found out today that LCD Soundsystem-affiliated Juan Maclean practices Ashtanga yoga, and travels to Mysore. You can find the whole interview here (you’ll have to scroll down — I didn’t see any anchors) and here’s an inspiring snippet:

How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?

“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I’ve done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”

How has yoga changed you as a person?

“It’s a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I’ve calmed down immensely. It’s also made me a generally nicer person.”

So cool to see a DJ who travels extensively make the traditional practice happen! Rock on, Maclean!

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© 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.

David Robson releases instructional video on jumping back and through

Online video rental and DVD available of David Robson’s latest instructional video, Learn to Float: Jump Back and Jump Through

(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)


David Robson of Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto has released a new video in his Learn to Float series. I’ve written three blog posts related to Robson’s well-produced Learn to Float DVD, and I’m looking forward to ordering this new addition to the Learn to Float family.

What’s so interesting to me about the jump-back and jump-through — a challenge so specific to the Ashtanga yoga system — is that it can seem kind of hypocritical to the new yoga student. “Ashtanga is not about how to become a gymnast,” instructors will say. Sometimes, as an instructor, you feel you can hear the internal dialogue of a student push back. “Yeah? So why does this practice include jumping through?”

Why? A few reasons — some of which I’m sure I haven’t even explored yet. But for one, these motions, which we go through in between poses, build strength in key places and very compassionately keep up our internal heat.

David Robson's instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

Screenshot from David Robson’s instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

For me personally, the float-throughs have been incredibly instructive on the level of recalibrating my perceptions of what’s possible. So many students — myself included — want to give up before starting to even try to float back and float through. The arguments sound logical enough: Either “My arms aren’t long enough” or “I’m not strong enough.” For those of us with short arms, the arms-not-long argument will always be true — it’s not like we can go to Home Depot to buy arm extenders. So what we have to do is work on the strength part. But how much strength is needed is deceptive. If you try to brute force the jumping back part, for instance, you are going to have to build up what I consider to be massive amounts of strength. But if you tip forward (while smartly use your head as a counterweight) instead of trying to launch straight up from the mat, a lot less sheer strength is needed. So the “Am I capable?” part of the equation turns instead to a question of “How do I find the right teachers to show me the way?” Huge difference in starting assumptions and, therefore, huge difference in approach.

To learn more about the video, head over to its official page.

By the way: An article in this past Sunday’s The Globe and Mail that quotes David Robson has been making the rounds among ashtangis lately. Check out the Confluence Countdown’s recap.

>>Update 8/25/12: Reading Tanya Lee Markul’s review of this DVD, published on elephant journalhas reminded me that while this DVD is in my queue, I have not yet any time to get to it! Maybe post-Labor Day? (Crosses fingers.) Most recently, as the faithful readers among you know, I’ve been happily tied up with the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. 😉  

© 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.

 

Unpacking my patterns of excess

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Packing up -- so many boxes

I know I’m in good company when I say that I don’t enjoy the moving process. Packing up belongings is hardest — the unpleasant surprises you unearth, the reminders of challenging people or periods in your life, the discomfort of tossing crap you want to shed but that you’re not quite ready to let go of quite yet. Unpacking at least allows for new beginnings of sorts — old item, new place.

This weekend, I listened to an old Yoga Peeps podcast with James Bailey on the science of ayurveda while tackling the emotionally toughest section of the apartment for me — stacks of old personal and professional documents that should have been recycled or shredded years ago.

In any case, the part of the podcast that struck me most was when the interviewer asked Bailey about whether he sees recurring patterns. Yes, he said — the vast majority of tendencies you’ll see in Western cultures are patterns of excess:

We tend to see an overnourishment of the body, overnourishment of the tissues. There were times in our ancestors’ histories and their lives where deficiencies were the threat to society. . . . But these days, these nutrients are available in mass quantities and overmanufuactured, basically. So we have proteins and fats and sugars and carbohydrates that are available and cheap — really cheap. Anybody can afford to get access to these nutrients, and in ungodly amounts, lending towards severe diseases of excess. . . . Obesity is one, diabetes is one, cancers and some growths and tumors are others — hypertension and so on. These are the diseases of our day — chronic because they are lifestyle-based. They come down to choices. (This section stars roughly around 17:45 in the podcast.)

A pack rat by nature, and surrounded by stacks of slips of paper I should have slipped out of my life long ago, that observation deeply resonated. At least moving forces you to go through piles and open boxes and make decisions about how many physical mementos linked to emotional baggage you want to carry on with you to the next space you occupy.

And I started to wonder whether one of the more potent — and therefore emotionally difficult — aspects of maintaining a consistent Ashtanga practice is that you are confronted each day by some manifestation of excess in your life. Yes, you have to face areas of depletion as well — for starters, there’s lack of sleep, lack of hydration, lack of will, lack of time and lack of space.

But areas of excess require decisions to let go. In the beginning, there’s the typical realization of too much fat on the body (or, to put it more politely, adipose tissue), too much food in the belly, too much stress absorbed into muscles. Looking back, I think I had worked marichyasana D as far as I could (given the proportions of my arms to the rest of the my body) when Tim Miller basically looked and me and suggested I consider shedding a few kilos (this reminds of a blog post title that made me laugh: “Marichyasana D — ‘D’ is for diet“). Looking back, I think he was right — but it would be some time before I was motivated to make any real lifestyle changes.

Every day, month after month, year after year, you can choose to face your areas of physical, mental and emotional excesses and not change anything about your life off the mat — it seems to me that the practice doesn’t judge. On a personal level, what I have found after nine months of a consistent practice is that the desire to continue habits of excess starts to diminish on its own. And thank god, because I still don’t have the willpower to totally avoid, for instance, cheesy breadsticks even though I know there is nothing to gain, from a nutritional point. (Literally as I’ve been writing this paragraph, my husband offered me a bite of his breadstick and I totally took one, because it looked pretty damn good.) The difference now is that I’m pretty satisfied with, say, one bite, whereas a couple years ago, I would have probably eaten two or three breadsticks.

Diet-wise, I feel that my body’s intelligence about what I consume has been dusted off and is slowly but surely gaining authority in this mind-body system of mine. I am quite certain I have to credit practice for this — I don’t see other factors in my lifestyle that could have triggered the change. These days, I don’t feel like I have to consult labels or more gastronomically yogic friends — for the most part, I have a sense of what will feel good after I eat it and what won’t. Last week, for instance, I was stuck in a six-hour-long website writing and editing session. When I was asked what I wanted to order for lunch, I got my sandwich, but I insisted on one of those ginormous cookies as well. I knew, going in, that I would enjoy it then, but feel it a couple hours later. But the trade-off was worth it to me. (If you’ve ever been stuck in  marathon sessions related to building websites, you probably know what I mean.) So I still have patterns of excess — don’t even get me started on the criminally delicious ice cream cake my colleagues got me last week for a belated birthday gathering — but at least I am being present when those decisions are made.

Well, I suppose I should get back to packing up my stuff so we can finishing moving out of this little one-bedroom apartment into a house. I am really hoping and determined to check my pattern of excess — as it relates to useless and no longer necessary stuff, anyway — at the door of this new home. Wish me luck — and the good instincts that seem to develop from continued practice.

© 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.

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?”

:-)

Workshop dispatch: Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa)

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

This is the next in a “Workshop dispatch” series based on the workshops I took with Tim Miller at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio from Friday, April 13, 2012 through Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Tim has taught annually in Columbus for 14 years. This year, he held his traditional weekend (Friday through Sunday) program, but debuted a new intensive program (Monday through Wednesday). Each day of the three-day intensive focused on a different series of the practice. In the mornings, we chatted a little bit and then did a practice that could run up to 2.5 hours (to allow time to do several research, or prep, poses, during the second and third series). In the afternoon, we could ask questions, go over problem spots and generally discuss the practice. (Full workshop description here.) What follows are notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the intensive, which examined the primary series.  

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“You guys are the guinea pigs,” Tim Miller told us on Day 1 of the One-Day Yoga Intensives portion of his annual Yoga on High program. Pretty cool place to be for the roughly 40 of us in the room. Some of us had traveled from out of state, others were Yoga on High teachers, and several in the room were enrolled in Yoga on High’s  teacher training program. (As a side note, I think it’s very cool that Ashtanga students enrolled in YOHI’s teacher training are required to take Tim Miller’s workshops.)

Gunas

Over the course of the three-day intensive, Tim talked about the qualities of each of the series as they relate to the gunas and the pancha kosas (five sheaths). In The Heart of YogaT.K.V. Desikachar describes gunas simply as “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe). In a nutshell, there are three gunas:

  • Sattva, which possesses the quality of harmony
  • Rajas, which possesses the quality of activity
  • Tamas, which possesses the quality of inertia.

Tim was careful to note during the workshops that while we often think of the quality of being sattvic as being the most desirable of the gunas, we need all three for balance. “It’s easy to say tamas is bad, sattvic is good and rajas is mixed,” Tim said. “But you need all three. We are always trying to find balance between these qualities.”

Since we’re on the topic, here is what B.K.S. Iyengar says about the gunas in Light on Life:

As I said, the guna is made up for three complementary forces. They are: tamas (mass or inertia), rajas (vibrancy or dynamism), and sattva (luminosity or the quality of light).

Let us look at a practice example. In asana, we are trying to broach the mass of our gross body, to break up the molecules and divide them into atoms that will allow our vision to penetrate within. Our body resists us. It is muleish. It will not budge. Why? Because in body tamas predominates. It has to. Body needs mass, bones need density, and sinew and muscle need solidity and firmness….

With regard to asana practice, this means that initially we need to exert ourselve more as resistance is greater. Of the two aspects of asana, exertion of our body and penetration of our mind, the latter is eventually more important. Penetration of our mind is the goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.

But once there is movement and then momentum, penetration can start. When effort becomes effortless, asana is at its highest level. Inevitably this is a slow process, and if we break off our practice, inertia reasserts itself. What we are really doing is infusing dense matter with vibrant energy. That is why good practice brings a feeling of lightness and vitality. Though the mass of our body is heavy, we are meant to tread lightly on this earth. (pp. 45-46)

The overarching quality of the primary series, relative to the other series, would be tamasic. Second series: rajastic. Third series, sattvic.

Pancha koshas

In general, the sheaths go from the grossest (most physical) to more subtle manifestations.

  • Annamaya kosa: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosa: Energy body. This is the body of chakras.
  • Manomaya kosa: Body of mental (and emotional) impressions. You find samskaras (habits, conditioning) here.
  • Vijnanamaya kosa: The body of the buddhi (intellect).
  • Anandamaya kosa: Blissful body. The place of the soul. The place of unconditioned awareness. (Iyengar refers to this sheath as the divine body.)

It was very helpful for me that Tim discussed the sheaths as one of those nesting Russian dolls.

Primary series

Whew. That’s a lot of necessary lead in. Let’s get to the primary series itself. Primary series — Yoga Chitiksa (“Yoga Therapy,”) works most on the outer doll. The physical sheath. Tim noted that if we work on one doll, it does affect the other dolls.

The first series has a slew of health benefits, as anyone who has practiced the series consistently understands. It is designed to:

  • Restore the body
  • Detox us
  • Restore natural range of motion to our joints
  • Restore sensitivity to our sense organs

The practice also helps to reduce excess adipose tissue (yep, that’s body fat).

Think of all the forward folds and twists in the first series (if you’re new to the series, you can see the poses here). Primary works quite a bit on:

  • The gastrointestinal system
  • Digestion
  • Assimilation
  • Elimination

If the concept of the pancha kosas — the five sheaths — is new to you, I recommend reading Light on Life. And, of course, try to find time to study with Tim Miller. I’m sure he’ll be doing more of these one-day intensives now that he’s had the chance to test it out on our group.

Tim said this about the Ashtanga method as we were discussing the primary series: “It’s very scientific. It’s very sophisticated. And best of all, it works.” Seeing these notes again remind me that Steve of The Confluence Countdown recently posted an interview with Eddie Stern about a new yoga study that includes what is essentially a distillation of part of the primary series. Interesting stuff.

My relationship with the practice

On a personal level, the primary series has been an incredibly positive influence for me — for years the metronomic quality of the practice was about the only calm consistency in my life that I could point to — but the process has been as slow as molasses. Some people fly through primary. Not me.

I spent years and years without an Ashtanga teacher, and cobbled together a practice based on a couple of weekend workshops with David Swenson and some practice cards. I was lucky enough to be in a led class taught by Pattabhi Jois when he paid a visit to Montreal during one of his North American tours, but I still didn’t understand the series well enough by that time to even get into the marichyasana twists without assistance.

During those lonely years without a teacher, I had enough internal drive to know this was good for me, but not enough tapas to practice daily and fully wring out the benefits of the practice. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had met Tim Miller or Angela Jamison all those years ago. Despite knowing that the past is what it is and there’s no point dwelling on it, I admit to still having twinges of regret now and then — less so for what my practice could be now that I am on the cusp of turning 36 (though I would be lying if I didn’t say that is part of it), and more so for what better choices I could have made in my life had I had a consistent daily practice in my 20s.

The silver lining for all this is that I have a deep well of patience for teaching primary series, and I invest as much as I can to trying to help students who seem to need someone to put them in closer touch with their practice. As I told one of my students once, every single one of your challenges with the practice becomes a gift you have for your students. And my god, have I had an abundance of challenges — from my unforgiving work schedules to the far-from-any-shala locations I have lived to the less-than-ideal body proportions that makes poses like supta kurmasana and pasasana a steep uphill journey.

Ah, pasasana — the gateway pose to second series. We’ll get to that in the next blog post.

(Photo: My friend Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice. Jen teaches Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga and Pilates in Washington, D.C. If you’re in D.C., check her out — she’s excellent.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Workshop dispatch: ‘Bullet Train to Samadhi’

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I’ve packed up my little red Corolla to be ready to leave Columbus, Ohio this evening. Today is the final of six days’ worth of workshops with Tim Miller held at Yoga on High, and people are chilling and reading or chatting and drinking coffee (or, in my case, double-fisting coffee and Vitamin water while blogging) as we wait for the morning’s session to start.

This is my third year attending Tim’s annual April visit to Yoga on High (here is YOHI’s blog, btw), and it’s been the most fulfilling. The first year I came here, I was still working to smooth out the rough edges of my personal and work life. Last year around this time, a lot had been worked out, and while my life wasn’t exactly fully grounded and comfortable, it was getting there. I was a much lighter person than I had been 12 months earlier. One of my friends at Yoga on High even commented that she had sensed a big change in me from 2010 to 2011. Changing jobs was a big thing; getting my personal life in order was too.

This year, I feel so grateful for where things are. I have a fulfilling job that pays the bills (working in the strategic communications field) and a fulfilling job that doesn’t (teaching yoga). I am a month away from getting married to someone who has shown unwavering support of me and has been far sweeter to me than I probably deserve. And this time next month, I will hopefully be a first-time homeowner — which means, among other things, that I will have a dedicated yoga and meditation space.

Like clockwork, Tim wrote a blog post yesterday for this Tuesdays with Timji blog. He discussed how much he enjoys his friends and traditions here in Columbus, and he touched on the final three days of the workshop designed for yoga teachers:

Today was day five of a six day teaching gig which began with a weekend workshop for all comers and has continued with a three day intensive specifically designed for teachers. Iʼm trying a new format this year, focusing on the primary series the first day, the second series today and the third series tomorrow. Itʼs a rather ambitious format, kind of like a bullet train to samadhi. My idea was to relate each series to ne of the koshas, so Monday was the anamaya kosha, today was the pranamaya kosha, and tomorrow will be the manomaya kosha.

“Bullet train to samadhi.” I love that line.

I’ve only written one post since I arrived in Columbus (my schedule has felt as packed with social gatherings as it has been with yoga sessions, which has made the trip that much more fun), but I hope to kick out at least four more after returning home. What I will say for now is that while I can’t credit Tim for the positive trajectory of my life since I first met him in 2010 — he doesn’t control my karma — I do know that learning from him and being in the presence of someone with so much knowledge, experience, sincere passion, equanimity and radiance has been incredibly beneficial not just to my yoga practice or to my yoga teaching, but to every aspect of my life.

I had dinner last night with three wonderful women, and at one point, we talked about the teachers who inspire us most. It’s cool how a table can light up when the topic turns to good yoga teachers.

So if you want a bullet train to samadhi, do your practice as consistently as the circumstances in your life allow (six days a week is best, of course, but do what you can), and seek out the gifted and sincere teachers who inspire you most. Travel, because some of your best money will be spent on yoga trainings. Your car that’s barreling toward Columbus — or wherever — might just be a bullet train in disguise.

Workshop description:

==Ashtanga Yoga Weekend Intensive==
When you practice ashtanga yoga, you are a part of a lineage. Tim Miller is a key figure in carrying this tradition forward having studied so intensively with Sri Pattabhi Jois over so long a time.  We are honored to host Tim each year—join us to spend a weekend working (playfully!) with a yoga master. Weekend intensives can help shift your practice to a deeper level and offer you insight into how the primary series works in individual poses and as a whole circle of poses. You will also learn more about your lineage and how the physical work leads you to the state of yoga. A light practice on Friday night will establish a relationship between yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sutras and the practical methodology of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Saturday’s practice will focus on the Primary Series as physical manifestation of this relationship. Saturday afternoon will explore the morning practice in more depth—to look at troublesome asanas and address specific problems, concerns, and questions. Sunday’s class will be playful, spontaneous, and improvisational, and explore the whole notion of intelligent sequencing in moving towards a particular destination. Sunday will also include an introduction to pranayama.

Dates: Friday, April 13, 7:30p to 9:30p, Saturday, April 14, 11:00a to 6:00p
& Sunday, April 15, 9:00a to 4:00p.
Cost: $250.00

==Tim Miller One-Day Intensives==
K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, devoted 70 years of his life to researching and teaching the methodology that we know as Ashtanga Yoga.  Based on the foundational teachings he was given by his Guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji spent many years putting together the asana sequences that have come to be called Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series), Nadi Shodhana (Intermediate Series), and Sthira Bhaga (Advanced Series).  All of these sequences went through changes over the years and have only been practiced in their current form for the past 30 years.   It was largely through Guruji’s interaction with his western students that these sequences were refined into their present form.  The western students have been both the primary guinea pigs and the main beneficiaries of this refining of the system.

Tim Miller had the rare opportunity to work closely with Guruji for over 30 years and has practiced and taught these sequences faithfully since 1978.  He brings a wealth of experience, understanding, expertise and devotion to the transmission of Guruji’s methodology as well as a thorough knowledge of the philosophical foundations of the practice—the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In this intensive, Tim will guide an exploration of Guruji’s first three asana sequences, devoting one day to each.  Monday’s practice will be Yoga Chikitsa, Tuesday’s will be Nadi Shodhana, and Wednesday’s will be Sthira Bhaga.  Tim will offer an in-depth explanation of the purpose of these sequences as well as adaptations and preparations for some of the more challenging asanas.  The three days will include selected yoga sutras, an introduction to the traditional Ashtanga pranayama sequence, stories from Indian mythology and a small taste of kirtan.

Dates: Monday, April 16 through Wednesday April 18, 9:00a-5:00p daily

One-Day Intensives First Series: April 16, Second Series: April 17 and Third Series: April 18

Intensives: $150  or $395 for all three days

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Workshop dispatch: Baby warrior escapes scrutiny while short-legged chicken spotlighted

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Through the stories that Pattabhi Jois’ students tell of his teachings, it’s clear that humor was a key part of his beloved teaching style. I think what was true of Guruji is also true of Tim Miller.

For me personally, this is most evident in the way Tim corrects my poses.

For instance, last year, I realized how far from my edge I was in virabhadrasana A when Tim came up to me and said, “What is this baby warrior?” Yep, I have an unenviably short stance in warrior A — and even then, I spend most of the five breaths wishing I were out of the pose.

I’m writing this from Columbus, Ohio — it’s my third time taking Tim Miller’s annual workshop at Yoga on High here — and today was a double header on the getting called out front. Although I am pretty sure my baby warrior has only managed to make it to toddler stage, I didn’t get called out on that pose.

But in utkatasana (chair), a pose I am always adjusted in when I take vinyasa classes, Tim called out from a few mats away: “Bends your knees, Rose!”

BUSTED.

I shook my head, laughed a little bit, and, knowing that I couldn’t get away with it any longer, sank a few inches down. Although I’ve made my peace with chair pose, I still don’t like it, and I still hang out at high elevations even though I know you need to drill down to truly get the internal fire going. Yes, part of it’s physical. Yes, part of it’s emotional.

What I’ve noticed is that Tim’s adjustments of me during led practices often focus on deficiencies in my tapas-inducing poses — not sinking low enough in utkatasana or virabhadrasana A. It’s the stuff of internal heat and granthis (knots).

But his adjustments also speak to lifestyle issues. Once, during one of his “Asana Doctor” workshops, I asked for help with marichyasana D. We struggled with it for a while, and then Tim looked at me and said, “Well . . . maybe a kilo or two?” (Translated: Shedding some pounds will assist in binding this pose.”)

I laughed out loud because it was so funny how he put it. I know it’s hard to discern when you’re simply reading it in this post rather than being in the room, but trust me — he totally diffused the comment with humor.

And he was right — that period was what I hope will turn out to be the low point of my sustaining terrible eating habits (endless and repetitive selections of processed foods that went against what my body needed). My struggles with mari D said a lot about my body structure and the areas of density in my back and shoulders, but it also said a lot about my diet — and diet is integral to the Ashtanga method.

Anyway, I noted earlier that today was a double header. In garbha pindasana, since I didn’t have a spray bottle with me — I don’t take those to led classes — I could only get part of my arms through my legs. Let’s say about four inches past my wrists. (When I have a spray bottle to lubricate, I can get my arms through and get my hands to my head. I know that the practice is designed so that by this time in the practice, your sweat will be your lubrication. I don’t seem to sweat enough in the salient spaces to rely on sweat alone, though. Sweat pours — pours! — down my face. Backs of my knees, and that general region? Dry as a desert.)

I did my nine rolls and got to kukutasana (rooster pose), but since I barely had any clearance, my knees were nearly down to the mat. Tim came by and stopped in front of me.

He said something like, “Oh . . . why chicken with such short legs?”

I was not the only one laughing at that one.

It might sound harsh out of context, but humor is a fantastic teaching tool because it can diffuse a situation and signal to a student that the comment — as critical as it might sound — is being made without any judgement.

I believe in laughing at least once during each of my home practices — whether it’s because I fall out of a pose in a totally ridiculous way or because I mangle a pose so horribly I wonder what could have possibly led to that. Sometimes I laugh because it’s comical how much effort it took get out of bed that morning.

Now I have two more reasons to laugh in primary series, and two more spots in the practice to focus on. So hopefully by this time next year, my baby warrior would have made it to at least the tween years, and my water-free chicken legs will have seen a growth spurt.

(Photo credit: Via urbanmkr’s flicker photo stream)

© 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.

Shhh. I’d like to practice, please. (Or, why Bikram yoga isn’t for me.)

It’s a holy time — Easter and Passover. Because I don’t celebrate either (I was raised as a Buddhist), it’s been a very quiet day for me. No family get-togethers, no religious or social gatherings. The loudest thing I heard outdoors today has been the high winds that sent my apartment complex’s display flags toppling over. It’s been relatively quiet indoors too. I had the chance to do my practice in an empty studio just before a private yoga lesson with a student. And it was so lovely to practice while hearing just the sound of my breath and the click-click-click of the wall clock.

So, I suppose this is as good a day as any to talk about the sounds of practice, which I’ve found myself thinking about quite a bit since I started teaching yoga. What are useful sounds that support the practice? What are distracting sounds that take away from the practice?

I’ve written before about why I don’t use music in the classes I teach. The more time I get in Mysore rooms — especially energetically intense ones like the Mysore classes at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — the less I enjoy it when there’s a lot of noise in yoga classes that I take. That includes music and talking — especially instructors who seem to be uncomfortable with silence, and work tirelessly to fill in emptiness with chatter.

I took my first Bikram yoga class last month, when I was in St. Louis for a Radiohead show. I thought I would leave that class thinking a lot about the heat (Bikram classes are heated to 105 degrees and the humidity is kept at 40 percent). The contrast of externally blasting the heat compared with the Ashtanga method, which believes in practitioners creating their own heat through breath and energy locks, could not have starker.

The more jarring thing about the class, for me, was the sound. It was incessant. I don’t think I had 10 seconds of uninterrupted focus, because the instructor, who wore a headset, talked the whole time. I remember lots of miked encouragement to “push, and push, and push” and “lock the knee.” (Never been to Bikram class? You can get the picture by reading through the official Bikram “yoga dialogue.”)

This is not a criticism of the instructor. And I know some ashtangis who also love Bikram yoga, and swear by the Bikram method’s benefits. I’m not trying to take anything away from it — this post reflects my opinion of Bikram, and more power to you if the method has given you what you sought or outright changed your life — but wow, this was not the yoga for me, if for the level of chatter alone.

The journalist in me is compelled to bring some balance into this post and note that it may not be that simple. This blog post of a first-time Bikram student settles on the idea that you’re not supposed to listen to what’s being said:

After the class, I found myself chatting with the receptionist about my first class.

“I like that my skin feels so clean.” It really did—I felt like I had perspired until there was nothing but pure water left in my pores. “But are there any instructors here who don’t….talk so much?”

“The continuous dialogue?” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of Bikram yoga.”

“Like heat.”

“Heat and continuous dialogue and the patented series of 26 postures.”

“It kind of gets to me.”

“That’s the challenge, to see if you can tune it out. That’s why it’s a signature of the style.”

Surprisingly, you never hear about this.  (“Oh, you do Bikram?  The yoga with continuous verbal dialogue, right?”) But to me it was Bikram’s salient feature: that everything they said was allegedly for you not to hear. And more importantly: that I couldn’t stop listening.

It was humbling.  I went in feeling like a yoga champ and left realizing what a novice I was in that most basic respect: mental control. Trying a new yoga style was like traveling to a foreign country—coming face to face with a new way of thinking and living. In the end it wasn’t about sweat, heat, or Bikram and waiting for his continuous dialogue to end—it was simply (and not simply) a matter of finding ways to quiet my own.

The blogger in me gets to say yeah, whatever. It sounds awfully convenient to me to copyright a dialog — the whole McYoga argument so often leveled against the Bikram style — and have it both ways by saying you’re supposed to tune it out. When you have pages and pages of scripted text that instructors are required to use, how can there be room for observation and insight?

This is from a blog post called “The Poverty of Verbal Instruction” by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, my Ashtanga teacher:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

. . .

My teachers have taught me to give little or no response to students’ self-limiting stories, to teach with one’s own personality glazed over to support students’ depth of internal focus, and to do everything possible to prevent chit-chat in the room. My teaching mentors see discursive talk in a practice room as mostly useless. So gradually, and without using words, they showed me how to teach from a very quiet place.

I do offer new students verbal instruction. If someone is reaching out for an anchor or feedback, I’ll even give a little eye contact. And there might be some talk to smooth the transition into the odd culture of a Mysore room. Proprioception and concentration are still developing, after all. But pretty soon in this scenario, we come into contact with the ways that chit-chat and personality-to-personality interactions weaken and clutter the practice. I become more still in order to get out of your way, to let you refine your own beautiful habits of mind-body. It is so nice to be in the room as you realize that you’re ok with whatever arises, as you open to new sensations, as you settle in to just being there, creating and experiencing experience.

As a journalist by training, I fundamentally believe in the power of words. Absolutely. But sometimes we work against ourselves. My journalism professors at Columbia University taught me the power behind the idea that in journalistic writing, less is more.

I’d say the same is true for a yoga room.

>>Related topic, sort of: For what it’s worth, I enjoyed “Solitude in practice; or why Ashtanga is the best style of yoga,” a blog post that briefly touches on the idea of solitude and quiet.

(Photo credit: Stille-Silence_2 via respontour’s Flickr photostream)

© 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer: What is it ashtangis talk about when they talk about ‘ladies’ holiday’?

"Stay perky through your period" Midol print ad from 1945

“Stay perky through your period” Midol print ad from 1945

There are at least three ways you could have guessed that it’s that time of month for me:

  • I have chocolate within reach on my kitchen counter at home; on the table behind my desk at work; and, for a while, I had a Twix bar in my purse. (I don’t always get cravings for chocolate during my cycle, but for whatever reason, the urges have been quite strong this time around.)
  • I’ve been wanting to go to bed early (rather than having to force myself).
  • I haven’t practiced Ashtanga for two days.

I feel as if my six-day-a-week practice has helped me experience my menstrual cycles a little differently — in a good way — so I thought this would be the perfect time to do a YogaRose.net Explainer on “ladies’ holiday.”

What are Ashtanga yoga practitioners referring to when they talk about “ladies’ holiday”?

Maybe you’ve heard ashtangis quietly talking about it. Maybe you saw the quite funny “Sh*t Ashtangis Say” YouTube video that made the rounds a while back (that very catty scene where a woman is saying, “Yeah, I’ve noticed she’s been taking a lot of ladies’ holidays . . . “). Maybe you sort of know what everyone is referring to, but aren’t 100 percent sure.

In a nutshell, the idea is that practicing Ashtanga during your menstrual cycle goes against the energetic grain. You’re trying to engage the strong upward flow of the energetic locks of the practice — mula bandha and uddiyana bandha — while your body has a strong downward flow.

Here is Kimberly Flynn explaining ladies’ holiday in a way only that only she can:

What do women who practice Ashtanga think about this?

As you can imagine, there’s not consensus on this issue. Some bristle at the thought of being benched during this time and ignore this aspect of the tradition. Others relish it. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, for instance, Nancy Gilgoff asked women who were on their cycle to watch the led primary series class instead of practice. (I thought could feel the hesitation in the room when several women had to make that decision of whether to roll up their mat and find a spot to sit and watch.) Nancy explained that when she first started studying in Mysore in the ’60s, the idea that she shouldn’t be practicing during her period went against the spirit of the feminist movement. But she came around on the issue based on the energetic conflict.

Heidi Quinn of Monterey Yoga Shala said this to The Confluence Countdown:

After hearing various theories regarding the Ladies’ Holiday – Should I practice or not? –  Nancy finally offered an explanation I could support.  She explains it as a way to honor our bodies, a way to respect the body’s natural inclinations toward depletion and fatigue, and to support the downward flow – apana.

Here is Yoga Mama‘s take:

When I first started to practice Ashtanga yoga I did not adhere to “Ladies’ holidays” and I still have a little bit of a problem with the “ladies” word, but I am not about to try and change Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ language to suit my own.

As Ashtanga became a regular part of my life and I became more aware of my bodies needs, I have grown to love these “ladies’ holidays” and find a quietness and stillness in these non-physical practice days. When I return to my mat, I feel softer and it feels like a renewal on all levels. This is how I seem to practice yoga these days. My body [and mind] now has a cycle that is flowing. I no longer feel the need to go against my natural cycle and can now embrace the feminine changes (most of the time).

Here is Katie Scanlon-Gehn‘s take:

This is something that I get asked a lot and because I’ve always sort of rebelled against anyone telling me not to do something I’ve also rebelled against the whole idea that women can’t do something just because they are menstruating. But as usual, after my initial reaction to authority, followed by empirical investigation and experience plus a dose of mellowing with age – and even I can see some value to the practice of “ladies holiday.”

What do you think about this?

When I didn’t have a regular yoga practice, I didn’t think anything of practicing during my period. But over the years, as I found a more regular practice, I started noticing how it didn’t feel great to practice at that time — but I usually did anyway. At some point, though, it struck me so clearly in class that bandhas don’t work during this time. Not even a little bit. At that point, I stopped practicing Ashtanga during my cycle, but would still practice vinyasa or power yoga.

Now that I have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice, I feel much more connected to my body on several levels — my cycle being one of them. Periods have become less of an intrusion on my daily schedule and more of a time to slow down and listen — feel — what’s happening in this body of mine. It’s more time to observe, and a different way to try to practice non-attachment — in my case, letting go of the idea that my highly constructed schedule shouldn’t change (i.e., slow down) to accomodate the power of this natural flow. As a consequence, I’ve joined the ranks of women who have come to appreciate the tradition, and I happily honor it.

One thing in particular that I’ve noticed about my body during this current cycle is that damn  . . . that dark chocolate is being received so warmly. 😉 

(Graphic credit: Midol print ad from 1945 via the genibee Flickr photostream.)

© 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer: Help! I hate practicing on carpet, but I want a home practice. What can I do?

A view of my mat folded over to show the LifeBoard base layer

This post is for the yogi who wants to build a home practice but can’t stand practicing on carpet. So often in yoga, there’s no easy answer to the “how can I . . . ?” question. In this case, I think there is a relatively straightforward answer to the question, “How can I make practicing on carpet feel better?”

Answer: Buy two pieces of interlocking plastic called the LifeBoard.

I heard about this product — which is made specifically for yoga and Pilates — through someone’s comment posted last year on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page (a great Facebook yoga page to “like,” by the way).

I’ve been using this board for a few months now, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say it has eliminated my complaints about practicing on carpet — in particular, the inevitable hills and valleys you get on the mat when you’re not practicing on a hardwood or cork floor. Do I still prefer to practice on beautiful hardwood floors? Absolutely. But that’s become merely an aesthetic consideration.

Here’s how the two pieces of the board look from the underside (in case you’re wondering, that’s our brown couch peeking through the middle):

LifeBoard -- two pieces upright, view from the underside

The way you hook them together is to hold on to the handles of the boards with the undersides facing you, and draw the boards away from you as you interlock the jagged edges in the center.

Then you lay that on the floor. I set my black mat on top of the board, and drape my Mysore rug on top of that. The completed board is just big enough for my mat:

LifeBoard -- with my mat and rug on top (you see a sliver of the board extend beyond the mat)

Now, if you have one of those extra wide John Friend Manduka mats (not sure what the fate of those mats will be, by the way), this would probably not work. Ditto for anyone with an extra long mat.

Here are the board’s specs from the LifeBoard website:

  • Non-skid top surface prevents yoga mat from slipping on the LifeBoard yoga floor
  • Cleated bottom surface prevents the LifeBoard yoga floor from slipping on carpet
  • Made of recyclable high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and shipped in boxes made of 100% recycled material. The black LifeBoard uses 50% recycled material.
  • Several dollars from each purchase goes to a nonprofit organization called Skyline Center in Clinton, IA. They provide rehabilitation services and work programs for disabled adults. They do the shipping and handling for us.
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • 73” L x 28 3/4” W x 5/8” H (assembled) – just a little larger than a standard yoga mat
  • Lightweight – approximately 8.5 lbs per panel, 17 lbs total

In an Ashtanga primary series practice, I don’t think there are many considerations that need to be taken into account, except that I’d imagine newer practitioners need to be extra careful in garbha pindasana rolls and in chakrasana. In second series, you’re over the edge of the board in parsva dhanurasana, and in nakrasana you’re jumping off the board, but neither of those situations seems to be a problem.

The other part of the equation for not minding practicing on carpet, of course, is tristana — the focus on the pose, the breath/bandhas and the dristi. With that level of focus, your surroundings sort of melt away anyway, right?

© 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.

Yoga for depression and anxiety

I was happy to be able to snag the last available spot for a two-hour workshop called Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, held this afternoon at the beautiful, community-focused Just B Yoga in Lansing. It was taught by a good friend of mine, South London native Kim Lewis.

Just B Yoga website screenshot

Although I won’t try to document the breathing and moving techniques that Kim went through — I believe these types of things are best learned and digested in context — I do want to say it was very moving when Kim started out the workshop by telling her own story. Here is her bio:

I first experienced a yoga class about 20 years ago, but I began to practice consistently in 2002 in my late 30s. I’d never been comfortable doing sport or “physical” activity, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unfamiliar form of exercise. Since then, I’ve learned that yoga has much more to offer than simply physical movement.

Before getting more serious about yoga, I was suffering with backaches, headaches, and neck aches – probably all because of stress. I’ve also had trouble with depression and anxiety that has sometimes thrown me completely off balance. Yoga has helped me to build better physical and mental health, so I’m able to function well in my daily life – and really live life.

At 46, I’m in much better physical and emotional shape than I was at 26. The combination of yoga poses, breathing and meditative practices simply makes me feel good. I’m so fortunate that I found yoga and I want to share it with others.

I trained with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I am also certified by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, as a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner.

Kim was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and strongly advises anyone trying to come off medications to do so with the help of a physician — rather than trying to do so on their own. Kim told the group today that she is living proof that while yoga can’t take away all the challenges, it can change someone’s life:

It can change your brain.

Kim told us that yoga gives you the tools to take care of yourself. These tools can be summarized by three words: “Breathe, Move, Watch,” based on breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asana) and looking at how yoga philosophy views the Self.

You can use breathing and movement to:

  • Balance the body and mind
  • Calm the body/mind when anxious
  • Energize the body and mind when depressed — but on this point, Kim emphasized how mindfulness is needed because this can also aggravate anxiety or set off a manic state.

She said everyone needs to cultivate self-awareness and check in with themselves. If you feel lethargic and depressed, start slowly and warm up to a more energetic practice. If you feel jumpy and anxious, start with more active movement and then slow down to a more calming practice.

As a yoga instructor, I appreciated Kim’s pointers for those with depression or anxiety when taking group yoga classes — that you have to cultivate this same self-awareness and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

On this point, I think yoga teachers would be wise to try to learn more about depressed and anxious students. You won’t be able to tell that modifications are needed the way you would if a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy walks into your class, but even being aware of different needs might make you more intuitive about students who may quietly be suffering through major depression and need a different energy from you.

I found these points particularly interesting:

  • For someone with major depression, it may be too much to turn in internally, so don’t allow yourself to go there.
  • For someone with major depression, it might be uncomfortable to close the eyes, so just soften the gaze.

On that point, as an Ashtanga devotee, it made me all the more aware of the importance of dristi — the gaze — of the practice. Dristi is one of the three tools that the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system gives us (together, the three are referred to as the tristana). There’s not a whole lot of eye-closing in Ashtanga — you are always asked to set a soft gaze on one of nine points (tip of nose, hand, to the side, etc.). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, to keep us present on the mat in a way that allows us to boomerang our awareness inward with true clarity, rather than in a way that allows us either to escape to another place or get sucked into a place we don’t want to go to.

I’m writing about this workshop to, generally, help share the resources that Kim shared. I also noticed that the workshop had sold out at 20 slots — but I only counted about 14 in the room, and wondered if some folks were too anxious to be in a group setting where the focus was on yoga therapy for depression and anxiety.

For anyone with depression or anxiety reading this blog post at home, know that there are people who get it, and that yoga therapy may be able to help. If reaching out seems impossible, maybe make a few clicks to buy some of these resources listed below, to help you get to a point where you can seek out a professional who can work with you on some basic yoga techniques that — while they will hardly fix everything — might be able to help.

Suggested books

Suggested CD

>>Related posts: A different kind of black Friday

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By the way — I know it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and I have to tell you that it’s killing me that I’ve been too busy to blog. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, you know I fit in blogging whenever I can — so the fact that I haven’t been able to put anything up is a testament to how compressed my schedule has been. I think I literally have about 12 blog posts in my head right now — about the first Bikram class I took about what being a Radiohead concert made me think about injuries, about one excellent tool for home practice and how I lost my voice nearly completely but taught a led class anyway — and on and on. I hope to catch up on some of these. We shall see.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.