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.

[Mysore dispatch] Etched

ring

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] Lingua franca

bilingual signs in Mysore

Always helpful when a sign around town is bilingual.

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

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

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

***

Chai with sugar

Chai = friend. Sugar = frenemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Sharath's office door

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

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

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

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

Shala door

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] In due time

Kukkarahalli Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore

workfrommysoreg

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

nilaya

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

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


KKworkspace

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

How many times have you been to Mysore?
3

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

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

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

doorway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More

 


 

Jared

Jared Westbrook
Gainesville, Florida
Graduate student

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

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

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

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

space

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

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

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

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

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

More

 


JImmy_Crow_workstation

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

How many times have you been to Mysore?
2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More


Rose_workstation

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

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

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

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

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

workdesk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More


>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And happiest of birthdays to you.

***

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

belur

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Mysore dispatch] Thank you, interwebs and wifi

wifiandpeople

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mysore dispatch] 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] Pink kurta

pinkkurta

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

venice

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

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

Rain down on me

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

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

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

#gratitude #possibilities

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

Emptying the cup

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

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

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

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

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

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

coconuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

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

Rain down on me

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

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

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

#gratitude #possibilities

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

Emptying the cup

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

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

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

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Converter in India


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

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

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

I hope you discover yours.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

#gratitude #possibilities

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

Emptying the cup

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

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

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

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

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

 

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

‘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

‘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.

Chai and LCD Soundsystem

 

Ready for the drive back to work

Ready for the drive back to work!

I had two choices today: Skip the drive to the shala because I had to be at work earlier than normal on a Wedneday, or wake up even earlier than I normally do.

So, for the first time ever, I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make the hour-long drive to the shala. A few months ago, I couldn’t manage the 5:30 a.m. alarm without snoozing . . . and snoozing some more.

Even when we try not to, we mark milestones in our practice — the first time we almost reach a bind in marichyasana C or D, and the time we actually achieve it. The first time we could hang in a headstand without wobbling. The first time savasana took us somewhere else.

Today was one for me. I have struggled for so long and never thought I could turn myself into a morning person, but slowly — so very slowly — rhythms started taking over, just like they do in the practice itself.


On the two weekdays when I make the drive to the shala, it’s like I have three journeys before I even begin my work day. There’s the journey eastbound on Interstate 96 to practice, the journey on the mat itself, and the journey back westbound on the highway to be in my office chair more or less on time. Today, a warm cup of chai and the eccentric sounds of James Murphy helped the drive over seem shorter and more relaxed than normal, despite the slick roads. On the mat — well, suffice it to say that backbends are teaching me quite a bit about what’s stuck, and perhaps tucked, into my body.

On the journey back — that was interesting too. As I found comfort sipping my Ginger Dragon (ginger honey lemon tea), I passed one rough-looking accident after another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many spinouts on highways when there wasn’t rain or snow. But the light drizzle of the morning made for some serious black ice and unaware drivers were thrown off off-ramps. In one case, an 18-wheeler was hibernating in a ditch as a little crumpled car faced the wrong direction on the highway shoulder. Once many years ago, I hit a patch of black ice driving on a Vermont highway in the dark of night. Had the guardrail not been there, I would not be here. So when I pass accidents, part of me migrates outside my car and I am with the drivers of the cars on the side of the road, wondering if they also experienced a slow-motion feeling — the kind when you can observe yourself thinking, “Hey, this might be it. I guess I have to be OK with that.”


Two weekends ago, I cleaned out another pocket of my belongings — perhaps the last of three little areas in my house where I’ve let stuff accumulate. In doing so, I found a manilla folder I had started in, I think, 2010. I had printouts of general info on traveling to Mysore and on how to register. Not sure why I wasted the paper to print this out, but I looked at this little outdated folder and recycled it all with some measure of finality. It was my little letting go of trying to hope for that journey, my promising myself to let the twists and turns of life take their course without me constantly pointing to a map with a suggested destination. Maybe it will happen. I know it’s still possible. (Anything must be possible, right, if I can get up at 4:30?) But I won’t wish for a particular destination, just like we’re not supposed to wish to finally get that bind.


It is indeed that time of year when ashtangis from all over the world board planes with Mysore as their final destination, and that means interesting new blogs or the rekindling of others.

But one ashtangi who isn’t making the trip this year finds that staying put is a journey in and of itself.


You wanted it real
But can you tell me what’s real?
There’s lights and sounds and stories
Music’s just a part

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

Showing up (for backbends, Capitol lawn protests, etc.)

Right-to-work protests at the Michigan Capitol buiding today. (Photo by Romain Blanquart via the Detroit Free Press.)

What is it that you show up for? I mean, really show up for? Your yoga practice? Your job? Your kids? Your marriage? Your church? A cause? Why do you do it? How do you do it?

I’m thinking about this on a day full of people showing up in vastly different ways. I started my morning at the yoga shala in Ann Arbor, rolling out my mat for Mysore practice at 6:15 a.m. The collective energy was, as always, powerful and grounding. All the ashtangis around me have had their own journeys of training themselves to change their lifestyle enough to show up at ridiculously early hours to practice, and why they do it week after week is like a fingerprint — unique to them. Yet the collective feel of a group of people working toward a similar goal is palpable in that space.

The 60-minute drive back to mid-Michigan, where I live and work, took 90 minutes this morning, thanks to cars clogging the highway as they headed toward Michigan’s capital city to protest right-to-work legislation. I work two blocks from Lansing’s Capitol building, so my coworkers and I — a mix of former journalists and news junkies — couldn’t help but to follow what was happening as thousands of protestors and two branches of government did their thing. The sound of helicopters above only added to the day’s heightened feel, but the most notable feeling for me, as I walked through the crowds in the bitter cold, was how upbeat the collective energy of the protestors felt. This was absolutely a politically driven event, but I’m not making a political statement here. To me, it was interestingly apolitical that the men and women who showed up in Lansing today seemed to believe that their presence in that very particular spot of the world was vital, even though all the pundits and analysts said it was game over for their side (and it was).

After work, I headed straight to the athletic club where I teach a beginning-level vinyasa-flow class. Tonight there were twice as many students as usual who were ready to challenge themselves with a mind-body practice. Some students I have seen every week for a year, and several were new. The feel in that room was one of determination — yoga may not necessarily come easily to them, but they weren’t going to give up and walk away.

I suppose what I’m saying is that in every setting I was in today, I was surrounded by people who had to make a conscious decision to show up — which is sometimes the hardest part. True, the shala and the gym’s yoga room aren’t divisive spaces like the protest grounds, which had an intense police presence, riot gear ready. Yet the collective feel in each was one of a group of people willing to do what it takes to show up to help create what they believe to be a set of better circumstances.

(What’s pretty inspiring on the yoga front is that it you can’t just marshal up that motivation once; it’s not a one-shot deal the way a protest might be. But I think that’s where collective energy can be so helpful to keep you fighting the good fight against laziness, inertia or a crazy schedule.)

So back to the questions. What do you show up for? I find that showing up to my yoga practice helps me be more present in everything else I do — my work, my marriage, my friendships, even how I process the feel of something like a right-to-work protest. And how do you go about being present once you’ve shown up? For me, I think that lately I’ve been working on putting forth the effort but trying to avoid clinging to what I want to happen (e.g., “I want to feel my body to feel light and my spine to feel supple this morning”), which allows me to be more receptive to what comes (note the emphasis on “trying”).

By the way, on the point of receptivity: Working on deep backbends — can you say kapotasana? — seems to help with the whole surrendering process (no kidding, right?!), which in turns seems to help me with the whole receptivity process.

That said, every new day is a test. I failed a couple of tests today (post-practice) and I passed others. We’ll see how tomorrow goes — starting with those backbends.

The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space (2011) (Courtesy of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor)

(Photo links: Free Press aerial shot; Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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.

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

Mysore Magic screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

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

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

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

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

Fourth Estate

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

You are not alone, ashtangi

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

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

Checking out the film

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

The long and the short of it: On the Ashtanga breath (which, for the record, is not ujjayi!)

Speed limit of 8 via Gary Dincher's Flickr photostream

We ashtangis seem to love talking about the breath as much as we love the rhythmic act of breathing itself. Whether new to the practice or a decades-long practitioner, questions about the right and the wrong of breathing frequently bubble up. Answers to questions about the breath are as varied as the breath itself. Below, I’ve chosen some answers that have helped me get a better feel for this art of breathing.

How long and fast should the breath be?

“Medium” and “breathable,” according to David Garrigues:

Partly it’s going to be based on your mood, or your feeling at the time. It’s going to be based on what the posture is demanding. The point is, the breath is breathable. It’s varying. Guruji, he said that the breath is a medium breath. Which meant that it’s not too long and it’s not too short. It’s not like your best pranayama each vinyasa position — if that was the case, it would take too long; it would become forced, unnatural.

Watch the whole segment here:

Mark Darby says this in an interview posted on Wild Yogi:

Going back to the breath, if you see Jois teaching, in a way he teaches standing postures are slow, the breath is very long, when he comes to do the primary series it gets fast. And then it gets very slow again when it comes to finishing postures, because there is no vinyasa in standing and finishing postures so he makes the breaths longer. But as long as you have full breath and rhythm it doesn’t matter how long you breath.

What is the Ashtanga breath called?

This one seems pretty straightforward, right? The Ashtanga breath is called ujjayi breath, right?

Well . . . no. I was stunned to hear my teacher say this at a workshop last month. It turns out the more accurate way to refer to the breath used in the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is “breathing with sound.”

This revelation rippled a while ago among ashtangis who study in Mysore (or those who closely follow their blogs). I remember reading about it this past winter but I think I chose to not try to read too much into this — not enough context, as Steve at the Confluence Countdown noted at the time.

To catch you up if this is new to you, here is an excerpt of Suzy’s Mysore Blog’s coverage of Sharath’s conference notes from Jan. 8, 2012:

The ujjayi breath – how loud should it be?

Answer – which ujjayi breath? It is not ujjayi – it is just deep breathing with sound that’s all. Ujjayi is a pranayama. It is wrong to say that is ujjayi breath.

In the olden days, Guruji he didn’t understand English very well. You all have different accents. It is very difficult to understand people from New Zealand. So Guruji would say yes it’s ujjayi breath. Sometimes for me it is difficult to understand accents. So like that it became many things [Sharath impersonates Guruji] – ‘oh yeh, yeh, yeh’. If he said ‘okay, okay, okay’ it didn’t mean ‘yes’, it meant ‘I’ll think and tell you’. His heart was like a baby’s heart, his mind like a baby’s mind.

It should be deep breathing with sound. Not shallow breathing. Only the nervous system can purify if the breath goes in deep. Each part of my body can feel that breath, up to my toes. The blood is circulating everywhere. If I just do shallow breath, a dog’s breath [Sharath pants like a dog].

It is especially important in sarvangasana (shoulder stand). Shirshasana (head stand) and sarvangasana are very important – we should do for a long time. Sometimes when you get pain this is all because of not breathing properly. When you are doing kurmasana (turtle posture) your shoulders are like this [Sharath demonstrates hunched shoulders]. Try to relax in asana, try to take long breath.

Something will happen for me if you throw me in the water. The more you relax in water, the more easy it is to do the strokes.

Back in 2011, David Robson was surprised to learn this as well:

On my last trip to Mysore, I heard something new. It was during the weekly conference with Sharath. While talking about the breath during practice, someone mentioned “Ujjayi Breath.” Sharath corrected them, saying Ujjayi is a pranayama, a formal breathing exercise, and then moved on to another topic.

At first, I assumed I had misunderstood what Sharath was saying. I had always thought Ujjayi Breath was one of the key principles of Ashtanga Yoga. Confused, I went to the source, Yoga Mala, by Sri K Pattabhi Jois, to see what he had written more than 50 years ago. To my surprise, there is no mention of Ujjayi Breath with vinyasa. None.

A month later I saw Sharath again. I had the chance to ask him if we do Ujjayi Breath during our asana practice. He said no, explaining that Ujjayi Breath is one of the Pranayama techniques of Ashtanga Yoga. In Ashtanga, Pranayama is begun only when a practitioner has started the Advanced Series. During our asana practice we only do steady and even purakaand rechaka, inhalation and exhalation.

In honor of the lineage of this tradition, I’ve stopped using the word “ujjayi” on this blog and when I teach. But I think until an entirely new generation of ashtangis comes up, the Ashtanga community at large might have to agree to disagree on the label of this breath with sound. My guess is that the first generation of Westerners who were the first to study with Pattabhi Jois will likely continue to use “ujjayi” and make a distinction between ujjayi during asana practice and ujjayi pranayama. (Correct me if I’m wrong on this!) The new generation of authorized teachers are already following Sharath’s lead. It’s all good, though, right? Isn’t this a classic tomato vs. tomahto situation? [At least I hope so, because I really don’t want to go back through two years’ worth of blog posts and change every instance of ujjayi. :-) ]

Or maybe a better analogy would be using a brand name for a generic item — saying “Kleenex” when holding a box of Target’s generic brand tissues isn’t technically correct, but we understand how the product is supposed to be used. The label doesn’t change how useful, powerful and beautiful this breath is.

For no particularly great reason, I’ll let “Speed of Sound” close this post.

>>Read more: More on the Ashtanga breath: What the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā tells us

(Photo credit: “Speed limit 8??” via Gary Dincher’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.

Yoga mat, check. Mysore rug, check. Santa hat…check?

Is it just me, or are there only about a dozen ashtangis in the States right now? I feel like Ashtanga yoga practitioners are all either already in Mysore — practicing, blogging and tweeting away — or on the cusp of departing for India.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor posted this wonderful link to a Facebook event — or an attempt at an event, anyway. The idea is to have everyone show up to the led class being held at the Mysore shala on Christmas Day in a santa hat. It seems that there are some logistical challenges to making this happen, but I think the whole idea is a hoot, even if it doesn’t pan out.

20111224-193723.jpg I’m posting this from a tiny little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called Quinnesec (population: 1,187), on a holiday visit with my fiance’s parents. (I’ve been saying “Iron Mountain” as shorthand, because people in Michigan know that as the town that Tom Izzo‘s from, but Iron Mountain is actually the larger town over, with some 8,000 or so residents.) But when I practice tomorrow — rolling out my mat and rug in the beautifully finished attic we stay in when we visit here) — I’ll be wearing an energetic santa hat, trying to connect to some of the light-hearted energy emanating from the shala in Mysore.

Happy holidays!

>>Update 12.25.11 — Check out my comment below for links to photos of yogis rocking their inner Kris Kringle.  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A girl and a guru

20110809-113907.jpg

“That’s the great thing about Mt. Shasta — the veil of illusion becomes gossamer thin.”

–Tim Miller, the first westerner certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga, Aug 9, 2011 during a class discussion on the kleshas (afflictions) described in the Yoga Sutras

I’ve always been drawn to allegories. Today, I hiked into one.

The morning started out as every morning during this Mt. Shasta retreat yoga led by Tim Miller — with half an hour of pranayama (breathing exercises), and a two-hour physical practice (a guided Ashtanga second series class alternates days with a Mysore, or independent-paced, practice). Sunday’s first class of the retreat — a led class — was pretty rough for me. I felt I had the quality of tamas — lethargy, stagnation. Yesterday I did primary series during the Mysore session, which somehow went even worse. It seems I left my proprioceptive awareness in Michigan, because Tim was working with me on the most basic postures. He totally called me out on my virabhadrasana A (warrior A) posture by coming to my mat and saying, “What is this? A baby warrior?”

Incredibly, this morning’s second series practice felt downright lovely — challenging, with a deep payoff in body, mind and spirit. I was grateful, because one of the reasons I came to this retreat was to discover how to more deeply connect with second series. At the moment, it’s a practice I respect but don’t exactly enjoy doing. I guess on some level, I don’t know if it’s the practice for me to focus on right now.

After breakfast and a short break, we went on our hike of the day. There were two options: hang out at Castle Lake, which required no hike after you parked your car, or hike to Heart Lake (named because it is lake shaped like a heart), which was described as a short but steep hike.

A couple of my fellow yogis decided to take the first option, because a fairly strenuous hike was not what their body needed. I figured what my body needed most was a hot stone massaged, but, short of that, a hike represented the next best thing I could do for my body and mind. Ever the indecisive person that I am, I decided to split the difference — I would start walking and see if I felt like continuing.

I quickly became the last straggler going up this route. I had maybe gone a third of the way up and decided I would turn around — wasn’t feeling like this hike was for me right now. I didn’t have the enthusiasm needed to make this not feel like a ton of work.

After mentally checking out, but before I turned my body around, I looked up, and saw a single figure up the hill. It looked like Tim’s hat and his Hanuman T-shirt. Was he waiting for me? The last two people who had walked up the hill had probably past that point 5 or 10 minutes before. Well crap, I thought to myself, if that was the case, I couldn’t turn around now.

When I reached Tim standing there stoically, I asked if he was waiting for the last person.

“I didn’t want anyone to miss the turn,” he said. He stood right where the trail forked, and the path to the left looked as well-traveled as the one to the right.

Tim turned around and started up the hill, and I followed without saying anything for a while — partly because I was breathless from the steep climb, partly because I was feeling pretty lame for being so far behind. Tim has better things to do than wait for someone who after all these years still needs to work on dandasana (staff pose).

As we got closer and closer — the light at the end of the tunnel for me — I said, “Thank you again for waiting. I’m sorry I kept you.”

In his signature non-reactive way, Tim said, “No problem.”

He added, “I like going slow.”

I didn’t care how big that heart-shaped lake we were walking toward turned out to be — I knew with absolute clarity that I was already next to Mt. Shasta’s biggest heart.

In this series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

The yoga ‘staycation’

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

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

One-gas-tank getaway

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

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

Converging where powerful streams of influence come together

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

Ask a fellow yogi

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Planet Telex moment in Ashtanga second series (or, how to find relief from the posture pictured below)

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

It’s called tittibhasana B (insect posture), and it appears in Ashtanga second series, a practice heavy on backbends and extreme hip openers as a way of liberating energy coiled at the base of the spine. On good days, second series feels like Pop Rocks candy on my spine — tingly, refreshing and a category unto itself. Most of the time, though, it is still a practice that I struggle to enjoy (unlike primary series, which is full of forward ends and is designed to bring the body into balance), and in no small part because of the extreme hip openers found in the middle of the series. My body and mind love hip opening postures as a category, but the ones that appear in second series are intense and make me confront seeping feelings of anxiety, frustration, impatience and irritation.

Needless to say, I have never found anything liberating about tittibhasana B, except the part when you’ve finished your five breaths in the posture and get to come out of it. (If this sounds familiar, I also like to come out of virabhadrasana A. Warrior A is a posture you often see in flow-based yoga practices. You don’t see insect posture much unless you do Ashtanga second series, so I don’t usually cite this as my nemesis posture. But it is quite possibly the single posture I hate the most — the posture I would edit out if I had an asana eraser.)

In tittibhasana, my arms don’t just drape around the back of the legs to find a clasp the way the yogi in this photo seems to effortlessly do. When I do this posture, my legs can’t straighten and my arms can, at most, reach my butt — I mean, I basically feel as if I’m trying to feeling up my own ass when I try to wiggle into this posture. When I’m in it, I often think, “Yoga teaches us humility, but really? Seriously? Is this necessary?

But something happened during the led Ashtanga second series class at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing’s Old Town this evening, and it prompted me, after finishing class to, check in to Foursquare and tweet this:

The opening line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex“: “You can force it but it will not come.” Welcome to Ashtanga second series.

The reason? To explain, I have to talk about the posture that comes a few postures before this one. It’s called eka pada sirsasana (one-leg-behind-head posture), and it looks like this:

Eka pada sirsasana

I’ve been practicing led Ashtanga second series since last summer, and I usually can’t get either leg behind my head. On occasion, I can get my right leg behind, but I can’t leg go without the leg coming with me. (In his book on second series, Gregor Maehle describe his posture as “a peculiar mix of hamstring flexibility and hip rotation.)

I wondered during practice today whether all this time, I had been unable to approach this posture the right way because I was tense. There are times when I know I’m unnecessarily tensing a group of muscles — for example, the gluteus maximus or the shoulders. It’s hardest, though, when you don’t even know you’re holding on somewhere. So before going into eka pada sirsasana posture this evening, I tried to inhale relaxation into my right hip. I moved very slowly. I more or less had a conversation with my whole pelvis area, trying to coax it into relaxation.

Viola, both my right leg and my left cooperating with me.

Fast forward a few postures to tittibhasana B. Before I went into it, I once again tried to focus on breathing release into my hips. On not wanting this posture too much. For the first time ever, this posture did not sting in my lower body the way it normally does. I felt equanimity. I felt calm.

I saw a tweet the other day from @MeredithLeBlanc. I liked a lot:

If U notice Ur hips feeling tight while walking – stop, breath deep into the pelvis & feel the fluid flow in Ur body. Vam Vam Vam

When I was in New York a couple weeks for the Public Relations Society of America’s Digital Impact conference, I took Mysore classes at an excellent Midtown studio called the Yoga Sutra. One of the instructors kept coming over to tell me to relax my hip in standing postures.

So you might say I was primed for this moment tonight to finally, after all these years, relax my hip. In yoga, there’s the idea of sthira sukham — steady comfort.  You find strength, but you also find surrender. Being strong enough to let go is the moment that you free yourself. I’ve always loved that the first line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex,” which is also the first line on the group’s 1995 album The Bends, is an indictment against trying to push through. What’s true for life is true for our yoga practice and vice versa, and it makes me wonder in what ways I might be holding on too tightly to something in my life off the mat.

(Photo credits: Both via www.ashtangayoga.info)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

Horsing around (London edition)

Horse-face posture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Padmasana

Padmasana in Trafalgar Square