Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slipper Slip Up


Do these slippers belong to you?


My original slippers.


Today's topic is as light and frivolous as flip-flops, literally. With the sea of flip-flops parked around the shala steps, some mishap is sure to happen, accidental swaps and so forth.

So, if you're thinking, hmmm, that first pair (pictured above) looks awfully familiar, like a lost pair, I'm sorry. Maybe you have my pair (the second photo). It's cool. Not fussed. A small practice in non-attachment. If you don't have my pair, again, I'm truly sorry.

It started at last Friday's led class. Or rather, after. When I went to fetch my flip flops, they were gone. I searched all over, around the steps, investigated the feet around the coconut stand but to no avail. I suddenly understood why some students chose distinguishable footwear. Still, there were few cream colored slippers around, nothing like the common black flip flops. I thought I would be safe.

There was a pair, similar in color and metallic hue of thong strap, both Haviannas. They were slightly bigger, strap slightly smaller and less golden. But they were in the same area as I left my own pair. Having brought no other alternative footwear, I crossed my fingers that the owner of this pair had mistook my own and that I would not continue a chain of events in which other folks would loose their footwear in the process. Oh well, best foot forward.

At first I felt odd wearing another person's footwear, thinking the strangest things. Who might own it, what might the state of their feet be? Then I thought with the frequency we all go barefoot around here, it didn't really matter.

The mysterious thing is they haven't turned up. Not even at conference, where I'd left the slippers with a small little note for the owner of my borrowed slippers. No cigar. It fits well enough. I've already gotten used to it.

Maybe I just have to accept the strange exchange. Maybe part of being here in Mysore is forcing us to walk in another person's shoe. It might be very similar and only slightly different, but every shift offers us a different footing in our own experience.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Conference: Newly Certified, Faith, & Eat Vegetarian

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Today we witnessed a rare occurrence at the shala. Sharath explains that it’s been over 3 years since someone was certified. And this afternoon, he shares with the room, two students are bestowed the privilege. Australian teacher Mark Robberds is called up to the stage to receive his certificate. The room applauds wholeheartedly. I think everyone feels as I do, how much he deserves it. Mark is such a light and grounded person with a most inspiring practice—I remember waiting for my “One more” at 5:30am and just watching him gracefully move from one insane asana to the next. It’s always shocks me when men can do splits! Well done, mate! Not present is another student: Jorgen Christiannson based out of Los Angeles, who also receives applause.

He talks a little, explaining that older generations have gone. And now these certified and authorized teachers play an important role in continuing ashtanga yoga, that they are key bearers of this yoga tradition, now spanning 4 generations.

Sharath sits, taking his place on the chair he pulls out. This conference, I am a good distance from him. I usually like to sit up front so I don’t miss a word (I’ve long learned to embrace my inner-geek). And from where I am sitting, I am struck by the brightness of his dark eyes. His demeanor changes throughout conference depending on his topic, he moves from serious to authoritative to sheepish when he is being humorous. But the deep pool sparkle in his eyes is a constant light.

He returns to his favorite recurring theme: lineage. He mentions again a saying: a student with two gurus means there is one dead student. He explains that its like when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. What happens, he asks? The dishes go bad. He quietly laughs saying we are the dishes. When you have two gurus, you receive instruction from one and another set of instructions from another. The result is confusion.

Then, Sharath talks about faith. He says that it is important to have “faith in the practice” and “faith in your teacher.”

This strikes a chord with me. I’m big on faith. And I feel that so much of this crazy practice requires quite a lot of it. Faith, a healthy amount of devotion and surrender, whether its getting dropped back, waking up early each morning, tailoring diet to the well-being of the practice, working and saving every peso to get here, or prioritizing India over seeing family this Christmas.

These sacrifices, whether big or small, seem worth it, to be in the shala, to be in Sharath’s presence. Its part insanity, I sometimes think, being here, spending this amount of money to be knackered by 2-hours of practice and, let’s face it, what seems like a very small amount of personal attention. But the moment Sharath’s in front of me, the seemingly impossible task of reaching for my heels from behind my back seems to be not such a daunting one-—sure, it’s still hard, but not impossible. Time is not an issue. Its quality not quantity.

The last time he adjusted me in supta kurmasana, as well. I felt an energy and self-confidence that really is not typical. It wasn’t a deep adjustment but once he’d lifted my legs I was shocked to find myself easily hoisting myself up and into bakasana with none of the usual elephant-like difficulties. Such is his grounding energy. I trust him. The faith makes all the difference.

He also stresses the importance of having the blessing of your teacher also. He shares a story from the Mahabharata. (I don’t remember names and I’m totally paraphrasing here). There was a warrior who went to a great archery teacher. Because the warrior knew that the teacher would only accept a brahman, he lied. So he was accepted and was trained wholeheartedly by the teacher. One day, the warrior was sitting, his teacher asleep on his lap, when a mosquito lands on his leg. The warrior stays really still and doesn’t mind when the insect bites him and draws blood. His teacher gets up right away and confronts him, “You are a warrior.” (Sharath breaks from his story here to let us in on the joke, that brahmins are not known for their courage, he laughs a little, enjoying the joke himself). So, falling out of favor with his teacher, the warrior is unable to properly recall the mantras necessary to successfully shoot his bows against the good guys, Arjuna and the side of the Pandavas. He adds little comment. As it is with our asana practice, he lets us stew the story in our own juices.

He takes questions...

Someone asks for advice on diet.

“You must eat vegetarian,” says Sharath. He states two key reasons. The first, I think though I may be wrong here, because of lightness such a diet creates in our practice. The second is ahimsa or non-violence. Over the last couple of conferences, Sharath has been adamant about practicing the other 8 limbs, especially grounding ourselves in the yamas and niyamas.

And besides, he quips, “Human teeth are like cows.” Later, maybe upon seeing that we are taking his line of reasoning quite seriously, he adds, “I’m joking (about the teeth).”

He does stress the importance of milk and ghee. That it is tradition for Indians to eat a spoonful of ghee with every meal. He adds that the daily consumption of milk will result in a long life.

He then describes an energy drink not to be found at your local Jamba Juice. He holds out his right hand, fingers curled up creating a cup size proportion. He says to take that much moong dal, wash it carefully, and soak it in a copper pot over night. The following day, blend the moong dal, adding two bits of jaggery. He says this is very good for us, especially for backbends. A new spin on the protein shake to be sure!

Another student asks about sweating? If it’s ok not to sweat?

“Everybody sweats,” he says, as if swallowing a laugh.

He says that not sweating can be a result of improper breathing. He reiterates breath with sound, deep and even breaths. We shouldn’t even wipe away our sweat. In fact, we should be rubbing our sweat onto our body and that this process will help detoxify us. He recalls a famous politician who drank cow urine and lived a long life of 105-years old. Much to my relief (I was afraid he was going to add to cow piss to our list of dairy food), he said that wiping our sweat would result in the same benefits. Phew!

At some point Sharath’s children, Shrradha and Sambhav, unabashedly come in and join there father on stage. Shrradha casually addresses her dad in Kannada as if there weren’t a roomful of yoga students fixing their eyes on her back, Sambhav, who is so small and adorable, a mini Sharath—-bright eyes and all, though his is the bright eyes of all children that age—-puts on a show, jumping down from the stage, his bulbous eyes looks at his audience, filling him with the need to step up on stage again to jump. While his father talks, he does this several times, ending up at some point rolling around on the rug below.

Throughout, Sharath is patient and unbothered, he continues to talk to us. At some point, Sambhav is in his father’s lap. He is in a strop with his sister and kicks her as she tries to take him. Sharath gently admonishes him. In retaliation, Shrradha flicks her pen on Sambhav’s head. He gently chides her too. He speaks in Kannada one final time, and the two are obediently off.

By himself on stage again, a student asks how does he balance his family life with his yoga practice?

He jokes, “When we moved here, the shala, I put them upstairs.” (or he says something close to that. On a serious note, he does say that it takes time and balance. He confesses it doesn’t always work.

I love seeing the Shrradha and Sambhav around the shala because it’s nice to see Sharath in another context. They very much look to him as a kind father figure, they don't seem afraid of him at all. I more or less get flustered whenever confronted by Sharath. I get these irrational nervous spasms.

(The other day he stopped me during backbending to ask me what my last pose was. I blanked. The name escaped me. I mentally went to my asana storeroom, looking for the right pose, afraid to say a pose too early and get demoted or a pose later and look dumb, or (aghast) presumptuous. If I had said exactly what was going on in my head it would have sounded: “You know, the one with the feet here and my hands here…” all the time, thinking "God, save me.")

Seeing him with his children--mind you this is just a few times now I’ve witnessed them together--well, they love him, which I know isn’t unusual. But they seek him out and they are allowed to. He doesn’t shoo them away, even when he’s working. He observes them, it seems. Totally patient, he looks kindly on their idiosyncrasies and gives them space to simply be. He is stern only when he needs to be and such moments are fleeting and still somewhat gentle. It reminds me a little of how he is with us.

Before the conference ends, Sharath makes another special announcement. He is being visited by a student of Krishmacharya. A.G. Mohan was a student of Krishnamacharya for 18 years in Chennai from 1971 to 1989. He has invited Mr. Mohan to stay an extra day to visit with us and share his stories of Krishnamacharya’s life after Mysore. We get to meet Mr. Mohan on Sunday, a special treat at the start of a new year at the shala.

A Mysore Christmas




I was resigned. Perhaps this year, there would be no “Christmas.” On Christmas morning, surrounded by children tearing into their pressies, I was happy to be wrong.

Predominantly Hindu, Christmas is not big in India. There are none of the familiar sights and sounds of the season: no decorated trees covered in tinsel, no wreaths, no carols, and none of the holiday consumerism, which dominates the west and the little Southeast Asian Christmas-slave I call home, the Philippines—and which I guiltily find comforting because, well, I am Filipino. My American side doesn’t do me any favors either in this respect.

In my tropical neck of the woods, decorations start to come up by late October and the general population systematically stuffs itself silly for a three-week period leading up to the big Christmas Eve feast. And quite some time after, as well.

Because the shala stayed open it was pretty much business at usual in Gokulam. The 25th was off only because it fell on a Saturday.

Generally, the shala students were pretty casual about Christmas. I guess we knew what we signed up for. Christmas itself could have passed us all by. In the days leading to Christmas Eve, a Friday, there were no definite plans. Quite suddenly though, there were dinners here and there, and at least one big party at Alex’s.

For me, it almost felt as if we were forcing the issue, scrambling for a way to observe the holiday. Still, I treated myself to as many heart warming indulgences as possible: chai in Amruth’s in the morning, lunch at the 3 Sisiters, homemade chocolates from Geetha and Trupti Coffee (a double whammy), classic holiday movies (It’s a Wonderful Life and Sound of Music) that I’d downloaded before leaving home in anticipation for a solitary Christmas. I did venture out too.

In the end, I joined a group dining at Windflower’s Olive Garden (no relation to the stateside chain) for a joint yuletide celebration and birthday party for Yan, also practicing at the shala. It was a surreal event at the garden establishment tucked at the bottom of Chamundi Hill. There, our party was ushered into a raised stage area, where they had prepared seating for cocktails. We were even visited by an Indian Santa. Half the party dressed in beautiful saris, some like glittering constellations. It felt a little like Junior Prom, someone said. Or the pre-prom dinner, arranged by our parents. Us "kids" disoriented by the so-called finery--what? tables not cushions? dresses not yoga clothes.

At Alex, we arrived just in time for caroling. Alex led, while Mark and Lars accompanied with guitar and harmonium respectively. The rooftop was full of students and together we sang a number of favorites, from Jingle Bells to Silent Night. This followed by dancing. It was a great little party.

The Eve was fun. Good company and happy vibes dominated the night. Still, it didn’t quite feel like Christmas.

In the morning I treated myself to a Christmas Day castor oil bath before heading out to meet a group going to Ashadayaka Trust, a orphanage for street children located 15 minutes away from Gokulam.

I was first introduced to the orphanage during the November fundraiser, which was organized by a handful of dedicated shala students. Over the last few weeks, I've joined some of the afternoon excursions to Ashadayaka. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, willing students meet at 4:15 at the coco stand to visit the children. We take them to the park and for an hour they are given hugs, time and attention. Anyone is welcome to join.

These children are so special. They may have been abandoned, they've had it rough in their young lives, but they are still children who like to smile, play, and take pleasure in having a grown-up hold their hand. And for that one hour, they are the center of the universe. I've seen the other neighborhood children stare in amazement as we walk with them down to the park. Sometimes some hang around the playground, inching their way towards our group, the desire to join in and play with us too shining in their eyes.

I was happy to join the Christmas gift giving that Deva had organized. I brought a present for Arathi (one of the girls who insists on holding my hand and wearing my sunglasses on the walk to the park)--a pink-clad barbie doll. Other shala volunteers brought presents, while donations from students and friends all over the world made certain that all the children would have something special.

We started with carols. Bo Chang, a classically trained singer and master gift-wrapper, led us in a cheerful round of carols. Though the English mystified the kids, their tongues glossing over the consonant sounds, they loved fa-la-la-la-ing to "Deck the Halls," which they screamed happily in our kirtan fashioned caroling.

Deva and Ursula brought in the bags of presents. And the distribution began. Shelly's daughters were present and helped give out the first batch. In an unusually orderly fashion (I've been to a few Christmas gift-giving events in the Philippines that could easily have turned into riots) the children came up when they were called, then returned to their spot in the circle, patiently waiting for the moment they could open them. Some curiously investigated theirs, shaking them trying to discern the weight or find an audible clue.

When all presents were distributed, we helped them tear into their gifts. Their faces then...the surprise followed by the elation at seeing a brand new toy (there were dolls, toy cars, balls, cricket bats), their brand new toy was Christmas!

For the next hour, we played. Shelly's husband Trevor taught basket ball tricks. Deepika and Mark played tossed around balls and played catch. Like myself, Deva, Ursh, Z, Bo, Shelly and her daughters moved around the rooftop, enjoying the company of children. Even our rickshaw driver joined in, he visits the orphanage too in his free time, he tells me later. The boys excelled in their sportsmanship. The two older girls with their hula hoops. The younger girls all investigated each other's dolls. The younger boys raced their cars.

Before we left, we gave out cake and they gave us their thanks. The children circulating within our circle, each giving us a hearty thank you and a strong handshake. Some more than once.

Many times over that hour, as I watched the scene, I wanted to bust out and cry. I felt so much love for these children and so much admiration for the fellow students there that day. This was the spirit of Christmas, of giving, and of receiving--that precious transaction of love that eludes us so many times in this modern day.

Get involved. To visit the children, meet at coco stand 4:15pm Mon, Wed and & Fri. Also, fore more info check out the Ashadayaka Trust group on facebook.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Counting Down, the Last Three Weeks

You can tell straight away when someone’s days are numbered at Mysore. For one, they know what the exact date is. They know this because they are counting down. I am trying not to, but at three weeks to my departure date, I too am starting to count the days. Each day is precious. Each practice is important. So is each coconut drink, tasty Indian meal, and yoga student gathering.

Thing is, we’re constantly reminded of leaving. There is always someone packing up, someone you like that you hate to say goodbye to. Even those you don’t form solid connections with, it’s difficult to see them off because they are somehow a part of the collective experience. They are part of the room, you’re familiar with their favorite spots, and they are contributors in that amazing morning energy.

Plus, you know at some point that’s going to be you. Everyone’s days are numbered at the shala. Everyone eventually has to leave. It is simply how it is. (Ok, excepting the special few that have managed to make a home out of Mysore, the lucky ducks! Still, such a fate is not for everyone).

That’s a part of the logic built into this place. It makes sense. You can come and practice, but you have to return home sometime. Part of the real challenge isn’t here in Mysore anyways. It’s back home and applying the lessons there. Though sometimes you simply wish that the rules could bend, that non-renewable visas were extendable, that jobs back home could wait, that family members and friends understand rather than worry that you’re in India or that you’ve joined a cult, that bank accounts could magically top up themselves, or that six months could stretch on indefinitely.

The farewells make it hard, particularly. In the beginning, especially for a first-timer like myself, it’s all “hello.” Every interaction is an introduction. A beginning. But once you’ve made it past the month mark, it’s more “goodbye” than anything. Every couple of days, some one is off (Though it’s not all doom and gloom, folks are happy to head home or to move on to another adventure too. But it’s sad to go regardless). There are leaving breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We’re lucky when there’s a gap of 5 days between such moments. It’s hard but I try to remember: non-attachment, non-attachment!

We were talking at one such leaving dinner this week at the Green Hotel, all of us with staggered departure dates: from tomorrow evening, next Friday, early Jan, mid Jan to March, all of us staring into the inevitable, the end of the Mysore experience.
Mr. Next Friday was adamant that he didn’t want to talk about it. Fair enough. I think if my time were up by the end of the week, I’d also rather not think about it.
In a conversation with my Sanskrit teacher’s teacher, a wise scholar in the Sanskrit college here in Mysore, he stressed how yoga is an experience, thus its personal. How I experience it is different from you or anybody else. I think that’s true for any experience. What seems sad for another person can be happy for another. Half-empty, half-full.

At the moment, with exactly three weeks to go, I still have room to be cheery about the imminent end of this Mysore trip. I say “this” because I know there will be more. I am committed to returning. And that makes me feel better, knowing that this is only the first leg of a great Mysore adventure, one that will span many trips, many years, and many future aches and pains —all of which I will sadistically love!

I remember attending my first real ashtanga immersion. Some of the students had been to Mysore before. Some of them, who hadn’t been to Mysore, had been around block, attending different workshops with different well-known teachers. And though none of them had met prior to this course, they had so many mutual friends and acquaintances. The common denominator: Mysore. I think that’s what began my fascination for this place.

Now, I’m here. Though soon enough, I too will be leaving, I feel like I also now have that Mysore connection. And that isn’t as transitory. I’ll take that home with me, that depth of practice, the lessons learned from Sharath, the energy at the shala, and the friendships and connections made here.

I suppose that by writing this I’m declaring how I want to see the end, how each goodbye is laced with the potential for a future hello. Many of those that I met plan to return too, and with much luck, the same time of year that we all seem to love. And when we meet again, we can skip the awkward introductions and slip into the Mysore ashtanga-heaven-stream-of-consciousness, friends reunited by our common interest.
So, to all those that I have had a pleasure to meet on this trip and who have gone back home or have since moved on, I can’t wait till we meet again!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Conference: Kriya Yoga, Savasana Demo & the Tortuous Uplutihih

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In fine form today, Sharath comes out of his office. Taking his time, he pulls out a chair and looks around. He looks stern and serious as he asks, motioning to the room, which is filling up with new arrivals everyday, "What you talk about?"

He cracks one of his subtle smiles and relaxes, “So loud!”

We laugh at his punch line, we move in towards the stage to make room for all the new students (there are a lot of new faces) and settle down properly to hear him speak.

Sharath launches today’s conference by putting emphasis on kriya yoga. In Sanskrit, kriya means action. He says action is important in our practice. He says there are 3 key actions: 1) tapas or discipline, 2) svadyaya or self-study and 3) ishvarapranidhanadva or surrender to god (whatever god that may be, he adds). He says also its good to do japa mala to the god of your own choosing.

He talks about the importance of effort. As is his way, when he talks about yoga philosophy, he analogizes using his own experience. He uses himself as an example of effort, saying that he is not before us today because he was born into a yoga family. Rather, he is here before us based on his own efforts, that he did not seek out being a teacher. He even intimates that if he had his own way he would prefer the role of student.

At some point in Sharath’s discourse, Sharradah bounces up onto the stage to speak to her father. They exchange some words in Kannada, and he sends her off. Once he is on the stage by himself again, he shares with the room, “She is asking if she can use my computer.” The timing in his delivery makes the cursory remark seem so funny.

I love conferences that have this lighthearted mood to it. Sure, it’s still serious. Everyone listens earnestly but there is something fun about it. It’s a pleasure to just sit there and absorb it all.

He talks about how yoga can alter one's life for the good. He asks us to look at the day of a non-yoga practitioner versus that of a yoga practitioner. There is a huge difference, he says. He speaks from his own life: he gets up early, her practices, he stays home, and doesn't go out. He admits it wasn't always so, that he used to love to go out and socialize, but that he's settled down since. Tapas, svadyaya, ishvarapranidhanadva.

He says that these changes are happening to us too. That at some level, our discipline is kicking in. That when 6 o'clock in the evening rolls around, we are thinking of going home, having dinner, heading to bed. This is true. My life seems to have changed dramatically since I started yoga, and for the better. More so since I've been in Mysore.

He starts to take questions:

Someone asks about whether there is a proper form to taking savasana and is turning around and having feet face the opposite direction more respectful? He answers, "It doesn't matter."

I was told this by a teacher so I felt a little embarrassed when he said it didn’t matter, "just lie down."

(These conferences are slowly undoing some habits I’ve picked over the years—-many from other yoga teachers. Already I’ve stopped sweeping my arms up from the floor in the ekam of Surya A and kicking up into a haphazard lift up into a semi-handstand after Warrior B, the later he even demonstrated as an easy going lift up which is actually a lot harder than what I was doing before.)

Then he actually corrects us saying that the pose that we’ve been referring to as savasana is actually sukhasana. Herm? He explains that savasana is not like you’re sleeping, you're not relaxed. Rather, it’s a dead man’s pose, where the body is still and straight as a stick.

He asks Alex Medin to come up to demonstrate. He shows Alex how to interlock his fingers. With hands cupped behind Sharath’s head, Alex lifts him. Sharath’s body, stiff as board, comes up easily to standing. Wild! We are all amazed and thrilled by the demonstration. In sukhasana, he answers later, it doesn’t mater if your palms are up or down, so long as you’re completely relaxed. Noted!

One student asks him whether its ok to take more than 5 breaths in the practice. He says, yes, its ok but jokes if everyone would do this turnover in shala would be too slow. He does say that if a person is finding difficulty with a particular pose, he can go up to 8 counts. Before moving on to another question, he jokes with the student, “Your breathing or my breathing?” He swiftly pumps his breath into quick bursts of inhales and exhales, then does his version, slow and controlled.
I look back to see that the student smiling.

Prompted by a question about padmasana, he talks of the importance of a steady padmasana, especially during pranayama. At some point, he shares a story about Krishnamacharya, who was traveling with a group of students up north. They visited one yoga school (he said he wouldn’t say which) where someone was practicing pranayama incorrectly with his left foot first in padmasana and using his left hand for nadi shodhana.

Krishnamacharya was upset by the sight, angrily he tells the man, if you're going to use that hand, you might as well eat food not through your mouth but through the other hole. Sharath leans in to the audience and takes up his left hand, "you know what you use this hand for?" Again, more laughter. Ashtanga students are very comfortable with toilet humor.

Another student, asks if it’s ok to “cheat,” to take extra breaths in uplutihih. Sharath usually starts counting “one” by the time a normal human being will have had about 5 breaths. Then he continues to count very slowly. He says there are two reasons why uplutihih is held for a long time: one, because it develops the mula banda and the udiyana banda and second—he pauses here for effect—“it’s fun!”

We all laugh, being on the receiving end of his good humor twice a week, doing our best to hold uplutihih for what feels like 30 breaths instead of 10.

Then he recalls something, provoking one of those quiet laughs of his. He shares a story of Guruji when they were on tour in Australia. Guruji was leading an intermediate led class, he tells. He says that touring was very tiring.

Guriji was up to “6” in sirsasana, headstand with legs halfway, when he fell asleep. He himself was quite impressed with the students, who where afraid to come down and pretty much continued to hold it. He snickers playfully that he let Guruji sleep for about 10 minutes before waking him up. He said that Guruji laughed loudly when he realized he was sleeping then proceeded to count “7”...

Sharath, it seems, is cut from the same cloth, coming from the same line of playful teachers. I am enjoying conferences more and more each time. I love these moments with him, hearing his little gems of wisdom, seeing his miniature demonstrations, and hearing his stories, his own and that of Guruji.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Doing the Body Good




I just posted on facebook: “castor oil bath works! Joints lubricated, check!”

My cousin Peebles posts back, “like C3P0, Kaz?”

And actually she’s right. Totally! For the last few weeks, I’ve become something of a rusty robot, motor skills seizing from hard labor (well, 2 hours of it a day anyways). My body, though strengthened and stretched by nearly 2 months of deep asana practice is also tired, worn out by the daily grind.

Certain muscles are tight. Joints are rickety. Like everyone else subjected to the daily practice and deep drop backs: my shoulders and neck are tight, my lower back is strained, the hips feel unhinged from being hauled into supta kurmasana by Sharath’s strong-armed assistants (to whom I am eternally grateful, regardless). During the last week, it’s almost as if I could hear my hip joints popping uncomfortably during the first few sun salutations.

I’ve been bad. I admit it. Before this last week, I’d had a total of one massage, a coconut oil rub down by two industrious ladies at Iora salon right across the shala. I had an appointment with Harini and her magic feet for a castor oil bath, but then I had to cancel due to my lady’s.

Then I got carried away, doing this, doing that, busying myself during my free days. After the first month of non-stop activity, the fatigue set in followed by pure laziness/procrastination. By last week, there was no denying it: I had neglected to take care of my tired bones and moaning muscles.

Luckily, last Wednesday, my long awaited massage with Aimee Echo was due. Aimee is also a student at the shala. She is a yoga teacher and a massage therapist back home in Southern California, specializing in deep tissue massage. She’s been booked up with needy students like me for weeks. To top it off, Aimee is an absolute sweetheart.
Aimee’s strong hands put me back in touch with the deep down parts of my body, which were both irked at being poked at and overjoyed at feeling release. As she proceeded to try and work out my kinks, which she said was pretty much shared by most of the shala students, I knew that I’d managed things badly. I hadn’t invested the time and effort to take care of myself. It was lovely and too short—as I had to run to another appointment with Ayurvedic specialist, Dr. Kumar.

In an attempt to know more about my constitution, I was off to visit Dr. Kumar of the Dixit Health Clinic & Research Institute, who is known amongst the yoga community here for his Ayurvedic treatments and for being able to prescribe the correct lifestyle advice for one’s particular dosha.

It’s easy to like Dr. Kumar. He has big, kind eyes, a straightforward face, and a bulbous bald head, which bobs side to side with a smile as I sit and introduce myself. There’s something comedic about his countenance and it is easy to be comfortable in his presence. He sits up straight and attentively listens as I explain to him why I’ve come to visit him: 1) to hasten my slow digestive system so I can enjoy a light practice and 2) to know more about my dosha.

I prattle on. When I am done, he asks for my arm, takes my pulse and asks me whether I’ve always been of slight build, how regular is my menstrual cycle and whether I have dry or oily skin. He pronounces me predominantly Vata as he writes “Vata +++” on my sheet.

I had answered a questionnaire once to try to ascertain my own dosha. The result was evenly vata/pita. So I ask him, about my pita side.

He says, “Only a little Pita,” writing as he says this “Pita +” on my record book.

“How about Kapha?” I ask.

“Very little.” His head bobs. He doesn’t bother to write kapha down in his record.
I’m baffled at how he would know all this at this point, so I go ahead and ask, “How do you know?”

“It’s very clear. You have all the signs,” he assures me as both hands gesture at my person. With his head confidently see-sawing from side to side, he seems sure that such signs are totally apparent. Well, he’s the expert.

I suppose he does have a point. Slender, check! Enthusiastic, check! Airy, check check check!

He then rattles off a list of things that are good for me and things that are bad for me, which kinda make sense.

Things that are bad for me: bitter vegetables, refined flour, refined sugar (jagery is an exception, thank goodness), anything cold, chili peppers (which though spice on the outside are actually supposed to be cooling—at least that’s what Doc said when I tried to contest), cheeses which are channel blocking, and chai (mon dieu!) which is constipation causing.

Things that are good for me: mong dal, white or brown rice, fruits, milk, ghee (everyday, he says), butter, all kinds of vegetables, all sorts of fruits like papaya, bananas mangoes and pomegranate, and generally all things warm. And pranayama.

He also suggested I curb my coconut water consumption, which was averaging at 6 a day, to at least half. And that I could continue to indulge in my most beloved food: chocolate—but with moderation, his eyes laughing at my question. Drats! Double drats!

I also consult with him regarding a criticism I get from some of my friends about how I am overly active and can get really really busy—a very vata trait. I ask, “Should I do something about this? Should I change? Or should I just embrace it?” Again, his head sways from side to side, this time in disagreement.

“You cannot change your nature! Embrace it. You can still do the things you do, just try to do them s-l-o-w-l-y,” he lets the last word drawl for emphasis. It feels good to have him say this.

To top off the week of wellness, I finally decide to self-administer a castor oil bath, which Sharath recommended at conference over a month ago. I’d put off the sticky process long enough. On Saturday, with the guidance of yoga teacher Mozart Reina (a top bloke with a wealth of knowledge that he is happy to share with others; we also have a Philippine/Alex Medin connection), who showed me how to mix the soap nut powder and instructed me on the proper procedure, I dove into the treatment.

The castor oil bath is supposed to have a variety of benefits that are good for yoga students. It detoxifies the body, pulling away toxins that are being released by deep asana stretches. It releases the heat in the body (the practice generates a lot of heat). And it lubricates joints. People say their practice improves with regular castor oil baths.

As I spread the gluey liquid from my scalp to the rest of my body, I wasn’t so sure if it was all worth it. I wondered how in the world the bowl of mushy soap nut water was going to rid me of the goo that enfolded me. I poured hot water over my head a few times then rubbed the oil deeply first into my scalp then eventually (after much milking the oil from my hair) into my muscles and joints, spending longer on my troubled hip joints. After the second round, I applied two bowls of the soap nut to scrub away the oil. I was pleasantly surprised as the soap nut really works wonders as it scrubs the castor oil film gently away.

After drying myself off, I bundled myself up in a shady area in the room as Mo instructed. Sun and heat of all kind is not advisable post castor oil rubdown. Sitting still, relaxing, my body still recovering from the sticky oil bath, I started to feel quite heavy headed. Throughout the day, I felt a variety of sensations. I felt out of it pretty much all morning. My limbs felt quite loose by mid-day. I felt very hot and tired in the mid to late afternoon, almost feverish like. And I slept like a baby that evening.

To top it off, led class the following morning may not have been easy but at least my hips didn’t feel unhinged not even during the first sun sals. I’m definitely sold on castor oil baths and have now purchased my own liter from the 3 Sisters.

My body feels improved somewhat from the trilogy of health treats. More than anything, I’ve woken up to the need to be good to my body, to support this amazing yet exhausting asana practice with things that will re-energize and nourish me. My body has served me well thus far, and it too needs and deserves tender loving care.



Castor Oil can be bought at Loyal World, as well as Soap Nut Powder. The castor oil I used, however, was from Three Sisters. Harini has it made special and Mo says it’s the best. Three Sisters: 08212522788


For Dr. Kumar, and the Dixit Health Clinic, visit www.ayurvedamysore.com or call 0821 424 4620. They also have a wide range of treatments and courses for those interested in Ayurvedic medicine.

Food, A Festival of Worship




We are eating in silence. It is so quiet. I can hear myself chewing. In my head, my own teeth gently crushing up each tasty morsel seems to echo across the wide room, which I know from kirtan there has great acoustics. I am self-conscious. Can everyone hear me too? Ever gnaw sounds exaggerated, as the delicious food gets masticated.

I try to focus on my plate and not look up at those around me. It appears as if they are doing the same. I try, as the exercise requires, to focus on the food. My right fingers handle the colorful food on my plate: bright and crispy grated carrots, cubed beet roots oozing with red juicy goodness, red rice topped with the smoothest lentil dish, a dazzlingly festive green that reminds me a little of guacamole. From my fingers to my mouth, each bite tastes of pure nourishing goodness.

James Boag has invited us, his Gita students plus friends from Prague to join him in sampling the exquisitely simple and healthy cooking of Ratna, who will be catering the food for his upcoming Beeja workshops starting in late December. He also wants to share a slideshow of his trip to Kashmir, to ashram of the self-realized saint of Lakshmanjoo, the home of his yoga lineage Kashmiri Shaivism.

Ever the teacher, no learning opportunity is wasted with James. Once all the plates are filled up with Ratna’s delectable dishes, he suggests that we apply what we’ve been discussing in class: yajna, which depending on the translation can be thought of as sacrifice, though we established in class the best way to think about it is “ishvarapranidhanadva” or surrender to the absolute.

In chapter 3, verse 15 of the Gita, we explored how every action is an opportunity for worship; that action with mindful gratefulness can lead towards the divine. Today, we are eating consciously for that purpose.

As I chew my food slowly, savoring the wonderful flavors, as I look my fingers push my food into perfect bite size morsels, I contemplate the chain of gratitude that is connected to this meal.

I start to think about my teacher, James and how kind he is to organize all this. I think about Ratna, who he’s hired for the occasion. I think about her cooking such beautiful dishes with love. I think about the people she’s interacted with to make this spread possible, her teachers, her family, the different grocers, then the people who have sold the food to those grocers, and about where the later would have gotten the food. I think about the farmers and their families in the farm and how they support each other, about how each farmer puts a lifetime of experience into each crop. I think about the energy it takes to tend a field, the richness of the soil, the nourishing water, the spouting of each seed, and that beyond that. My mind pauses here, my eyes closed, my tongue pushing this festival of worship around my mouth, I think about God. I feel an incredible sense of gratitude.

Though not the typical lunch party, where food is imbibed with a healthy helping of small talk and socializing (which, I have to be honest, I will still very much enjoy), I found the experience very satisfying. I felt full and nourished, and not just in my belly. I appreciate the silence in which we ate our food, the connections that were made, the gratefulness that I felt.

James says, “We eat in silence so we can enjoy the internal symphony.” And today, it’s true.


James and Ameli have a series of very interesting workshops entitled Nourishing the Center, which are coming up. Check them out: http://www.beeja.net

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spectator Sport, Second Series Led

A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing that some students would crowd around the door of the lobby in between the primary series led class and the second series led class, which follows primary every Sunday. What was going on here?

For most of my first month here, the 4:30am Sunday led left me mentally crippled so I usually ambled out in a zombie-like state, under-slept and over-tired. I'd seen people hanging about. And I guess I'd simply dismissed it as an odd place/time to linger at the shala. More than anything, the need for a coconut pick-me-up and eventually a retreat back into my own bed superseded any need to figure it out.

Then two weeks ago, I asked my then-roommate what the deal was? She looked at me a little oddly, as if I should have known, shala students can come and watch second series led class. Hm, I hadn't received the memo.

I stayed then, watching over half of the class. But two weeks ago, I was a wreck, still unused to the 4:30 start time. To top it off, I hadn't slept much at all. So, I was a groggy spectator and not even the wow-inducing second series postures could keep my lids from getting heavy.

This morning, however, more used to the early start, I settle on the bench facing the doorway into the shala. There, two of the three rows of students, are within my view. And I watch.

Seeing these advanced practitioners reminds me of how Lord Krishna defined yoga in the Bhagavad Gita: "Skill in action." Beyond the fluidity of one asana after the other, the concentration and will power that each and every student exhibited—-it’s incredible the focus. These elite second series (in this case, the ones recognized by Sharath, and some are beyond 2nd even) students have cultivated something truly special in their practice.

Though I feel somewhat guilty that I am among the many pairs of eyes peering at them as they try to completely throw themselves into the yoga process, I am still glad to have the privilege to do so. I understand though, when someone is looking at you intently, watching your every move, it can be little creepy and a lot annoying. It's like you're on display. It's not really nice.

Still, for someone just getting into second series, I am grateful for the opportunity to quietly observe. (Plus, with very few advanced practitioners in the Philippines, let alone in Boracay, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen second complete in person).

Watching them get in and out of intermediate poses, is an educational experience. Live lessons.

Sharath teaching second is also special. He has a definite relationship with the students in the room. He knows their practice and he knows their names. He is getting to guide them through more complicated poses. Though he remains strict and maintains the militant counting, I suspect, his manner betrays that somehow he’s having more fun. And it’s nice to see him having fun.

Above any lesson, these students are inspiring. They are living testaments of the amazing things a person can do when you set your mind/heart/soul to it, not to mention the discipline and hard work necessary to cultivate the strength and stamina necessary to do second. It’s a beautiful thing to see, human potential expanding beyond what seems humanly possible.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

4:30am Start


(December 9, 2010)

Yesterday was my first day to practice at 4:30am.

Though I’ve been having led class now for both Friday and Sunday at 4:30 for a couple of weeks, starting mysore practice first thing in the morning is definitely different.
Gone are the many students amassing at the gates, waiting to rush in to secure themselves a spot. Sure, people still come early to claim their favorite place, but there is less anxiety around the process.

Anyone coming in after the 4:30 start, experiences the room in full gear. The room is hot and steamy, condensation on the windows, heat rising from the bodies of students and their tapas generating asanas.

For me at least, there is a certain tension involved in coming later in the morning. The anticipation builds as I wait in the foyer, while watching the early group. Then, once called, there’s this need to be swiftly efficient: to quickly find your spot in the room, to efficiently route out the path you plan to take to said spot, to effectively get to that spot without whacking some poor unassuming student mid asana with your mat on the way there, to put down your mat and towel and safely get to the dressing room where you can take a breather or a potty break before alighting on your mat and starting your own practice, finding your own groove in the intensely energized room.

Of course, there are some issues that come with starting practice at 4:30. My entire day has shifted. I am trying to eat a big lunch by 2pm. A light snack in the late afternoon supplements dinner. I wind down by 6ish and try to be in bed by 8, 8:30. (This is quite a big shift for me, as I usually just get home from work at this time back home). The alarms are set for 3am. By 4(ish), I’m downstairs knocking for my downstairs neighbor, with whom I take the 5-minute walk to the shala. But the rewards are worth the changes. In one conference, Sharath said that the time between 4-6am is actually the best time to practice.

Once the gate does open, the pace is relaxed. Students mosey on in, put their mats down, take their time in the dressing room. Though people are generally not chatty, there is a sense of coming together—that somehow getting on the mat at this hour is a collective effort. There is time to exchange smiles and acknowledgements before standing at the top of the mat, samasthitihi, then internally, “ekam…”

The folks at this hour are charged. To be assigned this early morning time either means you’ve paid your dues and have been at the shala long enough for there to be space for you (and time at the shala makes you grounded and strong) or you’re just plain old advanced. I belong to the former, of course. No matter, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to share in this collective energy.

I am particularly lucky this morning. I find a spot in my favorite area, far left center (there’s no one perfect spot, everyone has their own favorite, and it seems to vary depending on the person), beside Ursula Scott, the very person who encouraged Claudia and I to make the leap and come out to Mysore nearly a year ago. She’s been my yoga idol ever since we met in the Philippines 2 and half years ago.

To top it off, when I come back from the locker room, Alex Medin had placed his mat to the left of me. Alex was my first-ever ashtanga teacher. It was Alex’s month-long course in Manila that really made an ashtangi out of me. It was there that my curiosity for Mysore really began. It was the same event that introduced me to Ursula. And though I haven’t practiced with him in a long time, I feel that the foundations he helped build in my practice keeps me steady to this day.

I felt inspired practicing beside these two amazing ashtangis and teachers, whose asana practices are so beautifully fluid. I’m proud to say I didn’t loose drishti, but it was challenging with 3rd maybe 4th series poses busting out to my left and 2nd series poses busting out to my right. Both of them have played an important role in getting me here. I felt elevated by their love and support. I felt empowered. I felt that I belonged to this moment. I felt truly present.

As for the rest of the shala, people wander in anytime between 4:30 and 5am, when Sharath finally comes out from his office, gets on the stage, everyone takes their cue to stand at the top of the mats as he leads us all in the opening prayer.

For the first time for my own practice, I am saying the prayer aloud with others. The words have weight charged by student’s intentions for their own practice. Tapping into this energy together is—so hard to explain. But it’s beautiful!

In the later hours, the room is already hot, which really helps. What surprised me at 4:30 was that I personally felt warmer, as my body heated up gradually at the same pace as the room warmed. It is subtler, somehow. Same with the energy, you get to build up to it with everyone else in the room, rather than jumping into it, tuning into it midstream.

As an added bonus, I hurl myself into Sharath as I come up from after dropping back. It’s good news because he’s there to drop me back, which makes me feel like I’m out of the doghouse after being late yesterday morning. He drops me back on the fourth round.

“Walk in,” he says. I bend my arms and crawl my fingers towards my feet. They feel like miles away.

“Straighten arms…Walk in,” he coaxes me closer. His tone is both firm and gentle.

“No Fear,” he adds. I can feel my heels with the tips of my fingers when he starts to take first my right hand then my left to my ankles. He reminds me to hold them.

I hold on and banish the old thoughts of panic from my head. I don’t fight my way up from the pose, as I have done in the past. I hold on. I hold on and I surrender.
As Sharath pulls me upright, I get my first “Good” from him.

I am beaming. He reminds me to keep breathing as I take long pauses between my inhalation and exhalation. Though intense, I feel like I’ve done something right. I don’t sense any pain in my back—which I was starting to experience a week ago after dropping back.

Finishing at dawn, the ladies locker room is dim. Mats are laid out in every bit of floor space. And the room, usually so cool with its marble floors, is almost steamy from finishing postures. It is somewhat dark still on the street but coconuts are being prepared nonetheless by streetlight—which automatically turns off just as it gets lighter.

It’s hard to believe that my biggest task for the day is done just as the world around Gokulam is waking up. It’s a blessing. There is a peace at this hour. Amruth is open but isn’t congested with their usual chai clientele. There are no rickshaws yet on the street corner. The rest of the storefronts are still closed. And the first of the morning risers are milling about along the main streets.

As I walk home to take rest, I beam with the satisfaction today’s is the best practice I’ve had thus far.


The photo above was taken before Sunday Led. It's early, so the crowd is not so big yet. Claudia is among the students in the photo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

“I’m Late. I’m Late…”

“…For a very important date,” said the White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. That’s what I felt like this morning.

I am on my second month. I feel stronger but my body is tired. I am starting to tighten, here and there. I am starting to feel the strain of back bending.

And for whatever reason (probably practice related, I am not the only one) I can’t sleep. Or at least, I can’t sleep much. For a few weeks now, I toss and turn in bed for hours, mind raging with a bevy of thoughts (and here I was thinking yoga would quiet my mind), from imagining life back home to visualizing a positive approach to my “problem” asanas to fearing being late to practice. Ah, the law of attraction!

I was bumped up to 4:30am start Tuesday morning, an hour earlier than when I started. And despite the time, I was stoked, excited to share in that early morning energy, to recite the prayer with everyone, to be in the room with so many inspiring practitioners.

And then today, for the first time, I overslept! Despite two alarm clocks, I woke up two and a half hours later than I was supposed to. I stared at the clock willing the short hand to swing back somehow, perhaps I’d developed a time-altering sidhi while I slept or at least read the clock wrong—but to no avail.

At first, I was panic-stricken. Then I realized there was nothing else to do other than gather myself and just get to the shala. There was no point in beating myself up about it and further delaying myself.

With lightning speed I get to the shala before 6am, trying to meld into the lobby full of timely students. What I did not manage was to sneak into the shala without notice.
Omnipresent as usual, Sharath eyes me suspiciously as I approach at his “One more!”

“What time are you?” Damn, his memory!

“4:30,” I say.

“Why are you late?”

I fess up, “I overslept,” I mumble. I expect the worst, his disappointment.

“You pay fine,” he says, I like to think, good-humouredly. I’m comforted.

I take my place in the back and try my best to put the mishap behind me and practice as best as I can. My body is cold, my limbs are stiff, my morning bulk uncooperative. Still, I plow on.

People say the second month breaks you down. And my body sure does feel it. Beyond the physicality of it, it feels that the practice is wearing away at my efforts to be “perfect” – the so-called ideal student that my borderline OCD behavior often desires. Today was a lesson. I’m far from perfect. Which is OK. Normal. Not everyday is going to be a good day. Something may falter from one day to the next, whether it’s my body, my drishti, my breath, my intention, my ego, or my ability to wake up to my alarm clocks, plural. I just have to deal with it.

And like Lewis Carroll’s character, I too must make my own way down the rabbit hole and accept whatever chaos may come of plunging into this wonderland called Mysore.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Moon Day Escape: Melukote





I was coy in approaching this last moon day weekend, potentially the last I'll have on my trip here. I imagined myself chilling out in my new single pad. Or shopping in town. Or lazing by the pool. Or hand-washing laundry--more out of necessity rather than desire for this one. But on Friday, upon realizing that so many folks planned out of town excursions, day trips to overnight stays, I felt remorseful. Oh, why didn't I plan!

By the end of chanting class, a grand plan was hatched for Jungle Safari, email addresses were exchanged and Ysabel braved the travel agent. Unfortunately, these spur of the moment things cannot be planned out between 6-7 people over the internet. By Saturday morning my hopes to see "lions and tigers and bears (are there bears in these parts?)oh my!" were history.

More than anything, I itched to make make use of the "long" weekend -- in Mysore-speak, a 2-day stretch. I wanted to see something other than Gokulam. I wanted to experience something that reminded me I was in India.

I was not alone. Kylie from Sydney recruited me for Coorg, which went bust as well with no room at the local inn. Together, at Anouki's for breakfast we hatched up a new plan. The not too far was Melukote, a temple a top a hill with several sacred pools and only about 90km away from Mysore. We could leave after breakfast and be back before dark. Chris from Virginia via Japan was happy to follow on his motorbike. We called Krishna Murthy to hire a car and driver. He was happy to oblige and had one ready for us within the hour (Rs1250 total). Soon we were set.

After a month in Gokulam, the distinctly suburban streets with its menagerie of animals (semi-domesticated dogs, cows, ponies, goats, and sheep) wandering the streets, starts to feel commonplace. Once we were outside Mysore's city limits, we were sure we had made the right decision. It was good to see the countryside, it was good to experience different visual input, even at the cost of risking out lives to haphazard Indian driving--which I think is definitely worse than Filipino driving, if that says anything. We appreciated the change in scenery and landscape. We saw fields of sugar cane, and we overtook many a pair of oxen hauling freshly cut cane. You could smell the sweetness in the air as we sped by. We saw various creative ways of stacking cargo atop trucks. Some, seriously defying gravity. Some, downright lopsided.

Once we arrived, we were contacted by Chris who beat us on his motorbike and had already conducted a quick mini-tour of the area. He met us at the large pool where people bathed (supposedly for religious ritual) and washed clothes (supposedly for cleaning though the water was murky). We moved on from there, taking the path that our driver pointed out, which was supposed to go to the temple. Though the path would eventually lead us further and further away from the temple on the hill, it just kept on getting smaller and smaller, we were happy with our walk around. Here the air was clean and crisp. And the view of the valley bellow was stunning. Huge boulders and large rocks dotted the landscape. And to complete the pastoral, a small flock of sheep grazed on the grass as their faithful herder slumbered deeply atop a flat bed of rock on the edge of the cliff. The way he was sleeping, with his hands in prayer tucked underneath his cheek made the rock seem as cozy as sleeping a top a half dozen fluffy mattresses.

We retraced our steps, finally making our way to the entrance which we easily bypassed at the start of our walk. The stairs lined with beggars was not as pretty a path as our original way. We made our way up the temple, which in itself was lackluster. And as with many of Indian monuments, there are no signs explaining the history of the temple and its surroundings. However, the view from up top was truly stunning. In the windows of the temple, colorful bracelets hung from the window, left by pilgrims.

On our way down, we stopped for coconut milk. Chris deposited the last of his change to the beggars. One boy treated us with his most un-harmonic performance, yelling quite out of tune as he pumped indiscriminately on his instrument (which looked much like an accordion), for which I rewarded him a ten note.

Hungry, we walked into town, which pretty much consisted of one main street. After passing a number of run down shacks with pots of food in front of them, none of which had signs, I was starting to wonder if this would be one of those Indian food adventures gone wrong. Well, at least we would have Sunday to recover, I thought to myself. We finally settled on a run down "hotel" (meaning restaurant in these parts), It had a sign for "Veg." We would at least be veg safe here. Not knowing what to order, we went for the obvious choice, 3 thali lunches. It was the classic more than meets the eye moments as it turned out to be one of the best thali lunch I've had in my time here in India. The sambar was incredibly tasty. And the veg cooked two ways were also very lovely a top the rice. We ended up having a vada each as well as two bowls of the sticky sweetened rice. We paid Rs. 40 each for our lunches.

After a spot of chai at another restaurant down the road, we decided to explore the twin sister pools that Chris has found earlier in the trip. There, a devotee tried to convince us via pantomime that we should scoop up the water from the pool and first, splash the water on our face, then take a second scoop over our heads, and a third scoop into our mouths. She was unsuccessful in recruiting us. I didn't feel so bad, when some city-dwelling Indian tourists also appeared to decline her suggestion.

Slowly we walked back to the temple, taking in the funny wares sold at the souvenir shops along the road. Along with the the prayer beads and pictures of gods, there was an unusual variety of plastic toys, many of which make quite scary presents.


Though Melukote is a favorite religious spot for pilgrims, it was very chilled out when we were there. I could see why it is considered a holy place, I felt quite at peace the few hours I was there. In the end, the three of us went home happy with our mini-adventure. We got to see a different Indian landscape from Mysore, breathe crisp fresh air (the weather was nice and cool when we went), and we were able to appreciate some quiet time in the country-side.


For car transport & accommodations, call Krishna Murthy. In fact, his office is called "NEEDS" which pretty much covers everything, from internet to ordering purified water.
0821425878586
+919880265622

Monday, December 6, 2010

Final Art Update

I forgot to post the final installment of Claudia and Shoaib's art collaboration, all finished in golden splendor! Here they are:






Together they painted at least 7 paintings. I've lost count! So far, 2 of the Claudia/Shoaib art pieces have been sold.

Met a new student at the shala, another artist, who has met Shoiab. I suspect more collaborations to be forthcoming!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lady's' Dilema

Sorry in advance to any of the male species reading this. If you're not particularly keen hearing about the crimson way, you may want to stop reading right here. If you do go on, I promise to not get too graphic.


If you're a girl and you practice ashtanga, that special time in the month that we refer to as Lady's Holiday is either treated with much contempt or with much relief.

At home, I'm quite happy to take a break. Sleep in. Eat chocolate.

But here, where every practice is so eventful, so action packed, so full of promise, spotting can be a horrifying revelation--as if you'd given birth to twin alien babies! At least this is true for me, first thing this morning. I tried not to panic. I did the math. The general rule is that you do not practice for the 1st 3 days. Wednesday to Friday would be gone. Saturday is a rest day. Sunday is a moon day. Five days. FIVE DAYS!

After taking a couple of deep breaths, I dealt with it like any person who wanted to deny this fact to be true, I swept it under the table. I performed my morning routine as if it were business as usual. I got dressed up, I packed my mysore mat into my bag, I put on my sweater, and moments before heading out the door, I went to my new roommate hoping she would say something to support this denial of nature, perhaps she could offer me a loophole to this 3-day rule. She did not. My bravado broke down. I felt suddenly guilty, then remorseful.

I took a deep inhale, exhale, resolved to be respectful of my own body. I consoled myself by rolling up into ball and taking my butt back to bed.

I still feel sad about it. And this feeling seems wrong to me. And I'm trying to work through it.

In many ways, some of us get addicted to the practice--perhaps all of us are addicted when you think of the maniacal way we commit to it, get up in the morning, let all other activities get ruled by this 6-day a week practice. For some, missing days can have disastrous effects on our mental and emotional well-being. When ever I think of the number of days now (5) I feel an irrational tightness in my chest.

At breakfast today, someone said that it was an opportunity--to rest, to give my body a break, to be good to my system. She's right too. In truth, I know my body is happier when I take the 3-day rest. I know my body is stressed when I don't take the 3-days off, the cycle lasts longer. By a lot. It's positively epic when I don't heed the guideline.

Some may not find it necessary to take that break, but I for one am coming to grips with it. That for me, at least, it is an opportunity. It's called "Lady's Holiday," not "Lady's Punishment," so I am resolving to enjoy it, to treat it as such, a vacation from the daily grind, a happy mini-break arranged by the mechanisms of my female body.

Smoothie Withdrawal



No Anu's today. None until December 19. It's a happy occasion for Anu and Ganesh as they celebrate their daughter's wedding with family and friends over the next two weeks. For us Gokulam-based yoga students, however, the joyful event comes with some serious drawbacks.

For the next two weeks plus, we're going to have to make do without Anu's delicious vegetarian lunch and dinner buffets, internet access, and of course divine smoothies and vegan chocolate cake.

For the last 2 weeks, I have been living off these smoothies, which can be vegan upon request. The liquid nourishment is made from a frozen banana base which gives it an ice-cream like consistency, curd (or water for vegans), and a selection of all-natural mixes (date, almond, cashew, dark chocolate). Their smoothies are light yet filling, and thoroughly tasty--it's hard to believe that they are healthy. They are to die for! And I will be dying for them until they reopen.

Plain banana smoothie is Rp40. Rp10 for additional toppings which are mixed in. Anu's is located at 367, 2nd Main, 3rd Stage.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sending Claudia Off





As I see Claudia drive off on her way to the Bangalore airport, the first leg of her 24-hour journey home to the Philippines, I am trying to recall the yamas, particularly aparigraha or non-attachment. I so want to be cool about all this.

Still, it’s hard to see Claudia go. I feel it in my chest and in my clouding vision. We set off on this journey together, deciding back in January the exact date, filling out our KPJAYI registration forms in June, and taking the trip together here a month ago to the date.

I remember when Claudia first came to class, nearly 3 years ago. She was a tourist then on Boracay. Her and her husband Deivis were probably the most advanced practitioners us beginners had seen. Up to that moment, I’d only been up to navasana. I was totally unaware that there was actually more. A lot more! Our yoga teacher stopped the rest of us and had them continue. It was awesome and inspiring.

When her family returned the following year, permanently, it was a total blessing. The universe provided me with a knowledgeable practice partner, spurring me to get on the mat in the morning for self-practice.

To experience this month with her here in Mysore, taking classes at the shala, living together and supporting each other throughout the motions has been incredible. I feel so blessed to have a friend here that I get on so well with, who is so easy to live with, who is even-minded and grounded. I am so grateful.

The last week was perfect, easier going than the previous weeks. The manic-ness of settling in, seeing sights and shopping died a natural death. We ate at all the favored breakfast nooks, had our lunch thali, and finally ate Thursday Taiwanese lunch buffet at Viviane’s.

Yesterday’s led was the first day we didn’t practice in the same class. I got bumped up to a 5:30am start when I re-registered for month two, which means I practice with the 4:30am group on Friday. A prelude of the fast-approaching future, the change foiled our plans to get up early and stake out near the entrance so we could get a spot beside each other during the led class.

(Claudia's class turned out to be a historical moment at the shala. Claudia told me when she got home that Sharath led the opening prayer then quite off-handedly turned the floor over to Todd, an advanced student and yoga teacher, who led the class. It is the first time a westerner led a class in the shala. Sharath had a puja to attend during the class but was back by closing prayer. Todd had led them in "Om..." then paused, causing many students to wonder if after the entire thing he had forgotten the closing prayer. Turns out Sharath would finish it off. Claudia said it was a great class too! Todd was applauded for his efforts by everyone in the shala. I got goosebumps when Claudia recounted the story. These are certainly times of change! Positive ones, I feel).

We enjoy a good Indian breakfast at Sri Durga after Claudia’s class. Take a leisurely trip into the city to hunt down some recommended Bollywood titles at Sapna’s bookstore, then have tea and cake at the picturesque Green Hotel before going to kirtan with James in Gokulam.

We decide to cap the monster day by dragging Jaja (a friend from China, whom we met in Boracay) to meet other friends at 6th Main for dinner. For KPJAYI students this makes for a wild Friday night: dinner after 7 and more than one cup of chai after 8! Wired, we are all glad there is no practice on Saturday!

At home, Claudia and I throw caution to the wind and share a bar of chocolate. (From Truppti’s!) She has a surprise for me, a hand-painted bookmark, another bar of chocolate (my favorite too, dark chocolate with peanut butter), and a clay Ganesh that she also painted herself, under the guise that it was a present for Deivis-—In hindsight, I did find the hot pink and shiny orange a strange color choice for her kite-boarding husband!

“The remover of obstacles,” she said.

So for the last time, in our extremely comfortable Gokulam living room, we laugh and chat about our month-long experience. She gives me a good farewell pep-talk, reminding me to conserve my energy and to keep focus (she knows me so well!) Like a big sister, she checks up on my headspace, making sure I maintain a healthy perspective—that I don’t get caught up, that I simply enjoy the practice. I will so miss her steadiness!

In the morning, after a good lay in, we head to Anouki’s—the designated farewell breakfast. Friends who started at the shala around the same time as us gather round the table. It’s one of those long, lingering dos. Lots of laughs, exchanging of photos, email addresses. Continuously, Claudia is being accosted for not having a facebook account.

Instead of goodbyes, there are a lot of “see you later,” attached with the hope that it will be here, same place, sometime next year. Saying that makes us all feel better, that returning here in Mysore with all these brilliant and loving people is something that we can all look forward to!

Claudia’s Art Calling





Whenever I take a peek into Claudia’s room, she is almost always at her desk. At first just sketching her own creative creatures or the iconography of Hindu mythology (a requirement for her class), later ripping up local new papers and painting canvasses with bright, sparkling colors—inspired by India.

Her trip, which is fast coming to a close, is one of yoga and art, art and yoga, both seamlessly going together. Painting is her sitting practice, her meditation.
In fact, at every turn in seems Claudia is being drawn to the world of art here in Mysore: first by her traditional Mysore painting teacher Anand and then by Shoaib.

Coming to the end of our third week, another happy coincidence pushes Claudia further into her art exploration. (I suspect that the universe is trying to tell her something!)

By chance, we meet Akhilanka in Sudha clothes shop in Gokulam. On hearing of her background as a photographer and artist, he invites her to see his studio and his intriguing creative method (Sunday, November 21). The following is Claudia’s third Mysore art encounter, in her own words. I was not present for this trip. However, she came home so inspired by what she saw, I felt we should include the experience…



Akhilanka is a painter specializing in color meditation with singing bowls. Sounding the bowl he lets the vibration and sound guide his subconscious to choose color and form. The results are vivid, sparkling colorful works in mixed media, using acrylic, oils, sometimes burning the canvas.

Akhilanka also conducts singing bowl meditations. We ourselves are vibrations. By placing and sounding singing bowls around and on different parts of the body, the vibrations change. Blockages can be removed, we can release and open.

After a photo session in Akhilanka’s studio of his works and method for his website, he offers me to try out the singing bowl meditation.

Wearing a white gown I lie down on a white sheet with crystals and singing bowls placed all around the body. Akhilanka strikes them one by one, then many at a time placing them on different places on the body. It is a deep and special experience hearing and feeling this concert of vibrations all through the body.

A small bowl in the heart center has a high clear sound and trembling vibration, then it is replaced by a large heavy bowl with a deep shaking sound shaking all through to the core. A myriad of sounds, vibrations, emotions. A very special experience.
Akhilanka

Singing Bowl Meditation & Color Meditation
+919902641555

The meditation that Claudia experienced was 45 minutes long.

Day Tripping at Bylekuppe





Saturday, 20 November


Beep, Beep!

In my motion-induced sleepiness, I imagine the translation, “Hi, Hello!”

Beep beep!


“Excuse me!”

Beep beeeeeep beep beeeeeep beep!

“I’m COMING up BEHIND you!”

Beep beep!


“Thank you!”

On an Indian road, there is going to be honking. Lots of it. It may seem rude, this sound assault. But in India, we’ve been told, that it is more of a means of communication, giving a pedestrian or fellow driver a…heads up. It is not a sign of offense as it would be in the west where a honk is equivalent to a middle finger. Large trucks even ask to be honked at. Many have politely painted on their rear end, “Please Honk.”

Today Claudia and I are on the road. Taking the path of least resistance, Deepak the driver and a hired car speeding at 100km an hour, with two really lovely students at the shala, Tom (from the UK) and Jen (from Canada).

With full moon on Sunday, the shala closes for a staggeringly long 2-day stretch. Time is like dog years around here. You live a lifetime in a short space of a moment.
Some students would use this extra time to soak at the pool or have a later than usual night out (dancing or maybe bowling). Other students would satisfy the itch to get away from Gokulam, planning trips to places like Coorg—at least one student made it all the way to Kerala.

We are en route to Bylekuppe.

Bylekuppe was the first Tibetan Settlement in India after the Chinese invasion. It was set up in the early 1960’s. Displaced Tibetans were given a parcel of forestland by the Indian government, and since then the Tibetan people have continued their cultural practices here in Southern India while waiting for the time that they can finally return home.

After two hours of dare-devil driving—I felt safe mind you with Deepak, such is the nature of two-lane Indian highways, in which fluid driving means overtaking other vehicles at lightning speed despite on-coming traffic—we reach the Tibetan settlement, apparent by the colorful Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the wind.

One sight that seemed uncharacteristic of our Tibetan expectations was a building with high walls and threatening barbed wire on top. As we sped by we see the words “NUNNERY.” Of course, high security for the nunnery! And past the nunnery went we to the Namrolding Temple compound.

At the juice bar (the, because there is only one) we are greeted by a friendly Tibetan, born and raised in Bylekuppe. He takes it on himself to be our welcome wagon. Shares with us some history, tells us about the current reforestation of the area. He says with total conviction that their goal is to return the land to India as they first received it. When they can go home.

In a world of cynicism, I am struck with his absolute faith , that they will return to Tibet and that it’s just a matter of time. There is no anger in his statement. Only hope.

After having smoothies and a quick turn at the shops outside the temple , which appeared to be promising, we walk towards the complex, which houses the monastery, the high school, several temples, the debating hall and other function rooms.

We are drawn by sound, which takes us to the temple’s music room. These first few moments are a delight to the senses: the bright splash of colors in the architecture and art, the strange haunting music. Class is in session. Young monks in their mustard shirts and maroon robes are in two rows, facing each other, instruments in hand. There is a random mixture of sound. There is the tinkling of bells, pounding of drums, and blowing of horns and conch shells. The sound is almost eerie.

We all stare into the room, through the doors, which are roped off but open to visitors.

Some monks stare back, quite benignly, they don’t appear bothered by the intrusion, a dozen pair of eyes taking them in as part of the scenery, this Tibetan montage in the totally wrong climate and landscape, cameras clicking.

It must be odd to be a tourist attraction—which turns out to be us at some point, particularly fair and bright-eyed Tom and Jen, who become highly sought after for photos with the Indian tourists, who insist on including them in their snapshots. Claudia too. I get thrown into the mix here and there by default.

The morning vibe is calm within the walls of Namrolding as our party shuffles casually among the other tourists also taking in Tibet’s culture, exiled yet safeguarded in India.

The pace is easy going between the four of us, we hardly plan or communicate the hours spent in our synchronized wandering. There are a few moments where we do speak up to make vital decisions. Right or left?

The buildings themselves are not particularly old, nor pretty, but the Tibetan traditions, which are intrinsically wrapped up in all the colorful wall murals, the statues of Buddha, the monks of all ages going about their daily routines, make the experience. You feel the culture continues to thrive outside its own country.

For lunch, we indulge in traditional momos, steamed vegetable dumplings, and noodle soup outside the compound, just right of the gate. The meal, unfortunately, is not stellar. And after a brief second turn at the shops, we re-converge at the entrance where Tom has found out the exact whereabouts of the prayer wheels along the perimeter of the temple walls. We set out, spinning them and repeating the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, while many monks and nuns overtake us with their speedy praying efficiency.

Before we head to the highway, we stop at the local market area. It’s a small and simple affair, a couple of Tibetan craft shops; the rest are convenient stores, general stores that sell electric goods, tailors, second-hand clothes stores and a handful of run down inns for overnight guests.

Drawing our attention is a food vendor with his propped up table. We see one local after another order bags of his tasty looking treats. Tom, a chef, is most interested. Though we cannot understand each other, the vendor doesn’t speak English, we feel it is safely vegetarian.

I order a dry one, while Tom orders the wet variety. My round of unidentified noodle wrapper is slathered with red chili paste, drizzled with sugar and what he calls salt. The shape of the crystals is more consistent with MSG (we’ll ignore that today). He finally sprinkles either tofu or gluten pieces on top. The entire thing is rolled then cut into inch-long pieces and served.

Tom’s is rolled first and cut into thin noodle-like strips. He sprinkles the same mix: sugar, “salt,” soya/gluten and the chili paste. Then he tops it with garlic water and soy, creating a cool soup.

The noodle-thing is slippery and cooling in the mouth. The flavors salty and fresh and very yummy. We like it so much, we order a second round. This time I have mine wet and Tom takes his dry. Claudia and Jen share a dry one as well. Each order is an unbelievable Rs10 each.

This little snack (name, anyone?) seems to cap the trip off nicely. With full bellies, we pile into the car, sleepily making our way back to Mysore, then to Gokulam, then to Anu’s where we are greet by Ganesh, who we happily pay for the hassle-free experience. Taking our dinners/smoothies at Anu’s we end the day satisfied with our adventure and happy that Sunday is a moon day, allowing us to lie in and dream a little extra of the peaceful Tibetan settlement, not up the Himalayas but only a couple of hours away from Mysore.

To hire a car for out of town trips, such as this, and for airport transport, call Ganesh: +9845279513. You can also book a car at Anu’s CafĂ© (3rd Stage).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Singing Praises for The Bhagavad Gita with James Boag




Mysore is a hotbed of yoga activities for even the most discerning of yoga enthusiast.
There are chanting classes (now a requirement, actually, at the shala) and Sanskrit. Some take cooking classes; there are several home cooks that offer their services to students. Some take anatomy courses. Some—like Claudia—pursue art as a meditation and sitting practice. Some take classes on yoga philosophy, studying texts like the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita or Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which is also taught at KPJAYI.

Some of those who don’t study at KPJAYI take asana classes with more than one teacher in other schools throughout the city. (We have signed away that right in order to study at the shala. The punishment for those that make a breach is expulsion.)

So far, I’ve been most drawn by chanting, kirtan and the study of the Bhagavad Gita with James Boag, a Brit studying Sanskrit in Mysore.

Most things happen by word of mouth in these parts. More than one person had mentioned kirtan with James as being an experience, which inspired a trip with with Claudia and Jaime our first week here.

James started by explaining what kirtan is. We were impressed by his eloquence and understanding. A teacher, he explained his knowledge in an easy to understand way.

Then he started chanting—

It was quite an experience, his wonderful voice, his style of leading kirtan—maybe more serious than I’m used to (back home, we’re usually led as if singing ‘round a campfire accompanied by Mo-ching Yip’s harmonium or Clayton Horton’s guitar playing) but the solemnity reminds me of church, and the Catholic school choir-girl in me was secretly delighted.

I was sold on taking up the 2nd chapter of the Bhagavad Gita with him.
I first read the Gita with Alex Medin when he came to Manila more than two years ago. Yoga was still very fresh for me then. It was this undefined space, brilliant and full of possibility. As I read the Gita in English, I felt like I was coming home. Many of the themes in the poem seemed to verbalize so many ideas that were brewing in my head. In Mysore, I looked forward to digging deeper.

The course is a wonderful combination of East and West. As is tradition we chant each verse, slowly building our store hold of the Gita. Chanting itself creates this amazing energy, vibrations. And with each new verse we learn to chant, James unlocks the meaning of the text, what each word means and the different nuances of each. I even feel that I am slowly building my vocabulary.

I half expected to be lost in esoteric stuff. Instead, what I’ve learned seems so practical to both my daily asana practice and to my life in general.

Some lessons that stand out:

Like Arjuna, we are warriors. James refers to Virabhadrasana. In the pose we have to be steady. Once grounded, we are able to expand, he says. As Arjuna’s fight is to be steady in conflict, it is also our role to fully interact with this crazy world, but with a steadiness, with greater discernment.

Or how Arjuna is a fit vessel to receive Krishna’s lessons of yoga when he falls silent, when he empties himself out and becomes still…

Or how the external battle is a metaphor for the fight within, how the true purpose of life is to recognize pure consciousness…

Truly, James explains it all much better. I really feel like I am getting a lot out of the course. The study of which feels like a perfect compliment to my asana practice, and visa versa. The lessons from the Gita class is helping me process the emotions and experiences of daily practice, it is reminding me to be more present and to find more ease in my own practice, it is inspiring me to reprogram my thinking, to take my practice beyond the mat and into the world at large.

If you’re interested to join, the course is designed so that you can drop in at anytime. James also has plans of offering other courses either on Ch. 3 of the Gita or the Yoga Sutras after this one. He also leads Kirtan twice a week.


Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 2
Monday 2-4:30pm
Thursday 2-4:30pm
Recommended donation: Rs500


Kirtan
Sunday 1:30-3:15pm
Wedensday 2-4pm
by donation

Located at:
"Vibha Dhara"
Saraswatipuram
Small street off main street
Landmark: Behind the Palace Honda Showroom
Tel: 9591135031