Saturday, December 31, 2011

letting go and embracing change, new year 2012

Puja for Sri Maheshwara.

My past patterns and samskaras burning up--
well, at least on paper, for now.

Forecast said rain today and so did the sky, which was a soupy gray. I think it's fitting to have rain on New Year's Eve. I like the idea of washing away all the ills of the passing year, clearing out the air, starting 2012 fresh.

Mysore in general has this magic quality, which when you tap into it has a very potent power. People who come here leave somehow transformed. Even if you don't intend it, the practice seeps in deep. And change is inevitable.

Now, combine this potency with the power of intention, then multiply this by the amount of folks practicing yoga here with their minds focused and hearts open, bent on surrendering to a higher purpose, on a day full of wishing, praying and intention-making. It's an amazing combination, an alchemical solution, a very special energy that can inspire real, tangible change.

Last year, I had one of the most beautiful--and as it turns out, the most powerful--of New Year's Eves. The sun had just set on Chamundi Hill, and I'd written down all that which I wanted to let into my life: love, true connections, the opportunity to come back to Mysore and study at the shala, closer bonds with family and friends, a healthier life and outlook. It was a very general list but a far cry from the reality of my life a year ago. Now, a year on, I'm amazed at how much of what I hoped for during that night came true.

Today, I wanted to observe the coming New Year in a way that would manifest the changes I want in my life. So, I piled into a rickshaw with a beautiful posse of girlfriends and rode up to Chamundi armed with pens, paper, candles and incense sticks. There, we made a swift beeline to the quiet and grace-filled Sri Maheshwara temple a little behind and above the over-crowded Chamundeshwari Temple, the true highlight of the sacred hill. We broke our coconuts in the "Coconut Breaking Station," presented our offerings, then found ourselves a covered corner where we wrote the things that we were letting go of and the things we were inviting in the new year.

The sheet paper with things we wanted to manifest went in an envelope, while the things that we wanted to release, we burned--which didn't come easy with the density of the paper, the dampness caused by the steady drizzle, and the breeziness of midday. We fumbled with lighters as we re-lit the candles over and over. I guess, it's hard to undo our habits and patterns, not just literally but figuratively too. If last year's ritual was about surrendering, this year's is about letting go.

Afterward, I went to a special themed kirtan on "Rebirth," which was being led by dear friends James Boag, Paul Millage and Raddha, which went on an unprecedented 4 hours--an hour longer than the advertised time. And though our numbers dwindled towards the end, the space was charged with song, frequencies of love and devotion, bhakti at its very finest.

It was an emotional kirtan for me. One, because it was just plain old beautiful to sing with so many open-hearted people. Two, because change, as much as I try to embrace it, is hard to do, difficult to accept. And for the last year, I have lived in a world of change, transformation that I myself manifested, but have not, until now, realized the full scope of. I can't help but cry at the discomfort of such a metamorphosis, I can't help but mourn that which I feel attachment for, I can't help but feel the struggle that comes with letting things go.

It's now just past midnight. Fireworks are raging all over Mysore. It's pretty tame in Gokulam, but there is an occasional shout, "Happy New Year!" Standing on my rooftop, I watch the sporadic light show over residential buildings. I inhale the brisk air. I open my arms up to the night sky, quietly embracing yet another new day, another new moment, my heart hopefully ready for the next wave of change.

(Click here for last year's ritual)

Friday, December 30, 2011

new year singing

Paul Millage, Radha and James Boag at Mumuksha.

Ganesh providing the beats on tablas.

When I was growing up, I loved watching musicals. And I formed this idea that in a perfect world people would spontaneously break out in song, just because! I know its silly, but there's something really irresistible about it.

There's something incredibly joyful about singing and I really like the idea of singing into the New Year. Actually, singing and chanting (I've been taking voice lessons with Ranjini and Sanskrit lessons as well) has been a big theme for this trip. Though I've had very little to do with the kirtan events in and around Gokulam for the last month or so, I feel like taking myself and my voice out for a spin.

Luckily, there's plenty of kirtan on offer for this weekend, thought I'd share the events here for anyone else who wants to break out in song:

Friday, 30 December, 5:30-7:30
at Kumar's Mumuksha
386, 2nd Main, 3rd Stage
with James Boag, Ganesh on tables, Radha and Paul Millage on Harmonium

New Year's Eve Kirtan on "Rebirth"
Saturday, 31 December 2011, 2-5pm
at James Boag's place at Saraswatipuram
(first house behind Palace Honda Motorcycle showroom
off 1st Main in Saraswatipuram)

1 January 2011
Regular Sunday Kirtan, 1:30-3:10
at James Boag's place at Saraswatipuram
(first house behind Palace Honda Motorcycle showroom
off 1st Main in Saraswatipuram)
also with Paul and Radha on harmoniums

Monday, December 26, 2011

new pose puzzlement

Everyone has a pose that stumps them (most will have their lion's share over the course of a lifetime of asana practice), which either physically or mentally eludes them. The struggle that ensues takes on epic proportions. Two and a half weeks ago, I got one such new pose, ekapada sirsasana. And since then, it is working me to no end.

Now, it may seem to some that this might be the start of an asan(a)ine tirade, pardon the pun. Here goes another ashtangi railing about the physical aspect of yoga. I'm not going to pretend that it is not an important component of this yoga practice. It's absolutely the vehicle for this practice. But for me, the practice goes somewhere beyond the mat. That mat and what I do on it is like a magic carpet.

But first: ekapada sirsasana.

In a way, it's a landmark for me to work on this posture here in Mysore. Not just because it's challenging and totally not suited for my tight-ish hips. It's the last pose I ever received from another teacher, a little more than a year ago. Any new poses will be given to me by Sharath, sealing my student-teacher deal, the one that I myself have chosen, which defines the respect and trust that I have for my teacher.

Though I have only been working haphazardly on this pose until now, I knew it would be challenging to take on in Mysore. I had no idea, however, to what extent. Its amazing how one new pose can utterly alter--ahem, mess with!--one's practice.

On the grossest of levels, there are certain physical drawbacks. I currently have a long practice, full primary followed by my intermediate poses. By the time I get to ekapada I'm usually two hours into it. I'm fatigued. My arms are like jelly. I've lost all composure at this point, gone is the steadiness of breath, gone is my count, what vinyasa!?!

Then there's stopping at ekapada, which is an extreme forward bend. The back is compressed as the leg sits on the back/neck. Not exactly the most ideal last pose before opening the back into urdhva dhanurasana, followed by drop backs.

Last week, I witnessed the total disintegration of my back bending. I could barely come up from lagu vajrasana, I collapsed at my first try at kapotasana, and could not grab ankles in backbending. Sharath had nailed it on the nose after he had to walk me into my ankles, my elbows dragging on the carpet, "Mmm, back tight from ekapada." Really? I hadn't noticed.

That's when my emotions kicked in. The new pose had already filled me with anxiety. Now it was making me fearful. What if my backbends continued to deteriorate? What if I ended up stuck in ekapada for all eternity, the pose mocking my left hip ad infinitum? I was tired and moody. My practice was abandoning me. No one was helping me in the pose. I felt frustrated and alone. My morale had dipped and the dark cloud in my head seeped into the rest of my practice, which for the later part of the week seemed to falter all around.

Self-doubt coupled with missing my family for the holidays made for an emotional Christmas cocktail. Sporadic waterworks interspersed holiday merry making with friends in Mysore. I was happy one moment, some kind of sad another. I felt a little deranged.

The weekend was a good break, though I could feel the tightness persist in my back during the led classes. I did what I could to be nice to myself. I ate what I wanted. I enjoyed the festivities. I watched some feel-good movies on my laptop. I also talked to friends, some of whom had their own tales to tell.

These intermediate poses are intense. They do not have the same sort of gentle healing properties of yoga chikitsa or yoga therapy that primary series is known for. Intermediate is linked to the nervous system. These poses push one to his/her limits with extreme back bends, extreme forward bends and gravity defying arm balances. And when pushed we become vulnerable. Whenever we dig, something comes up.

The body is this frightening repository not just for things we eat but also the thoughts we imbibe and the emotions we experience. Some of these things pile up, sit, and calcify. They can harden and numb us. And now, I'm finding these old stories and feelings are popping up, possibly being dislodged from my sacral region, the seat of svadisthana chakra which governs creativity and my ability to relate with others. It should be a place of union--though the riot in my head as I try to get my right leg into ekapada definitely disagrees. But even this says something.

So, right now, even though I'm "stuck" in this pose, I know something deep within is moving. These emotions are part of this movement. It's too early yet to say where exactly it's taking me, but I feel like the inner part of the work has at least begun and that the external will catch up at some point.

That's the beauty of this practice: what starts with the body subtly works its way into the heart and mind, while the knowledge uncovered there reflects back out into the physical practice, we become stronger, we become more flexible, we take one step closer to becoming free of that which restricts us.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas in mysore

Anokhi Garden Christmas tree.

Christmas Day. My second Christmas in a row in Mysore. This marks the half way point of a 5 month stay in India. And to be perfectly honest, I'm worn out. I've spent part of the holiday weekend close to tears--the other part indulging in sweets and chocolate in a gross attempt to chase away the blues.

It's tough to be away from my family during the holidays. And the practice...well! the practice is challenging me in whole new different ways. I feel fatigued, I feel stretched, I feel pushed, I feel a little out of my element. It is stirring me up in whole new ways, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Still, the holidays, though not so vibrant and festive as at is at home, is very special here too. I've really seen the best in people this weekend.

At Anokhi's Garden last Friday, some beautiful friends got together to raise over Rp80,000 for Ashadayaka Seva Trust and Operation Shanti by doing the things they love: cooking, baking, master-minding. The Christmas Party that they organized not only brought people together but benefits the children in this community. Everyone who attended the festivities, who bought tickets, who gave raffle prizes took part in this wonderful event full of good intention.

In one Gokulam Christmas Eve gathering, I saw again the amazing camaraderie that forms between people that come out to practice here, that even in a primarily Hindu country like India, the Christmas spirit lives in the action of people, in a tree cheerfully decorated, in the cakes and pastries that were baked, the food that was prepared, and the time we share with people we care about.

Christmas here is a no frill event. The decorations are at a minimum. There are no carols blaring out of storefronts. There is no massive drive for gift giving and mass consumerism. What drives the holiday spirit, however, is the human connections that makes the Mysore experience so rich and varied.

For me, this year, Christmas is waiting at the gate of shala with joyful anticipation. It's greeting my mat mates a Happy Christmas before practice. It's seeing Sharath come out of his office with a Santa hat and wishing us a Merry Christmas before launching into the opening prayer. It's having Christmas Chai after practice at the steps accross Amruth's. It's about waking up this morning and feeling -- despite all the intensity of being here and being pushed to my limits -- that there is no other place I would rather be this special morning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

dating yoga

For me, Mysore is about yoga, which in Sanskrit means "yoke" or "union." It is about connection: to our teacher, to the people we meet, to the friends we make. There is an intensity to the bonds formed here, as people are pried open, hearts all soft and vulnerable from excessively deep back-bending. Without barriers, love flows easily and links are made.

However, the most important relationship I've formed so far is with this mad, crazy, magical place, the shala, and within it, this blood-heating practice called ashtanga. It has everything we look for in a partner: it has depth and complexity, it's challenging, it may seem mysterious but it actually makes sense, it makes us work but rewards us for our effort, it keeps us grounded and humble and it makes us feel great, it is constant and yet always dynamic, and it sure is HOT!

The phases of life here even reminds me of the stages of dating.

The first month can be mild, a time of adapting to the inner workings of the shala, to life in Gokulam as well as India at large. It's a time of easy flirtation as one skims the surface of asana practice.

It can also be euphoric, the honeymoon period in which my practice/my teacher and I dance about merrily, getting to know each other. It is full exciting firsts. First practice. First backdrop. First led class. First conference. First coconut. First Indian breakfasts. It goes on and on, all memorable first dates.

Month two is less straight forward, less easy. There are bumps on the road--and as this is India, there are plenty of them. Fatigue wears down the charm of the place and the practice. And the deeper the practice, the heftier the drama. There are amazing highs, but there are lows too.

My practice and I won't always get along. We sometimes misunderstand each other. Other times, we just don't see eye to eye. I may intend to grab calves in back bend but that does not always happen. I may want to move on and get a new pose, but that's not up to me. The practice (and Sharath) may have other plans. I may want to secure my leg behind my neck and back in ekapada sirsasana but my hips won't oblige.

There are petty jealousies. My practice may want me to conserve my energy. To take things easy and rest. It can be possessive. It wants all my time. And sometimes, I feel envious of another student with his/her practice. They look so... happy. They look so good together! Then my practice gets pissed off because my drishti has strayed and I'm not paying it proper attention.

There are disagreements. There are tears. There are disappointments and frustrations. The deeper the practice, the deeper the relationship delves into the deep down stuff that we usually try to hide from each other. Through the difficulties, though, we start to understand each other better. We make up and go back to loving each other, stronger than ever.

I'm days into my third month now. And I can see that my practice and I are getting into a nice groove. It's not perfect, but it feels great to spend time together. I can see there is so much more to discover and I'm looking forward to it. We're learning each other's quirks. We're learning not to rush each other.

I look forward to understanding my practice better, and by knowing it better I feel that I will know myself better too--and that relationship with myself is the connection that I have long wanted to establish, that's what draws me to India, to Mysore, and to the shala.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

distraction detraction

Friday night at Fluid, the nearest premier nightclub--in fact,
the only nightclub in the area.

Though many of us come to Mysore to focus on our practice, one of the biggest ironies of being here is that Mysore itself is land-mined with distractions. A simple thirst for a coconut can turn into an unexpected adventure, beautiful and wondrous, but sometimes totally out of step with intentions of quiet, rest and practice, self-study and a deepened understanding of yoga within the context of ourselves.

I feel like I've actually done less than my previous trip, the first two-weeks of which I was a hyper-tourist/yoga student who was making the most of my first trip to India. I've now mostly dropped the tourist part. I spend two hours plus every morning, six days a week, excluding moon days and ladies' holiday at the shala for practice. Including singing class, Sanskrit and chanting at the shala, I spend an extra 10 hours of what I feel makes up my "formal" self-study. Factor in an hour for conference a week, that's still only 17 hours out of a 168-hour week. Even if I sleep half that time (I wish!), that still leaves 67 hours. Where in the world does all this time go?

Its different for everyone. There are many around here who seem extremely skillful at managing their time and conserving their energy. I think these people are incredibly stealthy and discerning, they appear only when they totally desire it, they engage only when necessary. I wish to God that I were one of these gifted people.

Instead, I'm one of the ones scratching her head, after one of those seemingly interminably long lingering breakfasts, wondering where the last two months have gone. Over the course of this trip, I've ended up in the mall, in temples, a couple of cooking classes, the palace for the Sunday lighting, a bowling alley, a night club, obscure food joints half-way across town, and--once--at the horse races. And I'm slowly catching up on seasons of television shows that I didn't even know existed 2 months ago. I've been party to some really fun social situations, and am often with friends, mostly having to do with eating. More than a few times I've caught myself wondering if I have somehow completely failed in my original goal, had I lost sight of my purpose of deepening my practice?

At this point I could berate myself for being a "bad lady," a hack of a yoga student--and I have, at times, gotten to this point, totally guilt-ridden at not having accomplished some goals that I'd personally set for myself. One of these goals was to religiously blog, which I obviously haven't done in a very long while. So yes, I have failed to some extent.

In my defense, however, I feel like I am still on course. But like many of the paths I've chosen, its never so straightforward. Some of the things I have engaged with may seem like petty distractions, but they are still a part of this unorthodox means of schooling that exists in this Mysore yoga pressure cooker.

In truth, my interactions with people help me understand more about the practice itself, not to mention how it fits in my own life. Every experience is a part of the Mysore experience, whether its on or off the mat. And some of the activities, well, they're just fun and light and I am so grateful to have such moments that make me happy and keep me grounded. It's good to laugh, its good to eat, its good to dance.

Still, I understand that a good balance must be struck between my yoga practice and my practical everyday life. My intentions must never be forgotten. Its also important to go with the flow of energy, where my heart wants to go, what things it longs to uncover. I realize that being a student of life doesn't mean I have to always be studying; life is not so serious. Our life lessons are meant to be enjoyed. Everyday should be honored with celebration--a healthy combination of quiet and boisterous merry making--because its truly a miracle to just be here, to have the time to explore who we are in such a magical place, to have the opportunity of self-discovery thrown at us in such a myriad of ways.

Monday, December 5, 2011

the revolving door

Old friends and new friends taking chai at
Amruth's after led class two weeks ago.

The shala has a revolving door. People come and people go. This is a fact in these parts, evidenced by Sharath's voice doling out new start times continuously. Overnight, it feels, old faces go missing while new faces peer into the door in the later morning hours.

I'm approaching my second month, and I am amidst month no. 2's exodus in which a good number of those who are in my intimate circle, with whom I spend the most time with, who make up my beautiful support system here, must go. Most have already gone. My entire island crew have flown homeward or to their designated pit stops. At this moment, my roommate Claudia is waiting for her flight at Bangalore airport. And I find myself wadding through this wave of change. Last week, I felt physically drained. This week, I am emotionally tender.

Noticing the sudden disappearances of those I am not even close to also takes a toll. We get used to the energy of people we see day to day. We fall into each others' routines, we bump into each other at breakfasts, on the street, at the store to visit the chocolate man. We form silent relationships with people with whom we share an inch or two of communal space between mats in the shala. Without knowing, our breaths and movements merge in a symphony of yogic energy, quiet and potent.

It's hard not to mourn the sudden absence of such intense connections. Nor should we stop ourselves from honoring the gift of them, those who genuinely share themselves so openly in such a short amount of time.

But I am also reminded that this is a part of the Mysore experience, that there is a transitoriness to the friendships that are forged here. Some will exist only here, reuniting during serendipitous trips to the shala. Others will continue virtually over Facebook or Skype. Some will crossover and reconnect through the tight-knit ashtanga world. One thing is for sure, the shared experience of being here creates very special bonds.

For me, I feel, this is a time to practice non-attachment, hard as it is. We must embrace those that come and we must release those that go. The connections that enrich this time is still separate from our practice. Their road is different from ours. This is just a reminder to stay cool and steady amidst a sea of constant change.

Part of the change is also good. As new blood cycles in, they bring with them new energy, new insights, and new adventures. In the end, we are all a part of this amazing place, we are all passing through this revolving door.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sutras & Singing Bowls

Spread the word:

Chanting the Yoga Sutras with Neel Kulkarni
Accompanied by Singing Bowls by Akhilanka

Tonight, Friday 25th November 2011
#30 Mystic School, 14th Cross, Gokulam
6pm to 7:30PM

Though I didn't make it myself, my friend Claudia--who was helping promote the event--said it was hugely successful drawing over 25 people for the sutra-singing bowl concert. Good vibes were had all around!

Monday, November 7, 2011

mysore night light

Even though I spent two and a half months here last season, there were a lot of things I didn't get to do last trip. Among them was to visit Mysore Palace on a Sunday night when they light the whole thing up with what pretty much amounts to hundreds and hundreds of 60-watt light bulbs, the kind you pretty much find screwed into the sockets at home.

Its spectacular, a little strange, and very festive as tourists and loads of locals walk around in awe of the magnificent night lights. We went last Sunday, took a quick stroll. They say the trick is to get there before 7 o'clock, when they turn the lights on and the old palace transforms into a magical Disneyland-like wonderland.

Lights start to go out quarter to 8, when the Palace grounds close. The magic suddenly ceases as the lights turn off and things shift sadly back to normal, at least by Indian standards.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

kirtan for kids

Kirtan tomorrow November 4, at 5pm at Anokhi's Garden for the benefit of the Ashadayaka and Operation Shanti Children. Sure to be good fun for a couple of great causes!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

sound yoga

Kirtan at Anokhi's.

I love kirtan. I don't deny it. Even if I don't have the voice for it. Even if I don't have the tuning for it. Even if my pronunciation is flawed and my tongue trips over the succession of Sanskrit consonants ungracefully. I love the coming together of people, the strength of collective intention, and the vibrational shifts one feels when we allow our bodies to be an instrument of devotional sound.

Ok, so never mind the strangeness of repeating the names of Hindu gods with ecstatic fervor. If they could see me in the throes of Indian devotional song, my ultra-Catholic relatives would surely sick the family priest at me or at the very least whisper behind my back what they've always suspected, "she's a weird one, that little heathen!"

Thank goodness I quite like being strange. And I don't mind being quirky. Though when you are in a place like Mysore, surrounded by so many yoga practitioners/world wanderers, its actually hard to stand out. Extraordinary is quite the norm. But I digress here.

My point is, hereabouts I'm not the only one who likes kirtan because there's been two already in the two weeks I've been here and another one slated this Friday, 5pm at Anokhi's Garden. The first was a small candle-lit Diwali affair with Mark Robberds on guitar and Ganesh on tablas. The second was an all out feel-good mini concert where Mark and Ganesh were joined by Samya with her cool ethereal voice and Peter on his harmonium. They played together and took turns leading. The back room at Anokhi's was packed. And the appearance of some of the Ashadayaka children really made the kirtan extra special. They were, of course, well versed on the chants and were not shy about singing their hearts out. In fact, neither were we, the collection of some 30 odd students sang so exuberantly that we were not shaken by the last dregs of fireworks exploding around Gokulam.

Kirtan has been such a source of great joy for me, not just here recently, but also when I was in the Pacific Northwest this summer where I stayed at the aptly named Bhakti House and beautiful Bellingham--where just about everyone seemed to own a harmonium--and I was able to take a kirtan class with jazzy lady Gina Sala, that I've decided to take singing lessons from a classical Indian teacher right here in Gokulam. Gulp! Just writing about it is making me sweat because in my heart of hearts I always secretly wanted to sing but lack the skill and confidence to do it.

The opportunity to tackle this new challenge seemed to just fall into my lap. Or rather I moved in to it, so to speak. My landlady, Ranjini, upon letting us into our apartment that first night in Mysore introduced herself as a classical Indian music teacher, and it turns out that she's a respected one also. We sat down then and there and I agreed to come to class once I was all settled in.

Yesterday was my first class. And I am still buzzing from it. She gave us a brief intro, went over the scales, then threw us right into song, starting us with common chants and scales. Most of it is call and response. To just listen to her deliver the chants is in itself a delicious activity. Its a little more rattling trying to sing myself, but I found the beautiful voices coming from my fellow singing partners Claudia and Patricia buoyed my own performance.

So, surprisingly--and happily--I am finding that this is time of singing. A new dimension to this second Mysore experience.

The next kirtan at Anokhi's Garden Cafe will be this Friday, November 4, 5pm. To explore voice lessons with Vid. Ranjini Koushik, a vocalist in the Carnatic Classical tradition, call mobile +919480380383641 or 0821-2582193.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Surviving Diwali & Getting Down to Business

Day 1, Diwali. Fireworks in front of the shala.

Boss Sharath is a kid at heart, face-mask and sparkler in hand.
Here he is lighting up one of a ton of fireworks.

Its not as bad as I remember. Last year, Claudia and I had just arrived for our first ever trip to Msyore when Diwali celebrations commenced in India. And in my memory it went on forever and ever, merging with other minor holidays that seemed to follow one after the other. After the third day, the loudest and most extravagant in terms of fireworks, however, the noisy activity seems to have petered off (I hope I am not speaking to soon and the peace holds).

But Diwali has not passed without taking on victims. Some students are worn down--not from celebrating themselves--but from having their nerves shredded by neighborhood explosives. There have been sleepless and smokey nights throughout Gokulam, where students are getting up for start times as early as 4:30am.

Still, Sunday led feels like a new day. Things are starting to normalize. Routines are finally being set. We are happily returning to the regular programming. Today as I write, intermediate students are having their second led class. There were two led primary before that, one at 4:30 and another at 6am.

This morning, Sharath lead a speedy first class. I know because I was able to hold utplutihih, which I have not yet accomplished in any of his led classes. As we jumped through from the pose, he skipped savasana altogether saying, "Jump through, go home, take rest." He does his quiet chuckle and adds, "two more led class." Our cue to make haste, he's getting down to business and we are only a third of a very long morning.

Today also marks the beginning of the first 6-day practice. I can't help but feel that things are finally getting serious and the air, along with the chill, is filled with possibility.

Friday, October 28, 2011

slipper karma

Have you seen these brown slippers?

Are these your black flip flops?
Any chance you're wearing brown ones today?

Today, I walked out of the shala after a lengthy savasana following the second led class of today. My slippers, your basic brown Havianas, are nowhere in sight. Nearby there was a lonely pair of black flip flops, also Havianas but more worn in, looser round the thongs--all I could think of after my post-led haziness was, "Seriously?! Not again!"

Last year, my own slippers went missing and in its place were a pair quite nearly similar except for the thickness in the thong. Also after a led class. And despite sending out the word, blogging about it, leaving a note on the replacement pair at conference, my original pair did not make its way back to me--and I ended up wearing the ones left behind for another 4 months.

When I shared my latest slipper slip up saga at the coco stand, two friends separately pointed out that I must have some serious slipper karma. Was I a slipper thief in a past life? What injustice had I committed against rubber flip flops that I should slip up twice now.

Perhaps I just didn't learn my lesson: don't bring a nondescript pair of flip flops to the shala. Or perhaps I should have followed my instincts and written my name on the pair -- which I resisted just on the grounds of the pure dorkiness of the act. I should be more assertive and simply stand by my own compulsive quirks.

Or maybe its another one of those not so heavily veiled messages from the universe. Let go, do not be attached. Maybe, its yet another metaphor for life at the shala. I stepped in today sure footed, stepped out in another person's footwear altogether.

So here's to change! To adapting! Still, I would be eternally grateful if my original pair , which fits so much better, does reappear. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I am usually a heavy sleeper. My usual night pattern is to fall deeply into slumber only to be pulled out from a full night’s shuteye by my two deafening alarm clocks. Not so in this first week and a half in Mysore.

I am so excited to practice that my body clock is playing tricks on me. Not only am I am getting up before my first alarm, but many times well before it.

One night last week, I must have drifted off to sleep sometime past 8:45pm. I woke up and looked at the windows trying to surmise whether the darkness outside could be that of early morning. Maybe its time to get up, I thought. I looked at my alarm to find that it was only still 9:30pm—only 45 minutes had passed! How in the world could I think it was nearly morning? I tucked myself into bed, surrendered back to sleep. When I woke up again, feeling pretty rested, if now I was closer to my start time. I looked at the clock it was 9:45pm—a measly 15 minutes had passed!

Though that’s the most extreme case so far, I’ve been waking myself out of sleep pretty consistently of late, well before my time. 11:15, 12:30, 1…

This is the energy of the shala’s call. It wakes me in the morning. Not just me, but all of us, motivating us to get up well before dawn. Its drawn us all here to Mysore, India, to practice, to be present, to just be—and that’s worth waking up for.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

walk the line

Total union: James and his slackline.

Line-master Arne casually walking across.

There's all sorts of things one can get into here in Mysore. And last week, I had the good luck to try slacklining with fellow students at the Gokulam park beside the Krishna temple.

Its been a fun and easy going way to while away the afternoon. Finding balance among friends. Getting addicted to defying the laws of physics--or rather, better understanding the laws of physics.

At first, it may appear to be completely different from our practice, what with our fixed postures, set series, and precise counting. Slacklining is a practice in balance, using a nylon line anchored between two points. The line itself is slack, which means that it is dynamic, it stretches and has bounce. And it seems to be this fun and free-flowing activity, where one works on finding equilibrium amidst movement from one side to the other--um, sound familiar?

Walking across the line isn't easy, however. Breathing is essential. Eyes should be focused ahead of you. Body should be relaxed. The mind needs to be aware and vigilant, using the different parts of the body in harmony to allow that perfect balance moment to moment. Is this not similar to our yoga practice?

But then, I can't help but think, that this pretty much applies to everything. To all activities. To driving. To cooking. To our work. To life. If we applied these methods, which we use in our hour and a half asana practice, to all our everyday activities, how much more successful would we be as human beings? If we practiced them with as much diligence as we do when we get on that mat, how much more amazing our lives could be?

Then again, when I look at my own life, which has transformed so much due to yoga, I see how it has sneakily seeped into the rest of my life. I've been witness to it taking over gradually, killing my old habits, replacing them with new ones, healthier and more mindful, steadier in the shifting world of slack.

(Its a pretty casual affair, the neighborhood kids have a go so do entire families of students. There's an intention to set up the slackline at Gokulam Park after Sunday conferences. Everyone is welcome to join. Last Sunday was pretty fun, there was hula hooping and this wonderful easy going day out at the park vibe post-conference.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Welcome back---bending

Self-practice, at last. This morning was the first of the season. I think everyone, myself included, was really looking forward to it.

Though this is my 5th day at Gokulam and 3rd practice day at the shala, for the most part, it continues to feel unreal. It seems almost an impossibility that I was here last year. More so that I am back for more!

And while I've been excited many times over, nothing has quite captured me the way pretty much everything had on my first trip a year ago. The newness of the place and the first time experience of the shala cannot be duplicated, of course. My senses are not so assaulted as my first taste of India. Everything, thank goodness, has been calm and easy, if not a little lacking of that excitement that comes with inexperience.

I am far from disappointed. There is this beautiful pace and ease to this second trip. Its not the whirlwind of activity that typified my first month in Mysore, instead its steady, like meeting an old friend and knowing that ahead of us is this nice long visit (4 month-long this time).

I noted the sensation coming into the shala this morning for my 5:30am start time. I understood the process. It didn't rattle me to see the lobby filled with people. I calmly noted the mass of students, mentally distinguishing the throng before me, and waited patiently for my turn as I crocheted myself a hat for when it gets colder. I moved up towards the door. I put away my soon to be hat as I got closer, anticipating for my "One more" from Sharath. I noted who was getting dropped back, so that I would know where I would go when my time arrived. It was smooth, seamless, comfortable. Thus, went my practice.

It was when I had come up from my last back bend that I had my A-ha! moment. It was like a light turned on in my head, re-illuminating the reason why I was here in the first place.

A happy surprise, Sharath was there the moment I came up. He instructed me to drop back on my own three times. Then returned to rock me three times. On the last, he talked me to my heels, supporting me ever so gently. I relaxed despite a month and a half of very light back-bending. My practice hasn't been what it should be, I'd been traveling and whatnot. But here I was, heart being pried open again, eased back into a place of surrender and vulnerability.

"Very good," Sharath said before pressing me into paschimattanasana and leaving me to my thoughts.

I smiled to realize that this trip is not about being awed and wooed by the shala or by India. I'm here already. I've rearranged my life to make the return happen not to feel the extraordinariness of Mysore but to do my practice, to be with my teacher, to continue to have my body/mind/and heart slowly pried open, the absolute miracle of daily patient practice.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Go Team Boracay!

Chit enjoying her first coconut at Gokulam.
Joycee and I at the park today.
Robi, Claudia, Myself, Momo and Anoushka before conference.

Last year, Boracay was a blip on the Mysore map, which is its nature, I guess, being a wee 7-kilometer island in the Philippines. Then it was just me and Claudia. Later, others connected to our island home would come to Gokulam like Momo Reina and very briefly Clayton Horton.

And while I am no longer residing on the island, I can't help but feel some sense of excitement that we seem to be representing better this year. Claudia and I are back this time with our friend Chit, a long time Boracay resident and ashtangi. Our friend Anoushka, who was recently lured into living part-time on the island, is here for the week. Momo, who was just on the island teaching for 5 weeks, is here with Robi, while Mark Robberds, who recently held a workshop on the island prior to returning to Mysore, arrived with us on the same plane. Joycee, who was on the island to teach last May, is also here. And Bela Lipat, who is from Manila, is no stranger to the island either.

All this has added more color to this year's Mysore adventure (We're on day 3!). Its good to be with friends from home, sharing this island connection, transplanting some of that tropical paradise, good island vibes here in India.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First day of school

Claudia and I on our first morning back in Mysore.

Mysore and its like first day at school: we’re students for one thing, excited little things running around preparing for our school year, except our school supplies entail finding apartments then cleaning and refurnishing said apartments, getting local mobile numbers, and renting scooters.

At every turn, we meet friends who we haven’t seen since last season, as if we’ve been reunited after a long summer vacation, catching up on what we did in that interim time called our “real” lives—the ones we live in between visits to Mysore (I get carried away here, I know as this is only my second trip, but honestly this is what it feels like for me).

And there’s this electricity in the air. This sense of anticipation that is apparent at the start of a school year. Students are eager and excited. The mood is festive, the suburb of Gokulam coming to life as each day brings new carloads of students because today is when Sharath starts teaching again for the season.

And although my companions and I didn’t managed to arrive in Mysore early enough to register for class today (the first led class with Sharath was early this morning and we arrived Friday night forgetting that the shala wasn’t open on Saturdays), it’s incredibly special to feel the energy of today. There’s a beautiful feeling that we are part of the start of something very special.

Today, at the first conference of the season, Sharath announces that he isn't going to say too much (the conference is barely half an hour), intimating that there would be time to go over things in future conferences, that rather this was a time to “adjust.”

“Life is about adjustment,” he says. (“Alleluya, ain’t that the truth!” I could have shouted all gospel-church choir like).

Sharath explains briefly about how life doesn’t always work the way we want it to and how we have to adjust to it accordingly. More so in India, he says, where things are specially different.

He reminds students how to act appropriately in a place as traditional as Mysore, that the beach dress code of Goa doesn’t fly so well locally, how blocking 8th cross as students drink their fill of morning coconut doesn't ingratiate us to our Indian neighbors, that accepting a random invitation to a stranger’s wedding may not be to our better interest, or that converging as groups at the coconut stand might attract unwanted attention—the last one seems to have fallen on deaf ears as many did indulge in a post-conference coco as is customary on Sundays.

He recommends students walk or take auto-rickshaws because ordinary traffic rules do not apply in India and not be so bold as to try to drive motorbikes or scooters in a country where everything is different, especially in a place like Mysore, where when a mind says go right, it goes right, without looking or taking any precautions. (This just after booking a scooter for myself not a half hour earlier. As with every learning experience, some must be through personal experience.)

It is our orientation for our first day of school. These are the don’ts. There has to be some. He has to start us off right. But there are also some inspiring moments. He starts by looking around the room and smiling, commenting on how he sees “a lot of new faces,” and how that is “good…it means ashtanga is spreading.”

He also talks briefly about how yoga came to Mysore. He talks about Krinshnamacharya coming to Hasan, where his grandfather Pattabhi Jois was able to study with him for some years. How eventually Krishnamacharya would go, then Pattabhi Jois would end up in Msyore to attend Sanskrit college and how Krishnamacharya would also end up in Mysore, where Pattabhi Jois would then study with his teacher for the next 20-25 years.

At some point during this historical recap, I see Sharath’s hand hold the arm of the chair beside him. Its Guruji’s chair, or “throne” as some people call is. Sharath gently holds the arm as if it were a hand. I think of how he must miss Guriji, his grandfather and his teacher, and how he must be trying to presence him now as he starts this new season of teaching, like us, he is also a student calling to his teacher at the start of the new year.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Manila to Bangalore

En route to Mysore. Our numbers are growing. Mysore becomes more and more of a reality the closer we get to her.

At first it was just me, alone at the airport in Manila. Then we were three when my friends Chit and Claudia arrived from Boracay. We doubled that number when we saw friends Yan Ong and Mark Robberds at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, where we also met Alice.

We will be joined by friends who are coming. We will join friends who are already there. And then there’s the rest of the shala…

So far, its all so different from my first trip just last year. Claudia and I, were both newbies, excited and anxious, eager and uncertain of just about everything. For me, the excitement and eagerness are still there. But the anxiety and uncertainty has been replaced by—for the lack of a better term—determination. I am determined to get settled in, to find a groove that is in keeping with my intentions, clearer than last year’s exploratory nature. I am determined to dive into the practice, to learn, to surrender.

Last year, I was told that the first year is special because people come with no expectations, that some returning students are disappointed to come back to find things different. So I’m trying not to have any expectations outside of my own personal goals. I accept that things always change. Instead I want to be a part of that change. I get that I am mostly ignorant. And that’s why I am returning, to know more, to be more, to let Mysore act upon me with its special yogic magic.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

two weeks to mysore

As I countdown, I've been going through the mental checklist:

Shala acceptance, check.
New passport, check.
Visa, check.
Apartment, check.
Plane tickets, check.
Car pick up from Bangalore to Gokulam, check.
check, check, check!

I've started to imagine what I'm going to stuff in my backpack already. Ironic, since I'm still traveling in the US, still living in my summer Stateside clothes, still have a quick trip to Hong Kong to visit Mysore friends Deva and Rosanna before catching up with family and friends in Manila for a week. It seems utterly incomprehensible that I am going to be in Mysore, India in 14 days.

Then again...

If I remember correctly it took me and Claudia about two weeks to swear to each other that we would return the following year. And that was exactly a year ago now!

I am amazed at how time works. How much things have changed. How so much of my life has been re-focused to make this trip possible, how much of "this trip" is actually now my life. How when a door closes, a window opens, and sometimes not just a window but all the walls simply collapse around, and the whole bloody house is blown wide wide open. And how all this crazy opening is the result of the potential magic that gets cultivated when you practice at the shala, when you dive into your yoga practice, when you surrender to your teacher and most importantly to your self.

I wanted this. And because I was brave enough to admit it to myself, I've manifested this trip, my second one to study at KPJAYI with Sharath.

I'm so excited, I am beside myself. So much has happened between the two trips. There has been heartaches and trauma, but there's been an amazing amount of love and discovery as well. When I returned home, everything seemed to collapse around me. My whole life, the world I had so meticulously built caved in on itself, the foundations were soft. And now, while life's little roller-coaster continues to take its ups and downs, loops and corkscrews, it at least continues to be thrilling.

I have no expectations. But I can't help but think, what will happen next? If one trip to Mysore could turn my entire life upside down, what will it do after a second trip?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Post Mysore Survival Tip: Mysore Debriefing

It's been a while since I've written. I suppose that is a symptom of the world outside of Mysore. Beyond the safe walls of Mysore's yoga bubble, life takes over. There's work, relationships, making a living, surviving. Time is no longer my own to dispense with as I see fit. Responsibilities and debts have to be paid. The real world is not a yoga vacation but a yoga trial, where the challenge of fitting it all in with a 6-day a week practice can nearly be insurmountable.

And life has been full--of everything!--since my return from Mysore. There has been confusion and heartache and sadness. There has also been discovery and joy and love. It has been totally and absolutely full on!

You hear stories around Gokulam. "The things that happen to people when they go to Mysore." People go nuts. They move half way across the world. The leave their jobs. They quit their marriages. They go buck wild or plain old fashioned crazy. And I remember listening to these stories bemused and confident, thinking to myself, that's not going to happen to me. I'm content with my life. I wouldn't change a thing. But change is not something we control, it is something that happens quite naturally, and with much speed if yoga has anything to do with it.

And what quite naturally happened to me was a healthy dose of Post-Mysore-traumatic disorder. Things that appeared fine from an old angle, appeared decidedly different. For me, it was how I was living and the choices I'd made. And from the moment I started to head home, the world as I knew it started to fall apart. Perhaps this world had seen that I was no longer the same, that the wheels of fortune had spun in a different direction, and things that used to fit would fit no longer.

I'm not good with confrontations. And no amount of yoga had changed that. Cowardly as it was, instead of going home to Boracay to deal with it, I did the opposite: I joined a yoga workshop in Manila. Govinda Kai was in town back in early Feb (at Bliss Yoga).

Things had come full circle. Claudia and I were together again. And were it not for Claudia, I would not have taken the bulk of the workshop.

Ironically enough, the workshop itself became a vehicle to cope with my shifting world. In a nutshell, it became my Mysore debriefing, helping me to understand the complete upheaval that I was going through, which according to Govinda is quite normal.

A year ago, when I asked Govinda (he was in Boracay for a workshop) for advice about going to Mysore. He said that I should go for 3 months. He said that the first month was for "getting used to it," the second was for "falling apart" and the third was for "coming back together again." When I reminded him of his advice, he quipped something like, "and then when you return everything falls apart again." He didn't include that vital piece of information a year ago. In any case, he couldn't have been more right.

Govinda listened as I explained the mess I was coming back to, how I was now afraid to return to my once so orderly life. But Govinda helped confirm what I felt in my bones, that the changes I'd personally felt were good. All he said was this, when comparing me to our first visit a year ago, "You are more present." And I could really feel it.

Coming back from Mysore, I really appreciated the intense practice that happens when Govinda holds space. But beyond that, the series of lectures that he shared with our group slowly debriefed me from my India experience, it gave me time to process all this new information, new programming, it organized my thoughts, and put words to what seemed like undefinable feelings.

He talked about love and relationships and how these can be wonderful vehicles of self discovery, he shared a deeper perspective on sex (but not SEX sex, rather the polarities between masculine and feminine), he talked about backbending as integration and arm balances as a means for creating space. (And boy, can Govinda talk! By the end of the week, he had no voice). His lectures clicked with many of us and I really related to all the themes in such a personal way. They shed light on so many things.

When time came to go home, I was steadied by my time with family and friends in Manila and with Govinda and his time-tested wisdom. I was ready for the storm--admittedly half of which was of my making--and rough winds were waiting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Connecting to Mother Mysore, Odanadi Yoga Stops Traffick in Boracay Island

Mysore continues to be real for me. Everyday, as I read updates on facebook, as I recite the opening prayer on my mat, as I recall the memories of the two and a half months that I spent there, my mind fixes on it, the city and the shala, the people and the energy, the yoga community as a whole.

I miss the energy of it. The quantity and the quality of that energy focused on yoga is both exciting and overwhelming. In Mysore, I felt fueled by the community around me. And though I love the tight knit group of dedicated yoga friends that I practice with here in Boracay, in the Philippines, we're a small group driven predominantly by an easy-going island vibe. While the island itself is only 7 kilometers long (with the thinnest width of the island a measly 1 kilometer), its small pockets of yoga barely every cross or meet.

Then, I started to see all the announcements go up on facebook from my Mysore community--some of whom by that time, were spread out around the world in their respective homes. Everywhere it seemed people were rallying around Odanadi Yoga Stops Traffick, the event that creates awareness against the trafficking of women and children and raises money for the caiuse. I felt that we needed to take part somehow. I felt the need for that sense of togetherness here too.

So on March 12, I felt the strongest connection to Mysore since returning home to Boracay, in the Philippines, as our own island yoga community gathered for 108 Sun Salutations, joining over a hundred participating studios and organizations world wide for Odanadi Yoga Stops Traffick.

Within the Mandala Spa shala, eight resident teachers led part of the 108. Clayton Horton of Greenpath started things off followed by Nicole Serrano, Mo-ching Yip, Stacey Memije, Markus Duss, Margaux Palau, Sebastian Stroeber and myself. After a wonderful savasana, Clayton led us in Kirtan and a short meditation for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In total there were 24 participants, packing the shala.

In the end, we raised not only PhP10,800 but we also raised the bar in terms of our own local yoga community.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quicken, Ode to Saraswathi


My pulse quickens as she approaches. I try, oh God, I try to breathe. Slowly. Deep, even breaths. But I can't help it, I can't help the stress from racing my pulse.

It is part anxiety, part excitement when I see her in front of me--well, actually, from behind me--well, actually, both. I peek at her from behind my heels, her colorful pajama pants hiding what people say are fine looking legs.

Ok, so breathe. There is no escaping it now. I see her feet wait. I inhale and heave myself up into standing, where she is before me, a head shorter than myself. She places her hands behind my hips. Her fingers are light, but her hold is steady.

Oh, God. Here it comes. I wish she would smile. When she smiles, the entire shala lights up. And her eyes are kind, easing away my fear of her, of her folding and unfolding me like a piece of sheet cloth in the wind. Mamma. Saraswathi.

--This piece was written during one of the writing circles conducted by Deborah Crooks and fellow shala student writers Benji, Leena, Dorota, and Alex (who joined once), I miss you guys. I miss exchanging words with you all!

Some words on Mamma...

I've spoken at great lengths about Sharath since he was my teacher those months in Mysore. But Saraswathi too has a strong presence in the shala. I would always hear her towards the end of my practice, her soft voice echoing ethereally over the pulsating bodies as she chanted, sometimes she sounded like she was humming.

She's an incredibly strong yet tiny woman, who can with total ease drop back a man over twice her size. She is beyond sturdy, an immovable force from which you can anchor yourself to.

I would often see her hovering over friends with very open backs, she would always magically turn up as they entered that crucial moment. (Saraswathi was once a great back bender--and apparently takes great pleasure in helping others attain such heights--with hands on their thighs that is!)

During my time at the shala, my feelings for her went through several phases. The first was fear and anxiety. I'd heard that she was a toughie when it came to adjustments. Over an email my friend Stacey reminded me before I left for India, when she comes to you, just breath, relax, she's incredibly strong. Gulp, I thought!

I remember my first with her. It was so fast, I didn't quite know what hit me. And then paschimatanasana! I'll never forget the force in which she pressed me. It felt like she had made a running start because I lurched forward so strikingly. And when she released me, I actually bounced back from the delayed inertia.

Eventually, the fear did pass. And I started to enjoy her terribly efficient quick as lightning drop backs. 1, 2, 3. Wham bam, thank you, mam! "One More," she would yell to the foyer as I quickly rolled up my mat to finish in the locker room. It was a welcome break from the depth in which Sharath was asking me to go, walking me closer and closer to my ankles.

Then at some point, I actually enjoyed the deep back bending and would note with some sorrow when Saraswathi would be before me. She sped through me. And it would be done too quickly.

Then towards my last three weeks, I started to struggle less and less in back bending. I started to relax in the pose. My breathing was deeper. I could grab my heels (with Sharath's help) and it ceased to be a horrifying experience. Time would stop and all would be well.

By my last week, I was surprised to find myself hovering as I dipped backward. It was a new experience to go slowly. And for the last two times of the trip that Saraswathi appeared before me, she guided my hands to my ankles as I came down. The first time I felt her hand on my wrist, I remembered what Stacey said and I simply surrendered. I think that was the moment I really began to trust her, just days before my final departure.

For me, it was a special gift, an acknowledgement of how far I'd come. The following day, she was there again. I had more difficulty the second time, but when I came up she smiled her famous smile and gave me some advice, the first words she'd actually spoken to me the entire trip.

In the end, I didn't get to say goodbye. But I know that I will see her again. And who knows what combination of feelings she will inspire. Whatever they may be, I definitely look forward to it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mysore Extracuricular: Crochet Club

At Anu's with Rich, Jenn and Harish. Jun Pe snuck in.
The itty bitty hat I'm holding is my first hat--
which is obviously too small for my head.
At Anouki's. With Rich, Katherine and Alin.

This is a seriously inappropriate hobby to have in the tropics, I think to myself as I make tidy little balls from yards and yards of thick woolly yarn, no doubt the strangest thing I brought back from India (in pale pink, purple, green and gray).

In the first stages of my "Mysoresickness," I even insisted on wearing the leg warmers I made (1/3 of a set of triplets, Ursula in Osaka and Deva in Mysore have the other two, Heidi in Helsinki owns their cousin--all of them have the right to be wearing theirs) to practice. Sure, it was cool for the Philippines. It was 5:45am cool in the Philippines. But who am I kidding? It is not only hot, it is humid, and I've totally missed the two week period in December when there's an ever-so-slight chill in the air mostly in the evenings only warranting a long sleeve shirt or a shawl. Otherwise, it is plain old hot and humid.

After my second day of forcing the issue, my friend Christina when boarding the car saw the thick cold-weather leg warmers on the passenger seat, pointed at the them and asked with concern, "Were you wearing these?" Christina, a model slash DJ and my most fashionable friend, looked horrified. The fluffy, cozy winter-warmers have no place here, she might as well said.

I haven't worn them since, though I've been tempted to blast the AC on high in order to make use of them in the morning on the way to the yoga studio. I'm still crocheting, however. I just can't stop myself. I'm finishing a hat for my niece in Singapore. Again, tropical weather, inappropriate present.

Still I continue. I feel calm doing it. And it reminds me of Mysore.

When I first arrived in late October, crochet was all the rage. Everyone seemed to know how. Guys and girls. You could find diligent enthusiasts at the shala gates whiling away the waiting by hooking and pulling, hooking and pulling their string of yarn into homemade creations. There were pockets of the crochet community everywhere, meeting in private homes and in public cafes.

I started over chocolate almond smoothies at Anu's cafe, where a group met to crochet in the afternoons over their evening tea and smoothies. Richard from England, along with Alin from So Cal was almost always frenetically at it. Jenn from Canada was all pro and was knitting. Katherine was doing a refressher. Juliana was a natural. Me, not so.

Richard's enthusiasm for the sport was catchy. Before long I had purchased my own yarn and and crochet needle and was knotted up and stumbling on my fingers. Richard was patient. And many others helped give me little tips along the way.

The Odanadi Fundraiser in late November was
the crochet event. Many an amateur craftsman and craftswoman donated their creations to sell for the benefit of the Odanadi street children. In all it was a testament of the shala students' commitment to helping the local community AND their love for crochet!

I was a total newbie at the time and was still on my first hat, which though was meant for me appeared to be shrinking in size. In the end I had produced a rather small hat suited for a baby. Such was my learning curve. My second hat completed by Christmas was a perfect elf hat--quite by accident.

But I kept at it. At home. In front of the shala gates at 4 in the morning. At practically any dead moment.

In a way, it's become a sort of sitting meditation. Something positive and creative to keep my vata self occupied. It's been good to learn something new, to see my own progression, to improve with each project--much like life at the shala, practice and patience, practice and patience.


The view from my plane, from Singapore to Manila.
Reminds me of that phrase "sky's the limit."

It is nearly two weeks since I left Mysore. And the place continues to work on me. As with asana practice, I try to relax, inhale and exhale deeply, allowing it to do its magic, resisting as little as possible. It is a challenge to remain flexible, especially back in the real world.

I quite ignorantly said, before I ever left home, that I would not change. Though in essence I am the same person, it was not a realistic promise (and I am sorry for making it). Change is constant. And if you spend a long enough time in Mysore, if you surrender to your yoga practice, if you willingly allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole, change will be inevitable. It might be subtle, drastic, physical, emotional, spiritual, or more likely a crazy combination of all the above--so wide is the scope of this deep yoga practice, so deep is its reach, so sneaky too--I barely noticed myself until wham! here I am.

Since Mysore, I continue to feel these "shifts." They are these little tremors, aftershocks that typically follow a big quake. Mysore was that for me, groundbreaking.

Physically, I see the changes. Having had no full-length mirror for the last one and a half months in Mysore (I bought a round little thing, 6 inches in diameter to braid my hair in the morning), I am totally amazed to see myself, whole self, so healthy. I feel some changes too in my stamina, flexibility and strength. Ursula told me that I would be surprised with my own practice after I returned from Mysore. That has yet to happen, but I believe it will. Everything in good time.

Mentally, there are shifts too. I feel like I am thinking with more clarity. I feel more aware of my own thought processes. I caught myself today thinking as I was being asked by the bank guard to move my car, I was already out in the rain, "Don't be upset, he's right, he's only doing his job, you'll only get a little wet." Within a second I'd got over the inconvenience. I've been driving in Manila for a week now and I've noted at least a half dozen moments that could have transformed into road rage, I thoughtfully let it pass along with the haphazard drivers of buses and jeepneys that dominate these streets.

Emotionally, I feel more FULL STOP. My friend Alena, once accused me of over using the word "surrender" while teaching yoga. And she's right. I love to say it. I know the importance of it in ashtanga and in life. And to some degree, here and there I have surrendered. But that whole-hearted surrender happened in Mysore, a little each day at practice (all this crazy back-bending perhaps?) and finally culminating around New Year's at the Shiva temple in Chamundi Hill. Since then, I can physically feel my cruddy little heart opening. Untold emotions have since eeked out and continues to do so. It is inconvenient and there seems to be no end to it. It is also incredibly beautiful to feel so...alive.

Some changes will take some getting used to like my renewed commitment to psuedo-vegetarianism. I've been eating fish post-Mysore. Though, I'll probably get used to it faster than my family will. I feel more sensitive to my environment and to the people around me. I quietly wigged out the two times my family and I went to the mall, which is a real shift because I usually love the mall. There was something unsettling about the energy, the bright artificial lights, the buzzing shoppers and excessive retail.

Then there are the changes that I choose to make. Changes that are motivated by both my newly-gotten mental clarity and this spooky heart-opening. These, I think, will be the hardest to go through because it will be me (not Mysore) who will have to be the master of change. They are pesky decisions that disrupt the status quo. They won't always be easy. They might hurt a little, sometimes a lot. But they are necessary and they are honest.

Everyday, I revel in the mystery of Mysore and it's transformative powers. Everyday, I remind myself that change is good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Missing Mysore

Hutch and Alex and I at KL airport.

Cutie pie Amelie, my niece, and I in front of Year of the Rabbit display in Singapore.

The fabulous Filipino ashtangis feasting after practice for B-day potluck.

So far, the hardest thing to write about is the journey home.

I definitely have Mysore withdrawal symptoms. It isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s not like I get the shakes or anything. Missing Mysore is subtler than that.

My body misses the routine, morning practice and shala energy. It has been lonely and uncooperative over the last few self-practices.

My mind misses the concentration, input of Sharath during conference and interactions with fellow students, the talks of yoga and the talks you have when you have had enough of talks of yoga.

My heart misses India.

The first few days, I was in a daze, head cloudy of recent Mysore memories, which I am blessed to take home with me. I would smile and try to be present, as I continuously let the intensity of the last 2 and half months wash over me. I was sleepwalking. I couldn’t quite vocalize how I felt. I couldn’t explain. Not at the start anyway.

In many ways, luck has been on my side. I’ve not jumped directly back into the matrix of my “real life.” I’ve taken a slow route, visiting family in Singapore and Manila (where I am now as I write this) before heading back to my own little island nation, Boracay.

And at every stop, there seems to be a reminder that the world outside Mysore is a friendly place. In the airport at Kuala Lampur, when faced with about 6 hours of waiting between flights, I quite shockingly bumped into two Filipino friends Hutch and Alex, who were en route to India. I impart some India wisdom and they keep me company until my morning flight.

In Singapore’s Budget Terminal, I board the taxicab of Mr. Ali, who asks me out of healthy curiosity why I practice yoga. This is an interesting question to get soon after departing from Mysore and I am surprised at how easily I answer, “I feel closer to God.” I explain in brief ishvarapranidhanadva, which animates, Mr. Ali, a Muslim who says that in Islam they don’t use the word surrender but instead submission. A liberal man, he philosophizes about how he doesn’t understand those who claim their religion without studying, without practicing. I tell him it is just like yoga.

This first conversation in Singapore was comforting, that somehow it was a reminder that the spirit of yoga that I saw so alive and well in Mysore lives and breathes outside of India. It comes in different packages, but the essence is somehow preserved.

The unobtrusive comforting ways of family also played a role in my reintegration back into reality, as they ushered me through Singapore's extremely clean environs, mostly from one meal to the other (that's what Filipino families do, eat), a welcome activity since I just realized I have lost 7 kilos over this trip, interspersed with shopping (a trip to Ikea and the giant Konikuya bookstore was a total shock to the system).

Today, in my first full day back in Manila, I went to practice at a local ashtanga studio called Stillpoint in Makati. It was interesting to participate in a different energy, to be adjusted quite liberally, sometimes by two teachers at a time. It was great but odd. I appreciated the intimate numbers and wonderful help with alignment, but I also missed being swallowed in the powerful anonymity of the shala, seemingly forgotten but silently being worked on.

It was a great yoga homecoming too as we gathered for a triple birthday potluck after wards. This was yoga Filipino style, a hard morning’s practice followed by an opulent feast (We Filipinos know how to live it up!). And after eating, I started to talk about Mysore to those that asked about it. Once I got started, it was as if I couldn’t stop. I wanted to share and vocalize my experience. I wanted to repeat the words “Mysore” and “shala” and “Sharath,” as a means of remembering and celebrating my time there.