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?