Monday, January 30, 2012

self practice

First day back on the mat. Just me in my bedroom here in Manila--a far cry from the unbeatable energy of the shala. I miss the wave that carries me through my practice, powered by others deeply focused on their own sadhana. I miss the inconspicuous watchfulness of Sharath and the blessings of the lineage, hundreds of hours of teaching, and of practice, of innumerable cycles of breathing with sound. Oh God! I really, really miss it.

Today's practice was like pushing an ox cart in a muddy field, heavy, leaden, no ox in sight. Just me attempting to barrel through standing and second series. My goal today after a 4-day break, in fairness I also had Lady's, was to just get through it. It was hard to sustain the energy on my own. It was hard to create momentum by one's lonesome.

Still, this is precisely why I know I must do it. This is the real test of my dedication to the practice. Not how well I perform when Sharath is there to see me, but how well I perform when there is no one else in the room but me. How much am I capable of when I am my sole witness.

In many ways, ashtanga is designed to be a solitary practice. You rely on your own wits, your understanding of the sequence, your drishti, your breath. The practice is a gift that we grow to own ourselves--and bringing it home is the real opportunity to own it. To make it ours. To integrate it into our lives--because we do have lives outside of Mysore...

So as I struggle these first days away from the yoga bubble, I am also trying to call upon its spirit--because that is something we can take with us. Mysore is also a state of mind, I remind myself. It's something that we learn along with the practice in the shala. And that, at least, takes no additional room in the luggage.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


It’s been a crazy couple of days. Finally slept on the plane. Almost wish the flights had been longer. I’m sure I have the look of a person who is lost and dazed. I am not just a couple of hours off beat, but an entire dimension it seems. The real world, I remember, is very different from Mysore. The energy is so different in India.

Still, I’m in traveler’s limbo, where everything is hyper ordered and clinically hygienic. Singapore’s Changi airport is my third airport in 9 hours. Now at the lost and found office awaiting one of my bags unwittingly left behind. I am a person in transit, one foot forward, the other dragging a little, nothing new there.

I’ve had little time to mull on my premature departure. Things have happened quickly: my dad and stepsister coming down with dengue, dropping platelets, packing, making my way home. Less than 48 hours.

I am starting to take stock of unfinished business I’ve left behind: three more weeks in the shala (I just reregistered for my fourth month last week), an apartment paid up till mid-March, a week of philosophy class, and a Sanskrit teacher I’d failed to inform about my departure. I wonder what I’ve forgotten on top of that.

Time is a most precious commodity, and there are some losses that seem unquantifiable: spending time under Sharath’s watchful eye, time with dear friends, and time to dig into oneself, which feels so much easier in Mysore, when one is more soft and pliable.

I left saying I could come back, when my father recovers. But I don’t know if that’s how it’s going to work out in the end. The recovery period from dengue can be quite long. And, upon taking leave of the shala, Sharath said I should return when things are quieter, when there are less students.

Truth is I can feel reality tugging me back the further away I get from Mysore. I can feel the pull of family and the dharma that comes with being a daughter—at least my version of it, which I know strays from the Philippine ideal. I’ve bought my dad a bottle of Glenfiddich malt whiskey for us to break open when he finally feels better.

And I can feel that even if this wasn’t exactly my plan, this is the way things are supposed to be.

(This was written, literally, in transit. I am now in Manila. Arrived yesterday night. My dad is still in a critical time. But I've seen him and feel that recovery is around the corner. The irony is that I am now not allowed to visit. I have a cold. And he's too vulnerable to be exposed to it. The good news is my step sister is better and has returned home from the hospital.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

booking flights, packing and flowing with grace

It's ironic. For the last week, I've had nothing but anxiety at knowing I was at my last month of practice. (I still have 3 weeks to go). I was fixated on wanting, needing more time. I fretted over asking Sharath the dreaded question of extension.

And now, I'm packing. Or rather, I should be. My tickets are booked. In less than 24 hours, I will be on a plane--on several planes--to Manila, where my dad and step sister are in hospital for dengue fever. In my heart I know they will be fine. They've been diagnosed early and are in teh best of care. Still, a couple of hours ago, my dad had his first round of blood transfusions. His platelet count has been dropping faster than anticipated. And I've had to come to reality: for the moment, my place isn't here.

This concept is like being vacuumed out of the safest, warmest of places, a yoga womb of sorts and thrown out into the harsh light of day. I feel like a premature thing cast out of the yoga bubble before hitting my maturity date.

My heart is breaking a little. I don't want to leave. I feel undercooked. But all the same, I know that by leaving I am flowing with grace. Home is where the Universe is leading me, where my family needs me, where my father needs comfort. The values that we've been taught to honor is compelling me home. And though I hope to come back to Mysore after my family recovers and continue practice, there's no knowing what reality has in store.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

bhakti, music & giving to a good cause

Another week in Mysore. Another week of opportunities for growth. And though I'm feeling wiped out enough to actually consider (aghast!) taking it easy, I wanted to share two worthy events going on this week--though I am sure there are more out there that I haven't heard of.

The first is yet another special Kirtan. Radha returns to Mysore for a limited time only and will be joined by friends James, Liz (harmonium) and Ganesh (tablas). The kirtan will be held this 4:30-7pm, Thursday, 26 January at Chakra House, 4th Main in Gokulam. Also on this day, Chakra House serves a special buffet lunch that starts at 3pm for those who want to sing with a fully nourished body.

Then on Friday, January 27, Odanadi is holding a Benefit Fundraiser from 3-6pm. The event features the renowned flutist Ravi Shanka Mishra and his band as well as a special cultural presentation by the girls of Odanadi, raffle drawing, henna tattoos and facility tours at the center. All proceeds go towards the building of a new boys' facility. Admission is Rs.500. Tickets can be bought at Santosha, Anokhi's and at the event itself.

Odanadi ( is a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates children and women affected by human trafficking. The fundraiser will be held at their main center at 15/2B SRS Colony, Hootagally, Belavadi, Hunsur Road, Mysore. Contact Roland at 9738705686 for more information.

Monday, January 23, 2012

shiva, the destroyer

Summer in New York and practice at Broome Street Temple.
The Shiva alcove is around the corner.

A couple weeks ago a friend invited me to a puja at his home here in Mysore. When I arrived, he was already in full Vedic swing, chanting Sanskrit mantras adeptly as he made offerings to his soapstone Shiva Lingam. As he chanted away, I closed my eyes and settled into my half lotus. My mind drifted to last summer, when I was in New York, practicing at Broome Street Temple, Eddie Stern's studio in SOHO.

There's a little room there, dedicate to Shiva, where Shiva's lingam is also the center piece. An oil lamp was almost always lit. And the stone shone by wick light. I was particularly drawn to that part of the Temple. When I realized that people would sneak in there after their practice and meditate a little, I started to do the same, so long as the space was empty.

I remembered one moment particularly. I had just finished a sweet short meditation, deep after self practice. I must have been inspired, either that or completely insane--because what I did next was pretty much the equivalent of hurling myself off a New York City skyscraper without a parachute, no net below, no safety harness, nothing. Silently the words formed in my head and in my heart, "Shiva, destroy me." It was an act of faith and of total surrender. It was an act of insanity, as well.

First, I want to explain that ever since my first trip to Mysore in 2010, my life has been all about change. Some of it really extreme. I'd ended my commitments. I quit where I was living. And moved into storage. But I felt free and my heart, full. When I had uttered that prayer, I meant to invite more change, because I felt sure that more had to come--that whatever transformation had begun on that first trip had to continue. I wanted to graciously throw myself into the fire and be renewed.

Sometimes the vision we have of ourselves is not entirely clear, however. Sometimes, we have to take better care of our requests. I always forget what a keen listener the Universe can be. I always forget that divine forces may not have the time to dilly dally with details. I always forget that the Universe would probably appreciate specificity. Finally, I always forget to be compassionate with myself.

To summarize the summer after that request was, well...I could say things really shifted after that. Really, it was some seriously seismic shifts. The earth underneath me rumbled. My human building swayed, cracks appeared on the surface. My foundations were shaken. The tremors went on forever. And I think I'm still experiencing after shocks.

I don't mean to get all hocus-y pocus-y but I believe there is real power in prayer, real potency in intention. And now remembering that moment of self-offering, I can't help but think: no freakin wonder!

As hard as the daily asana practice is at the shala, it feels pretty light and easy compared to the aftermath of being shaken so completely. Though, I reckon, the practice is contributing to the "destruction," that it too is an agent of this extreme change.

Sometimes I have to really laugh at myself. I come here to go deeper. I mean to surrender but then end up struggling and fighting the winds of change that I have so eagerly invited. I doubt that I'm the only one hereabouts.

But the other day, as my friend did his puja to Shiva, I came to an understanding that I am the master of this movement in my life, that I have actually asked for it. So, I--more cautiously, this time--decided to recommit to my not so humble request, knowing full well that I'd been taken seriously. I added, however, "Please, Shiva, be gentle with me."

So, the good work continues in my yoga practice--both in the asana practice and in my life. I look forward to the renewal that comes with destruction, to the rebirth that comes with each metaphoric death, to rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

mysore magic, yoga at the source

Sunday, something feels off at the 7:30 led class. It seems a tad dim in the shala for that hour. I look up and see bed sheets hanging outside the windows on the grill. I note: another odd first. It all makes sense two and a half hours later, as we wait at conference (another one at 10am). A movie screen is erected on stage and a projector set up in the center of the shala.

"India has plenty of room," Sharath quips over the sea of students knee to knee at the shala. "India's mantra is adjustment. Wherever you go, you have to adjust, " he said as he was trying to manage the space (students just keep on coming!). Students are crowded in the lobby, finding it hard to squeeze in. Wise words from the Boss.

As an introduction, Sharath tells of how this was the fastest documentary made. He says how "these 3 (Alex Medin, Jim and Angie Kambeitz) have worked hard day and night" to make this film we are about to see. The film rolls and we see some of the Mysore Magic that, if you've ever been to Mysore to practice at the shala, we know so well.

After wards, Sharath invites director Alex Medin to speak. Alex explains how the film is "an act of love" and what "a great honor to be a part of this system."

The film started with a conversation between him and the couple, who were staying at Alex's house. The docu spontaneously grew from there. Within days they were filming in the shala and all around Msyore.

Angie also shares how she and Jim have been "so inspired by all of you." Jim, who is now home in North Dakota joins us via Skype and adds a "Namaste" from Angie's laptop.

Mysore Magic, Yoga at the Source can now be viewed ($4.99) or bought ($9.99)on the website below. Preview of the film is also available. Part of the proceeds will go to the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Charitable Fund. The 22 minute documentary looks at the essence of what happens here in Mysore, and practicing at the shala particularly.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

packed, more and more students

It's been intense around here the last couple of weeks. Conferences have been packed since the New Year. Led classes are beyond tight. Last Friday, there were three on each side of the stage. Mats overlap everywhere. You're lucky to be practicing on the crease as a few simply choose to practice at home instead of the locker rooms. Even the second level of the Ladies' Locker room have even been occupied for the lack of mat space --from there Sharath's voice is all muffled. On a normal day, self-practice seems to flow too seamlessly into chanting, which is now at 11:55 shala time.

We come into chanting last week--at nearly mid-day, and the room is steamy. The glass of the windows are covered with beads of condensation--a.k.a. human sweat. The air is thick, even though all the windows are open. And it's hard to find a spot on the rug that isn't damp. I swear, even if I sound like it, I'm not complaining. It is what it is.

Whether its a glitch in the system or not, we're all here, trying to make the best of it. I know of at least one person who was asked to leave early and come back when the shala is less busy. It has been said (though not directly to me) that some students who have been here beyond the three month mark have been encouraged to go early. And I know of another who was greeted with much graciousness when she said she was leaving earlier than planned. Requests for extensions have been denied left and right. And I can't help but feel there was some exasperation in Sharath's voice (again, maybe I'm projecting here) as he noted that I was re-registering for my fourth month at the shala, "Not going?"

Though some people continue to leave after their 3 months or many just after the minimum 1 month, students keep on coming. Everyday, I note fresh faces wandering around Gokulam. There seems to be no end to it. The latest start times are rumored to be between 10-10:30am.

At the height of the sudden upsurge of the newly arrived, the website was updated stating that there was a new 3 month maximum study at the shala, along with the announcement of the shala's reopening on July 1, 2012. Boom, just like that, times are a changing.

It's may only be my second visit to Mysore, but already I miss quieter times. In 2010, late October was a sweet time to come. The shala had been opened a month or two before; I came in with a 6:30 start time. October 2011 was definitely more packed. Start times by the end of the month was at 9am.

We are witnessing the changing times here at the shala. As ashtanga grows throughout the world, as Mysore programs are being built up and more and more qualified teachers spread the lineage, the students inspired enough to come multiply. I know I am a part of that swelling wave of this yoga practice, which continues to expand and extend, growing a culture of people who are better attuned to their body and to their higher natures. And that, despite the change in pace and ease in these parts, the nuisance of packed rooms and stressful gate stampedes (which are still really tame, by any standards), is still good news for everyone.

Friday, January 20, 2012

play and sing

Kirtan, 3 Weeks ago at Mumuksha.

Last call for Acro Yoga with my dear friend Paul Millage this afternoon at Anokhi's Garden. He's off to Hampi on Monday and eventually back to Washington state, so if you want to fly, come and play between 2-4pm today. Classes are donation basis. Recommended is P500--but he's totally cool with you paying according to your means.

This also means that this Friday will be his last Kirtan in Gokulam (for a year at least). He and James Boag, along with Ganesh on tablas and Liz Boag will be at the Kirtan at Mumuksha at 5:30pm today. The regular kirtan at Saraswathipuram goes on as scheduled this Sunday, 1:30-3:10pm (behind the Palace Honda Showroom).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

friendship and the bonds of practice

It's 9pm, quite late by shala standards, especially if you're practicing at 4:30 in the morning. I've just come home after squatting outside Amruth's, nursing for a few minutes a Bonvita, no sugar. We were a small group, the last remaining of a day of farewell for one of the good friends I've made this trip.

Though I should be saving this entry for the morning, I feel compelled to write about one of the really special gifts of coming out here: the people you meet, particularly the ones you connect with, who are as much a part of the Mysore experience as the practice itself.

The yoga students that are drawn here come from all around the world. We come from different backgrounds, cultures, and fields of expertise. We're all so different, except for the love and dedication to this practice. We all come so willing to dive into the depths of asana and the depths of the depths that our physical practice helps us access. We come and surrender. That makes us incredibly open not just to the practice, not just to Sharath, not just to ourselves but to each other too.

I've been here three full months now, practicing and sharing this experience with the same room day in, day out. As we practice, we each individually create this incredible energy. And then we share it with each other. That builds a unique bond. Outside the shala, relationships solidify over coconut, chai, shared meals and adventures. Some people you get to know well. Some, barely at all.

For those that we establish deep connections with, these people become our source of support especially in these intense times that we are being pried open. We gravitate to each other quite naturally, we prop each other up, we look out for each other--sometimes in very quiet and loving ways, gracious and beautiful in its subtlety. Though somethings are extraordinary, mostly we do the most ordinary things with each other. We break bread. We swap jokes. We cry on each others' shoulders. We're real with each other. We check in and see how we're feeling, how the pose or the pain is going. And we give each other shelter through our personal storms. We thrive in community. We remind each other that we aren't alone in this crazy pressure cooker.

But even the connections that are not so defined are also special here. For example, the sweet girl who practiced beside me for the last month, whose name I didn't get to know until her very last day. She congratulated me so warmly, with so much sincerity when she realized that my practice had shortened and I'd been split. She really felt for me. And when she had to go, I missed her presence.

Though one friend is leaving, I look forward to seeing the familiar faces in the room again tomorrow morning. Whether I know them well or not, I feel so much love for this amazing set of people. I feel so much gratitude that I can continue to share this experience with them. That, for me at least, there is still time left to get to dig deeper into these human connections that truly enrich my life here in Mysore and the overall experience of the practice.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

mysore magic, the documentary

Mysore Magic's opening clip:
Morning coco in front of the shala.

It was a happy Sunday/Shankranti yesterday, full of pongal and painted cows. Conference was canceled due to festivities but, for me at least, it felt quite ok to keep the afternoon free and easy. And as with everything to do with Mysore, the day was magical in that oh-so-subtle way.

Between beautiful opportunities of sharing between friends, from led class to a beautiful lunch cooked with love to just enjoying the simple pleasures like ice-cream and pizza, there was the sneak peek at the film Mysore Magic.

For the last few weeks, one might have noticed the guerilla-style film-making threesome--Alex Medin with film-makers/yoga practitioners Jim and Angie Kambeitz--taking in the various scenes around Gokulam. They seemed to be everywhere at one point, at the coconut stand, in conference, at led class and self-practice, as they worked to capture the special quality that draws us all here to Mysore, to practice at KPJAYI.

Yesterday, Alex arranged a preview and special Shankranti/thank you lunch for the participants of the documentary. We all packed into one of his apartment living rooms, dimmed for the occasion. A screen projector was set up to run the 21 minute docu, so aptly titled, Mysore Magic.

The film, driven by interviews with Sharath, Saraswathi, some prominent scholars of Mysore, and a sampling of long-time and newer shala students from around the world, showcased the different themes of life around the practice: the roots of this amazing system, the remarkable lineage, the draw of the practice and how it has the power to transform the lives of the people who embrace it.

In all, it is a beautiful representation of what happens at the shala here in Mysore. It captures the flavor of the area, which is steeped in yogic tradition. It illustrates the spirit of the practice in the faces of those whose lives have been changed because of it.

For me, particularly, it's an honor to take part, to share my thoughts about this extraordinary Mysore magic, which constantly awes/challenges/blesses me. And the film itself is like a time capsule of this special and, yes!, magical period of my life.

Well done to Alex, Jim and Angie! They produced this excellent work in record time without sacrificing the love for the project and their own practice.

The documentary Mysore Magic will be shown at next Sunday's conference and is supposed to be available for all to see--eventually--on the shala website.

third series in led intermediate

Second led intermediate ever. I continue to be stoked and at the same time totally trashed by the time I get to my last pose. Sharath helps me in ekapada for the very first time, which is very cool and, today, very necessary.

In truth, however, I'm pretty much thanking the divinities at this point that I haven't been able to advance past ekapada. My arms are jelly, I'm out of breath, and my mental screws are coming loose. Still, I continue to feel blessed to be in the room.

I contentedly sit back, wrap myself up my mat towel and watch the rest of the room advance. Things pretty much go as usual. Energy remains high. So many in the room do full intermediate.

There's one surprise, however. Sharath calls urdhva dhanurasana. Then asks the room how many have been doing visvamitrasana, the first pose of third series. Hands come up. I count at least 18. And he asks them to continue. The rest of us watch as this select few are led through the first two postures of third series. A couple drop out for vasisthasana. After wards, everyone joins in for finishing.

While watching, I couldn't help but feel this surge of excitement to see a fairly good number go into third. I can't help but feel that there is a larger picture being painted here, that Sharath has a plan--and an interesting one--and for that small window of time, we were being given a glimpse of it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

i heart led primary, post split synopsis

A new day: Sun rising over Gokulam.

The room is packed. The ladies locker room is full again. It's hot instantly. Though tight in the carpet-less back row, my mat mates and I are forgiving with each other as we are forced to invade each other's mat space. Sharath brings attention to a ringing phone. No one claims it. Eventually, he finds the iphone himself in the ladies locker room. It is ringing in his hands and he jokes,"mine now." We laugh and he continues to lead us into finishing.

So, ends my first full week of "split-dom." It's been light and happy. Just come home from my first led primary after a full week of intermediate poses only. And wow! led primary series has never felt so good! I could feel straight away how my body misses it and how grateful it is to receive yoga chikitsa once again.

It's interesting to feel the shifts in my practice, most of which are very subtle. Life on the mat is transforming. It always really is. But it's different to have the presence of mind and energy to take note of it (For the three weeks prior to being split, I was an exhausted train-wreck, barely barreling through primary into part of second series.)

Now, practice is shorter--as I'm at ekapada, and still patiently working through it. I've taken a few extra liberties, extra effort to make the most of it, to build enough heat to prepare for intermediate. Instead of abbreviating sun salutations, I've added extra sets of both A and B. I'm also taking extra breaths in standing, 8 instead of 5.

Less time means more power and I can feel it not only in the poses themselves but in jumping back and forth. I sense more strength and more lift. For the first time, I've been able to hold Sharath's count in uplutihih two led classes in a row. Quite on its own it seems, my body is redistributing energy to other places in my practice.

Second series is also changing for me. The rhythm is getting steadier. There's less hesitation coming into poses, especially kapotasana, which is slowly, slowly becoming less and less frightening. A month ago supta vajrasana seemed impossible without having an assistant stapling my fingers to my big toes. And though requiring work, it's starting to look like I may be able to hold on someday this lifetime at least.

Finishing at ekapada (at least 3 tries, which is fully sanctioned by Sharath), I'm surprised at how much I sweat through this fragment of second series. How for now, this is really enough. There is so much to refine here already. So much to work on and grow from.

It feels like an amazing time, being split is like getting a new start for a new year. This is one of the things I really love about this yoga practice, I am always a beginner, always in the position of growing. Yet each time the clock resets to zero, I get to apply the knowledge I've collected, the strength that I've built and the flexibility that I've embodied into this exciting new phase of learning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

poetry in motion

I could be in the thick of asana practice. I feel hot all over. Beads of sweat form along my hairline. I take a deep inhale and exhale as I focus my eyes on the words before me. No, this is more intense than practice, I think to myself, as I prepare to dig deep within and share.

At least that's how I felt last Saturday, January 7 when I read out my poems at a special themed kirtan. The theme was "love" and I dug out my most recent love poems to share with--luckily--an intimate gathering.

Ok, so... I write poetry. I don't know why, but admitting it always feels like I'm revealing a dirty little secret. I've even been debating in my head the blog-worthiness of the event, which sort of says a lot about my own sense of self-worth, especially when it comes to my writing. Beyond all else, I get nervous sharing my poems, they're windows to who I am, they reveal me at my most vulnerable. Through them, I am all exposed nerve--ironically, much like what the practice is doing to me presently.

It was the first time I'd shared my work in Mysore to an audience. And it couldn't be more perfect. It was a small group, they were open and receptive, they'd come for kirtan after all at James' in Saraswathipuram, they'd come to sing their hearts out, they'd come knowing that "love" was on the table.

It's beautiful to read to a receptive audience. I always feel that I get as much I give, that there is this beautiful exchange when you speak your truth and someone is there listening, receiving it, making it their own, finding their own truth in the words I've strung together. In that way, writing poetry and performing spoken word has always drawn me, it has so much power to shift perspective, to share emotion, to describe the indescribable.

As I read, I feel absorbed in the moment. In between words and stanzas, there is some understanding of the way the world works, of the complexities of love, that I don't always recognize in the life outside the page--and the sphere off the mat, as this expression is so much like the process of yoga, of incredible discovery. Yoga and poetry feel linked to me and I guess that's why the kirtan worked so well with the reading of poetry. James shared "If" by Rudyard Kipling and Paul Millage read a couple of Rumi verses.

I wish I could live the way I write, just as much as I wish I could live the way I practice. Ultimately, I think whatever we engage in, whatever the thing we love to do whether it's yoga or writing or teaching or cooking or building or being parent, we should do it fully and with purpose. And as we do, our lives become more and more like poetry in motion.

One of the poems I shared:

The Miracle

Aspens quake and we pause,
fingers twined, ears attentive.
We listen to the forest chime,
leaves aquiver in soft symphony.
We think they honor us
as they clap leaf to leaf and
we take in the trail, the trees, the
dome of blue swathed in cotton,
walls of endless mountain ranges,
nearby gurgling water, all of which
we inevitably associate with
the miracle of us. We are
encouraged as applause
travels in waves across
a frothing sea of green.
The tree line glitters
and we kiss, once again,
slowing our progress
down the mountain.

Later, we are informed
that their synchronicity is not
our good luck or great timing,
neither can it be attributed
to the magic of our love—
as much as we might contest this.
Rather, their song is older than
time, instruments so finely
tuned, so precisely selected;
they are designed for life,
efficient bathing in sunlight,
dancing foliage throwing
off mite-sized predators,
seeds carried by wind,
aspens growing a landscape.

We will not see this, but
when time comes and the last
of our summer sets on these hills,
the trees will change together.
Miles will turn golden, as if
their gentle cooing triggers
the very moment in which they
harmonize their autumn robes,
in that inconceivable act of
solidarity, love among trees,
miracle of miracles.

The real secret is this:
Aspens stand autonomously, but
each is an echo of an original tree.
The whir of woods starts deep below,
where the mightiest of roots do grow,
and from each root hundreds and
thousands of saplings spring
with leaves already trained to sing.
Like us, a colony of trees is one force,
drawing strength from one true source,
this is where the miracle starts,
it is a song sung straight from the heart.

--Karen Castillo

I'd like to thank everyone who came, listened and shared energy that kirtan. The two poems were very personal and I felt very safe and loved sharing them. I'd like to especially thank James Boag for his constant encouragement with my poetry and writing. I'm blessed to have such friends and supporters. There will hopefully be another poetry-kirtan event while I'm still here. In the meantime, the singing continues at Saraswathipuram Wednesday 2-4pm and Sunday 1:30-3:10pm (yellow house, behind Palace Honda Showroom).

playfulness and acroyoga

Paul demonstrating some more complex sequences
with the experienced Sita.

Safety first: Joel spots as Paul brings Liz up to "throne."

I'm all for a disciplined practice, but I also believe in play--that with all this intense sadhana, asana and svadyaya (self-study), there's a real need to just break loose and have fun. Do things that are out of the ordinary. Move the body in different ways. Stretch the mind outside whatever boxes we're used to.

Occasionally, I like to go dancing, moving to an external beat, enjoying hip-induced lateral movement. I enjoy Sunday afternoons after conference when friends set up the slackline at the Park by the Krishna Temple. It's a light experience though challenging in its own way, walking across it, body wobbling to the line, trying to remember to breathe. And over the last three months we've built a little community there.

This month, my dear friend Paul Millage is here from the Pacific Northwest and he brings with him acroyoga. (I know, I know. Sharath would probably have a thing or two to say about this relatively "new" adaptation of yoga.) But I really enjoy getting flown, taking my yoga practice, usually bound to a mat, into a really dynamic 3-dimensional space. I feel really challenged by being a base, but it feels good to support someone. It builds trust and communication. And beyond all else, it's fun and playful. And with this intensely crazy practice, I sometimes just need to play.

If you would like to check it out, classes are by donation, based on your own means.
Paul is teaching:

Tuesday 2-4pm
at Saraswathipuram,
Yellow House right behind the Palace Honda Showroom


Fridays 2-4pm
at Anokhi's Garden, Gokulam

Paul is also offering daily between 10:30-11:30am private sessions of a combination of Restorative Acro Yoga/Thai Massage. Suggested donation is Rp1000. To make an appointment, call 9945226641.

Monday, January 9, 2012

full moon and goddess energy

Some moon days are crazy. I can feel the intensity of it in my practice, in my mood and in the energy of people around me. Those days, I usually want to run for cover, bolt my doors tightly and ride it out hiding in the confines of my inner sanctum.

Last night's full moon, however, was much much softer. A kind, motherly energy that felt supportive and lovely. Things flowed with ease: led intermediate, conference, afternoon puja, a sweet inner dance meditation that inspired honest communication. Then, it led me to seek out sisters who with very little prodding joined me in my quest for a late dinner (one of the real joys of having a moon day!).

It was just one of those nights that just unfolded graciously. It was already 8pm when I felt the yen for dinner. Oddly enough, the friend who I called was well up for it. When I arrived at her house, two other beautiful devis were already assembled there. They were receptive to my craving for round-as-the-moon pizza and together we piled into an auto rickshaw and headed to Cafe Pascucci, where we really ate with gusto a pizza each.

Throughout dinner, we talked full-heartedly and lightheartedly about our struggles and our victories over heart ache and change. I was in the company of women who have navigated the torrents of life with grace, strength, courage, love and good humor. I felt quite blessed to be in their presence.

Later (well beyond our normally prescribed bed time), we sat around in a circle under the moonlight, sharing with each other the things we were grateful for. It was a powerful moment, vocalizing our thankfulness, for the bounties in our lives.

It is indescribable the beauty of these spirited, self-aware women, which is so apparent in their gratitude. Each have embraced the path of yoga, the challenges that life has hurled upon them, the intuitive heart wisdom of the divine feminine from which they are guided. In fact, Mysore is filled with such incredible women (and, yes, men too)--which is what makes this place very special, the energy here is unique in part because of the people that practice here, so full of light, so full of intention.

And I am so grateful to be here in Mysore. The two trips here have helped me grow in ways I can hardly begin to explain. I am grateful for this practice, which has helped define my path, which has helped me understand myself better. I am grateful for the friends and loved ones that have supported me in this life-journey. I am grateful to have opportunities like last night to share with such remarkable goddesses, to feel the blessings of my own life, to be reminded of that I too am connected to this loving, healing, powerful goddess energy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

surviving led second

Kapotasana B and my right leg is shaking. I try to ground it. I try --unsuccessfully--to take full chest-filled breaths. I think, this could be the moment I spontaneously explode. That would be the first in the shala. Student cracks under pressure, kapo takes innocent victim. Then Sharath gets to "5". And somehow I survive it, like the rest of the class.

When I woke up this morning of my own volition, my first thought was worry, had I missed my alarm? Had I missed my first led intermediate class. It was 2:45am, 5 hours and 45 minutes before the 7:30 start time. Needless to say, I was excited. And not a little worried.

When I arrived at the shala, however, the worry started to dissipate. There's something light and even celebratory (or maybe that's just me projecting!) about waiting for the class. Not only is it later in the morning but the mood seems so different from the high intensity of the crowd waiting for led primary. It's hard to pinpoint it, exactly. But there's a certain levity in the people hanging about the steps, many quietly chit-chatting. And there's no pushing towards the door as we shuffle in.

It's a big group, however, the largest of the season. People lay their mats out on the stage. Along the corners of the room straight onto the marble. And in the right hand corner, last row where I'm at, we're practically mat to mat. It's tight, but manageable with mindfulness.

Sharath seems game as he overlooks the sea of yoga students practicing intermediate series. There are a lot of teachers in there too. The energy is potent. It's subtle and not in any way chaotic. It's the kind of energy that carries you. And together, we start with sun salutations, building heat, he counts slowly.

As we get to the intermediate poses, I realize how much this will improve my practice. How little attention I've put into the precision of breath in this series and how much I will learn from attending these classes. It's so different to be led through these intense poses. There is no room for fear, though I have a quick moment before kapotasana, a stuttering thought that went something like oh my God, here we go... And then it passes.

I stop like I'm supposed to at ekapada sirsana, with at least another 2 people in the room. We're the first to sit. Sharath eyes me and another, "More practice." Sure, thing, Boss Man! No problem.

And for the rest of the time I wrap myself up in my towel, I continue to breathe deeply, and I sit back and watch with awe the feats human beings can do with enough focus, hard work, dedication and practice.

I've sat in the lobby several times to watch led second. And I've felt inspired and amazed by the practitioners. But to see it from the inside, to feel the vibrations in that room, people's energy focused on their own individual effort yet feeding into this incredible group force. There is some serious mojo in there and it is captivating.

I wait and rejoin the bulk of the room into finishing. I'm a bit cold, but that little matters. I want to feel the room, the collective energy through backbending, sarvangasana, and sirsasana. I'm less tired than usual, having sat through half of intermediate and manage to hold uplutihih, a minor miracle. I feel joy and satisfaction as Sharath lets us take rest, the first full rest I've been given in the shala this entire trip.

It is incredible to be here in India, in Mysore, practicing at the shala. I am filled with gratitude that this is a part of my life. That this incredibly human-generated energy is not just something I can access but something I contribute to.

Friday, January 6, 2012

being split

I sit, nervously, in front of Sharath at his office today, explaining that I have a question about Sunday led class.

"You stop at your pose," says Sharath, a.k.a. Man of Little Words.

"Of course!" I think to myself. But I still can't grasp the information. It's slippery. My mind asks for definite confirmation. It's somehow not enough having him tell me to just do intermediate this past Thursday. The concept won't stick.

"But which class do I come to on Sunday?"

"Come 7:30," says the Boss, ending another less than 15-second conversation with him.

But who cares! That's it. It's really real. I've really been split, and on Sunday I will be attending my first led intermediate class.

Part of me wants to play it all cool and just be ok, it's just another day. (I just want to say here that everyone's practice is different. That in the end, it doesn't matter where you are, primary, intermediate, whatever. It's not the postures that are important, but the process. Right now, however, in my process, this is where I'm at.)

So there's another part of me and that girl, she's doing cartwheels! I'm--and I really have to sigh with relief when I say this because it's been a rough 3 weeks--happy! It's a landmark.

The practice of ashtanga is one with little fanfare, at least not in this shala. You come, you do. There's no hand-holding. It's tough love between Sharath and most of his students. He doesn't give hugs. He sparsely gives validation. He's watching all the time, but sometimes it feels like he looks straight through you. An occasional "very good" is golden. I actually got a look of total disgust a couple weeks ago, with matching sigh/grunt after a tight backbend with him--which oddly enough is one step higher than no feedback at all.

There's little to feed the ego here. It's all about us and our individual practice. Sharath quite skillfully stays out of the way, appearing only at the most crucial moments. He lets us do the hard work. In fact, we have no choice but to do it, this work that is really ours to do. It's a special sort of guidance. He's present but not. He understands where we are in our practice, most of the time without knowing who we are. His energy is there zigzagging across the shala floor from 4:30 in the morning to past 11am, even if he pays us no mind. His way forces us to take responsibility for our practice and our bodies, for our routines, our rest times, and our self-study. And though he does his best to inject discipline by seeming severe, he doesn't baby us. He treats us like adults--even when we sometimes act a little like children.

For me, getting split by Sharath is a pat on the back, a serious form of validation for the energy and time I've put into my practice, the longest and most serious commitment I've ever made.

It's also like a dream. How in the world has this happened? Last year, I watched intermediate led from the lobby with awe. And while I'm still far from doing many of those awesome poses, I cannot help but feel the sweetness and gratitude for the opportunity to share in that energy. For me, this Sunday will be a testament to the powers of yoga and it's ability to change a person. I am so much stronger and so much more flexible than when I started. And not just in body. This practice has transformed me in ways I can hardly explain.

I can't help but feel like this is a new chapter in my yoga adventure/life. My experience in the shala is about to shift. My practice will get shorter as I drop primary series from my daily practice, but I will have more energy to devote to the intense intermediate postures I've already been given. Led primary on Friday takes on new significance. Sunday led is about to get really tough. There will be no room to dilly dally in intermediate, no means to procrastinate getting into a pose, no time to wipe the brow, or to squeeze in extra breaths. I'm totally freaked out and really looking forward to it at the same time.

Slowly, slowly the mysteries of second series will start to open. And so will I with them. I am happy to do so with Sharath's blessing. I will take comfort in knowing that despite my fears and self-doubt he believes I'm ready.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Once in a while, you hear the sounds of muffled sobbing in the Ladies' Locker room in the morning. This practice is intense. What with deep back bending and stiff body parts opening, emotions shift, epiphanies come, waterworks seem to swiftly follow. Pain is there; whether its surface pain, or a deep down sort of soreness that through all our twisting, forward and backward bending moves up enough to see the light of day.

Yesterday, the girl sniffling through her finishing sequence was me--well, at least one of the girls. Luckily, it's dim in there in the mornings. It's easy to cry cloaked in darkness, to have a "private" moment with myself and my emerging emotions.

Some of it was good. I felt overwhelming gratitude towards Sharath as he told me to skip my nemesis of a pose ekapada and go on to backbend. That somehow he has my back--and literally too by helping care for the poor, stretched out thing!

Some of it was not so good. I'm well into my 3rd month now. The body is fatigued. The practice is long. The subtle body is tired too. It's worked and tender. Issues long past resurface. Unfinished business pops up. Layers of self flap in the wind and it's hard to get a really clear view.

I remind myself (all the time, it seems!) that the important thing is getting the emotions out there. Let the tears fall. Be honest. Release it. See it for what it is, understand what it means to you, and, finally, let it go.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Literally: moving. I am in the balcony of my old 2 bedroom apartment as I write, the last of my bags finally packed. Most of my things are already at the doorstep of my studio, perfect for one.

In a way, it's like easing back into an old home. It's the studio that I lived in for a month and a half last year. It's a cozy space with lots of light and rooftop in a very quiet part of Gokulam.

In another way, it's marking yet another shift in my time here.

Mysore, depending on how long you manage to stay, is full of shifts. Many times, it's subtle like a bit of an attitude adjustment or a change in the routine. Sometimes, the ground even slips entirely away from you and your entire perspective changes. Mostly for the good. Though there are other times...

I am moving in the New Year. I'm on my own now. I also have a feeling it isn't limited to just accommodation. Can't help but feel that there is much movement all around, not just in my own life but in the lives of practically all the people I know. I don't entirely get it. I don't exactly know where its taking me. I'm just trying to go with the ebb and flow.

What I do feel is that it's positive. That change, whatever form it takes, is good. That it is the nature of things, of people, of our planet, of the universe to change.

So as I sit here overlooking 8th Cross, enjoying the view for a few more brief moments, I think how nice it has been to see this view for the last two and a half months. However, I look forward to seeing things from a different vantage point. I'm ready to see things in a different way.