Sunday, February 26, 2012

dear reader

When I first put up this blog in October 2010, it was to chronicle my first trip to Mysore for friends and family. I was on one of my biggest adventures. And I wanted to share it with my loved ones and fellow practitioners in Boracay and around the Philippines who wanted to know what Mysore was like and asked to please send back word.

One of the big surprises of the that first trip was to see how well received this blog became not just among my intimate friends and family in the Philippines and in the US but also with friends in Mysore, who would then share it, until--somehow through the magic of the internet--ashtangis from all over the world seemed to be reading.

I always wanted to write. Ever since I was a kid. After working in media, however, for some 7 years in Manila, I felt burnt out. I'd lost the point of it all in copy-writing about things that didn't resonate with me. So, I looked for something new, which led me to a teaching gig at an international school in the itty bitty island-resort community of Boracay where I taught middle school English and where, in order to deal with the stress of a new job and a new environment, I started to take up yoga.

The rest, as they say, is history. And over the nearly six years that I have been practicing, yoga has blessed me with so many incredible gifts: better self-possession, stronger awareness, renewed optimism, strength and courage to be who I want to be, a diverse and growing crew of beautiful and amazing friends who I would not know were it not for yoga, a healthier lifestyle, and, yes, muscles even!

But one of the greatest gifts of yoga is how it has helped connect me back with my writing. And how, with this blog, it has given me something to write about as well as a gracious audience who is happy to read my observations and ramblings.

I love writing this blog. It has been my friend and confidant. My therapist and sounding board. If you have been reading this from the beginning, I hope that you can see, like I can, how much I have grown with it. How much the practice in Mysore has worked on me. How much more honest I've become with my feelings. And by sharing with you, how much more fulfilled I feel for the experience of this incredible yoga practice, whether I am in Mysore presently or not.

I just want to say, thank you, dear reader, for sharing this journey with me! By reading on, you silently and subtly support my writing practice, which to me is also a form of yoga. Thank you to those who comment and write to me personally, your own words propel mine. This blog has been an important tool for creative healing, for reconnecting back to my first love, the written word. Most of all, I am filled with gratitude to have a gracious audience, many of whom have become friends, to share these beautiful experiences with!

Taking leave, sort of. Though I have left Mysore already. I have a few things that I haven't yet had a chance to write about the trip. Events and thoughts that have to do with Ashtanga/Msyore specifically may find their way here from time to time. For day to day stuff, I will continue to write on my other blog on(e) love.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

parcel of practice, connection and a whole lot of self

Guruji in Manila. I like to put out Guruji's photo when I teach.
Here he is watching over my class at Echo Yoga, along Perea.

I hate to admit it, but it took me a while to change my clock. Needless to say it was getting ridiculous, subtracting the two and a half hour time difference between the Philippines and India, plus the additional 15 minutes that accounts for "shala time." Math is not my strong suit. It was impossible setting the alarm. Not very yogic, I know. Not very of the moment.

When I finally did convert to Manila time, the acceptance that I'd really left Mysore was long overdue.

I'll be honest, since I exited from India an entire month and three weeks earlier than scheduled, there's a feeling of loss: the list of Mysore activities still to do, singing lessons and kirtan, friends who I did not get to meet, new depths of connection, self-study and practice that I was preparing to dive deeper into.

All the same, 3 months of study at KPJAYI is also really enough. Enough to dig deep, to unravel and get put together--a few times over, by the time of my departure.

In India, the term for "take home" or "take away" in restaurants, a.k.a. "hotels," is "parcel," which is usually wrapped in newspaper. I feel comforted that I've brought back a hefty parcel home from Mysore. Taking stock now, I am assured that the three months has given me much to munch on:

the practice
In conference, Sharath emphasized how no particular person owns this practice, that it belongs to anyone who really embraces it. And for the last three months I've been locked in a full body bear hug with the practice. Sometimes, it was intense and the practice and I were rolling around the room, wrestling each other; me, refusing to get beat down, the practice trying to subdue me or, rather, my ego. Other times, we were lovingly wrapped around each other, content and existing in total harmony. Over the last year, between the two trips to Mysore, my relationship with the practice has totally evolved and continues to. Today: we are good friends. And I take this very special friendship home with me.

And while there's no way of taking Sharath back in a parcel, his presence in my practice returns home with me too. It's funny to get so little contact and a very minimal amount of feedback and yet feel so much guidance. It remains a mystery to me how it works. I just know it does. I've left feeling like I've been sent off for summer break with a rucksack full of assignments by my teacher. Homework!

One of the gifts of Mysore is the opportunity to connect with so many beautiful like-minded people, who are tapping into the same pool, the source of the ashtanga practice. No matter what background we are hailing from, whatever place we call home, there is a shared commitment to ashtanga and to the lineage. And as the practice churned me, the people who were closest to me became touchstones to the variety of experiences that Mysore inspires, whether it's the complexities of the postures, the emotional uprisings/purgings or personal epiphanies, those precious "aha!" moments that shines a light on some dark corner of the mind.

These connections, whether they are brand new or a couple of trips old, are what makes Mysore special. And when we go home, we are like dots connected around the globe, forming a very tight community, bonded through our love of Mysore and the growing pains we witness/help each other through.

the self
Ultimately, the best connection I ever made in Mysore is with myself. The practice works on so many levels (most of which are upped when practicing in Mysore). Externally, there's the physical body, which stretches and strengthens. There's sweat, lots of it; our body cleanses. Muscles feel soreness and pain as they work towards openness. The practice melts away what is physically extraneous. Internally, it's no different as we release our issues, the tightness in our hearts and minds loosens, removing such incredibly huge yet totally unnecessary obstacles.

For me, I feel like I understand myself better. I have more patience for my foibles, which I see with greater clarity. I am owning up to the things I value and the person that I am, all the sweet and odd and sometimes inconsistent gifts that make me special. I love myself more and in doing so feel more love for the people and the world around me.

taking it home
Realizing all this now not only takes the edge off having to leave Mysore so abruptly but is also enriching my return home. The parcel of practice and the connections with others and with myself is something I can always take with me. It travels light. It packs so nicely into whatever new life space I inhabit.

In truth, I brought home similar lessons from my first trip. But the second time around, my "take home" feels more substantial. I guess that's why people like myself keep on coming back for more. Everything changes and moves, evolves and becomes more refined with this ever dynamic yoga practice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

asian invasion, go team philppines!

Philippine Feet at Sri Ragna Patna.

Asian explosion: Chinese and honorary Chinese
gathered to celebrate Year of the Dragon
with fireworks in Gokulam.

I've been meaning to write about what I call the "Asian Invasion." This season, among the newest wave of practitioners joining the ranks at the KPJAYI shala are from all parts of Asia--most notably from Korea, from Taiwan, from Thailand, from China, etc...During my time there between October '11 and end of January '12, there were definitely more Asians compared to my trip the year past. And according to some older students, from the years previous.

There are some exceptions, of course, Japanese students have been coming for many years, what with an amazing crew of teachers leading Mysore programs in the country. Students from Hong Kong, likewise, have represented. But for some of the region, ashtanga is still in its infancy, though it is growing quickly with lots of visiting teachers and local ashtanga programs cultivating a new generation of bendy ashtangis.

The Philippine Islands are also staking their claim in the Asian Invasion in Mysore. By my count--which is limited to my circle and may not fully account for all--there are 6 students from Manila there now, 2 from Cebu/Boracay, 2 more hailing from the Philippines in March. Eleven--and still wishing I could make a full dozen. While I was there, we possibly peaked at 8. May seem small in comparison to the forces of Brazilians and South Americans, Canadians, Fins, Norwegians, and various European countries represented in Gokulam at any given time. But it's still unprecedented. Perhaps one day, we too will be called into the shala rather unceremoniously like "You, Russian," or "You, Japanese." "You, Philippines!"

Ashtanga is growing. All over. And Asia is the new frontier. And while I can't quite help but feel nervous about the growing gaggle of students gathered in front of the gate before lead class, it's also exciting to be a part of the swelling numbers, to see the practice develop in this part of the world, in the part of the world I currently call home. To see it seed and sprout, grow and strengthen is a testament to the power of the practice to draw and cultivate mindful and dedicated practitioners, who come to Mysore to learn and then in turn share the spirit of Mysore back home. As Sharath has said more than once in conference: ashtanga doesn't belong to any one person. It belongs to everyone, anyone who is open to embracing it.

Wishing the friends from the PI who are still there, much love and great practice! Keep representing!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

poetry and the power of love

Life goes on in Mysore. With or without me--though bits of me lingers on in the form of poesy. On Monday, 6 February, a couple of my poems will be performed at a yoga philosophy class titled "The Invisible Power of Love."

Though I looked forward to participating personally, I leave my two poems in the very capable hands of James Boag who will be reading them and explaining them on my behalf. The two poems that will be shared investigates the transformative power of love within the lens of yoga.

In a way, these poems are a product of my time in Mysore, of the gifts of love that my yoga practice has helped blossom. And it is fitting for them to be shared there.

The class will be 2-4pm. At James Boag's residence/sound chamber behind Palace Honda Showroom in Saraswathipuram.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

in flux

Joy: Chai and watching the day begin
on Gokulam Main Street.

One of the things I love about Mysore is that so many of the people who are drawn to it are living lives of flux. They are changing and embracing it.

The most pedestrian of questions like "Where are you from?" can result in much mmm-ing and um-ing followed but rather long, rolling answers. "Well…I'm from _____ originally...Then I was living _____." Followed by, "And for the last 6 months I've been _____." Followed by, "Now, I'm in_______." (You can insert, "Mysore" here. One of the few things most of us can be certain of). The conversation usually trails off in the direction in which no one really knows, what comes next is anyone's best guess.

And around the breakfast table/coconut stand/outside the shala gates/wherever, people will nod their heads in perfect understanding. They are flexible; they get the transitory life. They too are drawn to Mysore in order to transition or to inspire change of some form.

Similarly, the question of profession can also garner some rather complex round about answers. There are newly quit jobs, new work awaiting, professional shifts, and combo-job mash-ups of yoga-slash-(enter job that earns money)-slash-(enter job that doesn't earn money but we love doing). Lucky are those who can say straight out they are yoga teachers, period--a track that comes with its own stretch of difficulties. Regardless of what finances these Mysore excursions, we fall quite out of the norm regardless. We're rare birds if we can get anywhere from a month to three months off from our real life in order to clock in time at the shala.

But that's just it. We do somehow. We're in it together. We're all pretty unusual in our dedication to the practice, in the ways that we've managed our lives that allows for this experience. We get it, we get each other.

Having just left Mysore, nearly two months ahead of schedule, I am now dreading falling into similar conversations. One, because I was hoping the next two months would bring some clarity on what comes next in both where to live and how to make a living. Two, because I realize that outside the unique world of Mysore, people expect more concrete answers, they are baffled by people so totally in-between things.

I've been in Manila now for four days. Though, so far, little engaging with anything outside home and the hospital. But at some point I will have to, whether I'm ready with answers or not.

And while it's taking some energy not to madly scramble for the right answers, I also know that clarity comes with time, understanding comes with effort. Whatever work has gone unfinished will not stop just because I am not safely within the city limits of Mysore, where I am surrounded by comrades of change, fellow yogic warriors. My real challenge is to figure things out within the context of my own life with all my old habits, in the company of my family and friends here in the Philippines, which may seem like limbo now but has been my home for nearly a decade.