Saturday, November 23, 2013


Portable portrait of Guruji (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois), which travels with me.
Makeshift altar at La Zone, Maadi in Cairo, where I am subbing for friend Iman Elsherbiny. 

It's not perfect. But I've stuck to it--out of some deep internal compulsion, out of a great need and desire, out of love. And even though, on occasion, especially as the alarm harps on at crazy o'clock in the morning and there is this small sense of drudgery, that oh-here-we-go-again! feeling, mostly I wake up joyfully knowing that I will be met with both its unpredictable spontaneity and steady consistency. My eyes open and I am happy to breathe with it. The longing does not abate. I know that it is there for me, waiting and welcoming. Mostly, I can't wait to be with it, to spend the hours touching an intimacy like no other.

After seven years, this is the longest relationship I have ever had, this partnership with this mad beautiful ashtanga practice.

I realize that I've never been so committed; that no other part of my life has ever received such attention, such loyalty, such love and devotion. And while that in itself may be flawed, I cannot help but feel gratitude that something has inspired me so, calling me on to act day after day with remarkable presence. Even if the sense of fullness is sometimes fleeting, it has made me look upon each day as filled with the potential for growth. It has inspired me to love in so many levels--to love yoga, to love the practice itself, to love my teachers, and to love my fellow beings. Most of all it has helped me cultivate a profound sense of self love that I hadn't realized was even missing.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article likening my relationship with the ashtanga practice to dating, that we'd moved beyond flirtation and how we were properly, happily seeing each other. And what a beautiful time that was, how joyful to see our bond blossom.

We've been through a lot more since then, the practice and I. 

There have had some golden moments. The last couple of years have taught us to be easy and comfortable with each other, more forgiving, more patient.  

But there have been difficulties too. Being with practice is not easy. Frustrations at feeling stalled have played on me. Things don't always move forward at the same lightning pace. Being unable to move beyond one posture, for example, made feel as if we'd reached a plateau, that nothing new was coming and I feared the stagnancy of routine. 
I phased through moments of doubts. I scrutinized our compatibility. I wondered whether we were truly right for each other, whether it could truly satisfy me, and whether I could truly represent it and be the kind of practitioner/teacher that I felt like I needed to be for it. I feared its rejection, that I wouldn't be good enough. And then there were times that I felt fidgety and nervous and craved for more. I had to ask: could I truly commit? 

And, yet, here we are: wandering the world together, navigating the strange unknown with remarkable strength and flexibility, adapting to different cultures, coping with the stress of work, travel and movement, being mutually supportive but allowing each other the space to be. I could not imagine this life of mine now without it. 

The question of commitment, a non issue at this point, as I survey my life of, well, commitment to practice. The challenges come and go, yet the practice remains, however sweet, however difficult. It would not have stuck around if I hadn't willed it. If I hadn't stepped on to the mat and breathed it into my body day after day.

These days, I feel committed on a whole new level. 

That while the practice continues to be deeply personal, it has also become greater. That by teaching, my relationship with my own practice now extends to others. 

The authorization, the blessing from Sharath Jois to teach, I must admit, has brought a new sense of commitment to it. Fear, as well. Like a marriage, it feels a great deal more official. More serious. There is a greater sense of responsibility and accountability on my part. That comes with its own set of worries. But this, too, we are navigating together. The practice seems to understand my deeply ingrained fear of commitment and makes no demands. It accepts me just as I am. It bends to my need for independence, it allows me to be the autonomous, creative being that I need to be. 

And what I've realized is, that despite the piece of paper, the intricacies of our relationship is up to us, that we create the kind of loving, respectful exchange that works, that allows love to simply flow easily. 

Want to read more about the evolution of this constantly changing relationship to practice? To read the "dating yoga" blog article:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

a skip season

Guruji's portrait in the shala. 

I would not have thought it possible. Towards the end of my first trip, so certain was I, so gung-ho, so totally obsessed with Mysore, that I was sure I would spend a portion of every year of my life in Mysore, India to practice at the shala--at least until my brittle bones would prevent me from doing so!

And now... as friends and, yes, my yoga family converge in India, I sit during spare in-between-teaching moments reading updates on facebook, viewing photos on instagram, and breathing--I breathe into the space in my heart that tightens because I long for it so: India, the shala, the energy and the practice there, the grace of the teacher, the community in and around Gokulam, the yoga folks, the chocolate, the random livestock wandering around the streets. Oh my goodness, I miss it all!

I've been in Cairo over three weeks now, my coming here has allowed another, my friend and fellow ashtangi Iman Elsherbiny, to go and study with Sharath in KPJAYI. The last three months has been this way, me holding space for others. Before this I was in Japan, subbing for a mysore program in Osaka. After this, I will be doing the same in Barcelona. And the current Mysore season will have come and gone by the time I am done with the commitments that I have made.

I have chosen to skip a season, I have to remind myself. I am the architect of this anomaly.

This was not so methodically planned. I do have a ticket leaving London in the end of December going to back to Asia. My intention was to be in India by the new year, in keeping with my "tradition" of spending the eve at the Shiva temple in Chamundi Hill, giving puja, burning old karmas, making new intentions. But so much has changed since I left South East Asia in early June. And life has challenged me to be flexible off the mat as well.

As the year ends, my puja, my offering is my life. Burning old patterns writ on paper isn't enough anymore. I simply need to stop cycling into them. And the intentions, well, my plate is still full there as I toil over the ones from previous years.

Ultimately, I know it doesn't matter where I celebrate the new year. It doesn't matter where I practice, or where I bow to the teachings of my teacher.

Still, I am missing practice at the shala and Sharath's stealthy hawk-eyed gaze. I can feel my body miss the deep down soreness, the depth of self-discovery, the intensity of moving amongst the breath of 70 some odd students, that indescribable push to the edge. But this time, choosing to teach, rather than to study, also seems right.

While studying regularly with Sharath is important to me as a human being and as a student, I can't help but feel his hand in my learning now, that it is because of his blessing that I am out here. That this is my "off-campus" self-study; it is also a part of my expanding education. And when it's time to return to the mother ship, Mysore will still be there. It will still be the same crazy, pressure cooking home away from home.

Life, I try to remember, is an extension of this practice. That "realizing mysore" is not exclusive to being physically in Mysore the Karnatakan city in Southern India. It is a state of being, a process and a tool for living. We go to Mysore to experience it and when we leave, we don't forget its lessons, which have seeped into our muscle memory, into our bones and into our cellular beings. When we leave, that energy goes with us.

And even though I am missing Mysore very much at the moment, I also know that like the practice, Mysore is always with me.