Inside the practice room

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It’s 9 AM, Cyndi and I are readying to leave the Kuteer guesthouse and head to the Shala for yoga practice. Sharath has moved our start time up to 10 AM (from 10:30). Over our yoga clothes we wear kurtas (long shirts) and scarves around our shoulders. We do this this to respect the modesty of women’s dress in this local culture, but also I would rather look a bit less conspicuous than usual (hard to do with my blonde hair and blue eyes). I’ve seen a handful of western yoga students wear tube tops and short shorts about the town, and I admit I too am shocked to see so much skin.

It’s a 10 minute walk to the yoga school. I note that the day seems cloudy, but I don’t know if the haze is more to do with atmospheric conditions, or the massive amounts of auto pollutants clinging to the air. This place is teeming with people, as well as their outdated fuel-inefficient cars, buses, and rickshaws.

On the Shala road a group of students is gathered around an enterprising young coconut man, who sets up shop outside the Shala each morning. There is definitely a scene here, I can see the potential for getting caught up in a sort of college-era popularity contest. But I’ve met too many genuine and good folk here to become absorbed in that, and perhaps am too old now to care now anyways.

Leaving my shoes on the front steps I say hello to the shala’s guardian, Prakash, and swing open the heavy wooden door to the foyer. Ten or so students are gathered there, sitting on the floor in concentric semicircles outside of the open door to the practice room, waiting to be called in to practice.

I can hear the ujjayi breathing of some 80 students in the practice room, the air is heavy and wet with perspiration and respiration. I can see the windows are all steamed over, and the day is only getting hotter. As one student finishes their back bending, saraswati and sharath call out, one more! And one by one we in the foyer are called in to practice. Sometimes there is hesitation, we who are waiting try to be polite and let those who were here first go in before us. But a second too long of delay, and sharath comes to the door and says, why are you fearing? Come come.

Saraswati calls again, one more! No one budges so I leap up even though I am out of turn with the others. I gingerly step over busy yoga mats to where saraswati is smooshing a student in paschimattonasana. This student gathers her mat and towel, and as soon as she steps away I am filling the space with my yoga mat and rug. My spot established, I stop off in the changing room where more ladies are lined up on the locker room floor doing their finishing poses. I stow all of the non-essentials in a locker, and then head back into the practice room.

Standing on my mat, a massive wooden clock hangs above the door. It reads 9:50 Shala time (Shala clocks are set 15 minutes fast). To the left of me a wall full of family photos, guruji and ama, saraswati as a young girl, sharath in what are surely the most bizarre poses of the 6 series of ashtanga yoga. In the center of this wall, two oil lamps burn on either side of a 3 foot ganesh, a lotus flower bowl at his feet. Larger photos of guruji, ama, and krishnmacharya hang from the other walls.

At the front of the room is the image of Patanjali. Below this, sharath sits in his chair, reading the newspaper. From behind the Times of India, I hear the occasional point your toes! Or you stop! His chair is on a small stage, and 3 students flank him on either side, practicing their yoga in every available inch of space in the room.

I begin and am already drenched by my 3rd suryanamaskar. It is going to be a sweaty 75 minutes.

Standing, holding my big toe, leg opening to the left, I turn my head to face right and sharath is there, assisting the man next to me with back bending. He nods to me and says your name is Cara, you are Kat-e-leen’s assistant. I nod my head to confirm, he smiles and we both laugh softly.

Sharath and Saraswati work hard, they start with the students at 4am, not stopping until around noon. They keep the mood light. I remind myself that these two are mother and son, and this is the family business. Occasionally a student will kick a window or crash into a wall, sharath responding, do not break the Shala! We laugh. It is always the same jokes, every morning. But they are welcome. There’s a lot going on that room, struggles, with the body and the ego. I certainly appreciate the humor.

I finish Primary Series. I secretly hope to be started on intermediate series while here, but it does not happen today, and I remind myself to let go of that longing and just be present and do, without expectation. Saraswati is stalking me for back bending. She must think I’m easy. I want to tell her no ankles today, only walking! But honestly I don’t even have the energy to protest. I just go back, she takes my hands to the ankles. I cannot find the space of ease in the pose, it just hurts today. I stand, then sit down to bend forward. She casually smooshes me, the way one might fold a newspaper before dropping it to the floor. There’s nothing dear about it. But that’s one of the things i love about ashtanga yoga. She calls to a student in the back row, move here! and then I’m out of there.

Afterwards, cyndi and I meet outside the Shala for a coconut. Sharath has worked with cyndi today on her backbends, taking her further than ever. She is glowing. She tells me, i couldn’t even feel his hands, but still felt very supported. I consider the subtlety involved in teaching yoga, and how many hundreds of students he must work with daily. It is a fine gift.

We stop for mosquito repellent on the way home. It’s hot. I wish I weren’t wearing so many layers.

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Categories: practice in Mysore, India | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

A few differences….

So, I was warned that practicing in Mysore would be different than practicing at home in Boston. Not surprising, but it was still overwhelming to come here and really feel the difference. Every day I wake up at 7am, have breakfast, some coffee, and what feels like a boat load of time to kill before heading down to the Shala around 9:30 (9:45 shala time – they are 15 minutes ahead, as a rule). The experience of practice in the Shala deserves a blog post all its own (it’s coming), but here are a few differences I’ve noticed in how the Primary Series itself is handled (not how I am handling it).

  • No opening invocation unless you are in the first batch of students to practice (the 4:30am crowd); all the later students just scramble into the room, put down their mats and begin. We do all chant together, however, during led practice (Friday & Sunday).

  • Only 3 Surya Namaskar B’s are expected (at least, only three were queued during Led practice…woot! Don’t think I can bring this habit back to the cold Boston winter, but 3 is plenty in the hot, humid practice room. Seriously, there is sweat rolling into my eyes before my mat even hits the ground.)

  • Sweeping your fingers on the ground while lifting the arms for Surya Namaskar B = not correct.

  • Don’t rush in Pandangustasana (Why are you rushing!? Sharath will say…); there is an extra breath between jumping and grabbing the toes. (Inhale jump, Exhale reach down grab toes, Inhale again – head up, Exhale)

  • Ardha Baddha Paschinmattanasana = the hand that reaches forward for the foot grabs the heel, NOT the side of the foot.

  • In Navasana, make sure there is no space between the fingers, and hands are pointing up at the feet, not straight forward. Also, Sharath has a joke he does in the fifth Navasana…everytime: he almost says five, but drags out the fffff….ffffff…then chuckles a bit, more fffff delaying, then finally we do. IT’S SUPER FUN!

    fffffff.........fffffffff........ffffffff......ffffffffffffiiiive.....

  • We practice only the first 2 Baddha Konasana variations (again, only the first 2 were queued in Led class, so I’m going with it…I do miss the third one though).

  • Toes point when coming up in Upavishta Konasana.

  • Often, the person next to me has grabbed my shin/ lower leg when it is off to the side in Supta Padanghustasana; they press it down into their chest – it’s nice…and weird, but nice.

  • In Urdhva Mukha Paschinmattanasana, grab the sides of your feet only – not your heels. (Saraswati insisted on this my first day: “Not there! There!” accompanied by a foot slap…)

  • Only 1 set of backbends (3 total) is queued during Led Primary (!!!!)

  • Chakrasana comes right after backbending (instead of holding the knees and rolling up).

  • Salamba Sarvangasana is held for only 10 breaths.

  • Sirsasana is held for 15 breaths,then halfway for 10, then one inhale back up, exhale down…short, short.

  • Utplutih = He only counts to ten, but I’m pretty sure we hold it for at least 30 seconds…or maybe a minute…or a year. Oh lord it’s hard.

    One............................................................................................................Two..........

  • NO SAVASANA in the Led Classes (boo hoo) – there are too many people, if you are not in the last batch – you leave and do Savasana at home (difficult with the coconut stand and lots of chatting yogis right outside); in Mysore-style Savasana and all of the closing postures are done in the locker rooms!

More to come (Internet willing!) Enjoy your practices Ashtangis – and those pics of baby Sharath demonstrating the asanas. Start challenging yourselves in Utplutih now – you’ll need it when you get here!

- Cyndi

Categories: india, mysore, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Oh, India.

The classic photo op for every ashtangi visiting Mysore, with a cameo appearance by Cow. Just another day in India.

Also, please note the glass shards lining the top of the wall surrounding the yoga school. This is perhaps an aesthetic choice, but the school also has a delightful “bouncer”named Prakash whose morning duties are to keep you out until your appointed practice time.  When I see this I cannot help but imagine some crafty ashtangis scaling the shala walls for an earlier practice time.

 

Categories: india, mysore, photos | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Notes on humility, yoga and thirst

A few notes scribbled in my little book, from conference with Sharath on Sunday morning:

On being humble: Once I say ‘I don’t know anything,’ I can learn many things.

On asana and yoga: Asana is the foundation for our spiritual practice. Ashtanga yoga creates changes within us, through practice. The asana is the gateway for the yoga. Yoga is a happening, not a doing. Yoga is like thirst. It happens within us.

On giving and teaching: “Yoga is the thing, I am just the transmitter.”

Conference lasted nearly an hour, you can read the entire transcript here, including Sharath’s adorable response to being asked if he is on Facebook.

From India,

Cara

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Not a beginner

KPJAYI

the ashtanga yoga institute

Back to Tuesday, in Sharath’s office, registering for practice at the Shala. Cyndi and I await our turn, are called in, sit down. Sharath looks over our papers, passport photos freshly adhered by the shala’s resident glue stick. I admit I am nervous. Not at my best (it has only been a few hours since our cab- to-Mysore ordeal which cyndi described so perfectly in her previous blog post), jet-lagged, exhausted, and everything I see and smell is new and unfamiliar. I am sitting across from Guruji’s grandson. I feel as though I know this family, though I have never been here before. Sharath looks over my registration form, which says little more than my name and address, and asks if I am a beginner.

No, I am not a beginner, I reply.

He nods, then remarks that I seem very sure of that.

Insert foot in mouth. Suddenly insecure, I am thinking, he’s found me out! What do I even know about ashtanga yoga? Me, this American girl who took her first yoga class less than 5 years ago, wears lululemon and teaches at a fancy western yoga studio, this to a man who was practically born in dwi pada sirsasana, in India no less.

I respond in what to my own ears suddenly sounds like a clumsy midwestern accent, well, we are always beginning, in some way. It’s the best I can do, he has not asked, what series do you practice, or do you bind in whatever asana, simply are you a beginner, which from a day to day perspective is certainly a no, but in the sense of the long now, of a whole life, of a first day in Mysore, of a journey unfolding, of a dislodging of expectation and a sense of relief, yes please! I am only just beginning.

Sharath asks for our money. We hand it over, he runs it through his money counting machine, hands us our Shala cards and tells us we will practice at 10:30 AM. We thank him and are about to leave, when he says to me with a bit of a smile, your name Cara, it means ‘heart.’ Oh, that is nice.

‘chilly heart,’ he adds.

Okay then.

We are out and on our way, to eat and sleep, and be ready for our not-so-early yoga practice at 10:30 tomorrow morning.

*****

shoes outside kpjayi, Mysore, India

leave your shoes at the door!

Wednesday morning, we arrive at the Shala 15 minutes early. We can see the room full of practitioners through the open door. No one is waiting in the foyer and Sharath comes to the door asking to see my Shala card. Again feeling clumsy I cannot seem to find it in my bag and I tell him ten thirty is my time. He tells me to keep the Shala card ready at all times and asks me to come in. I put my mat down in the first open spot I find, go to the ladies changing room to leave my things. I hear a pssst come to me from one of the ladies practicing finishing poses on the locker room floor. Its kate! A quick hello, but she’s busy in matseyasana so I head back into the room. I find my mat and am ready to begin.

I am to practice primary series. I start with suryanamaskar A, but my body is so full of adrenaline that I feel as if I am about to topple over. Unsteady, a bit shaky, so much going on in the room it is hard for me to reign it in. I have repeated this same action hundreds of times, but suddenly it feels completely foreign. So much preparation and anticipation, followed by 3 days of travel, all to be here in this place, practicing yoga. I feel as if I will soon launch like a rocket, stick to the ceiling, and all below will point their drishtis at me from their ubhaya padanghustasanas.

Standing poses done, I am starting to feel less volatile, a bit more at home, and familiar again with the series. Practice becomes very light, I manage all the seated poses without that rocketship feeling. At navasana, Sharath asks me if I bound in marichasana D. Yes. He asks me twice more for good measure. yes, both sides. Yes, I am sure. An assistant crosses my legs in supta kurmasana. Sharath asks me to move my mat to the front row, and when I reach back bending he is right there. Exhale. Three times back and then he has me in chakra bandasana. I stand up. He chuckles.

Not a beginner. Always a beginner.

As instructed, I take my mat to the ladies changing room and jostle for a spot on the cool marble floor to do my finishing poses. In Savasana I can hear the lockers opening and closing, women climbing up and down the metal stairs, the sound of beeping rickshaws floats in through the open windows.

There will be much learning in the days to come. I am ready to be a student again.

Just outside the Shala gates, looking down

I’m also ready for… a coconut. I meet cyndi outside, we both have that baffled what just happened in there looks on our faces. The coconut man pulls out his machete like knife, and with a dramatic swing he lobs off the top of a coconut, the water inside gives us all a nice spray. This makes me smile, and so grateful to be here.

More to come,

Cara

Categories: mysore | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

January 29-31, 2012…a.k.a. The longest day of my life.

It’s weird when 2.5 days of your life go by and you haven’t slept during any of them. Flying east will do that. It’s dark, then light, then dark again. We drove in cars (30 mins), flew in planes (7 hours), lounged in the Paris airport (5 hours, croissants were consumed), took another flight (9 hours) and finally, finally landed in Bangalore. There were a few loose ends to ties up (money exchange, customs), but the worst was supposed to be over. All that was left was a 3.5 hour cab ride from Bangalore Airport to our apartment in Mysore. Everything was pre-arranged, the driver was going to meet us outside, placard held high and ready to go:

The trip looked so hopeful at this point...

But, no. Oh, god no. We did not know what we were in store for. The driver introduced himself (something that started with P?, Mr. P to us), asked about my name, (How you say? ‘Kee-andy?’) and then we spent a good 20 minutes ambling through the airport looking for his vehicle. Finally, he found it, I gave him 100 rps for parking fees and we were off.

Except, there were no seat belts. Obstacle number one; no big deal. It took a good long while and some maneuvering to get the backseat down, but eventually Cara and I were safe and secure watching our driver mess with radio stations and announce the language each new song was sung in, (“This one – Kannada language! This is Hindi!”)

We are driving … and driving… and then… stop. Emergency lights go on, the whole car moves in reverse – on a dark highway – in moderate traffic – at night. Confused, we ask what’s going on. Our only answer is the driver jumping out of his seat, walking to the middle of the road, and waving his arms at oncoming traffic in an apparent attempt to flag someone down. When he finally gets back, we turn fully around and go in the opposite direction. He was lost. But he assures us now, “No confusion” and we drive for a while. Then, again. Stop.

Flailing arms and flagging cars

This would become a habit. Drive, stop, park car in the middle of a highway, flag someone down, ask directions, backtrack. Repeat, repeat, repeat. There were a multitude of bumps along the way, not least of which were the first 2 hours we spent lost in Bangalore city flagging down anyone and everyone around. Things were hopeful for a bit; we were following a car also going to Mysore, but we lost them somewhere between giant cement trucks and hope was dashed again.

After a few hours, we started to desperately plot an escape. Maybe we could get out of the car and flag down another taxi? Cut to: dark streets and aimless wanders, a woman burning trash on the sidewalk and a pack of hungry dogs limping by. Okay, so no. We had no choice. We had to trust Mr. P to get us to Mysore, even if it took days.

It felt like days. Weeks maybe. He was lost at every fork in the road and just when things looked good again, he stopped to have Chai.

Finally, after 3 hours, we were securely en route to Mysore. I still have no idea how we found Mysore Road.

No rush, just two hours overdue - let's stop at Mr. P's house. Yeahhh....

We drove with Indian music blaring out of the speakers; the radio continuously cycling through the stations during most of the journey. We flew over speed bumps (“speed breakers”) and had several close calls of collision with construction barriers and curbs along the way. At one point we were driving the wrong way on a one way road. We picked up a random hitchhiker, cause – why not – and had many stops for him to “make urine” as he said. Then, of course, with only 45 minutes to Mysore, we stopped at his house so he could change clothes. At this point we were begging to keep going. Our arrival time was already 2 hours overdue, and I was close to hallucinating with fatigue.

But, no. Laundry time it was. Sigh. Okay. We waited. Eventually he came back, got in the car and prayed…I almost joined him. Then, the final leg.

We watched attentively as the kilometers ticked down en route to Mysore. We finally arrived, too tired to be glad to see the “Welcome to Mysore” sign above us. There was more confusion over actually finding our house. He was back to the flag-down approach. He finally called his boss (who arranged this ride), and I was close to running on foot to escape the clutches of the horrible cab.

Eventually, his boss directed us to our beautiful apartment in Gokalum, Mysore. We paid and got the hell inside.

It was 6:30am, our roommate, Kitty, was waking up and about to get ready for practice. I was a zombie, longing for sleep and had made the best attempt I could to be friendly before crashing into bed. Cara traveled with Kitty to the Shala and to get some bearings in the city. It wasn’t long before I realized I was allergic to my bed. Great. Now I can’t even sleep! After using half a roll of toilet paper to blow my nose, I resigned myself to open-mouth sleeping and my body just gave up. I slept until 2:15pm.

Shiva, helpful and perceptive.

I've never looked better!

I could’ve slept forever, but the alarm went off just after 2 to ensure we didn’t miss shala registration (3:30pm) and had time to take care of a few necessities that day. Cara and I dragged ourselves to complete additional money exchanges with a wonderful man named Shiva.

He is a Mysore standard, and has been helping all of the confused Westerners get money, shelter, and transit for years. He feels this is his duty.

Cara was lovely and gregarious in answering his questions. His response to my attempt to answer: “You don’t have fresh mind. I understand, you travel.” We snapped a few photos, and my non-fresh condition was only confirmed.

We got our money and a few tips on things to do in the city and headed over to registration. It was a breeze. Sign your name, fill out a form, wait to be called. In no time, Sharath was calling us into his office and giving us a time to practice (10:30am). We handed over our stack of rupees and that was that. The rest of the day was ours. I was slightly more awake when we ran into Matt, another Back Bay regular, who guided us over to the local coconut stand for some refreshment and conversation. It was wonderful to see a familiar face and share some laughs over coconut waters. He told us where to get some necessities and then we parted ways. It was time for some food/clothes/water acquisition before calling it a night.

All of these were accomplished at fabulous little local shops. We walked away with scarves, bags, kurtas (the traditional, long shirt-dresses) and picked up some ayurvedically-friendly dinner supplies at the near-by market. It was an easy night. Cara used her skills to make an extremely welcome warm meal and then we headed for bed. We had a long morning to enjoy the next day, but it was still the first day of practice. We wanted to be well rested, and I was still tired from our journeys. Sleep was welcome and fast to come on. Finally, we’d arrived.

- Cyndi

What it's all about....

Categories: india, mysore, second-generation ashtangis | 6 Comments

Packing for Mysore, India

packing for mysore, India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing my bags this afternoon, getting ready for the double long haul flight to Mysore, India. Here’s a glimpse into some of the contents of my little suitcase.

1. Documentation! I have a copy of my email confirmation of acceptance for study at the yoga shala, copies of my passport for the shala, landlords etc, an extra passport photo also for the shala, and of course my passport complete with hard-won Indian visa (more on that later).

2. Sunglasses!

3. Headlamp from Sandra – this was a birthday gift, she told me it will come in handy during random power outages in India. And its cute and blue too!

4. Yoga clothes

5. iPad for in airport movie watching, blogging abroad, and skype-ing with husband/family/friends/cat.

6. Contact solution & case – little bottles, airplane size

7. Bug Spray – for pesky mosquitos

8. Afterbite – for after mosquitos

9. Earplugs – I picked up Karen from the airport last night. She had just arrived from India and as we were crossing over Mass Ave where it passes over I-90 full of traffic she turned and said to me, “Its so quiet here!” Yes, I believe the earplugs will come in handy.

10. Sunblock. SPF 60. I’m so pale I should probably stay that way.

11. Burts Bees Lip Balm

12. Travel Packs of Kleenex – emergency toilet paper!

13. Travel Adapters – UK style

14. My unlocked sim-card ready mobile phone, so I can have a local number

15. Pillowcase

16. Teeth cleaning accessories

17. Travel alarm clock for early morning yoga practice, set 15 minutes ahead (shala time)

18. Books!

19. Prescription Malaria-preventing medication – this is my second try at this, the first medication they gave me actually made me feel like I had malaria (shakes, fever, insomnia, weird dreams). It was a rough week.

20. An over-the-counter anti-diarrheal, plus an Rx if its real bad.

21. Hand Sanitizer, which will hopefully make #20 less necessary.

There are other things to pack but this is what I have amassed so far. I do intend to come back with more little treasures from India, and buy some clothes while there so I can at least take a stab and being a local. I found Ashtangi Claudia’s Guide to Mysore, India very helpful in determining what to pack and what to leave at home.

We are in touch with a wonderful Texan named Kitty who is in Mysore now. She sent us this photo of the place where we’ll be staying. Its the mustard yellow one.

kuteer guesthouse mysore india

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plan is to fly from Boston to Paris, then onward on the 12 hour flight to Bangalore where Krishna will then drive us the 3 and a half hours from Bangalore to Mysore. And then we will walk up these stairs and fall into our little beds and that will only be the beginning.

Back to packing.

A4L,

Cara

Categories: india, mysore | Tags: | 6 Comments

T-minus One week…

…until departure for India. Seat 27J will be my home for the behemoth 16.5 hour journey. Oh, and let’s not forget that we are arriving in Bangalore. It’ll be another 105 miles in a cab before reaching the final destination. I have no idea what time it will be when we arrive. What the air will smell like, how the roads will feel, or what noises and colors will affront my senses…

But, like a true Ashtangi, my mind has already traveled to…my bowels. Well, my bowels and back muscles. That’s right, I sincerely expect to arrive constipated, achey and tired.

But then: India!

Weeeee!

Mysore. The place where Ashtanga Yoga originated. This thing which has entranced me; which keeps me motivated to wake up between the dark hours of 4:30 and 5am, 5 days a week. I move, breathe, sweat, and yes, sometimes even grunt, heave or loudly release expletives (if I happen to fall on my head that day). It has changed my life, and here I expect to find an even deeper understanding.

I think that is where my mind has traveled most often recently: expectations. There is so much buzz about the trip around me, “When are you leaving?!” and “Are you excited!?” are common (and very welcomed) questions. Yes, of course I am excited! Especially now, with the departure rapidly approaching and the ‘realness’ of it all finally clicking. It has been quite a process to get to this point: tickets ready, paperwork done, housing secured, packing lists made, funds raised, teaching subs acquired; only a few more loose ends remain. Finally, there is space to think about what all this work was for. What exactly am I excited about?

There are some obvious things: getting this month to live, breathe, and be Ashtanga sounds like a dream.  Studying with Sharath and Co. will surely leave me with much to bring back to Boston, and, of course, the whole month off work is a plus! The weather will be warm and the free time plentiful. Sounds like a great vacation, eh? And in some ways, I see it that way, too. But more than anything else, I’m looking forward to just being a student. Waking up whenever they tell me to, doing whatever practice I can, and letting whatever happens, happen. I’m looking forward to getting worked in Mysore. Dealing with the unexpected and having to surrender to it all.

The importance of surrender. Something I came across while traveling through the North.

Studying Ashtanga has already allowed me to surrender and accept so much more about myself and what goes on around me. How it works is a bit ineffable, but I think it has something to do with the consistency, the challenge, the ego-busting, hey-sorry-things-can’t-change-just-because-you-want-them-to nature of it. Wow, I am realizing that I expect this trip to be a month-long, 24 hour practice. At times, I’ll be flying through it, feeling light and strong and ready for more. Other times, it’ll be more like those exhausted mornings on the mat; those ones when I barely finish my two rounds of Kapotasana, move through vinyasa, get almost ready for Supta Vajrasana and……….”Chandrika, you go back. Repeat!”

Surrender. Stay calm. Steady the breath and the mind.

It’s almost time to go. I’m looking forward to the adventure and the challenge. I will certainly miss working, teaching and learning with the wonderful group of Ashtangis at Back Bay. I’ll miss my boyfriend Chris, my cat(!!), my coffee; thankfully though, the Internet, that comes with me.

Let’s see what happens -

Until India,
Cyndi

(…Chandrika)

Categories: second-generation ashtangis | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

sleep of the yogi

R. Sharath in Chakra Bandhasana

dreams of chakra bandhasana

Some thoughts on dreaming, waking and how ashtanga yoga ruined my nightlife.

स्वप्ननिद्रा ज्ञानालम्बनम् वा ॥३८॥
svapna-nidrā jñāna-ālambanam vā
- Or through knowledge that is derived from a nocturnal dream. ~Patanjali Yoga Sutras I.38

Dreaming: Lately I’ve been dreaming of India. Not a surprise as our departure date for Mysore fast approaches. They are abstract, nothing much happens, it is sort of a dream of the shape or idea of India. Me trying to make sense of a place and a world I’ve never been to before. The other dreams I’ve been having lately are of free and open, painless backbending and otherwise general upward lifting direction in my practice. These came about after 6 months or so of steady effort in chakra bandhasana (brutal!). Kate says this is good as it means the prana is moving in the right direction, even if the body is not there yet. That’s pretty cool.

sleep dream wake bed

wake me when the sun comes up

Sleeping: I have to confess, I fall asleep in savasana. It used to be this sort of asleep yet awake feeling, lucid and dreamy at the same time. But now I definitely find myself waking up in savasana (usually woken up by sound of my own loud, drowsy breathing), which leads me to believe that I must have been sleeping. Wasn’t I? Its curious, it isn’t for long, and I’ve been trying to stick it out, stay awake, but its like I am just sailed away. Kate told me a joke once, about all these ashtangis doing all this asana and then lying down to sleep like lazy people. What’s going on here? Its something I wonder at the end of a class, when all those yogis are on their mats, in the dark, eyes closed. What are we all doing? Sleeping? Dreaming? Something in between? There are so many anatomical and energetic resources on all of these postures. What of savasana? While I know that sleeping is not appropriate here, I do wonder what is the desired state? So if you hear me snoring, I warned you.

Waking: My alarm goes off at 4:50 AM Monday through Friday. When I started this practice, my alarm was set for 5:30AM. Then it was 5:15. Then 5. Now I’m working on the pre-5 AM wake up call and sometimes, its a little rough. I’m still convinced I’m a night person. (So if you’ve been avoiding morning Mysore practice because you are not a morning person, neither am I! Do it anyways. You’ll be amazed at what is possible.)

Obviously, keeping these sort of hours had a significant effect on my nightlife. Not that I would be out every night,  carousing with the band, eating late night gyros and drinking champagne in the streets of Boston. Still, it would be nice to have the option (sigh).

Resigned to my fate, my goal bedtime is now 9 PM, though its pretty rare that I actually make it by this time. I eat a late dinner with my partner, or meet up with friends in the evening, answer work emails and have a 2 hour Skype date, or just stay up into the wee hours watching season two of Battlestar Galactica (busted!). I used to get really worked up about not making it to bed in time, but now I take these evenings in stride. They are what keep me balanced, participating in my life, a life supported by my yoga practice (not the other way around). I’m a Westerner, a householder, I’m married, and I have  job. It seems my fate is not to be a yogi living in a cave, so with the early mornings and the evening activities, I just do what I can as I go. Some mornings I’m really tired, and its hard. And that’s when I have to work on regaining some balance in the other direction.

And there are those sleepless nights. The nights when I go to bed in the 9 o’clock hour, and lay there, watching the numbers tick by on the clock. My mind is racing but with nothing much in particular. Existential uncertainties that don’t really matter much when I’m participating in the flow of life. While missing a day or two of practice seems to make it even harder to sleep at night, when that clock rolls past 2:30AM, and I’m still awake, I turn off my 5 AM wake up call and just do what I can. This may not be the correct method of practice (6 days a week, excepting saturdays and moon days!) but as I once read online from another Ashtangi, “I’m a person, not a method!” I just let it go. And go easy on myself.

Having trouble falling asleep at night? My favorite Ayurvedic remedy is to rub coconut oil into the soles of the feet before bed to calm the nervous system. Or drink a glass of warm milk with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom. If you practice Pranayama, try Chandra Bhedana Pranayama (left nostril breathing) before bed to cool down and ease into your parasympathetic nervous system. Sweet dreams, ashtangis.

 

 

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ashtangi winter body

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Hobbling home from practice last week, watching the temperature drop, seeing snowflakes in the air, I observed that now I have fully come into my winter body. Post-holiday indulgences, dark mornings, and those face-numbing wind-chilling walks from the T-station to the yoga studio make for some stiff, heavy and sometimes downright discouraging practice. The shift in season requires a shift in my intention.

Summer is my time, its hot and steamy, days are long, I need less sleep, my body and diet are light and the practice just flows through me with ease. My body takes on the asana with little complaint and my mind is free to glide from drishti to drishti. But with the first turning of the leaves in October the residue of old injuries and imbalance comes back to haunt me; my right hamstring begins to grip again, followed by some tweakiness in my left knee, then comes the pain in my low back on the right side. Add to that tension in the shoulders wrought by bracing against the cold and my own occasional stubbornness with the practice and now you have some indication of life inside of the ashtangi winter body of these Northern climates. I’m slowly coming to the realization that what all of this demands is a shift in my awareness.

I used to look solely to the teacher to sort me out, to identify my grievances and my pains as well as my seasonal irritability and heal me, save me somehow from my own insistence that what I could do in July be just the same if not greater than what I can do in January. But after practicing Ashtanga again and again, over the years and the seasons, I’m finding that the practice itself becomes a teacher, and when my hamstring is screaming or my low back is prodding me, it is a call to self-study, to practicing with awareness at every twist and turn. Instead of grasping for some shape I made in the past, find a path to non-attachment (aparigraha) by taking my awareness to what is subtle, finding the inner world of the posture.

The pain is there to be my teacher, to point out habits and patterns (samskara) buried deep within, manifesting itself in the gross body, and magnified by the wintry context within which I find myself several months out of the year. Its a blessing which often feels like a curse. Use it as research towards breaking your old habits and finding new avenues for supporting the asana through mindful movement, breathing and drishti. The pain can be avoided, though it often is a slow and steady learning process. A process which won’t have a chance if I steamroll through it as if it is still yesterday. There is only this moment, and this one, and this one, and this one…

In addition to all of that, here are some tips for taking care of your ashtangi winter body:

1. Take a warm shower before practice.
2. Eat lots of ghee, and warming spices like cinnamon and ginger.
3. Do the weekly rub-down with Almond Oil. Or Sesame, if you’re into that.
4. Wear layers!
5. Heat up your internal fire with some Ujjayi breathing.

 

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