Saturday, 11 January 2014

Ego ~ Surrender ~ Busy ~ Early

A little practice vignette from the week before last:

I'd managed a nice vrshchikasana on Tuesday in front of Sharath (this is hanging out in handstand with your feet on your head). He told me 'very good!', then stood in front of me for assisted backbends. He stands very close. 'Legs were shaking' he said and chuckled... our eyes met and there seemed to be some complicity between us... it's hard to stay still there without your feet bobbling around... it's a hard posture! Then he took my hands onto my kneecaps, told me 'very good' again, and I trotted off to the changing room for finishing postures feeling rather special.

New moon the next day and no practice. I got to the backbending/handstand sequence on Thursday, the pinnacle of the practice, and again managed a good vrshchikasana (I'm starting to get it!).... and again Sharath was walking towards me. 'Look at me... I am rocking it again!' says the 'I-maker'....

'Come, come quickly!

I drop over and stand up.

'Your practice is taking too long - so many people waiting'... he shook his head and tutted... he looked truly disappointed in me. I felt distinctly less rockstar-like.

Backbend was good, the squish was perfunctory. 'Go inside!' 

So I scurried off, chastened..... but this story delighted me so much that I repeated it to everyone I ran into, all day.


I had a hard time sleeping last Friday night, mainly due to gluttony and mosquitoes. At various points in the middle of the night I had the lights on and was swatting away at the little bastards, swearing.... finally I dropped off and woke up absurdly late, with a horribly stiff neck, to find Oh Jun informing me there was no water. Luckily this was a day off practice. I didn't display the better part of my character at this point, though... my poor flatmate, he went off a little early to his cooking course. 

More things went wrong. My coffee maker broke. Luckily I'd got the first pot out of it first.

A knock at the door. I was still in my dressing gown, and unshowered of course (no water!). It was the landlord. 

Here, things began to improve: he informed me that an unmarked switch near the door in our flat controlled the water for the building. It was one in a row of switches, the others controlling various lights. He flicked it on.

The improvement ended there, however, as he told me we needed to move out the next day. Previously we'd agreed I'd have the place for another week. No problem, he told me, there was another room free on the top floor for me. And he left.

After a quick shower and my mind clearing a little, I called him. The place on top would be great for one of us, but it was a two-bedroom place we were being chucked out of. He said he would come down and talk to me. I waited. Also, my phone credit had just run out.

He didn't arrive. Eventually Lauren came to pick me up and we went to the pool. And on the way there, via the phone man, something delightful happened.... I started to let it go. There's something liberating about being carried through Indian traffic on the back of a scooter. Or driving, I suppose. The pool and hot sun and the cool water are gorgeous. Elsewhere in the world, everyone is freezing. There was a kind of concert venue being built in the grounds and some groovy Indian music blaring out, which for some reason made me really happy. I had more coffee. Friends were there.

It turned out Jimmy Crow had an extra room at his place. To make a long story short, Oh Jun is staying with him now and probably way better off. And I have the small, bright room on the top of the building, with a big sunny rooftop and all the privacy I need to cope with a new start time of 4:30 am. 

Riding home from the pool with the wind in my hair, life had never seemed better. Truly, we are the lucky ones.... Somewhere, people are thinking about value dates and parameters that govern currency pairs. But I speed down Hunsur Road in the sunshine, and the air is smoggy on a dying planet, but we are LIVING, while we can.....

India is all about curve balls, and the quicker you can surrender, the quicker things resolve.  


The shala is VERY busy at the moment. Last Sunday we couldn't all fit in the room for conference, and start times are running out to 11:00. Luckily I got shifted to 5:00, then 4:30 this past week. 4:30 actually means get there by or before 4:00, so this has been a bit of an adjustment... mainly diet-wise. I don't mind getting up in the middle of the night (2:30) as I can have a nap after, but lunches aren't really working for me, or my body is just used to doing certain things at certain times (one of which, not at 3:30 am). Hmm. 

But the energy is SO GOOD in the early slot, and I am so lucky to be escaping the crowds and the wait. I'm speeding up my practice and trying to blast through 2s + my three postures of 3rd.... I want to show that I can, I want to show I was listening when he scolded me last week, I want to show that there's plenty of time for me to do more 3s without my practice taking forever. Also, I just have more energy at this time.... I find waiting around for hours before practice somehow draining. Finally, it's not really the people waiting in the foyer that I feel bad for, it's Sharath himself, teaching for more or less eight hours straight every day, which, unless you've ever taught mysore classes (which normally run for three hours, and that's hard enough) is something the physicality of which you simply cannot comprehend. 

Where does he get the energy, and how is he always in such a good mood for beginners getting into marichiasana D at midday? How is he smiling at conference and not in a hurry to end it and put a stop to the questions?

So practice: in and out, bare bones and no preciousness. This isn't the right place to take one's time, indulge oneself, or practice like a 'special little snowflake'. I do that at home.

This is the time to build up some tapas and help clean the other potatoes :-)

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see here: One potato


So the program is: first breakfast, nap, second breakfast. Light lunch, no dinner, bed around 20:00.

A massage. Pool time. A cooking course. Stuff like that. I may take a ten-day course in the Kannada language. (!)

Day off: shopping, cleaning, bucket wash. Castor oil bath, theracane session, a little puja. Read about Ayurveda, finish this blog. 

Drink lots of chai. Hang out with yogis, but not too much. Go for long walks.

I will try to keep up with the updates better this week. I have seven more weeks here from today.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Settled/Unsettled ~ Happy New Year!

The sun's starting to set over Gokulam again, and there are many poetic moments to be had on a walk at such times, ahhhh..... 

Now sitting at the Green Hotel with the laptop and will publish later. I'm out for dinner in a bit at Oyster Bay, then there is a rooftop party I could hit in theory.... but frankly I expect to be in bed well before midnight, despite the New Moon (day off practice) tomorrow.

Nice practice today. The tictoc made its first reappearance since my initial success - today I managed ONE, after several attempts. The funny thing is.... when I succeed, it is so 'not a thing'. It is like this - 'oh, there I went, all the way over.... that was easy...'. This makes it different from many postures which are achieved only with great effort, at least in the beginning. Here, there's been an absolute ton of effort over several years to learn it, and then.... when it happens, I just sail right over! So fun!

I had to learn to regulate my efforts. The way the schedule works, I get to work on this posture from Monday through Thursday. It isn't a part of led classes (can you imagine....)... So there was the Thursday I did it for the first time, then the Monday I felt lame and kicked a girl in the head, this has all been blogged. On Tuesday, I jumped and jumped and jumped. It wasn't working, but I kept trying. I became somewhat desperate. Sharath finally came over and practically growled at me.... 'that's enough... stand up!'

He was right, of course. It wasn't really very safe. After that, on Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, I got close, closer. But I stopped when the returns were diminishing. I kept a little juice for vrshchikasana (balancing with feet on the head), and started realising that here too (even here!), every practice is just a practice. That I have time; that it's a process. Self-regulation. I shouldn't need him to tell me when enough is enough.

So today - several close attempts, then I got one over (and oh! how easy!).... then it wasn't going to happen again. Actually a funny thing happened... I've been watching a few advanced practitioners do it, noticing how they rock the weight into the feet for momentum and half the hands actually leave the ground before they rock back into the hands to go over... that's how much momentum can be used. So I tried this... put a bit TOO MUCH weight in the feet and BOING! I accidentally stood up, and it happened very fast! Luckily I didn't propel myself into the person in front of me, just stood there and burst into a laugh. 

Then I did vrshchikasana and nailed it in front of the boss :-)

So anyway, I feel I have settled into my practice here, after a month. I have two postures of sthira bhaga (3rd series) to work on now as well. Oh, and from next Monday my start time moves from 9am to 5am. Hard core!! That will require some adjustments.


I had a bit of a cold towards the end of last week. I take the attitude that germs may enter my body, but they don't have to take over completely, and sure enough it didn't really hold me back, just made me feel grotty. Then Friday night I was sick, basically up with the shits all night (sorry). Good night for it anyway, with Saturday our day off.... led intermediate on Sunday was a bit rough though. Six of us on the stage, with me belching up strange gasses and full of mucus all through it. 

Actually I don't think of it as being sick... more like me and India getting used to each other again. A few days and a few Ayurvedic remedies later, and I am right as rain :-)


We had conference on Sunday. This conference absolutely BLEW MY MIND. It was crowded and I was sitting on the stage.

I don't believe in conference notes, especially not ones that aim to be comprehensive. The important part is always missed out. But there was a lot about how to practice, and why we practice the way we do, and personal anecdotes about Guruji and Krishnamacharya that were absolutely priceless to hear in person. And hearing Sharath tell about going to collect Guruji's ashes off the ground the day after the cremation, and finding the sacrum (sacred bone) intact amongst the ashes.... just... wow? 

Being here, one feels personally connected to a strong yoga lineage.


Apart from all this, the theme of last week was 'WHERE WILL I BE LIVING??' The last two trips were six weeks each, and I had a job in the financial sector to go back to - I lived in Urban Oasis, a hotel. This year I stayed there the first month, and actually I was shocked at the cost. Bearing in mind I'm still paying rent on a flat in London..... 

I had housing plans for the second month which, due to a long story, fell through. It is busy season now and Gokulam is packed. I also wanted to help out a first-timer friend who was arriving and who I knew only had three nights booked at the UO. I also thought it might give me more flexibility looking for either a one- or two-bedroom place....

What I found was, of course, a sea of confusion.

Rooms are available, and then they are not. Things are confirmed, and then they are not. A flat is available, but it can't be said exactly from when. Someone will call in a few days and let you know. A place has wifi and then it actually doesn't. A flat is available, but no deposit will be taken (very suspicious!). Something is available short-term, you may have to move a few times. Fine, but will someone please pin down the dates?!?! Fixers are seen, landlords are met with, head wobbles occur, and you have no idea where you stand. You want something modern. You worry about cockroaches, you worry about rats. Everything is in flux, you go with the flow.... it's India. This is part of the process. This is a sort of a test. Yoga at home is easy, you come to India to deal with this shit. 'Chitta vrttis' (fluctuations of the mind) occur. 'Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind' (Yoga Sutras, 1:2). Practice going well? That's great. Where the hell are you going to live though?? Fuck knows! You know it will work itself out. You trust that it will work itself out. You endeavour not to FREAK out. It's a game of musical chairs...... Christmas season (oh yeah, we had a lovely Christmas dinner at the Metropole during all this)..... people leaving, people arriving, reshuffles, rearrangements.... will there be a yogi left standing with no place to live?

Actually it's not so scary at all. You know this community will never, ever let you down, you will NEVER be in the streets, you'll never be in danger, you'll have someone's sofa till you find something, you'll be looked after. But your yoga practice is paramount, you need routine, you need a decent sleep, because for God's sake you have to attempt this (insert posture name) business again in the morning.....

I'm in a good place now, and will live in two more - four in total over the three months. They are all good places, now it's a matter of refinements - more space? more privacy? And as a good friend put it, 'you get to know what you like.' Yes, this will all be very useful experience for the future......


And finally, what has dominated the last few days is great joy at the arrival of many dear friends. From Saturday onward and continuing still, dear ones are arriving in trickles. So many hugs! Others will be leaving, and that is a little bit sad.... but we'll meet again, whether here or at home. 

I'm just hugely grateful to be one of the ones who stays on. Two more months now....

So the New Year arrives, and I can't think of anything I would rather be doing with my life than conducting this grand experiment where I am both the scientist and the lab. And doing it here, where it is all that much more intense.

Wishing a very Happy New Year to all my loved ones all over the world!!! Love, love, and thinking of you....

**note: published at 23:55 on 31 Dec - in bed.

Photo: cats at Sandhya's

Monday, 23 December 2013

Oh. What a Way to Joy

After a weekend of castor oil bath, getting the washing done, coffees and lovely lunches with friends, impromptu sunglasses-shopping trips and a ton of giggles, a gorgeous walk around Lake Kukkarahalli, and a led intermediate class where several of us got our official start on advanced A series, we had Sunday afternoon conference. 

Sitting over on the far side of the room under the pictures of our yoga family, with the scent of flower offerings wafting under my nose, I found this week's conference enchanting. The topic was Kriya Yoga, i.e. the last three niyamas of ashtanga yoga.

Tapas: we have to lead a disciplined life to do this practice.
Svadhyaya: doesn't mean study on your own without a teacher, it means you think about what yoga means all day, and read a lot of texts outside of the hours you spend with your teacher.
Ishvara pranidhana: surrender to a personal deity or greater force; we are just a tiny speck in the universe.... when we forget this and the 'I' comes first, problems arise.

He said more, of course, but those are my conference notes.

What conference notes can't capture is the element of direct transmission. I appreciate the notes that others post, but for me scribbling notes takes away from immersion in the moment and dilutes experience. That has always been the case, in my academic studies as well. Of course sometimes it's necessary, but the words are not the most important thing for me, and to quote some house anthem, 'it's a vibe thing'....

There was something electric about sitting there following the eyes and words of my teacher as the warm golden tones of the late afternoon sun filtered through onto the stage and a gentle breeze riffled the palms outside and the lazy vertical blinds. The breeze didn't reach into the room... it was packed, and hot... the ceiling fans were off.

I detest ceiling fans, unless set to 'dead slow no wake' (to borrow a nautical expression).

The sounds of yoga students' children playing outside on the steps would rise to a screeching crescendo periodically, then die down to reveal the bark of a lone dog, screech of a bird, or the cry of an itinerant vendor of this or that - mangoes, garlands, what have you.

Sharath's wife sat crouched at the left edge and his children wandered in and out onto the stage - Shraddha, quite grown up now and looking rather lovely in a hot pink glittery top bearing the message 'Shine Bright', and Sambhav, sporting the customary Spiderman suit and cheeky expression. He managed to interrupt proceedings completely in order to filch money to buy strawberries, and returned to clown around on stage, getting away with a fair amount before a fierce glare was turned on him... then laughter, and a strawberry popped into the boss's mouth. 

All of this was just so very charming.

Then back to kriya yoga......


In other news, my accommodation plans for next month have fallen through, and I have no idea where I'll be staying this time next week. I've put all my feelers and tentacles out, so I'm sure something will come up, although the post-Christmas hordes will be descending and everything seems to be booked up. 

Ishvara pranidhana..... 

This grain of sand will find somewhere to settle on the beach. Hopefully somewhere with wifi and fridge.... I've pretty much given up on a washing machine.

(If you know of anything, dear reader... let me know, please...)


Practice notes:

I've now dropped the seven headstands and been given the first posture of advanced practice. Been told to move my hand further forward, had my head position adjusted, and told to straighten the bottom leg more. That was not too bad, and I'd rather receive corrections straight away.

Then backbending.... and after last week's victory, I made a complete hash of the handstand sequence. Couldn't even get close to the 'toc' (OK one attempt out of about a dozen came kind of close). My shoulders seemed to keep wiggling into the wrong place, which just felt dangerous, and I had that thing where I jump too much into the left arm (probably due to more power in the right leg?). The French assistant came to my rescue, but even with his help it was pretty dismal. Disappointing..... but as we all know, some days are just like that. 

Then got to the part I can supposedly do - drop over and stand up - but was a little short of juice by this time, not to mention shaking, swimming in sweat, and feeling inadequate and like a spectacle. I try to take only a little jump and just press most of the way up, but sometimes I almost get there and fall back (I won't say crash).... so this happened, and my foot hit something and I heard a yelp. 

FUCK! I spun round..... what do you say to someone after kicking them in the face? Utterly mortified..... She was gracious, and didn't seem to be bleeding or missing teeth. Then I had to carry on, but by now I felt like such a loser that some tears were mixed with the sweat.... I put my head down in child's pose for a few breaths, shaking, then had to just GET THROUGH THE REST OF IT.... by the last one Sharath was standing at the top of my mat. I actually managed to hold vrshchikasana for a couple of breaths and had a good backbend, but dragged my mat back for finishing with eyes cast down and tail between legs.

Of course some people would have noticed, but I probably wasn't QUITE the spectacle I felt.... most people are absorbed in their own practice, not my dramas. Wow, these points from kriya yoga just keep coming up - abject and victorious are just the two sides of the 'I' coin. Get over yourself....

I waited for my victim in the changing room. Luckily my feet had only landed on the top of her head, and it turned out to be another case of 'these things happen'. I guess what I learned is that I wasn't operating in my own space, as I had thought.

So now, yeah..... another three days of this before Friday. 

I was the one craving a full six-day week....

And what do we do? We get up tomorrow and do it all again. 

Oh, what a way to Joy.....

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Did it

Well that last post was cathartic... maybe it helped?

Today, armed with the powerful trio of hand chakra mehndi to root down my palms, Sandhya's magical food at the last meal, and my ratty old 'Guruji World Tour 2005' hot pink practice top with the line drawing of him on the back.... I finally managed to nail it down.

TICTOCS! Viparita chakrasana, roughly translated as turning or upside-down wheel: controlled(ish) dropovers from handstand, and jumping back over to standing.

Let's get one thing straight though.... being able to do this circus stuff has ZERO VALUE in itself.

But I needed to do it. Focus, devotion, discipline, facing my fears....


As it happened, the late start time actually worked in my favour. Lots of space in the room, no beady eyes and impatient minds in the foyer.

I jumped a few times, came the closest I ever have, exhausted myself, came down and started again, kept going, nearly got it, nearly burst into tears, resolved to just hurl myself over, studiously avoided eye contact with Sharath and the assistants... and he must have waved them off me, as it wasn't too busy at this point.....

Boom. Once, twice, three times as prescribed. 
Imperfect, shaky, with hesitations and half-starts, drenched in sweat, and I believe there was a grunt or two as well. Or whimpers.

And now I am almost having trouble believing that happened. You see, the heavens have not opened and started raining down gold dust, no angels have descended to play little trumpets, and I would seem to be much the same person as when I woke up this morning :-)

But yeah. 19 December 2013... It's a milestone, and I am very grateful.... also to myself, for sticking with it.

I have enjoyed this moment all day, now back to led primary tomorrow. And the next chance to try this again is Monday, so let's hope my mojo sticks around!!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Mysore, raw

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That's its balance.” - Osho


Something about this place scrapes me raw. I feel skinned alive at times... all defences are gone. The joys are otherworldly, but suffering is always near at hand. And at such times - when awareness of suffering imposes itself - I'll be hit by a crushing wave of melancholy that finds its reflection in carcasses, smells of burning, bats and death; animals eating plastic bags by the roadside; abandoned shoes, limbless beggars, rapes; and a whole catalogue of personal disappointments that bubble up from the distant and recent past to be relived, reloved, during waking hours and in dreams.

So then it is good to see friends... except when they cock their head to one side and look concerned.... your face changes their face, and they ask what is wrong almost before you can say hello. And you realise that this latest round of Nerve Cleansing is written all over you and seeping out of your eyes. Why does it rise to the surface like that.......

You berate yourself for being self-obsessed. For feeling anything less than joy when the sun is warm, and you aren't at work, and your to-do list resembles the following:

- wash hair (this already signals a busy day)
- practice 
- keep breakfast / lunch appointments
- nap, or maybe pool..... possibly a nap at the pool....
- pick up coconut milk / toilet roll / energy balls / whatever gets you through the day

Phew! Time for bed!!

Yet this isn't a two-week holiday in some plush resort, calculated to whisk you away from the concerns of life. It really is a genuine voyage to the bottom of the rabbit hole.... straight down into the depths of one's body, nervous system, unconscious mind.....


The dreams. A few snippets. Why not? Other people's dreams are always interesting, right? Chronologically:

1) 'on the ride'
Careening down a winding road through what I can only call a Hill City.... hurtling out of control, terrified, round twists and hairpin turns at top speed.... like a rollercoaster without tracks... terrifying, thrilling, seemingly never-ending. On and on and on......
(I'd happily do this one again)

2) 'can't get back to Mysore'
I have this every trip. I have to go back for a few hours or days. I'm stuck there. I should be here. I can't get back. THIS SUCKS!!

3) 'can't save the baby'
A tiny baby the size of a kitten crawls onto a dock and falls off. Of all the observers, I'm the quickest, into the water like a shot, reaching down, but the water is like molasses for me, I can't go down, it sinks just out of my reach......
(I don't think this has anything to do with actual baby regret type stuff.... NB bodies of water in dreams always symbolise the unconscious)

4) 'it's not my fault'
Someone accidentally starts a fire in my flat.
(not the friend who is actually staying there. Also, someone actually DID accidentally set fire to my flat once in real life, while I was in it, and burn it down (I obviously escaped!).... but in the dream it isn't like that, it's a small fire and I am able to put it out)
Then (I hesitate to even write this for the image it may conjure up).... I'm eating something and it is gross and I pull a razor blade out of my mouth. It's not the gory scene you'd imagine - no blood, all quite matter-of-fact - but I need to get a tetanus shot (in real life I'm covered, of course)....
I'm pissed off. All of this is SOMEONE ELSE'S FAULT! 
(Of course it never really is.....)

5) ' crumbling and backwards'
I go to cover the Mysore class. They try not to let me in due to my out-of-hours access having expired (a concept belonging to the financial services job, not the yoga teaching job)
But I get into the room somehow. It is a mess, full of dust and concrete, beams hanging down..... basically a construction site (possibly influenced by the prevalence here of construction sites!)
Four or five students are there. The clock shows I'm a quarter of an hour late (this never happened IRL)..... They are all facing the wrong way in the room and doing wrong things. I'm too late, and I don't have control........

So.... you get the idea. Not nightmares, but..... creepy.


There's a loneliness here that doesn't arise at home. It's an atmosphere. This, despite being surrounded by my tribe, despite very enjoyable meals and chais and walks and talks and hanging out. These are the people I share sweat and coconuts with, the ones who GET IT. The ones who devote a significant portion of their day to this process, who get up in the middle of the night most days to do it. Yet a social awkwardness can arise, at any time, that I thought I'd left in high school. I easily piss people off without meaning to. Or think that I have. Or forget that everyone here is on their OWN voyage, to the bottom of their very own sea, own body, own mind. We're swimming in the ocean, but it can feel like a fishbowl. A sense of isolation arises, of being on the fringe, which in London or my hometown manifests as a kind of glorious eccentricity.... a revelling in my individuality... a happiness at being me. But surely London is, or should be, a lonelier place? It strikes me that I miss physical contact - the draping of myself over students' bodies, the transfers of energy, the playing a part in the reduction of suffering, the gratitude, the hugs..... but it must be good to get away from all that, lest one become an emotional vampire.... what an ugly idea. One really shouldn't have to depend on one's students for strokes. I'm pretty sure I'm not doing this, but teaching does make me feel good. Really good. But yikes.

And as far as physical contact goes.... 
Just as I'd rather suffer hunger pains than eat a McDonalds..... similarly, I'm done with consuming a passionless product, which (who) was what I hungered for at the time, but which never really satisfied, and over the course of several years made me really quite sick. 
A couple of years of fasting has been a better choice. 
There may be pain, but it robs me of nothing.
And I'm sure that person isn't going hungry.


This year in Mysore a lot of people have been getting sick. Colds and flu and stomach issues mainly, but a few hospital visits, a friend hooked up to an IV; and up at Doctors' Corner some cases of dengue fever.... don't know if these last are yogis or not? I don't need to get sick, I have this melancholy that arises and passes away instead. India agrees with me, the food is perfect for me, the physical transition is always seamless. Perhaps I was a yogi in a previous life.... this is my fanciful idea. Possibly not a very good one! But nonetheless. My name means 'beautiful lotus' :-)

So. Finally one gets sick of this passing sickness, this kind of fever of the soul. You go and get a friend to put henna on your hands, go to Sandhya's for some magical healing food and kittens. Read Narayan's stories, oozing fragility, humanity...  walk out and observe the same timeless characters in the street... and then just fucking GET OVER YOURSELF. Plan a pool day, observe the radiance in a holy man's eyes. Stand outside the temple and imbibe the sacred, haunting rhythms of the timeless Vedic chants {insert shivers up spine}. Have some stupendous backbends right there in the temple of your own body. Observe how happy people with no legs can be. Make eye contact with tiny children who simply glow back, and wave and wave as they're carried away..... Smile at someone and see if they smile back. When they do, here..... WOW! it's always a cracker. Full face, full eyes, full smile.

Think about Sharath's smile and his work ethic. RESOLVE TO HAVE A STRONGER MIND. 

Go to practice - feel the sheer VITALITY that makes you want to just explode with joy.
Be overwhelmed with gratitude. 
Fall in love with your life all over again.
Feel joy.

May all beings be happy.

Friday, 13 December 2013


Back in Mysore, back at blogging... at least a little?

It's actually hard to know what to write about Mysore. Things that would interest the yogis may bore or go over the heads of others.... whilst the kind of local colour that would interest 'normal people' can be very 'same same... yawn' for those who've spent any time here. In translation school, we were taught always to pinpoint the target audience and write for them, but here..... screw that rule! It's my personal free-for-all... I'll spew out whatever rises to the surface.

I left on the new moon. I'll be here for three months. The moon is about three-fifths waxed now, and I have been here nine days. It doesn't take long to settle in again, although practice-wise, things are just starting to gear up. A week of primary series, first 2s yesterday. Saving the handstand sequence for next week. Got a late start time of 9:15 and moved up to 9:00. Was told I'll start earlier next week.... but when I asked what time - 'I'll tell you next week'. OK then. It seems promising. It would be a drag trying to rush through the tictocs while the chanting crowd mills around on the steps.......

I'm a bit nervous about that, to be honest. Whacking out six handstand moves, one after the other in the middle of a crowded room.... and let's just say I have not perfected them yet.

But I did it last year, after a fashion.

Anyway, we come here to be challenged - not for comfort. In a way it's an easy life here, in a way it is not.

We'll see how it goes.

I'm at the Green Hotel and will post this when I get home. Friends will arrive soon for dinner. Saturdays there is no practice, Fridays we have the grand luxury of  eating dinner! In the morning, I shall take a walk to and around the lake. Then a pool day or castor oil bath, depending on the weather. But first a well-earned Kingfisher and a Hyderabadi curry. They always warn that it is too spicy, but for a Londoner, it is not that spicy.....

It's the beginning of that magical hour, Mysore dusk.... everything bathed in a gorgeous light that nature discovered well before Instagram did. Wispy alto-cirrus clouds are turning golden, then golden-pink, against a bright blue sky, the flat-topped trees becoming black silhouettes; long-beaked black birds swoop between the roof and trees, their caws mixed in with the incessant beeping from busy Hunsur Road. It was odd weather today - cool this morning, boding rain which never came - now the moon has a misty aura around it, and the air's less dry and dusty than the norm. I can feel a slight chill settle down over the gardens... it's palpable... and those damned mosquitos are coming out! Argh, they are worse than usual tonight.... could be the glow of the laptop screen. Waiter, please bring a coil.... this scarf and long skirt aren't doing enough! 

And now it's twilight and that one bright star is shining out, like a puncture hole in the high blue dome.... Mars, maybe? Must find out.

So this is just a place-holder.... I think I have lots to write, but it's all a chaotic swirl. But just like a long and daunting practice.... in the end you just have to begin it. There is no other way. 

Ekam, inhale.....

More soon :-)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Internet, Three Sisters (long)

'99% practice, 1% Internet'

That sounds about right. I'll get back to something like that shortly, but while I'm in Mysore, ironically, the balance tends to get a bit skewed, due to my having more (i.e. any) free time. I'm beginning to see why people need to take a step back...

My friend Grimmly and I have resumed the same discussion we seem to have about once a year (yes, we disagree a lot, but I consider him a great guy and a friend). To me, it is never productive. I go over there and make a comment that is meant to be nice, then I get caught up in the comments and make another comment, next thing you know I have triggered a maelstrom. I need to stop visiting and just let him come here and make supportive comments. That seems to work much better. I'm just not into all the analysis, and there are always things I strongly disagree with, but I don't think either of us benefits from the discussion (he might disagree...)

Then there is the whole shitstorm around Kino's video. It makes me sad. Kino is one of my teachers, and has helped me so much over the years, mainly in person. But I also know many people who get a tremendous amount out of her online presence. For example, a couple of days ago on the UO rooftop I met a woman who has no teacher where she lives. The reason she has a practice at all, and has made it to Mysore for the first time, is largely due to Kino's videos. There's nothing new to me in being sad about seeing my teacher run down by others. I basically quit blogging for a while a few years ago when the 'tiny shorts' were upsetting people in cyberspace and causing some really petty comments. Now here we are again and I find it so hard to believe people in the background of this video could be kicking a fuss up about it.

'When dogs bark, it doesn't bother the heavens'

Then again, maybe I'm not so surprised. The VAST majority of people I've met here have been lovely and friendly. There are a couple, though, who emanate bad attitude (I had to check with a few people to make sure I wasn't making this up). To those few (always women) - there is no reason to smirk at people and walk around looking like a bitchy high school girl with a pickle up your ass. Luckily you don't control who eats at the cool kids' table here :-)

But I digress. Like I said, most people here are LOVELY, including some I've met who are on their 10th or 11th trip and aren't above sitting down and sharing meals and experiences with those of us on our first or second trip. That, of course, is the way it should be.....

However, being a yogi doesn't mean you have to be all rainbows and unicorns, and just like, roll over and be like a flower, man, when you don't agree with something. It doesn't mean you have to let yourself be walked all over, not have strong opinions, or not express them. This came up at work recently... it's a high-stress environment, and during a disagreement someone just threw at me, 'yoga??' I just looked at them. I was like, 'what? dude you are taking the piss...' And if I see someone on the Internet depicting yoga as a 'workout' rather than a practice, in order to market energy bars to bodybuilders, I have every reason to object in strong terms. In fact, calling yoga a workout is just plain wrong even if it is not being used to sell something. The 'workout' mindset really isn't helpful in approaching this practice, and is conducive to injury, especially amongst men. This is something we have to work hard against, not encourage. I also object to people hating on Mysore without ever having been here, pretending to know what goes on here without having been here, making token trips here merely in order to further self-promotional projects, or treating yoga as a money-making machine more than as a way of life.... to name a few. I will say what I think and you are free to not read me or delete my comments, as the case may be. The fact that I object to something you do or call you out on your bullshit does not make me 'unyogic'.

And here I would like to slip in an interesting observation: though a yogi may have strong opinions, I find my reactions have really changed over the years. Ten years ago if I read or heard something I strongly disagreed with, I would feel my heart start to race. I might get palpitations or a feeling of pressure in my head. None of that happens now, and I can observe that whilst I might be thinking you are talking an utter crock of shite, my breathing and heart rate remain completely undisturbed as I tell you so.

Being able to strongly disagree without having the physical symptoms of anger is HUGE.
However, it still doesn't do me any good to know about these things.

Other things I notice on the Internet: just as it seems that every yoga student wants to be a teacher nowadays, it seems like more and more teachers are offering teacher trainings. What's up with that? I mean, depending on the teacher this can be good or bad, but is this like 40 being the new 30, and third series the new second series?? (hmm....). Students should be teachers and teachers should be teacher trainers.... I mean, this is where it all goes eventually, but it seems to happen pretty fast nowadays.

Regarding the former (every student wanting to teach), I read a blog recently where someone with a fledgling ashtanga practice, who hasn't completed primary series yet, is planning to teach. Whether the teacher training will go ahead, though, is in question due to the low number of students enrolled. Therefore this student is considering training to teach another yoga style instead. I asked the question whether, in order to teach, one shouldn't A) have a great love of the subject, and B) not be a beginner oneself? This means that the style you decide to teach isn't interchangeable with another, it is the one that is a central and fundamental part of your life, and you should have been practicing it for several years, minimum. Before that, you don't even know what effects it will have on your own body (and the rest of you), let alone the bodies of others, very different from you, who may come to you with all sorts of conditions and injuries.... I didn't mean to hurt this person's feelings with my questions, but the fact is, if you put it out there on the Internet, you may get a reaction (I'm aware of this and there is no comment moderation on this blog, by the way). If you are a beginner who has fallen in love with the practice, that's great! If you want to take a teacher training in order to learn more, also great, although an 'intensive' - something geared at understanding YOUR OWN practice rather than teaching - might be more beneficial. Or in the case of ashtanga, just keep doing it every day! But please, please, beginners, do not take it upon yourselves to teach until you've been doing this practice (or whichever yoga practice you're into) for a good long while... please realise that you are taking responsibility for the welfare of others, and that that is a Very Big Thing?

Beginning yoga students: caveat emptor.
I won't go into the authorisation question except to simply admit that I teach and I'm not authorised. Just for the record.

Well this is getting long. I'll leave the 'injury is inevitable' discussion, which is so in the air right now, for another post, because that one really deserves some discussion and is a lot less clear.

In general, though, I do need to stop reading yoga blogs, and one or two names need to be culled from my facebook feed. I'll stick to the Buddhist forum and the football blog for my morning and evening online time, they make me a happier person :-)


On Saturday I went for a castor oil massage at the Three Sisters'. I was ushered into the stone edifice and seated in the room where we usually have lunch, beside the 'yogi sister', whose name I believe is Shashalika. She was wrapped up warm with gloves on. Her eyes are very sparkly. We chatted for a while, then the other sisters joined us. Harini explained the treatment options (ayurvedic oil vs castor oil) and I decided to go for the castor oil. I told her about my previous experiments, and she laughed her big laugh. 'Yogis don't know how to do castor oil bath,' she declared. 'I will give you proper treatment.'

We went into the other side of the house and a similar-sized narrow room. Two clocks hung on the wall, forty minutes apart; on the other wall were six identical calendars, of the sort you get free from the supermarket at the beginning of the year, and a few hooks holding bags and articles of clothing. Around the room were some shelves slanting downwards and supported at one end so as not to fall down; a low table, a cubby hole in the wall; all stacked with sheaves of yellowing papers and bottles or tins containing who knows what liquids, with rags stuffed into stray corners; there was a tall metal cabinet with a dusty suitcase on top; an old stereo; a television which appeared to date from the 1950s, and which couldn't possibly work, I thought? From the ceiling hung a multi-coloured ball in a net (?), a fluorescent bulb and some strips of red cloth.

I was kitted out in what was basically a loin cloth attached to a piece of twine around my waist, and I lay down on my front on a red tarp which was slightly padded underneath. I felt a generous amount of the thick, warm oil trickling over the back of my body, and smelled the familiar mild scent of castor oil. Then Harini and Aka held onto the red ropes attached to the ceiling and proceeded to go over me with their feet (Aka's real name is Nagaratna (I think), but Aka (with stress on the final syllable) means 'elder sister', and is easier). Four feet moving over my back, arms, hamstrings, calves... slightly callused for an exfoliating effect... a symphony of feet! I lay with my head turned to the side, and behind my closed eyelids a diffuse light filtered through from two small high windows, with the moving sisters casting shadows against it. The two clocks produced a rhythmically musical effect, with the louder one sounding like a loud drip into a tin bucket and the other producing a clicking counterpoint. In the distance some music approached and passed.... Islamic-sounding chants and the beat of a drum. From time to time I was asked to turn my head the other way as the four feet worked into my muscles and the clocks lulled me into a trancelike state. Sometimes they talked to each other and I wondered what they were saying. Anything about my muscles? Grocery list??

Front and sides of the body next... then I sat up, Aka left, and Harini worked on my back and shoulders with her hands. Her English is very good, and she was keenly interested to learn a new word (sabbatical). I told her about my teachers, Cary, Kino, Hamish. She knows them all and made approving noises. She had already told us stories about Hamish one day at lunch, namely the fact that one year he showed up without his trademark long dreadlocks, which was a massive shock to them all.... and we got to hear her big laugh then. We talked about Sharath, she said he has a very hard job and some people say bad things about him. She talked about how he had hurt his back in the past teaching so many hours. She said he is a good man. Basically we were on the same page about Sharath, full of both respect and fondness. I told her about the last conference, how he seems a little fiercer this year, a larger presence. We discussed some of the questions and his answers, and laughed. I asked her how many massages she gives every week? She told me 3-4 per day. 'This is my season, when Sharath closes the shala, I close'. Between the bodywork and the cooking, they are busy ladies. Shashalika also has a small yoga shala on the other side of the house and teaches there.

Afterwards I was led into the back of the house into a small stone bathroom with a partial roof of sticks through which you could get glimpses of the floor above through cobwebs. I was covered in soapnut paste (she doesn't use the arapu powder) and fully rinsed off bucket-bath style, bit by bit while I shivered a little, then left with another bucket of nice warm water to complete my bath, and a clean, very fresh-smelling large tea towel.

No-nos for the rest of the day: tomatoes, lemon, coconut, pineapple, curd, cool drinks, going to the pool and swimming in cool water, climbing Chamundi Hill or the like. I was to go home and rest and see how the oil affected me. I woke Appu from his nap in the rickshaw and got him to drop me off at Amruth... I wanted to sit in the warm sun with a chai for ten minutes. After that I went home and, erm, went on the Internet for a while (!). I was actually pretty full of energy, but made myself rest as instructed. No nap, though. A short walk and masala dosa later.

The next day I was so full of energy, I went out for a walk and walked all the way into the city along KRS Road, past Supna bookshop, sat down on a corner in the sunshine for ten minutes and walked back down Hunsur Road (past the Metropole and Regaalis). Walking past the lake, I noticed the sun scintillating on the waters, and since it was actually a good time of day to walk around it (meaning it was open), I took a large detour all the way around. Then after that peacefulness I wanted to avoid the main road, so walked back to Gokulam through some back streets and got a little lost. I ended up walking for THREE HOURS, basically without stopping. Castor oil? Full moon? In any case, I felt tremendously good in led 2nd this morning, loose and open. So I guess it is safe to say, castor oil does not knock me out. This apparently means I'm not very toxic :-)

I'd recommend the Three Sisters for massage or lunch (delicious!!). If castor oil makes you nervous or you don't fancy being washed off after, you can have a treatment with 'ayurvedic oil' (not sure if this means matched to your constitution or not?)

I'll leave you with some pictures of beautiful Lake Kukkarahalli.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Exhaustion, obsession

Today was a tough one. Because the full moon is on Sunday we've had two six-day weeks. Primary series tomorrow, then two days' rest.

I did my dropbacks and went into an iffy handstand, dropped over into a backbend, started trying to jump back over. Sharath was sitting on the stage. His feet didn't appear. Five or six times I jumped, to no avail. I came down and set up again for handstand. I know where he is.... I avoid looking around with that needy look.

Handstand and over. The handstand isn't easy, I'm only kind of catching it, I'm out of practice, but I go over and jump.

Some feet appear. No toe bandages. From the front of the room I hear 'Noooo.... let her try'.

Crash! Crash! Crash! Over and over I jump, and my feet fall back to the mat. Each time, it seems clumsier and noisier. There are some grunts and groans now. The crashing is making a hell of a racket. My shoulders are doing funny things, and not always the same things left and right. I come down, stand up, set up again.

Handstand, over. Jump - crash! Jump - crash! Jump - crash!

Frustration... and the thought, 'WHAT THE FUCK DO I HAVE TO DO TO NAIL THIS FUCKER?!!!'

I'm making a spectacle of myself. I feel sorry for the people beside me (sorry, Ed). I feel sorry for myself. How long have I been trying to do this? Four years? When was I first given this work? Yoga Thailand? Kino? Cary?? I CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER, it's been that long. I feel stupid, I feel self-conscious. The whole room knows about me, because I'm 'the girl who blogs about practice and Can't Do Tictocs'. What a lame spectacle to watch from the foyer.

The feet are back, and someone is helping me over. JUST. I'm tired.... I get to the top, I almost crash back the way I came, my legs won't stay together... but over we go. Three times, over and back. I don't even know who it is until after. It's the new guy on shift.... maybe Spanish? He's done a good job, and I'm grateful. He's clearly been waved over by Sharath, who will be watching us both. I'm glad I didn't fuck up the assisted part, for his sake.

Twice over and stand up. At least I can do that. My feet touch my head on the third one and I should be able to hold it, but I have nothing left.... over I crash. And stand up.

Chakra bandhasana with the assistant. I thank him and escape.

In the changing room: desolation. I AM NO CLOSER TO DOING THIS AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. Honestly, I can't feel any improvement. WTF. How long will I be hacking away at this? Sharath doesn't know I've been trying to do this for YEARS.... I am a Tictoc Loser!

Savasana - the body is buzzing and humming like a mad beehive. Mind is just.... resigned.

On the way out I thank the assistant again, then I wait at the door. As usual, I catch Sharath's eye and bow my head. Just as on other days I acknowledge the help, today I acknowledge the lack of help. Which is also help. He gives me a nod and a very kind smile.

Breakfast. Idlys, three of them. Talk it over with Karen, that always helps.

A short nap.... the kind where your body feels nailed to the bed. I contemplate how I can't maintain this intensity and have a job. Being like this in the office isn't an option. I can barely move. I call the Three Sisters for a massage appointment. She asks my name and I tell her. 'Susan, from Canada?' she asks. I'm stunned. At the first lunch there last week, she had asked our names and countries. Do they take notes??! Anyhow, Harini (I think?) seems like a woman who can sort shit out. I expect to be sore by Saturday, not least because I intend to SLEEP A LOT before then (long sleeps make for stiff body). Though right now I feel surprisingly not sore, just.... OUF.

I've dropped the ball in Sanskrit. I am not capable of doing the homework. Not because it's too hard -  I'm getting everything right up till now. But because I don't have the resources. I simply have nothing left today.....

Lunch at Vivian's, then pick up my mending from Krishna. Five pieces, including a torn dress turned into a top, for £3.50, roughly. Chai on the steps and idle chat. I have not done the homework and I am skipping Sanskrit again. Home for a bit, and feeling heroic for writing this, rather than lying on the bed. Soon I'll be going to a birthday party for smoothies and chocolate cake. I will try to go to bed at 7pm. It's an early start tomorrow for led.

I am exhausted.

I need to ground my hands more. Next week, I need to get more weight into my hands. I need to spend time visualising all this, in a state of deep, deep relaxation. Roots coming out of the palms of my hands, spreading deep, deep into the Earth. My body won't miraculously come up until I can press down deeply into my hands. Karen pointed out that I'm a leggy person. As in, I LOVE to walk. I cover miles and miles on foot. I'm very grounded in my legs. Arms, I am not as skilled with. Karen also asked a leading question - 'Is it mental or physical?' This morning, I'd answered physical. But it can't be. It really can't be. It is mental. Not in a 'freak-out' sense, not in a 'negativity' sense, but.... in a Paradigm Shift sense. I need to make a leap. But with my hands, haha.

(Thanks, Karen.)

I need to visualise it. I need to 'kinesthetise' it (made-up word). And I need Harini hanging from a rope, digging her heels into my oiled-up muscles.

You are in no danger of having a 'pale' experience here. Sometimes it's India that blows you away, sometimes it's your Work that blows you away. This random thing, properly called viparita chakrasana, is my work.

EVERY DAY here is intense in some way.

Mysore :heart:

Right now I am going out for chocolate cake.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tictocs, conference

Well, readers of this blog with about a 9:00 start time may have got to witness my tictoc adventure from the foyer today, as I was pretty much in the middle of the room.

It is going OK. Yesterday I was a bit confused, but that was OK too.

3 x viparita chakrasana (tictoc)
3 x drop over and stand up
touch feet to head on the last one (vrshchikasana)

Touching feet to head on the way over in the previous iterations is a no-no and gets a scolding, so I made sure not to do that today. It's more of a wide arc dropping over.

Then jumping. Trying to move my chest forward, in accordance with a friend's advice. That makes sense, but didn't create magic. A few jumps, then Sharath's feet appeared and he helped me back over. And he gives juuuuust the minimal amount of help, so that it requires all my strength; and maybe, just maybe, despite myself, the smallest grunt will escape from my body. The edge.

Actually it's not a lot different from doing it with Cary or Kino, they both give the minimum required as well. Some other teachers just flip you over. I've been well prepared by my teachers!

The difference is, it's a bit nerve-wracking even to just catch a handstand with Sharath standing there. But he is patient.

So, I don't know if I will crack it solo in the next 2 1/2 weeks, that's a short time. BUT -
A) I will bloody well get it before this time next year
B) It is partly not even about that......

Karen and I were discussing this yesterday: it's just a new level of keeping it together. It's another cycle. When you begin this practice, surya namaskara B leaves you breathless. You tremble through the standing postures.

Eventually, it takes something like bhujapidasana to make you lose it a bit.

Kapotasana and/or dropbacks are places where the ante is suddenly upped. Nerve cleansing.... zzzzzzt!

Now it's like this: 'what can we put in the series to really make you shake, tremble, quiver and be breathless, just before you have to bend over backwards and grab your own knees?'

In other words: having the breath together and being collected enough in order to go directly into assisted dropbacks from this routine without missing a beat can be considered a success, even if a bit of assistance is required in the execution. And I can do that :-)


I noticed three people around me doing a few third series postures, and none of them seemed to do the handstand routine as far as I noticed. I don't think it is the case that everyone does it, or at least is given it at the same time. The reasons why don't really matter, but the point is: INDIVIDUALISED TEACHING.

That may bother the haters. This ain't no assembly line, folks!


Sunday's conference was THE BEST.

Sharath was warm and funny as usual, but also fierce. His eyes were flashing. I love that! The energy here is different from last year.... more potent.

I don't do conference notes, and I don't generally like conference notes, filtered as they are through someone else's perspective. However, having said that, here's a link to some pretty good conference notes:

What never comes through in the write-ups is the humour.... the electricity.... the pregnant pauses.... the ripples of energy through the room.

The postures are there to help us develop stability of body and mind, that is all.

And I don't want to be a monkey playing cricket with diamonds.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Practice Surprise

Well, I know some say you are not supposed to blog about practice, but I think that once in a while it's OK. Plus, I like doing things others tell me I shouldn't.

Front and centre this morning, and by the time I got to backbends I was in a nice little row of my friends: Karen, Doug, me, Ben. Some totally badass woman on the stage in front of me doing part of Advanced A.

Backbends were good, I had Sharath for the second day running, grabbing knees. Yesterday he said 'very good!'. Today nothing, but after he gave me a squish I got a shock:

'Next week you do handstands and viparita chakrasana' (makes flip-flop motion with hand). My eyes must have widened in terror. 'I teach you,' he added, and walked away.


I'd anticipated a challenge this trip, which in my mind took one of two forms:
- he would pile 3s postures on me till I collapse on the mat
- he wouldn't give me any postures and I would just have to suck it up (mental challenge)

Nowhere in my thinking had my pose nemesis, the tictoc, figured!

(For the uninitiated, this is about dropping over from handstand into a backbend (easy part); then jumping back up to handstand and coming back over (hard part). Basically kind of a back flip.)

I remembered someone quoting him as saying he only gives handstands to people with big egos.... hmmm. He might have been joking, but still....? Anyway, I'm unlikely to have a big ego after attempting this. If I don't fall all over the place and knock him over, I'll consider it a success....

Kino and Cary have been trying to get me to crack this for ages. I only work on them intermittently though. I've been practicing at home a lot. I got to the point of jumping up with a mighty effort and kicking myself in the head, at best. Or I can do them in headstand off of my coffee table. I need the help of being on my head AND the coffee table, not just one or the other. There seems to be a weak link somewhere, and if I'm not careful I strain my back. I need to be able to control the action, the way I can control a dropback all the way down. Doing them with assistance can be OK, but it kind of sucks to always need help. Especially since everyone seems to think I should just be able to do it.

Vrshchikasana is nice, though (on a good balance day).

I pondered it in the changing room.

- he thinks I have a big ego?
- he thinks that because of my bendy back and because I'm strong, I should be able to do them with relative ease, so I get to do them before starting 3s when maybe not everyone does?
- he KNOWS I can't do them.... he sees that weakness in me?
- A + C ??

It's scary, but of course I'm also excited to get the attention, and to actually work on something with his help, rather than just do as I'm told.

I don't want to disappoint, though. I've just been in a little spell of basking in the glory of my teacher's approval.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be AMAZING to nail it here for the first time ever??

I may need some good fairies to sprinkle pixie dust on me in my sleep, though.

However.... if there's a place where anything can happen... it is here.

In any case.... I have five days to think about it!!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Thanksgiving, business as usual

Happy Sankranti!

Today is a major holiday here, a harvest festival, a day of giving thanks. Rather like what Thanksgiving used to be.... only with painted cows! More info in the link above.

Practice update: everything is normal now. Led 2nd was way less traumatic this Sunday, despite the fact I was front and centre with Sharath's feet in my sight as my head bowed for the chant. Today was just kind of 'business as usual'. Last week's aching legs are gone and so is the drama, trauma or whatever, for now at least. I am plugging away at my full intermediate practice, slightly wistfully listening to others being given new postures, but in truth if I put in some full weeks of intermediate series here that will be great, the consistency will be an improvement on what I was managing the last few months, when I seemed to be faltering under the demands of everyday life and a job. If I go home with renewed motivation to cope with that, I'll be very pleased.

Sometimes I think I want to write more about practice, then a few hours later it doesn't seem at all important. Practice is routine, what you do in the morning.... like brushing your teeth.... only a lot longer and harder. Any minor irritations melt away in the warm glow of a good breakfast or lunch.

I'm in the middle two weeks now... I live here. Sanskrit class happens, we can make sentences now. Going to movies happens, most recently Life of Pi. Lots of mingling, walking around, drinking coconuts, chatting, planning lunches, collecting people into the lunch party as you go. Rooftop breakfasts. Sitting out on the steps on 1st Main with a chai, watching the world pass by happens.

I guess I don't have a lot to say, this is just a little update.

So, more later. Meanwhile, Happy Sankranti... I give thanks for being here.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Today I was haunted a bit in the wee hours by 'my stuff'. Sigh. Went to practice and had a total meltdown, for completely unrelated and undisclosable reasons. There were a few uncontrollable sobs, actually had to leave my mat and go to the changing room and blow my nose so I could breathe again. Got back and the girl beside me whacked me in the face, by mistake of course. She apologised so it was OK, and did so once again in the changing room afterwards, so I consider her a friend now, nice girl! Another girl saw me come in upset for closing, she was in shoulderstand and gave my leg a little squeeze.....

Went to breakfast and ranted to friends. Had a discussion with another friend on the way out which made me feel A LOT better. Went to chanting, and it really does create positive energy, like magic. Felt totally better afterwards, and standing outside suddenly realised all the physical pain of the first week of 2nd (mainly impossibly aching legs) was gone.... I'd been too obsessed with my emotional pain to notice.

That is all.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Well I started a post on Sunday but didn't get it finished... and now with a bit of distance, I have to start over. This is a good thing, as it will stop me from going into Proustian-type detail over every little thing....

Led intermediate was HARD this time. My practice was ropey for a few weeks before I came here.... then a week of just primary, and straight into intermediate LED....

Started off nice and light though, and wow.... it is nice to be in that group. Just the simplest movements of surya namaskar, performed in synch with dozens of practitioners who've devoted so many years of their lives to this.... the soft energy and buoyancy of the breath is palpable. Just Wow.

Unfortunately the breath got away from me a little bit during the 'anti-gravity backbends' (as I call shalabasana through parsva dhanurasana.... whereas ustrasana through kapo, whilst not exactly 'with gravity', are less of a strain). And whilst assisting supta vaj (i.e. resting), I noticed I was having a tachycardia, or runaway heartbeat, i.e. my heart was beating harder and faster than the norm. OK, I get this sometimes, more often apropos of nothing than during practice, and I have a technique for resynching my heartbeat to the breath. NB I have discussed this with my doctor and had all the heart tests, so no lectures in the comments, please!!!

If it came down to a choice between dying on the mat and getting sent back, I would have stopped, but I found I could carry on, though I couldn't apply my normalising technique during full-on practice. So the rest of it was shaky and somewhat breathless. If you were watching from the foyer you might have seen me doing some sneaky mouth breathing and checking my pulse, though my moral support, Karen, couldn't notice. Anyway, it was HARD, I couldn't get karandavasana up on my own, my face was fully swimming in sweat, and by shoulderstand there may have been a 'nerve cleansing' tear or two mixed in. No blood though ;-)

Conclusion: **less coffee required before led 2nd class**

On the bright side, he let me finish, so my practice here is full intermediate now. As a bonus, I was the lucky recipient of a chakra bandhasana assist. :-D

Yesterday's mysore session was better, and today's was nearly flying. BUT. The pain! After, I mean, not during. In the legs, mainly, which makes navigating hilly Gokulam a bit of a trial: I'm sure I am walking funny! Not entirely sure why practice here has this effect, as my full practice at home has another 16 postures... not that I've been doing all of it lately, but still.....

And yesterday: totally wiped out. Absolutely useless, laid out flat on the bed. Sleeping odd hours, full of freakish and disturbing dreams, unable to move sometimes in the grip of a massively body-stoned torpor.... this place is fucking with my energy levels something crazy. But hey, that is OK though... that's why I am here and not in the office......

So a typical day involves getting up around 4:00 even though practice has only been moved up to 8:30 so far.... which is really 8:00 (if you don't know... don't ask!). After practice comes a crucial part of the day, namely BREAKFAST. At some point during the day there is either the mandatory chanting session (creating positive vibe in us and in the shala), or Sanskrit class, or conference, all of which may involve a long wait and/or sitting in a crowded room in intense heat. There is a lot of walking between one thing and another, and if carrying the heavy Manduka, each step can be a giant effort. A lunch or a dinner with friends. Errands, shopping, a chai on the main strip watching the world seamlessly wheel by... and soon it is time for bed. Thus the days are full, enjoyable, exhausting.

Some minor revelations:
- I am not an imposter (!)
- I 'deserve' to be right where I am, by virtue of putting in the work.
- Sharath is not there to catch me out (this is all purely neurotic unworthiness 'stuff'!!!)
- Sharath seems extraordinarily kind this year. Also completely impartial, clearly wanting all of us to fulfill whatever our maximum potential is as of right now.
- Following this practice will surely bring progress just as laid out on the map. We are all on that map; it matters not where.

Also: I really have to let go of being the queue-jump / mat control police. As long as I get into the room eventually, and leave it with all of my teeth, then all is OK (having said that, there is no reason to crash down out of the seven headstands a foot onto my mat behind you and a millimetre from landing on my neck.... if you do this then I will head butt you from chaturanga, just like a goat).


Friday, 4 January 2013

Being keen for led class, and Big Drama

I'm going to try to keep up the blogging while I'm here, even though I anticipate feeling over-exposed, something I've really been trying to avoid recently in my life......


This morning was led primary series at 6:00. I didn't buy into the whole 'arrive early' thing last year, preferring to arrive 'just on time' and go for a place in the foyer. But this year I decided to stick with Karen, and off we set at ten to five. The warm, still, humid morning reminded me of Canadian evenings in the summer, and it was simply too beautiful to speak with the trees hanging motionless in the mist and the half moon shining down, so although I had plenty to babble to Karen about, we walked mostly in silence. And actually the wait outside the shala was just another deliriously beautiful experience.... sitting on the stone bench (as the steps were already full), surrounded by all the foliage inside the gates, and the looming shadows it cast against the shala wall; the small (growing) crowd of ashtangis sitting with closed eyes or completing their Sanskrit homework; Sharath's voice counting out the 4:30 class inside, the rhythmic Sanskrit syllables like a lullaby to those who aren't actually doing the lifting and sweating; a couple of latecomers actually practicing outside (within the gates), and a very gentle street dog showing the same respect as all of us for the early morning stillness as it weaved its way through, giving out a nuzzle here and there. And since I actually ended up in a decent spot in the front row AND had time to get to the toilet in the few minutes' break where 70-odd people file out and the same amount scramble in and claim their places, the experiment could be considered a resounding success. And I had a very nice practice... and maybe I've just been lucky so far, but it seems like my mat neighbours this year have been particularly self-contained, aware, and nice to be near. The rest of the day as usual revolved around conversation and food, and as usual the buzz from the morning's practice fuelled a kind of quiet rapture throughout the rest of the day....


So the bedding-in week of primary series is over. A week ago today I arrived, after two nights of barely any sleep, having left my flat at 3:00am and made stops in Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi en route. That meant that the longest flight was six hours, and I got to stretch my legs in the aforementioned airports, then managed to arrive in an adequate state of sleep deprivation to doze the whole 3 1/2 hours from Bangalore. Yes!! Awaking after sunrise, I decided to look at the scenery for the remaining half hour, but as soon as I gazed out the window it all looked strangely familiar, and indeed it turned out we had just turned onto Contour Road and a moment later pulled up at my hotel. Apparently I'd been following along in my sleep....

A busy day followed, meeting lots of friends and running errands. It was nice to arrive this time and know the drill, and I was buzzing! To cut it short, I ended up with Kristen at the Green Hotel, and after dinner we decided to rickshaw it home rather than walk, because it was quite late by then and surely I should be exhausted?

We finally flagged one down, who tried to charge 150 rupees (at least triple the rate), so we walked on in disgust, with him following beside shouting figures at us, finally agreeing to turn on the meter, at which point we got in. A terrifying ride ensued as the rickshaw seemed to be falling apart, tipping dangerously to the left (my side), even seeming to nearly go over as he swerved to the left of a speed bump on Gokulam Main Road. I had visions of myself lying maimed underneath it, and was relieved to be dropped at the corner. Important detail: Kristen paid him.

Tired. Face washed, teeth brushed, getting into bed, getting a lip balm out of my bag, and.... no wallet.

My wallet was not in my bag.

A bit of flapping about revealed it was nowhere in the room.

I felt panic rise. I hadn't got organised yet. Everything was in there. In that one little packet were my shala fees (a lot of rupees), a couple of hundred pounds, my debit and credit cards and online banking fob, and my PASSPORT, as well as the expired passport containing my residence permit, which I need to get back into the UK....

I called the numbers on the Green Hotel website. They were all wrong numbers. I knew I had last had it there, when I paid. I texted Kristen. I needed to keep her awake for moral support. She was on it, my lifeline. I was on the verge of not being able to dress myself. Deep breaths. I wasn't DYING.... I put on my running shoes and ran back there - down past the crematorium and up Kalidasa Road, and the adrenaline that could have fuelled the panic went into moving my legs, one after the other.... breath, heartbeats, breath, feet.....

The gates were closed. I peered through. One gate swung open, giving me a fat lip. It vaguely registered that I was lucky not to have lost any teeth. The gatekeeper sent me through to reception. I woke the night porter from his snooze beside the desk. I explained. 'Oh yes...'

'Yes? You have??' Elation....

But no. Four more men appeared and together we searched outside around the table, but clearly it wasn't there. The waiter knew me from last year. He is nice and I leave tips. He would have turned it in....

The kind men asked questions and clucked sympathetically. They insisted that one of them should drop me back home (it was midnight). I declined.... I wanted to walk the long way back, the rickshaw route. It had to have fallen out in the rickshaw, or on the road..... There ensued a mental debate about the moral character of the rickshaw driver. We hadn't got on with him, but... would he? Surely not...? Overcharging didn't make him a hardened criminal....

Walking along Gokulam Main Road in the dark. There are few people about at that time. It isn't very scary though, safer than London. I wasn't going to die. They weren't going to lock me up. I wasn't lying maimed under a rickshaw.... my body was still mine. My lip was stinging, but as a bonus, I had all my teeth! So this trip was going to be a little different. It wasn't going to be too relaxing. There'd be trips to Bangalore. There'd be a LOT of red tape.... I should cancel the credit card now. I should call my mother. Kristen and others would lend me money to register. I would still practice, and apart from that I'd put up with a little bit of hell and just be glad to be alive....

And then it was there, lying on the side of the road by the speed bump. About six inches by four inches, black, with pink ribbon sewn on that says 'lolli' on one side and 'pops' on the other. I walked over and picked it up. Everything was inside. It had been lying in the road for over an hour.

I still had Kristen on the texts. I had someone to send some OMGs and a lot of exclamation marks to!


Thus ended my first day in Mysore this trip. I'm kind of hoping that's the biggest adventure I have this time round. Still and all, it seems an auspicious start....