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 :-)