17 May, 2012
I haven’t done a proper post in a while, not out of being too busy or too lazy or anything like that but because I’ve been thinking of what to actually write down. So much has happened in the last couple of months, on AND off the mat and I genuinely struggled with what to share. But now I feel the urge to write, so here goes, bear with me 😉
So, anyone who knows me or who’s seen my practice knows I’m by no means the most bendy girl in the world, and that’s OK with me, for the most part, what I love in daily practice is that I can keep working on the same movements and start to appreciate the little changes I see in my body and in my breath each day. I notice my knees almost completely on the floor in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose, demonstrated beautifully by yoga teacher Benita Hussain. I feel more grounded in my feet (at least, one at a time) in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose – demonstrated by yours truly), sometimes I almost get lost in the breath, the flow, the whole being of the practice…
That is, until I get to the postures of the Intermediate Series. Don’t let that word “intermediate” fool you, these postures are quite the gauntlet – the first third is a series of progressively deeper backbends; the second, a group of leg-behind-the-head postures; and a sequence of very challenging strength postures. I’ve only now arrived at the first leg of that journey and, mercy divine, there are days when I wonder if I can make it. And of all of these backbends, Kapotasana A (Pigeon Pose) is the most intimidating…no, I can flat-out say it, I’m frightened of this posture. I don’t know which element of the posture it is – the actual backbending, the dropping back, the opening of my ever-so-tight-and-currently-injured right shoulder or just the overall vulnerability that confront me every day on the mat. It was the last posture that Kino gave me when I went to study with her two months ago, right before my other really big challenge…the notorious Ashtanga dropbacks. So now my practice is at a point where all the really physically scary things happen at the end of practice, and starting off every day, I’m so aware of that and I know that I have to focus my mind and practice without attachment (don’t get too cushy with the poses I find easier, don’t freak out because you know Kapo is coming and you’re terrified). But then…
A few weeks ago, I had a significant shift occur in my everyday life, something that pained me all the greater because the events occurred outside of my control and I was helpless to stop it. On that day, I cried. I wept. I sobbed. And then, I took to the mat. More than ever, I needed the soothing familiarity and the sweet routine-ness of the practice to help me feel grounded and that I wasn’t going to lose myself in old patterns of behaviour, like running to hide. On that day I was determined to understand what was so frightening, what was that thing that made me feel as if I were spinning out of orbit. And on that day, I found it, in Kapotasana A. In this posture, I have to kneel on the floor (submit, if you will), open my chest (my heart), and stretch my arms back, parallel to the floor, before dropping back to the floor and walking my hands toward my feet. Normally, I try to rush this part, but in doing so, I noticed I was missing those precious moments of deep sensation where the back muscles fire up and really help to create that deep curve in the spine that I needed. But on that day, tears and all, I waited, I held on for five extra breaths (that felt like 50), and magically, I could start to see my feet. Amazing! Even more amazing, I could start to wriggle my hands on the ground toward my feet and just touch my toes on my own. Wow! So that was it! I stayed with the fear I was experiencing, I could identify it (“Oh God, there’s no safety net. I’m terrified I won’t be able to solve this. What’s going to happen now?”) and therefore begin to release the feelings and my attachment to them.
Then I got to dropbacks, and even more amazingly, I could inhale and reach up, exhale to the floor, inhale push into my thighs and heels and exhale back to standing, just like that, without my usual extra back-and-forth added momentum to come back up. Just like that, it was there. And it was there because I saw the fear and pushed through it anyway, on that day, a very dark day, I could see a tiny light.
Fast forward 23 days and i’m at a different place, things are still hard, but I have a solution in front of me and hope for a better “whatever comes my way”. On the mat today, I worked on Kapotasana A twice and I could actually see my heels and walk my hands in and touch the sides of my feet. I still have a way to go to grabbing my heels (have you SEEN the size of my feet? LOL), but somehow I think I might already understand the lesson this asana is meant to teach me. And that lesson is “Acknowledge what you’re afraid of. Know that the fear of a thing is almost always greater than the thing itself. And, don’t ever give up, no matter how long it takes”. Kino says “…dirga kala” (a long time) and she’s right, this is a journey of courage, of facing your deepest and most-quietly-lurking fears and coming out alive, wiser and more at peace on the other side.
For that and many other reasons, I’m incredibly humbled by and grateful for this thing called Ashtanga Vinyasa and that I can get on the mat each day and try my best, and even more thankful that I can, in some small way, share that path with others.
2 February, 2012
As a little girl, I always loved the idea of travel. The concept that I could get on a plane and discover a new world was one I learned early in life, as the child of an international student doing her graduate studies in the US. Add to that the child-like wonder and fascination I fell every time I watch planes take off and land (like how do they get over 600,000lbs of metal, electronics and human beings off the ground? How? It’s an everyday miracle, in my mind). Step out of a plane and you have the opportunity to change your whole perspective on life.
I’m joyful every time I know travel is upcoming, I’m like the Happy Wanderer, who sings:
I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
That’s all I need really, my passport, a few essentials, and I’m off into the blue yonder, to find the treasure in the journey as well as in the destination.
Having made my first journey (pilgrimage?) to Mysore, India, I return to my island paradise home with a deep sense of gratitude, for all the things I have, the privileges I take for granted, and the resources I have at my disposal without really even thinking about it. Who knew I’d miss my soft bed and bathtub so much? For all the things I miss about about Gokulam, there are an equal number of things I treasure about being in Jamaica. The thing is I’m truly aware, and equally aware of the instances where I and my contemporaries are guilty of forgetting our blessings.
I’m humbled when I can see the 8 x 10 foot shacks that the average family of 6 in Bombay must share, and that there is a cadre of 400,000 people directly associated with washing and drying ALL the laundry for a city of 22 million ( this is just the accounted-for population; I’m told there’s an additional 40%). I now just smile when I think of the Hindu cows who would stroll contentedly down streets, while pedestrians and motorists alike struggled to stay out of their way. I understand the value of one rupee. I’ve seen equal parts of pain and triumph, a sense of accepting one’s karma and striving for the best one can do at the same time. It makes me realize that each country has its travails and challenges, and that no place is perfect.
Sweet Jamaica is no more, no less than any other nation, but I think that some of its people have forgotten what they have (I shared this sentiment with a student this morning, who also happens to be a Member of Parliament and he felt the very same – “the hand-out mentality makes me so sad” he said), a sense of ennui and entitlement has replaced the enterprising spirit and enduring determination that I grew up appreciating was an earmark of being Jamaican.
Would that we too can learn the lessons of this life. Would that we could recapture that gratitude for everything and that diligent way of pushing through to the finish. Like doing your practice and making it, breath by breath to the end. Like seeing how other people live and being grateful for what you have, rather than comparing it to the lifestyle of others. Like really recognizing that happiness is a spiritual practice you can tap into each and every day.
26 January, 2012
“To breathe, let go and somewhere in there, the yoga will take over”. Woke up sick again today, and again I told myself “just practice, you’ll be fine, the practice might look to be a hugely external thing, but the REAL transformation happens inside you, and usually once you’re OFF the mat”…
And so it was, on my last day of Self-practice class (I agree it sounds silly to say “Mysore-style” if you’re actually IN Mysore), that I sat waiting on my turn to practice, quietly watching the students flow through their postures, here in this corner was a Japanese guy practicing Intermediate (hugely misleading description, this stuff is amazingly challenging), over there was an older gentleman working through his Primary series, and there are students of every nationalily, ethnicity and creed, moving each one independently, and yet sharing the space and the energy of the shala, the teachers and the assistants. When I was finally at the ‘front of the line’, I said to myself “I don’t want the front row, I just want to do my practice quietly and go”, of course that meant that when Sharath called out “one more! You come” my place was there magically at the front of the room. Yay me! Expect nothing, right?
I giggled to myself, and then started, and then the practice took over, and it felt really good, even the postures where I tend to slow down and not flow so smoothly,I felt strong and open, and so grateful. Such a bittersweet feeling, just finding my own rhythm here in Gokulam, on the mat and off, and now I have to leave it. It made me think how easy it is to become attached to a so-called ideal situation – being here in Mysore means I can focus totally on practising and building a life around deepening my understanding and living of yoga philosophy, I’m a student, I don’t work her, it’s so seductive – it would be so easy, right? But the point of the practice is for it to become a part of your everyday, in the middle of the assignment you need to hand in, the bills that need paying, my real life. And the magic is, I can take it with me, being here has made me feel a faith in myself I didn’t have before, not even as a teacher at home, now as a student connecting with her newest teacher, in the birthplace of yoga as I understand it. And that is a tremendous feeling. And I’m excited to get on the mat against in Kingston town.
Speaking of teachers, I stood up from my 3rd wheel pose to find Sharath standing there, dropped back, stood up and said “Sharath, this is my last week here and I want to tell you ‘Thank You'”, he graciously said “thank you” in return, then watched me do two more drop backs (how are my back muscles not sore now? 🙂 ) and then he said “one month not enough”, I said “I’m coming back next year”, he said “3 months next time”, I was like “eeeeem, 2 months”, he laughed and said “3”, we (my bank account and I) countered with 2 and he laughed again and said “ok, 2 months”…he’s hilarious, what a wonderful way to end my time here.
After dark chocolate pancakes (yes, Tracey, again ;)) for breakfast, I went to chanting class, and then home to start packing, went out to do errands and ended up having dinner, following a friend to the nearby astrologer to request a natal chart (astrology is different in India, serious stuff) and then back to my good friend Karla’s for smoothies for dessert…nothing planned really, no expectations except to enjoy the short time I have left, no drama, just moments of happiness with new friends and feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the winding path that brought me here (and will hopefully bring me back).
In the end, whatever path you set out on, expect nothing except to be human, there will be obstacles along the way, you WILL fall, but the key is to rise agin, to treat others as you’d want to be treated, to be impeccable with your word and try to end things as strongly as you began them.
Accept that 😉
Ever grateful (and loved, thanks to my 2 brothers who said they missed me today, I love you both so much)
22 January, 2012
So today is the first of my lasts here in Mysore for this year…my last Led Sunday Primary class, my last conference with Sharath…first the practice, it was hard today. I couldn’t focus my dristis, postures that are normally not challenging for me suddenly were, I could feel my shoulder almost searing. And so I decided, to slow down and not look to create a beautiful-looking practice, but instead just to breathe and let go…in that way, I made it through the practice, and let’s face it, some days that’s all we can manage. Knowing these things, acknowledging when you need to hold something, and more importantly, when you need to let it go, that’s the power of the yoga that takes place beyond the asanas we do.
After practice, I got a jelly coconut and ran off to Anohki’s to get breakfast, they were a bit slow today (understaffed) so I was just able to cut and swallow my banana-and-cinnamon pancakes (they were goooood, did I mention I’m loving the food? And the prices? Good grief, amazing!) and just made it back in time for conference. And what a blessing, because a senior student, Alex Medin, had made a documentary called “Mysore Magic: yoga at the source” during my first two weeks here, and we got to screen it. Here’s the brief, but really lovely snippets of our daily lives here, I just have to share it.
Watching it, there were moments I was almost in tears, without really knowing why, maybe feeling the sadness of it being my last week here, maybe just overwhelmed and working through my own energy and issues brought up through the practice itself, but I came away feeling so humbled and yet so proud to be a part of this great thing called “Ashtanga”, it may not me someone else’s way, but I certainly feel like it’s mine.
A close friend asked me today, “how do you think India has changed you?” and to be honest, I haven’t even thought about it, I’ve just been here living, paying rent, doing my practice, meeting and making friends, working, doing chores, much like I would at home. I walk everywhere, often in bemused wonder at being in India (still!), or smiling at something uniquely Indian or something I can draw a parallel with in Jamaica. I don’t know, maybe I’ll feel different when I go home, maybe I won’t, but others may see the differences in me. I’m not trying to analyze all that now. I just want to remain present, have a good time, follow the path of the practice, pick up some things and let others go. Jamaica is home. It is inevitable, why rush it?
Tomorrow, Monday is a moon day, so we get another rest (new moon, grounding energy. I’m content to let the day unfold as it will, and then the next 6 days until I’m in Kingston town again, smiling and smelling the sea (the harbour? lol)
20 January, 2012
This post is early, for two reasons. First, I’m off to lunch to say goodbye to my teachers Kino Macgregor and Tim Feldmann (they’re off to Goa to teach a workshop, isn’t the yoga life great? Certainly when you’re gifted, devoted and proficient practitioners who are blessed by Sharath to teach) and then going out to a Lyme tonight, so I didn’t want to post too late (like I’m on some sort of schedule, eh?)
The second reason is the more important, and it’s that I learned a practical lesson of commitment between yesterday and today than I wanted to note down and share. The lesson is “if you give your word, it must mean something”. Simple, right? You’re thinking “THAT’s the rest lesson?” but what I mean is, as small as a task is, or as insignificant a promise, keep it. Try. This is commitment in action. I learned this by not keeping my word yesterday. The situation is simple enough, I was supposed to meet a new friend at the coconut stand (I had asked her to follow ME somewhere), but yesterday I was exhausted and flaky, and overslept and didn’t show. Sometimes we never know how our actions impact others, but when we ask, the truth can be sobering. I saw my friend at practice this morning, and she was forgiving, but her energy was somehow different (I’m sensitive enough, even as blockheaded and tired as I was after Sharath smilingly battered us in Led Primary, which was good – I didn’t tell you Ashtanga practitioners really go hard? 😉 ). I asked her, and she said she was indeed annoyed at my no-show, given that I had asked HER and not the other way around, and that she gave up the opportunity to do other things, waiting on me. The ultimate facepalm. I felt (and still feel) so bad about it. It’s as if you can’t apologize enough. She was so gracious about it, saying “don’t feel bad, we talked it out, cleared the air, and now we both know”. I know this, but how I feel now is teaching me “this is another reason that you’re here, why you do this practice, to learn to be immaculate with your word, and if you cannot be, make the effort to honour the other party in some other way”
Tough lesson, I’m still a bit watery about it. She was far more compassionate about it than I’m being now, but then I’m really hard on myself, and sometimes it’s good to be. As simple and inconsequential as this may be in the scheme of things, say in comparison to flaking on a big assignment or betraying a loved one’s trust, the principle still holds. Be immaculate (the ICHS girls are gonna love this one), when you say you’ll do something, do it. Honour the people you know, old friends and new. Treat all equally with the respect and love you’d want for yourself. This is a tenet of yoga, far more important than if I ever get my ankles in backbending or perform the perfect arm balance. As Sharath says, asana is the scaffolding of the living, breathing practice, but the scaffolding alone is not the building.
Gone to forgive myself
18 January, 2012
Today practice was good, right up til Backbending, which for me is a great challenge. Moving into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow, or Wheel pose) itself isn’t so much the tricky bit, I’ve learned how to be patient and allow my shoulders and back to let me know when they’re ready for me to test them a little more each day, I’ve overcome the fear of falling and of the potential embarrassment (clearly resident only in my own mind, for every teacher I’ve encountered in learning this pose has shown me far more compassion and understanding than I’ve shown myself), what remains is the ability to stand up from this pose consistently.
A word before I go further, Ashtanga isn’t about any ONE asana, it’s not about doing the ones you like and avoiding the hard stuff, it’s about finding your deepest, truest self on and off the mat, patiently, quietly, breath by breath, posture by posture, dristi by dristi.
With that said, I’m now clearly aware of what Wheel Pose and standing up are trying to show me about myself, on and off the mat. For me, it’s about finding my foundation and seeing things through. Today when I did my first drop back and came up, Sharath was there, he said “very good”, I explained that I wasn’t getting the posture consistently, and he said “too much thinking, just focus on the asana”, then he watched me do the same thing and said “If you don’t have your legs, you can’t come up”. How true, other teachers have told me this “press into your legs, use the strength of your thighs and pelvis, feel as if you’re grounding through the earth. Perfect advice for airy-fairy me. It’s more than a physical thing. I find commitment a hard concept to process, even the idea of purchasing furniture is frightening for me, I try never to hold onto things or people, for that matter. But I need grounding and balance, or I will surely drift away on the first breeze to Never-Never land. I’m a good starter of things, always make a good impression, but I become easily bored, and don’t finish as strongly. This has hurt me, personally and professionally, and comes not from a fear of failing, but being completely completely frightened of my potential. Yes, strange, I’m working on it, letting myself truly shine. I’ll get there.
This is why I think Backbending comes where it does in the practice, it’s the last really strong outpouring of effort you make before you can ease up and relax a bit into the soothing flow of Finishing postures. It says “store your energy, finish strong, know where your feet are, commit and seal your practice”. I love that, I love that it took me 3 weeks to get it, to really get that message. I now find myself thinking “I want to be diligent in my practice, aware of my body, relax when my tendency is to panic, and above all, push into my foundations (physical, mental and spiritual) and as Sharath said “make your legs straight as you can and strong and PUSH with your hands”. I want to stand up on my own two feet and find the peace in the lesson this posture, and this mighty practice and lineage are here to teach me. And I believe if I just keep doing it, keep trying, keep committing, keep with faith and the 4Ds (dedication, devotion, discipline and determination, especially the last one) that I will.
Wow, that felt good to say out loud 🙂
Day 14 – keeping this format for the people following my status updates on Facebook, hot and sweaty in the shala today,tremendous hip-opening help by one of thassistants in Baddha Konasana, my very LEAST favourite pose in Primary and then the same guy helped in Backbending and offered into why I’m hyperventilating in standing up from drop backs, he said “don’t hold your breath, inhale as you come back up, also there is a little tightness in your hips that challenges the grounding through the legs, you really want to feel your legs supporting you as you come up, I know how you feel, sometimes you just wantit over with” 🙂 I said “that and I’m favouring my right shoulder, which twinges a bit as I deepen the backbend and walk in towards my feet” he was like “ah” and he watched me do two on my own, they were better, and told me not to rush, and to feel my feet (tiny as they are, right? DWL) and it was good! Then chanting and then we went to Lahksmipuram for lunch, so yummy, but what bugged me a bit was a guy who tagged along with us, and then refused to eat, saying he had no money (at that point I was like “dude, we all came in a rickshaw, did you think that was free?) and then refusing even after we offered to cover his meal. Maybe he wanted the company? I dunno. I wish he’d spoken up, though, that was the principle that niggled at me. Was it male pride? Till I grow a pair of my own, I’ll probably never know. Every day of Primary Series feels good, except when I push my shoulder too hard, I’m practising restraint too – and I’ll remember to BREATHE in drop backs, after all, the whole point is the breath, to listen to it and find the peace it shows you. Each asana is a teacher and Baddha Konasana and drop backs are teaching my key lessons about myself, I’m so grateful I’m aware enough to listen