Saturday, December 31, 2011

Come In

“If you are a dreamer,come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!”
Shel Silverstein

Friday, December 30, 2011

Scurvy prevention and some thoughts on assisting

In Mysore, there are many many options when it comes to food, whether your choices are restricted by budget, sensitivity of stomach, or an 'ism' (as in veganism, vegetarianism, etc...), and quite often, yoga students will wind up eating out for nearly every meal.  For the first few weeks, this is actually quite nice, seeing as how most yoga student apartments have fairly primitive kitchens, and the fact that it is actually fairly affordable is a bit of a novelty.  There does come a point though, at least for me, where the flavours and textures of Indian food begin to get a little bit blah, when you start to notice that everything you eat is mushy and seasoned with the same half dozen spices.  This is when the idea of home cooking starts to feel very alluring, single burner with one pot to cook with, no problem.  I reached this phase sometime last week, along with the realisation that my armpits are beginning to smell like idli, not a good thing.  Staying in for meals seems to reduce the social aspect of Mysore life, but that is something I can live with in the name of scurvy prevention.  Friday mornings seem to be the day for 'secret breakfast place' where you can get the best Indian breakfast in town, and that is a tradition I can live with, but the wholesomeness of home-made porridge and a spirulina drink for breakfast, and brown rice or millet with gently steamed, still crunchy veggies for lunch is getting more and more appealing by the day. 

Also, assisting in the shala has been a really cool experience so far.  There are some people who still give me a look of disgust, as in a 'who the hell are you and where is the guy I am paying so much to learn from' face when I come to give them an adjustment, and a few snide remarks have been tossed around on occasion about the assistants in general, but for the most part, the other students have been really supportive.  I am looking at this month of assisting as another way to be Sharath's student, and the bottom line is, he asked me, I didn't ask him.  It is something that I feel pretty fortunate to be doing, and getting to observe what goes on in the shala is nothing short of incredible.  Some fatigue is beginning to make itself known in my body, but the toll of dropping people back, tortoise wrestling (putting people into supta kurmasana), hoisting people out of karandavasana, and jumping up and down off the floor for supta vajrasana adjustments is not nearly so bad as I thought it might be.  And I never notice how tired I am until I leave the shala, usually it hits while drinking coconuts.  Big breakfast eating and napping ensue.  The lethargy that is usually present for the rest of the day leaves me with the perfect opportunity to catch up on the list of special order crocheted items that is growing constantly.  I think the guy who owns the yarn shop will be able to put his kids through college based on the money the Mysore crochet community spends, he must be loving this trend towards craftiness!

Time to get ready for Friday led class, which turns into quite a treat when you don't get to see primary series the rest of the week.  The only bummer?  The mosh pit at the gate when it opens and everyone swarms for the door.  Not correct method.  Happy Friday! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mysore Style Christmas

Being in India for Christmas is something I highly recommend, as long as you are not partial to obnoxious carols blaring from every shop, garish decorations and excessive consumerism.  Compared to other festivals and occasions, this one is extremely understated by Indian standards, with the odd shop carrying plastic trees that would suit Charlie Brown, and beautiful but simple stars adorning the fronts of some homes and businesses.  Jingle bells?  Haven't heard it yet.  However.... it has been such a nice experience watching the community pull together to form a giant extended family over the last few days, celebrating "Mysore style," beginning with a holiday fundraiser party for Operation Shanti and Ashadayaka Children's Home on the 23rd that raised about 80,000 rupees, a huge sum of money for these two worthy organizations.  There have been brunches and lunches over the last two days, where yoga students have opened their doors to welcome in friends from around the world, and at one, there were presents for the children who are here while their parents study at the shala.  Santa really does find the people on his "nice" list, no matter where they wind up on the big day.  Speaking of Santa, who made an appearance in a Santa hat this morning before the first group for led primary?  Sharath, who apparently had a good laugh about it and wished everyone a Merry Christmas before beginning the opening chant.  It seems like with all extravagances stripped away, Christmas in Mysore is what it is truly meant to be; a time to build ties within the community, and share laughs, love, and good food with friends.  Happy holidays to everyone!    

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Assisting Sharath

Last week Sharath came up to me as I stood up out of my first backbend and asked if I would like to assist in the shala, and I was surprised enough that I think I pointed to the person next to me.  He looked me in the eye and said it again, and I had a major 'Bambi' moment, looking at him in utter disbelief and blinking a few times before I could respond.  Seeing as how I am not authorized to teach, and that there are many more advanced practictioners, already authorized, and currently practicing here in Mysore, it totally caught me off guard.  Nerves and self doubt were eating away at me all last week, and by the time Monday rolled around, I most certainly had my knickers in a twist about it.  Fate intervened though, as I woke up Monday morning at stupid-o-clock feeling not the least bit 'tip-top' and by the time I made it through standing postures I had to go home ill, spending nearly the whole day sleeping in a little ball of feverish aching misery.  Tuesday things had turned the corner, so I made my way through my practice slowly and gently, and finished with enough time to nervously drink a coconut before heading back in to start my shift.  The first few minutes were mostly just watching, observing Sharath, the other assistants and the students as well, until I mustered up the courage to get into the swing of things and start adjusting.  After a few tentative minutes Sharath pointed me in the direction of an intermediate student waiting for supta vajrasana, and then the ball started rolling.  He gave me a few pointers for a supta kurmasana assist and then pointed me in the direction of some drop backs.  I was told to help a friend of mine, who incidentally is the one responsible for getting me started in ashtanga to begin with, and after assisting him in catching his ankles, Sharath looked over and said "exam passed."  After day one, things have been easier, knowing what I am allowed to do and how Sharath wants it done, but there is still a whole lot of nervousness lurking just below the surface in the moments leading up to the beginning of my shift.  The fear seems to disappear once I get going, but it is replaced by an acute awarness of how much I stand to learn from this month of helping the boss and observing all the different bodies in the room.  It is an incredible feeling, being a part of what happens every morning in the shala, and I am left awed, inspired, and full of gratitude for the opportunity.  What an experience this will be. (More related blog posts sure to come!)   

*Interesting what happens when you spell check after writing about yoga no? 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mysore musings

Sitting up this morning waiting to head off to the shala before the dreaded weekly led intermediate class leaves time ticking by at a painfully slow rate.  I have been thinking about how selective memory can be, and there are so many little things about being in India, or even in Asia, that had slipped back into the recesses of my mind, when I thought they would be stamped indelibly on my memory.  The first day back in town I watched how the shopkeepers are so careful to use only their right hand as they pass you whatever change you might be receiving, and your purchase, and I realised how quickly I had fallen out of that habit.  When I lived in Indo it was the same story... right hand for eating, greeting people, exchanging money etc, left hand is for all things 'dirty'.  Essentially it is the poo hand, when you are using the bucket of water system in the toilet as opposed to the roll of tissue system.  Enough about poo hands though, I just couldn't believe how easily I slipped out of the habit, and then immediately back into it as soon as I saw it happening.  Other things like being asked my 'good name', (as opposed to the bad one??) having a handful of lollies presented in lieu of a few rupees change, or the Hari Krishna parade that passes through Gokulam at about 5:30AM on Sunday mornings had also evaporated from my memory, but upon re-experiencing them, it is like the most normal thing in the world.  Watching Sarah see them for the first time is pretty fun though; the excitement and wonder are apparent on her face and even when we encounter something less pleasant, like the beggar with the deformed cow that was following us down the road yesterday, she keeps cool and carries on like it is nothing out of the ordinary.  As for this guided intermediate class, I had also forgotten how tortuous it is over the course of the year, but was certainly reminded the last two Sundays, and will be reminded again this morning.  The hard postures are held for what feels like years while the more comfortable ones come and go in a flash, and just when you think, ahhh thank goodness, closing postures, you realise he intends to hold those for ages as well.  It is a physical challenge to be sure, but the mental focus and discipline are perhaps even more difficult. 
Much learning is there (head wobble).   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunday Conference at the Shala

Every Sunday at 4PM (shala time), Sharath holds a conference, so all the students come together and listen while he speaks about some of the more philosophical aspects of Ashtanga and tells stories from his many years spent with Guruji.  When I first came to Mysore, Sharath seemed extremely uncomfortable talking in front of all of his students and said more or less the same thing each week, always beginning with "the human body has 72,000 nervous systems...." and then continuing on to speak of parampara, the idea of lineage and passing information from teacher to student.  He would speak for half an hour, and then wrap things up quite quickly, looking relieved to have gotten through it for another week.  Last time I was here, you could see his confidence growing, the range of topics diversified and you could begin to catch a glimpse of his personality as he spoke.  Conference this trip has been a completely different story all together, with the time running to about an hour and a quarter this week, with quips from some of the classical Indian stories, and some thoughts on what it means to utilise the eight limbs on a day to day basis outside the asana practice. 

Some of his main points....
Yoga, Ayurveda and grammar are the three things that Patanjali wrote great texts on, and they are three things to use in your life.  Yoga can cure many things, especially primary series, but when it can't (for things like hepatitis), Ayurveda is there with many remedies.  And grammar is important because without it our thoughts cannot be communicated with truth.  (I would have never put grammar in the same category as the other two, but I can see what he means.  After having taught ESL, I can tell you how many misunderstandings come out of misplaced punctuation and word order.)

You must enjoy your practice the way you enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning, it is something you should look forward to.  Whether you do primary or intermediate or advanced on any given day, it doesn't matter, you should be happy to get to your mat to do your practice.

If you don't practice the first two limbs, yama and niyama, there is not much point in doing asana, you are then only doing exercise. (He went through all the yamas and niyamas, but a his thoughts on shaucha (cleanliness ) were new for me.  There is physical cleanliness, with the body and the organs being pure, but also mental cleanliness, thinking pure thoughts, and having a clear mind.  It makes this aspect tie in more to the ideas of ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truthfulness) to me.)

The number of postures a person can perform does not make them a yogi.  We are all students, and learning will happen until we die as long as we acknowledge how much we don't yet know.

Self study is a vital part of the process.  The postures will teach you many things, but you have to look at how they work and discover what makes them possible.  The teacher can put your body into a shape, but it is up to the student to learn how it can be repeated.

People who teach cannot go into it with an agenda; they can only teach the method as they have been taught it, and let the practice do the work.

Ashtanga yoga is a physically challenging practice, and sometimes people think that it forgets about the pranayama and meditation aspects, but this is meant to be part of the daily asana practice.  To do the most difficult asanas that your mind tells you are impossible, you must be in a meditative state, and you must be breathing.  Sharath spoke here about how Guruji used to come and assist him in back bending, making him catch very high up his legs, and he would get to the end of the practice thinking he couldn't possibly do it that day, but when Guruji stepped in front of his mat, ready to guide him backwards, he couldn't say no, and his mind went calm and he would be in a very focused, steady frame of mind all of a sudden.  That state of mind is what we need in the practice so we can't tell ourselves things are impossible.

Towards the end of the conference he got on to the topic of uthi pluthi, and said that he makes us hold it for so long in led class for two reasons.  One is so that we use our bandhas.  The other is to tease us.  HA!

There were many more points that he covered, but two days later, these are the ones that have really stuck with me.  It is quite a lot really, and I am surprised how much I remembered without having taken any notes.  I am left marvelling at the shift in Sharath's approach and confidence in these Sunday conferences, and I can't wait to hear what he has to say next week!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mehendi Magic at Odanadi 2011

When we arrived at Odanadi we were greeted by a swarm of smiling children, but surprisingly, after all the yoga students had been treated to chai, they sat down quietly to watch when the older girls started to work on the Mehendi.

 I handed over my camera to the kids again, since they are proving to be great photographers, and these are some of the photos they took!
 Anna was well decorated, having both hands and feet covered in art
 Jo connected to Janthsi (bottom left) who is studing at an art college, as well as some of the other ladies while her feet were made beautiful.

Anna's feet were also beautified!  (Yes, two Annas were there!)

I had one lady work on each hand, lucky me!

 Bart got a bad-ass armband, completed with many giggles
The afternoon was a blast, everyone donated generously, and the kids had fun interacting with the yoga students.  There are three more friends who couldn't come along on Wednesday, so we will make another trip out there this afternoon for more Mehendi.  Watching my yoga friends get to know my Odanadi friends was the highlight of my day, and by the end of the afternoon, the kids certainly weren't sitting quietly anymore... there was dancing, singing, clapping games, you name it.  A memorable day for everyone! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Not Only Mum

For a long time I assumed that it was pretty well only my family reading my blog, and fair enough.  I don't think that I am terribly interesting or clever, and realistically, it would be pretty reasonable to think that my readership would stop with people like my mum, who sort of has to be wondering about what I am up to.  The last few months though, the number of readers has been on a big increase, and for several weeks running, I've had a bigger audience from the US and Russia and Slovenia and a few other random places than I have from Canada.  Mum, you are not alone in reading what I write!  No one seems to leave comments, but the posts about India and Odanadi seem to be the most widely read, so I guess that is what people want to hear about?  Speaking of Odanadi, the Mehendi day was fantastic, and there will be photos posted very soon.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mysore matrix

Big few days here in Mysore, first Odanadi fundraising effort with a Mehendi Magic event is coming up tomorrow, so I have been running around trying to get people involved and organized.  Between practicing, chanting class, yoga sutra class, volunteering and time spent chatting at the coconut stand you would think I would be busy enough, but I have gotten back on the crochet bandwagon and have special requests coming in already.  Amazing how free time just disappears into the abyss of things to do and errands to run!  It is good though, a trip to Mysore wouldn't be the same otherwise. Pictures coming of Mehendi Magic part 2 after tomorrow, can't wait to see what beautiful designs the girls come up with! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gardening at Odanadi

There are a few volunteers at Odanadi who have helped the kids start an organic garden so that they can work towards being self sufficient, and today there was a big group of helpers that met up and went to pull weeds and plant seeds and line the veggie beds with rocks so that they are easier to see. Today`s actvities were filled with energy and chaos, and instead of standing around taking photos, I handed my camera over to the kids and let them photograph all the action. Check out some of their pics! 


 About 10 westerners and all the kids were lending a hand, and progress was made very quickly!

 I was talking with the head gardener of the day about the experience I had with permaculture and bio-dynamics, and he was keen to learn more. I am going to try and contact the bio-dynamic association of India (it is SUPER popular here) and see if they can possibly come to Odanadi to teach the kids about some of the key principles.  It would be an amazing experience for the kids to get to learn so much about sustainable agriculture, and a skill they could take into their futures as well. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mysore update

Another beautiful practice today, getting called in by name and then moved to a better spot after a few asanas.  Nearly half way through Sharath told me to come to the 4:30AM guided class tomorrow and then to the intermediate class on Sunday, but Monday is (as far as I know) back to a 9AM start.  That new shake up of start times left me searching for a bicycle to ride... not much fun walking 20 minutes to the Shala at stupid'o'clock in the dark.  I've also signed up for a yoga sutras class with Lakshmish and attended this afternoon for a chance to chant through the sutras and then he broke them down a bit, talking a lot about dharma and how to fulfill our dharma so that we can find liberation from our karma.  Interesting stuff.  The yoga sutras have been on my radar for a while now, and I have read through them, but it is nice to hear a more personal approach.  Tomorrow may also bring a trip to town to search for yarn in the market... crochet requests are rolling in already!