Last days in Mysore

I sort of bumped into Sharath on the last moon day that I was in Mysore.  It was outside the Shala on the street.  Here is the thing, a lot of what we do starts there and even on the moon day where we are supposed to be taking rest, this is a perfect place to meet or have a car pick you up for an excursion.  So instead of describing where you are and giving directions we make it easy by saying something like, meet you at the Shala.  However this is also where our teacher lives.   I mean we all flock down there and wait to enter every day starting around four o’clock in the morning and students keep coming till everyone has practiced.   So knowing that this was where Sharath would be resting on the moon day and may not want to greet students, seeing him outside his house took me off guard or just sort of made me think, now what, what do I do?  Do I say hello, make some small talk or give him his space?

I certainly did not rush in and start babbling. For once, I took a minute to pause and breathe and think.  This has been helpful and if you are in the habit of reacting, practice helps to bring the attention to your breath in any situation and let the mind clear.  I am sure we are all familiar with the feeling of saying to yourself I should have waited a second or it would have been better if I thought about it just for a second first.    It is nice to be able to use the tools that we practice every day in our lives off the mat.  Focus on the breath makes everything better.

I certainly wanted to give him his space and I also could not ignore the fact that I was waiting there so I went over and said hello.  I told him I would be leaving Sunday.  This was a perfect opportunity to share that connection and I explained that I had to get my son back to school and mumbled something about my affairs.  I must have had in my head something that I saw in my computer with regards to Yoga and I had thoughts dancing in my head along the lines of the meaning of yoga and how we like to add the word yoga to everything from walking, lifting weights, dancing or maybe even eating chocolate.  I wanted to express to Sharath that I truly feel like I am finally getting it and that I so much enjoyed my stay and his teaching and the conferences and my yoga sutra class, the chanting classes, sanscrit classes and the course on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.    Don’t worry I did not go into all that and could only get the words out that I really liked it in Mysore, really liked his teachings and practice and how I will be back.  I made reference to my thoughts as to how the word yoga is overused and came back to the teachings on this practice.  He said something like, yes, everyone wants to do yoga but no one wants to struggle.    You see in order to grow and evolve you have to move through difficulty.  It could be mental, physical or a little of both.    And you know, the struggles that I may have had at one time are in the past and new things come up but if I work with the tools that I have learned somehow we get through both on the mat and off the mat and whatever struggle I have today is something that I will get through . . . eventually.

Mood Swings

It must be that my practice, the yoga and maturity, help with your own moon swings and more importantly that of others.  It’s been a long time to spend with my son and I would say we can name the times and the instances when we had a little discord between us and really it was mostly about his mood swing.  You see, he is 17 and it is just bound to happen.  I have trusted myself and come up with activities for us to share and many times this had to be handled somewhat delicately.  Meaning without emotion, without pushing and without too much controlling tactics.

He is counting days, counting practices and I am just sad and feel like I have unfinished business with regards to my practice.  The thing with this practice is that you are never done.  Every day you come to the mat you are different no matter where you are.  Each practice here has been different.  Now I want to put them all together, all the good things, all the times I felt connected to something deep inside me and all the times I was really focused.  I have run out of time to do this here and I am sad to be leaving this place and this routine of what I have become accustomed to.   It is not easy here.  The practices around me in the early slot are awesome.     Practicing with authorized and certified teachers around the world as well as people who have been practicing here in Mysore for over a month who seem to have evolved in my eyes, all sharing the energy of the Shala and with Sharath holding that energy.    I try so hard not to be distracted and to focus on my practice.    I know that I will continue my journey back to AYM and leave Mysore behind in a few days.  I have Led Primary tomorrow and Sunday and by the time conference comes I will have to get ready for the emotional roller coaster ride of saying goodbye.   I wonder if it just is all about unfinished business and that what we are doing here is never finished, complete or perfect.  It’s a practice and I am thankful for that.   It is all a practice of letting go.  I am thankful to be able to practice and for being able to let go.

 

 

TGIF

Friday is Primary Series for everyone and it is busy.  There are just two groups so the 4:30 am is now packed and you are ready at the gate when Prakash opens.  You have to remain like a yogi, no pushing, and just shuffle along and wait for your turn to slide on in to get your space.  I have not been sliding out of my shoes so easily and in the brief hesitation I get further back from entering.  A brief panic can set in if you let it.   No fearing as it doesn’t matter.  Everyone is going to practice and you will find the comfort level that you need.  It’s all part of the experience and if you have any preconceived notions of where you would like to practice, you had better let it go now.  You see, it is all a practice from the moment you wake up to when you retire for the night.  On the mat we just get to have the time to really center and focus and practice being a yogi.

In the led classes you are taught not to hurry and not to worry.  Sarath’s led class is solid, intense and calming at the same time.   He is doing the counting, he is setting the pace and our job is to do the practice with the proper vinyasa.  You are reminded to breathe at each count.   As you tune in and let yourself be taught and led it makes sense to focus on what you can control which is really only your breathing.  You want to balance when that comes, you want to stay in headstand till  you are told to come down and you want to lift when you are told to lift.  The mind plays the funny trick of wanting you to think about something other than your breath.  So you play the little game with it and just like in meditation, have the thought, let it go and come back to the breath.  Otherwise you come down or out of the asana that requires holding.   Today we held.  We did not come down.

It’s nice to finish and feel the prana pulsing through the body.  I have heard this before but when you come to the final three it is really put there as a gift so you can have a time to just breath and loose yourself.  It really is what you have worked to get to. Then comes Utpluthih and you are ready because you know the mind is going to try to win but you don’t come down, something keeps you up and you just don’t come down.  Sometimes the only way to loose yourself is to push yourself and let go of the chatter that says you can’t.  You do!

Om Shanti!

 

Diving in

I realize that talking about one’s practice is like talking about your dreams . . . no one really cares.    You come to the mat and like a student of mine said just the other day in a post making reference to daily practice and how amazing it is that one day you can’t do something and the next day, well you do it.   Whatever it is, I am sure most practioners can surely relate as that’s what daily practice teaches you.  You keep showing up, keep applying what  you know, what your teacher tells you and you come to learn what is expected of you.

Here in Mysore it is expected that eventually you stand up from your back bend and then to top this off you drop back.   I have been practicing long enough to know this and that is the scary part.   This is something in the back of my mind always and I have stood up before only to just go back to my old tricks the next day which is not to stand up properly at least.   To be clear, properly for me, is not dropping to my knees as I habitually do.    So today as I started my practice I felt good, centered and asanas being connected like dots . . . almost.   Jump backs improving or at least feeling fine with a little lift.  I felt like it was about trusting myself for once that when I came through on a jump back I would not fall on my face or chest and that I could hold it.  I mean, seriously, I have been doing this long enough.    Besides all this will help me at the end where it seems to count here.  If I take shortcuts and avoid stuff,  I am only hindering my personal development.    I mean I can get through the practice just fine and today I felt like, well let me do this practice and find the yoga and my back bend. Come back to the dristhi when there is a distraction and there was,  or bring that awareness back to my breath and there were times I had to tell myself breath here.  Are you inhaling and are you exhaling?

All around me practitioners know what is expected and they stand up, they drop back.   You may have some preconceived notion or a plain old judgement about someone and then they are doing it right next to you.  Some pretty, some not so pretty, but they are doing it.  Also getting close to the heals seems to be some key element.   Sharath standing in front of me after I did my backbends. This was after I had one feeble attempt to stand and then the one that seemed like okay that was good enough, I’m up.  So he says, “you dropping back” and I said no and just shook my head, and said “I have some fear” and left it at that.  I think I knew what was coming so I maintained my breathing and I happened to turn my mat over minutes before as it had some moisture.  So I go and I landed it, walk it in and up again.  He was there each time with a minimal amount of assistance on the front body at the hips.  I did this three time and he says, “You can do it.”  I have heard this before from Chuck so this is familiar.  I have also learned in just 8 days that Sharath does not talk much and only says what needs to be heard so I am listening.  I’m shaking at this point and during the halves he tells me,”relax,” but I can’t, but I try.  No words.  I go back down and then here it goes again.  Walk it in, straight arms, walk it in again, straight arms and again.   I come back up and he says . . . “one inch” and makes a motion with his hands.

I took the longest rest and felt the prana pulsing through every inch of my body seeming to know exactly where to go, needing no direction from me.   This series of events leading up to my backbend is what I personally need to work through as my journey in this practice evolves some more.  No avoidance, no shortcuts and glossing over things that I thought it were just good enough.  Maybe there is some Mysore magic here after all.

Polishing the Inner Guru

Practice has been good in the Shala and anyway practice is always good.  It is what we do.  Parker and I have a routine and being here in Mysore with Sharath and Saraswathi is a time to focus on that.  I mean we get up at 3:30 am so we have adjusted our day so this is possible.  There is also Chanting and Yoga Sutra Study for us in the late morning and I somehow took on some other classes in the afternoon on some days.   I know, I like life full, what can I say.

I have the good fortune to be there for the opening chant and Parker the same at the Shala he practices in.  He is learning the words through this repetition and you know the switch that goes off in the brain when you start saying it in the streets and on walks.   That’s fun to experience and it is somewhat of a relief, like the asana sinking in, the chanting starts to sink in.

I come here to practice and to learn more about myself and yearn to go deeper inside to the heart center, to the source, through the yoga.   No matter where you are, you bring yourself to the practice.    There is no magic and no shortcuts just because I come to Mysore.  As it was said in conference and in yoga sutra study we are building the foundation for yoga through asana practice.    Strong house, strong foundation and something that will be able to sustain us in our lives through the ups and downs and the flow of the universe.   I like the energy here and the practitioners are a pretty special bunch here.  The commitment is unending and I get that.   Everyone is looking to focus, to go deeper and to do their practice.

Speaking for myself, I have no real expectations but I do have goals.  I want to do the practice correctly, feel good in my body, breathe properly and certainly have the desire to accomplish something that I have been working on.  We will leave it at that.  In Ashtanga Yoga and while in Mysore for sure, you give yourself permission to practice when you are tired, when you are a little sad, when you are maybe lonely and homesick as well as when you feel great and are ready for anything.  Again, it is what  you come to do.

In conference someone asked a question and he happened to not be at practice that day.  Sharath knew and said, “Why weren’t you in practice” and of course there was not a good answer so Sharath made a joke of having to pay a 2,500 rupees fine.   We laughed but I felt sorry.  I mean, didn’t we all arrange our lives to learn and put our trust in this teacher.  People still think that they know better, that they know more.

One other question was about the inner Guru.  Some of us like to think that we are following this and that we do not need a teacher telling us as we are following the teacher we all have inside.  However and this is a big however, how do you know this is not your ego speaking and your ego getting in the way.  Practice is polishing this inner guru and it usually needs some help and that’s what we do in the rooms, through the various series.  I like what the Ashtanga practice teaches me here and everywhere I go.

 

 

Starting the Journey

Saturday was Parker’s day to practice led Ashtanga with Saraswathi.  As she came down the stairs to enter the Shala, I asked if it was okay to observe and let her know that I was Parker’s Mom.  She nodded okay and then proceeded to the office and then minutes later was doing the opening chant.  I was inside the Shala watching as there was some space to observe.  There is something wonderful about these beginners as they are all take these teachings from the source.    Some people have been practicing with Saraswathi for two years and some just two weeks.   The mats laid out in uneven rows with practioners setting up in the space that calls them.   As a group they seemed to move around and were a bit restless.  Legs straight out in front or hugging them in or even standing, with only a few sitting quietly for the start.    The journey is an evolution and the more you come to the mat, the more comfortable you are with coming to practice and learning about the energy of a group.  The more you do self practice, you start to learn the ways to help yourself in practice.  I think that here, in this place, is does not take long to be seasoned.  This is what  you come to do.

I did not have much of an inkling of how far Parker would be getting in the series.  Every day something new was added so there was a built up over the week.  Saraswathi was very attentive to Parker in such a strong loving way.  He looked tight with a down dog that is not yet that comfortable.  At the same time, he appeared attentive and confident.   In just a few days he was developing a relationship with his teacher and she was watching to see how he was doing.  One thing that is amazing is that with something so simple as showing up every day to the mat, how much progress and confidence one can develop.   Those new uneasy awkward feelings can get set aside to make room for us to experiment and grow in the practice.  There are no short cuts.

As she started the series, in the same way as her father before her, calling out Ekam, all the hands went up in unison.  She had such a command of this beginner group of Ashtangis and they settled in quite nicely.  She also had confidence in them to be able to do this practice.    The way it is taught  builds the confidence and the willingness to try.  I was struck by how still they were in the asana once they got there and how they waited for the next count.  Parker was assisted in Ardha baddha padmottanassa and was enourged by her to take his foot and go down.   With her standing behind he reached for the floor touching with the tip of his finger, teetered a bit and when he came up did the other side.   This is when you just do and trust.  He did not seem to have a choice in the matter and this young man has put the trust there so that he can learn.  It is not conscious and I think something that just happens when you leave aside all the reasons why you can’t and come to a place where you figure someone is going to teach you something.

When practioners paused, she repeated, “you do”, “jump back”, “catvari” or “okay stopping” motioned for them to sit.   Somehow with little instruction you know the drill and then when back bending came everyone was encouraged to go up and they did.  I could see Parker struggling and could identify with the difficulty of this asana.    She assisted Parker several times and he got new poses added that day up to Purvattanasana.  After back bending she guided his head to his knees adjusting on his shoulders firmly and he touched.  I laughed to myself and felt so very blessed to have her help with influencing and teaching my son.

As they say, and as I have often experienced in raising my children through some challenging times, it takes a village.  Right now I have Saraswathi, Sharath, Laksmish and all the yogis in this broad and diverse Ashtanga Yoga Community here in Mysore.

 

 

Touring Day

Somewhere in Karnactaka

Last stop after a full day of touring

Today was a moon day so we were able to go touring around.  We had the fortunate opportunity to go with a small group of English and American Yogis and their families.  People come to Mysore with their families and this makes for a most amazing family trip.  The age ranges of the kids in the families was 3 1/2 to 10.  It is refreshing to see this younger set enjoying the sites very much and with little complaint about heat or tired feet.   Everyone participated in the journey.

Arriving in two small vans after a 3 hour drive we walked 620 steps up to the Gommateshwara Statue.   The statue is very clean as they do rituals of cleaning it as part of the prayer ceremonies and it represents absolution of material wealth and promotes peace and non violence.    I attached a link for reference on this as It is a fun adventure and something very worth visiting.  Parker was able to relax the guard that he has had up, knowing that we were in good company and that as a group things would be pretty cool.    Unlike the tour with me the day before in Mysore City at the Devaraja market which was somewhat overwhelming for him.   It is supposed to be chaotic but some panic set it as we got deeper into the market.   Our feelings relating to our experiences inside ourselves were just about on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

It is interesting when you start to learn something about yourself.  He realized that he is not much of a city person.  Not that you want to get stuck in something when you really don’t have the experience but you understand the comfortable feeling verses the ones that bring up some anxiety.  The yoga gives us a chance to experience silence so that we can go inward and see what masks we wear and start to shed them.  It helps us deal with the uncomfortable places that you find yourself in and to face those obstacles in our practice, in our life on and off the mat.   Yoga is bringing about communication, openness, letting go and a tapping in that cannot come about easily in other ways.

It was refreshing to come home to Gokulum and have a nice meal at Tins’a Cafe.   It is the country here in this small village and we are feeling more and more at ease and just happier.   Tomorrow is led primary for him and I get another day of rest.

Reflections from my teenage Son in India

By Parker Williams, 17

How does one begin to describe the experience I’ve had only 6 days into this amazing journey? My first impressions of this foreign land tell me that “this is not normal”, but the truth is its just life that I’m not accustomed to. Cows and dogs roaming the streets, garbage and a polluted stench in the air. I’m thinking “how could someone survive more than a day here?” However as I’ve settled in to this place I call home for the next few weeks I’ve come to realize that its really not bad at all, its rather amazing. The people are friendly, the food isn’t to shabby and the smell…well it still smells.

As a beginner to the Ashtanga practice my body has aches and pains all over after only 4 days. The thought of waking up at 4:30 am was unappealing to me at first and now though i find its really not bad at all. It just means ending my day early although that’s not a problem at all.  The walk to the Shala in the morning is tedious but after my practice I feel refreshed and rejuvenated.  Every day my practice seems to ease along up to the point where Saraswathi tells me to contort my not so flexible body into postures I’ve never done before. I love it though. I’m really becoming to understand why my Mom has such an obsession with the Ashtanga yoga practice.

Chanting is at 10 am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Yoga Sutra on days in between and on Sunday. The 2 other classes really seem to compliment my practice and give me an understanding of what the point of everything I’m doing here is.

At first I thought that my Mother and I were the only “white people” in this city, but as the days went on we met more people from all other the world. Brazilians, Spaniards, English and even people from Wisconsin. It’s great to finally find out were not in this alone. I’ve really come to be more relaxed with this whole situation.

Though I’m not strictly a vegetarian and would much rather enjoy a juicy steak and a fat burger with fries and a milkshake, I’ve come to really like the masala dosas and briani, but its always great to get a “western breakfast” of pancakes and french toast.

I have a long trip ahead of me and can’t wait to discover more of this incredible country.  Only thing I have to worry about now is avoiding the chaotic driving system, that amazingly enough seems to be in a way organized.

Where the yogis go for breakfast

Parker enjoying pancakes at Anokhis.

 

Poetry in Motion

The rhythm of the Mysore room is incredible.  With mats inches apart all around in a synchronized pattern of neat rows, yoga practitioners stand at the front of their mat to do their practice.  I always have loved this rhythm of the Mysore room where you have the various series being practiced and the flow of the practices working together forming a rhythmic order of asana and breath.

When I start the room is just getting going as we all walk in together to take our place.  Even though everyone just about starts out together the energy builds and then students do what has been taught to them by Sharath for their yoga practice.   This group has a lot of Intermediate with Advanced practices mixed in.  LIke a choir singing no one is looking to stand apart with their breath or doing any overextending or extra steps in an asana no matter what series they are doing.   The most advanced practitioner gets in no ones way doing Nakrasana  by going on an angle or by going up and back in the small inches between mats.    After Navasana (boat pose), it gets interesting and hopefully there is a level of control over the mind that has built up over this time on the mat and this is half way through the series.  There are wide angle poses and times when knees and legs are out to the side.  There is Cakrasna (backward roll) on the mats and everything is done so quietly on the mat.  No hard landings here.  It is all about practicing yoga and you stay in control of your mind and the body will follow.  This is poetry in motion.

As my mind wandered and drishti (where I am looking), as well as you may have noted, I was noticing the intricate level at how the asanas (poses) performed in close proximity worked together like a well oiled machine.  I had to refocus as I rolled in Garbha pindasana, fearing I would roll off to the side and hit someone and the only way to get around this was to bring my mind back to my breath and back to what I was doing.  It’s possible to bring it back as I made it around nicely with a not so perfect start.

As I approached backbends today I figured I would do more than the allotted three and let my breath open my body, building up after each backbend.   I have in my mind to use those three D’s I learned in my first Sutra class this week;  my determination, my dedication and the devotion to the supreme being that could lift me up.  In any event I will not go into the results however the trials were equal, working to continue to try without the attachment to success or failure.  We have to look at this as all moving in the right direction and that this is the part of the journey where we can flourish or give up. The assistant was there for my drop backs and with the wonderful timing Sharath was giving Supta Vajrasana assist right next to me.  He says to me smiling, “Looks like you need an auto rickshaw to get your feet.”   I get it, I get it.  You may have to think about this but it’s a nice side joke that you may not get often here.  I will take it!

Deb & Parker after 1 week

Parker’s reflection to come, stay tuned.  From what I heard people are following him!

 

The Shala in Mysore

Everyone likes to ask you if this is your first time in Mysore.  I ask it, people ask me and it is sort of the conversation opening.  No one talks about the series or the poses, what  you do at home, what you do here, just if this is your first time and then how long are you staying.    I also like to know when I meet people how seasoned they are.  You can start to tell and I know I totally look like a novice but I’m finding my way.    I was able to walk in with the early crowd today.  It’s fun and they look like that have a notion of exactly what spot they are taking. Some have been here a while and have developed these samsakaras around this I think.  In any event, it is like that everywhere and human nature is basically the same.  I was just glad for the heads up from Chuck about the uneven places.   I felt more at home today in the Shala.   Every day you learn, every day you grow in the practice.

There is a welcome shift that comes with practice here.  It is a calming shift to doing a practice with no expectations, no agenda, no hurry, no worry and to take the practice inwards.   When it comes down to it we are working to controlling the mind. I am finding that I have a lot of mind stuff that comes up and I am working on being patient with that.  It is easy to get distracted with these beautiful practices that seem to flow without skipping a beat and then with the practices that are taking a little more work.  What I am finding is that everyone is working on doing what the practice calls them to do and to finding that inner peace and tapping in to the source or Atman as it is referred to in Yogic Philosophy.

For this Ashtangi, I did not have this voyage in the forefront of my mind until fairly recently, and I think this is one of the places you come to want or long to get to eventually especially since I enjoy teaching so much.   I think the situation right now in this time is unique with Parker at Saraswati’s Shala and me in the main Shala.  My expression of how proud I am of this cannot be put into words as whatever happens there is a tapping into the source that is happening here for this  young man.   I walk down to the Shala with him and feel special that I have something so precious as this relationship as I walk quietly back up to the main Shala.  I tuck it right in my heart.

With the universe in it’s perfect order, the new session of the Yoga Sutra class started this morning.   It is just under an hour and we covered a lot and for Parker this was interesting as it was the basics.  We all need to go back to the basics to remember how and why we are called to this practice.  There are what we call the 3 D’s to take benefit from yoga; determination, dedication and devotion.    And the key is that it is required to have all 3 to start to begin to practice yoga.

With things not so perfect I am installing myself in the middle of a Sanskit class and getting some special help this afternoon before tomorrows session.  This should be interesting to say the least.

Om Shanti!