Thursday, November 1, 2012

29 Days of Giving

This November I am joining my friend and teacher Lara Land in a simple initiative called The 29-Day Gift Giving Challenge. It's just as it sounds, 29 days of conscious giving. I was inspired to participate in order to bring awareness to the simple act of giving, in whatever form it might be: giving change to a homeless person with a smile, giving up my seat on the Metro, or donating time or money to a charity.

Today, November 1st, I started off the month in a hotel near the airport in Paris. My parents left this morning after 10 days of vacation with me here and as they flew off I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude...we'd had such a perfect time. After straightening up the room, I decided to give a simple gift to kick off the month. I left a note (along with a tip) to the housekeeper of the hotel room telling her that I appreciate her work. Cleaning hotel rooms has to be a pretty thankless job, but I hope my misspelled French note and doodles made her smile.

I'm now thinking of how to best give my time and money to help in the hurricane relief back home in New York...I've been shocked to see the news reports and details from friends, and want to help in any way I can, even from the other side of the ocean!

It's not too late to join in giving! All it takes is the intention...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Photo of the Day: Hotel de Ville


Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche

As you all know I've been slowly making my rounds through the Parisian yoga scene, trying classes here and there to get a taste of what it's like to practice in this city. My ventures these past weeks have been two great studios, Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche and Be Yoga

Rasa is simply a beautiful space. It's located near Metro Saint Michel, on the left bank in the Latin Quarter. This section of Paris is home to the Sorbonne and has been the hub of student culture in Paris for centuries. The studio, like many in Paris, is nestled in a courtyard, between buildings. I really like this about Paris...the street view is never the whole story...there are gardens and calm alcoves located just between the exterior facade.


Once inside Rasa is bright, white and calming. There's a large retail and reception section, with chairs and benches. The main studio has windows right into the lobby area, so you can actually see what's going on in the class. I stopped by for a late evening led Ashtanga class with Charley, an American teacher, who also runs their morning Mysore program.

The class was quite full, but not overcrowded, and I enjoyed the energy of the other students. Charley keeps a great pace in his class...pretty fast, but not rushed at all. In fact, the class is scheduled for an hour and 45 minutes...and we used the time! He challenged us with specific details on refining our jump backs and throughs, something that weaves his strong teaching style together. 

The next week I got a message from my teacher Lara telling me that her dear friend Dorion was in Paris teaching. I was excited to make it over to Be Yoga for her evening led class. Be is really adorable. It's located in a cobble stone alley off the main road, and is covered in a perfect little arch of trees. The front of the studio is painted a jovial green color and it was the perfect, warm, welcoming place to end up on a rainy Parisian night! 



Dorion is just about one of the loveliest ladies I've ever taken class with. I was happy to catch up with a friend of my teacher! Her class was smart and detail oriented. We took the Ashtanga standing series and some of the primary seated series and slowed it down a bit, to focus on the ease of each posture. I was really happy to see the joy, lightness and care she takes in teaching.

Last week we moved apartments, from the super trendy Oberkampf area in the 11th district to the Gambetta metro stop in the 20th district. It's a little further out of the center of the city, but still super accessible. I love our new apartment, which we're renting from the acting coach from Michael's production. It's got a great energy partly because it's been arranged using the principles of Feng Shui, something I've always been interested in, but never taken the time to implement fully. I challenged myself to take home practice this entire past week, and have really enjoyed it in this space. This week, however, I think I'll venture back out to practice in some more studios around Paris! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Photo of the Day: Space


last practice at our first Paris apartment...moved to a new place yesterday.
Eye pillow from Yoga Concept, mala from Mysore, candle from Paris. 
I like how the colors mix well.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Photo of the Day: Église


Her potential is an unlit prayer candle,
Waiting.
Wax white,
against an alter.

And she’s trying to ignite with wet matches,
Striking and discarding the moist sticks
            -madness to her method

Struggling against the tides
because her ambition threw off the moon,
she’s trying to cast a shadow on the pew,
between the sun
and nothing.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Mysore Yoga Paris


I'm finally setting (and sometimes even obeying) my alarm again. I’m trying to get up 7:30am as opposed to sleeping in our haven of a bed till 10:30 with Michael (who deserves that, btw- he doesn't get home till midnight and after dinner and organizing his thoughts, often doesn't sleep till 3).

So I've finally been able to enjoy a morning Mysore practice here in Paris. One notable difference I’ve seen between NYC and Paris is that here mornings don't start quite as early. Teachers are at shalas in the US and elsewhere often by 4:30 or 5am (or 1am if you ask Sharath) to practice and then begin teaching by 6. Here the earliest Mysore program I've seen is 6:45...Which is fine, by the way, with me!

After India this time around, morning practice is getting a little easier. A little. I'm up early in NY by 5:30am to teach Pilates or yoga, but I normally prefer to practice in the afternoon. My body feels more awake, less painful, less shaky and more ready to find some stillness.

But these days, being on the mat in the morning is fairly enjoyable. I might just be turning into a morning practice person! How’d that happen?!

Anyway, I dedicated a week (last week 9.17-9.21) to exploring this particular shala after getting a few recommendations. Mysore Yoga Paris is located on the right, north bank, along the canal St Martin in the 10th district. From my house it’s a 12-minute velo ride past the quiet water and quaint bridges of the canal to reach the shala. 


The practice space is located in Paris’ Shambala meditation center, a perfectly zen atmosphere that’s got palpably calm, sacred vibes going on. It’s adorned with dozens of tea light candles.

Kia Nadermier is the owner and main teacher, and she’s just lovely. From what I can gather, she’s Swedish, but we speak English in the shala. She's kind and attentive with all of her students, and her adjustments are really top notch. She's also a professional photographer, and on the website you can see some portraits of the yoga students she's done over the past year.

I've been having some (normal) back pain, and she's very helpful in offering advice on how to avoid it and work with the postures, instead of letting them work against you. 

The shala is a large room and There are several white Indian cloths (like the men wear as skirts in India) in the back that we cover ourselves with for rest after practice. I bought an eye pillow (a frivolous thing I’d never considered until I saw this one and am now quite enjoying it!) and rest after practice is really sublime here in the morning. 

There's a glow about the space and the people at Mysore Yoga Paris. I'm thinking I'll continue to go back for regular practice, though next week I'm going to check out a few other shalas. I'd really recommend this place for anyone in Paris or visiting that's looking for a peaceful atmosphere and a very kind, attentive teacher.


Photo of the day: La Seine

love me graffiti along the Seine 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photo of the Day: French Yoga


Found a French Yoga magazine...
the perfect way to practice my language skills!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Exploring Yoga in Paris: Ashtanga Yoga Paris, Samasthiti, and Make Me Yoga


I arrived in Paris two weeks ago, only to leave again for a few days in Switzerland with Michael’s grandmother. When we finally got back to our apartment, I was feeling a little sick. Let’s just call it the too-much-cheese-chocolate-and-travel syndrome. :/

Last week I was finally feeling almost back to normal and was ready to start exploring the yoga scene in Paris. I’ve gotten a few recommendations from friends, colleagues and fellow ashtangis about where to practice in Paris, but there are quite a few places, so I’ve decided to explore little by little. Yoga is even more expensive here than in New York, so before I buy an unlimited month or delve into a place, I want to try around.



My first stop was Ashtanga Yoga Paris, which happenes to be about a two minute walk from our apartment! I attended the mixed Mysore and Ashtanga Level 1 class, taught by Agatha. The studio, I found out from one of the owners, Linda, has recently moved to a new location. It really is a lovely place, tucked into a courtyard between buildings. The walls of the lobby space are a deep, rich turquoise. The main practice room, the Krishnamacharya Room, is bright, with a ceiling full of skylights and walls tastefully adorned with black and white photos of teachers.

A class was just finishing as we waited to enter the room, and once in the room Agatha asked those of us doing our own Mysore practice to go to the front of the room while she led the class of semi-beginners behind us. There were probably five of us doing self practice, and more than ten in the led class.

She’s a very talented teacher, and I liked hearing her soft French instructions peppered with Sanskrit. I was a little distracted being in a mixed Mysore and led class, but the language barrier helped me tune that out. I wonder how the experience is for those who understand French..? I’ve never been in a class like that, but it’s certainly an interesting concept, and definitely a good use of time for students wanting an evening Mysore program. Kudos to her for leading a class and giving individual attention to the rest of us!

She gave me a few wonderful, strong Mariychasana adjustments (though only on one side so I felt rather unbalanced). When I got to backbends she encouraged me keep my feet much more parallel that I had them, which I tried with varying degrees of success. Then instead of holding my waist in drop-backs, she helped me keep my feet parallel by pressing in and down on my thighs, which felt pretty lovely.

The biggest surprise was when I stood up she asked if I’d be doing handstand! Sure I thought, why not? I told her that I don’t practice that, but I’d give it a go! Though I’ve never heard of that and it’s certainly not traditional, I suppose it must be a way to begin practicing for tick-tocks, which come sometime after second series. Her adjustment was great, and there I was, doing a handstand in Mysore class.

I liked the studio, the atmosphere and the students. Agatha is a smart, busy teacher! I will certainly go back, especially since it’s so close to our place. I'd also like to try the morning Mysore classes with the owners, Linda and Gerald.



Next I checked out Samasthiti Studio, also pretty close to our apartment. It's located right near La Bastille, so I hopped on a velib bike for the 10 minute ride to take an evening Mysore class. In true Dana fashion, I was really early, and happened to meet a fellow student while waiting for the door to be unlocked who had been in Mysore the same time as me! Small Ashtanga world.

This studio is a simple one room space. The practice area is a nice size and takes up most of the space, and in the back there's a small changing area and place for shoes and bags. I met the owner Caroline, who was actually practicing with us while a young man named Eric taught.

This class was a self-led Mysore style, however, I couldn't help but be distracted by the completely non-traditional sequence of postures my fellow students were practicing...!

Full disclosure: I got distracted. I know that I should have been focusing solely on myself, but my dristhi began to wander as soon as I saw full splits between standing postures, a warrior three thrown in after parshvotanasana, and an out of order mix of primary, intermediate and third series poses! It was really quite remarkable.

I must say that despite my confusion over why they were doing what they were, all the students were practicing earnestly, calmly, quietly, and breathing beautifully. I guess they've just been taught an adapted, non-traditional series of poses...!

Eric, the teacher, was kind and attentive. He was a little insistent with some alignment details and often uneven with adjustments, but he clearly cares and knows quite a lot about what he teaches. He did think I should keep going after my last pose, which I kindly declined to do.

Drop backs were again a new technique (for me) that I quite liked, where he used his whole forearm to support either side of my spine as I went down, and simply pressed into my thighs as I stood up. When he suggested hand stand (I guess it's a thing ), I this time declined.

I liked the studio, the location, and the teacher, but I'm not sure I will go back to practice there. It's a bit too distracting to be amongst people doing such completely non-traditional things...I totally love that they are! I just think I'd be better served going there for a vinyasa flow class if I'm feeling creative.


My next stop was Make Me Yoga, which is literally right across the street from my apartment. I didn't notice it at first, but as Michael and I were taking a walk the other evening, there it was! It's got a great location, and a good class schedule. They have only led classes, no Mysore program, but I figured it was worth a visit since it's so crazily convenient.

I dropped into the 8:30pm led "Ashtanga Vinyasa" class and was very impressed at my use of French.

"Bon soir! C'est ma premiere fois ici. Je voudrais prendre le classe d'Ashtanga."

The instructor, Laetita, was kind when I explained that I'm an American yoga practitioner and speak limited French. I told her (in French again - points for me!) I'd love to just follow along and listen to the class in French.

There were six of us in the cute little space, and the others were mostly beginners. It was a very slow, basics-type class, which was nice for me to practice physically, clear my mind mentally and hear teaching in French. We practiced meditation, discussed bhandas, and moved through surya namaskaras and the 6 fundamental standing poses before sitting for a bridge pose and then rest.

Laetita was perfect. She made sure I understood a few words after class that might help me teach in French one day, and she gave me gentle suggestions as adjustments, not hard ones. I was more focused in this class, so my drishti wasn't wandering to the other students! It's a perfectly cute, kind studio, but not exactly what I want from a class. I think I will definitely go back...you can't beat the location.

I still have the morning Mysore programs to check out. That's where I think I will find my perfect Paris fit and I'm really excited. I want to check out Mysore Yoga Paris and Rasa Yoga...but I need to change my sleeping schedule around a bit to accommodate that...right now I'm staying up late, practicing at home in the evening or at one of these places for a night class and sleeping in late in the morning!

More to come from the Paris Yoga Scene...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Photo of the Day: Henna

My Indian henna in a Swiss Lake.

Conference 8.26.12 - Better late than Never!


So I’m a little late in posting about the last conference while I was in Mysore. I’ve been traveling and then was feeling a little sick. I’m finally settling into life in Paris and wanted to catch up on the blog…so here they are…notes from the last conference:

Four weeks. Four conferences. It’s always better to leave wanting more, a friend reminded me, and I am definitely feeling blessed and full of good vibes. I leave on a high note on every level. Though I’ve been dealing with some new knee pain that limits my left lotus, my physical practice felt great. My mental focus was clear. I got a lot of writing done. I had totally difference experiences this time in Mysore than on my last trip. I lived closer. I met more interesting people. I got to travel outside the city. I felt less like an outsider.

This particular Sunday Sharath began by talking about the importance of asana in our spiritual journey. Asana is a tool, he said, to get the mind and body to become stable. There are hundreds of thousands of asanas, as many as there are living beings on this earth: plants, trees, animals and humans. In this life, we just focus on doing as many as we can safely master, and shouldn’t worry about doing so many of them.

Asana is useful for several reasons. It purifies the nervous system, brings flexibility, brings health to the body and is an accessible tool to reach higher levels of spirituality.

Sharath spent time again reiterating the unity in yoga. Yoga can only be one thing. We talk a lot today about different styles and varieties of yoga, but there is only one true yoga, and if we practice that authentic yoga then change occurs in us. And this change is more than just physical.

It’s also important to note that asana is not just the act of bending and twisting the body. Using vinyasa with asana is integral to the system. It is when we add the breathing that the mind and body can change.

Asanas should be “stirya sukkha asanam,” or stable and comfortable. Because the next limb of our practice is pranayama, which requires a lot of still sitting, it is important to practice the movement in asana to gain stability and comfort in sitting.

Sharath then wanted to reassure us that though asana is very important, what is less important is what pose you are practicing to. He says that whether you are practicing half primary series or all the way to 5th or 6th series, benefit can be gained. The important thing is that no matter what pose you practice to, you must understand the deeper reason for doing it!

In the yoga sutras, there are only three sutras on asana. So some people misinterpret this to mean that asana is not important. But Sharath reinforced the idea that there are other important texts, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which are important in understanding asana practice.

A student asked about practicing yoga and its relation to Hinduism. Sharath explained that yoga is not bound to one religion, nor does it need to be practiced along side any religion in particular. God didn’t divide up religions, people did! He thinks of Krishna when he practices, but assured us that yoga is a personal experience within each of us and we can believe whatever we want.

Sharath said that for him, teaching yoga is learning. Though he sometimes wonders why he gets up at 1am, he said that teaching is very rewarding. To be with different people, energy, shapes and starting points and to see change in students makes it worth it. He reminded us that to be a student is the best life, though sometimes it is a little painful ;) I couldn’t agree more!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why am I in Mysore?


Outside the old shala in Lakshmipurim, Mysore.

I just finished reading The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and one thing that struck me from her many insights was a really simple idea about identifying passions.

Think about what you enjoyed doing when you were 10 or 11 years old. That’s probably your passion.

This is not what your parents thought you should be doing, or what your friends did, but what you honestly liked spending your time on. For Gretchen, it was always writing and journaling, and though she spends her life as a professional writer now, it took some time for her to realize that her passion and her deepest joy is really in books and writing books.

I began to think about my passions and why I was really here in India. It’s harder than you might expect, because, as Gretchen points out in her book, a lot of our ideas about ourselves are actually things we think we should be doing. (ie: We think we should love listening to Jazz, art and fine dining, when what we are actually truly happy and passionate about is a little less exotic or classy sounding: staying home to read, 80’s pop music, cartoons.)

I thought about yoga, the practice to which I have devoted my life and the reason I’ve traveled to India twice in the past year, and wondered if the seeds of my practice were in fact planted long before I took my first class at age 16. Suddenly I was struck with memories of me as a child (something I don’t actually have much of)…

At age 10, I loved the idea of travel and I loved reading about different cultures. There was a period of time where I completely immersed myself in studying ancient Egypt. I had book after book on the subject, I would play outside in elaborate ancient Egyptian fantasies, I pretended to learn to write in hieroglyphics and I even dressed up as Cleopatra for Halloween (mom, let’s see if we can find a photo!)

I had the same deep interest in Japanese culture. I played in tea ceremonies, wore kimonos, almost perfected origami, and created homemade sushi with my dad (I think we still have the sushi roller).

Coming home after school around 3:00 or 4:00pm, I’d be thrilled that I’d just made it in time for my favorite TV show: Lonely Planet Globe Trekker. I was obsessed with that show. I soaked up any and every country the hosts (Ian and Justine were my favorites) traveled to: India, Greece, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand…I loved them all.

So I thought back to the original question: why I am here in Mysore? The answer for me, is seeped in my true passions, which are more complex than just ‘I like to travel.’ I’ve always longed for immersion into cultures other than my own. I longed to feel included in practices that are foreign to me. I love the idea of learning something from the masters.

A few years after I began practicing yoga, I realized I wanted to learn yoga from Indians. I wanted to understand the culture it comes from. I wanted to see India, to feel its pulse and to understand how this very Indian practice translates to me.

A lot of adults I know think that high school or college were the best years of their lives. I am shocked when I hear this. Being an adult has meant, for me, the beginning of the realization of my passions. My yoga practice is a mirror, a tool, I am using daily to connect with my passions, while creating stillness and stability in me at the same time.

And that’s why I’m in Mysore.

What’s your passion? 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Photo of the Day: Puppy


We found a mama and four baby puppies playing outside on an evening stroll through Gokulam!
It was hard to leave this little one :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

India For the Five Senses


I asked a few of my fellow yoga practitioners/students back home at Land Yoga if they were interested in any specific details about my trip to India. I was delighted when their answers were overwhelmingly about the sensory experience of Mysore.

People want to know what it looks like, what the food tastes like, a musician wanted to know about the sounds of India, and a few actually wanted to know what it smells like here!

So here’s my collection of some of the most personally impactful sensory experiences…

Dana’s Top 50 Feast for the Senses: Mysore Edition!

Smell 

 Hand rolled Sandalwood incense.

1.     I’m super comforted by the gentle, warm smell of burning almost-incense-but-maybe-trash, fire in the mornings.

2.     Incense from temples around the city, usually its sandalwood, something Mysore is quite known for, an earthy smell with a hint of sweet.

3.     Cow. All things cow. Except cow meat…you don’t smell that here.

4.     Spices are always cooking, the smell wafts through our open windows.

5.     There a dreamy, sticky-sweet, Jasmine-like smell from the white flowers sold on every street for offerings.

6.     The Shala sweat mixed with a clean comfort is actually a lovely smell to me...maybe that’s just me though…!

7.     Tire rubber from rickshaws, busses and scooters permeates the bigger roads.

8.     The perfume and essential oils sold in Devaraja Market: lotus, sandalwood, rosewater, frankincense, all in glass jars. The smell can be overwhelming if you’re shopping for a scent!

9.     In Gokulam, right now, there is a beautiful cool breeze that smells fresh. Almost clean…

10.  Monsoon rain. Though it’s been a scarily dry monsoon season here, when the rain does come, it’s cool and wipes the city clean.


See

Om's om's everywhere! This is Rangoli...chalk art done outside most homes.

11.  Colors, colors, colors. Bright colors. Everywhere.

12.  Peeling paint and posters on buildings and bus stops…layers over layers and garbage on the streets (not unlike New York!)

13.   Huge signs of (usually unattractive) Indian politicians’ faces before elections, or to celebrate them for some reason or another…these are all over town.

14.  Silk saris in colors from the rainbow and beyond on beautiful women and in store windows.

15.  Dogs running the street. Cows ruling traffic. Goats eating the above mentioned peeling posters and garbage.

16.  The intense sky: Inky blue pre-sunrise. Monsoon clouds. Milky sunshine.

17.   The smile from a fellow international yoga student on the streets of Gokulam. And smiles and shy waves from local kids, curious about us foreigners.

18.  Rangoli (chalk drawings/symbols) on every Indian home’s doorstep, and small evil looking masks hung outside most homes to ward off evil.

19.  Om. On doorsteps, on cars…it’s the bumper sticker du jour!

20.  Scooters. Entire families on scooters. Yesterday I saw a family of five: mother, father, two kids and a baby on a scooter. None wearing or even wanting a helmet. The mother just grabs on to the baby tight and away they go!


Hear

It's a symphony of honking horns here.

21.  Horns are constantly honking. There’s a wide range of honks: cute cartoon-ish honks, long low, deep honks, sharp piercing honks, friendly honks, nerve-irritating honks. Plus Car motors, scooter motors, a rickshaw’s putting motor, stalling motors.

22. Sanskrit chanting in our classes at the shala. The polished sounds of a language perfected.

23.  Birds making a huge array of calls, sweet chirps, loud hoots, sing-song melodies…

24.  Crickets in the early morning hours when we wake for practice.

25.  The breeze in the palm tree leaves around our house.

26.  Men selling things on the streets. The walk around calling out their offers in Kanada, the language of Karnataka, in deep, bellowing bursts.

27.  The anticipatory silence outside the shala in the morning.

28.  “One more!” Sharath yells, beckoning the next yoga student to enter the practice room. “One more again!” he says when another space opens up.

29.  Bollywood music playing from an open rickshaw, or from a man’s cell phone.

30.   The hacking sound of a machete chopping open a coconut. Whack, whack whack!


Touch

Silk saris. These are raw silk which is thicker and 
feels somehow smooth and rough at the same time!

31.  The shala rugs feel thin with use, but sturdy in the way something feels that you can really count on. Not new, not too old, but used nonetheless.

32.  The indescribable feeling of safety from a drop-back at the Shala: Sharath’s hands holding you and binding your ankles (which are slick with sweat) so securely. It’s the touch of trust.

33.  Metal door handles, not round, but long and curved, cool to the touch.

34.  Smooth green skin of the tender coconuts.

35.  Silks in the shops downtown: I’ve learned to tell the difference between the slippery feeling of pure silk, to the thick crepe of raw silk, to the sturdy feel of cotton, and the soft warm hug of pashmina. 

36.  A sandalwood mala, smooth wooden beads.

37.  Warm glasses of chai.

38.  Food, sticky between your fingers as you learn to eat with hands instead of forks.

39.  Castor oil during an Ayurvedic massage, or a Saturday morning self oil bath. It’s thick and smooth, even when warmed up. Perfect for aching muscles and joints. It’s super thick though…it takes a special soap nut powder to get it all off!

40.  Hand-washed cloths. Sometimes stiff but fresh from drying on the roof in Indian sunshine.


Taste

A dosa with dipping sauce...delish!

41.  Spices: mustard, curry, cumin, turmeric, ginger…and how they really just form the most beautiful symphony of flavors when added to foods at the correct time.

42.  Fresh, perfect Coconut water…it’s just the most delicious, pure, refreshing thing I’ve ever tasted.

43.  Rice. Rice with curd. Rice with spices: Briyani. Delicious rice!

44.  Crispy butter dosa: rice flour made into some kind of pancake type shape…some are huge and some are small. Some are thicker, and some thin like a crispy crepe – these are my favorite.

45.  Fluffy white idly with dipping sauces and chutney.

46.  The grainy sweet chick-pea and ghee delight that is Mysore Pak.

47.  Ghee. Clarified butter. Considered a sattvic food, though I spread it on toast for a rich, thick, buttery comfort food.

48.   Curries of every variety that just melt in your mouth. My favorites are palak paneer (spinach and cheese), gboi aloo (cauliflower and potato) and vegetable kofta (a sort of veggie ball within the curry).

49.  Papaya…it’s deep pink-ish orange and tastes strong and sweet.

50.  Chai from Amaruth’s tea stand. I am an official addict. It’s so sweet, rich, earthy and warming…a perfect mix of tea with milk and sugar. (Though I’m glad I can’t see how much sugar is actually in it…I’m sure it’s a LOT!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Photo of the Day: Holy


Conference 8.19.12


Sharath started this conference with a call for questions, so we talked about quite a variety of things from mantras to led classes, gurus to breathing and even how yovic awareness relates to environmentalism!

The first student question was about the mantra Sharath says after we chant ours together. (If you’ve ever taken led class with him, you’ve heard him recite an additional little chant right after we’re finished repeating the classical opening mantra all together.) He explained that this is a personal mantra thanking all the teachers in the lineage. (He even said maybe he’d teach us later!)

The talk of chanting lead to a question about the importance of led classes in addition to self-practice. Why don't we just do self practice all the time? Sharath explained that these classes are very important to understanding the vinyasas, or breath counts. It’s may be easy for a student to learn the poses, but to learn the correct vinyasas takes a lot of control, attention and of course practice. He sees students from all over the world, with seemingly fine practices that, upon closer examination, are inhaling when they should be exhaling, and visa versa. With the two led classes he teaches a week (Friday Led Primary and Sunday Led Primary or Intermediate), he can make sure students understand the pace and exact placement of each breath.

Talk then turned, as it often does in conference, to the idea of a guru. A guru is more than just a teacher; the word literally means "darkness dispeller." A guru reveals jnana, or spiritual knowledge and brightness. As he put it, a teacher may tell you how to solve your problems, but a guru makes you feel it, shows you practically, and leads by example.

A student wondered how we might bring more harmony to the relationship between the inner guru (our own heart, beliefs) and outer guru (our teacher). Sharath explained that usually the inner guru isn’t polished, and that it’s very important not to let your ego become your master. He said that real yogis always listen, they don’t assume that they know everything, and that with careful attention, our heart can become pure. Then there is harmony between inner and outer!

Naturally, the question of how often we should visit Mysore, to see our teacher was raised. The woman who asked the question had been to Mysore before, two years ago. Sharath smartly asked her why she had come back to study again. “Because I felt the need,” she answered honestly. He smiled and told us that is the answer…we should come whenever we feel the need.

If we have families or work obligations that keep us from making this long journey to Mysore, he suggested displaying a picture of Guruji which we can use for inspiration while anywhere in the world.

Breathing and Bhandas are two of the key principles and focus points in our practice, and one student wanted to clarify where the breath should happen: in the chest or the belly? This is a really important topic, because breathing down in the belly for many years can cause hernias, Sharath warned. He said the breath should always be accompanied by bhandas, and he specifically mentioned the importance of engaging the lower abdomen, to make the belly stable. Then, we should breath in the lungs in chest, keeping the lower belly steady. There is no stability for the body in belly breathing, he warned!

Someone then asked a rather open question about awareness, which I must admit, I couldn’t hear very well…but nevertheless, Sharath had a great answer. He urged us to build up to a stage where yoga keeps happening even outside the shala, to a point where we become one with everything. He urged us to treat things like we treat ourselves.

He says people are running everywhere looking for yoga, chasing yoga, when yoga is inside of us and can be done right now…all the time. When our attention is constantly outside, we have no time to think or be or study inside of ourselves.

Sharath told us that awareness also means being very conscious of changes and what our actions do to our environment. We come from the earth, and go back to the earth, so, if we cut a tree, we cut ourselves! He told us that remembers having a special bond with trees as a child in Lakshmipurim…that nature is very important, and that we must have the attitude and awareness to live in harmony with nature, and not just focus on ourselves.

I really enjoyed that he seemed so passionate about the environment in this sense. It’s always been very important to me, and seems to make a lot of sense. Yoga is inside of us and helps us realize that we are one with everything!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Photo of the Day: Puja


A friend from Bangalore took us to a temple, in the Bandipur Region, two hours south of Mysore. 
Her family has been going to this temple for many years, and we were lucky enough to see the 
priests and swamis do a special puja with the offerings we brought.

Hospitality’s Served in Tin Cups



Hospitality's Served in Tin Cups

She’s on a side street of Lakshmipurim,
            here in India,
around the corner from chai wailing wallahs,
and down the street from men working hard as their mules.
Wedged, as India prefers, between rags and rituals;
Not too close to poor, but miles away from money.

She’s just wave of the hand to catch a ride away –
from the marble
American dollar worship
in hotels.

            That hospitality can only open doors,
            he’s paralyzed without pay.

But she is served in small metal cups of rice pudding,
Lumpy but so kind, sugary milk, she welcomes us.

She is in her offering of blue plastic chairs (her finest).
She sits on the floor and smiles and stares
            she brings her family to watch too. So we’re sure they care.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Photo of the Day: Lake


Went for a brisk walk this morning around Kukkarahalli Lake.
 It's about 1.8 miles around, which makes for the perfect exercise for a Saturday rest day.

Photo of the Day: School


The KPJ Charitable Trust donates school bags to a local high school each year. Today we had the pleasure of attending the ceremony. Here's a picture of international yoga students along with students from the school doing a Surya Namaskar demonstration, led by Sharath! Full post to come...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Independence Day, India!


India is the cradle of the human race, 
the birthplace of human speech, 
the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, 
and the great grand mother of tradition. 

-Mark Twain



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Conference 8.12.12


 On opening and closing: Surya Namaskar and Sirsasana



I think Sharath did a great job of discussing both our asana practice and the deeper philosophical and energetic questions of yoga practice in Sunday’s conference…

He began by explaining that there are two purposes served by opening the series with sun salutations: To pray and give thanks to the sun god and to promote good health and create heat in the body to prepare it for other asanas. 

In Indian culture and traditions, the sun god gives health and prosperity. Indians pray to the sun god using the Aditya Hrudaya mantra and other elaborate rituals for all sorts of things. It’s important that if you do these rituals, you are trained in them and adhere to the strict formulas and procedures. But because these aren’t avalible to everyone, Guruji created these versions of sun salutations so that anyone could do a ritual for the sun. Each one is a mini ritual in itself!

As he mentioned last week, there are quite a few obstacles to yoga practice. In addition to these, there are also the classical challenges of pride, jelousy, etc… called the enemies of yoga (which the prayers and rituals to the sun god help free us from). We must develop spiritual qualities to get rid of these enemies. Spirituality, in turn, gives us greater clarity and a greater understanding of “why am I here?”

To just go on living is ok, Sharath reminds us, but we are blessed with this human life. We can do anything with it…why not use it to work towards becoming enlightened? In the Bhagavad Gita kishna asks a similar question: why waste time? The universe has given us time, and now it is possible to realize and understand the supreme soul…so, why waste time?

I find that the complexity of this explanation mirrors the yoga practice in general…there’s never one answer, never one reason we do something…it’s a constant push and pull of opposing forces, and in yoga we’re seeking a balance. We must do our asanas yes, but in doing them we should bring the other limbs of yoga into our daily life. Just getting a bendy body does not make us peaceful, fully realized yoga practitioners!

Sharath then moved on from the opening of our practice to discuss one of our closing postures, sirsasana, headstand. He says he sees quite a few students practicing it incorrectly, and wants to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves, and can fully reap the benefits from this pose.

We should set it up correctly, interlacing the fingers but not making a fist, so that we can wrap the palms around the head. All of the weight is in the tripod of the two elbows/forearms and the interlaced fingers…no weight is in the head. 

He really encouraged us to slow down when lifting up and coming down from the posture. This pose can be held for a long time if done correctly, and one of the benefits is that it helps us store Amrita Bindu, the drops of nectar that collect back in the head when upside-down. Amrita Bindu diminishes as we age, so doing inversions is a good way to store it.

This asana, like all, should be stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha), which takes a lot of practice ("sthira sukham asanam"). Gurruji said that an asana must be done 1000 times for it to be mastered, and Sharath wanted to make sure we know that it’s ok if we fall…that’s how we learn. To gain an in-depth understanding, we really must research ourselves in each asana.

Conference ended with an inspiring sentiment: Sharath, prompted by a question from a student, told us that anyone could become a “successor” of Pattabhi Jois. If we lean the method correctly and show dedication, we are all eligible to carry on his lineage. So go, practice headstand, and carry on this beautiful tradition!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wandering Towards Gratitude



I was lying there on the upper floor of the dressing room, finally in rest after Mysore practice the other morning, when my mind began to wander. 

My mat was slick with sweat, and I’d used one end of my towel to cover my eyes. I was perfectly still. I’m sure I looked serene. But, let’s be honest, my thoughts had been wandering all morning. Though I find the exquisite power of dristie to be an incredibly useful tool to keep overall concentration in check, that unsettled mind of mine has some pretty elusive tricks.

But instead of scolding myself into a forced, shallow ‘meditation,’ I began to follow my mind. To watch it wander. And to play a sort of game: what could I unearth in the layers of my mind?

I followed my mind as it thought about food, what would be for breakfast, omelette or porridge? And then I said to myself: “Yes. Nice. You’re hungry, and food will come. And what’s beyond your hunger?”

I dug past the dull pain in my lower back, and left knee. Again: “Ok, and what’s beyond your aches and pains?”

I dug a little further and missed my boyfriend and my family. “Yes, valid. You will be reunited and separated many times in this life. And then what’s underneath that short-term longing?”

I played this game, allowing my mind to ramble through every distraction it wanted. I meandered around all of these temporary diversions and continued to pose myself this question: “but what’s underneath that? What are you left with if you take that away?”

And, as I alluded in the title, I was left with gratitude. 

It was as if I’d sifted through the mud and been left with a shimmering piece of gold. Thankfulness. I wrote about gratitude last year, when I was here in Mysore on Thanksgiving, but this fell a bit different. This didn’t feel forced, it felt unearthed. It didn’t feel circumstantial, it felt all-encompassing…

I smiled, and allowed myself to sink a little deeper into gratitude. 

What are you left with?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Conference 8.5.12


As my first week wore on, I was really looking forward to Sunday and the first conference I would get to attend while in Mysore. As Sharath sat down on the stage to speak, the buzzing conversation in the shala fizzled expectedly. We were ready to hear what advice and insights he had this time.

But his delightful son, Sambav had other ideas. I’m not sure how old he is, because he’s pretty small, but it’s clear that he absolutely idolizes his father and relishes in the attention he gets from being adorable. For at least ten minutes Sharath sat patiently while the little one literally climbed all over him. Sharath laughed, and funnily enough, eventually began to talk about the obstacles we face in our yoga practice.

According to Sharath there are several obstacles or distractions (no, adorable children aren't officially one of them ;) in fact, family is something that this tradition really values) we face as we embark on our yogic path:

Sickness

Sickness is the first obstacle to tackle, and the reason we begin our yogic journey by doing asanas. Asanas heal the body and make it sable and strong so that we can sit comfortably and concentrate.

Doubt

Doubt is an extremely important factor in our practice. If we constantly doubt the practice or the teacher, the teachings can never really sink in. Any yogic journey requires surrender. Practice is dangerous if done with misgiving and disbelief.

Carelessness

Carelessness leads to injury and is dangerous for the practice, Sharath warned. If we lack attention it’s possible that the body will be here doing asana, and the mind will be somewhere else. This is when injury occurs most often. Beware!

Laziness

Sharath didn’t elaborate too much about sloth or laziness, which is probably the most difficult obstacle for me. “Only lazy people cannot practice yoga,” as Guruji said…so get off your couch and get to practice!

Lack of Determination

Your determination must be stronger than your distractions. Yoga practitioners need a lot of determination, especially because this is a lifelong practice, which can often feel slow and long. It becomes difficult to concentrate when we see distractions, but determination gets us through the years.

Confusion

One topic I hear Sharath talk about quite often is confusion. It’s a big problem with modern yoga practitioners, he says. Because yoga is becoming more and more commercial and body-centric there are a plethora of teachers with their own rules, style, system and philosophy. Too many teachers and options confuse students. It’s important that we know where our practice comes from and should stick to one method. He quoted Guruji: “Two gurus, one student is dead!”

Improper Grounding in the Practice

The foundations of our yoga practice are really the most important part. The basics, the introduction, the initiation. If these are strong, everything else can safely grow from there. We should want to become a student first, and then perhaps...once the foundation is strong and we are grounded, a teacher.

Lack of Concentration

Modern technology is distracting. Facebook, blogs (!), twitter, and ipads distract us. It’s not that they’re evil; they should just be a secondary, occasional concern. Sharath said we have to work to develop concentration and that focus improves our ability to take knowledge in and learn daily.

Being here in India, studying yoga at the source makes these distractions easier for me to deal with. I’m here to focus and devote myself to the practice for a period of time. It’s when I get back into the bustle of daily life that I really need to cultivate the determination, focus, motivation and concentration to support my practice. On another note...if anyone has the Sanskrit names for these obstacles, I'd really like to know them and add them to the post. He mentioned all of them but I wasn't quick enough!