Happy Thanksgiving from Mysore

So, yes it’s Thanksgiving in Mysore, I thought I would do a thank you post. There are many people to thank.  And maybe this will give people some sense of how life works here in Mysore for an American yoga student.

First, there is of course Guruji who fills the shala in the mornings.  You get a sense of the man’s energy in the mornings, as he shouts out “Yes, one more” and the next yogi stumbles into the shala to find the space that has just been vacated.  Saraswati has kept us all moving for the last couple of weeks while Sharath is away.  Some how in the midst of all of the dropbacks, she has the time to remember that the German guy needs help in Supta Kurmasana and the guy from San Francisco (that would be me) still needs a little tug to get into Marichyasana D on the left side. Sharath is of course missed and my desire to spend some more time with Sharath will probably lead me back to Mysore again in the near future.

There are also those particular Mysore institutions that cater to foreign yoga students, keeping everybody healthy and especially fed and housed.  Anu’s (where I am blogging from) is the local internet cafe and really everyone’s living room.  If you can’t find someone, then the chances are high that they are at Anu’s.  There are the three women (Satu, Holly and Trisha) who make up Shakti House which is a favorite breakfast stop.  Then there is Tina’s which is run by the hostess with the mostess, Tina who serves up breakfast and any advice you may need on housing, eating, shopping travel, or any other particular curious Indian habit you may encounter.  If you are here and want to have a rich dose of Indian culture served up through a course on how to make roti’s or Dal Makhani, Tina’s is the pace to go.  It is really one long discussion of how India is reflected in the food, utensils, and lots of other aspects of the physical culture.  As you can see, much of Mysore revolves around food, with breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

You can’t say enough about the resident yoga students who bring a lot of talent, skill, and caring to their time in Mysore.  Lunch can become a rich discussion of Vedanta philosophy or a free back massage to take the pressure off a sore shoulder.   The richness of the community is definitely one of the things that will bring me back to Mysore.

Finally, there are the residents of Gokulam who whether they wanted to, or planned to have made a hundred or so yoga students feel at home – the gentleman at the corner store who remembers that you buy curd and milk every morning and will let you pay tomorrow, or whenever (head wag added).  The landlords men who walk the dogs, or sell papaya … Everyone has a smile in exchange for a smile.

So, in all, Mysore is pretty great and an amazingly comfortable place to practice yoga and try to take in some aspects of Indian culture.  I am reminded by several people who this is Mysore which is like Bangalore, but with more trees. India in other places is not this comfortable.  But it is certainly the best way, I can think of to practice and get a taste of India.

So, I thank all of these facets of my trip to India.  I can’t believe that I ever had second thoughts about coming.

Now with that I think that this will probably be close to my last post from India.  To be honest I have been trying to keep my internet time to a minimum,
since I hate to spend time on blogging when there is so much else to do
like practice and massages and shopping and Chamundi Hill.  So, as I get closer to my return which is about two weeks off now, I will probably not be blogging.  But if there are questions about specific aspects of my trip to Mysore or anything else, post a comment or send an email.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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Kaboom! – Happy Diwali

Out for the Diwali Fireworks

Hello from Mysore where loudest night of Diwali has begun and the fireworks are going off almost non-stop.

A few things about Diwali from a first time visitor to India:
– Fireworks (powerful, loud and sometimes hilarious)
– Lights on everything
– Sweets (Bombay Tiffany for cashew bhurfi)
– Little oil lamps to decorate the home
– Families with kids everywhere

HAPPY DIWALI ALL

More on Mysore later.

Practice, Ego and Patience

OK.  I knew in advance that practice in the shala would be a challenge for both my knees and my ego and that has turned out to be the case.  First week, day one:  Sharath quickly honed in on me and said that I was to stop after Marichyasana D and go to shoulder stand.  No backbends.  Then lead class I was told to add backbends (or maybe everyone was told to add backbends).

So today I practice to Marichy D and then move to do a short set of backbends from the floor. Third backbend and I push up to standing, and look around to see if Sharath is either smiling or frowning at me.  No Sharath.  I stand for a while and think, “OK, no information today”.  About that time I turn around and Guruji is standing in front of me, three drop backs and then arms crossed and then hands down and a “straight your arms”.  I had heard from Lizzie that Guruji is like a rock in backbends, but I now have first hand evidence.

So, Marichyasana continues to progress, I do get a little deeper and closer everyday, but the real learning this week has been patience to wait on Marichy D, and the knowledge of how much my ego is caught up in backbending and how I need to watch that I am backbending as a progress in my practice and not as a stroke to my ego.

Other than the daily practice, days are email and blogging, food, sleep and some shopping.  People are great and from all over.  Though I feel for the longer term residents who have to deal with all of us first timers asking the same litany of questions:

  • Where are you from?
  • When did you arrive or the related question of what time do you start practice?
  • How long are you here for?
  • Where do you practice to?
  • And, of course, the list of questions about food, digestion and “related issues”.

This weekend is the beginning of Diwali, so the shala is closed for three days (there is a moon day) and so plans are a foot for some out-of-town excursion to escape the firecrackers, and partying.  Otherwise, the San Francisco/Bay Area contingent is good and continues to expand: three or four from the city, one from Napa/Marin, and Marcus and myself from the Peninsula. I think we expect one more on Thursday.

More later.

Mysore

Well to all of you who have been supporting me from afar.  I am in Mysore – finally.  So much to write about the trip, India, the shala, the people, ….  But here’s a start.

I arrived from Singapore (which already feels like a world away) on Saturday night.  After a night in Bangalore where there was some silicon valley like start-up party going on in the bar of the hotel, I took a car to Mysore.  Three hour drive – one hour getting out of Bangalore, one hour on the mostly four lane highway between Bangalore and Mysore and one hour looking for the Green Hotel in Mysore.  [Recommendation:  if you are going to take a car, get a car from Mysore so you know the driver has a sense of where he is going.]  I checked in to the hotel and registered with Guruji.  6:30 am start on Monday.

Marcus is also here and has been a mensch in terms of introducing me around and helping me get settled into life in Mysore.  Where to eat, things to do, place to stay, … We keep saying that we will ge a photo taken in front of the shala one morning to send to everyone in Mt View.

Not sure what to say about the shala.  It is clearly not very crowded and I am working my way to earlier starts already.  People that came as soon as the shala opened in September are approaching their first month and some are already leaving.  So, the start times are moving forward.  The flip side of this is the steady influx of new registrants at the shala door every afternoon at 4pm.  Guruji is very present on the floor.  He yelled at some one this morning about “straighten your arms”…, and did a good bit of drop backs.   I am still a little ga ga every time I get close to guruji.  Sharath and Saraswati are both great.  Sharath in particular has been great on my troubling Marichyasana D.  Day 1, you stop here – tomorrow we see.  Day 2, I told Sharath about my bad knees and he said try this on Marichy D for a few days and then we see.  Day 3, he came over and watched, smiled and walked away.  So, while I have waves of worry that I am giving up much of what I had achieved in Byron – Dena gave me Eka Pada on the last day in Sydney – I know that I need to just relax and go with it.  It is a great opportunity to rebuild the beginning of my practice and integrate the pieces of Primary into a solid breathing whole, before I get too enamored with Second.

So, the people are great.  People from all over and there are some familiar faces around – Jen Morrison has been here for a month, Marcus, Marne Green from Encinitas, …  and a few other faces I recognize from World Tour stops and workshops around.  I keep expecting Peter Bertero to show up any day, but nothing so far.

Anyway, more to come on the experience, the average day and anything else people want to know about.

Also, I have had several people ask about Byron.  So I will write a little travel guide to practice in Byron in the next couple of days.

Thanks to everyone for the support.

Sydney and Onward

Well, I have been in Sydney practicing with Dena for one last week before heading to Mysore.  Sydney has been interesting because the juxtaposition with Byron Bay has been important learning for when I go back to San Francisco.

Yoga in Byron was all about the yoga, in the broadest sense.  Everyday you had the space and the support to examine all of the knots that impede the physical practice as well as the spiritual and emotional practice.  Now, life in Sydney is wonderful.  But it reminds me that every city is about desire, it is about wanting, ambition.  From the minute you get off the plane you are attacked with messages telling you about what you can be.  You can be sexier “in this shirt”.  You can be thinner.  You can be more glamorous.  Not just the marketing messages but the entire city is about what can happen, not what is.  It is about dissatisfaction, not contentment.

How do you balance the two?  Or do you?  The message of Byron both in the yoga and in the examples of the other yogis is really about contentment.  In the city we always talk about the lives of quiet desperation that people in the country and in the suburbs live.  But in fact, perhaps that is just a myth to make us feel better about the abuse we all take to live for the opportunity that the city offers.

Now I love a city.  Always have ever since I left Arkansas.  But the learning of this week is to be extra vigilant about what needs are real, which are fabricated.  Create the life you want and then put some of the striving away.  Hard for me.  I have always been susceptible to all of the messages that say things will be better over the horizon.  Better job, better boyfriend, …

So, one of the learnings of the city is how to achieve some sense of contentment in the midst of all of these messages that things could be better, if you just…

Short post have to jump on the plane for Singapore.  Next post will be from either Singapore, but more likely Mysore.

Byron Bay & Untangling the Knots

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in Byron and I thought I would respond to the handful of people who have asked about the decision to go to Byron Bay instead of straight on to India.

Often you make a decision to change course in your travel itinerary or in life, not because of any well-reasoned plan, but because it feels right.  My decision to come down to Australia felt right.  It was not reasoned.  There is no grid with pros and cons to help justify the decision.  But for whatever reason having been in Australia for three weeks, it was the right decision for me.

When I set out from San Francisco I tried to articulate why I was traveling.  I even tried to craft a couple of posts about it, but nothing ever materialized.  In short, I hoped that the travel, the yoga, the change would catalyze some great transformation.  I would find peace and love in my soul.  I would overcome all of those obstacles in my yoga practice.  I would drop 15 pounds and I would look 20 years younger…   Well just in that list you can see why articulating the reasons for the trip was so hard.  Buried in all of those transformations were the knots of problems built up over years of dealing with daily life.

Travel has both a positive and negative side when dealing with these kinds of “knots”.  The positive side is that it removes you from the environment that helped form them.  It sets you lose to form new habits, create new disciplines, develop new mental and emotional musculature.  But travel also creates a whole new set of distractions that hide those areas you were hoping it would transform.  In Bali, you take Indonesian lessons, you learn about the current gossip in Mysore, you shop, you always have something to occupy your time.  You do not have to look closely at yourself or those tough spots you want transformed.  For mental distraction, nothing can beat Sydney.  Where all of the illusion creating machinery of the West is in high gear.  If you buy these jeans you’ll be sexier, if you eat at this restaurant you’ll be cooler… When I was in Bali, I could easily spend an afternoon planning different excursions around Mysore.  The trip to India would have been the ultimate distraction.

So, why Byron?  Well, first there’s Dena who knows my practice and has insight into what physically, mentally and emotionally transpires on my mat every morning.  That in itself I think was the kernel that posed the question, “why not go to Byron?”  In addition, Byron has three layers to it. There is the very rich million dollar home community that you see in town on occasion, but mostly you don’t interact with.  There are the surfer/backpacker tourists who you see everyday, but don’t interact with because they are their own isolated subcultures.  Finally there is the “original” Byron Bay.  There are a lot of ex-hippies, but more frequently there are a lot of escapees from the rat race of corporate Australia and America and Europe.  The guy that owns the local vegan restaurant is an ex-sales exec from Melbourne.  That is the Byron Bay that I am spending time in.

In the “original” Byron Bay, there are art house movies, but not a lot of TV.  There is yoga, but not a lot of glossy magazines.  There is time – unstructured and unfilled.  Now, in all honesty, the first three days I was here I thought what in the world was I going to do with myself.   I will have to go back to Sydney at some point to keep from being bored out of mind.  But by the fourth day, I had settled into a bit of a routine.  The “original” Byron created enough space to allow the knots that I wanted transformed to re-surface.  What was I going to do about these? Was travel going to untangle this mess? It doesn’t take long to start seeing all the knots linked to each other in one big busy ball.  But, how do you deal with this?  Is this what a shrink would do for me?   You quickly realize that they will not untangle themselves no matter how long I am away and how far I travel.  They will take some serious work to untangle.  Some discipline, some work, some practice.

So, I didn’t plan or understand why Byron first, then Mysore.  At the time, it was a feeling and a level of trust and comfort in Dena.  After two weeks here, Byron has helped me at least begin to remember what and where the knots are and even in some cases to know how they are inter-related.  In the end they may never get untangled.  I may just have to recognize that they are there and with discipline, work and practice live around them.

I am not sure that I will post more details about these knots.  They are personal and it is uncomfortable to go into in any detail.  But I may give a progress report on the untangling before I board the plane to Mysore in a couple of weeks.

If you were looking for more of a travelogue version of this post, i.e. where to stay and what to do in Byron Bay, I will post something more along those lines in a couple of days.

Practicing in Singapore

 

Singapore as it turned out was a great stop.  Good food, good fun and good practice.

I arrived in Singapore on a Friday night planning to spend Saturday checking out the three studios with Mysore programs and then trying each of them during the week I was in town.  Part of the Ashtanga “explosion” in East Asia, there are three studios in Singapore with morning Mysore classes – Pure Yoga (on Orchard Rd.), Ashtanga Singapore (on Club Street in Chinatown) and Ashtanga Yoga Singapore (then in Little India, now on Mosque Street in Chinatown).  I ended up staying in Little India at the Perak Hotel (great value and location), I went to Ashtanga Yoga Singapore first since it was a quick walk at 6 am and I had heard good things about the teacher Stanley Alim and he had just been authorized to teach.

The studio was on the second floor of a community arts building on Kerbau Street, near the Little India MRT station.  An old building it faces a little green space which in the evening turned into a beer/tea garden where south Indians gather to watch Chennai movies and Tamil TV.  You enter the main door and then climb a set of stairs to the second floor where the practice room appears right at the top of the stairs.  There is no reception, no sign-in, nothing other than Stanley who either knows you or doesn’t and then asks where you practice, how long you have practiced and do you have any injuries that he should know about.  We went through our introductions and I took a place on the floor with about 4 or 5 other people.

The studio is not air-conditioned which required some pretty careful maneuvers to keep from slipping into Hanumanasana by accident.  I got some good advice from Stanley and slowly began to get used to practicing in Singapore’s hot, humid climate.  By the end of the week, I had actually grown to love the heat and humidity, but had to tell myself every morning to take it easy and to remember that things stretch much more when they are heated than they may normally….

Anyway, Stanley’s helpful instruction, the convenience of the location and the almost storefront nature of the practice space left me so comfortable that I never ventured to the other two studios.  Pure I have used in Hong Kong.  They are a group of studios, well-run and very swank.  I have no information on the other studio in Chinatown, other than it is also on the ground floor of a traditional shop building and has a regular program.  When I stopped by they were already closed and I could only check out the building and pick up a schedule.

For what it is worth, I would highly recommend Stanley Lim’s practice group, if you are in Singapore for business or passing through from Australia or the west coast of the US on your way to Mysore it is a great first stop.

As an aside, Stanley has given up the location in Little India and found a permanent space in Chinatown, which is actually more convenient if you are traveling for business.  The new address is 36A Mosque Street, 2nd floor. Look him up, if you are passing through.

Since I was such a slug about checking out the other studios, if anyone has any specific information, please feel free to post it to the comments section.

My Morning Walk to Practice


In Bali Everything is Sacred
Originally uploaded by rsettles.

I walk along a path that leads through the rice paddies. Along the way there are always people to greet and offerings to step over. One of the most beautiful things about Bali is that everything is sacred to someone.

The bend in the stream shown here. The head of a path – every morning there is a new offering on the turn off to Kirsten and Mitchell’s. There are little shelves with offerings in every house, restaurant, shop, …

It highlights the beauty of the place that I might otherwise miss.

Last Week in Bali

Today is my last full day in Bali.  Tomorrow afternoon I head back to Singapore for a week and then on to Australia.

Life in Ubud this week has been an interesting contrast to the first two weeks.  The first two weeks were very social.  Reconnecting with old friends, meeting new people and just settling into being away from my daily routine.  Dena’s morning practice anchored the day and after that there was always some activity to join.

This week has been more solitary.  Each morning I walk through the paddies to practice at the little “villa” that Kirsten and Mitchell have rented.  This week has been a good week to integrate practice.  At most there have been 5 people in practice with both Kirsten and Mitchell giving advice, encouragement and adjustments.  I have a tendency to favor my right side and have gotten a lot of feedback on this during the week.  It is subtle feedback that is perfect for a small class lead by two senior teachers.  After practice, I have breakfast – sometimes with Kirsten and Mitchell at Madé’s in the rice paddies, sometimes back here at Ananda.

Mitchell has also made time to give some rolfing sessions.  I had one on Tuesday and will get one more session right before I head for Singapore.  It has been great timing for me, almost 9 months to the day that I finished my last treatment in the series.  So, it has been good to have Mitchell “dig” into those places where things are tight.  With the addition of the left knee, which he looked at right after I fell last year, all of the areas we have been working on are new and I think a function of a slow opening in the hips and a continued imbalance between my right and left sides.

Kirsten and Mitchell are also only here for another couple of days before they head back to the States for Burning Man and then perhaps to the Bay Area to teach in the fall.  Mitchell will be giving rolfing sessions too.  So, if you are interested, email him for a time.  The email address is under Mitchell’s name on Ashtanga.com.  They are listed under Thailand.

During the week, I have planned a couple of larger excursions to places around Bali, but the combination of rain, my own inertia, and the late start (Kirsten and Mitchell start practice at 9, so I am not done until noon or later) has undermined all of these attempts.  If it hadn’t been for the persistence of the drivers at Ananda, I probably wouldn’t even have bothered planning.  Most of my time has been taken up with reading, napping, eating and wandering around town or little hikes in the rice paddies.  The first day or so the solitude was palpable and a little scary.  I kept thinking shouldn’t I be doing something, working toward something.  I have spent a lot of time in my life working toward something, generally something defined by the very society that was absent this week.  I slowly accepted this week’s solitude, but there has not been enough of it for new directions to form inside.  But, this is just the first month.