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One moon day, David, Vanessa and I had time so we went to a class downtown. It was a beautiful day and the studio was gorgeous and well-designed. The class was great and the teacher was wonderful and if years of Mysore style practice hadn’t turned me into a OCD crazed lunatic, then the whole experience would have been entirely unblog-worthy.

But, alas. I am a total nut job, and even though I am a yoga teacher I can’t just GO to a yoga class and be okay with it like a normal person. I need hours of shivering deconstruction after 75 minutes of asana. David and I went to a class four years ago called “Eye of the Tiger” and we STILL talk about it. But it was called “Eye of the Tiger”, so we are compelled. Part of the problem is the style I practice doesn’t change in very fundamental ways. So, I think I am a bit of a dinosaur in the yoga community. I didn’t know there was a whole playlist creation neurosis for yoga teachers. Because I don’t practice with music ever it threw me off so much that I spent the whole class thinking about how John Mayer dated Jessica Simpson.

Mostly,  I hate the thing where you have to show up at exactly the right time. Appointments are for dentists!  I know for most people when you practice in Mysore, India you have to show up at the exact time minus 15 minutes. But I will let you in on a little secret – if you give birth you can come any damn time you please in Mysore. I know! Reason enough!

Actually, another little secret: when I was pregnant, Sharath told me to come to an earlier led class. But I didn’t want to get up at 4a and waddle down a dark street. Fuck that! So, I just came at the time I wanted to come at. I am pretty sure I would have been yelled at if I wasn’t pregnant. I wagered a guess that he wouldn’t yell – “You! Masala Dosa! What is your time? Your time is 4.30” at the pregnant lady – and the wager paid off. Since then the timings part of my KPJAYI card is left blank.

Dads, just so you know, David gets a time. But he likes it like that.

This year because we are Canadian and Ashtangis and we like to follow rules exactly, we put in our applications too late to go to study with Sharath and it was full and we couldn’t go. We were suddenly looking at the month of November – wide open. And so , we decided to go to Florida.

Not going to Mysore has this funny feeling around it. Like weirdly disconnected and jangly. I am more then happy not to make the flight, or to try to figure out what to do with a tomato, rice and cucumbers every night for dinner. But the longer the time stretches out between trips to India the more out of touch I feel with the international Ashtanga family. I think it is worse for my husband who has already started locking me down for months to go in 2015.

When we go in 2015, what will have changed while were were here in our little cold corner of the world? Somehow, I doubt John Mayer will be played from the Sharath’s office.  If the practice doesn’t change, then why do we go year after year? Why wouldn’t we just go one year, get the jist of it and then save ourselves some money and go to Florida and sit on the beach instead?

I think, every year I go, I have stood on my mat in that shala a different person. The first year I went, I didn’t have a daily practice. The second time I was pregnant and so brave. The third time, I had a little baby, I was sleep deprived and unhappy. The last time, I felt fulfilled and I wanted to teach. In 2015 – who am I going to be? How could the same technique taught by the same teacher have seen me through such dramatic shifts in my life? I often don’t want to go to India because I think it takes too much time. But that might why I should be going. I think practicing creates time and space in my life – at least some reaction time. The shala in India gives me time, whether I take it or not, to listen, breathe, reconnect with my teacher and my family.

Sometimes I think I am the constant, the steady the metronome. But, maybe I am actually very nebulous. And I am here to watch my breath so that I don’t waste it all in the time that it takes to listen to a pop song.

“The family weakens by the lengths we travel.”

category: Ashtanga yoga
tags: ,

Waiting in the vestibule at the shala, is really part of the practice. I guess the 4.30 kids don’t have to wait there, I’ve never practiced here at 4.30 – but I hear that lots of people have a spot, and sometimes folks can get a bit territorial about it.  Whatever, that is mostly funny, and I’m sure if I had to get up at 3a I would also be huffy about getting a nice spot.

Over my four visits to Mysore, I have let go of the elbow macaroni business going to led. It is a bit like giving birth. There is this big mass (in this case of yoga students) and a very small opening (the little shala door) and a overwhelming urge on everyone’s part to speed things along. Once everyone is through the door, it is fine. Waiting until everyone is through means I practice in the bathroom, but there is a lot of room in the bathroom! It would be even better if everyone turned off their cell phone, but I can hear Sharath and that is all that matters.

Back to the vestibule. There is something about waiting for your turn, that produces anxiety. I think because I am from Canada and there in no discernible line up – just a group of people sitting and waiting – your position in the queue becomes more riddled with fear and panic. Another thing is you are watching everyone practice, and you have time to obsess. As students are called in, “One More!”, everyone moves forward an inch to be that much closer to the doorway for when their turn comes. If you haven’t grabbed all of your belongings, shot up to standing and raced through the doorway by the time Sharath is finished calling you, you get

“Why fear? Come friend!” Which is actually a nice thing to say, but at the time the panic level has risen so high that he could be telling you that you will be bffs for life and you will still feel flustered.

Sometimes, you get all ready to go – mat clenched in your sweaty little hands – you hear “One More!” and as you are standing up to go in either:

a. Some guy who has just walked in, strolls in and leaves you with this total grade school “He budded!” feeling. Which passes in the three seconds when you get called in.

b. Sharath stops and says, “No, one more Australian!” or “No, one more, Japanese” or “No, one more Masala Dosa!” And since you aren’t Australian or Japanese and you hope and pray with all of your heart that you aren’t masala dosa, you have to wait again.

Currently, I am falling into latter category – I think because I procreated – and I get called in pretty quickly. By my name, thankfully.

Once I am in the shala I wait like a vulture over the poor person who is just trying to have a nice forward bend after dropbacks, once that person leaves I  slap down my mat. Only your mat, rug and a small towel are allowed in the room. Yoga clothes are waaaay too racy to be wearing around town, so I have a little bag with me for clothes, water, and toilet paper (there is no toilet paper at the shala and  if I am just peeing I can’t get behind the hose business).

Invariably, as I pull my rug out of the bag, the roll of toilet paper and my bra cascade down at Sharath’s feet. I pick them up quickly and try to pretend like I didn’t just show my underwear to 50 strangers and proceed to the change room cheeks burning.

I tiptoe into the bathroom because the floor is always wet and it is gross in there. I put my bum down on the damp toilet seat and try to think nice thoughts about yoga students and hepatitis A. Then out to wash my hands, take a small sip of water from the bottle I brought and I’m out the door and headed to my mat.

I get to my mat, plant my feet, check the picture of Guruji and it hits me. I am so fucking tired.

Vande gurunam caranaravinde


categories: baby, Mysore
tags: , , ,

Today we went to the Mall of Mysore. It is a mall. In Mysore. Not a guy with a bunch of buckets on a cart. A mall. With no one in it. But we got a booster chair for Holden so he can see what he is eating at the table. And I rode the escalator up and down, up and down, up and down. We spent an hour and a half riding the escalators with Holden. I ride an escalator with Holden every day in Toronto to get to work, but I guess the Indian ones are different. He had fun – which means I was relieved, but run off my feet.

Then it was noodle soup and off to see Sharath for conference. Conference was great – here are some notes (I’m a bit jetlagged so I hope I’m not missing anything):

There was a banana and half a granola bar in my purse. Then Franklin the turtle had a homework assignment and he couldn’t figure out what his favourite place in his neighbourhood was – I won’t spoil the ending. A couple dogs walked by. Some rocks are  small. Those are baby rocks. And some rocks are too big to carry around. Shoes came off, shoes were put back on. Dogs. Rocks. Monkeys? Monkeys? No monkeys.

Ok really, I think I heard something about handstands before Holden booted out the door and I spent the next hour chasing him up and down the street.

This was actually taken during conference – so it can give you a bit of texture when you are reading a decent Mysore blog.

I almost don’t want to write about this in case I jinks myself horribly, but Holden is sleeping. He went to bed last night at the usual time – but 10.5 hours ahead in India – and he slept until 8a this morning. He had a nice nap at the usual time and I put him to bed at the regular time tonight. Soooo, he got over jetlag in one afternoon. I am considering writing a book. Although I suppose I should hold off until he actually sleeps through the night tonight.

We made it. Bonus: at no point did I want to throw the baby out the window. Holden was great, he didn’t cry – he just stayed awake for most of the 24 hour journey. We managed to keep him up yesterday afternoon and last night he had some trouble staying down – but he slept (with a few breaks for food and fussing) from 6p – 4a. I know to most normal people that sounds crazy. But in yoga-land that is perfect baby schedule.

We registered with Sharath. It was lovely to see him – he seems well rested and in a great space. The room is very calm this trip – a huge change from last year. The addition of the assistants is nice, and one of them assisted me in final backbends. Practice was very healing, I could feel my hamstring relax in the heat. I got both of my feet behind my head and off the floor in supta kurmasana, because I was paranoid Sharath was looking at me. That hasn’t happened since I was about 5 months pregnant. Woot.

Here we are at Heathrow airport eating the most unfortunately named, “Hip and Healthy” meal.

Last year we took this photo in the same spot. I was 5 months pregnant and I had time to do things like brush my hair and eat uninterrupted meals.

I miss brushing my hair and being able to watch 15 movies on the flight to India. I know everyone talks about how your life changes and how hard it is to have a baby/toddler/teenager. And it is hard and really not at all glamorous. But babies make life way more fun. I can brush my hair again in 15 years.

Landing in Bangalore, David turned to me and said, ‘So, this is your third trip to India.” How did that happen? I mean, I’d really like to see Morocco, Australia, or Japan. I haven’t been to Chicago, but I’ve been to dusty old Mysore three times.

Even just at the airport, I am reminded of what a fantastically different sensibility there is here. I stared at this ad asking for consumer input into ameliorating Banglalore airport for 15 minutes waiting for my luggage.

The sense of humour is so sweet, devoid of irony – but it makes my Canadian mind twitch. Do they actually want serious suggestions or is this just a joke? Because a change room for humans might be a better start. Or, I don’t know, clean drinking water.

And then all the little things about the shala and being in Mysore flood back. The shala clocks that are inexplicably 15 minutes fast, the barefoot police officers, and the animals sprawled across the roads narrowly avoiding calamity over and over again.

But there is no subterfuge. Everything is just how it is here. And that is strangely relaxing.

By contrast, on the British Airways flight, David and I were laughing at the different names for business class travel – “Gold members, Silver members, Safire members and Emerald members”. Honestly, Emerald members? Is an 8-year-old boy running BA? In India, it is just people who have paid more money. That’s it. You can’t be in this line/chair/lounge. You have not paid enough.

Don’t get me wrong – the grossly unfair divisions between have and have not here are deeply troubling. But all that inherently middle-class yoga practicing, air travel honesty is pretty funny.

Led class tomorrow. I am so glad I’m not pregnant.

PeaceLoveYoga reminded me today of Guruji’s birthday. The rain last night cooled off the heavy damp heat from yesterday. This morning there are slim shafts of lemon light poking through the clouds. Nice day to think about Mysore, KPJAYI and Guruji. Big up.

Last week, my little milk jumkie got in the bad habit of eating every 20 minutes. Ok. I’m totally the enabler, but everyone kept telling me feed on demand. Then, I realized – I’m the dealer – I call the shots.  So, now I am cutting off his frequency. Yesterday was every two hours, today is every 2.5 hours. Eventually, I’m working up to 3 by the end of the week. David bought me a breast pump, so that I could leave Mr. Owl to run an errand but we couldn’t figure out when pumping would make sense because he is such a snacker. As my sister wisely told me, “It is a level of higher math you aren’t capable of on two hours sleep.” He is pretty good about the new wait, but there is some clockwatching around 15 minutes before he gets his next fix.

The whole thing reminds me of the Velvet Underground song, Waiting for My Man: “He’s never early, he’s always late/ First thing you learn is you always have to wait.”

Last year, David and I were walking down our street and on the corner, I noticed an addict punching numbers into a pay phone furiously and with a perplexed look on her face. I thought, “Funny, how you can see a crack addiction on someone’s face. The lines, the hardness has a uniformity to it.”

She looked up at me and stopped banging on the number pad. “What? You never seen a crackhead before?” She yelled.

Embarrassed, I looked away. Quietly and to David, I said “Well, I live in this neighbourhood – so yes I have.”

But a little self-awareness, even if it comes out of nowhere, is always welcome.

Happy moon day, happy birthday Guruji. Back on the game tomorrow.

I made it through another led primary today. There was certainly less adrenaline than in Mysore, but it was nice to waltz in right before opening chant. I could also lay on my side for a little while after class instead of Sharath calling out after the last vinyasa, “Ok go home, take rest!”

In Mysore, everything revolves around the crazy thing we all do in the morning. But here, we are a bunch of crazies who do something in the morning. Because yoga is an umbrella term in the west for general stretching, it is hard to communicate that what we do is a system, passed through a lineage of teachers. I often wish we could just call it something else. Most people can understand the tradition and system in Karate school, for example. But yoga is under a different set of rules in North America.

If I took a self defense class and learned a Karate move to kick a man in a padded suit, no one would say that I am a black belt in Karate.  I guess the same could be said of language. I may know the word for tomato is “pomodoro”, but that doesn’t mean I speak Italian. Yoga, like language, has a set of rules – a structure. If we decided to make up the rules of a language based on what felt comfortable to us as individuals, then it would render it meaningless or insensible.

Ultimately, kicking a dude in a padded suit might be infinitely more useful to me than years of Karate. And it might be way more fun to call a tomato “gooky goo”. I’m not trying to pass a judgement on yoga classes or their efficacy. It is great and very healthy to breathe, move your body, and connect with like-minded people.

David thought a better word might be meditation. The Ashtanga Meditation Centre of Toronto. Of course, that opens another can of worms because we aren’t sitting around cross-legged om-ing. But it might be closer to the truth, since the system is just teaching us to be stronger and stronger meditators no matter how flexible or agile we happen to be, whether we never bind in mari D or we practice Advanced A.

When I came back from India the first time, it was after years and years going to vinyasa classes – based on whatever happened to be in the teacher’s head at the moment. I remember talking to people about the tradition and feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude that I would start to get a little teary. I couldn’t believe the practice was there for me the whole time and I had brushed by it. After this trip, it feels more matter-of-fact. I practice this way, there isn’t really another way for me. It isn’t a strong, emotional attachment like when I went the first time. It is just part of a routine in my life. The funny thing is I am in a position where I speak to a lot of people about the practice. Some feel the same way I do, some have questions about its efficacy, and some feel very turned off by the idea. I’m always intrigued by the questions I’m asked. I rarely feel like I’ve said the right thing. It seems the further I go into this whole thing, the less I have to say about.

Sharath is right. It is like brushing your teeth. I just do it because if I don’t, I notice and probably other people do too. I’m trying not to smell. That’s about it.

So, a new name for the studio, with a new tagline:

“The Ashtanga Meditation Centre of Toronto. Try not to smell.”

Ohh… that’s good. It works on a few different levels.

Packing and goodbye day. The nice thing about Mysore are the “See you soon” variety of goodbyes. We had a lot of those this morning. I hope we can stay in the same apartment again. Rupa, Raghunandan, and their son Anirudh were so lovely and welcoming. Rupa gave me a little bracelet today, and the hilarious ladies, Madima and Sheshi, who work for the family came up to say goodbye. Madima talked to me for quite a while in Kannada. It is a promise David and I have made to each other to learn Kannada next time we come.

I will really miss seeing Ani running around in his underwear showing me flower buds in the morning. He is a true muppethead.

I said a quick goodbye to Saraswathi after led primary today. She told me to keep backbending, “Until the very end.” She also said I could start leaving out kurmasana and marichasana when I feel ready. Shoulderstand and headstand are OK, depending on how I feel. I was sort of hoping because I currently dislike shoulderstand.

We caught Sharath after David had finished led intermediate, and we managed to say a few words before he rushed out. He said he will come back to Toronto next year (yipee!).  He told us to send photographs of the baby. David joked that he would name the baby Sharath.

“But it is a girl.” said Sharath.

So, there you have it, Sharath cast his vote. Saraswathi passed on her pregnancy wisdom. And we are enjoying our last night in India at the St. Marks Hotel.

See you on the other side.

This morning we travelled to Mysore Palace to participate in the Yoga Stops Traffick benefit for Odanadi. Odanadi is an organization that rescues women and children from human traffickers in Mysore. They provide shelter, a rehabilitation program, and they also do advocacy work to end trafficking in India. Mysore is a beautiful, sleepy city, idyllic in so many ways, with a great deal of affluence – particularly in the area where we are living and where we study yoga. Nonetheless, it has all the human rights issues that other cities and towns in India have. The women and children that live at Odanadi have come from impossible situations of forced prostitution and slavery right here in the city. It is easy to forget this when you are spending your time figuring out what to eat for lunch in between yoga classes.

Part of the rehabilitation program at Odanadi involves Ashtanga Yoga. The foreign yoga students teach at the shelter. This year, Grant lugged an enormous suitcase of donated yoga clothes from AYCT students all the way to Mysore and he has been working with the children and teaching yoga since he got here.

The Yoga Stops Traffick benefit was an international event, and in Mysore the children of Odanadi led a huge group of students through 27 sun salutations in front of the palace. The kids were amazing and hilarious. They worked so hard and organized themselves beautifully to each teach a few sun salutes. I watched and took pictures because I would have died in the sun, but it was such a treat to see so many people moving in unison against the gorgeous palace dropback.

Look at this chaturanga – even the little ones were holding it.

It was a great event. Everyone involved should feel super-proud.

A quick word on being pregnant in the world: one fantastic thing about being pregnant is you can look like a total dork, and everyone thinks it is cute.

It is such a good opportunity to completely nerd out, and people will still say you look great. Awesome!

Tomorrow is our last practice. We say goodbye to Sharath and Saraswathi and travel to Bangalore to spend the night before catching our flight early Monday morning. I am happy to go home and get back to work, but I am certainly sad to leave Mysore.

We had such a fantastic last day.

Positioned on the marble, standing up from my third urdhva dhanurasana this time it can barely be called a pause. There was no gawking at photos, no routine adjustments of my shirt, no superfluous forward bend squeezed in. A quick exhale,  a moment’s collection. That thought that goes through my head every time, “Here I am standing. I used to be on the floor, but now I am standing.” Then I hear it again.

“Sten”

I locate the voice in the room, just off to my left.

“Sten, you finished?” he says kindly.

I note three or four people waiting around me with their arms making an X shape across their chest. The universal Ashtanga symbol of “I’m finished.”

“No, That was my first one. I have three more.” Yesterday this was said with confusion, uncertainty. Today there is a hint of indignation in my voice.

Then there is silence as I go back. Saraswathi sweetly helps me in backbends when I have finished. My last mysore-style class of this trip, and I have a little mystery to chew on as I travel back to my unseasonably warm gingerbread land, Monday morning.

Both Sharath and Saraswathi have been so kind to me this trip. They have never pushed, just let me follow where my body is at day to day. I feel like I still have a very full and rich practice, I know many pregnant women feel they can’t practice at all. I think it is thanks to their quiet guidance and confidence in the system. I am lucky to be here.

And next time I come, I am signing up with Shrutti. I really like her.

It is 35 again today. My heat rash is starting to cover a larger percentage of my body.  Like a little encroaching army of red dots, it seems to collect recruits as our afternoons stretch out.  I watched this cow slowly chew her cud this afternoon. I could totally relate. I bare a striking resemblance to her now.

At one point, the owner came by and tugged on her rope. She lifted herself up halfway, but when the owner stopped to talk to someone, the cow melted back down in a heap.

I heard a funny tune coming from the computer after lunch today. I asked David what he was watching.

“Um…a little cat that has a balloon stuck to it with static electricity.”

it is beautiful here, I think we are ready to come home.

When I came up from my third urdhva dhanurasana, I paused. I usually do so I can catch my breath before going back again. I was dead centre in the room. An arms length behind me, a picture of Krishnamacharya and in front of me, a huge picture of Pattabhi Jois.

I had landed today in a spot I had been dreading for sometime now. The backrow marble spot. off the carpet and sort of psychologically out of the room. When we walked in this morning Sharath and Saraswathi were talking in the office. Shrutti, Sharath’s wife, has been learning the assisting ropes and she was looking after the room. Usually, when you walk in and there is a spot, any spot available, you get harangued by the mother/son team “You come! No fear! Come! One more! Go now!” until you are tripping over yourself to squeeze in to whatever spot has come up.

Shrutti looked at me, and said:”There is one spot in the back. Would you like it?” She pointed to the marble.

I paused.

“Maybe you want to wait for a spot on the carpet?”

Oh! Goddess Shrutti of Yoga Spots! I love her! Choosing your own spot – unheard of! Beautiful.

I waited for a few moments. But then I remembered: the rule of KPJAYI is if you pass on a spot you think is bad, you will inevitably end up with a much worse spot. So, I lumbered over to the marble. But the Goddess Shrutti abided, and it was a total Yummy Mummy spot.

And after finishing primary and my three backbends I came up to standing. I paused and took a large inhale. And then I stared at the picture of Pattabhi in front of me. It is decorated with a garland of flowers and is placed on his chair. I think Sharath took the picture, and I think it is this one – but I’m not sure.

The background has been photoshopped black, and there is a celestial quality to it. Those eyes. Those teeth. I stared and stared and stared. I’m not sure how long I was there. Slackjawed.

“Sten!”

I register something.

“Sten!” Sharath is looking at me shaking his head.

Am I getting a pose? Am I not supposed to do dropbacks anymore? Where am I?

“You finished?”

Oh, crap I’m standing here like an idiot staring into space. “Uhh. No, I have to do my three.” I say this as I travel back down.

“Hmmm.”

At AYCT, we look out on a cookie shop in a little elf-sized building that is nestled in the back alley. In wintertime, if you look out while it is snowing, you might think we live in gingerbread land.

Cookie shop / Large portrait of the guru: equally transfixing, for different reasons, but transfixing nonetheless.

Somehow, I think sweet-toothed Guruji would understand.