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I had my last Mysore-style practice in Mysore today. I was a bit sad. Mostly, because I have not one but TWO led primary classes before I leave. Yeech. Sharath helped me with backbends this week and made me walk into my heels which hasn’t happened in a year and a half. He is such a great adjuster. Very soft, but never ineffective. He always seems to pull me deeper than I think I can go. And it is very effortless.

We said goodbye to Sharath today because it is always tricky in led class to get his attention. He promised to be back in Toronto when his house is finished being built. Holden crawled around the vestibule and Sharath and Saraswathi tried to get him to crawl in, but he wouldn’t pass the threshold. Smart boy. Saraswathi held him and he didn’t cry this time. I got an awesome picture of David and Sharath, which I will post when I am not being lazy.

Here is yet another video of The Baby. Of course, I think it is a perfect example of his sublime intellect. However, you will notice from the wear on the page that fuzzy bear gets lots of action.

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Today was led primary again, but this time with Saraswathi. I just rolled up after before the 4:30 class did uth pluthi and I got a totally decent spot. When Saraswathi teaches on Sundays, Sharath always comes in to do the opening chant and then surprise! Saraswathi sneaks up and says, “Ekam…” I realized I missed taking class with Saraswathi. The energy in the room is much calmer.

Sharath is very strong but his energy can be quite gentle. He sort of lopes around the room on his thin legs watching everything. If he isn’t picking his way deftly around yoga mats, his long legs are folded up in his lap and he is reading his paper. He is direct with students and can transmit a lot of information in a dismissive snort.

Saraswathi is more like her dad. She is such a toughie, to me she seems almost unmovable. Today, in Mari C, because my dristi is so amazing, I was staring at her feet. Perfect small and broad with pink nail polish. I’m also pretty sure she was in her nightgown. And yet, she is commanding that room. I like her quiet and slightly sympathetic little laugh after holding uth pluthi a bit longer than usual.

When I was in university, like umm 15 years ago, I was getting headaches from reading and I got some glasses. I ended up sitting on them and I decided I hated my optometrist so I never got another pair. Vanessa told me she got her prescription and glasses in India really cheap and I made up my mind to finally stop reading everything an arm’s distance away.

Stan: I need reading glasses.

Optician: Oh. Ok. Hmmm. Um. How old are you?

Stan: (getting excited for an impending compliment) I am 34.

David: She is 35.

Stan: Oh! Hahaha! Yes. I just had a birthday. 35. Basically, 34. I forget!

Optiician: You are 35?

Stan: (compliment very close!) Yes.

Optician: Because usually you wouldn’t need reading glasses until you are over 40. Over 40 is when you should be needing glasses.

Stan: …

David: Oh, well, her whole family…glasses….

Optician: Oh. Ok. (doubtful)

Anyway, I really like my glasses.

I keep meaning to post this link to David’s blog at Toronto Body Mind. He is blogging from India, and he writes really beautifully. plus he doesn’t just write about reading glasses.

This picture is on his blog, but I had to repost it here in case y’all are too lazy to clickity click the above link.

I swear to god he got himself into this position ALL BY HIMSELF.  His dad was so proud.

I have almost two weeks to go until my due date, and I am having a little moment of gratitude towards my Ashtanga practice for carrying me so safely and happily to this point. Right around the time I conceived, I felt incredibly vital. The daily practice had really softened and opened up my body. I felt equal parts strong and flexible, and I was up to any yoga challenge the practice could throw at me. I guess in some ways, I got my biggest yoga challenge yet. So far, I haven’t missed a practice. I hope I can continue to practice up to the day I give birth

When I was about 8 weeks pregnant, Joanne Darby told me, “Pregnancy is an intuitive time, just listen to your intuition and you will be fine.” That statement has been my guiding light for the past 8 months. I do think my practice has helped me immeasurably during the pregnancy. I don’t feel ill or really that tired. I never got crazy hungry. And unless I am in 38 degree weather, my ankles are a fairly recognizable part of  my legs. My only craving so far has been for lemonade, which doesn’t seem all that bad. I also know I have been very blessed with an easy pregnancy thus far, but I’m aware that the regulating properties of the Ashtanga system, the dailyness and vinyasa krama, have given my body and my baby an anchor.

At 6 weeks when I found out I was pregnant, I asked my doctor what was contraindicated for pregnancy particularly for the first 12 weeks when miscarriages are so common. I mentioned twists, backbends, jumping in vinyasas, and working up a sweat. My doctor, who isn’t usually nonchalant, brushed off my concerns. I went into further detail:

S: But we twist in half-lotus, against our knees! I drop backwards on to my hands! The room is a million degrees!

Dr.: You can stay in bed, or you can continue your regular activities. But either way, if nature intends you to keep this pregnancy, then you will keep it.

I thought that was a little granola for her regular bio-medical party line, but that has since been confirmed to me by other doctors and midwives. Miscarriages are natural and devastatingly common whether you do everything by the book or not. I can understand why people look for answers as to why miscarriages happen. All the reasons I have heard about why they occur from other people (she ran, she twisted, she jumped, she fell) seem to be trained on limiting the mother’s mobility and blaming her for whatever might go wrong. I decided to practice for the rest of my first trimester, but only because I felt like it.

David told me to stick to standing series for the remaining 6 weeks I had in my first trimester. In India, I don’t think Sharath would teach a pregnant woman for the first 3 months but that makes sense to me because he wouldn’t have a chance to have a regular and sustained teaching relationship with anyone because of his schedule. I did standing for a few days, but I wasn’t sick or nauseous and I felt better moving than sitting around. So after two days, I asked David in the car before Mysore if I could do the rest of primary. A week later, my backbends were still feeling good, and I asked if I could add on dropbacks, and that was OK too. The week after that I added on some intermediate, and David crouched down beside me in the room and said, “Umm. No. Just wait until 12 weeks.”

And the two of us just started a dialogue that went pretty much like that for the rest of the pregnancy. I get treated like any other student in the room, I get pulled up to the front, and my alignment is gently corrected. David has said no to me only one other time when I wanted to do kapotasana again in my 8th month. And he was right, both times.

Before I went to India in my second trimester, I practiced up to supta vajrasana. I wasn’t that big, so I rolled up two blankets and put one under my chest and the other under my pelvis for the intermediate backbends on the belly. In India, I practiced full primary. I wanted to be just another student in the room, not the pregnant lady who needs a lot of attention. I was so grateful that Sharath let me do what I could everyday. He told me to do trikonasana twice instead of twisting in the revolved version, but that was all. In retrospect, although it would terrify me when Sharath or Saraswathi would put me in some horrible spot in the room, they were treating me like any else – capable and strong. I think that says a lot about the two of them, considering the culture they live in – i didn’t see a single pregnant woman during my stay.

Now, I do primary, a non-twisty-more-squatting version of pasasana, krouchasana, ustrasana and then dropbacks. I do my full closing, because according to Saraswathi and the medical professionals I have talked to – the baby won’t turn around just because I am upside down. Although, the lovely midwife who practices at our studio told David that they recommend inversions when the baby is head up to try and move it head down, which is pretty cool.

Once you get pregnant, your body becomes everyone else’s business. You are relatively autonomous one day, and the next you are subject to a host of opinions – some kind, some a little mean but all well-intentioned. Certainly, most people have an opinion about Ashtanga and pregnancy and I have heard just about everything under the sun. While pregnancy is a condition, it isn’t disease or an illness. I think the misconceptions we spread about pregnancy and fitness are little off-shoots of misogyny. People would tell me not to do one pose or another, but then some people would also tell me that they thought I was having a boy because girls make you look fat and tired. Most of it is a big load of crap.

Pregnancy is crazy and amazing, and I think like parenting it defies expectations, fairness, and rules. It is nice to imagine that everyone will fit the same identifiable shape or follow the same developmental steps, but it seems to me that just like you get the kid you need, not the kid you think you want – you also get the pregnancy you need.

I do really hope that anyone reading my little blog will trust in themselves and the practice throughout pregnancy. I remember when I first got pregnant, and I read everything I could find about pregnancy and Ashtanga. Most of it was so incendiary, I remember one woman writing about how if you do headstand the baby’s arm will poke through the uterus. It made me so frightened to practice (Ok – not the baby’s hand thing – I have managed to retain a scrap of common sense throughout the past 9 months). To be honest, I’m not sure what the motivation is to scare women off practice. David has really helped me by letting me work, get sweaty and try every morning, but he has also helped by telling me when enough is enough and I need to soften and relax. Every morning, I don’t have to think or worry about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. My body and my baby are my guides. They surprise me everyday with what I can achieve.

I do less asana, but I think this pregnancy has made my practice much stronger.

(photos by Tim Bermingham)

Next post: I promise way more aliens and cockroach vampires and way less sycophantic yoga talk.

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.

Fruit Brute bordering on Yummy Mummy Terror Yoga spot today, it was a peaceful day. This trip I have noticed that Sharath and Saraswathi have a different organizational technique for dropbacks. Two years ago, I would find myself waiting for several minutes. But this year, they seem to catch most people as they are doing their three dropbacks, and so you can transition very quickly into your assist. I like not waiting, and it is fun to stay on your breath as you come up from your third. The one drawback is I find myself dropping back with no one in front of me and when I come back up two seconds later, Sharath or Saraswathi is standing three inches from my nose. It can be a little unsettling and it makes me want to laugh because they always give me a blank look. Like they somehow ended up in front of me through a strange set of circumstances beyond their control. I guess that is half true. Anyway, I like it.

Last night, I had a terrible sleep. It is getting more and more difficult to get comfortable in bed and I toss and turn. I started using an extra pillow to wedge under my belly, which does help. Last night, I kept waking up in pools of sweat. Finally, I got up in the middle of the night, took a cold shower and cried a little as I dripped cold water on the floor under the fan in the living room.

I like getting stuff done, but I think I can’t physically do very much when the temperature goes above 35. I think I just overdid it yesterday. So, I’m keeping a low profile for the rest of the week. Today, I ate a lovely breakfast of fruit, fenugreek roti and spinach. Then, I read a little White Noise and took a quick nap – dreaming of North American supermarkets. We went to Kelly and Hudson’s house for lunch. It was unbelievable – Kelly had nori!  We had a lovely time hanging out. Then we all clambered into a tuk tuk and went to the pool where we watched all the kids play and swim so beautifully.

It was, however, a busy day for critters. Critters all over Mysore were on the move.

This horse had no time to stop and chat. He had somewhere to be!

This one was catching a quick snack between engagements.

These monkeys were trying to sort out their problems. It involved lots of chattering and some wrestling. The one on the left wasn’t really part of the disagreement, but he liked to join in the wrestling when it was happening.

Well, I wasn’t doing anything and someone has got to work!

Today I had a bad case of the chitta vrittis (mental chatter) during practice. I was squished in by the men’s change room and although I was only bumped into a couple times from well-meaning boys coming in and out, I was terrified of being knocked over. Especially in my dropbacks. I obsessed over this all practice: “Someone is going to walk out of that change room just as I am coming up to standing and I will be knocked over onto my tummy (I’m not sure how this would be possible but anyway) and I will cry and the boy who knocked me over won’t care and why did I get this spot and doesn’t anybody realize I’m pregnant…blah blah blah.”

But I did my dropbacks and no one knocked me over. Saraswathi gave me a big smile and after practice I sat on the steps and drank some grape juice. Everything was OK.

We registered again with Sharath for the next two weeks and we told him that we wouldn’t be able to come to the extremely important meeting. He said it wasn’t all that important. It was just to let students know about the new visa regulations that are being changed as of March. Now we need to have a student visa to come and study at the shala. Right now we are on a tourist visa. Since the blast in Pune, the police are starting to be more careful about yoga students – particularly because they like to hang out in the same spots in big groups and can represent soft targets for terrorism. It appears as though he is going through quite a bit of red tape just to register the shala as a school and accept student visas.

So, sadly there were no plans for a dance recital.

I thought today would be a good day to chat about bathrooms in India. People like to water the sidewalk outside their homes, sweep leaves away from piles of dirt and clean floors with a rigorous obsession. But no one will clean the bathroom. Remember the Paradise Hotel with the fancy 70s furniture:

Here is the bathroom – just 10 feet to the right of where this picture was shot.

Notice the toilet paper has been folded into a triangle shape. Fancy!

Here is the bathroom at the KPJAYI:

You can’t see in this photo but there are several long black hairs stuck to the seat. The floor is always wet, and you can’t really sit on the seat because that is always wet too and ready to fall off.

At the beginning of last week, someone threw a piece of trash into the corner of the shala bathroom. That piece of garbage has made friends with other pieces of garbage and now there is a pile of wet paper stuff in the corner.

Vile!

Not to be outdone, we have two bathrooms in our apartment. One is really clean and new and we work hard to keep it spic and span. The other bathroom was so gross, we just decided that life was too short, locked the door and forgot about it. I opened it up today to take this picture:

True elegance! Try not to hate us.

Today I did a modified supta kurmasana (I can’t help myself – I pray this baby isn’t as stubborn as I am). I put the soles of my feet together and just let my hands rest where they landed on my back. I didn’t want to throw up the pear I ate last night and I wasn’t completely out of breath afterwards. Perfect.

Saraswathi did my dropbacks today. She is very sweet and smiley with me. She asked if it was a girl or a boy. I told her I didn’t know. She said that was better. In India it is illegal to find out the gender because of the rampant female infanticide.  I think it will be a fun surprise. But what is a surprise without a little anticipation. Do you think you know the gender?

The ladies who clean our floors were laughing at me as I was sitting dripping sweat in the afternoon. They made me a fan from an oatmeal box that they washed out. When we were playing around with it, the fan broke and so they laid it out in the sun for me. The power goes out often here, and the temperature hovers around 34 or 35. If the ceiling fan has no current, you start sweating. And your whole body gets covered in sweat. My bum even sweats – I didn’t know that was possible. It is hard to sit down for too long or else the sweat starts running down your legs. I like my oatmeal box fan, but I think I need one of these:

And someone to work it.

Big news: two days ago I saw Shrutti, Sharath’s wife, assisting in mysore with a CATFISH t-shirt on. Grant says he has seen her wearing the bright orange tee before. It really is a great shirt and a fantastic logo. It was fun to see it again.

The rumour mill is running full speed here over the cancelled/rescheduled meeting. There is really so very little for people to do but speculate and decide where to go for lunch. Anyway, some folks say the shala is closing 4evah and Sharath won’t be teaching for the rest of the year. I say the dance recital needed a few more rehearsals. Or MAYBE the family is thinking about changing the KPJAYI name to Catfish Yoga Shala. That has got to be it. At the end of the dance, there will be a giant fireworks display and the words CATFISH YOGA will be written in sparklers. It is going to be huge!

Too bad we will be in Bangalore.