February 24, 2014 § 2 Comments
Well this is typical. I caught a cold two weeks ago, and the moment things start to improve, I pick up the pace of my life as if everything’s back to normal, when of course, they aren’t – not yet at least. Picking up the pace in this instance means agreeing to all social engagements, running errands, working in the garden and doing my full practice (Primary + 2nd up to Ustrasana + backbends) regardless. Pushing through – after all, I don’t have a fever and therefore should be able to practice right? Right. All this while also adjusting to the addition of a cat to our household (i.e., crazy o’clock mewing) and not giving myself the time to recollect and reintegrate after a couple of sessions of deep, energetic, cranio-sacral bodywork.
The result? A searing burn at the back of my throat that I somehow managed to ignore through a full-blown practice last week that then erupts into a mouth ulcer, splitting headache, achey neck and shoulders and double the amount of mucus from the first round. In other words, I went beyond my edge, energetically more than physically. Managing all this energetic stuff is still a challenge to figure out – I’m often torn between wanting to use my time ‘efficiently’ (and therefore run a packed schedule), and listening to what my body needs, simply because I am afraid (scarred, perhaps) that slowing the pace will take me down the road of complacency and laziness, a path of no return, from which only bad things can follow. Delusional, I know. But it’s there.
In this case though, I certainly brought it upon myself by going too far, too hard, too quickly. It is a painful lesson in the importance of listening to the body in deciding how far to go in the practice on any given day – in terms of asana and effort. And to do this in spite of the voices in my head that remind me about ‘the rules’ from ‘the Source’ (6 day/week practice, no cutting corners, bla bla bla). Screw the rules.
February 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
Do you believe in magic? In the fact that our lives unfold more or less according to the Universe’s schedule? Do you believe that dreams actually come true and have a meaning all of their own?
Example: A succession of dreams (I recall at least five) about Mysore and Sharath in the past month, three of which occurred within the same week. What is one to make of it? Is it a ‘sign’ or just the after-effects of the trip in 2012, released through the energetics of back-bending? What sort of interpretation/validation am I seeking in writing about this? What am I projecting onto this?
Clearly, part of me believes in the ‘magic’ of life and accepts it, but the rational, Western-oriented/educated self can’t stop analyzing and interpreting the experience, some of which are inherently inexplicable. Back in 2003 while in the throes of a difficult break-up, I dreamt about meeting the man who is now my husband. Things only clicked into place much later, when an assortment of real-life events recalled the emotions of the dream experience. I have deja vus pretty often, but having dreams and reality intersect in this way was a first.
Is that magic?
I’ve asked myself that question countless times since returning from Mysore, because, truthfully, it does feel as if my life has taken on a new rhythm of its own since the trip. I haven’t written about it much because I don’t have a lot of experience writing poetically about the esoteric life, and because some things are best kept on the down low and shared in-person. After more than a year since returning though, I can honestly say that the fruits of that journey are still unfolding. The process started before I left, and since then, there have been major shifts in practically every sphere of my life, starting with the interior/emotional self and expanding outwards to my marriage, my parents, social network and now, my career. Through it all, the asana practice maintains its steady course, inhale/exhale, through twinges, tweaks and injuries. It is fascinating to watch, but it doesn’t really answer the question: Is this magic?
Perhaps I don’t want to answer the question because I fear that an answer would take away some of its, well…, magic. But what I do know is that I’ve never felt more content and grounded in my life circumstances than I have in the past 14 months. There is a strong sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. That I am privileged to have the lifestyle I have and the choices I get to make. This, coming from a past of constant whining about my present circumstances, of always wanting to be somewhere else (=’better than here’), and of a nagging feeling that I’m never good enough, never rich enough and never successful enough. The ghosts of inadequacy may still lurk, but this shift in perspective about my life – now that’s magic.
January 31, 2014 § 2 Comments
Wednesday morning I woke up from a dream about being back in Mysore. The scenes and people are different each time, but the essence, the spirit, remains the same. There is a familiarity, a sense of returning to a place that feels just right. A product of nostalgia? Sentimentality? Of choice images popping up in the Facebook news feed? Who knows.
On the way to practice I realized that this was the day of the week where the person I would least like to see would show up (our last encounter resulted in this post). And the vrttis began. My pulse picked up the pace, the story-telling machine kicked into gear, a sense of dread arose as I recalled the 1,001 reasons why I wish this person would stop coming to the studio. Mature, I know. So I began the practice carried on this wave of vrttis. Struggling, really struggling, to settle and focus into the practice. The environment was perfect: hot and humid, so my body was open and strong.
And yet: where was the yoga in all of it?
What is the point of doing the perfect (rhetorical perfect) sun salutation if your mind remains focused the subject of such strong aversions in you? I eventually realized that I was very much caught up in Huxley’s doors of perception, because really, the struggle I faced was the product of my own projections. The intensity of the aversion did dissipate as the asanas went by, but it’s still there. I guess dealing with this is my practice at the moment, and as long as this person keeps turning up every Wednesday I will have a chance to apply these tools of mind control, towards ekagrata.
Slowly, slowly, all is coming, right?
January 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
It turns out that an effective remedy for a cloud of Pissyness is to just get on the mat and practice. Even after four years of regular practice, this simple truth is so easy to forget. Not a bad thing I guess, as it leaves you with that feeling of discovery (or re-discovery) with each cycle. Seriously though, the jumping-twisting-bending routine this morning was definitely needed to counteract the (full moon?) Pissyness energy from yesterday. Took savasana for a full 15 minutes during which time I actually ‘went under’, in the crano-sacral sense. A reset for the nervous system that was sorely needed.
Hopefully this means I’ll be a better human being for the rest of the week – at least until the descent of the next Pissyness cloud.
In other news – I realize I never really tied up the details of the wrist chronicles I droned on about last year. Simply put – it was the collapsing of my left shoulder in chaturanga that was the problem, as well as going too low in that pose (ie, the elbows flex at <90 degrees). Combined in the many chaturangas we do over an average Ashtanga practice and the stress on my wrist was too much to bear. So I’ve been diligently working on a low-but-not-too-low Chaturanga that features a tight core (uddiyana bandha) and lifted sternum with the shoulders rolled back. I actually took an additional breath in this vinyasa for a few practices so as to get all these elements working together and for now it seems to be working just fine. No wrist pain and no whinging. And there you have it – sometimes it’s the most basic of postures done without presence of mind that’s the source of our nastiest injuries.
January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week is, apparently, the week for mega-pissyness that worsens as the week progresses. It’s partly interesting to observe, simply because this week’s temperament is in sharp contrast to last week’s cloud of joy, endorphins and all-round feel-good vibes. Everything went great last week – with the exception of having the husband spend the week in the hell that is Vegas – each practice was amazing, leaving me wanting more and excited to get back on the mat the next morning.
This week: there is lethargy, fussiness and a resurgence of the not-so-dormant resentment towards the crazy environment that is Silicon Valley, with its culture of arrogance, entitlement, and the general lack of taste – in clothings, in art, in design, in everything. This is ground zero for geeks, and the geekier you are – no EQ, no dress sense, zero social etiquette, ability to drone on and on about obscure algorithms/technologies – the ‘cooler’ you are. Especially if you work for the giant behemoth that starts with ‘G’ and ends with ‘E’ and sounds like a burp. The arrogance weighs so heavily you can cut it with a knife and won’t get through it. As someone who does not work in tech (well I used to – writing press releases about the technology that goes into a microchip isn’t my idea of fun), nor has any interest to do so, being surrounded by a culture of geeks is tolerable at best, downright agonizing at its worst. This is why I keep reminding myself about the beautiful climate and the access to quality produce we have here. Because otherwise it gets pretty fucking depressing to be surrounded by hordes of hoodie-jeans-uniformed geeks.
There are many reasons for the disparity in my emotional state between last week and now: my hormonal/menstrual cycle, the weather, the planets, the diet (more wheat??), the amount of wine I’ve had, the state of my body, the conversations I’m having….who the hell knows. Or cares? The only thing I’m sure of is that my mind is as fickle as hell, as wonderfully unpredictable as the weather in Melbourne. Who knows, tomorrow may mark the end of Pissy Week. Or its spirit may fight to live on another day. Regardless, perhaps it’s time to change my mantra: FOOD! WEATHER! YAY SILICON VALLEY! OM!
January 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
In my limited experience, there really isn’t a better reset for the mind and spirit than making the decision to travel to a secluded place, surrounded by nature, where one can unplug from the myriad identities we play everyday across our different relationships. The really beautiful places that are worth your time require some effort to get there – in this case, a 3-hour drive up north to the Sea Ranch, with half to a third of the journey unfolding along a wild and rugged Sonoma Coast. The absence of cell reception was a boon, although WiFi in the condo required a degree of self-control. Considering I managed to resist Facebook the whole week (this, from someone who checks it first thing in the morning and last thing at night), and avoided emails as far as possible, I’m going to count that as a win which (partly) justifies the daily forays on Instagram. Surrounded with so much beauty in the landscape, I really could not help myself.
While there, we did a private with Dominic Corigliano who was in town to visit family. 1.5 hours of Mysore-style practice followed by 2 hours of socializing and talking about everything from India, Guruji, technology, Indian supermarkets in the Bay Area, lucid dreaming, language, and medicinal patches for aches and pains. There was one thing he said about ‘right relationship’ that dovetailed with my intention for the week (and the new year): about reaching a place in life where one doesn’t feel like one “has to” do, want or be anything.
I found this observation profound. “Right relationship”. What does it really mean and how can I bring more of it into my life? It’s not just relationships with people, animals, the natural world, but with myself and the habits that accumulate and eat up my attention. It requires another level of awareness I think, to catch yourself in-process of an unconscious habit you’re trying to break. Sort of learning how to cultivate more lucidity in your life: noticing when you’re riding the train of thoughts in meditation, to see when your mind is wandering in the asana practice and to bring it back to the breath, to realize when you’ve ‘left’ a conversation with the person in front of you….it goes on, and life becomes one long practice of cultivating the same skill of awareness – of always knowing who you are, where your center is, and understanding what the moment is all about.
At the start of every year I like to set a theme for the coming 12 months. I don’t believe in resolutions but themes, ideas grounded in intention that can be recalled in a line or a word, that I can handle. A mantra, you could say. For 2014, that theme is lucidity, encapsulating my intention for more authenticity in my personal life (changing habits), with my relationships (discernment about those worth cultivating and those that are not), and with professional opportunities that come up. It sounds deceivingly simple, but will give me plenty to chew on for 12 months. Which means I won’t get bored (always a risk). Happy 2014.
December 17, 2013 § 7 Comments
And so it happened that today is the day where all my backbend dreams materialized on the mat. After 20 months (more or less) of struggle – both physical and mental – I did the whole drop back and stand up routine three times, in the middle of the room, with no props and no fuss. It was exhilarating, unreal and also very efficient, in the absence of looking for wall space, rearranging styrofoam blocks and the usual faffing that comes with pre-dropback prep.
It’s been an incredible journey to get here and while tomorrow (and the future) will bring another set of challenges, I sit here basking in the quiet joy and sense of achievement that comes from harvesting a really big fruit of intense effort and perserverance in this practice. The backbend journey has quite possibly been my biggest mental challenge in the four years of doing this practice, despite all the encouragements that have come my way. The voice of self-doubt is very strong, particularly when you’re working at the edge. What began as an introduction to a solid and unified part of the body (the shoulders and thoracic spine) evolved into an innate understanding of its different components: learning how to ‘speak’ with the shoulder blades as I draw them down, feeling the subtle articulations of each vetebrae as I arch back, practicing the synchronicity of legs, core, shoulder, spine and breath until I didn’t need to think about it any more. Until citta-vrtti nirodhah, as it relates to the physical practice, arose and allowed the body to do what it knows how to do best: move with the breath.
I know that this practice is not entirely about asana proficiency, but I couldn’t let this moment pass without recording it for posterity could I?