Zero

March 2, 2015 § 3 Comments

I first encountered the notion of ‘being a zero’ in this post, nine months before my maiden trip to Mysore. It was an illuminating notion and, along with tips from my teacher, went a long way to shape my expectations about what practicing at KPJAYI would be like. Looking back now, I realize that, as long as I’m prepared for it, consciously subsuming my ego and lowering my expectations for recognition is entirely doable, provided there is a clear start and end date. Returning to a Western life intimately connected with social media and suddenly ‘being a zero’ doesn’t work as well. It’s uncomfortable to be a zero in a world of ‘likes’ and ‘social engagement’, where everyone is building their ‘personal brand’. As a self-employed extrovert, it is too easy to get sucked into the metrics and vrttis of disembodied interactions on a screen, imbibing every single beautiful/funny/heart-wrenching/banal/disappointing/horrifying update that appears in my newsfeed. Monitoring the number of likes/comments/shares on each post. Comparing statistics. Letting whatever spare ounce of energy I have leak into a screen in my palm, 24/7.

Given my extroverted tendencies, then, I’m entirely fascinated with a new-found attraction towards being a zero in my current life. Perhaps this cold-turned-dry-hacking-cough I’m nursing has something to do with it. When you’re bed-ridden and the only window to your social world is your smartphone, you start to see its effects on you a lot more clearly. In any case, seeking out Zero-ness dovetails nicely with a recent shift towards cultivating intentionality in my relationships instead of succumbing to some abstract idea that I should be friends with everyone I meet and seek out their approval. I’m starting to recognize that approval seeking is a big part of my social agenda and it’s one that is unsustainable. Bye Bye blank checks of friendship. Hello Intention.

So: being a zero. A lot of it so far is watching the FOMO-fueled discomfort that arises out of my intention to cultivate some degree of invisibility both online and off. Seeing the discomfort (and the thoughts that flow with it) rise and fall over and over again, and eventually, this state transforms from one of suffering and anguish into an object of amusement. Another element of my experiment with Zero-ness is a fascination with home practice and the intimacy that it provides. Without the performative element intrinsic to practicing in a Mysore room, I’m discovering a whole new depth to the linking of breath and movement and it’s addictive. Never thought of myself as the sort of person cut out for home practice, but perhaps in the current incarnation of my personhood, that’s where I’ve ended up.

Clear Seeing

February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I think it’s almost a year now since I started the Intermediate series. But honestly, it wasn’t until October that I embraced it as part of my regular practice. Meaning, doing all of Primary + whatever in Intermediate I was given without question. Without trying to negotiate (read: shorten) the length of my practice for any kind of reason. There was a phase of wrist pain that required some backing off before it resolved itself, followed by some hip tension that also resolved itself. The most persistent ‘pain’ has been in the left psoas/hip+femur region with a consistent twinge in almost all the forward bends. I’ve lost track of how many months it’s been and have come to accept that there will always be a part of my body that will talk more loudly than others over the course of this practice. All I can do is listen, observe and give it space. C’est la vie.

Anyway. I can’t put a finger on what specifically changed in or around the October timeframe, but I think a couple of sessions with Peter Sanson, plus the return of both of our shala teachers to a regular teaching schedule helped. I re-committed to the practice, no questions asked and I discovered the more I adopted this attitude of non-negotiability and acceptance, the easier it was to just get on with it and filter out the hemming and hawing. It’s a lesson that returns every so often.

In the months since this re-commitment, it’s been fascinating to observe the practice’s impact on my life and my experience of being in the world. Physically not so much, but emotional and mental – goodness gracious. This nerve-cleansing business is intense, ugly, messy and pretty dark, but also compelling in a way that is very beautiful. It is most certainly transformative, and the most obvious effect is in the clarity of seeing. I see everything, and I mean everything, going on in my stream of consciousness so much more clearly than before. It is breathtaking to witness the thunderous current of thoughts and also very humbling to realize what I snarky bitch I am and how I just can’t seem to stop myself. It is tearing apart the social mask I wear (or think I wear) and showing me how much work there is to be done to master this mind. The poses are challenging me to cultivate a mental stamina that feels impossible on the mat, and showing up my tendencies towards fear and anxiety when faced with the uncomfortable and the unexpected. How I cling to the polarities (usually negative) when things don’t go according to plan and how easily my story-making mind weaves illusions and scenarios about people and their intentions. How all of these tendencies fundamentally come from a place of fear and a deep sense of worthlessness.

I see all this and wonder where I can even begin to effect change in this mental paradigm. Perhaps ‘change’ is not the goal, but in ‘embracing’ this person that I see, warts and all, without judgement. Embracing my shadows: easy to say, hard to put into practice. Good thing I have the rest of my life to keep trying.

 

 

Sthira Sukham

January 21, 2015 § 4 Comments

Last November I had an idea to create a different kind of yoga portrait. One that really focused on the form of different asanas instead of the individual. The opposite of the yoga selfie, or of any sort of instructional application really. I could see the images in my mind before we created them, and already knew who I wanted as my models to do which poses. The clarity of the vision was compelling, and although this would be the biggest photography project I had ever undertaken, I knew I had to do it. Fortunately everything fell into place pretty quickly. I had an overwhelming response to the call for models, we set up shop in the studio on a Saturday afternoon and my teacher was on-hand for asana guidance and assistance.

Yoga_SW Yoga_TvS Yoga_AP2 Yoga_DH

When it came time for me to articulate the statement for this project, shadows were the first thing that came to mind. Specifically, our own shadows and embracing them. That’s one of the secrets to unlocking the power of this practice in my opinion. If you really want this practice to change – transform – you and your life, it begins with looking at your shadows, accepting them and releasing them. Little did I know that just over a month after wrapping up this shoot I would have the opportunity to experience this in a very direct way, marking a new phase in my practice. I suppose that is what a Second Series practice does to you, but that is a story for another day. For now: photos. Enjoy.

Yoga_AP Yoga_PA Yoga_CG Yoga_AN

Who Am I?

January 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

The easiest answer to this question can be found in the way one reacts when things do not go the way you would like. When you do not get what you want. When your buttons are pressed. When shit hits the fan and you realize that what is actually happening is not the outcome you envisioned, it’s not happening the way it is supposed to. Suppositions are dangerous, possibly lethal, to long-term happiness if taken too far.

The upending of our expectations is fertile ground for practicing the yamas and niyamas. And since daily life is inherently full of upended expectations with very little guarantee of the certainty of our plans, we have lots of material to work with. ‘Grist for the mill’, as my teacher likes to say. The yamas and niyamas are the real yoga practice, folks. Asana practice just habituates us to the discomfort of not always having things go our way, of developing receptivity to what comes up, but backbending and putting your leg behind your head is kindergarten compared to walking away in a heat of an argument and holding your tongue from snarky retorts. Was it Tim Miller who said that Ashtanga is the ‘Yoga of No’? He couldn’t have been more accurate. It is totally the yoga of no because it is in encountering the ‘No’ that provides the opportunities for growth. Something tells me that 2015 is going to be about learning to embrace the ‘No’ in my life. I’m sure I will get through to the other side, but it will be quite a ride to get there.

Unravelling

December 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Michael Leunig

As always, Michael Leunig‘s wit and artistic eye manages to nail the raw, dark and vulnerable state I find myself in. It has been a difficult couple of weeks on the emotional front. I have front row seats for the lesson on Being With Emotions and it’s keeping me plenty busy. I am so sick of crying. Let’s hope this dark and stormy cloud is about halfway done now and that sunnier skies aren’t too far away.

Pop Quiz

December 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Kapotasana:

(A) Is intense.

(B) Turns you inside out.

(C) Sucks the marrow of your perceived ‘self’ until emptiness is all that’s left.

(D) All of the above.

Parallels

December 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

“The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell right to the top”

- “It’s Time”, Imagine Dragons

America in the past few weeks has been a very difficult place to be in, especially if you are a black male. But also if you’re someone concerned about injustice, inequality and basically, any situation where one social group is abusing its power to fleece off the less privileged. I am one of those people, and right now I am overwhelmed in a cloud of sadness. It’s none of my business, probably. After all, I’m no American. Black history is not my history. The only black person I have in my network is a Facebook acquaintance¬† I met at a conference this July, who lives in Chicago. That is how insulated my social circle is. And privileged.

I don’t know if I’m saddened more by the historical pattern of police violence against black and brown people or by the apathy, the silence, about this trend from my white friends. It is always the usual people who speak up. Everyone else goes about their privileged life. Maybe they are further along the path of bad news fatigue/cynicism than I am, that silence is the best – and most comfortable – option.

Right now I can’t help but draw parallels between the US and India. The co-existence of utter beauty and everything that is good and wonderful about human nature with its darkest side is confusing and beautiful to witness all at once. Like India, where the intensity of the country resides on the visceral plane, in the US, it’s on the conceptual/ideological plane. Everyone has a strong idea of what life in the US should be like. The American Dream. Freedom of Speech. Land of the Free. And, for the most part, it is all of this. But as Ferguson and Staten Island show, there is also a very harrowing and hopeless side, if you are of the wrong skin color or socioeconomic class, or both. Just like India, America has its own caste systems at work. It is about time we started to recognize them as such and stop pretending that society has come a long way since Rosa Parks, just because there’s a black President. That’s tokenism. And it’s dangerous.

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