January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
Care. Humility. Integrity. Justice.
The secondary school I went to between the ages of 13 and 16 (a combination of Middle and Junior High here in the US) employed the school’s acronyms in a lesson on values and qualities that they wanted their students to embody. I thought it was a neat way to encapsulate ‘moral lessons’ for teenage girls though I did wonder for many years what “Integrity” meant. Life eventually showed me those lessons and now there’s no shortage of illustrations.
These words came up again this week as I’ve been watching and reflecting on the developments in our Ashtanga world over the past two months. How would these words apply to the current context? An attempt:
- To Care for oneself, for others and for one’s environment, rooted in empathy and compassion. Mindfulness in one’s way of being. Taking care of things. Taking care not to act (or speak or write) in a way that causes unnecessary harm.
- Humility in thoughts and actions, not only in the field of accomplishments but in relationships. Having humility above all in recognizing that you’re never going to know the full picture. You’ll never know what goes on in others’ minds, their intentions, their baggage and motivations. To have the humility to know that you don’t know and from there cultivate a receptivity that breeds compassion. Being able to see both (or many) sides.
- Integrity of being. A sense of responsibility and moral courage. Of being able to do what is right in situations where it is tempting to kick the can of accountability down the road. Aligning actions with intentions, so that your words have weight and your actions have power.
- Justice. Working for fairness, always, even within systems that are inherently unjust and exploitative and benefit off of it. To ensure that people are adequately rewarded for the effort expended in their work, their livelihoods.
In my immediate environment we’ve also had a major disruption in the form of a teacher leaving the Mysore program she built from the ground up. Her departure, for me, illuminates again two salient lessons: (1) how bloody hard it is to be a Mysore teacher of integrity, humility and dedication for your students and (2) how exploitative the studio business model is of yoga teachers and their labor.
What does it take to run a Mysore program? Sacrifice, a strong love for the practice and the method, stability of mind and heart to nurture students as you nurture and raise your own children. It is a vocation. It’s unglamorous work filled with the messiness of human relationships – projections, illusions, hopes and disappointment – and showing up daily despite all that. And imagine doing all of that while not being able to earn a living wage living in one of the most expensive regions on earth. A system predicated on grossly underpaid labor is bound to fail and this is one failure I am rejoicing in. Hopefully this is the start of something new, a new paradigm where students recognize their responsibility towards ensuring that the teachers who serve us need to be served and protected as well.
July 26, 2016 § 4 Comments
I got the email a few weeks ago informing me of my spot at KPJAYI this October and, for me, it is bittersweet. The prospect of this trip is occupying my heart and headspace in a different, deeper way, coming as it does at a point in time when my ruminations have more of a soul-searching/meaning-making flavor about them.
Following my first trip in 2012, I returned with a strong sense of purpose about building my life here. The trip extinguished a chronic discontent with “my present life”, wherever I found myself, that plagued most of my adult life until that point.
What was less clear to me was the prospect of returning to the Shala. I knew that I wasn’t going to be on the annual pilgrimage circuit, and I did not appreciate the palpable atmosphere of Sharath-worship while I was there. I respected (and still respect) the institution, the lineage and what he and his mother are doing as asana teachers, but I wasn’t sure about calling him my ‘teacher’ or ‘guru’ as so many people seem to do once they get to Mysore. Not enough time had passed for me to make a claim like that, which I don’t do lightly. Maybe I’m taking things too seriously. In any case, I wasn’t “feelin’ it” and I certainly wasn’t going to let the groundswell of adulation sweep me up without my consent. This ambiguity towards Sharath continued for a while as I continued to practice back home. Beyond being the head of a lineage, I didn’t know where to put him on my spectrum of ‘teachers’ as it applied to my practice.
After a few years, I went on the Yatra last fall that included a week in Uttarkashi. It was my way of dipping my toes back in to the Mysore vibe, to the Sharath-as-teacher proposition while also spending some time exploring the northern cities of India. It was a clarifying experience on many levels. That week in Uttarkashi cleared up any ambiguity I had about his place in my now-smaller-and-precious list of teachers. Thanks to a conversation I had with a non-Ashtangi but very devout Ramana Maharishi follower on the trip, I realized that Sharath and his mother (and like his grandfather) are, simply yoga asana teachers. They are not enlightened beings. They are human, fulfilling their dharma. Everything else is a product of student projections, which are illusory. I came to terms with navigating the projections that sometimes reeked of kool-aid and found some clarity around what Sharath and Saraswati mean to me, in my asana practice. They may not see me everyday, but they are yoga asana teachers at the top of their game and that is enough for me to want to make the trip to study with them. At the end of the week Sharath caught me by surprise by asking when I was coming back to Mysore. I replied, “Maybe next year”. And so it is.
I’m really looking forward to practicing in that room again. I am not interested in: getting poses, becoming BFFs with yoga-lebrities, perfecting asanas, shopping, accumulating FB friends, sightseeing, doing photoshoots, dissecting Sharath’s every word, hustling to get into led classes, coconut stand gossip, filling up my days with classes, tours, chai chit-chat…
All I want to do is to practice in that room. To tap into that energetic stream and let it course through my nervous system, healing, cleansing, shaping, changing me as it goes. Removing what does not serve and creating spaciousness for what needs to take root and grow.
I want to dissolve into the singular vibration of that room’s chants. To disappear into the sea of breaths and learn how to ride my own.
In 2012 I went for 6 weeks. Now I’m going for 8. It won’t be easy.
The countdown begins.
May 9, 2016 § 3 Comments
Hello Internet. A lot has happened between the last post and this one. I think of this space fondly, in those slivers of wonder where I’m awed by the grace and beauty of this practice and think “Oh I should write about that!”, but upon further reflection, realize that what the depths of what I would like to convey is immediately rendered banal by the use of words. And so I don’t.
One of the biggest changes in the past few months is that I have found my Teacher. The Guru. The person who will hold me accountable, not just to an asana practice, but to everything else that requires showing up in life. This person is an expert on holding up a mirror to my blind spots and requiring me to be present with sensations/emotions/behaviors that I would prefer to avoid. To constantly push me to keep my legs straight/sternum lifted/chin up without compromising the integrity of the breath, and in so doing, taking me past my physical edge and showing me that I can do it. This teacher’s gift of connecting the dots between on-mat behavior and off-mat personality quirks with sharp, incisive wit is unparalleled. At least compared with all the other teachers I’ve practiced with up till now. Case in point: making the observation that I’m trying to do the perfect Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, by not allowing myself to wobble in the pose.
“I’ve done this pose for so many years and I still wobble in it. You need to get comfortable with the wobbling and calibrate your balance internally.”
Not allowing for any wobbling is an accurate summation of my personal tendency towards meticulous planning and strict adherence to the best laid plans. I’ve gotten better with age at dealing with changes to plans and itineraries, but you could say that I still have some way to go with allowing for more wobbling in my life. It’s a mental practice I’m still playing around with in the weeks since that class and I have to say that a touch of wobbling does wonders for the anxiety. It frees up the rib cage to breathe more fully, triggers the vagus nerve and generates a sense of calm – very useful especially when travelling, driving in peak hour traffic, <insert other anxiety-inducing situations here>.
Here’s to the Wobble!
January 14, 2016 § 3 Comments
If I were to imagine a place where my Self lives, it would be a small, spartan room with one window facing southwest that streams the afternoon sun at varying angles depending on the time of year. There is a basic bed for one. A wooden writing desk and chair and not much else. On that table is a book that runs on its own time. A book of my life to date. Part narrative, part textbook, it reminds me of adventure books from childhood where, at certain junctures in the story you could choose from a variety of actions to reach a different conclusion. Except in this case the choices aren’t so much a matter of flipping the page as much as they’re puzzles to solve. More and more I’m faced with puzzles that are intractable and opaque, and are often obscured in a heavy fog of big emotions like grief and sadness. Occasionally anger. Often, the feelings are so big that I cannot even fathom the question, I am too busy setting anchor in a tempest of emotions that often linger for days.
It is lonely, at this desk. I want to leave the room, to look for someone to commiserate with, to exchange notes about where they are at with their puzzles. I am looking for distraction from this onerous drudgery of sorting through heavy, isolating stuff at this stage of my journey, but I also know, deep down, that the time for conversation is over. My experiences so far have equipped me with all the skills and knowledge I need. Any search for more knowledge is a trivial pursuit. Time-wasting.
It is time to do the work, work that only I can do. That in itself is a sobering realization. I feel like I’m at the edge of a precipice that I know I have to jump off. The past 18 months have been deeply transformative and I’m surprised by the sorts of changes that have happened both within and without. But the job is not over yet, and yesterday I saw, with utmost clarity, the name and form (namarupa?) of the task ahead.
Everything clicked in place the moment I settled on the mat for Dandasana. The mind had been churning even before the first ekam, and with each breath and movement, the tension between mind/ego and Self/heart became increasingly apparent. The former wanted to cut things short and the latter urged steadiness and fortitude. I was stressing about my commitments for the next month. And the back-and-forth continued until Dandasana when I realized that the anxiety for two unrelated events shared the same root: I was stressing because I’m afraid that I’m not going to be good enough.
Not good enough for my parents (who are coming to visit).
Not good enough to do a two-week workshop with a certified teacher (who I’ve practiced with before).
Not good enough to (fill in the blank).
That’s my life story, in three words. “Not good enough”. It is the lens that shapes how I view myself in the world, the shackles of fear that paralyze me when I embark on a new project or conjure up a new idea. It is the driving force behind everything I do. I have high standards when it comes to, well, almost everything (yes, I am a snob), but the standards for myself are always that much higher. I am motivated by the fear of not measuring up – never mind that I don’t even know what “enough” looks like, thereby setting for myself an impossibly high standard for which there are no observable metrics.
When you realize that what needs to be changed requires you to upend a mode of being that is at the core of who you have been for 36 years – how do you even begin? If all you’ve known is what needs to be changed, then who is left?
Who am I?
December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
The last month of 2015 took it upon itself to really drive home the lesson of learning how to be a beginner. This, in a year that has been especially about beginnings and endings. I get the sense that the Universe is really giving its all into impressing the gravity of this particular module of Life 101 before the clock runs out on 2015’s curriculum.
It’s new year’s eve and there’s a palpable anticipation of the “new year” all over my networks, with all the sentimentality of bright-eyed aspirations, courageous hopes and best wishes that today brings. It is sweet to read and to ride this wave of goodwill, a refreshing change from the endless parade of dismal news and cynicism the other days of the year. Dec 31 shows that we’re actually all optimists at heart. Tomorrow will be better, in all its newness. Tomorrow holds the potential for change and continued transformation. Tomorrow is another chance to start afresh and revisit my endeavors with fresh eyes, perspective and courage.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
What we forget (so easily) is that this promise of an abstract ‘Tomorrow’ is always present with us. Each inhale and exhale is the ‘tomorrow’ that we keep projecting out of ourselves. You don’t need to wait to find the courage to face your fears, pursue your dreams, unfold into a radical acceptance of who you are/what you look like/how you age, etc. It’s always there, waiting to be found in the rhythmic spaciousness of the breath.
Life: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Happy New Year friends.
August 25, 2015 § 7 Comments
The musings of a misanthropic mind, applied to the School of Yoga Fitness:
Where in the Yoga Teacher Training curriculum do they teach you “Platitudes 101: the perfect caption for Social Media Inspiration”? Is this before or after the “Yoga for Instagram How-To”? Is there a sub-module where aspiring yogis and yoginis are encouraged to start substituting “Namaste” for “Goodbye”?
Does wearing an Apple Watch while you practice help you to find your (i)Self? Perhaps the yet-to-be-developed iCompass-For-Yogis application will be instrumental in that regard. Yet another dimension of our analog life that is ripe for disruption.
If six to nine months of learning Ashtanga is enough for you to start selling yourself as a Yoga Teacher, does that make me, after almost six years of practice, a MASTER YOGA TEACHER?