You know how Buddhist practitioners speak of the good good fortune they have had in this lifetime to encounter the path and a teacher to guide them on that path? Well today I chanted Vande Gurunam with renewed fervor and immense gratitude. I read yesterday about a student who purchased the opportunity to learn Ashtanga having never practiced any yoga before, AND learn how to become an Ashtanga yoga teacher simultaneously!! Oh, and in only 12 sessions. It was quite expensive too, because it is a two for one service and with 12 sessions it is also what they call an “intensive?”. I don’t know if this is a fair comparison, but when I decided that I might be able to teach others reading and math, I already knew how to read and I sucked at math but I had found out why and could prevent others from sucking. I don’t think a person that does not know who to lets say swim, or lets say drive thinks they can learn and teach that skill simultaneously. Now I will mention the third Yama, because as I understood the story, this student reconsidered this outlandish offer and tried to get a refund but apparently Asteya has a different meaning in the business side of the yoga business. I will say it again, it is our good unearned fortune to have come across a teacher who follows a lineage and understands with humility what they have chosen to do.
I sometimes sound like a witchdoctor trying to figure out the ingredients and the circumstances that produce a joyful practice. It is probably only an open heart &mind that is needed, but we all love a recipe/formula don’t we? Here is the latest one from me: 72 degree moderately moist weather + 14 consecutive days of mostly raw grain & dairy free vegan nutrition + an understanding that fear is to be felt NOT prevented or avoided like a bad attitude. Duh. And a little inspiration does not hurt. All over the internets there is this story of Karen Cairns from KY who started practicing at 56 years old ( I’ll be 56 in May) and just received authorization. I feel as proud of this stranger as if she was my own sister or my room mate from college, or my neighbor form back home. So grateful for her example. It reminded me of this quote:
I was almost distracted by how well the second half of my practice was going this morning. I kept thinking wow, this is amazing, There is after all something to that castor oil bath, or maybe it is that paleo raw hybrid thing I’m doing that is giving me all this energy. Or, finally I’m getting this Sthira Sukham Asanam hang of things. By back bending I am doing only one half bridge and 4 UD instead of the two/three ratio I usually get away with and my brain is thrilled. Closing is actually spent slowing my breath for real and I am virtually more than two inches off the ground in Utpluthi. As I am congratulating myself on how well my commitment to good diet and and steady dry brushing, daily massage, pranayama, bla, bla bla, is paying off, I remember that I completely skipped Navasana. That is the secret ingredient.
One of my favorite things about indulging in a 10 AM led class is that you get to hear some of the teacher’s thoughts on the practice in the form of advice, reflection, or whatever else you might want to call it. I am not the only one to marvel on how relevant they are to what is currently transpiring in my daily practice. It really is uncanny how she starts talking about what you need to hear. Need, not necessarily what you want or like to hear. So I’m hearing how mysore practice fosters independence and responsibility. How silence and not a whole lot of verbal cues activate other ways of listening to yourself and it enhances other ways of communicating with the teacher. I am nodding yes at all of this. I am also nodding yes when I hear that we don’t need to be adjusted every day or all the time so we can learn to sort things out by paying attention and figuring how to overcome our own obstacles. Then I hear that Mysore practice is like learning how to move from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat. Well. One of the reasons why I love cosmopolitan cities is public transportation. Not because I have a BA in Human Ecology or because I used to be a City Planner for the NYCTA, No. It is because I love being a passenger!! Okay, I also love walking. A 3 mile walk for me is like a 3 block walk to the convenience store for most people. So certainly for very deep down there reasons that need to be sorted out, I kind of hate being the driver. And please don’t get me wrong, I like being in charge. I love love being in charge of hiring or choosing a driver or an accountant, or a tree cutter, or a zombie exterminator, or any other expert at the things that I suck at. I know what teacher meant and I agree with her very good suggestion. I am just confessing that the way this analogy makes me feel is as if one of you heard that Mysore practice is for learning to be the plane pilot instead of the passenger. Lot’s to work on as you can see, so all the more reason for not being in any rush whatsoever.
Managed a grown up goodbye to my daughter and my son in law this morning only to let loose the snot and tears during the Sury Bs, and then the loud wailing once I got to the bathroom. Apparently loud enough for my good buddy to slow down while heading towards the door to make sure whomever was in there was alright. Very glad to see her and get a hug when I came out. We kind of did a little wailing chorus since she is going through a hardship, and I guess it was loud enough to make teacher come out and make sure all is okay. Thank god she is the meaning of mothering compassion. So I make it back into the room again but as you may imagine not breathing very well, and still not over the fact that it is going to be a long haul until I see Mag & B again. So I close after standing and do some more blubbering under the blankie but I realize that I am not the only one sniffing and by the time I stuff my things in my bag I realize a 3rd person is having an emotional day, and as she and I walk out, teacher is talking to another lovely human being who later on consoles me while we put our coats on, and she is tearing because she confides that she will be having a very tough day. Poor teacher was scrambling from one tearful person to the other and I don’t think I have ever seen such a thing in the six years I have been her student. There. That was day two of #DryApril.
Can I just say that even though I don’t know jack about astrology, and I am too cheap to to invest in a personalized astrological chart, it vexes me to no end not to know the exact hour of my birth. My mom, like many of your moms if you are fifty or older, was given enough drugs to put down a mare and woke up when the nurse handed her a clean and swaddled baby. The Dr. had been at a party with my parents and was slightly buzzed, so he decided to “go inside” and grab me by the inside of the mouth to “help me” come out. so I had a very bloody mouth and needed an orthodontist as soon as I was old enough for treatment. My point here is that the drunk jackass probably wrote whatever he wanted as the time of birth, and my then groggy mother thinks she remembers it was around 10 AM, but who knows. Why am I re hatching this beef? Because of a silly “survey” appearing on facebook about Which Hindu God are you or whatever, and in the comments I ran into the term Ishta Devata, so know I kind of really want to know the hour of my birth and want a chart! This rant is also motivated by a recent post I read where Matthew Remski goes on for a long time (which by the way I enjoy) about his objections to astrology as method for acquiring self knowledge. So yeah maybe, but that does not stop me from loving to read Tim Miller’s blog with the same enjoyment that I read anything satisfying in both fiction and non fiction, and please do not go on to tell me that fiction has nothing to teach about self knowledge. Also today, my teacher chanted for us during rest, and gave us a blessing of sorts involving Saraswati, Lakshimi, & Govinda, but then if you have never felt blessed by receiving a blessing, I can’t help you feel it now can I?
I had a very interesting short conversation the other day about control, ritual and routine. It will be no surprise to hear that all unofficial data points to ashtangis being a bunch of control freaks. Even the lazy ones like me. The illusion of having control over one’s daily existence is almost like a precondition for serenity, and what better way than starting it with the ritual of practice? It is not effortless like brushing your teeth or taking that shower, You are taking action like Krishna recommends. What happens when injury, helping someone during the time you ordinarily practice, or/and waking up groggy from the two glasses of sulfite strong wine you had with friends the night before, get in the way of that practice ritual? You mean after you scold yourself for not pre-planning /protecting the ritual? You either make it up later during the day (phew) or nag yourself in 40 or 90 minute intervals. Nothing wrong with any of that until you no longer need to do any of that because well, you don’t need to. That’s all. Yesterday was a combination of realizing that I was doing all of that, and having a really hard time not doing that. Even after having spoken with conviction the night before about the illusion of control, and wanting to follow through with taking the action of letting go, I didn’t let go. I woke up ashamed for not feeling well, annoyed that my daughter needed the car during the window where the shala is open for practice, and practicing handicapped and physically uncomfortable that afternoon. I have always nodded when I hear “I have never felt sorry to have done my practice”. But I will admit that what felt better yesterday was not the practice itself but that I did not break the appointment/ritual/agreement, not the practice itself. In other words, that I kept a semblance of control thank goodness. Today I am sitting with the feeling that it is 3rd Friday of the month and I strongly did not want to put myself through intro to 2nd while wanting to attend group meditation, but how odd would it be if I just drove for that. I am also sitting with the impulse of doing penance by driving up to an 11 AM led class, while it would be perfectly fine to do a laid back primary at home today. Now that is a difficult practice: Feeling peaceful about feeling unsettled, and getting there without your calming ritual or your usual go to replacement. That unfortunately also takes practice.
I know spring is around the corner when my amazon orders start looking crazy. I started to notice that my spending goes absolutely berzerk when something in my brain receives the message that winter is over and starts buying crap we don’t need. Before amazon. I would buy make up I don’t use, tv commercial gadgets that you know are too good to be true, and clothes that are out of your comfort range. Some of them are not mistakes. I still have and wear my magenta Converse All Stars from 1983 and still keep a collection of garish big and loud Laura Ashley print dresses that should really be accent pillows, not dresses, but most of the stuff is definitely what some other folks have described as shopping while on ambien. This year’s haul? a collection (bought separately) of perfume oils (attars) one worse smelling than the other, but I wanted a winner so I kept ordering. Nope. There are no winner fragrances for under $20. the bottles sure are awesomely “unique”. I also am the owner of an overpriced harem “jumper” but that one I am wearing every other day and enjoying every disapproving look it garners, but the main complaint here is the tendency to overspend. Always catches me by surprise. I don’t have much yoga news except for the fact that pranayama and breathing in general makes you emotional and thankful after being unable to utilize your nostrils because of the flu. And today once again I see proof that the practice rewards your perseverance when circumstances keep you away for a bit. Ashtanga is not for the strong and the flexible, it is for the willing. OH! and my Hamish Hendry Yoga Dharma book has been shipped, so it’s not all nonsense.
We Ashtangis do not generally practice in rooms with full wall to wall mirrors, except if your community has a nomadic existence and you all have to rely on the kindness of strangers and accept practice spaces in other studios with mirrors or like where I first met Ashtanga, my local YMCA. But who needs a mirror when Ashtanga will give you plenty of opportunities to observe yourself, your reactions both physical and mental to this practice? I also wonder if the absence of mirrors reflects in any way or correlates with the copious amounts of youtube clips and selfies of Ashtangis (hehehe) that I for one click on and examine for tips and hints to approach challenging asanas. But that is neither here nor there. I want to talk about why we think that any meditative practice, a moving one or a sitting one should be safe and free of harm. I am not an adventurous person. I marvel at people who thrive on rock climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, spelunking in caves in Central America, deep sea diving in the Sechyelles, and so forth. No one except for maybe their moms say to them try an adventure which guarantees you will at no time be in danger. I snort as I notice what I demand of my husband when I say have a safe trip when he leaves for the office or the many construction sites he visits daily. How can he control or guarantee that? Ah but we do demand that our yoga and our meditative method be safe and free of harm. We are all in the room breathing and trying to avail ourselves of Dristhi and Bandhas, but how quiet and stable is it really inside those heads day in and day out? I hear people say if you are breathing and using your bandhas you will not get hurt. Well duh, if you step carefully and don’t stumble you won’t fall of that cliff as you climb Machu Pichu either. One of my closest friends came back from silent retreat (definitely not his first or his last) and he mentioned how loud and unruly his mind was this time around. Again, his fellow retreat participants chuckled at how screaming loud and crazy that hall would sound if all those collective thoughts had volume. And that is what we are doing folks, when we are in the Mysore room or on the cushion, trying to make peace with how loud and disruptive we still are without getting too judgy. Oh, and also, everyone wants a superb teacher, I know. Teachers make terrible mistakes while teaching. The good ones and the bad ones. I think that is why nobody comes right out and says so and so snapped my femur or broke my knee. Adventure is complicated.
To all of those people who stayed up and chanted during Mahashivaratri last night because for the first time in months, I slept through the night. Like a baby. Or maybe it is the accumulated almost 90 days of ashwaganda, no sugar, and booze only four times so far that is doing the trick. all I can tell you is that I started playing the chants Grim shared of Ramaswami on youtube in a loop around 4 PM plus some other Om Nama Shivayas that appeared on the feed. I feel asleep with that japa in my head and woke up so refreshed that I decided that maybe the moon day was in fact tomorrow Saturday and not today and I would go to Led. Once there a friend shared with me that astrologically this particular February really does not have a new moon which very seldom happens (28 days? that makes sense). Before we started, teacher did mention that today was considered a moon day, and that all these people who chanted during the night were looking forward to it. She also shared that when Guruji was alive he would always decide on the side of allowing two days of rest if the moon day fell close to a Fri/Sat. in other words if the moonday could go either way, lets say Friday late or very early Saturday, he would close the shala on Friday so students and families could enjoy two days rest in a row. if the same happened between a Saturday and a Sunday, he would close the shala on Sunday so there could also be two days of rest. I am paraphrasing her description so any inaccuracies fall on ME okay? Long story short we took it easy and it was a lovely practice with nice heat because crap it is cold outside. Today is my first anniversary as a mother in law. Why am I making it all about me? because nobody else cares, particularly the newlyweds. They are coming into JFK tomorrow for a few weeks because the son in law has a new book out with his illustrations and is doing a book tour. I asked if I could make an anniversary dinner and they said they would like some lox/bagels/cream cheese/onions and capers and a dirty martini. I don’t think any of you have rugrats (or even know what that is) but here is the clip for the book: