Food for thought…

December 31, 2007

Practice at the CT Shala was slooooooooooooow today. Got one adjustment, and it was really just to grip my shin tighter in Mari D, while holding my wrist. Then I was on my own, due to the lateness of the hour. Had to bind Supta K on my own, which is not as much fun as I initially thought it was. Had to drop myself back, which is pretty stupid, to which anyone who has seen my backbends can attest. And yet, strangely, I did stand up on my own without looking like a drunken monkey on the third try. On the first try, I had to push myself up with one hand from behind, although I technically did “stand up” withut assistance. But it was soooo ugly, I can’t count that as anything. On the second try, I fell to my knees. It was only when I dropped back and popped right back up that I could do it with one percent more grace than is usual for me.

I did the DonutsZenMom-Elbows-Around-The-Head-a-la-Headstand-at-the-Wall-Research. I felt NOTHING at all. Which is not surprising because as DZM says (and I paraphrase), I have a disconnect between my brain and my armpits. BUT, that said, after three of those, I did the Laksmi-Endorsed-Forearms-To-The-Wall-Research (would love to put my triceps against the wall, but currently, that is not to be), and there was a marked improvement in terms of my general feeling of suffering in backbends.

That’s saying a lot, really.

Of course, you get a little, you give a little: My Pasasana sucked badly. My wrapping arm kept slipping off my outside leg on the second side, so that I ended up in a cross between Mari A and Mari C while squatting. Not pretty. And I was squatting with my back to the wall, so there was no excuse, other than impatience, and that’s no excuse at all. And come to think of it, I basically phoned in my Salabasana and Bhekasana. I just wanted to get the hell out of there because it felt like the practice that never ended.

Of course, it did end. And I came home and baked two batches of scones, one blueberry and one almond/apricot. Then I cooked up some Moroccan Chicken and Chickpea Stew. It smelled so good, I served myself some chicken along with my chickpeas, surprising myself since I don’t normally eat chicken or much of any meat at all these days. Then I tasted it and put it right back. The chickpeas were so much nicer.

I’m going through this phase where I find meat absolutely disgusting. What’s strange is that I keep thinking I WANT to eat meat. Then, I taste it, and…yuck. Not really a problem. Actually, in theory, I would prefer to eat no meat at all because of the aftereffects – feeling sluggish, feeling food in my stomach long after I’ve eaten, feeling toxic the next day at practice, not having lovely vegetarian poops. Sorry, readers, but it’s true. When you don’t eat meat, your shit don’t stink.

If anything, it’s that last reason that keeps me off meat more than anything else.

But I digress. Way off the point. I wanted to write about having read Norman Allen’s and David Williams’s interviews with Guy, which are reprinted on Guy’s Ashtanga Yoga Sangha website. Two takes on the Mysore experience with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during roughly, well more than roughly, the same time period, could not be more different. Fascinatingly different. But I should temper that by saying that I could barely understand Norman Allen’s interview. Bits and pieces came through to me, but as a whole, it was difficult to understand and seemingly full of contradictions. Guy seemed interested in getting NA to talk about my own dear-to-my-heart-topic: asana as the means to yoga. NA had explained that he came to Ashtanga as taught by SKPJ because he was impressed by the physical practice:

“A month or two before this conference, two young Indians from Mysore show up at the Ashram with Saris – wanting to sell saris and little sarongs, and one of their names is Basaraju and one of them is Manju, OK? And they hung out there, in their young 20’s and this one boy Manju demonstrates some Yoga postures that he had learned from his father… Oh Man! look at that….

“So, I saw Manju and Basaraju and then a month or two later saw his father and then saw Vishvanath demonstrate and I said: ‘OK, this I want to learn’.”

NA had already been engaged in all manner of yoga practices (“… we did asanas, pranayamas, we did chakrabrakshalas, we did every clean out there was, we fasted and then after the fast we ate dosa…we ate the masala dosa, we did coffee enemas, we did every kind of thing, we did mainly a lot of the laya yoga kriyas, visualization, levitation”). In what Manju and his friend were doing, NA found something new that he wanted to try, from a physical standpoint.

But then he seems to say that the asana practice will get you “nowhere”, without “taking other steps.” He talks about the importance of dissolving the ego. Guy asks him if the asana practice might be a means to that and NA says no. But it’s confusing as to what one needs to do to dissolve the ego. At first he says that the yamas and niyamas are important. Then a moment later he says to forget the yamas and niyamas, that it is all about prana. Here is what he says about the physical practice, itself:

“But to have a practice that locks you into a format and a discipline that calls you to attention. That will teach you (that) if you get afflicted in the body, what means can you use to un afflict yourself? That’s all there. That’s precise and glorious if you can deal with that. It’s too late to dig the well when the fire is burning and the house is on fire. “Oh, man I gotta go do some yoga…!” No man! You learn it early and practice it and then when you are in trouble you can call on it, because then it’s appropriate.

“That’s why, be established in it. It takes a few years of regular practice, you get to be intimate with your body, you know when it’s out of humors and you can evoke some relief for it.”

I have to be honest: I keep reading it over and over again, and I can’t understand what he is trying to say, or how it relates to what else he said. If anyone can give me a summary of NA’s main points, it would be very helpful.

As for Williams, I have to say, I liked what he had to say, and I liked the way he said it. He tells the story of how he came to practice the entire Ashtanga system, in a clear, linear fashion. He answers Guys questions directly and comprehensibly, including the question of what role the asanas take in the quest for yoga:

“If you do the practice, all will be revealed and to me, that’s the spiritual part of having the revelations by first getting the body in a fit enough position where it won’t interrupt you, so you can get into a state of meditation. The word ‘yoga’ and ‘meditation’ are synonyms. I, more and more over the years, work to make my yoga practice a moving meditation and then at the end of my practice, when I get up and walk away, I continue that meditation into my life, all day long, so I consider the practice to be a foundation of a twenty-four hour a day meditation.”

DW also makes it clear that he came to Mysore after already having taught the Primary Series as he understood it, and he made clear to SKPJ that he wanted to learn it properly so that he could teach it properly.

When did it become criminal to have a desire to teach Ashtanga and to ask the SKPJ family to ready you to teach it?

Here is how he ends the interview:

“I went to India searching for the best possible yoga practice and I found his system and started learning it with diligence. Since then I have still continued my search of the world for the greatest fitness program; I ask everybody that I meet, “Have you found a better yoga system than this?” I still haven’t found anything better than Guruji’s ashtanga yoga practice. If somebody said to me, “OK, you have fifteen minutes or one hour. Do something good for yourself; you can have all the equipment, no equipment, barbells, bicycles, whatever…

I would get down on the floor and start doing my Salutations to the Sun and start going through the first series. I am entirely indebted to Guruji for all of the hundreds of hours that he put into teaching me the ashtanga yoga.”

Now that’s food for thought I can digest with ease.

YC


Well, I still like skiing

December 30, 2007

Even if, apparently, I hate sex and yoga. Or maybe what I hate is the idea of sex as group recreation, as opposed to an expression of intimacy between individuals, and the notion that yoga has to be a spiritual quest, as opposed to what it is for me, which is a physical exercise that has the effect of wrangling the otherwise wild flailings of mind.

Actually, I don’t know if I still like skiing either. I will let you know after today – first day skiing this season. We’ve gone from Boca to the Borscht Belt. Actually, not the Borscht Belt, but rather the Berkshires. The Borscht Belt is more the Catskills.

Latah.

YC


For Owl (OvO): Throwing down

December 29, 2007

I see you one wordy post and raise you one One Taste video. Now, what were you saying? One Taste is a place to explore naked yoga without sexual subtext?

Discuss.

YC


It happens anyway

December 28, 2007

Whenever I lose my keys, and this is something which occurs on an uncomfortably regular basis, I find them only when I stop looking. Whenever a word is on the tip of my tongue but just out of reach, I know that the word will come out of its hiding place when I cease trying to coax it. Perhaps I am just oppositional in my nature, straight through to my very core. But I hold these truths to be self-evident, that for me, seeking is not the key to finding.

And so it is with the yoga. I have gotten so many wonderful benefits from my yoga practice, despite that I have not always sought those benefits. There is a physiological reality to the calming nature of certain postures, and likewise, to the stimulating nature of others.

When guruji said, practice and all is coming, did he really mean, “practice the postures, go to workshops on the postures, go to workshops on sanskrit and pranayama, read the bhagavad gita, learn to chant the sutras, offer fruit to statues of ganesh, and all is coming?”

I really don’t think so. I believe that he meant us to do our physical practice, and the other limbs will become apparent. That there is no need to seek. Samadhi will find us when we practice.

Did Norman Allen go to Guruji in search of Samadhi? Or did he think that the postures he saw being practiced on the beach (by manju I think) were waaaay cool?

Does guruji want us to pray to his photo? Or would it be enough for us to see his face as a source of inspiration?

I feel lucky that I found a vigorous, challenging physical workout that leaves me feeling nourished, enriched and calm, rather than depleted, wasted and frazzled (like the way running fifty miles per week did). I am lucky that I found Bikram first, because it taught me that the yoga happens, even if you’re not looking for it, even if no one tells you about it, even if the posture-names are identified in pidgin Sanskrit by teachers trained through memorization of a dialogue that talks solely about the muscles, bones and skin and nothing that exists on any meta level.

Jivamukti yoga was a good next step because it provided answers to the question, “what is it that I am feeling when I do this physical thing called hatha yoga?”.

And I am pleased to have found Ashtanga finally because it will provide an infinite physical challenge for me, a never-ending supply of ways to engage myself into stillness.

If you go to the mat, it will come. Even if you don’t ask for it. Even if you don’t want it. Even if you don’t seek it.

It happens anyway.

Don’t be telling me I’m not an ashtangi.

YC


Superbad Lady

December 28, 2007


Comic: “So then the rabbi says to the horse…”

Buddha: “Ha, ha, ha! Stop! You’re killing me!”

Title of Cartoon: “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha”

(reprinted from sharonspotbottom.blogspot.com)

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If there’s a blog war going on, no one’s told me about it.

But let me see what I can do about that.

It has recently come to my attention that some people practice Ashtanga for the purpose of finding peace or truth or “that place inside all of us that contains the universe entire” (so said a Bikram teacher whose class I recently attended), or in order to accept with equanimity, the “duality in everything, whereby hardness contains softness and ease contains effort and sadness contains happiness” (so said an Anusara teacher whose class I recently happened to overhear, long story, don’t ask).

I even remember a time when perhaps, cough, I might have had such lofty ideals, myself. But please do not remind me of this.

At the moment, there is one reason that I practice Ashtanga, and it is because it is the best friggin workout EVER. For me, at least. It is perfectly perfect for me in ever way, except for, perhaps, how long it takes me to get through an entire practice. But physically, it is the BALLS. And nothing has gotten my body in shape like Ashtanga, not running, not biking, not skating. NOTHING. And I want to keep that going. So, I continue to practice, even when I don’t feel like it.

I don’t maintain a daily practice with the notion of any particula Sutra in mind (steadiness, blah blah blah). I don’t seek to keep my mind on one point. It JUST HAPPENS. It’s a happy side effect of the physical practice.

But let me tell you: I get into a deeper meditative state when I am sewing (my parents bought me a sewing machine for my birthday, and so far, I have hemmed several pairs of my jeans whose hems had been dragging on the ground, I have tailored my own ski pants to fit my slimmer frame, I have sewn two neck rolls and slip-covered an ottoman) or when I am doing just about any DIY project at home (painting Brian’s room the color of Boston College’s uniform was incredibly meditative). But I sure as hell wouldn’t trade sewing or painting or hanging pictures or organizing my photos or reupholstering chair seats for 10 Surya Namaskars followed by Standing and then Primary (and a little bit of Second).

Someday maybe the chicken will come after egg. But right now, it’s all about the egg.

And what’s funny is, other than the fact that I have just now outed myself vis a vis my anti-yoga-establishment attitude, I could practice anywhere with anyone til the cows come home, as they say, and no one would EVER know the difference. I could be the MOST “yogic” of people. OR NOT. And no one would know what was going on inside my head.

I don’t believe in, worship or care for Hindu “gods”. They’re not gods to me, and although I enjoy the story of Hanuman, Ram and Sita, it’s more about the story, kind of like the way I like the story of Orpheus or Narcissus from Greek mythology). Truthfully, I don’t like most Indian food. I have no desire to wear a Sari. I don’t want to go to Mysore because I really really really like my Western luxuries. I don’t want to paint myself in Henna. I don’t want to bathe in the Ganges. I practice when I want with whom I want to practice. I don’t do the Invocation unless the entire room is doing it, and then, only once per day. I have ceased to do the Closing Mantra altogether. Because it’s a prayer, and I come for the workout, not for the religious experience.

I am what you might call, a SUPERBAD LADY.

But I am comfortable with it. I wonder who else out here is as “superbad” as me.

YC


The Traditional New York Yule Log

December 26, 2007

It’s a time-honored tradition for fireplace-deprived New York City dwellers to have free and constant (at least for three hours) access to a crackling, roaring fireplace blaze (that actually was filmed at Gracie Mansion in time for its debut on December 25, 1966) on Christmas. And so, directly from Boca, where the palm trees smell vaguely of pastrami on rye and where for many, Chinese food is the only sign that it’s even Christmas at all, I give you: The Yule Log.

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night.

YC


Del Boca Vista: What a difference a little warmth in the atmosphere makes…

December 25, 2007

Blogging from Boca on Christmas Eve.

What a strange place Boca Raton is. It’s as gaudy as Vegas, but spread out over vast six-lane highways with names like “Butts” and “Jog” and “Powerline” and which connect one ostentatiously named (e.g., “Broken Sound”) and gated residential development to another, each development really a conglomerate of hundreds of smaller developments, each, again, ostenstatiously ( and quite unimaginatively) named (e.g., Bridgewood), if not gated. Everything here in Boca is an exact replica of something that exists up north, particularly in New York, and more particularly in Long Island. In fact, everyone here really IS from up north, particularly New York, and more particularly Long Island, and they all fly down to escape the winter weather and receive visits from their grandchildren and eat out in the same restaurants they eat out in up north and shop in the same departments stores they shop in up north and hang out with the same friends they hang out with up north. Except it’s all transplanted here, amid the palm trees and the golf courses and the plaid pants and the white hair. And the rules.

Ah, the rules.

Those who would migrate Bocaward for the winter must, in their deepest heart of hearts, embrace rules. Particularly rules that remind them how very worthy of rules they truly are. There is a long list of rules at the pool, for example, including, “All flotation devices must be attached to a person. No free floating floatation devices will be toleraed.” There is a list of rules regarding who can eat at which restaurant in the development. No children at this place. No women at that place. Women at this place, but only in that room and only on that day. Nothing that unusual, I suppose, if you’re accustomed to private country clubs and the like. But that’s only the beginning of the rules that serve as the foundation and heart center of what is Boca Raton.

There are, for example, strict dress codes at each restaurant in each residential development. The one which I was reading today stated that jeans are not acceptable “except designer jeans” and that “all shirts must be tucked except for Tommy Bahamas”. Is it any surprise that a rabble-rouser such as myself would read these rules and begin to ask such questions as, “Are Levi’s designer jeans?” “What if the designer jeans have rips in the knees?” And “What in God’s name is a Tommy Bahama?”

However, it is perhaps not the Rules themselves, but the complete lack of irony with which The Rules are set forth, accepted and then passed along to those who are mere visitors that truly define The Rules. And if that makes no sense, then I submit to you this anecdote, a true story, if paraphrased a bit, but true nonetheless in spirit. It is the story of an adult male, who on a visit to his parents’ winter home in Boca, broke the 75-lap rule at his parents’ residential development’s pool.

Said adult male exceeded that 75-lap rule, yes, and he did so with such hubris and righteous indignation that a quick decision by the powers that be was determined to be imperative. Because rules that are important cannot be broken, and when they are broken, there must be consequences, both swift and fearsome.

It was determined that the authorities should be called in.

And so said adult male who swam more than 75 laps and did so with hubris and righteous indignation was arrested. Taken into custody by the Boca Raton sherriff. In handcuffs and wet swim trunks he was taken to the pokey. In the process, he brought disgrace and shame upon his parents, who supported the rules, who believed in the rules, who, Lord knows, may even have assisted in the writing of the rules.

I will stop for a moment to reiterate that this story was told to me as true, as fact. I do not know if it really IS true or even remotely factual. But what is IMPORTANT is that it was told to me as such, and that it was told to me both with pride and as a fearsome warning. Its telling came upon the tail end of this conversation, which I shall now paraphrase:

“If you drive too fast on the roads within the development, we’re the ones who will get in trouble for it,” we were told.

“You’ll get in trouble in a legal sense?” I asked, “or in a social sense?”

“Well, both, I mean, I think. I mean, it doesn’t matter. People are responsible for the behavior of their visitors. The rules are for everyone. They put them together for everyone’s benefit. They worked hard to create rules that would keep things running smoothly here.”

“Who is this they of which you speak?”

“The people who came up with the rules.”

Oh. Duh.

“Who would know if we drove too fast?”

“They would know. People are watching.”

We decided to stay at a hotel instead, the husband and I. It just felt safer for everyone involved. On the other hand, the kids are happily ensconsed in Ruleville, which makes sense for children, I think. Or for second childhoods. Or for people who don’t mind resembling a Seinfeld episode.

I should note at this juncture that I did not break any rules by practicing my yoga at the pool today, although I was asked to practice at a “satellite pool”, rather than at the main pool area.

Happily, I got a taste of what my practice might be like in the summer after a winter of hard and thankless work. I bound Pasasana without the assistance of any human or any dog toys. I found the toes of my right foot in Kapotasana. And I stood up easily from three backbends in a row. It’s hard for me to understand why it is so much easier to practice in warm weather than in a warm room in cold weather. But it is. It just is. And now if memory serves, I believe that each year I have had this experience, where I work hard all winter, and I get nowhere. Then the winter gives way to spring, and suddenly, all the progress blossoms. It’s as if my progress goes into hibernation for the winter and wakes up six weeks after the groundhog sees his shadow. Or so I hope it goes, and so it seems it will, and so I hope it shall.

Yours with complete awareness of an utter absence of gratitude for all of the gifts that have been bestowed upon me, apparently, although things are never exactly as they seem,

YC