Be it ever so humble

Out the front door.

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Looking in the front door.

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Indian shower

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Out the bathroom window.

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My workspace.

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Repellents, reactions

I think I am slowly being poisoned by mothballs and mosquito repellent. Last time I was here, the cleaning ladies would leave a few mothballs around the room. I would find each mothball and throw it out. Yuck. This year, there are mothballs *everywhere* — in every drawer, on every shelf, in every closet, and — rather oddly — there’s a mothball carefully placed in every drain in the house — kitchen, bathroom, living room (yes, there’s a sink in the living room. It’s to wash your hands before you eat.

Then there’s a small container of Mortein, a mosquito repellent, that plugs into the wall. I can’t smell it when it’s turned on, but I was swarmed by mosquitoes the night I left it turned off. So on it goes at night. Ugh.

***

Today at practice, my toe pain wasn’t too bad. In fact, it really didn’t hurt much at all for the first half of practice. At the end, after drop backs, I walked in to my heels and an assistant grabbed my hands and got me to hang on to my ankles. It’s a lot easier this year than it was last year! No panicky feeling or difficulty breathing, which is nice. And I didn’t have to hang on with a death grip. It’s really good to see that I’ve made some progress with my practice since I was last here. I did want to laugh though, because when he was pulling my hands to my ankles, he said, “Relax. Relax.” If I could have spoken, I would have said, “Seriously??”

It is *so* much easier to back bend here than it is at home. I’m not sure what is weather-related, or diet-related, or psyche-related, or Sharath-related, or energy-of-the-room-related, but it’s quite a dramatic difference. It’s almost like the air supports really deep stretching. 

Last year, the grabbing ankles in backbend thing was quite overwhelming. I felt a bit of reservation this morning when I realized that that was what the assistant was going to do, but once I was in the pose, it actually felt pretty awesome. It’s like getting folded inside out, somehow — and it feels quite liberating. Last year, during the forward bend squish that follows grabbing ankles, I felt freaked out and even thought I might have a panic attack. I’m really happy to be past that reaction.

Interesting, as always, to learn that strong reactions that seem totally real and reasonable will simply dissolve with time and practice. 

I’m hopping on conference calls for work now, so need to run. More later.

A bump in the road

Luckily, breakfast makes everything okay.

I am on the roof, eating…um…I don’t know what they’re called. Lentil flour pancakes. With a little bowl of spicy coconut chutney and a little bowl of spicy vegetable soupy stuff to dip them in. You break off bits with your right hand and dip them in the chutney or vegetable stuff, and it’s delicious. And — correct form or not — I eat up the end of the chutney and the vegetable stuff with a spoon.

I was pretty eager to get home from practice and eat something. I needed comfort food. Why, you ask? Because of my mat.

So this morning is second practice at the Shala. I go a bit earlier than yesterday and end up in the right place, with all the others who share the 9 AM time assignment. Yay! My nervous system is pretty chill, and it’s going to be an awesome practice. Sharath calls for one more and I get a nice little spot in the middle of the room. What more could I ask for?

I roll out my mat. On the last two trips, I lugged a 7 pound Manduka mat from Phoenix to Mysore. My rubber security blanket. But for this trip, I decided to bring my lighter mat. The floor of the Shala is marble covered with a bunch of small cotton yoga rugs. This means that there are spots where the cotton rugs overlap, creating three dimensional features on the floor. I always think of it like looking down on the earth from space and seeing mountains and canyons. 

A thick black mat helps smooth out the floor features, but I decided that on this trip I’d go with the thinner mat and just cope with the three dimensionality. The stickiness of the thin mat is greater than that of the black, and the toughest job on this trip will be walking my hands up along the sides of my feet in kapotasana — a project where success is highly related to the stickiness of my mat. So I was stacking the deck in my favor as much as possible.

Here’s what I overlooked: the desert where I live is all about dryness and dust. Which means yoga mats are slick and slippery. As soon as I unrolled my thin mat here in Mysore, I noticed that it is crazy sticky from the humidity. As sticky as my hair is curly from the humidity. And that is saying something. Needless to say, I was psyched. Walking in to my heels on a super-sticky mat? Heaven.

Double-edged sword, though, as it turns out. First jump through of practice this morning saw me catching my left toe on the sticky mat. Ow! I told myself it would be fine, that I should just go on, and I did. Much pain, of the searing variety. I looked at my toe and saw that it was actually sticking out kind of sideways. Not good. While keeping the vinyasa count (no kidding, it’s how we’re trained), I tried pointing my toes to see if it’d straighten my little toe. Nope. I tried flexing my toes. OWW! I took a moment at the beginning of the next seated pose to grab the tip of my toe and pull it straight out until it slipped back into a more normal configuration.

I was annoyed at myself, but what can you do? I wondered if I should go ask Usha (who runs the office) for some tape, but then I just decided to go with awkward one-footed jump backs and see how it went. Ugly, but good enough. A few of the postures did not feel at all good, and I was wondering how backbends and dropbacks would go. Turns out they were fine. 

Sharath came over for assisted backbends. He went “hmmmm” under his breath because my breathing was so shallow, but I was in survival mode at that point. All I wanted was to walk in to my heels & get it right this time.

“Walk in,” he said, and I did. Right to my heels and then up my ankles a bit. 

I was rewarded with a “Very good.” And he chuckled when I said, “MY feet!”

Tomorrow is a moon day, so a day off from practice. I’ll nurse my toe by drinking lots of turmeric tea & tape it to its neighbor toe. I may also dabble in some aspirin. I don’t think I can get ibuprofen around here. Regardless, there’ll be no disabled list for me — I’ve come too far for this!

Need to wrap up and go pack. Moving to an apartment down the street, where I’ll room with some friends I made last year. Pictures and stories to follow…

Cults, white toast, wrong foot

Last night, I was talking with my friend Rose about a teacher here in Mysore.

“I don’t know for sure, but it all sounds a little culty,” I said.

And now, in loving detail, I’ll recount this morning’s practice with Sharath. The irony is not lost on me.

I woke this morning in a bit of a panic. There may be people who come here and don’t feel their nerves before their first practice at the Shala, but I’m not one of them, and I suspect no matter how many times I come, I’ll still wake on the first morning feeling scared. Dion and I spent a little time chatting via email, and then I was on my way.

The foyer was insanely crowded at 8:45. It’s almost impossible to explain the intricacies of how time works in the Shala, but suffice it to say that the clock is set at least fifteen minute early and you’re supposed to come 15 minutes before your assigned time.

What became clear pretty quickly was that the vast majority of people in the huge foyer had starting times after mine. They’re trying to sneak in early! Imagine my disapproval (seriously, I felt disapproval). Then one woman told me that we are supposed to go in according to who’s been there the longest, and not according to our assigned time. What?! That’s ridiculous! Grrrrrrrr. I spent some time thinking about whether people were just being greedy and/or if they are confused and/or if I should tell someone off. In the end, I just figured I’d wait and see what happened. And what happened was that Sharath came to the doorway and said, “9 o’clock? 9 o’clock?” And two of us raised our hands and he told us to come to the front.

(Okay, I have to share what just happened. I am sitting on the rooftop of the hotel, where breakfast is served. The woman who oversees the service came over with a tray to pick up the condiments & I asked what the stuff is that looks like lumpy brownish ketchup. She said something about bread and I said, “Oh,” and nodded my head and smiled. Now she’s brought me two slices of toasted white bread. I have to figure out how to hide it and bring it to the birds and dogs without her seeing me.)

So, practice. It was AWESOME to be back in the Shala. It is the BEST room to practice in. So many people, and yet you disappear into your own little world. The only difficulty was my nervous system, which seemed to be turned up a little too high. Actually, it was turned up a lot too high. Between jet lag, first practice of the season, morning coffee and probably not enough food yesterday, I was super jangly. It took almost a half an hour before I finally settled in and felt calm.

A lovely practice. The heat and humidity of India is extraordinary — a huge boost to flexibility. I lose perspective about how practicing in my chilly, dry room at home affects my physical practice — until I come here and everything feels so much easier.

We do primary series for the first week — which is a great way to settle in and prepare for subsequent weeks of more intensive work. So I did my primary poses, then my backbends. I stood up from the last backbend and there was Sharath, ready to assist me on the final backbend, where you walk in to your heels. Over I went and walked in to touch my right heel, and then with my left hand… his foot.

“My foot,” he said.

I walked my hand in more.

“Still my foot.”

Gah! I was trying to quickly sort out if his foot was to the inside or outside of mine so I could know where to shift my hand to get my left heel, but mostly my left hand was just flopping around.

He laughed and said, “You catch,” (translation: Okay, you get credit for getting your heels), and as I sat down for the final forward bend, he said, “Very good for first time.”

Here’s the thing I love about Sharath: he remembers that when I first came here three years ago, I was *just* managing to stand up from backbends, and he remembers that last year I struggled mightily with kapotasana and walking in to my heels. He knows where I’ve been and he sees where I am and he gives me credit for the work that he can see I’ve done. Coming here is about reporting in on where daily practice has gotten me over the past year, and to get direction about how I should proceed for the next year.

I’m not (by ANY stretch of the imagination) one of the bendiest or strongest people here, but I feel seen for who I am, which is someone who practices with dedication. I can’t even begin to say how gratifying it is to have that recognized and encouraged.

***

Enough asana talk! How about some India talk?

India is extraordinary. It is so nice to be back. The endless stream of car and scooter and animal and people noise felt reassuring and familiar last night. And the very best noise of all is the sweeping noise of people cleaning their stairs and walkways in the earliest morning, along with the yells of the vegetable hawkers who stroll up and down the streets, calling out their wares. Mysore is an early bird’s dream — bright and vibrant every morning.

I went to the phone stall today to get my Indian phone turned back on. I always wonder if I can get by without an Indian phone, but texting is definitely a way of life here — the only way, really, to keep in touch with friends. At the phone stall, the man turned my phone back on and gave me credit for a month. Cost: $8.

I’m going to do some work this afternoon, and relax a bit. I brought along a poetry manuscript I started when I was here last year, and I’d love to edit it — but I don’t want to rush it; there’s a certain kind of flow state that I want to wait for.

Okay, time to get a move on. I have my white bread toast hidden in a napkin and can smuggle it out of here. I think the dog who lives in the culvert on the corner might like it…

Round 3!

I’ll be setting off to Mysore tomorrow morning at 11 AM. On my first trip, I started preparing months in advance. On my second trip, I started preparing weeks in advance. This time around, I’m kinda flying by the seat of my pants. Anything I overlook is something I can sort out once on the ground in Mysore.

I’m dying to be back in India, but also incredibly sad to leave Dion and Waylon and Daisy (& Anna! who’s now living in Seattle). So even though this is a fantastic journey, it’s also a bit difficult. But somehow it’s a necessary annual culmination of the practice I do every morning — a kind of accounting, a paying of respects at the source, the start of a new year, a rededication, an acknowledgement of my gratitude.

Home

Home IS where the heart is.

I’m unpacking and posting some pics from a walk on my last afternoon in Mysore. Slept well last night, having taken some pasta and wine and melatonin.

I’m covered in Waylon fur and Daisy fur, and they are both snoozing next to me as I write this. I’m drinking some “pale” black tea — no spices, no sugar — and it is pretty awesome.

First message I had, upon landing in Phoenix after a 35 hour trip, was from Anu. Pili, the little stray she took to the shelter, was adopted during the week. And it warms my heart that I heard the news from a number of other people who were concerned about a little black street dog. Rock on, you guys!

I have castor oil and neem soap ready to go: castor oil bath this afternoon, followed by a nice nap. And then Dion and I will go out for dinner.

Life is good.