Category Archives: yoga & meditation

sunday night on holiday

It’s Sunday night. 8:09pm. I start an intensive yoga training tomorrow at 8:30am, which runs through Saturday. Good word, I have to get up at 6:30am. Where went my week off?

I’m slowly going though the Sri Lanka pics, only about 70 more to edit until I am done with the pics from ashtangalanka and environs. It’s taking a long time because they are all quite similar and I’m not sure which to cut. I’ve never mastered my digital camera, because I quit professional photog when film was still the standard, and I’ve simply not shot that much digitally by comparison, though my SLR is five years old. The way it reads light is still strange to me, which in Sri Lanka wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the two batteries I took with me was so old as to only hold charge for about 3 minutes, before the meter went mad. I discovered this when Andrea and I went to the surf beach (as we called it, because the waves were suitable for body surfing) and there were two sweet cows on the beach. I kind of fixed the exposures, but alas.

Cows on the beach in Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Cows on the beach in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

I’ve also been reading a novel in the blissful quiet of my home, the most vacation-y thing I’ve done this week. I can’t recall the last time I indulged. It’s quite good, though I’d have cut a hundred pages plus, easily, and tightened up the story (which you’ll be saying upon viewing all the ocean photos in the upcoming photo essay). I’m two-thirds through the book, A Trip to the Stars, and am waiting to get through the rest to see as if ends as I’ve expected since page 37.  I just want the separated lovers to reunite and kiss, damn it.

A week from now will be the eve of my return to the bread and butter job, and the next six days are full of yoga. The last 7 days have been full of yoga as well, lest you think I was clever enough to take the week to laze about my home and stroll in the park. Other than the novel and editing, I’ve been fulfilling the requirements for my advanced training, as well as teaching, and reading about php/wordpress, to see exactly what I can do in this realm. I taught five classes, did five hours of required, supervised privates, and assisted/observed other classes for six hours. That was my week off.  I did lunch with friends three times, squeezed in chats with a few others, and reunited with lost friends Ilona and Narimantas, whom I’ve searched for since I last saw them in Kaunas in 1995 (yes, of course it was assbook). Remarkable. I managed to clean and do laundry in <3 hours today and was delighted to have the rest of the rainy day to read, edit and finally write before it all starts up again tomorrow. I think this might inspire the next post on the yoga blog: what does it take to be a yoga teacher?

My mother told me tonight that Mr. Brown, Herb to my parents, died on Thursday, which was 10 years to the day that my paternal grandmother/namesake died. Mr. Brown lived across the street from us when I was a child. He was incredibly sweet and funny. When I went knocking with my girl scout cookie sales sheet each year, he’d tell me with twinkling eyes what a good girl scout he was in the day—sold more cookies than I would imagine. He’d also mow his lawn in the dark (when it was cooler) and sometimes in circles, walking around in the street to get the edges. The Brown’s daughter, about ten years older than me, was the town’s star softball player, which seemed very tough and glamorous to my eight-year-old self. Mr Brown often practiced his golf in the front yard for hours, and hollered jokes over while I mowed the lawn. “What??” Ah, memories. You were a great neighbor and you made us laugh, Mr. Brown. May you rest peacefully.

at long last

Oi! I’ve finally done it. I’ve switched my blog over to a true blog format, which lists posts backwards and allows comments. This is the first post in this format. Those below were on the old blog and I switched them over. I’ll probably change the url and design soon, but it’s nice to have the blog up and working. So much to do. Still stories and photos to edit from Sri Lanka, so I’ll pick up there.

fullmoon
fullmoon at ashtangalanka

As I mentioned in the last post, the characters and vibe at AshtangaLanka had me thinking about the culture around ashtanga, with which I don’t have much experience. In my research for my yoga blog, I came across more ashtanga blogs than any other. Some were very theoretical, like the insideowl, who has an interesting post on ashtanga and imperialism (mentioned to Amanda in the comments of the last post). She referred me to an aussie academic who’s done anthro research on ashtanga as a daily practice, as well as others’ work on yoga. My foray into exploring the world through anthropological eyes put me in a place of too much separation: me observing them. Me experiencing them (and vice verse), and the argument that me/them was too a false a dichotomy to work from, was unacceptable in academia at the time. After years on the road,  it felt fake. In the end, though I’m great with theory, it put me way up in my head and way cut off from the world around me—even the world in me, as my own senses freeze up when my analytical mind takes over. So I opted for a different way. Nevertheless, I do love to flirt with these things from time to time.

Someone asked me about a posting from years back. 2006. I reread it last week and realized that when I have more time to myself, to rest and relax and just be, as I did then, I’m much softer. My writing was much softer. I imagine my teaching was much softer, my being was much softer. I miss that. In Sri Lanka I realized that I feel good, but not connected to my life. Something needs to shift.

Sri Lanka. There are about 400 photos to edit. A few highlights to share of the travels. Oh, to write as I travel, when it’s fresh, rather than four months later! To carry a laptop? Okay, the next post will be stories. xoA.

For ashtanga fans, Sharath is on flickr (thanks elephantbeans).

ashtangis & other guests @ashtangalanka

There were about five other guests at AshtangaLanka when we arrived. Jacob, an ashtangi friend of owner Fred and his partner, Mira; Hector, a Miami-based Cuban ashtangi; Alberto, a Paris-based Italian artist & ashtangi; Nicolai, a German juggler-engineer with an interest in yoga; and at a few meals: Stephanie, a Parisian ashtangi who’d come to visit Alberto; and Katrina and Ben, friends of Fred who had a gorgeous house a few beaches over.

Fred, Alberto, and Cathy 11 March 2009Hector, Alberto, and Stephanie were all on visa runs from India, where they’d been practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore. Indian visas are good for six months, after which many yogis head to Colombo to apply for a new one. It takes a week, so some go to the south coast to continue their practice at AshtangaLanka.

Together with Fred, Jacob, and Cathy (the teacher), they’d talk on and on about the Ashtanga scene, Mysore, the Jois family, etc. When it wasn’t terribly boring, it was fascinating. Long before Sri Lanka, I’d done a bit of Ashtanga in a small shala. There were never many people there, so I didn’t realize what a scene it was. They talked about the ashtangis of the 70s, who they studied with, where they stayed in Mysore, what the practice was like, what it meant to them. On and on.

rockypointcakeWhile ashtanga is amazing, this chatter was more interesting to me from an anthropological standpoint—much more than the yoga gossip itself. Jois’s shala in Mysore attracts hundreds of students from around the world, who take up residence in Mysore to study Ashtanga at the crack of dawn (they said class was at 5am), then have the rest of the day to conduct themselves as they like. It’d be fascinating to go there and see what percentage of the town they impact. Or is it just the small area around the shala?

It might also be quite annoying. When I was in Pune (in India) years back, out of curiosity I went to the Osho ashram (or the “Multiversity” as it now seems to be called) for a tour. The neighborhood of the ashram had a western bake shop, many stalls selling maroon robes and Osho books, and lots of white hippies roaming about. It creeped me out. I happened to take the tour with a group of visiting american christian missionaries who asked probing questions like, “why do you insist commune members take an HIV test before they are allowed in?” Osho was known for his questionable sexual practices and group orgies were thought to be common. Osho is the guy who had the 20 or so Rolls at his commune in Oregon before he was deported for tax fraud. This has nothing to do with Ashtanga other than my wondering what Mysore is like with all the international yogis. I suppose it fascinates me because yoga usually adapts itself to the culture it enters (like Chinese food, as yoga teacher, Mona Anand, says). But astangis from the US, europe, isreal, australia, japan, etc, all come together to practice as Jois has laid it out (see the videos in the last entry). That must be interesting. My friend Jamilya, in Kyrgyzstan, is very into Ashtanga. She went to Thailand for a retreat and training recently. You get the idea.

n.jugglingAshtangis aren’t hippies, for the most part (though Fred certainly is/was). Hector, who overlapped our stay for only a day before he went back to Colombo to pick up his visa for his return to India, is in real estate in Miami, and teaches vinyasa on the side. He told great stories about his kids, India, and life in general. Alberto and Nicolai were there almost our entire stay. Alberto is a serious ashtangi and a fine artist based in Paris. When he was in the mood to talk, he was quite funny and opinionated. He was known to take off on long ocean swims followed by juice and espressos at the Amanwella next door, and often did not return until after dinner started. Nicolai is a quiet German engineer who would wander off and juggle when the chatter became too much for him.

He had never done ashtanga before, but had taken many holidays at different yoga places in India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. He avoided going into town, but did so to get skirts and other gifts to take home for his daughter. He lives a 9-6 life (the only person we met there, I think, who did) in Germany and isn’t happy with it. He deals by taking vacations. Most of us know this doesn’t work (but haven’t figured out another way). Ben & Katrina are Brits who work in antiques. Ben bought a place on the beach a decade ago, and they holiday there whenever they can. We didn’t learn much about Stephanie other than she prefers to take local transport to Alberto’s private cars, likes a bit of exploration to Alberto’s beeline to the beach, and doesn’t look forward to trying to find a job in Paris when her money runs out. (There’s a theme building here.)

alberto_connectingThe characters at AshtangaLanka inspired me. It was wonderful. In the three weeks I squeezed away from work, teaching (2nd job), and training, I met people who reminded me that there are much, much more interesting ways to live a life. Maybe not easier, but much more alive. I realized how disconnected I feel, grinding my days away to put 56% of my primary income toward rent, running uptown and downtown, almost always too exhausted to give my best to what matters most, when I’m able to give anything at all.

March is the last month of the season in southern Sri Lanka. The rains come and the ocean gets too rough in April. As we were settling in, the others were leaving. After everyone else took off, it was only me, Andrea, Fred, Mira, and Cathy. With fewer stories to hear (over and over), a strange family dynamic developing, and no curtains on our open bungalow windows, we opted for some couple time. After ten days, we moved on and explored Sri Lanka. Thank heavens we did.

bungalow

 

ashtangalanka

Rocky Point is also called AshtangaLanka. Ashtanga is a type of hatha yoga (physical yoga) that draws a very dedicated following.

Ashtanga is hard. Students come together in a school/room, called a shala, and do a series of poses. Instead of calling out the poses, the teacher individually instructs each student on the postures and the order they are done. When practiced this way, it’s called Mysore-style, after the city where guru Pattabhi Jois has his shala. Ashtanga is also practiced as a class (though not traditionally).

The series are memorized by daily practice, usually early morning, rather than reading about them or writing them down. As each student moves through the series at her/his own pace, the teacher walks around, teaches, and corrects. First the primary series is learned, and when that is mastered, the secondary, and so on.

Ashtanga was created by Krishnamacharya for his student, Pattabhi Jois (featured in youtube link above). Krishnamacharya taught the three Indians whose styles of hatha yoga have had the biggest impact internationally: P. Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar.

krishnamacharya-162x300Many Ashtangis, including Jois, claim that the series of postures weren’t created by Krishnamacharya but are ancient and were outlined in the Yoga Korunta, which no longer exists. The lore is that this ancient text was written on palm leaves, and after Krishmacharya learned it, the leaves were eaten by ants (source: Enlighten Up!).

It’s argued by others that the system isn’t ancient at all, and that sun salutations were adapted from Indian martial tradition in the late 1800s, when the Hindu masculinity movement was strong (Joseph S. Alter, Yoga in Modern India).

I imagine the truth in somewhere in the middle. Yoga postures have been done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The seminal text on physical yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written in the 15th Century, and texts on yoga as a classical philosophy existed before the Common Era. (Yoga is not simply physical postures and breathing exercises. This is only hatha yoga, a bit part of yoga, one of the six classical systems of Indian philosophy.) Edwin Bryant, a scholar of Yoga and Hinduism at Rutgers, believes that, “The origins of yoga are in primordial and mythic times.” I like this. Yet physical yoga as we know it, even the more traditional schools taught by Indian gurus who demand a certain orthodoxy, is certainly a very modern phenomenon.

Because of this orthodoxy and the intensity of the practice, Ashtanga attracts some interesting people. Ashtanga Lanka was founded by Fred Lewis, a once-hippie septuagenarian from California. He bought a guesthouse in Sri Lanka ten years ago and expanded it. About five years ago he added the shala (yoga room/school). He brings in a teacher when he’s there for the tourist season from November through March, and lives in California during the off-season.

Next: ashtangis and other guests

first night, first day at ashtangalanka

goo.RP.mapWe left home (NYC) at five on Tuesday morning and reached Tangalle around eleven Thursday night, after an unplanned but mostly refreshing day in London due to a mechanical problem and missed connection. Our first night in SL was a horror. There was no mosquito net on our bed at Rocky Point. I should say beds, really, as a double bed is something of a luxury in SL and at all but one of our accommodations (The Galle Face) we slept in two twin beds pushed together, under one not-quite-big-enough net. The beds were nowhere near the ceiling fan, which is not only meant to keep things cool, but to discourage mosquitoes. We were mauled. So many itchy bites. So hot. We got up and pushed the beds closer to the fan, which helped a very little bit. “I was more comfortable and slept better on the flights over,” I thought repeatedly. Ugh. We both wondered what on earth we’d gotten ourselves into.

nicolai.cocoAfter almost no sleep, we got up at 6:45a and walked over a few bungalows for ashtanga yoga. This was how we greeted the next 10 days. The hot and sweaty (demanding, hard, fun) practice somehow helped me recover from the sleepless night and our first full day in SL was amazing.

Our schedule at Rocky Point was beautiful. Its absence from my life makes it almost painful to recollect now that I’m back to the grindstone: We woke around 6:45am. Yoga from 7:30am to ~9am. After yoga, a quick shower, then a snack of fresh coconuts. First we drank the juice, then cracked open the shell and ate the flesh. “It’s delightful,” said the venerated coconut. We shared this ritual with the owners and other guests at Rocky Point, before heading to Silent Beach for a swim.

sanju.cocoBy 11:30a, we returned for breakfast. After a few days of trial and error, Andrea and I settled on the “Sri Lankan omelet” and the coconut pancake with treacle (kithul palm syrup), which we shared, with toast, jam, and two lovely bowls full of papaya, pineapple, banana, and mango. After breakfast, we sat, drank tea, chatted with other guests, read, and relaxed until three or four, when we prepared for a swim and surf at Palm Beach. This joy lasted until dusk, when we returned for dinner, usually an amazing spread of veggie Sri Lankan curries with rice. The bugs became unbearable by 7:30, so we were rarely outside past 8p. And because we’d moved the beds to be under the fan (which Samantha, the Sri Lankan manager, thought very wise), we were nowhere near the reading lamps, nailed to the wall by what had been the sides of the beds. They gave us a mosquito net, which somewhat solved the bug problem, but it was too dark to read in the room on the bed, under the protection of the net, and we couldn’t take more than an hour of the mosquito swatting required while seated on a chair under a lamp. We were usually asleep well before ten.

Next up: the yoga.

 

out of new york (please get me)

My biggest concern about Sri Lanka was that I wouldn’t come back refreshed. Instead, I’d come back, exhausted, to work and teaching, and to start another teacher training. Could I really fly for two days just for the beach? But if I travelled the hill country and Buddhist ruins on my own the last week (Andrea would travel later) it could be terribly tiring, and then the long flights home. Yet I couldn’t imagine going that far just for the beach, and ignoring the rest of the amazing country. Oh well. I’d decide when I got there, I figured. I needed a break, a break from work, from teaching, from my routine, and from NYC. And I wanted to be in the ocean with Andrea.

Rocky Point, Tangalle
Rocky Point, Tangalle

I raced to get everything ready in six days. On the flight I was relieved to be out of the city for a while. I’m so tired of New York. I’m not a hipster. I do not care. I hate the ubiquitous ads. I hate the weather. I hate the MTA (I used to love the subways, and of course, my bus drivers). I especially hate the ads on the outside of our subway cars. I hate the noise. I especially hate the noise my neighbors make, the noise of my neighbors on the train with ipods blaring and the noise of my tone-deaf, retired-pharmacist neighbor who has taken up the violin and asserts his legal right to hack at it between the hours of 8am and 10pm (“I know. I’ve been taken to court,” he once informed, at 7:56am on a Sunday).

But most of all, I hate the sameness of it. I’ve walked these streets so many times. Nothing feels new, nothing surprises. This might sound like sacrilege to some, and I realize I might be slamming the only place I’ll ever feel truly at home, but I need some space if I’m going to appreciate it again.

That wasn’t provided on the flight out. I think every movie on offer, and there were over 20, was based in New York and sought to glorify it in some way. Ugh! I watched one, and then a bit of a documentary about the French guy who tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center towers in the 70s. I’d heard him on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” a few weeks earlier. Yes, you’re right. It’s my favorite show. Out of Chicago.

The situation was the same on the way back home. When I walked the streets of NYC via the tiny screen wedged into the seat in front of me on my crowded Kingfisher flight from Bangalore to London, I thought, “That place…that place looks like a great place to visit. But to live there? What a mess.”

Rani, at the Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kegalle, Sri Lanka
Rani, at the Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kegalle, Sri Lanka

Unfortunately, I think that about most places, including those I’d just visited.

I did rest a bit. And I traveled the hill country with Andrea (he left Silent Beach early to come with me), which was beautiful. The flight home was long and the jet-lag still lingers. And yes, I was back at work, teaching, and the full catastrophe within ten hours of my arrival. But Sri Lanka was amazing. It was a wonderful trip and I’m so glad I went. But I did come back still needing rest. How do we, why do we, all go on this way?

More to come.

{June 2009 update: Okay, I love NY. We have a strained relationship at times, but I love it. Could use a break, but yes, the love is real.}

sri lanka?

I have jet lag. And for some foggy-headed reason, I think that when and how much I’ve slept in the last four days is interesting to people. It is not. As if stories about the fabulous trip to Sri Lanka aren’t bad enough.

silent beach, tangalle, sri lanka
silent beach, tangalle, sri lanka

Sri Lanka? Why Sri Lanka? I just wanted some beach and a rest. But a few months ago when I passed a link from a british yoga marketing email on to Andrea, I had a small feeling there might be consequences. It was for a place called ashtanga lanka, on the beach in southern Sri Lanka. I passed it on because it boasted great bodysurfing, which is among Andrea’s true joys.

I’d have been happy with the Caribbean or South America. I’ve never been. I’ve been to Asia—central and south Asia—more than five times. Only once because I was truly aching to go there. Sri Lanka takes a long time to get to, isn’t an easy place, and has a huge time difference. And I’d only managed to wedge three weeks out of work and teaching, and another teacher training. Sri Lanka?

But Andrea was set. “The surf in the Caribbean and South America is dreadful,” he asserted. He got his tix, and I wanted to go. Ashtanga every morning before ocean swimming sounded great, and perhaps I could get some traveling in my last week there. I was also curious about the American couple running the place. I’m burning for another way to live. And, the food would delight me. Though it would perpetuate the untruth that I prefer to vacation in troubled places, I was somehow convinced. Seven days before the flight, I booked my tix. Once again, I didn’t choose South Asia, but she somehow got me back. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming George.

a deliberate, terrific refusal

Just reread this Joe Campbell quote while cleaning files yesterday and it explains beautifully my last post, shaman by night. And it regards yoga* to boot:

Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genious and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images. The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete; but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost superhuman degree of self-consciousness and masterful control. This is a basic principle of the Indian disciples of yoga. It has been the way, also, of many creative spirits in the West. It cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, it is a deliberate, terrific refusal to respond to anything but the deepest, highest richest answer to the as yet unknown demand of some waiting void within: a kind of total strike, or rejection of the offered terms of life, as a result of which some power of transformation carries the problem to a plane of new magnitudes, where it is suddenly and finally resolved.

*The yoga referred to is not simply physical (hatha) yoga we know in the west, but an entire system of philosophy.