Tag Archives: ashtanga

theological commitment to romance

dating-coachSo, the love stories. I’ve been stalling. Yeah, I’ve been busy. So what. Who isn’t? You don’t care. But I was also stuck in an awful rut. It finally shifted last week, around the 5th, when the sun came out. I hit pretty low ground in the days before, and happily it slammed me awake.

Then I read a good book. This helped, too. I’ve been wavering in my yoga practice since I came back from the UK. I’ve been sitting (seated mediation) and my 6am ashtanga practice has been ignored for a more gentle home practice. I feel guilty about that, but it also feels like what I need. Maybe. (Ashtangis will chalk it up to resistance.)

When I am uncertain about where I am, I try to do a meditation retreat. A week or two is best, but a weekend is better than nothing. It connects me to the part of myself that isn’t so much fear or ego and clarifies my situation. This is, at its core, what meditation is for me. It’s not about blissing out or enlightenment, it’s about knowing the difference between the bullshit stories that whirl around my head, the patterns I like to trap myself in, and my truth. I looked for something this weekend, but nothing really seemed appropriate and hell, I have a lot of work to do.

Then, out of the blue, Z asked me if I wanted to do some meditation this weekend. In our eight years, we’ve never meditated together, so I took it as a must-do (you know, a sign). I suggested a talk I’d come across by Judith Simmer-Brown at the Shambhala Center.

We went. The talk was excellent, funny, and validated everything I believe about modern love, and what can pass for it. It validated my take on my love affairs of the last few years (love being a loosely used term, as we know) and grounded me in where I am, and what I need now. Simmer-Brown also gave words and a framework to the point of all this, these love stories I want to tell. It was inchoate before, but now they’re screaming, ready to be told. Love Notes, the post title, was inspired by the few notes I scribbled down when I wanted to remember JSBs words.

It’s about going past the fantasy of romantic love. Blind addiction to imagined love is nothing less than the true religion of America (or pseudo-religion, as Simmer-Brown says. Semantics depend on how much you believe religion has to offer). Americans seek romantic love the way humans have traditionally sought God. It’s not just a distraction, it’s a deluded myth that romantic love with “the one” will solve all one’s problems. “There is such a theological commitment to romance that we will dump someone in a second if they challenge our fantasy,” says Simmer-Brown.

Indeed we will. With internet sirens beckoning, as soon as the facade cracks and the person you projected perfection upon turns out to be human, why face your own pain and that of your ersatz beloved when some guy or gal advertising (a) huge ____________ (insert your fancy) comes poking? My gawd, s/he knows the word for your genitals in your mother tongue, and will impress you with it before you even meet. Mmm, titillating. Now this? This will be easy.

Not refined, not subtle, no. Not even attractive, really. But that isn’t part of this game. We can ignore the obvious for now and focus on ease and fantasy. Why face pain and humanity when cranked-up delusion comes calorie-free?

Why? (If you’re really asking, you aren’t going to hear me anyway.) Because as per usual, you get what you pay for.

And so it goes. Another one bites the dust. Next time, some thoughts on real love, and some gorgeous stories for illustration.

 

small world of the web

farsiI’m not much for social connectivity on the web. Well, it’s quality, not quantity that I enjoy, in social media as with most everything else. I have made some great connections over the years (in fact, I’m sitting at home, which used to be Anya’s. She moved to Michigan. I met her years ago (six?) through an anthro listserv). Last week, a flickr contact, cityNnature, posted this photo (left) of her Farsi studies. Beautiful! Check out her images. She makes Detroit look gorgeous.

This week, another flickr contact, insideowl, posted her Sanskrit studies (below). They don’t know each other, or their photo posts, though they both live in Michigan (I’ve never been to MI. No, wait, once as a child I think we went to Dearborn. I vaguely remember the old cars). Well, I think Ideowl still lives in MI. She seems to be all ashtanga in Mysore, India for awhile now. (Yes, that’s jealousy you detect.)

sanskritI just did a little search for a pic by cityNnature, and she has a shot of herself doing yoga. Of course. Of course she does yoga. We three do not know each other and most likely never will. But we have enough in common that we bump into each other on the web and connect. This, as well as finding and maintaining old friendships, is what I love most about the social nonsense of the web. The serendipity.

Our web lives seem so beautiful and easy. cityNnature’s home looks to die for and it seems she has time for nothing but making beautiful photos and studying Farsi, the language of poetry. Insideowl is in one amazing locale after the next, waxing poetic and beauty. I ran into someone the other day who thought I was abroad, because of the images I’ve been posting on flickr (from 11 years back). But we present this way because we have to. It’s not meant to be an escape from the quotidien, but an honor of the beauty in it. What’s the wisdom of venting the struggles, the ugliness, and the pain? Well, yes, plenty, but it’s hidden in poetry to protect others, ourselves, and situations. To protect our quotidian—which might not even deserve or need our protection.

Both of the images remind me a bit of this photo I took years ago in one of my favorite places in the world, Lyabi Haus, the fountain in the middle of Bukhara. I’m not practicing scripts but am journaling the tour guide life (which later turned into posts). The boy in the background, at right, is Jafar, who Ulugbek tells me is now, 11 years later, the ladies’ man of Bukhara.

Uz_2000-08-13_Bukhara_016

no decoration

This post gets no decoration. Plain text (on blogs) is seldom read, and because this bit is a blurb on a yoga moment, and people’s yoga moments tend to annoy me, it’s only right you not read it. I am posting it, though.

Yesterday morning, in Utthita Hasta Padangushthasana—perhaps my worst pose, because I suck in both standing balance and hamstring flexibility—the teach came over to lift my leg and support me, as he almost always does. When I lifted my leg, my standing leg wobbled. Ordinarily I’d stop and rebalance, but because I knew he was there, I kept lifting. I knew I’d recover balance because he was there.

“Oh. This is what it’s like,” I thought, “to be supported. To keep going even though you’re wobbly. To have the confidence you won’t fall flat, or have to be perfect before going up.”

One might argue, as I would because I’m like that, that I shouldn’t go up if I don’t have balance yet, or how will I find it on my own if he always helps? To that I reply: the body remembers and learns, and does so more gracefully without struggle.

It was a big moment, because it’s such an issue and theme in my life. The one I’ve been promising myself to write about, starting with that day back in Kazakhstan in 2004. I feel lucky to have had it yesterday, that little epiphany. The daily discipline of going there early and doing it every damn day, and coming to trust the teacher day after day, is part of what made it happen.

Last week a friend was talking about climbing a fence and stealing fruit off of trees when he was small. “We didn’t do it because we needed it. We just wanted to do it. It was fun. Nothing ever happened to us even if we got caught. You know, the poor kids didn’t do it though. They never did.”

His point was that they didn’t do it because they needed it, they did it because it was fun. But I heard something else, and replied, “Yeah, because if the poor kids were caught, that’d be the end.”

“Yeah, it’s true. We were just given over to our parents, but for them it’s another story.”

All this is what I mean by the psychology of having and not having, and the risk taking you can do when you feel the world is a safe (enough) place.

sri lanka photos, part ii

silentbeach01This is the second round of the Sri Lanka photos.  Lots of beaches—best to be in a water mood when you view them. They begin at silent beach, which is a five minute walk from ashtangalanka. It’s the beach of the Amanwella resort, though we saw maybe one guest on this beach, and he was in sandals, walking. He didn’t swim. It was bizarre to swim in such a gorgeous place alone, with Andrea, or the other ashtangalankans, but never a crowd. This was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited, I think. It was deserted because there aren’t many tourists in Sri Lanka because of the war (which has since officially ended) and because it was the very end of the tourist season. I hadn’t swum in the ocean for years (since India, I think) and it was amazing. There was, at times, a strong current, and there were moments in the water when I considered that these beaches were hit by the 2004 tsunami. I felt very, very small.

andrea&puppiesMoving along, the house and dog belong to Ben and Katrina, neighbors of Fred who came to dinner several times. They’re an interesting British couple who spend part of the year here. Ben made Andrea a proper coffee (actually, Lalith the gardener made it), which pleased Andrea immensely. Then it’s back to Rocky Point, with some pics of me, Andrea, and two puppies in the cafe (at right). The puppies were strays adopted by Kathy Cooper, the ashtanga teacher.

These are followed by photos of the road in and out of ashtangalanka, which led to the path to the surf beach (where the cows were). We passed Samatha’s (the manager at AL) brother, who tried to convince Andrea to buy some jewelry. Alas, it was on to the beach. Andrea body surfed, while I took pics with my semi-dead-battery powered camera. It was fun.

To view the slideshow, follow the link and press the play button in the bottom right. The arrow keys take you forward and back, if you don’t like the pace of the show. This is the last of the ashtangalanka/beach photos. Next up: travels in the hill country.

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.