Thursday, July 31, 2008



MYSORE DAY 5: CHITTA VRITTI*

I was resting nicely yesterday evening when Ammu called and asked if I wanted to see the footage for his documentary about his local ashtanga teacher, BNS Iyengar (who is not to be confused with the famous Pune-based props-and-alignment "Light on Yoga" BKS Iyengar. Both Iyengars were students of TVS Krishnamacharya (also Pattabhi Jois's teacher) as well as relatives of his. Iyengar is a common Brahmin name in South India, and many of them seem to own bakeries that bear their name).

Anyway BNS Iyengar , the ashtanga one, was also a student of Pattabhi Jois for six months before leaving and teaching on his own (he teaches at the temple where Krishnamacharya used to teach). It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in his approach; he does teach Malasana before Pasasana in the second series (rumor has it that it used to be taught this way and was somehow deleted), and in his Marichyasana B and D the left side is done first. When he helps students to stand up from backbend, he simply grabs their right hand, which they hold up towards him. It seems to put very little pressure on his back. But it also seems like it can result
in a sort of spinal twist for the student.

After I got home and went to bed, the men down the hall decided to start a chat-cum-shout fest. This was at about 10:30PM. So I stuck my head out the door and let out a long, loud "shush," which worked for about five minutes. Then they started up again even louder. Finally I padded down the hall, stuck my head in the door and put the index finger to my lips and said, "shussh - sleeping." They did the head-bobble.

Fifteen minutes later the noise started up again, got louder, and did not subside. So I went down the hall, and started to close their door. The man closest to it stopped me and made a "just a minute" motion; apparently he was about to leave. I panomimed "Please knock it off, I'm trying to sleep,' and they seemed to get it.... Until about 2AM, when they all started up again in the loud voices. This time I no longer had patience. This time I yelled out the window near the ceiling (which opens into the hallway), in a loud, clear voice that startled even me, "SHUUUUT. UUUUUUUUUP!" It worked. But it wasn't very yogic.

This morning the stomach was again up in arms, gurgling and being annoying even after the lemon water. Again there were a few eggy loose motions and a lot of gas. The urine was quite yellow. Nonetheless the pre-asana practice sitting practice was quite good.

The sun began to shine as I rode to the shala. The waiting room / lobby was crowded. I only did one shush - to some people who were having a long conversation in a normal tone of voice. The stomach was upset, the body felt weak and I considered leaving (in other words, I was not up to policing the lobby today). Instead I tried to teach myself the mantra for Aarti. At one point a woman sat down next to me on the bench and asked if she should open the window. "Yesterday I was closing it and they told me to keep it open," she explained in a foreign accent. "I think you should leave it alone, and let them decide what to do," I said. She nodded, and then proceeded to open the window.

The stomach was so annoying I considered leaving, but then decided to wait and see what happened on the mat. After a few sun salutations the body felt fine. I started in the next-to-last row, until Saraswati moved me up (to make room for her students, who start later, in back). I was in the middle of Triang Mukh Eka Pada Paschimottanasna on the right when I heard, "Cara, you come!." My head popped up, and I saw Sharath gesturing towards the front row, where he was about to give someone a forward bend adjustment. I went, and was very happy to be in the same spot as yesterday. Also it is nice to be known. I've been thinking a lot about Sharath lately, and his back pain, and the awesome responsibility he has taken on. On top if it, he is in the midst of losing not just his grandfather, but his teacher -- who's rarely been seen in the shala lately (although I heard he dropped in on Laksmish's Sanskrit chanting class in the shala last week). Of course we students are upset about Pattabhi Jois's health. But imagine what it must be like for Sharath, who has had Guruji's one-on-one attention and guidance for so many years.s

Sharath was nearby again when I got to backbending. Because of the parasite, or whatever it is, the body felt light and I decided to test the waters after just three backbends. Boom, I started to float up before I was even ready. Of course Sharath was nearby. I tried again, and came right up. I'd dropped back twice (and stood up twice) when Sharath appeared at the front of my mat. "One more?" I asked in Kannada, and explained that I'd done only two. Yes, he said, one more. I did it (sloppily), and when he helped me with the final bit I tried my best to put as little pressure on his back as possible. Again I went on the stage for the closing sequence.

After two coconuts I went to Anu's to use the internet. The USB port didn't work, and when Ganesh said it had just broken, and was to be serviced. He said I could I wait for another machine or come back later. For some reason I became a bit testy about having to wait. I was surprised by my behavior. It was like I was watching someone else. Later I apologized profusely to Ganesh. As I did, he said he remembered me from two years ago. He remembered who my friends were and even some of the bile I'd spewed about browsing centers that use Windows 97 and don't have USB ports on any of their machines. I was horrified; someone is always listening. And I realized how important it is to learn to shush myself first - before I go around telling others to control their mouths.


On the way home from Chakra House pancakes, I got caught in some rather heavy malay (rain), and joined some others who pulled over their two-wheelers and took shelter under some trees to wait it out.

I rather enjoy these enforced time-outs. After a hot bath (for some reason there was still warm water at 12:30PM), I walked over to see my pharmacist friend. As I listed my symptoms he said, "Is there flatulence? Farting? You call it farting, don't you?" I nearly burst out laughing at his proper upper-class English pronunciation of "FAH-ting." He fixed me up with some pills (rs 4) to take after meals ("nothing spicy!") and told me to come back tomorrow if the problem has not been solved.

Then I washed some clothes (some of which were the ones from the trunk, with the bugs and the mothball smell). It began to rain 20 minutes after I put them on the clothesline. But by then Ursula and i were dining at 3 Sisters, whose food is very strength-building and sattvic (ie; their vegetarian food does not contain hot spices, garlic or onions, which are not part of the yogic diet because they are thought to disturb the mind and impede meditation).

Afterwards I needed a nap, and had a big one before waking up and watching Indian MSNBC. Then it was on to dinner (set dosa) and mosquito net shopping (this is the fifth one I've bought from the same seller (Rs 400 this year), whose daughter lives in the Chicago suburbs). When I arrived back home, I asked the night manager for two heavy old pillows - which I stuffed into the window in my room, where the sound from the hallway comes in. No more shusshing for me.






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*The post title comes from the well-known yoga sutra, Yoga chitta vritti nirodha (yoga is the cessatio of the mind-stuff).



Wednesday, July 30, 2008











UP & DOWN


After lunch on Monday I went down for a nap - and ended up sleeping until 7PM. I dragged myself out of bed, and realized the body felt like crap; there was no energy, and something was going on with the stomach. I organized my things and ate something; there was gurgling in the stomach, which became bloated (never a good sign); that was followed by some foul, eggy loose motions that reminded me of the amoeba I once had. Or was that the giardia? While flipping through the channels I noticed there was a Seinfeld episode on TV. In Inda. Kind of like a ?Seinfeld episode. I ended up I watching a bit of Aishwarya Rai and the guy from "Lost" in Bride and Prejudice (in Hindi, no subtitles) and was asleep again by 10.

Just before waking at 6, I had a dream in which I was in Florida, enjoying the sun with a group of other people. Suddenly some scary dark clouds appeared. "We have to get inside - fast," I said, urging everyone to get away from the water. But the storm came so quickly there wasn't time to make it to shelter We hugged the ground and crawled towards the nearby building as the storm engulfed us. The wind kept pulling us away from the ground, but we held on, and finally made it into the building. We went to the open end of the basement, but it was at ground level and the storm was bursting through the broken windows. We ran towards the other side of the building, where a yoga class was in progress. The students were all doing Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (a difficult balance pose) and did not want to interrupt their practice. I told them to stop, so that we could escape the storm. "Ahimsa is higher than Asana.," I explained, referring to the yoga sutras. That did it; they stopped the class, we all took shelter and everyone survived the storm. End of dream.

After sitting practice this morning (there was no hot water for a bath), I tried to start the web scooter. It took several tries and some pulling of the choke before it finally it sputtered to life. There was light drizzle on the way to class but it was nothing like yesterday. Bick was there with his coconuts outside the shala and said a hearty hello.

There was a long wait in the lobby, and I did some "shusshing" of other students who were talking their heads off. They did not like it; I felt their daggers boring into my back. Not only is it disrespectful, but you can hear these people when you're practicing near the door, Plus, part of the ashtanga or eight-limbed yoga practice is Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses - which includes controlling the mouth. I think it's OK to exchange (in a whisper) some short, relevant bits of info while waiting - such as, "Are you starting at 8:00?" or : You should go next: or "I"ll call you later." It is not the time to catch up or gossip; that should be done outside, over coconuts or breakfast or chai (actually, real yogis don't gossip). I made a lot of enemies shusshing people back at the old shala in 2002, and apparently I still haven't learned my lesson. I suppose someone has to do it, and it may as well be me.

Asana practice was so much better today; the body was the fairly flexible one I'm familiar with. Plus I was in the front row, a foot from the stage, which meant very few distractions. All students do primary series during their first week at the shala, and since it consists almost entirely of forward bends I worked hard in each upward-facing dog (a backbend done during vinyasa, or sun saluations). It paid off; during backbends there was little to no pain. I did five, going deeper each time. During the last one, Sharath came over to adjust the person next to me in Supta Kurmasana (a leg-behind-the-head pose). I thought, "Now's the time," and tested the waters; I did three bounces and the back felt fine. The next time I tried it, I stood up. Then I did three fairly smooth (for me) dropbacks without hurting anyone - including myself. Next thing I knew, Sharath was standing in front of me, helping me with the final backbending sequence. It was wonderful.

After doing the closing sequence on the stage (which is far warmer than the dressing room), I changed clothes, gathered my things, had two tender coconuts that consisted mostly of juice and very little gungy (meat). -Beck says there are 200 people here; Zoe says about 50 left in the past week. Afterwards I got a newspaper and had lunch up the street at Sutra House. There I saw our old friend Deepak, who still looks likes a star of stage and screen. Then I went to Anu's to look for Ursula-from-Munich, who was there updating her blog ("My Yoga Blog"). We rode the scooter to Green Leaf for a cup of tea, then around Gokulam.

Later I did some final shopping at Loyal World - where I fell while going up the stairs, which is a typical jetlagged westerner maneuver - and managed to avoid the police on the way home. I had a cold bath, washed some clothes (which are still not dry, since it seemed to drizzle every 20 minutes today) and rested. I must remember to slow down here - especially during Jet Lag Week.

Later I walked over to Three Sisters (two doors away) and showed them pictures of Guruji opening the new shala in Florida over Memorial Day Weekend. We chatted and laughed about a variety of things. We were having a gay old time when the youngest sister dropped one of her bombs.

"Forgive me for asking, but if you are single and have no children- who will take care of you when you grow old?"

I thought of Anne, my former neighbor (the one who is now in a nursing home - whose things were piled outside the dumpster last week).

The sister suggested I marry, and have just one child.

"But I'm too old," I protested.

"A woman who is 64 just gave birth. You can too."

Her sister chimed in, "Madonna had hers at 44, 45."

I love India.

Here, anything is possible.


What I didn't say was that on this path, an unsuitable partner is a distraction.




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Photo on left = one of the greatest chemical-y products ever made (and discontinued, I think): Coppertone Bug & Sun - which covers just about everything here in monsoon Mysore. Photo on the right is of Chakra House, with the lovely, mellow breakfast.

Monday, July 28, 2008

HEY 19


Everything hurt when I awakened at 4AM - everything.

And I couldn't go back to sleep.

I resorted to watching bad TV - HBO, Hallmark Channel, Disney Channel - for an hour, and tried to go back to sleep.

No luck.

SInce there was hot water at 5, I decided to take a bucket bath. Finally - hot water to wash the hair.

But still the body was in pain.

I drank the morning beverage of hot water with lemon. Nothing.

Hoping that I wasn't getting sick, and thinking that I was dehydrated, I drank a gallon or two of water.

I had a cup of chai, brought to my door by the wonderful night manager, Sanjeev.

Still I was in pain; the back hurt, an old shoulder injury was cropping up, everything ached.

Plus it was pouring rain outside.

I decided to practice anyway, thinking I could sweat out whatever was ailing me. Plus I always feel ill when I don't do ashtanga for a few days.

I rode to the shala in a downpour, and parked the scooter. It was still raining, and there was no sign of Beck, the coconut wallah.

Inside, the floor of the lobby was full of seated bodies; apparently everyone is scheduled for 8AM practice.

I sat down and waited as all of the others were called in (usually you go in the order in which you arrived in Mysore. Sometimes people are "moved up" to an earlier star time when a lot of people leave Mysore. Advanced students also usually practice earlier. I'm Ok with starting at 8 - actually it turned out to be 8:40 - since it makes for a reasonable bedtime... although by the time I finish Sharath has left the building).

The shala has that monsoon smell, meaning that everything is a bit mildewy and overripe. It was quite humid. My spot was behind the woman who accused me of stealing her "NEE-kuzz-ah" (knickers) two years ago. She has not spoken to me since.

I was like the Tin Man, working his way through the primary series. Everything hurt like hell and the body was stiff and weak. I haven't had a practice like this in eons. But I did it. The focus was fairly good. Twice I was told to move my mat to a spot closer to the front of the room, to make way for Saraswati's students (who practice after us, pay rs 2000/month and receive tons of adjustments).

I did not see Guruji during practice.

After five rickety backbends, I did the counterpose and made my way to the frigid ladies room to do the closing sequence. No need to belabor the backbends today, I thought.

The body only began to feel a bit better during the inversions of the closing sequence. But it was still not quite right.

Afterwards I visited the newspaper seller, who asked when I'd arrived. Then I went to the Green Leaf for iddly (to settle the stomach), kesari bath (a warm, sweet saffrom-flavored confection) and chai. Then I headed to Loyal World grocery/department store, which has been rearranged and is expanding next door. I found everything I was looking for - including nail clippers, a sponge and a new thumb drive (the old one gave up yesterday; I create these posts in my room, on the MacBook, save them on the thumb drive and then bring it to the browsing center. There's no wireless yet in Chluvamba Agrahara (my neighborhood), althrough the Three Sisters say they'll install it soon ).

I was driving home in a jetlag haze, stopping at a red light at a major intersection when I noticed a man in khakis and white cowboy hat gesturing towards me. "Oh no," I thought. "Ticket time."

I joined the queue of two-wheelers that had been pulled over. The scooter's papers were in order. But mine were not. Apparently you can no longer get away with having an Illinois driver's license ("D.L.") in Mysore, but now must have an international DL. I smiled at the police officers. I spoke to them in Kannada: "Have you had your breakfast?" It didn't work. Rs 300 (around $7.50) fine. Later I learned that the ticket is "good" for 24 hours, then they can fine you again. And again. And again. I was told to avoid that intersection, which is near the police station. Despite five trips here, I still get lost all the time. ARGH.

I returned "home" to good news at the Kaveri Lodge; my old room, #19, had been vacated. Vishwunath, the manager, smiled broadly as he handed me the key. "Your room ready, Madame." And it has a TV in it. Which is actually bad news.

I spent the next hour scrubbing down the walls. One was filthier than the others; it was the wall I DIDN'T wash back when I scrubbed everything down in 2004. By the time I'd gotten to that wall, I'd run out of steam and gave up. This time, I washed it first.

Later K.U. and I went to lunch at Three Sisters - I figured that their healthy taken on South Indian "meals" - rice, vegetables, chapatti - would revive me, and indeed it did. Zoe-from-NYC was also there, and it was lovely to catch up with her.

Also seen in and around the shala: Peter and Jude (who leave today, I think), Eddie, Jocelyn and Lily ( who arrived today, I think), Wendy and Chris and their girls, Joseph, , Bill-from-New Zealand and David and Simi Roche.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'M HERE NOW

I went to bed at 10 on Saturday and awakened just before the 5AM call to mosque on Sunday; then I crashed again until 8.

At first I was disoriented; Why am I here? Isn't it a bit selfish to keep coming back to Mysore?
But then I called down for chai and drank some lemon water while I waited, and sniffed the air and realized that I'm exactly where I should be right now.

The chai came just as I finished the jala dhauti.

After a very soft home practice I visited the Three Sisters, who had kept my trunk for me; it turns out that some bugs infiltrated some of my clothes-bags. I went on the roof of the Kaveri
and shook them out; ick.

After changing money (41.7 rupees to the dollar. In 2002 it was 48), Ammu and I went to lunch at Desprakash, a huge restaurant/hotel with fresh, excellent thali (meals with rice, curd,
vegetables, sambar, rasam, chapatti, pappad, etc) - where Joseph and Jeff-from-NY were also dining.

Then we drove to Gokalum to pick up the scooter. The Honda Activa I usually drive has been sold, and the new one is a Scooty Pep -an Activa copy that works just fine.
After chai at Chakra House I went to the shala, hoping to register and attend conference with Sharath.

Guruju was behind his old desk at the shala, looking fit. Sharath was behind his adjacent desk, looking a bit beefy. I tried to chat with Guruji as I filled out paperwork. He laughed when I said
"Josti malay" ("Lots of rain" ; it's been pouring like crazy on and off all day).

Sharath talked for a long time during the conference (Guruji was nowhere to be seen). He was quite funny, and said many important things; also he never lost his cool, despite being badgered rather rudely with an avalanche of questions from a female student.

Among other things:


-When you do this, you build strength. But it's not like the strength you build at the gym. It's internal strength. The body becomes very light, but strong. It purifies the system, healing
the body and mind. The mind is very important. If the mind is not healthy, you cannot do anything; it is not possible to achieve your goal (the goal being of course self-realization, although he didn't aspell it out).

-If your teacher does not have the correct foundation, how is he able to teach students (he then gestured towards Wendy (I think), who has been coming for 15 years and has the correct foundation. "Faith is important." Some people come for six years, create their own kind of yoga and put their name on it. The shastras do not say that. It's important to follow the Yamas and Niyamas (ethical roots). You pratice yoga as a spiritual practice, not in order to become a teacher. Yoga should be like eating very day; it should be like, without yoga you cannot survive.
Many yoga teachers say they don't make enough money teaching yoga. "Then do something else." It is your karma to do. Don't expect anything from it.

-In the olden days, nobody had any money. Krishnamacharya lived in a small house. His grandfather (Pattabhi Jois) begged for money. They were very poor, very simple. HIs grandfather doesn't even know how famous he is. As simple as possible, that is the ashtanga tradition. Everyone wants to compete. If you have a good heart and faith in what you're doing, you will get everything. You don't have to worry.

-When your thinking is always on good things, the mind is very clean and becomes strong. It will help your daily life and practice also.

-There is only one goal of yoga - to realize what we are; to become enlightened; to connect with the supreme god, the supreme self. If not in this lifetime, then maybe the next if the karma is good. The body is like a set of clothes, but the soul does not die. Do good in this life so the quality of your next life is better.

-Then he took some questions. "Sensible questions," he reminded us. One woman with a fairly thick accent kept hammering away at him about diet and whatnot. She'd hit him with a followup question even before he finished talking about the previous one, but he never took offense.

He was asked about the importance of Dristi, and said that it improves concentration and can also be an important kriya in the form of trataka - which can be done in headstand. He said that there is meditation in the asana.

A longtime student from Florida asked about breathing, as in, How do you know when a student is breathing correctly? Sharath said that breathing deeply is correct (and demonstrated it). Then the heat will increase and make the body flexible. "I can tell when a student is not correct." If a student is not breathing correctly in backbends, they will get pain in the lower back. It will eventually go away. Then he told a story about when he was working on Eka Pada Kapotasana, when he was 23 (he's a rather gifted storyteller, by the way). Guruji was helping him and he told him Guruji he could go further, further. Then there was a pop in the upper back, near his shoulder. He could not raise his arm after that. But he was scheduled to give a yoga demonstration at a college the next day. Guruji wanted him to do it anyway. Amma (Guruji's wife) scolded him: "You will kill my grandson." But of course he did it. After one month there was more pain, and he cold not lift the arm. He could barely do half primary series. Guruji told him his breathing was not correct. Finally the pain went away. The body changes with time. It will not be the same now as it was a few years back. Every body has some limit. But you have to keep trying.

Many more questions were asked, and his answers were well thought-out. I've removed them from this post, as I'm trying to sort out whether or not posting everything Sharath said connotes a form of stealing (yogis are supposed to practice asteya, or non-stealing). If you would like this information, please consider coming to the AYRI yourself or studying with a direct student.


Then he spoke about the Sri K. Pattahi Jois charitable trust. They raised 170,000 rupees at Guruji's birthday party last week. There will be a live auction soon, featuring a signed, framed photo of a young Guruji in Samasthith. There are also t-shirts for sale. For more info click here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008






AIR INDIA, YOSH CHOPRA AND RAINBOWS:
A RETURN TO MYSORE ITSELF


It was like it was all brand new - like I’d forgotten all of Caca’s Rules of Overseas Flight.

I didn’t take out my contact lenses before leaving the house.

I didn’t eat dinner at at the massive food court before going through security.

I didn’t stake out a seat in the lounge as close to the gate door as possible.

Instead, I focused on updating the blog. I got so involved in it that I jumped when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Is there an alarm clock ringing in your bag?” There was indeed a ringing alarm clock in my bag. Clearly it had been driving her and the others nearby quite mad.

Once on the plane, I was still in my beatific fog.

I didn’t put in earplugs.

I didn’t remember to chew gum.

I didn’t even scan the in-flight magazine to find out which Bollywood movies they’d be playing.

In fact I’d forgotten there’d even be a movie.


I guess I was in the moment. Talking to my seat-mates and whatnot.

And the ears didn’t pop once despite not taking proper precautions.

When I finally noticed that I was on a plane, and that the movie had started, I found out that my armrest was dead: no movie sound, no light, no pushing the red button to call call the air hostess to complain about it.

No problem; the lovely woman next to me allowed me to plug into hers. “I saw it last week,” she said. It was quite funny. I never did get the title. It may have been The Krazzy Four. As in, four mental patients get leave for a day and all hell breaks loose.

My seat-mates and I were quite a trio; the yogi-in-training with the tiny bladder on the aisle, the kind corpulent woman in the red headscarf the middle, and the skinniest NRI IT worker in the world on the window - a man so thin in fact that he could slide past the middle woman to get to his seat. Of course there were crying babies everywhere. The bathroom was trashed in no time. I loved it.

Midway through the flight I remembered again how to fly, and inflated the neck pillow and put on the eyeshade. They didn’t help. It seems the so-called Ambien that the pharmacist in Mysore gave me last year had either expired or was in fact a caffeine pill. Between that and the endless gyrations of my too-big neighbor, not much sleep was had. Oh, well.

In the Frankfurt the bathroom I put on the glasses and used the neti pot while scores of women watched.

Then I gave the Indian phone card a try; it worked, and I was able to text my friends in Mysore.

Four hours into the Frankfurt-Mumbai leg of the trip, the large seatmate disappeared and was replaced by a thin postdoc from Bangalore who now lives in Germany. She and the young IT fellow seemed surprised when I didn’t want to borrow the headhones for Om Shanti Om because I’d already seen it. She looked at my red-and-black Punjabi dress. “You must like Indian culture?” Yes, I said, Very much.

She spoke Hindi (as well as Kannada, German and English) and agreed to hang out with me at the Mumbai airport, where last time I nearly missed my connection because the gate was never announced.


In the jetway I got a whiff of that wonderful, indescribable incense-burnt-damp smell that I love so much. Slightly different than South India - a bit fainter - but quite similar.


In the so-called lounge, during the interminable wait for the gate, we talked about how difficult it is to get halal meat and good vegetarian food in Germany. At one my new friend lit up and gestured towards a man walking nearby, and I said, hopefully, “Did he announce the Bangalore gate?”

“No - it’s Yash Chopra,” the famous Bollywood film director and producer, who is so well known even I know who he is (which surprised her). There he was - a small grayhaired man, making his way through the airport at 1:30AM like it was no big deal.

We arrived 45 minutes late at the brand spanking new Benglaru International Airport. The pilot - a woman - made apologies about the tardiness of the flight, but said that it was understandable in light of the “recent tragic events in Bangalore.” I wondered what she was talking about.

This time when I walked down the plane steps, I sniffed the air and knew exactly where I was.

It was still dark at 5:45AM. Many men in yellow reflective gear were standing around awaiting orders as we walked towards awaiting shuttle bus. The new airport is spacious and as of yet unfinished. Three stories. Shiny escalators. There were scores of officials working the Customs area, and we got through quickly. Of course I tried speaking some Kannada with my agent. He was amused at first, then seemed a bit annoyed. Luggage claim was also a breeze.

And Ammu was waiting for me at the gate, flowers in hand (it was my birthday after all - although he didn’t know that. Yet), He was accompanied by his new driver, Manju - whom my friend Jammu describes as an international man of mystery.

On the way out of Bangalore we stopped to visit Jammu, an authorized Chicago ashtanga teacher who has been living here for the past four months while she awaits papers saying that she can take home the Indian baby she’s adopting. The baby is utterly adorable, and even let me hold her a bit. We went for breakfast, where I feasted on masala dosa and iddly-wada-sambar. Just the thing for a cloudy, coolish day.

From them I learned about the 9 explosions in Bangalore the previous day. Apparently some group had detonated them all at once. Somehow, only two people were killed. (On Saturday, there were 16 explosions in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad ).


Then it was on to Mysore. The drive was interminable. At one “intersection” (there are speed bumps in villages, which force vehicles to slow down) we stopped and picked up a garland of fresh fragrant jasmine. I wanted to place it around the Ganesh statue on the dashboard, but apparently it was too late. “You have already smelled the flowers,” said Ammu. Apparenty you must take your pleasure AFTER offering it first to the deity. This also seems to apply to food and everything else.

In Mysore there is more traffic than ever. It seems that everyone has a Tata Indica car these days (including Ammu). My old room at the Kaveri Lodge was taken, so they put me across the hall in 17, which has a three beds, an Indian toilet, a TV and no running water in the bathroom sink. Within an hour I’d had a bucket-bath (there was still some warm water left in the tap despite hot water lasting from 5-11AM) and organized my things and had a 25-litre bottle of water delivered my room. Then it was time for a nap. They were out of topsheets, so I used the newly-gifted silk sleeping bag liner under the grey wool blanket (it’s cool here today) and went down for three hours of deep, dreamless sleep. Amazing.

I was still in a numb, jetlagged, half-asleep state, organizing my things, when I got a text message from Ammu: “Pls see towards chamundi hil rainbow u can se”

I went down the hall, walked out into the roof and looked towards Chamundi Hill. There was indeed a HUGE rainbow that I could see. Wonderful.

After reorganizing my things - it took awhile to remember where I’d put the wad of cash I’ll need to convert to 27,530 rupees for the shala fee - we drove up Chamundi Hill, where it was too cold, windy and foggy to wait in line to visit the temple. We scurried down, and dined on set dosa and corn soup at Saptagiri. Then we stopped at Nilgiri’s grocery and picked up some things (soap, cereal, soymilk, cleaning products (the room is a bit filthy even for me), washing powder, cashew biscuits, chikki, bananas, lemons).

Since my room doesn’t have a hook for a mosquito net, I stopped at the little shop on the corner and got a plug-in Odonos, a chemical solution to the maleria problem. The teenage shopkeeper and other shoppers were amused by my attempts to say “Sakoo” (“Enough”) when he asked me if I wanted anything else, and he had me say it over and over again. Finally I resorted to Hindi - “Bus! Bus!” - which caused even more giggling.

Back “home,” I said hello to the owner and the night watchman before going up to my room and cleaning up and changing into my PJs. Then I called down for a topsheet.

It was brought up by the former night manager, Manju. Apparently he no longer works here but wanted to say hello (he’s the one who picked up the phone when I made the reservation the other day). He was out of breath as he handed me the sheet. He looked at me, concerned.

“Why looking so dull today, Madame?”

No birthday could possibly have been more complete.

***

On Sunday I will try to register at the AYRI. Apparently there are 400 students here - this is a HUGE number for monsoon season - and who knows if they’ll have room for me. There’s a conference, too. Hopefully they’ll let me in.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

GRATUTIDE
 
This is the emotion that's dominant, as I sit here at the airport typing this.

I'm grateful that the white and red Air India plane is sitting placidly at the gate a full three hours before takeoff.

Grateful that I'm here to see it.

Grateful that I remembered to bring wool socks to wear with the sandals, so the feet don't get cold during the 22 hour trip to Bangalore.

Grateful to all of my subs for covering for me.

Grateful to the cat's foster parents' for watching him, and for their report this morning that Kirby has already used the litterbox and eaten some food - a sure sign that he's forgotten all about me (and will be just fine).

Grateful to Gridlife for watching the car and the plants and being the Keeper of the Keys.

Grateful for Mon'ca for handling the bills.

Grateful to my subs, who are covering my classes. And my bosses, for letting me leave.

And to the students, who are so kind (and gave unexpected gifts so sweet it made me cry).

There's no end to the gratitude.

I've been in a state of grace since the Maha Sadhana weekend at Chandra's, where I was shown such warmth and hospitality and genuine caring, not just about the well-being and health but about the most important thing of all - one's spiritual state.  Words cannot express how humble and amazed and connected  it made me feel.... makes me feel.

I'm also grateful to my former neighbor Anne.

When Ira turned me onto the building 14 years ago, she was the old crone of the place.  "She's lived here 25 years," they told me.

She was always so kind to the cat, who would go down the back stairs and meow endless in front of her door.  

Last year she told me that she'd let him in, and he'd sniff around, check the place out, and leave.

I was horrified, but she seemed delighted by his trespassing. 

She had two cats when she moved in, but over the years they died.

I  think she secretly gave Kirby some treats.  How he loved to visit her.

One day some very fancy cat dishes appeared outside my back door

Kirby still goes down there and meows.

But I haven't seen Anne around lately.  She walks with a cane, and the stairs are difficult.

A few weeks ago there were some strangers in her apartment.  "How is Anne?" I asked.

"She's in a nursing home," they said.  "The stairs."

"Please tell her I said hello," I said.

I couldn't stay and chat because I was on my way to class.

But why didn't I stop and ask where she was? Which nursing home?

Earlier this week there was a pile of junk in and around the back dumpster.

I called the landlord, and learned that it was Anne's stuff. "We had to vacate the apartment."

I felt a pain in my heart.

Because  Anne is me, I am Anne.

She  is my mother and she is my grandmother.

I remember the two-and-a-half dumpsters we filled with my mother's things when we cleaned out her house (this was after sorting through it, keeping some items and giving most of it away).

I remember arguing with my uncle (who owned the building) about my mother's taking too long to clear away my grandmother's things.

And I thought of Anne.

It's all the same, I thought.  We're all the same.

And I thought of what  Chandra said over the weekend, about how God slowly strips away the things that are dear to us until nothing is left, and we're forced to take notice of him.

And I felt very grateful indeed.



 


Monday, July 21, 2008

THE GODDESSES MUST BE CRAZY


This is what happens when a pair of neo-luddites discover there's a video camera imbedded inside the MacBook Pro:



video




It's not unlike when the Bushmen find the coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy:


Saturday, July 19, 2008

GURU PURNIMA

Yesterday was Guru Purnima - the full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August) sacred to the memory of the great sage Vyasa, who edited the four four Vedas, wrote the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata and taught Dattatreya, who is regarded as the Guru of Gurus.

In other words, it is the day in which to honor the gurus.

It is also the birthday of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who was born on Guru Purnima in 1915.

This year I am doing my devotions from afar, with my teacher Chandra Om.

Here she is talking about how she found her guru, Sri Dharma Mittra:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ALL SYSTEMS ARE GO



I just called the Kaveri Lodge to reserve a room for 26 July.

The night manager Manju picked up the phone.

He is well, as are his mother and grandmother (they made me a most wonderful - and filling - Tamil thali meal last year)

In other news - apparently I will have some work when I get back!

I'm feeling very thankful today.

Very thankful indeed.




---------------------------------------

Video was shot at sunset on the roof of the Kaveri Lodge. In the background is Chamundi Hil, named for the goddess who slayed the demon Mahishasura (which is where the city of Mysore gets its name).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"IT'S SO EASY FOR YOU"





That's what someone said to me the other day.

"It's so easy for you."

They were referring to how *easy* it is for me to go to India.

Of course I resembled that remark. "It's not easy," I protested.

The person who made the comment has a "real" job, with a real income, and benefits, and a mortgage, and a spouse, and teaches yoga part-time. It would seem easy for them.

Until you realize that their spouse is not well, and they *have* to keep the day job.

As for me, well --

It's easy in that I have a ten-year visa and all of my shots.

The things that are not easy:

-Having no job security (not only did the health club director not get back to me on Tuesday - the day she said she'd give me a verdict about whether I'd have any classes when I returned - but another director is being rather coy about whether she'll have work for me when I get back)

-Not having health insurance. (At least in India I can afford a dentist vist and mammogram - which helps offset the price of the trip).

-Losing up to 1/2 your income for a month in Mysore that's more likely to result in dysentery than authorization.

-Not having that special someone to pay the bills, get the mail, feed the cat, pay the rent when I'm gone... and drive me to the airport.

Everything has a price.

What have *you* given up for the thing your gut says you have to do?



***




As Matt says, there's no lock on the cubicle door.

Anyone can leave, whenever they want.

You just have to make the leap.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


BLOWOUT, DUMB LUCK
AND THE DIVINE PLAN


I nearly died yesterday.

After subbing Suddha's 10am class, I got in the car to drive to Dreyfus (my brother) and his wife's house. They live near my hometown, 50 miles northwest of Chicago.

On the Kennedy expressway, while going through the I-pass toll lane, I tried to call Dreyfus and tell him I was driving rather than taking the train. The call failed.

A short time later I was in the left lane, which was about to end. I started to merge to the right. I was doing about 50 mph, as were the other cars.

Suddenly, there was a loud noise and a terrible thud, and the steering wheel jerked out of my hands. The car started to veer into the right lane. It felt like half of the wheels weren't touching the ground.

Instinctively, I grabbed the wheel and tried to avoid the cars next to me. Then my car jerked the other way, and I tried to avoid those cars. I was still going quite fast. There was a noise coming from the back: THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! Did someone hit me, I wondered. Did the transmission fall out? What just happened?

But the main thought was, Please do not let anyone die. Don't hurt these other other people on the road.

And I gripped the steering wheel and steered as best I could. The car jerked back and forth across three lanes.

It was very similar to a dream I've been having lately.....

There was the screeching of brakes, and that awful thwack-thwack-thwack.

I ducked my head, steered, and waited for a car or two or three or four to hit me.

But they never did.

Then the car started doing a 360-degree spin. I steered into the spin and waited for the car to flip over. I kept the head lowered, waiting to be hit. Yet everything happened very fast. It did not go in slow motion. My life did not pass before my eyes. My only thought was, "Please don't let these other people get hurt."

Instinct did the steering. I was most definitely not the doer.

Finally the car came to a stop. In the windshield was the Rosemont Horizon concert center.

The car was perpendicular to the highway, blocking at least two lanes of traffic

The heart was being fast. There was the smell of burnt rubber. The body was shaking, but the mind was calm.

I was surprised to be alive. Very surprised.

I slowly raised my head, waiting to be hit by the oncoming cars.

But when I looked out the window, they were all in a line, facing me.

They were stopped, waiting for me.

I thought, "Someone is going to rear-end them," and realized I had to get out of there - fast.

But the engine had died. Automatically, I put the car into park and turned the ignition. It worked!

I put the car into gear and gingerly aimed it towards the right shoulder. It limped. The thwack! thwack! thwack! sound came from the back. I pulled to a stop as close to the rail as I could, and looked around.

The other cars slowly began to move forward. One pulled up behind me, saw I was OK, and left.

Three police cars in the Rosemont Horizon parking lot slowly drove towards me, and waited.

I sat and breathed. Traffic began flowing as if nothing had happened.

It began to dawn on me that I was alive, and no one else had died.

I saw that I was a few hundred yards from the Lee Street exit, and that the shoulder was some four cars wide.

So I got out to inspect the damage.

I picked up some pieces of the car as I circled it.

Then I saw the problem; the right rear tire.

Most of the outer tread was completely missing. Yet it was somehow still inflated, with steel belts sticking out and part of the tread hanging loose.



There were some dents near the wheel-well, and part of the fender was hanging loose. But it was more or less intact.

I called Dreyfus to tell him what happened. The squad cars in the Horizon lot waited and watched.

A plan came to me; I would drive the car to the Lee Street ramp, and look for a gas station.

I drove very slowly, with the thawck! thwack! thwack!, and hoped that the tire would remain inflated.

As I slowly drove towards the ramp, the state police car moved along with me in the parking lot.

But I did not see him after that.

When I got off the ramp, I took only right turns.

This whole time, I relied purely on instinct.

Cars behind me honked in exasperation, and I waved them on.

I found my way to a Steak 'n Shake lot, parked under its giant red-and-white sign, and called Triple A - which my nephew had given to me as a gift last Christmas. While they tried to figure out my location, I asked if they'd bring a new tire. But they said they could only put on the spare.

I waited for the truck to come.

I watched the planes descending into O'Hare airport.





I called Dreyfus.

i cleaned out the trunk and unearthed the tiny spare.

I did some mantras.

And I thanked Shiva, Brahman, Krishna, Kaveri, Durga, Amma, Ganesh, Dharma, Chandra, Guruji, the dead parents and grandparents and everyone else I could think of for watching over me.

Because I should have been dead (well, the body at least should have expired).

And so should many other people.

How, I wondered, could such a fantastic accident have occurred, on a very busy four-lane expressway, and not one car was scratched?

My gratitude increased when the gentleman from Triple A told me that when tires fail they usually explode - and that I was incredibly lucky that mine held together.

And I felt protected and safe and free of doubt.


***


Perhaps there is something to this yoga.....When I am teaching headstand in the middle of the room, I tell students to "steer" with their wrists, elbows and fingers; when they tilt to the right, I tell them to "steer into the skid" just as they'd do when driving on ice, and it will straighten them out. Apparently this also works doing a blowout - although I am quite certain that it was grace, rather than skill, that saved me.


***


While I was waiting for AAA, Dreyfus did some online research and found a Just Tires less than a mile away. They put on a new tire ($66), and told me that the defective one was not the correct size for the car - it was a full inch too big - but that probably wasn't the reason it fell apart.


***


Dreyfus and Mon'ca waited and waited for me to go through this ordeal, at home, next to the phone, their stomachs growling. When I finally arrived, we inspected the tire. Tires were our family business, and Dreyfus is an expert. His opinion: Cooper Tires suck.




Then we went back to our original plan - which was to have green pepper and black olive pizza at Half Time's in Johnsburg. But instead of late lunch, it was dinner. And it was the best pizza ever. I even had a few sips of beer - rare for me - because I was alive.


***

Afterwards we met my nephew (who gave me the Triple A membership) and his wife and daughter at the Fiesta Days carnival.






As I watched the thrill-seekers spinning around on the rides, I thought, "When you do it for real, it's not that much fun."




But then I thought, "In a way, these rides prepare you for what could happen."

And felt the breeze and smelled the fresh air, and fervently hoped everyone there would honor the two-second following distance rule.

I know I certainly will.



***


Afterwards Dreyfus took us on a scenic drive, and we saw this:




And it was very good to be alive, with people I love.

Very good indeed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

TROUBLE IN PARADISE




There's always a price to pay* for going to Mysore.

This time, one of the venues where I teach cannot guarantee I will have classes when I return from India. I don't blame them, but this could affect up to 1/2 of my income. Ouch!

(In 2004, I found out a few days before leaving Mysore to go back home that The Backwards R decided to give my weekly column to the sub - even though we'd arranged everything beforehand and I came home when I said I would. Canned by e-mail no less. Ouch!)

(In 2006, right after returning from Mysore, a venue fired me for being gone too long - even though we'd arranged everything beforehand, I returned when I said I would, and my sub was wonderful. They did it on my birthday no less. Ouch!).

(Bindi got canned a couple of years ago for teaching too long in Japan. That didn't deter her; she's teaching in Thailand at this very moment - and blogging up a storm).

Krista - who's in Mysore right now - just lost her Lululemon ambassadorship for staying away from home too long. Her post about it is wonderful.

At least Ursula got it right: she was let go from work and then decided to go to India.

I think the three of us should do a wet, rainy over-the-top Bollywood monsoon dance when we're in Mysore....

....and videotape it for everyone who's afraid of going and losing their jobs.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




*Actually, most of the places where I work have been more than accommodating when it comes to my studying yoga in Mysore - including the venue that's on the fence about letting me keep my classes. Friends and family have also been incredibly supportive - and so have all the wonderful, generous substitute teachers over the years. Without them, none of this would be possible.

Monday, July 07, 2008



AMMA: THE AFTERMATH

I. am. so. tired.

Thousands were there to see Amma last night in her glitzy Devi Bhava getup, where she becomes the embodiment of the Holy Mother and "celebrates the feminine aspect of God and God's unconditional love and compassion for all humanity."

Thousands got in line to see her.

Our little group drew the number H3, which at first seemed quite reasonable.

But the line moved slowly; less than one letter per hour.

A couple of friends gave up at 11:30PM.

I stuck it out.

When darshan (the hug) finally took place after 2AM, all exhaustion disappeared.



Some highlights from the weekend:

-We had good "seats" on the floor last night; when Amma made her entrance I was able to touch her hand. Zing!

-I could be mistaken, but I swear that Amma was wearing rudraksha beads. Take that, all of you who told me "Ladies don't wear rudraksha."

-Both night's programs included a spiritual talk and meditation. Inhale: Amma. Exhale: Om. At Devi Bhava we also were given holy water.

-The South Indian dinner was excellent and all-you-can-eat - and cost just $7.50.

-One of Amma's newest charities aims to help prevent farmer suicides, an epidemic that's plaguing rural India.

-Every hour or so a new bhajan band sat down and played. As the night wore on, one became more tired - and more convinced that some of the singing was off-key.

-The disciples who guide you into the proper space just before the hug ask that you wipe any excess oil off your face with a tissue. New (for me) this year: The Kleenex wrangler now wears a white cotton purse-sling-holster that holds a box of tissue and has a special pocket for used ones.

-If you hold out your mala (prayer beads) a certain way, Amma will bless it and place it over your head.

-One of Amma's disciples is a dead ringer for Ben Stiller.

Make that an enlightened Ben Stiller, all in white.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

AMMA IN CHICAGO



Amma-the-hugging-saint comes to Chicago every Fourth of July weekend. Her message, more or less, is "Love and Serve."

I went to yesterday's evening program out at the Yorktown Mall in Lombard.

(Yes, there is a saint in Lombard. At this very moment).

The hug I received, just after 1AM, cleared away many doubts.

It's just the thing when your own mother isn't around to comfort you, or you haven't seen your teacher or fellow sadhakas in awhile.

I'm going back tonight.

Details here.

Read my (humorous) 2005 article about the experience here.

And go get yourself some unconditional love.





* * *




SOME AMMA-ISMS (from her 2005 talks in Chicago):



Creativity is not an obstacle to a spiritual life, but we must keep in the back of our minds that nothing in the material world gives the joy of the spiritual life.

When we suffer, we should turn inward to find the cause.

No one loves us more than they love themselves.

You should love others, but not become too attached.

A true master will not ask you to give up everything, but to take enough for your own needs and share with others.

Even if a gesture is small, we should try to give to others. Life is an echo; we get back what we give back.

God is pure consciousness that dwells in everything.

In order to receive grace, we must cultivate humility. When we bow down, grace will automatically flow to us.

Anger is the greatest obstacle to grace; it is like a knife with both ends sharpened.

All of our actions should bring happiness and joy to others.

Instead of giving up when things are difficult, we should hold onto God’s feet more tightly.

Spiritual practice is like getting a polio shot--the benefits are not immediately apparent.