Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Work in progress

So, times have changed and I have to say that right now I barely recognise my life. But last week I met somebody at my yoga teacher's leaving party who knew my name having recognised me from this blog, and told me that reading it was what led her to seek out the aforementioned teacher. Nice feeling, huh? And it did lead me to wonder a little about blogging, and whether there was time and space for me to have another think about it.
But for anyone who might possibly read this and isn't also my twitter/facebook/actual real-life friend (is there anyone??) things are changing, biiiiig time. Since coming home from Thailand in April I continued working in the yoga centre, but shortly after returning I received a very exciting offer to go back to Purple Valley in Goa for the whole of next season and help to look after the guests. Erm, yes please? 
And then having accepted the job, through a combination of factors I ended up finding a new teacher, who (in a thoroughly appropriate way, I promise) I am head-over-heels crazy about. And then shortly afterwards I started dating, and somehow managed to meet somebody quite wonderful who is now also practicing ashtanga, with my teacher, and is similarly hooked. My practice has changed a lot too, but that's to be expected I suppose as life changes around me at a pace I barely even recognise. 

I try not to be too smug, but some days that's a struggle. And other days I'm just so exhausted from my practice and the tinges of anxiety that threaten about the upcoming 6-month trip that I just don't have it in me to be smug. 

I'm remembering to be grateful.

I'm working on just being in the moment. 

It's a work in progress, shall we say.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Oh so predictable.

Despite a little bit of me (maybe a large bit of me) hoping that heading to Mysore for 2 months would lead to me blogging super-regularly, dissecting my experience and sharing it online (just in case there is anyone even still out there wondering what I have to say), it turns out it wasn't to be.

Mysore was (I say this in past tense, having left Gokulam on Friday evening after 9 magical weeks practicing at the shala with Sharath) a life-changing, mind-expanding, shape-shifting and unforgettable experience. But something about it, and something about the person I realised that I am whilst I was there, made me understand completely why oh so many people before me have headed this way and resolutely STFU once they arrived. So yes, it's a giant cliche, but it turns out that Mysore knocked the desire to blog (or indeed to read other blogs, with the exception of a select few) right out of me.

Ho hum. Now I am in heavenly Koh Samui for a week of down-time before two MORE weeks with Kino and Tim, before I head home to London and put it all back together again. Maybe at some point I'll feel the desire to start sharing my thoughts again, I'm certainly not saying that I won't, but for now this is where I am (literally and metaphorically).
So I'll just say this; over the past (nearly) three months that I have been in India I have realised that life grows ever sweeter the more you focus on just letting things happen as they should. And for now, that includes me keeping a little quiet in the blogging world. Now if you'll excuse me I need to head back out into the is tough, right?

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A challenging Sunday

Led primary hurt today – physically and mentally. My ribs hurt, perhaps a tweak from assisted dropbacks on Thursday, Friday was ladies’ holiday so today was my first practice since then, and taking a deep breath induced a small flash of pain. I saw an open spot, congratulated myself once again on how stress-free this whole “getting a good spot” is, only to realise too late (like that kid’s party game, once all of the chairs had been taken away) that my mat was now covering not just one but a whole confluence of bumps and ridges – and massive ones at that. With my feet at different heights as we chanted the opening mantra the Pollyanna in me wanted this distraction to take my mind away from the breathing pain. And for the first standing postures I suppose it did, but all I could think was that I wanted – no needed – to leave. But how would you leave a led class in the shala without it becoming a major incident? You can’t, that’s how, so I knew I just had to suck it up and get on with it. So up to a point that’s what I did, but reaching bujapidasana the pain reached a crescendo – it is located on my left side, somewhere between the side of my body and the base of my shoulder blade, and tipping forward to the floor induced a flash of pain, followed by the realisation that I still had to get out of the posture after 5 breaths. I have no idea why it was so painful there, but it truly was – and coming out was the most difficult part. I vinyasa-ed to start kurmasana, realising that there would be some challenge here too, but I slid down into kurmasana with relatively little discomfort, only to find that while I could still hitch my feet behind my head by raising them up with my shoulders, I couldn’t catch the bind with my hands. For the first time in two years I was unable to do the pose (so screamed my ego), and not only that but I was in agony. I stayed prone on the mat, and as I moved into baddha konasana hot tears came. I stopped, skipped the vinyasa, held my sore ribs and quietly cried, and my sweet neighbour (I don’t know you, but thank you) stopped to make sure I was alright, and somehow I made it to the end of the primary series, limped outside for a coconut then headed home feeling miserable. I self-medicated with a delicious breakfast, coffee and some ibuprofen, cancelled my big jolly lunch-plans, and headed off for an early conference. And what should happen but the Boss was in a super-light mood. He had the packed-out room (admittedly the easiest crowd in the world once he takes the floor) laughing frequently, at one point doing an impersonation of somebody singing mantras with a guitar (instead of chanting them with correct breath and intonation). But more than that, somehow so many of the things he said today resonated with me so clearly that on the spot I made choices about how I want to live my life and things I want to change. He reiterated today:
Yoga is a four wheel drive car; one day life is up, the next day down, and only with yoga can we cope in all terrains.
Somehow this, or other topics that came up today, made me realise a few things that I needed to look at in my life. These seem intangible now I come to try and write them down, to spell them out, but perhaps that isn’t the point; I don’t need to share every thought, just to say that something in the way that this gentle man speaks sends a laser pointer of focus in to my own thoughts and understanding of my life, and gives me a direction, a feeling of which way to move on.
One particular thing did stick in my mind. “Always we say ‘oh look at him, he is wrong, he must not do this, she is doing that incorrectly’, but we do not look at ourselves to see what we must change.” Oh yeah...I gotcha. This is probably my specialist subject. But self-awareness is the first step, so I’m there...and now I need to start really looking at it.
I realised too that questions asked in conference seem to follow one of two themes. First is the philosophical/historical question (which to a certain extent says: listen to what I know, then tell me about it). The second, probably the more common, says “I do this: please tell me it’s OK?” We travel all of this way, we give up our lives, maybe our jobs, our families, a lot of our comforts (and certainly a lot of money), and we want this man to answer all of our questions. We want him to tell us that what we do, whether it’s choosing to practice sports alongside yoga, or to also take martial arts, or to eat meat, or drink milk, or to spend more time with our children than on our asana practice (his answer to the last one: “of course”), somehow we need to hear him say that it’s OK. And most of the time, of course, he does not. We feel that we need to ask, in all likelihood, because we already question these things ourselves, and yet we think that he will make it all alright. But the ongoing answer to any question posed during conference is just as we know it will be; take practice, be sincere, don’t mix it up or try to copy-write yoga, or say that you know best. Practice with sincerity, with your teacher, for a long time, and don’t think that saying you are a yogi makes you a yogi. The same applies for having a certificate.
But all in all conference was sweet, and light, and just what I needed to contrast with my practice. And as the day went by I got over myself, I kept the ibuprofen topped up, and of course no matter how crappy this morning felt, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

As week three in Mysore begins...

On a daily basis I see that although what I “get” in terms of direct hands-on adjustment, or verbal correction is totally minimal, still I am learning so much. How is this possible – learning without teaching? I suppose to say that suggests that teaching only happens in one way: I tell you, I move your body, I help you. When in fact teaching in this method, through this lineage - it seems to happen in this room. Sharath talked in conference the first day I arrived about how in the West yoga is seen as something you “do”, but when you are really understanding and practicing yoga it is something which happens inside of you. 
We were also reminded by Kino towards the end of the retreat that this practice is not somewhere you go to to get something tangible from another person “it’s not about what you get, it’s about where you go”. She described reliance on a teacher as being like a key to open a door. You need the key initially but over time, as you become grounded in the practice, you don’t need that support in the same way. She said that the purpose of the teacher is to “hold the space” that opens the door to the lineage – sometimes through adjustment or instruction, sometimes just through an energy that they bring. 

It’s not until I looked back at my notes that I saw that what Kino was describing is exactly what I have been experiencing the past two weeks. 

At most, Sharath told me “no no no, this is not correct” in my first led class (relating to my hand and arm position in uttitha parsvakonasana), he told me to go back when I was futzing around before dropping back, one day he told me that I was too slow, and he did his funny disapproval grunt when I went into a warm-up bridge before a backbend one day (and I won’t be doing that again!). In two weeks, c’est tout. 
Bougainvillea love-in 
But I am far (far) from voicing any concern about this. My first two practices were just a sweaty blur, I couldn’t honestly say what went on whilst I was in that room. I was in a state of overwhelm. Then each day since that has started to come into focus a little more. 
I had a eureka moment in realising last week that internal rotation is EVERYTHING. When teachers notice or correct the turning out of the feet through vinyasas, it seems to me that this is why...I think I have probably been guilty of this myself, but realising that when I inwardly rotate my thighs and engage my feet throughout  my upward dog (and take care not to allow them to splay out), I have a strong feeling of engagement throughout my lower back and hips (instead of "escaping it" - just like if you lift the heels when backbending you somehow escape the icky place you don't want to go). Turning straight over my feet (instead of letting them roll over the sides) keeps the rotation firm. As I move into downward dog I notice that I also want to inwardly rotate my arms, engaging the shoulders strongly to keep the foundation strong.
Another eureka moment came a few days later in realising that I can (and must) engage my quads throughout the practice, pulling up the legs strongly in most of the standing poses – especially in trikonasana which my teacher has been adjusting me in consistently for two years and trying to help me understand the action I need to find. In working alone, in true self-practice, but in this space held by Sharath, I think I am somehow finding the answers to some of these ongoing questions. The reason I’m saying all of this is not because I want to tell you to do the same, or even because I think I have discovered something impressive, or clever, or even if it would feel the same or as monumental to anybody else. I suppose I am just keen to express the place I find myself in, almost three years to the day since I first discovered this practice, moving from the gross to the subtle, finding that in the right space that the practice is the teacher, but of course that comes about only because this place and space is so charged, so magical somehow, and (I have no doubt) also because Sharath is here, preserving this lineage, watching over us as we work through and make these discoveries - sometimes with help, sometimes for ourselves.

So maybe another day I’ll find the time to write more about the more general experience of being here: the strange shock of arrival, the settling in, my inability to avoid the constant possibility of socialising, the food, the people; the utterly insane dreams I have every.single.night; the perceived insanity of led classes, and the moment where everything crystallised into one perfect moment of stillness and ease in urdhva padmasana; the fear struck in my heart sitting in the foyer on my first few days realising that I could ignore the fact that “One more!” was finally referring to me. Maybe another day I’ll find the time for all of that, but not tonight.
I couldn't put it better myself.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Once in a while I am capable of brevity (apparently).

So I landed in Mysore late on Saturday after *that* car ride from Bangalore - four a half hours of the craziest driving, during which I went through every emotion on the planet, from pure joy to total despair, wondering why on earth I ever decided to make this trip, thinking I was going to die, realising that in the end there was no getting out of it and that I just had to suck it up and experience it (yeah yeah, it's all yoga, I know). My arrival and first morning were awash with tears as I wondered just how and why I ended up here, I cried through my first shower, I ran round the corner to my friend's apartment where she fed me while I cried some more, and then once I was done eating and crying she took me to my first conference with Sharath and the social whirlwind that is Gokulam began. That first day I was passed from one sweet friend to another, so as it turned out I was out from 8am to 7pm and had many adventures in the time in between. Yesterday I had my first practice in the shala and yet more social and culinary adventures to fill the day. There is so much to say about how I feel having arrived here, and so much to say about the past two weeks in Goa and how much I learned and experienced with the wonderful Tim and Kino, but somehow I just can't summon the energy to do any of that right now - hopefully as I feel myself growing more settled here the words will come. 
But for now I just wanted to say a quick hello from Mysore, that I'm alive and well and figuring out how things work, and that I'm so so grateful for having so many wonderful friends here - some from home, some from retreats I have taken in the past, some friends I hadn't met yet, but on every corner I run into somebody I know. I have a feeling that this is going to be a big part of the whole experience. Speaking of which, I'm just waiting on Susan for breakfast before heading off on a moonday outing to Mysore palace and into the city, but first I need to run some beetroot and banana bread over to K's apartment in exchange for some home-made vegan chikoo ice-cream. Life is pretty tough, isn't it?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Never enough time

So once more I find myself in Goa for my annual pilgrimage to Purple Valley, this being my 4th trip in as many seasons (but my first visit was in year zero as it was here that I started 4 trips equals three years of practice). I’m here with the same teachers as last year, Kino & Tim, but instead of heading straight home from here after two weeks this time I will head to Mysore for my first trip there.  The other significant difference about this trip is that back in November I received an email from Tim asking if I would like to assist him and Kino in the shala after leaping up and down and feeling like I’d won the lottery I replied that yes of course, I would be honoured to do so. I count myself especially lucky to be asked as this is my first experience of assisting, and despite my huge resistance (to the point of vehement opposition) to the idea of ever teaching it was a huge honour that Tim and Kino asked, which was apparently based on my having practiced with them both a number of times and them wanting to introduce me to a whole other dimension of the practice (plus of course needing all the hands they can get with our group of 50-ish students).
Three days in to the practice and assisting I am already finding some of those lessons. There are two of us assisting at the moment, me and my friend A who also works here. She completed a teacher training at the end of last year she can help a little more than I can. I assist first for around an hour (6.30-7.30), she practices first and then we switch, and I finish my practice around 9.30. On day one Tim gave me some whispered gems (which for the sake of discretion I can’t share) which made me giggle, and showed me how to assist downward dog. I did a lot of dogs that day. Then Kino told me to assist anyone in UHP who couldn’t get their chin to their leg. I stood looking mystified for a moment before she realised I didn’t know how to assist, so she showed me, and then I tried it on a few poor unsuspecting practitioners...and I totally buggered it up. The following afternoon A and I had a session with Tim where he talked us through a few different downward dog adjustments (and anyone who’s been lucky enough to practice with Tim knows that his version of this assist rocks...) with the main version being using my chest to work the hips up and back, in other words lying the whole body over the practitioner, holding the front of their knees to gently coax them straight. Then he talked us through the UHP assist, thank goodness, and we had to do the assists on him, then on each other, and by the next day I must have done about 10 of them to much better effect.
The interesting part for me is how assisting makes me feel, and how it affects my practice. I feel like in three days, even only assisting one or two poses, I have already learned so much. Tim said that by watching somebody’s sun salutations you can really learn everything you need to know about their practice. Through adjusting them you can feel those who resist you, those who struggle to find an even breath, those to whom their whole body seems alien (and of course those on the other end of the spectrum with smooth breath, strength and flexibility and who seem at home in their bodies). Immediately after finishing up as I unroll my mat in the middle of the busy room, I go straight into a very internal, focussed space. My breath is deep and even. There is a level of calmness I am unaccustomed to. I feel confident in my practice, and that (mostly) my fellow practitioners accept my help (as I have already had some lovely post-practice thank yous), but I also feel a humbleness. My body is warm and open. On previous visits I have worked myself up on the first day of practice, leaving the shala in tears because I’m so happy and overwhelmed to be here. But this time? No drama. My first practice was incredibly flexible and deep, heels popping up in kurmasana (which almost never happens), spying my feet in my backbends from the floor before being terrorised by Tim (yes, I did the death-rattle breathing just a little, but I also got the hug). Monday’s practice was a little stiff and sore, the pay-off for Sunday’s pixie-dust coated practice, and I had a day of awesome Kino-help, a lot more assists than on the previous day (when I assised until almost 8 and then practiced mostly unassisted until the end), culminating in backbending with her. As it was a moonday (but different rules apply on retreats, right?) she was going more gently with the assisted backbending, so I was hoping to have her rather than Tim, who I know always takes me to my edge and beyond. I dropped back by myself and she was helping my neighbour with something, and after doing a little rocking and giving up she told me to stay in the backbend, push right up onto my fingertips (making a sort of stand with my fingers and thumb) and then she gave me the slightest pull on the hips and I came to stand. I laughed, saying that it was less scary then I thought it was going to be, so she said let’s do that again – we did three like that, and I realised that this new technique of course means I need to transfer the weight into my legs to be able to try and go up on my fingertips, which Kino was having me do by myself. I love how you think you have heard it all and then somebody comes along and gives you a whole new technique...anyway I did backbending with Kino again today, and I tried as much as possible to do it by myself, I feel like I’m coming up by myself from about three quarters of the way up (according to Cary before I left I was coming up myself from about half-way down), but right now I’m scrunching up the muscles in my lower back and clenching my bum and thighs to try and move the weight forward. She says that’s OK for now as long as there is no pain, but that I need to focus on pushing my knees forward, and maybe taking my feet wider when I go back. Apparently I have proper duck feet and a super narrow stance, which makes it much harder (as I told her, I don’t like to make things easy for myself...). Having missed out on giving me the backbend treatment Tim instead decided to make me do chakrasana after uttana padasana about fifteen times (and I’m not even exaggerating!) despite me insisting that I really can’t do it...and yes, I got bad lady’d there, and elsewhere in my practice today.
Actually this wasn’t intended to be a practice report but look what just happened...what I was meaning to write more about was how the days are just so packed that I barely even have time to relax let alone to blog, or just to write for myself about how I’m processing my time here. I know this doesn’t exactly sound like the toughest schedule, but the days so far have gone like this...
Day 1:
6.30 – 7.45 – assisting
7.45 – 9.45 – practice
Half an hour of emailing
Adjustment lesson with tim
Afternoon workshop
Err – that was the whole day. The second day I had a massage between breakfast and lunch, and an hour’s nap instead of the adjustment lesson, but so far I haven’t even been down to the pool, left the compound to go to Villa Blanche, or even drunk any coffee yet (which could be why I spent to whole of Tim’s breath workshop painfully falling asleep whilst sitting up). I know woe is me and all that, but somehow I need to shoe-horn time in to write, to be by myself, and yet to enjoy socialising and being around people too. My room-mate said that at Yoga Plus in Crete (where she has been going for ten years) it’s called “sitting on a rock”, and that here there’s not really anywhere to do it. Apparently the other downside to it is that you’re the weirdo who sits on a rock, but still, I would like to be able to achieve some sort of balance. Mind you from what I hear of Mysore it can be even more difficult there to carve out some time. But I’m not talking about finding time for two hours meditation a day (though my ayurvedic doctor has prescribed me twenty minutes twice a day which I should probably at least start trying to do), I’m talking about managing to squeeze in a bit of sunbathing and maybe to email my mum and dad and let them know how I’m getting on (and to write of course). Talk about first world problems eh?
This pretty much sums it up...
Scheduling moans aside, I feel so grateful to be working with these amazing teachers once again, and to be given the opportunity to help out a little and learn so much more about myself and the practice in the process. Spending three hours in the shala each morning is definitely taking it out of me, my legs are aching and my right bicep is very sore (people really drop their weight into you in UHP don’t they?!) but I also feel strong and calm in my practice. I’m not stressing so much about what’s going on around me as I normally would, and with a few minor exceptions I am able to view my fellow practitioners with compassion and see that each of us have our own struggles, and our own take on the practice but we all can benefit from it to the degree that we offer our dedication and surrender. Now if I could just find the time for some outings for cake and ice-cream to retox, I think this trip would just about count as perfect so far J
p.s. I just sat writing this with my teachers sat beside me at the wifi table...which feels kind of weird ;) 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year ritual

This year at the age of 33, for the first time ever in my life, I spent the evening of 31st December alone and was very very happy to do so. It was enough really just to be home alone, contented and without any need for a big New Year hoop-la (although yes I was playing with my new kindle, and yes it might just possibly be the end of the civilised world as we know it, but also I think I am already in love with it), but then I read this and got a little inspired.

So here is what I am letting go of.

Happy 2012, and may we all let go of those things which do not serve us.