Our flights departed Philadelphia International Airport on the evening of February 26th, 2015. We arrived at our destination, Mysuru, India, approximated 8,400 miles away, almost 2 days later…
Day One in India :: After over 30 hours of travel, including a 45 minute Level 3 Security Screening for me that left me in tears, two 8 1/2 hour plane rides, a 5 hour layover, endless times in lines, and a 3 hour car ride to our hotel, we arrived at a hotel in Mysore at 5am on Saturday. Bleary-eyed and covered in travel-slime, we stayed up just long enough to take in the free breakfast and then all 3 of us crawled into bed and closed the curtains on the arrival portion of our adventure…
First Practice :: John, Raine and I arrived at the Shala during the check in times only to be told to come back in a few hours. Not sure why, but other groups arrived as we walked away and were told the same. We laughed about how this would go over at home — can you imagine if we had listed something on the Dhyana Yoga website and people came thousands of miles at that time and got turned away?!!? Haaaaa! We’d be bombarded with pointy emails! So we go back later, and even though we only have half of our paperwork, we have a 3 year old with us so they mercifully let us through. We get our assigned practice times. John is with Sharat, Mysore practice daily 6am, Led at 4:30am on Saturdays and 5:30am Mondays, off on Sundays. I am with Saraswathi, daily at 8am (so we can trade off watching Raine), Led at 8:15 on Sundays, off on Saturdays. In a twist of fate, I, who wouldn’t mind another day off, will be the first to practice, and John, who is foaming at the mouth to roll his mat out, will have to wait until Monday… the Leela continues!
Sunday morning, I nervously arrive at the Shala almost an hour early. I am not the first one there. A girl smiles at me and I sit next to her and we talk. She is a Vinyasa teacher from Jordan. At some point they usher us into the room. I watch how everyone is setting up and do the same. We wait. 35 minutes later Saraswathi enters the room. I know very little about her, but upon seeing her I remember what my very first Ashtanga teacher, Tim Miller, said about her, that she is “just darling.” We stand and chant the invocation and she begins leading us through Sun Salutations. She messes up the count during the 2nd round of Bs, and she laughs and says, “oh! mistake!”
I didn’t come here expecting anything at all, this is really John’s trip, but at that moment something shifted. I looked at her at the front of the room, sweetly laughing at her little mistake, and I’m all in. She has given us permission to be imperfect. Jai ma!
After practice I was shaking, but a “Love” smoothie at everyone’s favorite local cafe, Depth ‘n’ Green, set me straight. Can’t wait to get back on the mat tomorrow…
Settling In :: On Monday, we could finally move out of the hotel and into the apartment we’ll be staying in for the month. John was detoured on his way to practice, and, again, in full India Leela, he will have to wait another day to roll out his mat. I arrive early again, and go in early, because parents are allowed to go in whenever they want. It’s awesome how family oriented they are at the Shala, but also, in all honesty, it’s a major difficulty factor having a child along. You’re not getting rest, you’re preoccupied with their safety, you’re carrying them and all their stuff…and you’re doing so lovingly, as a conscious parent. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois famously said, “parenting is the 7th series” — the most difficult Yoga.
The guy who has been living in the apartment the past month is not ready to leave when we arrive, but he told us the day before to come whenever we wanted. There are 3 awkward hours where he and his girlfriend wait for his taxi, and our little family hovers near the door with our bags. On first glance, the apartment is sweet, we are psyched! 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a deck, a balcony, sizable kitchen, and washing machine! But I am anxious to clean and set up house…
Finally, we say our goodbyes to our new friends and I begin to work the magic of the Divine Feminine on the space. It has clearly just housed a bachelor, and being a rental, it’s likely people only invest a certain amount of effort in it each month. There is questionable food in the fridge and there are cobwebs throughout. All but 2 light bulbs in the whole place are burnt out. The altar is beautiful but cluttered with random items like sunglasses and single earrings, likely items left behind by previous renters. The first 3 things I did (that you can also do in your space right now to activate it’s energy):
1. Reboot the Altar : Not being ours, I would not add or take away anything (except trash), but you can put anything that inspires you on your altar. I carefully moved the Ganesh murti, the photo of Pattabhi and Sharat, and the images of various deities aside, dusted, shook the altar cloth out, and replaced them thoughtfully. The incense box got cleaned out and I lit a fresh stick of pungent Lakshmi doop (which I also walked through the entire place with for clearing). Finally, offerings of a coconut, bananas, and flowers were sprinkled around. If you don’t have an “altar” like us, maybe your altar is your mantle of family photos, or something you brought home from a favorite vacation.
2. Get rid of clutter : We didn’t bring much, so packing and putting our things away was quick work, but in your place, you may have to do some letting go, or at least invest in some storage bins. Don’t be afraid to throw things out. Nothing is really yours anyway, and if you haven’t used it recently, either use it, or give it to someone who will. This act is all about freeing up flow. I wouldn’t throw things (except old food) away in this rental, but was able to move the little bit of furniture around so all the pathways were clear and we each had somewhere to put our things. After the de-cluttering stage, look around and make aesthetic adjustments — when your eye lands on something, is it pleasing? If it’s crooked, even it out, if things could be grouped, do so! And whether you are male or female, invite in the Divine Feminine by lighting candles or having some flowers around.
3. Make it your own : Even if you’re renting, you are there for a certain period of time, so your space will effect your energy. Do what you’re going to do sooner than later and enjoy it longer! We reorganized the kitchen and made the beds. I put out a candy bowl and John went to the store for fresh food. All the light bulbs were replaced. We talked about a few things we could pick up at some textile shops to brighten up the place, and John cooked… which is a story I’ll get back to later!
Later on, we got in a rickshaw and set off to find the school we are trying to enroll Lorraine in for the month, ABC Montessori, which I’ve been in touch with over email. As we bounce along through the delightfully noisy, dusty streets of Mysore, I keep thinking of a sign I saw posted in a nearby restaurant that says, “Any place is a palace if you see it that way.”
Celebrating :: Even though our taxi driver from the airport said “No, not this month,” when we asked him if there were any festivals about to happen that we should know about, there seem to have been celebrations every day since we arrived in Mysore. There are little celebrations each time we come to our mats, bigger ones as old friends reunite and hug at the Shala, a seemingly continuous rain of chants over a loud speaker we can hear from our apartment at all times of day, and even the actual Springtime holiday, Holi, took up about 3 days last week — and this in a region that is not known for celebrating Holi!
Marking off holidays is one way cultures have used to mark time. We go from one to another, orienting ourselves on our made-up calendars, trying to anchor ourselves in time by season, by year, by month, by day. We try to find a line to walk in non-linear space-time. We look at clocks to figure out when we should be where and get annoyed if everyone else isn’t playing by the “rules.”
As I type this, at 6am, Mrs. Ganapathy (owner of the building we are staying in) is ringing bells and performing her morning ritual. I walked up as she was doing it once and stood back to observe. Eyes closed and lips moving silently, she rang bells over lit oil lamps in front of the doorway to the house. I folded my hands as she held incense and turned 3 times with it, then stuck it in a plant. When she saw me she smiled and I smiled back, our eyes and hearts meeting in the early morning quietude. I felt her welcome me into her celebration of the blessings of this household. We both said Namaste, giggled a little, and then shuffled on with our mornings.
As I understand the Ayurvedic view, it is believed that each breath cycle represents one full day of the universe inside of us. The Inhale is an entire day, the Exhale an entire night. When I honor that cycle of life by paying attention to my breath, it symbolizes the respect for the gift of that breath. It is not guaranteed. My own mother passed away in her sleep when she was just 24 years old, so I grew up understanding that this life is so very fragile that you really might just not open your eyes again one morning, and for no particular reason. It is not guaranteed.
So ring the bells, celebrate! You have morning! You have everything. Breathe.
Take Rest :: Our first Moon Day, or Lunar Cycle, or Tithi, or Holiday from Daily Practice (as you wish) came all too soon for me after our arrival to Mysore, India. I had just started doing (assisted) Drop Backs 2 days prior — something I have not done since, like, the 90s — and was eager to do more of them. But such is the gift of Moon Days. They give you pause so you don’t reach too far too fast, and they bring you back into peaceful awareness of the rhythm of the natural world. AND they stoke a great desire to regain your rightful position at the top of the mat again the following day… at least for me they do!
Being “Bags of Mostly Water” (credit: Startrek, TNG), we are as deeply effected by the pull of the Full and New Moon cycles as are the bodies of water on our planet. No one will dispute tides are higher and lower during these phases. So whatever it is you do with fervor, consider getting a calendar that shows Moon Phases and resting during the Full and New Moons. You may find a day OFF is just what you needed to move ON!
The pull of the waters was strong for John, Raine, and I on our first Moon Day, so off to the much talked about “Silent Shores” pool we went! We swam, rested, ate veggie burgers and drank milkshakes to our hearts content, and everyone slept well after a relaxing day in the sun!
What Tim Said :: As the days of early morning practice, mid morning chanting, getting Raine to and from school, and afternoon Sanskrit classes edge on, we begin to settle into what feels like a very normal life in Mysore. The initial excitement has worn off, and I finally had a morning when I didn’t want to go to practice. My routine (waking, washing face, a quick coffee, brushing teeth, and then changing into the practice clothes I laid out the night before so I don’t have to think too much in the morning) supports me in getting going. Yes, I have a coffee. I also eat 3 almonds I have soaked in water overnight. It’s my jawn. I also carefully lay out Raine’s school outfit for the day, in the order the pieces are to be put on, and make her lunch, leaving John with strict instructions to brush her hair before she goes (which he never does). Finally, I cover up with a long skirt and scarf, grab my mat bag, and flip-flop my way down the road to Saraswathi’s Shala.
As soon as I start, I decide it’s hot enough that I could just do 3 As and 3 Bs and be plenty warmed up. After the 3rd A, I was convinced Saraswathi was counting and freaked out in my head enough to go on and complete all 5 As (I’m talking about the warm ups, Sun Salutations, for any non-yogis here). But I’m still set on just 3 Bs, maybe just 2. Of course by the time I get to the 3rd B, I realize it’s silly not to do the last 2 after coming that far. You just can’t go wrong with 5 and 5.
I’m plenty warm! Sweat actually pours up into my upside down nose in my first forward fold. I don’t remember a lot after that, as practice goes, but I’m left after certain sections feeling like this is a good, solid practice. I’m glad I didn’t give in to the temptation to stay home. “Good for you,” I hear in my head over and over. “No Circus!” and after a particularly nice interface with a certain pose that has been alluding me I also hear, “Some small progress!” It’s Tim Miller’s voice. I hear it all the time.
I have had a lot of good fortune in my life, but practicing at Tim’s old studio in Encinitas, California way, way back in my 20s is something beyond luck. I only went there for 2 reasons, and I have to be totally honest here so feel free to laugh at me! 1. It was close to my apartment, and 2. the surfers went there. Whatever your reason was for starting Yoga, maybe cross-training, maybe because an Ex dragged you there and you kept going after the break up, I get it, it’s all good. God has to get you on the mat somehow. Doesn’t matter how.
Anyway, Tim was the teacher who made me LOVE Yoga. It made my insides hurt (metaphorically) I loved it so much. His place was special and it changed me. But here’s the interesting thing, I don’t remember Tim ever actually paying any attention to me, or giving me an adjustment or anything. There was an assistant in the room who helped me, and I even took a few privates from him, but Tim was helping other people. You have to understand, in the Mysore room, the teacher is helping certain students with some poses that really require a hands on assist, and that they have been working with those students daily for years, maybe decades. Also, I was a terrible student. Much as I loved practice, I was not there every day, I was working at a radio station and doing all the late-night things that come along with that, and you can’t expect a teacher to pay more attention to you than you’re willing to pay to yourself. Still…
I would hear Tim’s voice from across the room. “Why making Circus?” he would laugh. “Good for you,” he would say in a tone that simultaneously felt like ‘congratulations’ and ‘so what.’ And of course, the epic, “Some small progress!”
I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever in a million lifetimes ever be able to thank Tim enough for making me love Yoga. There is nothing I could say or do or give him that would be proper repayment. Anything I have offered to anyone in terms of Yoga or Dhyana Yoga or just talking about Yoga all goes back to him, though. What I can do is practice. Especially on the days I don’t want to go. To sweat up my nose. To finish with pruned fingers and completely disheveled hair. To not force or want or strive for anything, and to do it all AGAIN.