Monday, August 23, 2004

I have a pet theory about ashtanga yoga. I’m not sure if it holds water, but I’ll lay it out anyway: the older the ashtangi and the longer they’ve been practicing, the less dogmatic they tend to be.

People begin the practice, perhaps casually, and then they have an epiphany. They begin to practice in earnest. After a few years they develop relative competency in the first two series. It’s at this point they come to believe that there’s only one way to practice ashtanga, and that way is to be followed faithfully, perhaps unquestioningly. Deviation from the series, and from any of the myriad “rules” and tradition that surround it, is not tolerated or even understood. As you would expect, self-righteousness comes hand-in-hand with this transformation of tradition into dogma.

Perhaps this phase in unavoidable, and even necessary. Perhaps one has to cling to the structure and rules before letting go.

I haven’t done any empirical research on my theory. Maybe it’s more wishful thinking than anything else. But any of the “senior” teachers I’ve met, the people who’ve been practicing upwards of 20 or 25 years, seem to have a light touch and a sense of playfulness when it comes to the practice, as though the practice of ashtanga is the punchline to a profound cosmic joke.

People bring a lot of baggage to Gokulam, not just self-righteousness. Most of it is tucked away in their heads. They have expectations about the practice and about Guruji and Sharath. “Why does Guruji always help me with backbends? Why not Sharath?” Or, “Why has Sharath given pasasana to Frankie Forwardbend and not to me? I’m grabbing my ankles in backbends!” Or, “Why has Sharath left me on shalabasana for two months?”

In the middle of my third month here, on a Sunday morning, something shifted for me. Sharath was counting, the room was crammed, all I was aware of the two guys on either side of me was their ragged, tortured breathing. A simple thought floated up from my subconscious, overwhelming in its simplicity and in the strength of its truth: You show up, you do the practice, and you don’t think about it. Leave the thought-baggage at home.

I agree: it seems so innocuous and incidental when written down. How to describe the visceral sense with which this realization permeated me, from skin to marrow?

This thought was followed by a second, some minutes later. I realized I could now leave Mysore.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Bug Story
The bug was as long and as thick as my thumb. Its hairy black body perched on Deb's throat, just under her right ear, its thin black legs in sharp relief against her pale white skin. The Two Debs and I were on top of Chamundi Hill just after sunset, walking back from the main temple. Canadian Deb was telling a story, gesticulating and waving her arms in her inimitable style. I noticed Deb's insect passenger and snatched at her neck. The bug, her throat: It was more of a muscle spasm than a conscious gesture. The bug had surprising density and heft, my stomach flip-flopped, a shudder passed through me.

"What was that?" Deb asked. "A bug?"

"Yeah, it was nothing."

She looked at my face. "Was it big?"

"No, just a mosquito," I lied.

Who knew the bastards could move so quickly? A 3:30 AM duel in the shower starts the day properly.

Yoga Crush
One-hundred-plus people and counting in the shala. Assembly-line yoga? Two other people and I finished in the entrance hall the other day.

Your teacher monitors your progress and gives you asanas based on several criteria. At the very least, this requires a relationship between teacher and student. Is such a relationship still possible with Guruji and Sharath at the main shala?

Jain Temple, Part I
At Sravanabelagola last weekend we climbed 604 stairs carved into a stone hill. An 18-meter-high statue of Jain saint Gomatshevara awaited us at the top; it had been built in the tenth century. The view from the temple of the surrounding countryside was absolutely devastating.

Jain Temple, Part II
I huddled in front of the main temple, munching biscuits. The woman's four-year-old son had to pee. She shouted at him and gestured. He walked to the edge of the entranceway, pulled down his red shorts, and pissed onto the temple ground.

Culture Shock
The ubiquitous and unending staring. The question "Where from?" The disregard for life on the roadways.

Vladimir Nabokov versus Tom Clancy
One a palate cleanser for the other.

Day One: drink 50 millileters of ghee. Day Two: drink 75 millileters of ghee. Day Three: drink 100 millileters of ghee. Two questions: One, detoxification or religious zealotry? Two, when the process is finished, do you feel better because you're detoxified or because the ghee is no longer making you sick?

Homeward Bound
Straight to San Francisco on September 8.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Tripping the Guru

Guruji is a strong, barrel-chested man. When you lean into him you feel a tremendous core of strength. For all that, though, he's 89 years old. And he's not exactly spritely on his feet. This morning, as he padded about the room, he stumbled over my outstretched leg. I imagined the worst-case scenario: Guruji goes down, and I'm the guy who broke the guru's hip. He recoverd nicely, and then had his revenge during backbends . He hovered over me and shouted at me the whole time, as I stood up and dropped back. And despite the shouting, I was quite flattered at the attention.

Monday, August 2, 2004

Yesterday: more rib pain.

Today: no rib pain.

Sharath says my chest and back are opening. I don't know if that's true, but it's a comforting thought. I'm waiting to see if the pain returns.

The other day there were a few monkeys lounging on our roof. I fed them dates to try lure one in close enough to pet. They're very skittish, and at first the monkeys scampered at the slightest sound or gesture, so I lobbed the dates onto the ground.

Word spread on the monkey grapevine that there were dates to be had, and soon there were 15 or 20 monkeys ringing our rooftop. I had a few of them taking the dates from my hand.

As with everything in India, where there's beauty there's horror. When the monkeys get close, you can see that many of them are mutilated, malnourished, and sick. In the horde on our roof, many had burned or disfigured faces, were missing eyes, had giant, swollen neck goiters, and were missing hands---people chop off their arms to make good luck talismans.

I abandoned my quaint notion of petting a monkey.

They began fighting each other for the food, and I had a half-second vision of my flatmates and I getting swarmed. Rabies shots for days! Before anything got out of hand, my landlord came up on the roof and started swinging a stick. Thankfully he wasn't beating any of the little buggers, only making noise to scare them off. Doubtless he was thinking, "Idiot Westerners! Feeding the monkeys!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

More Random Mysore Nonsense

Some recollection from Sunday's conference. Take as gospel at your own risk.

Jalandhara bandha is only to be engaged during pranayama, not during asana practice.

Savasana is one of the most advanced postures from sixth series; it is not the pose we take at the end of practice. That is called sukhasana. Savasana involves engaging and stiffening every muscle in the body, so that one could be lifted from the floor as stiff as a board. Guruji does not, and has never had, a student who has advanced to this posture.

Someone asked Guruji if he has, or has ever had, a student who practices this posture. We all looked expectantly at Sharath. Guruji and Sharath both laughed and shook their heads no.

In addition to not practicing during the menstrual cycle, female teachers should refrain from teaching during their cycle.

"Ahimsa" means non-violence (technically, non-wounding) in thoughts, words, and deeds.

Someone asked what is meant by dharma. You'll have to look this one up one your own.

As an aside, I do love how people will ask questions about asanas during conference---for example, someone asked Guruji, "How should I approach ardha-sirsasana? I don't have the strength yet to stay up. Should I come down half-way and hold as long as possible, even if it's only a few seconds, or should I not come down as far?"

Guruji talked about reversing the flow of amrita, and elaborated on the correct movement of heat generated during the pose. I think he ignores, misunderstands, or intentionally misunderstands these questions. But after 60 years, how often can you tell someone, "Practice, practice, practice"? Because that's where every physical-related question ends up: practice, practice, practice. If you do something every day, you'll get better at it.

On reflection, I realize that Guruji still manages to say, "Practice, practice, practice" at least four to five times during every conference.  

Sharath Sories:

Sharath is a very funny guy, and these little anecdotes probably don't do him justice. He has this dry and lively sense of humor that betrays his perceptivity and intelligence. He'll punctuate his comments and asides with his little staccato laugh, "huh huh huh!" and a smile that reaches into his eyes.

---Guruji was travelling to his village to perform puja for his late wife, so there was to be a single led class at 5 AM on Sunday. "Class begins at 5, or at 5:30?" a guy in the front row asked. "Five," said Sharath.

The same guy asked, "Should we be here at 4:30?"

"Yes, 4:30."

"So we should be in class at 4:30? The class begins at 5?"

"Yes, yes." Sharath said to him. "But you come Saturday night."

---I was practicing next to a friend who had just been given all of primary series, and who had just begun practicing backbends---and he was struggling. On the mat next to us, Sharath was adjusting someone in kapotasana, an intense and advanced backbend. He was pulling the girl's hands onto her ankles. She was leaking sweat, her breathing was ragged, and she was grunting with exertion.

My friend was staring wide-eyed at the spectacle. Sharath noticed him, and nodded down to the girl he was helping. "Tomorrow, you do."

---I'm not particularly gifted with spinal flexibility. Today I thanked Sharath for helping me with backbends. He made a hammer-and-chisel gesture. "Tomorrow, you bring your own hammer!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I slid into my twenty-ninth birthday two weeks ago, the event made more significant because it took place in Mysore. There were festivities: We collected a posse and saddled up in a rented mini-van. First stop: the bar at the Lalith Majal, a posh palace/hotel throwback to the era of the Raj. A Swedish friend described the interior as looking like "the inside of a huge wedding cake," and perhaps 10 or 15 of the staff crowded around the door to the bar to peer in at the kooky Westerners.

After cocktails, we headed to the foothills of Chamundi Hill to the Olive Garden for dinner. No, not the American restaurant chain world-famous for its simulacrum of Italian food; the US Olive Garden serves "virtual" Italian food.

We ate decent food, and the mosquitoes ate us. The piped-in music alternated between US hip-hop hits and Christmas carols, and a family of swans walked by the table. It was very strange and very grand. Who goes for the food, anyway? It's the company that counts.

So I turned 29. On Monday my body splurged and get me a special gift. When was the last time I'd torn/injured/strained an intercostal muscle? it asked me. It had been a while. So during Monday practice my left rib exploded in fierce agony. I took the following day off, then persisted for the rest of the week. I'll tell you, backbending was an experience.

My rib was sore but better by Friday, which is when Guruji fires us through first series at a festive rate---from first sun salutation to shoulderstand was exactly 60 minutes. The saving grace was that there were only three backbends, and all from the floor. My whimpering was reduced.

Fridays at the shala are a damned interesting time, as all the students arrive to practice at 5 AM. Normally the 60-plus students are dispersed between 5 and 6 AM start times. Not on Fridays, though. This makes for close quarters and frayed nerves. While walking to class that morning, my flatmates and I had fallen in with a New Zealander. I was worried I might have to practice out in the hall. "Why," he said, "haven't you pissed on your share of the carpet by now?" 

Actually, I have pissed on my mat-space, but it's true: we come all this way for what can be a profound spiritual practice, and there's a lot of talk about non-attachment, but students still get short, snippy and downright ugly with each other when it comes to unfurling their mat in the same location every morning. "Sorry! Excuse me! But that's my spot you're in, can you move? I'm so sorry!" Heaven forbid you slide someone's mat over to make room for someone else---"Who moved me? This isn't my spot!" Yip yip yip.

On Fridays, everyone packs the main room, and it becomes a real petri dish of human interaction---it's 5 AM, it's the end of a long week, and the shala is filled with strong, determined---some might even say obsessive---personalities. Sparks can and do sometimes fly.
By Sharath's class on Sunday, the rib thing had faded from a sharp lung-piercing to a dull ache ,  aided and abetted by over-the-counter muscle relaxers, or what's called better yoga through chemistry.

But hold on, my body wasn't finished delivering gifts. On Monday, somewhere in my first sun salutation, my low back went out. "Went out" is a euphemism for "skull-cracking tendrils of pain," "explosive glass shards of agony," or "doused in napalm and set ablaze."

I've never had back problems in my life. Ever. So it was quite a new sensation. I made it to seated postures and couldn't even reach my toes, so I went to the finishing room and took rest. It was at this point that I realized my Mysore Meltdown would not be from beggars, rickshaw drivers, greedy landlords, or even from the veiled mat-space infighting. No, injuries would be the cause of my Meltdown.

As a fiercely macho American male, I'm not sure my waterworks even function---tear duct, what's that? I sat in the finishing room and realized that another injury, in a month filled with sickness and injuries, could call forth big lusty man-tears. It wouldn't be crying in the traditional sense. It'll be weeping in fine high-drama tradition, whereby gallons of water stream forth from my eyes and down my upturned face, and I peer into the heavens, demanding of God, "Why? Why?" 

Yesterday I went to practice and everything was normal. In fact, I had a fantastic practice, with no hint of searing back pain. At this point, all I can say is: "What the fuck?"

I like to believe the pain corresponded to an "opening," because my backbending the last two days has been incredible. I'm a newly-minted 29, and the best gift of all has been the realization that maybe my spine isn't as calcified as I've believed. In fact, it's yet more proof---of which I've had a lot---that maybe this ashtanga thing actually works.  


Monday, July 12, 2004

It would not be wrong to say that I am incredibly happy here.

Two months into my journey and I've settled into a dream-like routine that, in all honesty, involves not doing too much, a fact that still conflicts with my ingrained capitalist values---Good Lord, I should be at a job! Working! Working hard!

I get up at 3:30, which is ridiculously early, at least by the standards of my non-yogic peers. I do pranayama, then I sit in baddha konasana. (Ah, asana talk! It's been absent from here for too long.)

My two flat-mates get up around 4, leave for the shala at 4:45, and finish the practice by 7 AM. Usually there is some congregating in front of the shala as everyone sucks down a coconut or three.

(I personally do not either like or dislike drinking coconuts---I can take 'em or leave 'em. Usually I leave 'em.)

I get home, potter about, then head to one of three breakfast spots: Tina's, Holly's and Tony's, or my living room. A leisurely breakfast follows. Afternoon plans are often formulated over fresh fruit bowls at Tina's or the omelettes at Holly's and Tony's.

Thus far, I've tried to shy away from shopping. I try to make sure I'm not out spending money (i.e., shopping) as an end unto itself. I'd rather it were a utilitarian function. Not that I'm averse to shopping---I've been known to freak a bookstore for hours---it's just that while I'm in India, the money is essentially following a one-way path: out. There's nothing coming in. So every penny I save could mean another month at the main shala.

Today a group of us gathered at Gita's house for a brilliant lunch. Gita lives up the street from the main shala, and rents out two rooms to yoga students. She also makes incredible lunches. Afterwards, we scooter-rallied over to Lakshmipuram to the Three Sisters for the best lassis in Mysore.

(Don't sit on the bed-rolls. There are bed-bugs and/or fleas.)

Now I'm at iWay, the Internet cafe of choice. Quite a few people have laptops, so for tonight there are tentative plans to watch a movie at a friend's house. Tonight's bill might be Kill Bill 2 or Fahrenheit 9/11, depending on the concensus.

Yesterday after practice we had a double feature: the pre-conference movie was The Terminal (Shockingly bad. And that ending!), the post-conference movie was Spiderman 2 (A shockingly bad bootleg, with a quarter of the screen cropped).

"Where does the time go!" is a common refrain here, because as I mentioned, time just drifts. I've not been very inspired to take many of the classes that other yoga students use to fill their days. It seems like many people arrive in Mysore, relax for a week, and then recreate many of the same frenzied, hectic aspects of the lives they've left behind.

(This doesn't hold true for everyone, though---there are many full-time travellers/yogis/expats, who have decelerated off the "fast lane.")

So I've been whiling away the time by devouring books, and by napping, and by rediscovering a social life, one that revolves around yoga. And the time has truly whiled away---this Wednesday marks my official two-month mark!

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Pattabhi Jois was born on July 16, in either 1915 or 1916; I can't remember which. According to the Indian custom, however, he celebrates his birthday on the first full moon in July, whatever day that may fall; this year it was Friday, July 2.

I've never been to an Indian birthday party before, let alone one for a Brahmin vidvan and internationally renowned yoga teacher. The party was held in the main shala, and the birthday boy was positioned on his customary chair/throne, which sits on the foot-high stage at the front of the room. Shala doors opened at 11 AM. Students trickled inside in groups of twos and threes.

Many of the ladies went all-out for the festivities, and arrived resplendant in saris. Many had to seek the help of landlords and neighbors for instruction on how to put their saris on, a long, involved wrapping process.

Everyone sat down and faced Guruji as though he was going to produce rabbits from his lungi. A group of musicians performed, stage-right; otherwise, the room buzzed with the muted sound of conversation.

At one point, another much older and much thinner Brahmin was led into the room to join a third aged Brahmin. I found out later the older men were Guruji's younger and older brothers; they'd made the trip from the family village especially for the occasion. The Jois family must be made of hardy stock, because how often do you hear of an 89-year-old man having both a younger and older brother?

The extended Jois family and the various people who orbit the shala were also on-hand for the festivities. We all watched Guruji for perhaps an hour-and-a-half. He watched us from his vantage point on the stage, smiling and nodding.

The students from chant class had been working on a chant to the guru, and they recited it. A cake was brought in, and Sharath helped his grandfather cut the first piece. The spectacle broke up and the darshan/photo-op line formed.

Everyone had lunch in the parking garage downstairs. All the partygoers filtered in and wedged themselves behind long, thin tables, which were topped by banana leaves. The food was catered by a Brahmin catering company, so the servers wore only lungis and their threads.

The food was South Indian thali. It was brought out course-by-course in large steel pails, with the portions troweled on the banana leaves and eaten by hand.

It was the first time in seven days that I had eaten anything besides toast or curd---but that's another story. As I'm also a giant wussy, I found the food ridiculously spicy. My face reddened, tears squirted from my eyes, and I started hiccuping immediately.

I wished Guruji a happy birthday. Sharath pulled Sherrie and I aside to say that Tim had called earlier to wish his guru a happy birthday. He'd also told Sharath to say hello to us. It was a heart-string moment.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

I was going to remark that it's easy to fall behind here, but then I thought, "'Fall behind' what?" It's not like any yoga student in Mysore has a schedule or time constraints.

Two Thoughts From the Train Ride to Bangalore:
---The Indian-style toilets on the train are essentially a stainless steel hole in the car floor. You can actually look through the hole while you're peeing and see the ground speeding past! It was one of the greatest guilty pleasures I have known.

---Dogs are onto something: it's a hypnotic and appealing danger to hang out of the open doors between cars, the wind blasting your face and verdant green countryside shuttling past.

More Random Yoga
I may have already posted this: About practicing yoga in Mysore, a Chilean woman remarked: "Guruji says, 'First month---tired. Second month---pain. Third month---flying!'"

Friday morning class headcount: 51.

In the end of May, when I first arrived, a student would finish backbending and leave the main room for one of two smaller "finishing" rooms. Guruji would shout "One more!" to indicate to the students waiting in the hall that they could enter and begin their practice. Only there weren't any students waiting. We're almost at that point again.

This morning, I looked at the guy a few spaces over from me and noticed two huge, red mosquito bites on his back. Itching the fresh ones I'd picked up over the night, I thought, "We're exhausted, dirty, some of us are wan and sickly, and all of us are covered in all manner of bites---mosquito, spider, ant, fly, and more. We must look a sorry sight!"

Sharath is Guruji's grandson, and is carrying on the heritage of his grandfather's teachings. He leads Sunday morning class while Guruji sits on his chair and watches and/or naps. The final pose before "taking rest" is uth pluthi, wherein you fold your legs in lotus and push yourself---including your butt---off the floor. You thereby hang suspended in the air.

It is at this point that Sharath's even, measured counting takes on the unbearable precision of the metronome as arms quake and butts hit the floor all over the room. "Up! Up! Pick it up!" Sharath will command. Fatigued students will struggle to obey.

My advice to those coming to Mysore: spend more time in uth pluthi. My trick for maintaining: I pick a number and start counting backward, timing my breath to my own count. If you start listening to Sharath's count---and anticipating it---you're lost.

As a footnote, today I got to hear Sharath say, "Hm! Big man, no strength!" to someone behind me.

Last week in conference, a slight modification of the usual formula: "Ninety-nine-and-a-half percent practice, half-percent theory!" says Guruji. There was much laughter.

Every conference I've attended thus far has included the following phrase from Guruji, often repeated many times during his talks: "Practice, practice, practice. One year, two year, three year? No. Five year, ten year? No. Lifetime! Practice, practice, practice."

Yet another reiteration of why I think this particular system is so effective: it's all about doing. Not speaking, thinking, philosophizing, or theorizing---although there is all that, too. But at the heart of ashtanga vinyasa lies practice itself.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The beggars will be the cause of my Mysore meltdown. For my friend Sherrie, it'll be the rickshaw drivers. For another girl, it'll be the 10-millionth Indian in a day who will ask "What is your name and where are you from?" at precisely the wrong moment.

The "Mysore meltdown" can be one of several things: a temper tantrum, an anxiety attack, a slow descent into depression; or all three, at the same time.

The end result of the meltdown is the overwelming feeling that it's time to get out of India. As sequestered in Gokulam as yoga students are, it's still India, and everything here conspires to push you to your edge.

I've not had the meltdown---yet---but on certain days when nothing goes right, I can see where it comes from. And after a month here, I can see people who are more susceptible to it than others.

If you come here, you will get bit by mosquitos. You will get sick. You will get diarrhea. You will get ripped off. You will get lost. You will get stared at. Any one of these things will happen, or all of them. Unfortunately, the more you try to control things, the more you're destined to fail. You can't make Mysore like Milwaukee. You'll only break yourself into pieces in the attempt.

The long-timers, the ones who have made Mysore their home, seem to have a few common traits. They have significant others here with them. They create a hermetic environment for themselves, and then retreat into that space, emerging to deal with India only on their own terms. And they all seem to be well aware of their limits---they know when to leave in order to recharge and return.

The few times I've spotted hints of my meltdown have been when dealing with beggars. A generic example: It's hot, it's dirty, I'm exhausted from negotiating with a rickshaw driver, and our group is still lost somewhere in the warren of Lakshmipuram. We settle on a likely direction and set off.

It's at this point a dirty 7-year-old detachs herself from a nearby wall, baby in arms, and suctions herself onto me with an unexpected physicality.

It's unnerving, not least because she won't hesitate to wrap her hands around my arm or leg. She'll motion with closed fingers to mouth in the universal gesture for hunger.

I'll say "No!" in a firm voice. But she doesn't leave, and continues to follow our group.

Unsettling fact number one: we'll continue to talk over her head---literally---as though she wasn't there, as though she's ceased to register as a human being on our radar screens.

Unsettling fact number two: Last week I got angry at one of them---angry at this little beggar child for begging, for daring to starve, for shoving her poverty into my consciousness and forcing me to deal with it.

The beggars and the questions they raise are too big for me, too big for my intellectual and emotional depth. It's easier to shut it out, say no, and refuse to see them as people. As always, though, the hard shell will crack. I'm working so that it's not anger that emerges.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The typical Indian house is made of concrete, and the electrical wiring seems to be based on mid-century schematics. As a result, the only sockets are located high up on the wall, near the ceiling lights. This means it is very difficult to plug in reading lamps. So people read by candlelight? Do they only read during the day?

There are cows, pigs, dogs, horses, and occasionally monkeys running everywhere. But where are the cats? I've only seen one.

The other day, someone was saying, "I was in a scooter accident, then I came down with a fever, then I was hospitalized for a stomach infection, and now I have a cyst growing on my face. As soon as one thing gets better, something else happens. I've gotten over the idea that I'll ever be 100-percent."

A common Mysore yoga belief: deep backbends cause fevers. I've never heard of anything like this happening to yoga students in the States, at least where I practice---too many of us go to work afterwards; who can get sick?---so I'm wondering if the statement shouldn't be amended to read "the Indian environment causes fevers." Because my god, living here is war on your immune system.

I'm going to put myself out on a limb here and say that I don't particularly care for thali meals. But I do love idli.

You Will Never See This in the US
From a sign on a shop near the shala: "100% More Butterfat! The Milk With The Most Fat!"

The above sign has become a landmark: "I live around the corner from 100% More Butterfat," or "You know 100% More Butterfat? Go down that street and make a left ... "

Gas is phenomenally expensive here, even by Western standards. Yesterday I paid around $6 US to fill up a scooter tank, which is only six liters. As a result, there is strange silence at all intersections, as people shut off their engines to conserve fuel while they wait for the light to change. You will see people run and jump on their scooters and motorcycles and then start them as they roll away. It's to spare the fuel needed to take the engine from a standstill. Sometimes, as you go downhill, a scooter will appear from nowhere and coast by, the driver having shut off his engine.

It is startling when beggars grab and latch onto your arm. A ragged child, holding her equally ragged two-year-old sister in her arms, will interrupt a conversation to ask for money. You tell them no, and they do not leave---the girl stands there at your elbow, making the universal gesture for hunger. You continue your conversation over her. She hovers, a ghost in the corner of your vision. What will it mean when I no longer notice her?

The average age seems to be late 20s/early 30s; I expected much younger people. After all, who else has the luxury of time? Instead, the people here tend to be either in transitional stages of life---after school, between jobs---or have constructed lives where they can make three-month pilgrimages to Mysore.

I drank half a screwdriver at dinner last night, but had to back off part way through the meal because I was getting smashed---I stood up to use the restroom and swayed like a drunken comic-strip cliche. Half a screwdriver?

On Friday morning, everyone practices first series, and Guruji leads the class. Prior to class, Sharath played Indian music over the loudspeakers, forcing conversation volume up a few notches. Sharath's voice came over the loudspeaker: "Please maintain silence!" We all looked back to the office to see him laughing. In many ways he has the lightness of a child.

Today's agenda is to go the movies to see a dreadful American blockbuster. It occurs to me I haven't seen TV in a month! Yet I still live. How can this be?

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

There's a lot of body-work floating around Mysore---chiropractic work and massage of all types. That's part of the reason I ended up buck-naked and face-down on a vinyl mat in a spare room at the Three Sisters.

Harini, one of the Three Sisters, provides Ayurvedic massage, for "women only," as the Three Sisters' card says. Her guru, Vijay, is in town, however, and they're both tag-teaming yoga students, male and female.

I'd heard rave reviews about Vijay and his foot from another long-time ashtangi, so I had to check it out, if only for the novelty. It's a whole-body massage administered with the foot, and I was told that Vijay's is incredibly dextrous, and can even put yoga students into lotus.

When I showed up at the Three Sisters' house, Vijay handed me a length of string and a cheese-cloth napkin. "Yogi clothes!" he joked. Vijay is always joking. The string goes around the waist, the cheese-cloth is tucked into the front, encapsulates the fundamentals, flosses the ischial tuberosities, and is tucked in the back.

Vijay and Harini poured oil onto my body and then got to work. A rope stretched across the ceiling, and both used it for balance as their feet kneaded my back.

It was more than a massage, however. It had to be among the most profound bodywork I've ever had---part massage, part chiropractic adjustment, part physical therapy.

They worked my back, my sides, and my front; my legs, my arms, my torso, my neck, my feet, my hands. There was movement and adjustment. My spine popped, and I swear those gifts from an office job, the almond-sized lumps behind my shoulder blades, dissipitated with a crunching noise.

The whole thing lasted an hour-and-a-half. Vijay sang slokas, made jokes, and harassed Harini. The two went back and forth like an old married couple.

The "India moment"? Moments before Vijay and Harini got to business, I was alone in the room. My head was cocked to the side, and I stared at the wall. It was dirty. The floor was dirty. I was covered in oil and spread-eagled, bait and tackle folded in the barest of materials. All of the above---the dirt, the oil, my nudity, and the fact that India is an overwelming assault on the senses---flashed throuh my mind. What in the hell was I doing?

Those are the "India moments." It's when you ask yourself, "What in the hell am I doing here?" And it happens quite a bit.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The pulp version goes like this: Monday morning, moments before walking out the door to practice, the stomach bug ripped through my intestines with the velocity of a .45 slug.

I gutted out practice---literally---and returned home to convalesce in bed. No diarrhea, no vomit, just one very upset stomach and lots of burping.

Horror of horrors, I took Tuesday off. I hadn't eaten a thing all day on Monday, and awoke that morning achey and weak.

I climbed back on the horse on Wednesday, however, and seemed to be back at 100-percent.

My low back has been sore for the past two days. It's not a "wrong" pain, but is instead the soreness of muscle development. Since I've arrived in India, I've spent most of my time sitting cross-legged on the floor, which has forced my low back and abdominal muscles to support the weight of my spine. Hopefully the muscles will strengthen, and the pain will subside in a few days or weeks.

The yoga routine here is as follows: you practice six days a week, taking Saturday as your day of rest.

(Although Guruji's grandson Sharath runs his own school out of a red brick house, a few blocks from the main school. His students practice on Saturday and take Sunday as their day of rest.)

When you arrive, you must register to practice. You may register during office hours, held Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 5:30. Generally, Guruji is sitting in the small office located off the main practice room.

When you register, they give you a time slot for practice. This time slot depends on how many people are practicing; the more people, the later your time. When I arrived, I started immediately at the earliest time slot, 5 AM.

Guruji holds "conference" on Sunday afternoons at 4:30. The main practice room, a large hall that can accommodate maybe 50 yoga students, has a low stage. Guruji will sit on a chair on the stage, and Sharath will sit at his right hand.

The last few conferences I've been to, either someone sparked his lecture by asking a question ("Guruji, I have great faith in the practice. But when will the pain stop?"), or else Guruji just began speaking.

Last Sunday's conference was a real struggle to understand. Guruji has a minimal grasp of English, and on that day had to compete against Sharath's two-year-old daughter, who was busy with a noisy performance of her own.

Afterwards a few of us spoke with Sharath. I find him to be one of the most unprepossessing people I've ever met. Someone said they find no ego in Sharath, and I must say I agree. He's very lighthearted.

As everyone's starting at 5 AM, Sharath begins his own practice at 2:30, and if Guruji is awake, he'll assist. When he said this last bit, Sharath made a quick, pushing motion, and laughed---not even Guruji's own grandson is spared.

The wide variety of practice levels at the shala is staggering, too. There are many beginners. There are many people working through intermediate. And there even several people working beyond those. I'd be hard pressed to locate where the center of the Bell curve would fall, though.

I pity and envy the beginners. I pity them, because they've traveled such a long way to get the harshest of crash courses in yoga.

Verbal instruction is minimal, and often shouted across the room. I can imagine how it would feel to have them shout instructions at you, and you have no idea what they're saying. It's very bewildering.

The shouting is one thing; it must be quite another ego check to actually be stopped at a pose, too.

Sharath will gauge a person's practice, lead them to a pose where they're having phsyical difficulty, and then tell them to "Take shoulderstand." He'll effectively tell them they're finished.

These people have come all this way, and paid a tremendous sum of money, only to be told they can't complete an entire series! While people right next to them are zipping along!

I envy them, though. They're getting the whole program, piece by piece, straight from the source. What better way to learn something than direct from one of the pioneers?

Friday, May 28, 2004

I've passed my one-week anniversary in Mysore mark.

The monsoon is here and in full swing. Last night we were treated to a spectacular lightning storm that was a prelude to a massive, sheeting downpour.

I've been settling some outstanding sleep debts, too: today and yesterday I took long and savage naps immediately after practice.

I've been crashing out at 8 or 9 PM and rising at 3:45 for 5 AM practice.

My body casually informed me it was time to catch up on the sleep I needed. It did this by shutting down in some rather inopportune moments, such as at the breakfast table or in a rickshaw.

As it's Friday, this morning's practice was led first series. I was tired, which seemed to be a common condition, as there was a lot of yawning before practice, and many people looked tired around the eyes.

I don't know whether it was because it was the end of the week, or because of the recent deluge, or what. It would have been a good pre-practice coffee day.

The practice itself was fiery, though. When a practice is good, I don't seem to remember it. Such was the case this morning.

A light moment: Guruji sneezing with the same commanding presence and volume as he led the class. There was much tittering.

Shala note: I counted exactly 45 people in class this morning. Those numbers are expected to increase next week, however.

Yesterday, Sharath told my friend Sherrie, "On Monday, you take pasasana." Exactly one month to the day she's been practicing here! Pretty cool stuff.

I'm such an ashtanga convert, but that's because it seems simple to me. And it seems simple because it's worked for me.

You show up every day and you practice the series in the order it's presented. As a result, both the physical and subtle changes take place.

Monday, May 24, 2004

I've actually been writing on a daily basis, but have utterly lagged on entering any of it on-line.

At any rate ...

I made it to Mysore. My friends Sherrie and Tina met me at the Bangalore airport. I'd hired a car for the drive (Seagull Travel, 1,350 Rs); the ride took about three hours.

It was a great way to get to Mysore. There was almost no traffic on the road. Indian roads and driving styles---in disrepair and chaotic, respsectively---were offset by the fact traffic only moved at 30mph.

To pass a lorrie, our driver would beep his horn a few times to warn the driver, jump into oncoming traffic and beep as he passed, and then swerve back onto the left side of the road. He'd beep to say thanks. It was a sketchy maneuver the first few times he did it, but then it became routine.

Just like that, I was in India.

I crash-landed at my friend Tina's flat, a cozy two-bedroom in North Gokulam, about a five-minute scooter ride from the main shala.

My first day, I hooked up with Shiva, an Indian renunciate with a cell phone earbud peeking out of his orange robes.

Shiva is a "fixer," and can get anything a yoga student might need, from an apartment to kerosene. He's very friendly and tack-sharp, and I suspect he's very wealthy.

I rented a scooter from him for roughly $30 a month, and have been buzzing around Mysore. The city and surroundings are a feast of colors, sounds, and smells. Almost a week here and I still can't soak enough of it in.

I arrived on a moon day, traditionally a day of rest, but Tina took me to the shala to check it out anyway. The watchman was kind enough to let us in.

("You come to train? You train here?" he kept asking.

I guess it's "training," of a sort. Soul training?)

The studio takes up an entire floor of a palatial five- or six-story house, and smells not unpleasantly of sweat, the air inside thick with energy. You could almost swirl it around with your hand, like San Francisco fog.

Guruji and company were in Bangalore for the day, so I was unable to register.

The next morning, I showed up for practice at 5 AM and waited quietly with the handful of assembled students. No one spoke much; it was still dark.

My first ashtanga teacher, Dominic, walked up. I took evening classes from him for almost a year-and-a-half. This was a few years ago, and we don't have a personal relationship or anything.

When he saw me, though, he broke out into laughter and gave me a short hug.

I hope it was a rewarding moment for him, as he's the one who helped put me on this path.

The roar of Olaf's two-stroke dirtbike sounded from blocks away, and I think signaled them to open the gates, because they did just that as he pulled up.

Sharath was alone in the office. It was no problem for me to register, pay, and then practice that day. I filled out the double-sided registration form and handed over my passport-sized photo. Sharath glued the photo to my form, and then counted my money.

The transaction was complete.

From all I've gathered, there's a relative lull at the studio. There are maybe 40 students total. When I went out to unroll my mat, there were plenty of floor spaces open.

Everyone began practicing at about 5 or so. At 5:30, Guruji entered with Sharath following. Sharath called everyone to attention and Guruji led the traditional ashtanga opening chant.

The first "om" that rippled through the room was thick, deep and very moving. The hairs on my neck and arms stood up.

The practice was the practice. My body was open, a result of zero sleep, little food and pure excitement.

Guruji shouted at me a few times, which was a singular experience. He shouts at you, and you try to understand what he's saying. "'Toes land?' What did he just say?"

He continues shouting as you decipher his words. "He's saying 'close hand'!"

He's still shouting as you put his commands into action. So basically when he shouted at me, he shouted at me a bunch.

When it was time for backbends, though, I realized I had accidentally come into possession of someone else's spine. A thief had taken my back. The one he left in its place refused to bend!

Guruji backbended me. After the drop-backs, (and after more shouting: "Heels down, heels down!"), he asked, "What you name?"


"Where you from?"

"Encinitas, Guruji,"

"Oh! Tim Miller? You friend of Tim Miller?" he asked. His eyes lit up and he laughed. I laughed, too. Friend?

My first practice was last Thursday; Friday and Sunday were led classes, both days were first series. On Sunday, they split the students into two groups, one for first series and one for second or intermediate series.

On Sunday, the first series class started at 5. It began with 20 or 25 people and ended with 12 or 15. When I popped up for headstand, there were three people left in the rows behind me!

Guruji led the Friday class, while Sharath adjusted and told people when to take rest.

On Sunday, Guruji observed in his chair while Sharath led the class and sent people to take rest.

I guess there were only 15 people total in the second series class.

I've heard they're expecting another surge in students in mid-June as people begin arriving for Guruji's birthday.

I'm going to enjoy it while I can. Sharath has given me a very light, exploratory adjustment in baddha konasana, and is otherwise watching. He watches everyone like a hawk, and has really come into his own as the driving force in the studio.

(Sharath's first adjustment in baddha konasana has me thinking, "Oh Christ, when will he drop the hammer?")

I think Tim would be glad to know that, for me, practicing at Guruji's is the same as practicing at his studio.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I knew this would happen.

I'm writing this in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, at a Samsung Internet "cafe"/stylized trade-show booth. In the center of the terminal a giant chunk of man-made rain forest is hemmed in by plexi-glass boarders. It's the view behind my monitor.

I logged into my Hotmail account, but couldn't read or send any mail, so this is the only way to commumicate for now.

I postponed my original trip to Mysore, pending some great events at work. Well, they happened. Once everything became official, my trip gained a fierce momentum, picking up velocity as the new departure day got closer and closer.

I quit my job, finished out two weeks, and stowed all and sundry personal belongings.

Of note: the goodbyes and work were more touching than anything I could have imagined.

My second, revised depart date arrived a lot faster than my original date. As my depart date drew near, the sensation of increasing speed only grew stronger. The final weekend I was due to leave, time melted away in front of my eyes.

At this point in my journey, I'm on the tail end of a 10-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. I've lived the previous day (two? three?) in a metal tube, at best drifting in and out of sleep.

The first leg of the flight---from LA to Taipei---was the longest, 14 or 15 hours. I managed to swallow the time, though. You go inside and make the minutes pass all by themselves. I briefly de-planed as they refueled, and then we flew on to Malaysia.

This second leg, only four hours or so, was much tougher. I had a middle aisle seat, and was bracketed by businessmen. As the flight progressed, claustrophobia stretched the time like taffy. When we landed, I was vibrating with anticipation of getting off that plane.

The flight landed at noon, and my connecting flight to Bangalore departs at 10:30, so I rented a hotel room at the airport. $35 for six hours. Turns out, however, there's no spa, sauna or "business center" at the Transit Hotel in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Regardless, the hot shower and nap that I took was worth five times the room's cost.

I watched a little TV in the room. I turned it on to the booming sound of American voices and American TV! It was a disjointed moment, because I might as well have been in a Motel 6 in Cleveland, with Cinemax on the TV and a sterile view of airport tarmac out the window.

I haven't quite figured out how I'm reacting to the time changes yet. I think it's 5 AM on my body clock, but everything still has the copy-of-a-copy feel to it. I also feel like I need to drink a gallon of water. It's strange how difficult it is to get a full glass of water on a plane. The stewardess kept making comments when I would refuse coffee and ask for water.

Many women here are wearing Muslim headwraps. There are also Muslim prayer rooms throughout the airport's terminals.

During the interminable and Kafka-esque check-in period at LAX, I struck up a conversation with a Taiwanese girl. She was returning from a two-week vacation in Solana Beach, of all places.

After we had been talking for a while, she said, "You are not like other Americans!"
"What do you mean?" I said.
"You're so skinny!" she answered. "All you other Americans are so fat!"

Evidence that news stories about our "obesity epidemic" are doing their work around the globe.

I'm off to my gate. Ideally, there'll be a car waiting for me in Bangalore. It will take me to Mysore. Ideally.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Mundane Observations

I miss the post-Easter Hershey’s kisses that were on the table by the door.

The thermostat in the studio clicked off this morning, signaling that the desired level of heat had been achieved. It was set for 92 degrees. The room was full today, three rows of maybe 10 people per row. The result: much heat.

How I can tell if it’s warm enough in the studio: sweat rolls down my back and my eyebrows fail in one of their chief functions, which is to prevent sweat from pouring over my brow and into my eyes.

Part One: Remember when doing a forward bend was the most physically uncomfortable thing in the universe?

Part Two: Remember getting sore the day after a yoga class? Remember Epsom salt baths and Tiger Balm?

Why does that one guy smell bad every day? Doesn’t he know he smells bad? Can’t he change something in his diet or personal sanitary habits? It’s not the fact that he smells bad that gets me—we all flush things out—it’s the overall consistency. He’s like the US Mail—he smells bad rain or shine, through hail, sleet and snow.

A Lesson in How to Sack Up: There is a gaggle of ladies visiting from Montana. Apparently they rented a camping space down the road and are camping out for the entire month, all to practice with Tim. That’s hardcore.

Several of the above-mentioned visitors are very cute.

I admire that one girl’s devotion—she’s at practice every morning, and judging by her overall flexibility (or lack thereof), she just dove in headfirst to Mysore-style ashtanga with no prior yoga experience. And she’s been coming back for months and months! It’s so lovely.

Often mid-way through practice I experience full-on food fantasies, visualizing the post-practice banana I’m going to eat, or the tall, cool glass of water I’m going to drink.

In my first-ever yoga class, we were in savasana and the two teachers read aloud several graphic excerpts on animal mutilation from John Robbins’ Diet for a New America. What the fuck?

I’m too anxious to say anything about my Mysore plans for fear of gooching them. But everything is coming together in a very frightening way. More later.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

On good days, the universe’s subtle heartbeat is audible. My practice synchs up with it like a needle dropped on a record groove. Yesterday was a good day.

Bad days are like swimming through molasses. This morning I thought to myself, “There’s a point to why I practice. What was it again?”

Good days, bad days. Easy days and hard days, focused days and scattershot days, days of lightness and days of density: Through it all, “Abhyasa vairagyabhyum tan nirodha.” Steady, dispassionate practice, without attachment to the outcome.

Some days that line is so obvious. Some days that line is all that saves me.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Here’s a grumpy yoga observation for you: If you don’t practice next to the heater, and then one day practice next to a guy next to the heater, please don’t complain that it’s too hot, and then ask for the heater to be turned off. Just move your mat.

If you can’t stand the heat, etc.

Stood up from my backbends today. Not as gracefully as Tuesday, but anything’s better than Sunday’s and Wednesday’s performances. I was honestly worried that I’d lost it.

And finally, to cap off today’s entry: According to Cosmodemonic Shoe’s General Counsel, there is a greater than 95-percent chance the sale of the company will close May 1.

I’m already pricing tickets to India.

My Mysore trip looks like it’s really going to happen, although I refuse to get excited until I’m boarding the goddamn plane.

Okay, I lied. I am getting a little excited, although I’m doing my best to fight it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I’ve been standing up from backbends every day for the last two weeks. Prior to that, I’d been rocking back and forth for the few weeks, but nothing had come of it.

Then suddenly, on a Friday, I widened my feet a little (to the edges of the mat) and simply stood up. Just like that. I was so surprised I sat back down and did it again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. A true watershed moment.

It’s worked every day since, although the grace and ease has varied wildly. Most notably: Sunday was difficult, yesterday was graceful and fluid, and this morning it took a ton of tries to make it upright. I even “slammed” once. What gives?

After practice, rather than dart to work with sweat drying, I headed home and showered. Now I’m at work, and I feel like taking the most savage of naps. All that backbending totally blew me out.

The process will only get better over time. Meanwhile, keep practicing.

Monday, April 5, 2004

I ventured out on the proverbial town on Saturday night, to see a shitty punk-rock band at a neighborhood bar, no less. Strange behavior, not least because I dislike both punk-rock bands and neighborhood bars. I got home at about 3:30—with the end of daylight savings time, it became 4:30.

Getting up at 8 for yoga wasn’t fun, but I couldn’t sleep any later if I tried. I made one concession to the previous night’s late hour, and that was to down a cup of coffee. It was only unleaded, with a few squirts of diesel thrown in to administer a jangly nervous-system jolt.

I was a wrung sponge during practice, water squirting forth from every pore. When everything works, it feels less like you’re performing a sequence of stretches. As Tim said after class, “It’s like the practice is doing you.”

It’s an un-spooling process, where these poses are pulled forth from within like thread unwinding, seemingly of its own accord. All you do is get out of the way.

I had post-practice smoothies with a few fellow students. It was Anne’s first time at the studio; she had practiced yoga before but didn’t have a regular practice.

“How did you like it?” I asked.

“It was ashtanga,” she shrugged. “I thought Tim Miller was arrogant, though. And he was so mean!”

My eyebrow lurched upwards in surprise. I’m surrounded by Tim’s longtime dedicated students, all of whom respect and revere him. Hell, I reckon I’m one of Tim’s dedicated students now. So I hadn’t encountered a reaction like that in a long time.

I see one thing from Tim, Anne sees another. Each of our views is colored by our perceptions, desires, wants, needs, personalities. She sees arrogance where I see playfulness; she sees Tim as mean, I see Tim as compassionate.

When I began to practice, I experienced frustration, pleasure, confusion, anger, joy, wellbeing, and more. It was a full range of emotions. In one fell swoop I’d faced all my physical strengths and weaknesses. My emotional and intellectual limitations became apparent in my reactions to my physical state.

Your teacher facilitates the experience—guiding you in and out of poses, adjusting you as needed, and if you’re lucky, tracking your progress. It’s entirely natural to ascribe the feelings that arise to your particular teacher, seeing them as responsible for the various mental, physical and emotional states achieved in a focused ashtanga practice.

So I think Anne had a difficult, frustrating practice, and projected it onto Tim.

Her needle swung to one end of the gauge. I’m cautious to not let my needle swing to the other end. I don’t want to deify Tim, and over-ascribe reactions and emotional and spiritual states to him. He's a man, albeit one who’s dedicated more than 25 years to ashtanga.

A yoga teacher acquaintance of mine once described himself as a mechanic. He’s there to make sure the engine, or body, runs properly. That’s it.

The spark-plug is inserted here, twisted like so, and connected to a specific wire. Therefore the engine runs. The foot is placed here, the eyes gaze at that point, and the hip opens like so. Therefore the practice is completed.

Tim exercises an assiduous, disciplined avoidance of any role greater than that of a mechanic. He refuses any hint or trapping of guru-dom.

Any sense of spirituality, connected-ness, or greater meaning is derived by you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Eskimo apparently have more than 18 words for snow. I wonder if there’s a culture somewhere on the planet that has more than 18 words for sweat? It really got cooking in the shala this morning. My sweat was swampy, febrile. It felt so slimy that I fought the urge to recoil every time I reached across to wrap or bind my hands.

My hands would slide across a slick patch of skin—on my shins, on my triceps—and I'd think, "Who's leg is this? Who's arm is this?"

Tim’s back tomorrow from a two-week vacation-workshop. I wager he’ll forego the usual full pranayama session for kirtan. But that’s just a hunch.

I’ve modified my practice a bit in anticipation of traveling to India—baddha konasana A, B, C, and increased breaths in uth pluthi.

I’ve evened out a bit now that I’m in Mysore limbo. With no departure date more concrete than “a few weeks from now,” all I could do was put my head down and sink back into the work and practice routine.

The trip has once again become an abstraction, a nebulous, far-off event that feels like it’ll never happen. Which is, believe it or not, for the better. It makes the remaining time much more manageable. Because I know the trip is going to sneak up on me faster than I can imagine.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Well, well, well. What is life without some drastic changes?

I’ve pushed my Mysore trip back.

Oh, it’s still inevitable. Only now the dates are very much in question.

I could leave as soon as the end of April. Or I may be leaving middle of May. Or later.

My travel agent has confirmed there’s only a $250 change fee, which is a relief, because I was worried I’d lose the whole ticket if I couldn’t depart on the original day.

What sparked the change?

The company that employs me was recently purchased by another, much larger company.

Some years ago, my company had set up an employee trust whereby 10 percent of the shares in the company were reserved for employees.

One of the key events that would trigger a payout: the sale of the company.

Our company sold for $80 million up front, and $80 million to be paid out over the next four years.

All employees who’ve been with the company for more than a year will get paid, the amount depending on length of employment and current job standing.

And get this: after that first payment (which ought to be a whopper, even for a cog such as myself), all those employees will receive a check once a year for the next four years, as that second $80 million is paid out.

Regardless of whether they’re still with the company or not.

Can you believe that?

The only catch for me to get that initial check: I have to be an employee from the date the deal closes, which the upper crust is anticipating to be sometime mid-April.

I decided I’d be a fool to stick to my original plan.

All I have to do is stick out April, and perhaps a few weeks into May. At that point, I’ll be able to pay off my debts and then travel to Mysore.

Only I’ll have the financial wherewithal to stay for a lot longer, if I choose. A lot longer.

Plus I stand to get a check every year until 2007! I have no idea for how much, but it might just be enough to cover return airfare to Mysore.

After writing all of this out, it seems too good to be true, like winning the lottery.

It’s frustrating because I’ve become quite a clockwatcher. It’s absolutely killed me that I have my plane ticket, visa, and yoga money in hand right now, and I won’t be leaving.

Well, time passes. It’s the oldest, sneakiest trick in the book.

Now for the Encinitas weather report: the humidity has blown through the roof, and the temp has climbed a bit, so that morning practices are now comfortable. It’s somewhere around the mid-50s at around 6 or 7 a.m.

I gauge a day’s heat by garba pindasana: If I don’t have sweat on my legs and arms, I’m not quite warm enough.

Also, on the Bad Man report, I slept in this morning. I went out and saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night and returned late. Tim’s in Maui all week, too, so I woke up this morning at the usual time (4:30) and thought, “Fuck it, I’m going back to sleep.”

It’s been incredibly difficult to maintain a semblance of my former social life—which I’d mostly jettisoned anyway—and build a life around my yoga practice. I’m feeling a need to strike a balance between the two, somehow, or else I think I’ll go crazy. Extremes—in either direction—can’t be good, because in my experience the pendulum just swings back the other way.

There’re a million examples, starting with any and all of my friends who were straight-edge when younger. Almost all of them fell off the wagon. Hard.

The physical practice itself has been lovely with the increased heat. I’ve taken to sitting up for supta kurmasana, rather than crossing my legs behind my head from kurmasana. This way I can really work into my left hip.

I sit in eka pada sirsasana for a breath or two, fold the right leg up and back, and then sit in dwi pada sirsana for a breath or two. Finally, I pick myself up off the ground and lay myself flat on the ground, elongating my torso as much as possible for the five breaths of supta kurmasana.

It’s a more involved process, but seems to be working where I need it. The other way I used to enter supta kurmasana—grasp wrists, work left leg behind head, then lift and work right leg behind head—wasn’t getting deep enough.

I sort of had an epiphany about the pose while practicing in LA a few weeks ago. Noah picked up my feet in supta kurmasana, grabbed an ankle in each hand, and pulled my legs apart like he was tying a knot. It was the firmest adjustment in the pose I’ve had in years, and really moved me to where I think the pose should be working. Since then I’ve been trying to approximate that sensation.

Backbends continue to feel better and better, too. Bekasana is feeling great. My left heel is beginning to graze the floor. My right heel—that's another story. There’s a knot in my outer right hip—it resembles a tiny lump—that’s slowly working itself out, and really distorts my alignment in a multitude of poses, from samasthi and utthita parsvokanasana to purvotanasana and tiraing mukha eka pada paschimattanasana.

I think I put it there through a combination of activities—flipping over the handlebars of an ATV when I was a kid and slamming on it repeatedly over the years while skateboarding chief among them. Hip slams are so common they’re referred to as “hippers,” and I’ve taken my share of the bastards, the last several years ago on some shiny black marble ledges in San Francisco.

The knot seems to be working itself out, though (Miracle of miracles!), and the most noticeable result is in backbends, which are getting correspondingly more and more comfortable.

And perhaps I’ll save another post for baddha konasana. Let’s just say I was very relieved to read an interview with David Swenson in which he mentioned baddha konasana as a pose that gave him a lot of trouble when he was starting.

I wonder how much of this will change when I’m not chained to a desk? Give my hips, back and shoulders a month in Mysore, in the jungle heat and away from eight hours a day of sitting in front of a computer …

Soon enough.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Thus far, my plan has proven so crazy that it seems to be working.

You may recall that on March 1, I implemented Operation: Mysore, whereby I moved out of my room and onto the couch in my apartment. My friend Casey took over my old room. I paid a substantially reduced portion of rent and deposited the remainder into my Mysore fund.

One would think I would by now be a broken man, with a sore back, numerous bed sores, and a bitter disposition at the displacement caused by living in a living room.

Well, one would have thought wrong. Fate's unseen hand conspired to deepen my original roommate's relationship with his girlfriend, and as a result he's been at her house every single night for the last month straight.

This means I've declared eminent domain on his bed, and have accordingly seized it for myself.

And I should add it's quite a bit more comfortable than my original mattress, which now languishes next to my apartment's dumpster, a forlorn and empty king-sized taco shell.

As for practice, well ...

I was skating in the office yesterday because someone had a board. Naturally, I fell on my ass in the hallway and jacked up my wrist. Quitting your job? Leaving for Mysore? Why not hurt yourself?

Practice was a bit tender this morning, but I don't think I've done anything serious to it; tomorrow I'll rest, and it should be fine by Sunday.

It was a wake-up call. That wake up call is this: Do not fuck around.

Pattabhi Jois' last trip to Encinitas was in 2002. A week prior to his visit, I went skating with some friends and sprained holy hell out of my ankle.

As I lay on the ground in agony, I do believe several tears squirted out of my eyes and slid down my face.

Over the last 15 years or so, the only times I can ever remember tears on my face were the last few times I've sprained my ankles. Not because of the pain, but because I've sprained my ankles enough to know when it's serious.

No, the few tears come because I know the weeks and months of misery that are ahead: horrible sleep, no skateboarding, no yoga, no driving, no running, no walking, crutch blisters on the arms, and excruciating pain every time you touch, bump, or breathe on the ankle. It makes working a job a lot of fun, too.

The result of the sprain in 2002: Crutches for two weeks, no yoga for four.

It's safe to say I'm going to avoid a repeat of that incident before I board a plane for India.

Two paychecks left to collect until then.

Friday, March 5, 2004

Full steam ahead. Spring kicked through the frost and burst onto Encinitas today. At least, it felt that way this morning. The Oldsmobile’s on-dash computer claimed it was 59 degrees!

Of course, it is a 1990 Olds. It probably has an analog computer, if such a thing is possible.

Does this surge of heat signal the onset of spring? One would hope.

I died by inches at work this week. Stuff to do, but I don’t want to do any of it. After all, on Tuesday my plane ticket arrived in the mail. It’s strange to hold months of hoarding, penny-pinching, budgeting and planning in the palm of your hand.

The strange and wonderful road my life has taken has been distilled into four thick, heavy rectangles of paper. At least airlines print tickets on a cardboard-type stock, which gives this particular ticket the physical gravitas to equal its psychic and emotional weight.

I sent my “letter of intent” to the shala yesterday. I hope it gets to Mysore in the next five weeks, because it needs to get there before I do. I wonder if getting there before your letter is like showing up with the proverbial egg on your face? Or beef, in the case of a strict Brahmin household.

So I should hope five weeks is enough for a letter to make it through the international mails. I would prefer to send it with someone traveling to Mysore to hand-deliver, but everyone from Encinitas (and even my acquaintances in LA) have already departed.

I also enclosed my $60 cashier’s check to the Indian consul in San Francisco for my visa, which should be here in two weeks.

God. Plane tickets, money for yoga, visa, letter of intent. I need to save for rent, food and spending money (you know, the non-essentials), but otherwise it’s all coming together. What remains? Car storage and cell phone. What am I going to do with my car and my phone? I could always drive my car off Moonlight Beach cliff and into the Pacific, and sail the phone after it. Tempting, I know, but there’s got to be a better way.

Tomorrow I’ll practice, creep to work, then sneak out early to assist in Anne’s Mysore class down in San Diego.

She has a nice space—it’s large, well lit, and gets some semblance of heat going. She has a regular bunch of devoted students, as well, who have great practices. I thoroughly enjoy the experience. It’s an instance when I have absolutely no notice of the passage of time. I look up at the clock and two hours have gone by. Pretty neat.

Monday, March 1, 2004

The contrast between asana practice on Sunday and Monday mornings is an eye-opener. Sundays, I practice at 10 a.m., Mondays I practice at 7. On Sunday, the room is crowded and hot. People get so hot that their sweat steams and vaporizes. It’s an uncanny sensation to look back and see a fine mist rising off bodies. The first time I saw it, I thought something was wrong with my eyes.

Mondays are another story, and besides the early-morning cold, the worst part is having Sunday’s muscle-memory of an open body, warm room, and later start time. Monday practice can be a bit of a struggle. It sure helps me never take anything for granted.

Pranayama practice is getting better, and I’ve really come to look forward to certain parts. The emptiness of the exhale-retentions, with bandhas engaged, is a very peaceful place—when it’s not a place of the utmost anxiety and tension. Take something you’re very, very attached too—like breathing, for example—and stop doing it. Some very interesting feelings and sensations arise.

Asanas progress. Janu sirsasana C on the left side has suddenly started happening, where before it was difficult to rotate the hip and bring the left knee to the floor. I’m still getting squashed in baddha konasana (my nemesis!). As per Tim’s led classes of late, I’ve started doing baddha konasana B and C in preparation for my “Mysore initiation,” i.e. Guruji and company flattening me in the pose.

And backbends? Well, they’re still backbends. I’ve not stood up yet, but the day is fast approaching. Tim’s given me several poses into second series that are really helping me open the necessary complementary body parts. As a result, I’ve cut down my backbends to only six a day, plus dropbacks. I’ve found with the new poses, which go up to bekasana, I simply don’t need to do 12 or 9 backbends. Perhaps I’ll stand up on my own before leaving for India?

The other day, a friend and I were talking about practicing in Mysore. I was a little apprehensive about being stopped somewhere in the series; in India, Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath will watch you practice for a few days and determine where you most need help. During the led class, they’ll stop you and direct you to take finishing poses when you hit a pose you shouldn’t be doing.

I don’t mind being stopped so much, mostly because I’ve come to appreciate the transformative effect of the practice. I’ve seen the changes in my own body, so I know that if I get stopped somewhere, it won’t be for long. My fear comes from a familiar place, though: the fear of looking like an idiot in a room full of people.

I’ve realized, though, that in that situation you’ll only like an idiot once, which is the amount of time it takes to figure out what the hell is going on.

Mysore Update
I tore February off my calendar sheet today. It was a grand feeling. The simple fact that it’s now March makes the trip seem that much more real.

Perhaps one day I’ll be rich enough that I can buy a ticket to India right before I want to travel, rather than wait an unbearable two months. March is going to fly by, though, not least because I have a ton of things to take care of to make sure this trip happens: sell stuff on eBay, secure a visa, send my letter to the studio, find a place to put my car, deal with my cell phone, etc, etc.

And oh yeah, show up for work, act interested, and summon enough drive to do my job so I don’t get fired before I’m ready to leave. Obviously I’m blowing that last bit, as I’m writing this Monday afternoon at work.

Strangely enough, I’m not really worried about my return, although I should be. I think the trip is close enough that my excitement is overtaking my trepidation.

Friday, February 27, 2004

God, for some reason it’s been a long, brutal week.

The yoga has been phenomenal (or better), mostly because I’ve ditched the caffeine. It’s warmed up here, too, and been more humid—we’ve had more rain in the last week than in the last year, although it’s a particular kind of Southern California rain. It will rain for two hours or so, but all with a brilliant blue sky just over the next hill. So you know the rain is only a temporary spectacle. It’s not actually weather.

It makes me wonder how I’ll appreciate India, especially as I’m going in the hot season, followed by monsoon. I’ve read temperatures vary from 85 to 105 degrees. Plus it’s tropical humidity, too. Ye gods. Well, I thrive on scorching temperatures, so hopefully I won’t be totally blown out.

I’m roughly five weeks out from departure, give or take a few days. To appreciate the full magnitude, some might say insanity, of my situation, let me provide a few details.

Fact number one: In three weeks, I’m putting in notice at work. I’d love to take a leave of absence and return to a paying job, but I don’t think the powers-that-be will go for it. So boom, just like that, I’m quitting my job.

Fact number two: I’ve sold a ton of old clothes, donated a ton of old clothes and books, and sold or donated all my furniture except for my mattress. Not that I had much, mind you. I’ve sort of become a minimalist, and most of my worldly possessions consisted of a bookshelf, bed and nightstand. That was it.

On March 1, a friend is moving into our apartment and taking over my room. I’m moving onto the couch to become a houseguest in my own apartment for the remainder of my time in the U.S.

I’ll come back low on funds, with no job and no permanent place to live.

In light of all this, India is icing on the cake.

Until Christmas, I had these anxiety-filled moments where I’d seize up, overwhelmed at the thought of all that was coming in 2004.

For some reason, something changed during the holidays and the sense of the inevitability and right-ness of my actions has only grown stronger. I think in part because it’s becoming more and more obvious that I’m doing what I love to do.

As I’ve mentioned before, the difficulty has now become biding my time until D-day. It’ll get here too soon, but not soon enough. I’ve taken to marking days off a calendar. It’s not much, but it helps.

Monday, February 23, 2004

More fire for practice today. I’ve decided that Mondays are going to be a fiery practice, because over the last few months I’ve noticed that for me, they tend to be the absolute opposite.

Maybe it's the come-down from a heated, vigorous Sunday practice. Maybe it's because it's the start of the week. Maybe it's knowing I've a full week of work and practice ahead of me. But on Mondays I’ve been pretty sluggish.

Also of importance this week: I’ve been off the coffee for a total of five days now. I wanted to see if I could have an energetic practice without the aid of caffeine, because since November I’ve been drinking a lot of espresso.

I'm glad to report the drive is still there—that I worried that the juice for my practice would be gone without caffeine says something about my relationship.

Caffeine Withdrawal Journal
Thursday, Day 1: Sluggish, tired. Head stuffed full of cotton. No headache to report. (I was rather sick, though, which precipitated my decision to go cold turkey. Sickness was the perfect springboard for dealing with withdrawal.

Friday, Day 2: I’m still sick, so I call in to work. I’m drinking loads of water. Minimal headache, but it’s lurking. Later that afternoon, I go to the gym and sit in the steam room, chugging bottled water. That afternoon, I go to practice before assisting in a Mysore-style class. I can barely do forward bends, as the blood rush hurts too much. I cut practice short—opening sequence right into closing sequence.

Saturday, Day 3: Headache has receded to the periphery. It still lies in wait, but has greatly diminished.

Sunday, Day 4: No withdrawal symptoms to report. Practice Sunday morning is heat-filled, fast, intense.

Monday, Day 5: Today. I took some aspirin just in case, but I seem to be fine. Is this it? Seems like it.

Mysore Update:
Tickets bought. Next step: visa.

Also, I’m trying to save for the yoga. Three-month total: $1,250. That's more than the plane ticket!

My biggest concern of late is that I won’t have enough money for rent, food and spending money once I’m there. I worry that I’ll get there and be budgeted too thinly to be flexible—what happens if it takes me a week to find a place to live? I don’t want to be stuck in a hotel for an entire week. I have to budget for train ride from Bangalore, hotel room for a week, etc, etc.

But I’ve been reassured that I should just relax—once I’m in Mysore, and can pay for the yoga, everything else will sort itself out. I’ll find an inexpensive room in which to live. Friends who have been to Mysore for years tell me it’s generally no problem to find a place to stay for under $5 a night, rooms in houses are always opening up, and in the worst case, Saraswati knows loads of Indian families who are willing to take in Westerners for money.

The other difficulty has now become doing the time at work to make it to April. I’m so excited I’m beside myself, and I want to jettison this job (with its great pay) as soon as possible.

As of Monday: seven weeks and two days. And counting.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Last few days have been fiery practices. It's warmed up in the mornings to a balmy 49 or 50 degrees, and there are more people filling the shala. This means more heat, which is good. There's nothing worse practicing for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, and realizing your fingertips and toes are still stiff and frozen.

I cranked through practice on Monday in an attempt to keep a steady, moving clip. When I hit backbends, I had enough juice, and was feeling open enough, to try to come to standing. It almost worked, too---I felt the motion shift from back and shoulders into legs.

Unfortunately, while I was curling upward, I tried to look up, which is a no-no, and fell back onto my mat. I figured I might have to slam a few times to figure out what not to do, so thank god it didn't hurt. Made for some pretty dramatic thumps in the shala, though.

I reckon it's coming, and soon, probably before India.

I went to a going-away dinner last night for Max, a guy from our studio. He's moving to Boulder, Colorado tomorrow. I felt gross at dinner, and when I hit my bed at 10:00 or so, the gross feeling had escalated into full-blown sickness. As I write this early Thursday morning, I feel like utter shite.

Thankfully, I feel bad enough to know that I am not going to practice. Any less sick-feeling, and I might have tried to push. Which would be stupid.

I'm still going to pranayama, though. Tim's in Mexico for a few days, so Sequioa will be leading today, and as it's Thursday, that means pranayama-lite, as Tim calls it, which means the first few sequences of pranayama will be followed by kirtan singing.

Sequoia can actually sing, too, as I've mentioned before, and she plays the harmonium. Mark brings his tabla, and it actually gets pretty fun.

Surprisingly, Tim showed up yesterday at the studio. "I thought you were gone?" I said. "I am gone---after pranayama," he said.

Of course, I knew what that meant---we sat down, and Tim said, "We're switching up the schedule---today, pranayama-lite followed by singing. If you don't like it, tough. It's my way or the high-way." The last said with a smile, of course.

After a morning of pranayama, kirtan, and asana, you really feel like you get the whole ball of wax for a yoga practice.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I swore it would never happen, but my blog has languished, a result of the combination of too much writing, too often, and increasing demands at work. The word-count demand at my job at Cosmodemonic Shoes has undergone a steep upward spiral.

I’ll end this post early, then, with a large dose of fantastic news, a light at the end of the tunnel that’s only growing brighter. Namely---

I paid for my ticket to India on Friday. The trip is official. Depart LAX April 14, 1:50 a.m. on Singapore Air. The ticket lists a return to LAX on July 26, but we’ll see how that works out.

Hanging up with the travel agent, I was flushed with a sense of lightness and well-being. I had anticipated this feeling, but still---the trip has now moved from an abstraction to reality, and in the process has reframed my whole perspective towards work.

I’ve been perishing by inches over the last few weeks, even months---once I had decided I was going to tender my resignation, my ambition at work withered on the vine.

With no ticket, my trip remained stuck in half-world between dream and reality. And I was stuck in the purgatory of a desk job, staring out my window into the clinical orderliness of an office park. At least I have a window, I would think.

That all changed on Friday.

Now the effort becomes saving enough money to pay for the yoga.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The temp has warmed up to a balmy 55 degrees or so—it’s 10 degrees or more warmer than last week—which means the heat in the shala has spiked upward.

A noticeable result of this increased heat: I’m fairly blown out after practice. My drive and determination to go to work has been almost negligible. My get-up-and-go does just that—gets up and goes.

My practices are still strong, light, and good, so much so that I feel I could go for another hour. Lately, I hit the end of practice and think, “This is it?” The series are sequenced in such a way that they hit peaks and valleys, with demanding sets of postures followed by less demanding, restorative postures.

The transition from first to second is the same. The last several postures in first series are mostly reclining postures, and several are linked by chakrasanas rather than jump-backs. The first several postures of second series—pasasana, krouncasana, etc—start slowly, build to a pitch with kapotasana, and begin easing off again.

My personal practice ends a few poses into second, so I build this momentum, and then have to curtail it for backbends. They end up requiring a lot of energy, anyway, so it balances out.

The poses in second I’ve been practicing have made a remarkable impact on my backbends, which is why I assume Tim has given them to me. Well, that, and sheer backbend volume has done much to increase my opening and comfort.

Generally, I hate to reduce the body to purely mechanistic terms, but I approached backbends like a math equation. E (for effort) multiplied by x (number of backbends) equals y (comfort, ease, energy in posture).

Three backbends are okay—the first two can be rough, the third is better. Nine backbends is comfortable, open, optimal. Twelve to 15 backbends is overkill—my legs jelly out and I get too fatigued. Plus it takes too long.

I know generally Guruji only teaches three backbends. I compromised with my diversion from tradition by reckoning that when Tim practices first series on Tuesdays, he generally does 15(!). I think he does that many because his back is fairly tight. Well, that, and because he’s incredibly strong and has the stamina to reach 15 with relative ease (on most days).

Standing up has proved elusive, but I’m on the cusp of internalizing the required actions. It’s almost there, like a word on the tip of your tongue. When you can’t think of a word or name, it’s best to relax and think of different things—the word or name will float out of your subconscious sooner or later. It’s the same with standing up from backbends—If I relax and just do the practice, it will happen.

Tim has been regularly palming my chest to bring me to standing, a rather unnerving (at first) technique where he reaches over you in urdhva dhanurasana and places his hand square on your chest. He then pulls you horizontally. It forces you to transition your weight to your feet and curl upward to standing.

Practicing heaps of backbends every day for months and years—just the sheer length of time it’s taken to get this comfortable, which is still not total or complete—has slowly forced a new thinking on me: show up, do the poses. My expectations for “getting” a pose are slowly peeling away, and it’s easier to recognize anticipation and expectation and just let it go.

What really happens when you “get” a pose? Odds are, you get the next one, which is harder. You’ll practice that one every day for years until you get it. Then you get the next one, which is harder. There's always a harder pose in a more difficult series. Repeat the process, until you begin losing poses.

I like to think of the six series as a cliff on the beach that breaks all waves. Everyone has high-water marks and low-water marks, accomplishments and a sense of mastery, wedded to frustration, struggling and difficulty. But what’s important is showing up every day to wash yourself against that cliff.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

When I was 19, I put all of my belongings in the back of a 1980 Civic and caravanned to California. “All of my belongings” mostly consisted of two crates full of books and a TV that took up the whole backseat. I had purchased a gigantic albatross of a TV using grant money for college.

I followed my friend Tom’s maroon 1988 Ford Escort all the way from Wisconsin to Encinitas. It was a marathon two-and-a-half day drive aided and abetted by No-Doz, Mountain Dew, and, for a brief period through Utah, hallucinations of the most frightening and realistic variety.

Towards the end of the trip, I remember eating No-Doz every few minutes like M&Ms and trying to pee in empty Mountain Dew two-liters. Trying and failing. The No-Doz was no longer working, and all I was left with were strange, uncomfortable itches and pee on the front of my pants.

Tom had gone to high school with a kid named Marc who had moved to Encinitas some years before, so that’s where we were headed.

All three of us rented an apartment a few minutes drive down the coast from Encinitas in Cardiff, or, as the postcards say, “Cardiff-by-the-Sea.”

After two years in a synthetic apartment complex, we decided to relocate to new digs, and we were served with an eviction notice. We settled back in Encinitas proper. The house was on the corner of Third and A Streets.

I would eventually go on to move three blocks down, to the corner of Fourth and D Streets. (This is after a few short-term hiccups that led me to a few different zip codes, among them Hollywood.)

From Encinitas, I relocated to downtown San Diego, to a rent-controlled loft, which I recall as perhaps the cleanest, most modern, and downright coolest place I’ve ever lived. Or probably ever will live in, at the rate I’m headed.

I relocated from San Diego to San Francisco (again, with a few housing hiccups along the way, one of which involved living in a partially furnished garage in Ocean Beach, across the alley from Eek-a-Mouse, a certifiably insane, crystal meth-addicted B-grade reggae star who pimped out his haggard “girlfriend” in an abandoned storefront-slash-“studio.” Nights were punctuated by blood-curdling screaming, yelling, and shouts of “Bumbaclot!”).

Roughly two years ago, I moved from San Francisco and landed in Encinitas again … on Fourth and D Street, in the exact same apartment in which I had lived years before.

(I remember the date: October 5, 2001, because it was the first monthly check I wrote to Tim’s studio.)

Talk about full circle. I eventually moved directly across the street from my old apartment.

Through all this, unseen hands have conspired to have me practice ashtanga yoga.

For at least seven or eight years, I’ve lived within five blocks of Tim Miller’s studio. When I lived in downtown SD, I lived a few blocks from Anne’s studio. When I lived in SF, I lived three blocks from Alice’s studio in the Mission.

If you pay attention to the most resonant chords within, the ones that truly vibrate, and you relax to the universe, it will open up and support you. I’ve really come to believe that. Ashtanga has really helped organize my perception. It’s realigned more than my body. It’s realigned my past, giving it a sense of graceful inevitability that has led me to this very day. It's something that will lead me into the future.

More on asana practice later.

Friday, January 9, 2004

I figured I’d post twice this week. Miracle of miracles!

I’ve embarked on an absolutely insane yoga schedule for the last two weeks or so. But it’s working out pretty well – meaning I have a lot of energy, practice has been great, and work and social life have yet to suffer. Well, work/social life isn’t suffering any more than it has been.

(Perhaps “suffering” isn’t the greatest word. Let’s amend it to “transforming.”)

The new routine: alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. I have two alarms rigged up, my cell phone and an alarm clock. The cell phone is on the table by my bed, and it goes off first. I turn it off. A few minutes later, my alarm clock goes off. It’s positioned across the room on my bookshelf.

When I lived in SF, I practiced at Ahimsa Yoga, a studio run by a former student of Tim’s named Alice. After a few months of three-to-four-times-a-week led classes, I felt that there was something more to this yoga thing, something I could feel but wasn’t picking up on.

I asked Alice about it. I wanted to know what the next level was. She informed me that, traditionally, ashtangis practice in Mysore-style, or self-paced classes, six days a week, at 6 or 7 in the morning.

I was floored, I remember. “SIX days a week? At 6 in the morning? Are you out of your mind? There’s no way I could get out bed that early!”

Alice told me that initially she was the same way, until someone gave her these tips on getting up early. It proved to be some of the wisest advice I’ve ever received: Drink lots of water before you go to sleep. And put your alarm clock on the far side of the room so you have to get up to shut it off.

And both tips work. So the alarm fires at 4:30; generally I smash the snooze bar and drift for another 10 minutes. I’ve also set my clock to a country-western station, which pulls me out of bed right quick, too.

I shower, more to rinse off the sleep than get clean, because I will shortly be leaking sweat anyway. I turn on the computer and fire up the brand-new espresso machine I bought at Target ($30!).

From 5 to about 6 I answer and send e-mails for work, and/or read. Latest morning material: Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Such a yoga nerd.

I leave for the studio at about five to 6. It’s literally two blocks; I drive because I have to leave for work immediately after practice. The last few days, it’s still been night when I’ve left the house, and the weather has been brick. That is to say, cold as hell.

The extra two hours before asana really give my body a chance to wake up. The hour of pranayama really fires up both the bandhas and my hips, because it’s essentially sitting in lotus/cross-legged posture for 45 minutes.

I’ve also been practicing nauli kriya between surya namaskar A and B, to both increase internal heat and really activate the bandhas. It’s strange, because one day I went from 5 As and 5 Bs to 3 each. I don’t remember how or why. It just happened, and for right now, that’s all my body needs to warm up.

The nauli really activates the core muscles. Sweat beads my brow almost immediately. Nauli has greatly improved over time, too. I used to have to shift my hips back and forth, whereas now I can get the abs to roll back and forth with no hip movement.

It’s uncanny to look down and see it happening. Certain muscles, tendons, and organs don’t flatten, so you can see their distinct outline as the stomach rolls over them. The right side is harder to flatten and control, too, I suspect because there’s a major body part there. The top of the stomach? Liver? A kidney? My anatomical ignorance stands revealed.

During one of Tim’s “dreaded” Thursday classes, he mentioned they used to practice nauli between A and B “in the olden days.” I asked him if he practices it now. “Every day,” he said.

Anyway, we’ll see if the new schedule works out, or proves too impractical in the real world. These 9 a.m. bedtimes have murdered my old social life, and one might imagine (correctly) that I’m not sharing my bed, because who in his or her right mind would sleep with someone who gets up at 4:30 in the morning? For yoga, nonetheless?

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Moon day today – no practice. I have friends who practice on moon days, but generally I opt to take the proscribed rest, partly because I believe the body reacts differently during the waxing and waning of the moon. I’ve certainly noticed my energy level tends to spike during full moons — the highs and lows are particularly acute.

But mostly I take rest because, for god’s sake, ashtanga is pretty f**king hard. Two days off a month is a welcome respite.

I read an interview with Richard Freeman a few weeks back in which he discussed his visit to Mysore with Guruji, sometime in the late ’80s.

His daily schedule sounded pretty intense. After a time, it was only he and his wife there, so he was receiving some pretty hands-on assistance from what I only imagine was a much younger, fiercer Guruji.

He would do all of second series, then all of fourth. The next day, all of first, all of third. The day after, all of third, all of fourth. And so on. His practices were stretching into three, four hours.

“That sounds pretty intense,” the interviewer said.

“It was very intense,” said Richard. “I would pray for the days off!”

(Obviously I’m paraphrasing here.)

So I’ve come to treasure moon days, and I secretly suspect they’re not only to honor the moon’s effect on the body, but also to give ashtanga practitioners — and teachers — two days off a month.

Over the last few days, my practice has proceeded apace. Even when it’s just average, it’s great. Which is I guess what keeps me returning.

I feel as though I’m on the cusp of several openings. I suspect they will happen, yet will refuse to be dramatic and instantaneous, as I keep hoping. Rather, it will be gradual. I expect to stand up from backbends very soon, and the hips continue their ponderous yet inexorable movement.

Pranayama has been easier of late. I think Tim has scaled back a little this week; Monday was fairly manageable, and Tuesday was pranayama-lite in honor of the Feast of Epiphany, the full moon, and Mercury going direct.

I’m back in full effect at work after the holidays. Still, it’s more manageable, knowing I’m going to Mysore in June. Now it’s a matter of scrabbling to raise the necessary funds.