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.