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.