Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Blizzard of '08



People are cross-country skiing down the street in front of our house here in Portland. For my part, I have secured several pieces of flint. I am carving some into firestarters, the rest I'm flaking into spear-heads. I'll afix the spear-heads to long sticks in anticipation of hunting the wooly fucking mammoth and sabre-tooth tigers sure to be returning at this, the dawn of the new Ice Age.

This is Portland, however, so rest assured I'll do my hunting from the saddle of a fixed-gear bicycle.

Sweet consolation, then, that we leave for SoCal December 25.

Naturally, we'll be going to see the Boss in Encinitas.

The other day, I told Tara, "Honey, we have to get on our A-game here, or else the B0ss is going to think we've been slacking!"

Tara has been fitting her legs behind her head and coming up from karandavasana. "I don't have anything to worry about," she said.

There's definitely something about practicing with the Boss that makes us step sharpish. Nothing like those tan legs hoving into the corner of one's vision to inspire a little extra English on a pose.

Perhaps my favorite strategy that Tim employs is the Sneak Attack, when he vanishes from your field of vision. Perhaps he's behind the pillar? You enter an asana — only he's been behind you the entire time! Shazam! Your feet are on your head! The only way to survive is to give up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NARCISSUS, O NARCISSUS

Let's go big-picture here for a second. Most of us practice ashtanga vinyasa, which is a living tradition. Both parts of that phrase, "living" and "tradition," are important considerations.

It's a "living" tradition in that we are fortunate enough to have Pattabhi Jois still living and (mostly) teaching in Mysore. The system grows, changes and evolves as he sees fit, one hopes based on his years of experience practicing, teaching, and observing.

In this regard, it's important to consider that Yoga Mala is not a shastra. It's a manual, albeit one to which serious practitioners should give serious consideration. However, we ought to remember that it was first published in 1957. Would you want to be treated by a doctor who's reading medical texts and practicing techniques from 1957?

What we can take away from this consideration is the idea that the fundamental techniques and concepts about medicine and anatomy — and vinyasa, bandha, and drishti — have not changed or been transformed since then. They have, however, evolved.

Ashtanga means "eight limbs," after all, and not "eight stairs," or "eight steps," or "eight rungs," and implicit in the word "anga" is the conception of a system that is organic, interrelated, and rhizomatic.

As a living "tradition," ashtanga vinyasa is comprised of established techniques and sequences, to be transmitted by a teacher and practiced in a prescribed manner.

The benefits to practicing within a tradition are many. It's vital to have other people, a teacher or otherwise, say, "You are not the first to experience this. I have been there, I have felt that, too. Now get back to your breathing, bandhas, drishti."

This is helpful beyond the purely physical aspect of the practice. It's more than simple advice on how to press your lotus up into handstand or grab your thighs in a backbend.
When the siddhis manifest, it's having someone to ground you. When Hanuman speaks to you during meditation, it's having someone tell you to focus on your breathing and bandhas. When you walk out of the shala, suffused with Oneness, it's someone to remind you to take your shoes. When you begin teaching, it's someone telling you it's not a good idea to sleep with your students.

The confines of tradition also help one emerge from under the shadow of one's ego. Pattabhi Jois says, "Asana is correct, pain is going." Jois is, like Patanjali, nothing if not pithy. He does not say, "Asana is correct, pleasure is there." This is the same way Shankara uses "neti, neti," because, as when trying to describe Brahman, the affirmative is entirely inadequate to describe the state of an asana.

Often, what feels "good" feels pleasurable. Confusion arises, though, when "feeling good" is conflated with the means and end of yoga, which is Union. "Feeling good" and Union are often parallel pursuits, but they are not the same pursuit. Quite frequently the practice of yoga, the practice of Union, and the sensation of pleasure, not to mention comfort and ease, are entirely at odds.

Let's face it, sometimes yoga can — and should — fucking hurt. There's an autobiography by New York poet John Giorno called You've Got to Burn to Shine. Sometimes, if you're lucky, your most deeply cherished beliefs of self get tossed on the fire, and the tapas of practice consumes them. And that can hurt.

Other common mistakes about the purpose of yoga, all of which stem from transposing two similar but ultimately separate and usually shallower conceptions are: yoga as fitness workout, yoga as stress relief, yoga as a therapeutic tool for physical rehabilitation, even yoga as meditation. These are all pleasant and marketable side effects of a yoga practice, but they are not its purpose or intent.

So if one abandons the confines — and they are confines, make no mistake — of a tradition, and one follows one's inner guru, one holds up the mirror to oneself, what tends to happen? At least in a Mysore room, I've noticed that practices tend to drift towards varying degrees of narcissism. That is, the practice begins to play up the practitioner's strengths and avoids their weaknesses. It only serves to sharpen one's sense of a separate self.

When you hold your own mirror, you open yourself to various blind-spots, pitfalls, and subtle but pervasive and very powerful tendencies. Narcissus held up his own mirror — in the Hellenic version, he kept leaning forward to admire himself in a pool of water until fell in and drowned. In the whirlpool of conditioned existence, one would imagine.

Do you "need" a hands-on teacher, as opposed to, say, practicing from Yoga Mala or As It Is? Or Richard Freeman's or Sharath's DVD? No, of course not. You don't need to live in Spain to learn to speak Spanish — though it sure can accelerate the process. But are you really practicing the teaching as it's laid out in the manual?

Then arises the question as to the legitimacy of the manual you're using, and which texts you choose to pay attention to — again, people tend to cherry-pick texts that support their tendencies, their desires, what they want to believe, and what makes them feel good. A practice manual should support practice, and put words and context around aspects of the practice. Texts are incidental and secondary to the practice, as it's from the practice that the texts are derived, and not the other way around.

A good teacher will serve to hold the mirror into which you gaze. They'll prod you when you're lazy and cuff you about the head when you take pride in your practice.
The different ashtanga vinyasa series can serve as gurus of their own. They are (relatively) unchanging and ever-present, and they hold up a mirror in which one can, if one suffers a serendipitous accident, see one's Self.

It takes discipline to get up every morning to perform them — but then, it takes even greater discipline, one might even say heroic discipline, to surrender to the sequence.

It is so very difficult to abandon the notion that we always know what's best for ourselves. Often, perhaps usually, what's "best" for us tends to be what's pleasurable or self-satisfying. It can become fantastically difficult to discern when we're operating from self-interest when aspects of the practice begin gratifying subtler, deeper psychological notions of self.

The "no pain, no gain" mentality is an example of a person causing themselves actual physical pain in order to meet deeper, more powerfully held ideas of self-worth.

Again, this is where surrender is important. A good teacher will cut the Gordian knot of "Should I or shouldn't I?" by determining when one is ready for another pose. There is a paradox in the inherent freedom of a disciplined practice, and to paraphrase Douglas Brooks, in order to see all points, you must fix your gaze on one point. It can be very liberating to relieve yourself of the idea that you know best for yourself, though this surrender, too, can be a practice in itself if it lacks love and faith in both a teacher and the teachings.

The ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a progressive sequences of asanas. This is an important characteristic to remember. If you skip or gloss over a pose now, the skills you are not developing will return to haunt you later. So there is most often tremendous value in exploring a pose with the attention and focus naturally generated at one's end-pose.

Specific to second series, with regards to kapotasana, people are generally protected by their inflexibility. However, my experience is that if one is unable to grab the heels from day one, kapotasana will be impossible if one cannot rise from laguvajrasana or stand up from a backbend.

The real trouble comes from dwi pada sirsasana, a pose that will destroy your back if you do not address eka pada sirasana. For some people, eight months to a year on eka pada are what may be required.

My wife Tara, for example, spent a year to 16 months on eka pada sirsasana before Tim moved her along to dwi pada. This is a woman who could do full splits in all directions (samakonasana with feet on folding chairs, even), yet needed that length of time to develop the specific hip flexibility for her anatomical proportions.

On a practical level, what to do if you don't have access to a teacher? You can travel to see a teacher, or you can practice with other people, once a week, once a month, twice a year. Attend workshops. Organize daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly self-practice groups on Craig's List

I met people in Mysore who had practiced on their own for years, in their closets, hallways, and kitchens, and whose only exposure to a teacher came once every 14 months or so when they traveled to Mysore.

If you do have access to a teacher, however fleeting, try to establish with them some sort of dialogue regarding certain aspects of your practice. If you're lucky, you can develop a relationship in which you don't get what you think you want. What's gained easily is esteemed lightly, and usually done with poor form and bad technique, both of which are anathema to a definition,
put forth by Krishna in the Gita, of yoga as "skill in action."

I assisted Tim Miller for roughly two years in
his Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga class, held every Monday night at 5:30. During that time, I came to see several of the same people over and over again — but only ever in the Monday night class, never in Mysore, or in any of the other led classes.

I asked Tim his thoughts on the subject of people never moving to other classes.
"Some people are just on the 10-year plan," he responded. Which also in a way sums up his attitudes towards teaching Mysore-style, too.

One can burn through intermediate, even third series, perhaps in the spirit of inventiveness and exploration (though watch out for the craving for novelty).
Perhaps not the most efficient and skillful way to learn and practice, but give it 10, 15 years of daily, consistent practice. It'll smooth out! Or you'll break yourself and be forced to start again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

HOME PRACTICE, PLUS CHILD




The way our current schedule has shaken out, Tara and I have been practicing at home on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 to about 8 a.m., though depending on when Rowan wakes up, we occasionally have to truncate our practices.

This in turn means we rise sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m. for the sitting, breathing and (in my case) espresso-consuming portions of practice.

Rowan woke up a little early this morning, and so was put to good use during Tara's backbends. She's also getting the post-urdvha dhanurasana smush down pat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

FOUND IT

video

Found it.

Probably could do a crossword puzzle in the bottom position, though maybe not the Saturday New York Times.

Kapotasana? Not so much.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

THE HARD ONES ALL START WITH "K"

video

That is a quick five breaths, I'm sure.

And repeatable on a daily basis? Hmm.

I'm sure I've got the other krippling k pose, karandavasana, floating around my desktop somewhere.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

THE ETERNAL RETURNING

Why keep returning to Encinitas?

After all, at a certain point, usually after seven or eight years, one has achieved a relative mastery of one's chosen craft. That's roughly the length of most apprenticeships in many trades, and seems to correlate with skill acquisition, whether it's blowing glass, playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, or, as our friend Patanjali has it, "Desha bandhas cittasya dharana," fixing one's attention on one thing for long periods of time.

So why keep returning to Encinitas? Emerson said, "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say." The silence that emanates from Tim Miller is so loud and so still, and reaches into such a deep place in me that speech becomes superfluous, in fact futile.

So? "I did not go to my master to learn his words of wisdom," a Hasidic rabbi once said, "but to see how he tied and untied his shoes."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

YOU KNOW IT AIN'T EASY

It's a tightrope act sometimes, isn't it? You want to practice every day, as teachers and texts prescribe, and because, y'know, it's what feels good. So you shuffle and organize your life in whatever ways are appropriate to make this happen — negotiating with employers, clients, spouses and children or child-care to carve out the requisite time.

The other side of the tightrope, though, is that once the time has been marked out, the space for the practice demarcated, and the pattern of behaviour established — get up, wash face, pranayama for 45 minutes, sit for 20, chug espresso, drive to yoga studio, unroll mat — the entire thing becomes what you've worked so hard to build, that is to say, it becomes routine, with all the negative connotations that word implies, such as rote, habitual and unconscious.

It never gets easier, either. My wife's warm body in the pre-dawn hour has not gotten less warm, less comforting, less inviting (traits for which I continue to blame her, of course), and the thought of turning off the alarm has not become less tempting. This practice, any practice, continues to refuse to do itself — I still have to initiate it, tend to it like a banked fire, expend however skillfully the energy required to complete it.

My wife and I both continue to practice, though, supporting each other as best we can, reaching to the texts, ancient and new, for impetus and inspiration, and modeling the long-time practitioner with whom we studied for those many years and who we call our teacher. It's like sailing a ship, a lifelong journey during which we make minute and constant adjustments of our course in the face of unexpected gale winds, long periods of daily routine, and patches of becalmed sea.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

MY ISSUE WITH CONSERVATISM

Mind you, not that I disagree with conservatives (not that I disagree with liberals, either), but Douglas Adams summed up quite well the strain of thought I find most troubling in what I perceive to be typical conservative thinking.

"1) Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal.

2) Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;.

3) Anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really."

KUDDLY KALI

Publicly, I maintain that my kid would love a plushie Kali doll. Privately, I want it for myself.

Created by artist Leeanna Butcher after designs by Sanjay Patel, and as displayed on Butcher's blog of plushie creations, Meet Sam and Pete.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

SOME OF MY MORE RECENT PROJECTS

I'm writing treatments for several yoga-related novels! They're gonna be squarely in the female romance-cum-memoir genre — chick lit, baby! — and they're gonna be aimed squarely at the beating heart lodged beneath the silicon-enhanced bosom of upper middle-class white women. (In the old days they used to call 'em JAPS or WASPS, though I'll have to check Wikipedia for confirmation.)

The Devil Wears Prana
A young yoga teacher — a woman, naturally — recently graduated from a Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Teacher Training, takes a job as an assistant to one of the world's premier power yoga teachers. Shenanigans ensue as the young yoga teacher struggles to cope with her boss' outrageous, bitchy personality and ridiculous requests. The yoga world will be buzzing, I assure you, as it attempts to guess on whom the identity of the powerful yoga teacher is based!

Yoga High School
After their guru takes mahasamadhi, a group of devoted teenage yogis and yoginis, with the help of Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra, take over their ashram to combat its newly installed oppressive administration. Picture this closing scene! Yogis and yoginis twist and contort in various advanced asanas as the ashram burns to the ground behind them and Jai and his merry bunch get all bhakti'd out on the front steps! I'll pitch this to the Weinsteins as "Fame meets Rock 'n' Roll High School — but with yoga!"

Starve, Curse, Hate
The rebellion of no rebellion! The dropping out of dropping in! An upper middle-class white woman, tired of living a life of spontaneous, free-wheeling yoga practice in a yoga ashram in India, enrolls in college, obtains a law degree, and joins a law firm. At the same time, she falls in love, gets married, has children and helps maintain a family — all while engaging in a daily spiritual practice, as part of a living tradition and under the auspices of a teacher! This is pure escapist fantasy that's gonna hit every yurt-dwelling, granola-eating Burning Man yogini right in the chest-plate.

Ghee
This is the story of the yogini Martine, a young mother who arrives at a small, insular yoga school in the Pacific Northwest with her 6-year-old daughter Penelope. Martine, a gifted cook, begins preparing and selling various dishes, all of which feature heroic amounts of the titular ghee. Her cooking siddhis begin to change the lives of the yoga students through magic, which puts her in direct opposition to the school's guru, who sees Martine's use of siddhis as a distraction on the path to Self-realization. Salty tears will spatter your Lululemon top upon completion of this little gem, I assure you! Though I trust that, if it's Lululemon, it will wick away the moisture appropriately.

Sex and the Siddhi
This is gonna detail the intimate life of a sassy, raunchy New York City yogini who regularly meets her three yogini friends for lunch at various posh Hare Krishna temples in order to dish intimate details and eat veg samosas. Sample dialogue: "Then he manipulated my muladhara, I contracted my bandhas, and the kundalini rocketed right up my sushumna!" Titillation ensues. Each of the narrator's three friends is an extension of an aspect of her own personality, and together they function as her very own Trimurti!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

ASK! AND YE SHALL RECEIVE!



Ah ... not quite exactly Pallas Athene or Gaia ... but we do have the Gorgon from Clash of the Titans and Athena from the OG Battlestar Galactica!

I don't quite know how you'd package, as per Erato's request, all the flora and fauna of creation, like if you'd just have several expansion packs or try to put 'em out grouped by phyla, but I suppose as long as the aforementioned flora and fauna had articulated joints and some sort of weapons, I'm all for it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

WHAT! DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOGA?

You have to say it just like that, too: "What!" Pause. "Does this have to do with yoga?"

I would just like to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Vaneigem, in that people, that is to say, human beings everywhere, are funnier, smarter, and more creative than they're usually given credit. Perhaps that's a tenuous leap to make after watching such a short clip, but the idea that someone recorded this, digitized it, then posted it for the rest of us leads me to believe this is so.

Hat-tip to William Gibson.

Monday, July 21, 2008

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CLICHES
Sung to the tune of the Coltrane jam.

In no particular order, a few of my favorite cliches about yoga. Feel free to contribute your own! Remember, just because something is a cliche doesn't mean it isn't true or accurate. Though wouldn't it be more fun and rewarding to acknowledge that they are, in fact, cliches, so that we can move on to see how they originated, if they're true and accurate, and what sort of transformation they might undergo over time?

— A conflation, signaling greater confusion, of yoga asana with all yoga practices; or, in the case of ashtanga vinyasa, confusing a branch for the tree, as it were.

— All yoginis are ...
White; upper-middle class or upper class; thin; "cut" or toned; vegetarian; female; twenty-something; eco-conscious or green; liberal; partial to organic food and clothing; single; ascetic; non-smoking; non-drinking; non-synthetic drug taking; rapturously in love with India; have a guru; value bliss and happiness.

— Yoga is a lifestyle, with accordingly appropriate books, movies, clothes, accessories, services, and holidays to be purchased and consumed.

From (oV0), whose handle looks to me unabashedly like a pair of breasts:

— The knees are the ego. Kapotasana will open your heart. Emotions are in the hips. Stiff people have issues.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

RAMESH & RADIOHEAD
I don't care for the latest Radiohead release, In Rainbows, which leads me to wonder what Ramesh Balsekar would make of it. During our visit to his flat in Mumbai, I didn't get a chance to wander from the main room, but I assume somewhere on the premises is a computer with Internet access. One could also assume that Ramesh opted to either download the release from Radiohead's site, in which case one could wonder what amount, if any, Ramesh consented to pay for the music. Forty rupees? Four hundred? Or perhaps Ramesh is an active BitTorrent user, and simply downloaded the music for free from Pirate Bay or Demonoid.

My personal like or dislike of a Radiohead album is in the same vein as that Picasso anecdote, which I am doubtlessly misremembering. The painter is accosted by a woman at a party, a woman who insists to him that she neither understands nor cares much for Cubism. "But madam!" says Picasso. "It really doesn't matter!"

Does Ramesh have a preference either for or against the new Radiohead album? While he was listening to it, did he lean to his wife and say, "Aum Shiva, but Thom Yorke is one whiny bastard!" Or has he completely extinguished all patterns, imprints, habits, and other boundaries of the ego? As water ceases flowing from a tap, has that part of mind that produces preferences within Ramesh been completely shut off

Or does Ramesh's lack of preference either for or against the new Radiohead album mean that he still witnesses desire or its opposite as either arise — only he is not identified with them, as them? The thought arises, "I do not like the discordant, free-jazz pseudo-electronica of In Rainbows," that thought in turn observed by the single and expansive pinpoint of overwelming consciousness?

Perhaps a clue can be found in Consciousness Writes, in which Ramesh quotes Yang-Chu: 'Let the ear hear what it longs to hear [including In Rainbows].' When there is disassociation or dis-identification with whatever happens to the body-mind mechanism ... the prevailing tendencies of the body-mind are merely witnessed without any comparing or judging."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

NOW WITH NEW LANKA-LEAPING ACTION!
We are taking the gods, we are turning them into toys, and we are putting them into the hands of children, or into the hands of grown men trapped in a retarded adolescence. Worship has become a form of play and play has become a form of worship, archetypes and icons at once immanent yet transcendent. Please note: Hanuman comes with his Gada mace and the Himalayas; the latter fits snugly in the palm of his hand.

Who knows, if there'da been a Jesus action figure — a good Jesus action figure, on a He-Man or G.I. Joe level, you know, a Jesus with an eight-pack stomach and massive pecs, money-changer-thrashing pump-arm action, personal stats and info on a file card to be clipped out, collected, and saved, and a whole passel of accessories (shepherd's crook, bread loaf, fish, chalice, crown of thorns, various sandals and robes ((white, black, dun-colored))) — my whole kick mighta turned out quite a bit different.






Sonofa ... ! Of course, why wouldn't they have a Rama action figure, too? Ram comes equipped with Shiva's Bow and a Divine Arrow. He also has "11 points of articulation plus a flexible grip," said "flexible grip" to be utilized for putting the pimp hand down on Ravanna.

BACHELOR DAYS
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Well ladies, one way to find out what evil lurks in the hearts of your men is to leave them to their own devices. Tara (wife) and Rowan (daughter) are out of town for the week, which means the numbers of penises in our household now outnumbers the vaginas by two to one. (Note: of the aforementioned genitalia, one penis and one vagina are of the feline variety.)

Now that I've finally ascended to my rightful place as benevolent-ish oppressor, as compared to my usual standing as woefully oppressed minority, exactly what brands of evil am I consuming?

1. Japanese Animation
Appleseed: Ex Machina: A bit Matrix-y, but Jesus, they knocked it out of the park with the animation. Produced by John Woo, some costumes designed by Miuccia Prada?

2. Gun Porn
Anyone seen Rambo? Ho. Lee. Shit!

3. Comic Books
Brubaker's/Phillips' Criminal

4. Making Organized Messes
My wife views our house as a home, a warm, comfy, inviting environment that functions as a safe respite from the harsh winds of the world outside, a place in which we, as a family, can snuggle and nest. Our home is to be decorated and adorned, and consequently kept brain-splittingly clean.

I, on the other hand, view our house as the staging ground, the outpost, the secret headquarters, the Fortress of Solitude, if you will, for the various adventures that I embark upon on a daily basis and that constitute the stuff of my life. As such, in the same vein as Richard Dreyfus' character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I am compelled to stack, pile, and otherwise accumulate, throughout the house, waist-high mounds of the various equipment, gear and accoutrements that are necessary for the life of action and daring I lead.

Therefore, I have been busily at work turning our warm and inviting home into a combination Everest Base Camp and Batcave, or perhaps Justice League Satellite?

5. Tour de France
They will be hitting the Alps tomorrow morning, so when I am not practicing, I will be glued to my computer.

6. Paul Grilley's Yin Yoga DVD
Trying to make it through the theory bit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

THOUGHTS ON "THE PATH OF NO-PATH"
Reading David Loy's "The Path of No-path: Shankara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice"
Shankara, as David Loy writes, had some very specific ideas regarding the usefulness of a yoga practice: It is "for those of inferior intellect," he commented in the Brahma Sutra Bhasya. Repetitive meditation techniques? They may be helpful because "people do not always understand the first time."

Shankara, or Adi Shankara, who perhaps lived some time around 800 CE, was the renowned scholar and consolidator of the strain of philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. In the world of ashtanga vinyasa, many of those who practice the ashtanga pranayama recite the first verse of the Advaita Guru Parampara to begin the four chants that come at the closing of the practice. In so doing, they honor Shankara among the prominent teachers of Advaita.

So it may seem a bit paradoxical to, at the end of a practice, salute a prominent, pre-eminent teacher who didn't think much of "practices" at all. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (I.iv.7) suggests that "the Self alone is to be meditated upon" — and Shankara does not agree. He comments on this line to say that "except the knowledge that arises from that statement ... there is nothing to be done, either mentally or outwardly."

I personally find it useful to locate my relationship to a practice or a belief-system in relation to yet a third system, one that appeals to me in some way and one that shares many similarities, and yet one that also presents opposites and oppositions. It is this act of triangulation that allows us to examine areas of overlap, areas of concordance, and areas of tension. I've heard Richard Freeman use the algebraic metaphor of the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram, in which one overlays different systems to see where they meet and, more importantly, where they don't. It is these seams, these areas where systems meet and flex and threaten irruption, their borders and boundary areas, that provide the richest, most useful insights.

In order to reconcile our practice of ashtanga vinyasa with, at least according to a key philosophical figure in its tradition, its utter uselessness, it's useful to veer completely and totally in the opposite direction, and head towards Dogen, a key figure in the Zen tradition. Unlike Shankara, "the heart of [Dogen's] teaching is this shusho itto (or ichinyo), 'the oneness of practice and enlightenment.'"

More importantly, as Loy says, where "Shankara resolves the delusive dualism between means and ends by denying the need for any practice, Dogen resolves the same dualism by incorporating enlightenment into practice."

In this light, we can re-examine the metaphor of the eight-limbed tree of ashtanga yoga, in which all limbs are in fact part of and inseparable from the same tree. From this viewpoint, the practice of the yamas, the niyamas, the asanas, the pranayamas — the external limbs — are inseparable from and equivalent to the internal limbs — including, most importantly, samadhi. The practice of the yamas is samadhi; samadhi is the practice of pranayama. Samadhi is the practice of the asanas.

Loy's suggestions for the Zen practice of zazen echo Patanjali's famous "abhyasa vairagyam tan nirodha": "This does not deny the reality of enlightenment from the relative standpoint. Done in such a fashion — neither seeking nor anticipating any effects — zazen in itself gradually transforms my character, and eventually there is an experience in which I realize clearly that the true nature of my mind and the true nature of the universe are nondual. Zazen cannot be said to cause this experience; enlightenment is always an accident, as Chogyam Trungpa has said, but practice undeniably makes us more accident-prone."

*The entire article can be found here: "The Path of No-path: Shankara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice," Philosophy East and West, Volume 38, Number 2 (April 1988), pages 127–146
OTHER SUMMER JAMS? 2008 VERSION
Lil' Wayne, "Lollipop."
Personally, I love it that all these rappers are getting positively baroque with the vocoder.

Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Possess Your Heart."
I don't even like this band. At all. But this song kills, absolutely kills.

To qualify as a summer jam, a song must exist simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future. It must have a timeless appeal, as though specific sequences of your genetic chain, long dormant, await both this particular hook or melody and warm summer months in order to come to full expression.

A summer jam must also be so of the moment, so au currant, so immediate, that it renders frozen time itself. A good summer jam will freeze into golden amber instances during which it is heard, so that these friends, this car-ride, that barbecue are instants of utter summery perfection.

Finally, the perfect summer jam should trigger a deep nostalgia. For, like a snowflake on a fingertip, the crystalline moment that is the essence of the summer jam has already passed. The moment is over, and in fact, the moment never existed in the first place. You can recognize a summer jam the very first time you hear it when you recognize that you are already listening to it next fall, or winter, or years from now.
YOUR ADVAITA SUMMER JAM!


Yes, it is true that this is the plaintive scorched-earth howl of a woman hanging, by her cracked and pitted and doubtless painted-black fingernails, on the edge of a vast precipice, but at the same time it is also the ultimate wail of the bhaktin yogini — "Oh my god!" — offering up to and outright demanding that God take both her passion and her rage. At some point in the process, the offering and its intended result become one and the same, the means become the end, and Ida Maria surrenders, and not without a fight, the idea, the underpinning illusion, that she is the captain, piloting from the bridge, the cruise-liner that is her life. "Oh you think I'm in control/ Oh my god/ Oh you think it's all for fun." She is not asking questions here. This is not a comfortable process, nor is it a pretty one.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A THOUSAND KISSES DEEP: YOUR DAILY COHEN


You win a while, and then it's done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it's real...

You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the masterpiece.

Friday, June 27, 2008

THE MONEY SHOT --- THE "BEFORE" PHOTOS
John got me sparked, so what the hell --- these were shot on Thursday.

I went from road-kill, levered myself up until my back was against the wall, and then used my bodyweight to bear down until, if you and I may speak frankly, my muladhara chakra was on the ground.

On reflection, I wonder why I ought to go through all this trouble, as it felt good, I could hold it for a long while, and it's since been repeatable. It will still be an interesting experiment, so I'm gonna do it.

I've used the following tips during the last few months. They're from a book called Relax Into Stretch by Pavel Tsatsouline.

"From road-kill, slowly transfer your weight to your legs and assume as upright a position as you can muster. Keep your lower back arched. It is a must.

The pelvis usually gets in the way of your femurs when you try to spread them apart. Tilt your pelvis forward by making your lower spine go concave — and it gets out of the way!

Pinch the floor with your feet with one to two thirds of your maximal strength. Build up the tension gradually, over a couple of seconds.

Push the walls apart and—it is very important! — push your hips forward. Keep your lower back arched and chest open.

Hold steady, unwavering tension for twenty seconds, perhaps even longer, and do not forget to breathe. Although holding the contraction for such a long time is not always necessary to relax the muscle effectively, it helps to build strength.

Suddenly release the tension with a sigh of relief and allow yourself to sink a little deeper into the split.

You must understand that you will never, ever do a side split without positioning your pelvis in one line with your feet! Drive your hips forward at every opportunity, try to get them in line with your feet. Push your hips forward with the help of your arms.

There are three hand positions to choose from. You can push-pull with one hand in the front and one behind you; you can grip the floor in front of you with your hands and pull yourself forward; or, once you are flexible enough, you may push from behind your back.

[Italics mine] Leaving the glutes a few inches behind the heels is a fatal mistake, which keeps many very flexible people from going down all the way in a split. They either end up falling on their butts, or sitting down on the floor with their legs spread wide, but never wide enough.

[From road-kill:] [Y]ou will feel that the muscles in the front of your thighs resist the stretch more than your inner thighs. It is normal. It is time to shift your concentration from your groin to these front muscles: sartorius, psoas, etc.

Consciously contract all of the above, the muscles underneath and in the front of your hip joints, once you have driven your hips forward. Hold that tension! If your muscles start quivering and give out by themselves at some point during the stretch (a la the Clasp Knife), do not freak --- take it as a favor.

Keep at it, until you can no longer increase your stretch or you have reached your pain threshold. Carefully get out of the stretched position. Do not twist your knees and do not panic! Try to use the strength of your groin muscles to get up."


Thursday, June 26, 2008

SAMAKONASANA; OR, WHO THE FUCK CARES?
Not much asana chatter on this blog --- I prefer Ambien to reading about supta kurmasana (It was hard! It was easy! Rinse, repeat). The little pill works much faster and I don't have to worry about my face hitting the keyboard. But I'm going to conduct an experiment on myself during the next 14 days, so come along for the ride, why doncha? Plus I'm gonna promise some photos with this one, which ought to prove mildly entertaining, if not downright titillating.

Samakonasana
"Sama": same
"Kona": angle

Sequence:
1. "Road-kill" Part I
Widen stance as far as possible maintaining 180-degree angle between legs. Outer edges of feet, chest and chin down on floor, arms spread at shoulder level. Ten 10-second ujjayi breaths. (10 seconds in, 10 seconds out.)

2. "Road-kill" Part II
Outer edges of feet, chest, chin and belly down, arms reach out in front. Round low back and ground as much pubic bone into floor as possible. Ten 10-second ujjayi breaths (10 seconds in, 10 seconds out.)

3. Samakonasana
Begin in "road-kill" part II, point toes and kneecaps skyward, lever spine upright to vertical position with fists or blocks, then lower sits bones to floor until asana is sthira sukkham.

Notes:
1. Do NOT sit down unless and until angle of legs is 180.
2. Mula bandha, uddiyana bandha.
3. Nasagra drishti.

Sequence Prescription:

Week 1
Monday: 1x a.m., 1x p.m.
Tuesday: 1x a.m.
Wednesday: 1x a.m., 1x p.m.
Thursday: 1x a.m.
Friday: 1x a.m., 1x p.m.
Saturday: 1x a.m.
Sunday: OFF.

Week 2
Monday–Friday: OFF.

Week 3
Saturday: 1x a.m.

Strategies
1. Ujjayi-assisted total-body contract/release.
2. To be contracted: heels into floor, quads, glutes, ashwini, vajroli, mula and uddiyana bandhas, clench floor with hands, clench jaw, kechari mudra variation.
3. Gravity-assisted clasp-knife stretching, i.e. exhausting inhibitor muscles and stretch reflex through lengthy contraction while related tissues are bearing body weight. Google and practice this at your own risk. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Photographs
Before and after photos are coming soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Half Cat, Half Amazing

We got a new lil' homie for the house. His name is Haku and Pete Rock is one of his favorite emcees. It said "American short hair" at the animal shelter, but c'mon --- lil' homie has got to have mad Abyssinian blood coursing through his veins: gigantic radar dishes, almond eyes, lil' triangle head. Jealous? Don't be. We stay winning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tangentially to the Previous Post
What would be the incidence of amenorrhea among female ashtangis?
Does Ashtanga Vinyasa Cause Miscarriage?
Let's just open with the fact that Pattabhi Jois suggests pregnant women not practice for the first three months of pregnancy.

Is there a correlation between an ashtanga vinyasa practice and miscarriage?

Purported statistics, of which I will track down sources later, report a frequency as high as one in four in the general population.

How do those statistics transfer to the yoga asana practice? Can we draw a correlation between the rate of miscarriages by women who practice similarly physically demanding activities, say, ballet, gymnastics, dance?

Anecdotal evidence, on my end at least, is thin --- the vast majority of women I know who have miscarried --- a number that grew quite large last year --- were, to put it politely, rather sedentary, and practiced no yoga at all. I have also known several women with third-series practices who have several children. Anecdotal evidence in this case is absolutely worthless.

What does any of this mean to you, a woman with a vigorous daily asana practice who is considering pregnancy? What certitude or assurances or peace of mind can any such statistics provide? I wish I could end this with more than a question.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

LEAPING LANKA ON BLACKOUT
We've gone silent running.

I'm gonna be flapping about on this thing for a hot minute, getting the puja room up to speed, so bear with me.

Also, perhaps you need some Talking Heads in your life? I think you do.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thank God for Boredom
The novelty will wear off. That is, the tyranny of the novelty of the yoga asana will and should exhaust itself. Then the grim slog to the yoga studio will become the most terrific aspect of the practice.

The days to treasure are the days of seemingly overwhelming inertia--- the days when you have to manually lift one leg at a time in order to climb the stairs to the studio, only to unroll the same old mat in an empty, drafty room to practice the same sequence of poses you've been doing for years. Gah!

The inertia is a sign of something --- of what? Usually when the twitchy boredom arises, when my mind demands novelty and spectacle, grand inspiration and technicolor stimulation, the quietness that arises during practice is deeper, richer, more resonant ... utterly boring and mundane and brilliant.

To paraphrase the rishi Leonard Cohen, when you give up the idea of creating your own masterpiece, the real masterpiece arises.
What I'm up on at this Very Moment
My man Rodford C. is going to laugh 'cause I used to mock him for liking dubstep, but Christ, have you people copped Benga's full-length, Diary of an Afro Warrior? I've been freebasing it of late, all iPod chambers cocked and loaded with the Burial album, the Benga album, and any Skream mix.

Do people even use iPods anymore? Have we all gone Shuffle and Mini?
Moon Day!
For those who practice the ashtanga vinyasa yoga, that means it's time to loosen your white-knuckle grip from your yoga mat and unclench your butt cheeks to take the day off. Remember, the sphincter is ashwini mudra, not mula bandha. Anyways, the practice isn't going anywhere.

My favorite Chuck Miller story of late: Sri Miller mentioned to a friend that 2-hour practices used to be maintenance practices. Four hours per day was the norm. As Sri Freeman said in the execrably titled Yogi Bare, they used to pray for days off.
My Siddhis
After a score of years of daily practice, I've finally found the time to compile a list of all the siddhis I have recently developed as a result. For those of you unfamiliar with yogic terminology, "siddhis" here refers to the paranormal powers available to very advanced yogis such as myself. For example, the venerable Sai Baba can materialize vibhuti, holy ash, as well as various faux-gold trinkets such as pens and pocketwatches, and he can also make disappear inquiries into his relations with underage boys. Well, here are some of my abilities.

1. Radio Station Presets
When I rent a car, the radio station will come preset to the best radio stations that area has to offer --- no matter which area I am in! Remember, I do not ask for these gifts --- they have simply manifested.

2. Parking Spot Ability
The rest of you may circle the 17th and Valencia block in San Francisco perhaps 10 or 15 times as you look for a parking spot. Me, two times --- tops.

3. Supermarket Discount
While most people have to sign up to get supermarket rewards and club cards, this discount mysteriously manifests itself for me, unasked, at the time I check out.

4. Lint and Cat-hair Repellant
Despite now having two cats, my hip black clothing radiates a paranormal magnetic charge that repels cat hair and lint.

5. Movie Theater Preview Avoidance
No matter what time I leave the house, I enter the movie theater seconds before the main feature begins. I am an eminently desirable companion on any movie-going experience.

6. Book Absorption
When I am reading a book, you can speak, shout or scream at me --- in fact, my wife has often attempted to speak directly into my ear-hole from mere millimeters away --- and I will not even know you are there! It's not that I'm ignoring you --- it's just that, as my gift operates, you do not exist!

7. Party Invisibility
When it's time to leave a party or social gathering, usually at the 20-minute mark, I have the uncanny ability to find and use the nearest exit without saying goodbye to a single person!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Roughage, Randomage
In Encinitas at the moment, but only for a few more hours. The sky so wide and blue and big that it will wring forth a tear from even my cast-iron testosterone-laden he-man eyeball.

I'm gonna get switch up the mix here on Leaping Lanka in a few days' time, so look for a new look.

What else? There are some posts percolating, don't get your Lululemons twisted.

Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and track down some Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. I don't know how he did it, whether he added reverb to the echo or echo to the reverb, but his voice on "Some Velvet Morning" is the voice of God, capital-G, if God was taking muscle relaxers to help Him with an icepick-in-the-temple hangover. Open up your gates and tell me about Phaedra, indeed.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Speaking of Liberating Systems
From the Edge of the American West blog:
"[T]he great and good Volker Berghahn discussed, in painstaking detail, his note-taking methods. Upon finishing his explanation, Volker smiled and said, “I find my system liberating.” At the time I couldn’t get beyond the irony. But now, I think Berghahn meant what A White Bear means: familiarity with a complex but flexible system is not about circumscribing options but creating new ones.

Complex, yet flexible. The infinite within the finite. Discipline as ultimate freedom. To look at everything, we must look at just one thing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Hate Nature
The heading of this post is a response to both my hometown of Portland as well as old queries from ex-coworkers at Megalithic Shoe Co., Inc., who, when they discovered I had traveled to India on multiple occasions for reasons relating to yoga, suddenly assumed I preferred patchouli, Phish, and seventies-era VW buses or Toyota Priuses.

"Nature" includes forests, mountains, the woods, creeks, trees in general, babbling brooks, leaves, bushes. Flowers are okay as long as they're safely in a vase.

It's not so much nature itself that I hate --- and here I refuse to anthropomorphize the savage and meaningless and insistent ruthless urge for life to propagate --- it's the recreational activities that surround it: hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, bird-watching, tracking. Pretty much anything involving brown boots, a puffy jacket, and a stout oak staff for support.

All good hatred, if pure and true, stems from deep fear. As an impressionable young lad, I happened to see about 20 minutes of Super-8 film footage taken on a tourist safari in Africa in the seventies. The clip depicted some hapless tourist opting out of the gene pool by leaping from his Volkswagen Thing to shoot a closer photo of a pride of lions.

The lions --- being fucking lions! --- in turn promptly leapt on the guy and ate him.

They didn't kill him and then eat him. They ate him, starting with his stomach, in a process that didn't end before the camera ran out of film. A lion sat on the man's chest and occasionally took bites from his stomach and chest; the man twitched and kicked and ineffectually swatted at the big cat.

Despite the bars, fences and cages, a shoulder-high tiger switching out of the darkness at the Mysore zoo is enough to inspire a change of underwear. And don't get me started on my fear of bears.

I suppose, then, that it's fitting I live in Portland, Oregon, which is essentially a city built among a vast forest of Ents, that is, malign trees, trees that insist on crowding into and over every street and house, building and sidewalk, casting black, pre-Cambrian shadows that whisper of a more primordial darkness. The city is also just a few miles from mountains, streams, beaches, trails, hills, valleys --- in other words, you can't throw a non-biodegradable styrofoam coffee-cup anywhere without hitting the Great Fucking Outdoors.

I prefer urban nature --- the green and yellow grown-over vacant lot en route to the coffee shop; the yellow flashbulbs of dandelions thrust between the cracks in pavement; the red flowers in a white bucket being sold on the freeway on-ramp; a rectilinear, sculpted and tamed green shrub leaning well away from the sidewalk. Acceptable wildlife include squirrels, pigeons, cats, mid-sized dogs, and any other animal I at least double in body-weight and which, were it to suddenly go rabid, I could reliably stomp to death.

Acceptable nature activities include those that do not necessitate my participation with nature; rather, the event or activity may take place in nature, but it must reduce existence to the cotton-haze of exertion and effort until the universe has dwindled to the pure pinprick of single-pointed consciousness.

Such activities may include road cycling, trail-running, rock-climbing, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, or an ounce of psilocybin.

It's at this point in the argument that my wife tells me to go live in an ashram.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fred Rogers
In the documentary America's Favorite Neighbor, Rogers says, "The space between my mouth, what I say, and peoples' ears and eyes, that space is holy," and man, he walked it like he talked it. Fred appeared on The Tonight Show twice, both times with comedienne Joan Rivers guest-hosting, in 1980 and 1983, and my god! The man's intense and overwhelming presence! Rivers, visibly shaken by his unwavering attention and soft-spoken message of love, falls back on her requisite schtick, that of self-deprecation and sarcasm. But even that wilted under the man's insistent presence, and you could see, no, you could feel that to Fred Rogers, the space between he and Joan Rivers was in fact holy, and no matter how much she wavered or fluctuated, he was absolutely pure, present awareness.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Books on the Filing Cabinet Next to My Desk
Ultimate X-Men, Volumes One and Two
The Persian Wars, Herodotus
The Anvil of the World, Kage Baker
Count Zero, William Gibson
DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman
The Mexican Tree Duck, James Crumley

Music on Steady Repeat
Hercules and Love Affair, S/T
David Bowie, the Berlin Triptych
Kool Keith, Sex Style
Cut Copy, FABRICLIVE 29
MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dogen!
To study yourself is to forget yourself.

The practice itself is enlightenment.

Cf. Mark Whitwell's Heart of Yoga.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ramesh in Mumbai
The taxi ride from our hotel, near Bombay Hospital, to Ramesh’s flat, off Poddar Road, costs 40 Rupees. It’s hard to tell if that means it’s near or far ‘cause prices in Mumbai are hyper-jacked. We find the building easy, though, because we spot a bronzed-tan Westerner wearing an Om T-shirt entering one of the anonymous buildings on Gamadia Road.

We barge into the living room about 5 minutes after the talk has begun; Ramesh holds them every morning from 9 to 10:30, and today, a Saturday, there are perhaps 30 people gathered, mostly Westerners, in the large but not ostentatious living room. The windows are open, so we’re getting a nice breeze, and it’s still too early for the sweltering Mumbai heat to render all movement, all thought, all speech superfluous at best and impossible at worst. On the wall next to us are several portraits of Ramana Maharshi and one of Nisargdaj Maharaj. Among them is a portrait of Ramesh himself.

Ramesh is much thinner, much older than I anticipated. He’s frail, birdlike, with translucent, paper-thin skin that seems to be falling in on itself. I don’t know if he’s lost his top teeth or if, as he’s aged --- the guy’s gotta be in his eighties --- his upper palate has receded. He sits in a low-slung chair and is dressed all in white. As he talks, he produces small amounts of spittle, which he dabs away with a carefully folded white cloth he keeps on his lap for that purpose.

Despite his age, Ramesh’s intellect is tack-sharp. When we come in, he’s grilling a middle-aged Westerner who’s sitting in one of today’s two “hot seats,” the seats those with questions for Ramesh are asked to take.

Tara, Rowan and I sit in a swing-chair at one end of the room. I don’t know why I’m surprised, at this point and with my experience of India, but one rotund Indian man slumps in an armchair, facing Ramesh, and works a video camera set up on a tripod. He will occasionally pan from Ramesh to the questioner in the hot seat, and once or twice he pans around the room to capture the faces in the crowd.

Also facing Ramesh and sitting just in front of us is a sound guy, another Indian fellow who works the sound mixing board, adjusting the levels and volume of the clip-on microphones attached to Ramesh and, on this day, to the two people sitting in the hot seats.

Arrayed on the coffee table in front of us are stacks of DVDs of previous talks, each labeled “Anger” or “Hate” or “Desire.” After the official talk is over, but before the 10 minutes of chanting begin that will close out the day, the guy working the camera has mastered and burned copies of the day’s footage, which, the sound guy lets us know in a low-key manner, is for sale for 500 Rupees.

Ramesh has the probing, razor-sharp mind of a brilliant debater, and quickly hones in the questioners’ actual question, and in addressing the questions --- one couldn’t really say he provides an “answer,” as these are the sorts of questions that lack answers --- he espouses his ideas about reality, God, consciousness. If you want a book report on Ramesh’s take on Advaita, look elsewhere, or perhaps read Who Cares?.

(I'll give it a shot here: according to Ramesh, if one looks hard enough, long enough, one will come to realize that there is in fact no "doer"--- only Source.)

Days later, a friend asked me if I thought Ramesh had “It.” I hemmed and hawed. I must admit that I still don’t know. Based on what he was saying, I would say that he has in fact had a taste of “It.”

On the way out, I notice a wall-length rack of books by Ramesh and his protégé Wayne Liquormann for sale. I stop and browse amidst the post-talk crowd. An Indian man, the proprietor, asks me, “Yes! What books have you read?"

I indicate the Ramesh titles I've read before.

"Ah, then you need this one, this one, this one.” He puts one, two, three books in my hand.

I knee-jerk against the hard-sell, hand them back and say, “No, no thanks!” though I am interested in several of the titles.

I wrote somewhere else that India is a place where an idea and its direct opposite are both true at the same time, and Indians seem to have no dissonance holding both ideas. It is, however, a constant practice for me to remember, for example, that the cottage industry that has sprung up around Ramesh in no way detracts from his teaching.

I remember, years ago, talking to another yoga student about Tim Miller. “He’s really a great teacher, but you know,” he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “he eats Powerbars!”
Why We Went to Goa
I first heard about Rolf Naujokat a couple years back while I was in Mysore. Many people I found interesting and enlivening, and whom I respected greatly, all had one thing in common: they had practiced with this phenomenal teacher on a jungle island in Thailand.

After looking at photos of Rolf’s jungle shala and listening to some rather brilliant stories about the man himself, I remarked to one of Rolf’s most vocal supporters, Nick Evans, that Rolf seemed absolutely phenomenal.

“Yes,” said Nick, “and please --- don’t tell anyone!” He was only half-kidding.

DJs used to cover up their record labels with black or white or even duct tape so all the other hungry DJs circling the table, craning their necks to see what was next, had no idea what rare and obscure track was about to absolutely flatten the floor.

I feel a bit like that about Rolf. Nowadays, with the Internets, we can learn about any teacher at any time, learn where they’re gonna be, what they’re like, get Podcasts from their lectures, check out photos of their shalas, and read blog entries by their students.

This is pretty brilliant for a host of reasons, chief among them, for me, is the fact that it helps one feel connected to a worldwide community as one practices in relative solitude in a mostly secular society, in which the concept of asana, pranayama, and the rest are not only fairly obscure but rather ridiculous. “Yeah, but can you make money off it?”

The loss, however, is that sense of exploration. I’m thinking here of the story of David Williams and company bumping into Manju Jois in Pondicherry strictly by chance and hopping the next train to Mysore. They had traveled around India before that and thereby also importantly knew what they were not looking for.

So anyway, the information floodgates are open and there’s really nothing we can do about that. In this instance, though, I’m not going to add to it, except to say the Rolf is the real deal.

Otherwise, I’ve no doubt that there’ll be other blog entries by other people that’ll be chock full of useful information.
Chapora Juice Bar
Head due west from the Barat Petroleum Station ("Pure For Sure!") in Anjuna toward Vagator Beach; prior to hitting the water, take a right and dive down a steep, winding canyon road to Chapora, where three roads meet under the boughs of a giant tree to form the heart of this tiny town. The tree is the ground-zero from which a density of tourist-related shops has pulsed outward, as the three streets are crammed with shops that sell the unique Goa clothing (one part military surplus, one part day-glo fluorescence, one part tie-dyed organic Nepalese hemp), the travel agencies, the tour organizers, the STD long-distance phone booths, the guest rooms.

Immediately under the tree’s base, on a small stage that rings all sides, sits a small Shiva shrine. The tree’s trunk has been painted, and is decorated with malas and garlands.

The Chapora Juice Bar is within arm’s reach of the stage. It’s small and typically Indian --- cramped, busy, dirty, utilitarian --- and for that reason is quite anomalous among Goa’s more polished and refined eateries. It’s a small square concrete building with a sliding front window through which one can order a multitude of fresh juices and milkshakes. The menu has been hand-painted on the roof above the order window. Picnic tables sit in front and to the side of the building. Armies of flies hover, drawn by the fruit and the sugar.

Friends suggested the Juice Bar as an interesting hangout, so we visited on several occasions. It’s quite a popular hangout, I think in part because it’s a Goa rarity that offers genuine Indian prices. Juices range from 10 to 30 Rupees, which is a far cry from the 70 to 100 Rupee offerings at the nearby Bean Me Up.

Sit there long enough and one watches tides of people wash in and out as the sun describes its arc overhead. One by one, as morning stretched into afternoon, sadhus arrived to take seats on the stage or at the picnic tables. Their gaunt bodies were wrapped in the traditional orange sheets, their faces painted, their dreads hung down to their waists. Curiously, all four were white Westerners.

Many frequenters were older, sun-leathered hippie ex-pats. One of whom, a Spanish gentleman, told Tara he had arrived in Goa 25 years ago and simply thrown away his passport. Many, their faces ill-used and sun-cured, looked like they’d lived hard lives under the relentless tropical sun. Many smiles were missing prominent numbers of teeth.

The actual juice at the Juice Bar is incidental to the place’s appeal, which seemed to be weed, around which all seating arrangements at the picnic tables were based. Other, younger visitors came and commingled with the older residents, and at table after table it was quickly determined who had the mota, who had the chillum, and who could pack the best bowl.

The other, darker element at the Juice Bar, though, were those visitors, younger and older, looking for more serious hook-ups. The most obvious had pale, spotty skin, dark circles under their eyes, and ceaseless sniffles. One girl who couldn’t have been out of her early twenties sat in a corner, knees in her chest, and alternated between chewing a thumbnail and scratching at her arms, neck and legs.

Goa has a very dark side, one that seems out of place in the sun and sand, and yet is inevitable given the 24-hour party scene, and, on a bigger scale, India’s overall exoticism. The exchange rate means many Westerners suddenly have vast wealth at their disposal, and to take a Westerner and unseat them from the deep structures of family, job, friends, language, and culture, and deposit them somewhere far, far away from the persona they inhabited, is to knock away any center of personal gravity, any psychic and psychological mooring.

Sprinkle on top of this the concept of “vacation” and “holiday,” or “gap year” and “spiritual journey,” and you have two recipes: the first, the anything-goes mentality in which every problem can be solved by throwing Rupees at it, or ultimately and decisively solved by simply boarding a plane home in two weeks. The second is the Holy Mother India mentality, replete with its exoticism and fetishization.

One can come to India and one can quite simply lose one’s goddamned mind, no matter if one is amongst the shrill idleness of the leafy, tree-lined streets of Gokulam, with its mansions and the incessant yoga drone, or whether it’s amongst the dispersed party-burnout transience on the sun-drenched beaches of Goa.

What Sharath has said in Mysore rang true for us in Goa: “Do the yoga --- now go home!” This is a sentiment echoed by my wife, whose pragmatism is doubtless all that keeps me from living, shoeless and soon toothless, on the concrete floor of some ashram in Hardwar, when she takes my face in her hands and says, gently, “Okay, baby, it’s time to go home. C'mon.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Super Mega Photo Fun Time! Awesome!
Aww.


Wend your way down one of the circuitous sets of steps at Little Vagator Beach and you find yourself in a slender cove, bracketed at either end by cliffs that extend to the sea. Shiva’s is one of only a handful of restaurants on this particular stretch of beach, but perched in front of Shiva’s sits a large trampoline, a veritable kid magnet. The sun dips downward, the parents sit in Shiva’s, drinking, eating or smoking their chillums, while their children leap and tumble.


The family, and the family car.






There are an abundance of utterly mad people who’ve washed ashore in Goa and decided never to return to the land of their birth, and India being what it is --- a land where everything and its opposite are both true at the same time --- many of these afflicted and affected souls have carved out their own particular dreams, no matter how bizarre or off the wall. We’ve been frequenting the results of one such dream, a restaurant called Sharewood, at which every table is its own treehouse. I’ll say it again --- every table is its own treehouse. If that doesn’t stir your blood in some way, you are dead to the world and ought to climb into a coffin.

Each table is either built off the ground, up in a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse, or else sunk into the ground, the curved walls of the earth forming parts of the chairbacks. Sharewood also has a small, ankle-deep wading pool filled with various children’s toys, and there are usually at least one to three nude children splashing about.

The place is owned by a French couple who are cyberpunk biker nuts, and there are always several heavily modified motorcycles parked in front that have been channeled and chopped just in time for the coming apocalypse.

The ambience of slight lunacy at Sharewood is abetted by the absolutely brilliant food --- it has the best shakes, the best galettes, and the best tartines I’ve ever tasted, and their croissants are neck-and-neck with the French bakery as far as the buttery flake-factor goes.


We have no burner or stovetop at Resort Melo Rosa, so I dropped 40 Rupees (one US doller) on a “heating element” as a means to continue my caffeine addiction. I’ve procured a French press, and have accordingly switched from espresso to coffee. Drop the heating element into the glass and the water boils in less than two minutes. I am inordinately sketched out about electricity and water in such close proximity, but needs must. I also have a profoundly negative association with “heating elements” as the last time I saw one, it was in use by some junkie friends.



En route to the market area in Anjuna sits a large field, most of which has been given over to the nearby high school for cricket and football. At one end, though, a small portion is where the locals shape, press, and then dry the cow patties. I’m told cow patties make for excellent floors and walls, and are incredibly sterile.



We made the arduous 30-minute scooter ride north from our digs in Arporam to visit the beaches at Arambol and Morjem. Although the area is saturated with beach bungalows, restaurants, and of course, hundreds of shops selling the requisite fisherman pants, sequined peasant bags, and T-shirts, the beach itself is as beautiful a stretch as I’ve ever seen. Where else but India do you get cows on the beach?



We lived within blocks of the beach in Encinitas for roughly 14 years, so both Tara and I tend to have little desire to sit in the sun and sand. Which is why there aren’t too many shots like these.



The Las Vegas Market is around the corner from our old, rat-afflicted flat. It’s atypical of most Indian groceries due to both its vast selection and its overall large size.

I do love the 10 Rupee-per-pack biscuit selection, though why they don’t just call ‘em cookies and be done with it is beyond me --- must be some throwback to British rule.


This mutt lived at our old flat, and was one of the pack of dogs that used to howl and bark at the rats. All of the pack members were old, decrepit and disfigured in some way. This is Broke Face, so called because he was run over by a car as a puppy and managed to survive, though the accident left his head permanently kinked to one side.


The ankle-biter appears unhappy to have been woken from her nap on the scooter ride to Mapusa, the biggest town closest to the beaches of Goa.


We hit the Mapusa market in search of bootleg movies. Okay, in all honesty, I hit the Mapusa market in search of bootleg movies. I scored Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat bangers --- 16 movies on one DVD for the former and 12 movies on one DVD for the latter! --- and a kid’s compilation for Rowan that didn't work when I tried to play it later.


Need For Speed: Pro Street! In India! It’s an EA-produced video game I worked on last year with my man Rod Chong. Bootleg?


Scooter hair! My hair has been blown so high that it’s actually eclipsing the view of Tara and Rowan on the seat behind me. Note: although the forehead is truly giant, please remember that it is the containment unit for my monstrously oversized, incredibly virile, and hypersexy brain.


The kid’s room, or “Kids Korner,” at our favorite local vegetarian eatery, Bean Me Up. (I’d stab a stranger for their key lime pie.) Unfortunately, on this night Cartoon Network was inexplicably frozen, which devastated both Rowan and myself, because it was frozen on a fight scene from the “Cell Saga” of Dragon Ball Z.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How They Do It In Goa
We’ve relocated to the rat-free Resort Melo Rosa, just around the corner from Rolf and Marci’s. Last night was the first in our new digs. I sacked out at about 8:30 (I know, I know: pussy). I could just barely hear the dull, repetitive 130 BPM thud of techno coming from a top-floor room in a building across from ours. Dudes were setting it off!

I woke up this morning at 4:30 and went about my morning routine. I left for yoga practice a little after 6. They were still setting it off! The music was still bumping, a couple people were chilling on the balcony, and I could even make out the flickering on-off pulsing of a strobelight.

I got back from yoga at 8:30. It was full daylight outside and the hand of summer heat was beginning to push down.

Motherfuckers were still partying! I could hear the music, and the soft but distinct murmur of voices. A couple hardy souls were out on the balcony, staring down the morning.

Now that, my friends, is how you party.
Things I Am Into In India That Otherwise I Would Not Be Into
1. Pepsi.
It is so fucking hot that I have had a mega-epiphany, which is like a Super-Sized Big Gulp epiphany: ice-cold sugar syrup with a gallon of caffeine is absolutely fucking brilliant.

2. The Dog Whisperer
Marci has turned us on to this show and we’ve been freebasing like, three episodes a day, easy. Carlos Millan, the Dog Whisperer in question, is serious skill in action. We’ve also started incorporating his techniques into child-rearing. Sh!

3. Goa Trance
When in Rome.

4. Eat, Pray, Love
Yeah, I read that shit. My favorite part was when she goes to Bali, and her sensuous older Brazilian lover introduces her to the joys of anal --- wait, maybe I’m thinking of another book?

5. Jackie Chan
I’ve never been a big Jack fan, because while I think the stuntwork in his films is brilliant, I can’t stand the oafish clowning he tries to fob off as “comedy.” Still, I bought a couple of those bootleg DVDs that have 14 movies on 'em, and one of ‘em had nine Jackie Chan movies on it. I watched Crime Story and City Hunter and was seriously feelin' 'em. I watched 'em without subtitles, too, just straight-up Cantonese. Gangster.
Things That Will Disturb Your Meditation During Finishing Poses On Rolf and Marci’s Back Porch
1. A fly landing on your eyeball.
2. A mosquito on your lower lip.
3. A fly in your ear.
4. A mosquito on your urethra.
5. Discursive thinking about numbers one through four above.
6. Recursive thinking about numbers one through five above.
Ascending Hierarchy of Pain Relief, as Provided by the Chemist, per Single Pill
1. Ibuprofen, 400mg.
2. Ibuprofen, 400mg, plus paracetamol, 400mg.
3. Tramadol muscle relaxer, 50mg.
4. Tramadol muscle relaxer, 50mg, plus ibuprofen, 400mg.
5. Tramadol muscle relaxer, 50mg, plus ibuprofen, 400mg, plus paracetamol, 400mg.
Why We Moved Out of Our Flat
“There’s a mouse in the pool, Daddy,” the kid tells me.

“A mouse?”

“Yes, Daddy, a mouse! A mouse!” She says the last bit slowly, plaintively, making sure I understand. Tara and I had done the Kid Handoff at the yoga studio, and Rowan and I had just pulled into the driveway of our flat.

Sure enough, she’s right. There is a mouse in the pool. The “pool” is a small pond at the head of the driveway, and serves as the center-point for the two flats and the large garden that make up our little compound. The pond is about a foot deep, with a foot-and-a-half lip. It’s perhaps 5 feet in diameter, and has been tiled with blue and white shards. An incongruous maple leaf design made from blue tile pieces sits in the white bottom. A short palm hangs its leafy arms over a pedestal with a statue of Mary on it, and Mary in turn looks down on the water. The 18-inch statue has been placed in what looks like a large glass ampule, as though perhaps a giant will amble by one day and toss back the mother of Christ like an ibuprofen.

Queenie Fernandes, the owner of the property, has three turtles that she lets flap around in the pond; the lip is high enough that there’s no risk they might climb out. The turtles have thick red swatches around their eyes, which you can see when they extend their heads from their shells. They do this when Rowan and I lean over and reach towards them. They’re fearless turtles, apparently, and it’s almost like they want to be petted. Queenie feeds them puffed rice, and once a week lets them eat some meat.

The turtles only swim when Queenie is at home, though. “People will come to steal them,” she tells me. “I can’t leave them in there without someone around.”

On the day Rowan spies a “mouse,” however, the turtles are not in the pool. It’s not actually a mouse, of course. It’s a dead rat that’s a foot-and-a-half-long.

The rodent must’ve fallen into the pool during the night and paddled about ineffectually, unable to claw its way up and over the lip. I hadn’t seen it that morning because I leave for practice when it’s still dark.

Let me tell you something about rats: where there’s one...

Goa was for a long time a Portuguese colony, and the Portuguese influence is writ large across this part of India, from the Spanish surnames and churches to the Christianity and the architecture.

Many houses are built with front-gabled roofs covered with red tiles. They slant upwards at a 45-degree angle on either side to meet in the center, which is different than, say, Mysore, where most houses have flat roofs. The ceilings are unfinished inside the flats, so you can peer way up to see the support ribbing and the underside of the tiles.

I don’t know if this is common, but in our flat there was perhaps a foot of overlap where the roof hung down and over the walls --- meaning there was a foot of open space through which moths, mosquitoes and flies could pass.

In our bedroom, part of the ceiling tiling had been replaced with sheets of corrugated tin. We would wake several times in the night to the tik-tik-tik of rat paws scraping across the roof, rat paws doubtless belonging to some 2-foot-long rat. And at least twice a night there would be a loud, rattling thump as something big and heavy landed on the tin. Dust, dirt and leaves would flutter down on our beds, and Tara and I would lie there, staring upward, waiting to hear if whatever was on the roof made its way into the house. I began sleeping with a broom stick next to the bed.

The open space between wall and ceiling meant that one morning, after I had gone to yoga, Tara was awoken by a furtive, panicked rattling in the kitchen. She woke up Rowan, and the two of them stood outside the darkened kitchen as something rocketed about, trying to find a way out.

“Mommy was freaking out,” said Rowan. Tara hurled a few empty water jugs into the kitchen, and whatever was there managed to find its way back out.

It’s gotten particularly bad during the last week, so much that Tara has been lying in bed, wide-eyed, staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. We woke up three times last night to rats on the roof, and that was it. We moved out. We’re spending our last week at Resort Melo Rosa.

I tend to be fairly ambivalent about pests --- hey, as long as I’m asleep when they’re around, I’m good --- but Tara does not like rats (or snakes), and by “does not like,” I mean “is pathologically terrified of.” But you gotta draw the line somewhere, and really, finding rat droppings in your bedroom was the final straw.

On the day we found the dead rat in the pond, we returned from breakfast to find that Queenie has thrown in the turtles. The dead rat is still there, and the turtles are beginning to eat the rat, nipping and pulling at it, worrying it with their mouths. That week, they got their meat a little early.

After that, Rowan and I don’t reach out to touch them.