Monday, November 30, 2009

Men and Women

This morning, as I was walking to practice, I noticed a man peeing on the side of the road, pants all the way down around his ankles, his bare ass glowing in the florescent street lighting. This is a usual sight from any corner of town. I continued walking, unphased, until I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had turned towards me and he wasn't just peeing... I walked a bit more briskly around the next corner towards the busier streets when I realized this man had begun to trot along behind me, wanker in hand, pointed at me, his long legs gaining on me. There was a minute where I panicked. The minute I realized this man was just like the man I had seen at the age of seven, sending me and my friends screaming to hide in a parent's bedroom. The minute I realized I might be in for a fight, struggling to remember some key self-defense moves I had been taught years back at the Women's Center. The minute I began to run. I ran and he ran whimpering behind me, until I flew down a busier street, thankfully filling with people to deter his advances.

The interesting thing about the above situation is that after I was out of sight of this man, I immediately forgot about him and went on working out song lyrics in my head for most of the remainder of my walk. I had subconsciously shrugged the situation off my shoulders like I brush the ants off the food in my little pantry. It wasn't until I mentioned the happening to a friend after practice that I understood how frazzled or reactive I would have been in the States had something of this sort had happened to me. This man, though disturbing as his behavior may have been, was nothing but a mosquito. Since arriving in Mysore, I have been groped several times by children and adults alike, been lied to in more ways than I even knew a human could be lied to, had garbage thrown at my head, and I'm sure these things are just the tip of the iceberg, seeing as how this part of India is considered very "easy".

Hindi class is going well. I'm finally starting to learn some conversation after a couple weeks of memorizing words and a new alphabet. In Hindi, there are four different "t"s and four different "d"s and two "p"s all with different positions of the tongue and very subtle changes in the pressure of each letter pronounced. Nearly every letter in the English language has a new meaning in Hindi. I struggle to read the lips of my teacher, who, when I don't understand, simple shouts the words a little harder at me and making me jump a little. Sometimes her little daughter joins in and shouts at me too. Today I learned how to say "You are a very beautiful woman," which I think will come in quite handy indeed! Lately there have been several other ladies in the classroom with me doing bead work and pottery. While it is hard to get used to the shouting, I very much enjoy the hen atmosphere and all of the art-making. I am still considering taking up some art classes, but I will be waiting until my yoga schedule lightens again. Yesterday I learned a mudra that will prevent accidental death. (Excellent. He knows what a klutz I can be.) While explaining the position I should be in, the Guruji told me to "put my heel between my anus and my testicles" which I thought was very funny but he was quite serious. I find it quite refreshing that he treats me like all of his male students. I asked him a while back if a certain pranayama practice was harmful for women, and he said "No. You do. You are strong like a man and can do." Coming from an old patriarch in the most misogynistic country I have ever been to, this comment meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Pad

I moved out of the shala and into my own apartment the other day, and after a couple of days of frantic shopping, I finally feel settled there. Joe helped me haggle with the mattress man, from whom I snagged a double mattress, four pillows, two tatami mats, some pillow covers and two day bed/floor mattresses for just about thirty dollars! The haggling game is really fun, once you get to know how to play it. It takes a lot for me not to get sucked into a guilt-trip or some sort of trick that plays on my rampant gullibility, but these days I feel I am getting better at taking everything anyone says with a grain of salt. Plenty of salt.

And I am in LOVE with my place! It is by far the most amazing apartment I have ever lived in! High ceilings and tons of light filtering through enormous medieval windows with antique periwinkle shudders that open towards the inside. I have a breakfast nook, and a lounge with the daybeds on the floor and a teeny weeny kitchen with a teeny weeny perfect shelf or cupboard for all of my teeny weeny kitchen needs. But while everything is very miniature, the apartment as a whole is lofty, airy and spacious. I also don't really have too many possessions to speak of at the moment, so it would be hard to clutter it up. I think in the future, I will try to keep my living spaces as minimal as this one. There are a lot of habits I hope to bring back from India. Minimalism, everyday yoga/pranayama/mudra practice on my own, washing my own clothes, no shoes in the house, never having road rage, eating with my hands off leaves instead of plates, etc. I wish I could bring home the weather. And the coconuts. And my new place!

The first night I slept there, Joe came over and brought jasmine flowers for my doorway and candles. We laid around in the candle light on the cushion-covered floor listening to mixes my friends from home have made me, repeating "I LOVE INDIA!" over and over. Before bed I sat on my new porch looking at the stars, slurping papaya out of its skin with a spoon, counting my blessings. I love Mysore. I love India. I love this life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chocolate Cake

There is a hazy fuzz of pollution in the Mysore air that coats every situation and person and color and horizon in layer of softness. Looking at things here, especially during certain parts of the morning and evening, is like chocolate cake for the eyes. Everything glistens with a kind of syrupy sweetness. Everywhere there are colors and textures dripping and radiating off the sky and puddles. It makes the food taste better, the hullabaloo a humming delight, and the disposition float merrily around with the dragonflies.

I feel like a sumptuous feast being slowly cultivated and prepared by the experts of nature. All of my veggies have grown, been harvested, and now I am a vegetable pot roast bubbling in the Indian sun, slowly becoming more and more delicious. All of the spices I’ve collected over the years, the hot, the bitter, the sweet, the sour, all compliment each other a little more as I instinctively round out my recipe.

I wonder…if I can make myself as balanced and as strong as I’ve ever been, plus some…will any grievances or poisons crumble from me like hardened wax? Will my oil and my water separate? How many layers of skin can I shed here, and yet how tough can I make my hide? What parts of myself will I take with me to Varanasi to die and toss in the Ganges river?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yoga Boot Camp: Level Two

(this keyboard has shifty shift keys, so i am going to resign from capitalizing where i aught to. hope y'all don't mind.)

I have begun the second month with my Guru, and have started the learning the intermediate ashtanga series. the challenge level has definitely been risen, as has the impact of the yoga on the many layers of my being. everyday i enjoy my practice a little more and look forward to the following one a little more as well. every day i feel a little happier, stronger, and lighter in my body and mind. i have also started taking a mudra class with the guruji, which is indeed very interesting and unlike anything you might commonly find in the west. yesterday was my first day of this class, and i learned how to massage the roof of my mouth with my tongue in order to allow the "moon juice" to flow from my brain into my mouth. this will give my body diamond strength and help me to evade all disease and prolong my life. all i could do was sit and grin goofily at him as he explained this to me and told me to be happy for all of yoga's many miracles. evade all diseases and maybe death? diamond strength? sure! i'll give it a shot! today i learned a mudra to encourage my spleen to function properly and cure a nervous stomach ache. (...if anyone is interested, when i get back home i will be more than happy to teach this one! the diamond strength one i will be reserving for a worthy few...)

my hips have been aching since i started practicing here. i have gathered through hear-say and through the guruji that the hips store emotional energy that has not been released, or sins one has committed. i am going to interpret this as things i haven't yet forgiven myself for, and have been exploring that idea a bit. guilt leaves a lot of residue in the mind, so it makes a lot of sense that it would gather in my bodily tissues as well.

Saw the movie 2012 in the theatre the other day with a couple guys (and a thousand indian dudes). I thought it would be a fun way to get a little holywood in, but regretted it about a half hour in to the movie. we were stuck way in the back of the theatre where the fans barely work and the speakers are right next to your head. And that movie is terrible! i don't reccommend. if you are going to make a three hour movie (at least that is how long it felt) at least fill it with songs and dancing like the indians do! I did think of Jordan a lot, however, who originally informed me of the Mayan prophesies of the 2012 apocalypse a few years back.

on a similar note, i was overly excited to find a people* magazine in a shala nearby where i was having breakfast one morning. I gasped and shuffled excitedly through the pages...only to find that my interest in celebrity gossip has diminished to almost nil, and i abandoned it after thirty seconds of flipping. i had been complaining just that morning that i missed my us weekly's and ok! mags...I guess not!

*In my opinion, however, people mag doesn't thrill the way us weekly does.

Monday, November 16, 2009


My best buddy here in Mysore at the moment is a guy named Joe. He’s traveled the entire planet, it seems, and has seen the most amazing beaches, jungles, and cities. He has found the best food and fare for the best prices in the world. Despite all of his worldliness, he remains very English to the core, residing in London for the majority of each year, when he isn’t doing his mandatory pilgrimage to visit Mr. Iyengar in India. He has an amazing asana practice that inspires all who come to the Shala, twisting and floating his wiry body with ease into spidery, lively positions most of us only dream of ever finding ourselves in. He finishes long after everyone else does, so I usually wait around for him and wash up a bit before the two of us have breakfast at one of the many hot spots he’s found.

He and I are both in long-distance relationships, a fact which has quickly strengthened the glue in our friendship. Having a penchant for tutoring Americans in the art of using “the Queen’s English,” he has taken me and my American accent under his English wing. (I’m already quite good at it, I believe. I’ve had loads of practice.) We float around Mysore on his scooter chattering with thick tea-time British accents discussing life, yoga, Mysore, and the complexities of our love lives.

Aside from our parallel romances, the classes we share with the Guruji have made for endlessly scintillating conversation over coconuts. Joe adores Mr. Iyengar, and believes him to be perhaps the only remaining traditional Ashtanga teacher in Mysore, and the best at that. Having traveled as he has, in addition to the spry mechanisms of persuasion he possesses, it’s often hard to argue with him. While I too, have much enthusiasm and respect for my new teacher (and Joe), I do grow a tiny bit tired of all of the incessant masculine proselytizing. (One can only listen to so many males, especially white males with nearly nothing restricting their freedom, talk endlessly about bliss, enlightenment, and “correctness” in yoga.) Ashtanga is already a very male-oriented type of yoga, it seems. The combination of this and the heaps of men already stuffed into this country can make for a bit of a suffocating experience for any yogini (female yogi) in Mysore. Nevertheless, I am quite enjoying Joe and our friendship, our floating around on his scooter discussing enlightenment, our adventures and coconuts, and my fabulous faux-British accent.

The everyday yoga has been opening my body like an oyster, cracking and splitting and prying my whole being apart more quickly than I ever imagined. The other day I dropped backwards into a full-wheel pose, and then grabbed my ankles backwards! Never had I even considered this a possibility for my body! I am so thankful for this yoga boot camp, for the shouting old Indian man who is my Guru, for this crazy place and its balmy magic.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Yoga People

...At least those who come to Mysore, all seem to be similarly peaceful, intelligent, receptively kind, and funny people. Maybe it's the India talking, but nearly every traveler I have met in this town thus far have been truly pleasant, with the exception of my brief shala-mate Peter from England. Peter the depressed alcoholic with a seemingly low sanity fuse. Peter who is running away from a an ex-girlfriend like so many other men of his ripening age who travel to India. Peter who smokes mysterious things in the kitchen, wears his shoes in the house, and drunkenly steams around all day. I have arranged to move into a tiny apartment with amazing light, at an amazing price with an amazing tiny garden out front, complete with no possibility of safety-compromising room mates. It reminds me of the little houses my Aunt Kathy likes to live in, a quaint abode with balanced energy and abundant charms. I will have to furnish it myself, but since it looks like I will actually be staying in Mysore through approximately the middle of February before traveling around, the twenty dollars or so that will go into purchasing bed, stove, and sitting arrangements will be well worth it.

I have been taking a little time away from studying for a day or two, and have opted to cut my language classes down to only a few days a week, due to my brain having felt like a sopping sponge, heavy with theory and the goo that starts to coat your brain after having been here, in the boot-camp equivalent of yoga, for a bit. I've noticed that my need to "chill out" has grown exponentially, or perhaps I'm just feeling more indulgent than I have in a while. I don't feel lazy, but I do feel the need to keep things very simple. And poetic! All I have been dying to read since getting to Mysore has been pungent with reality, but I have switched recently to craving wordy novels and tea like I once craved Archie Comics and chocolate chips.

I have had to adjust my diet to fit India. In Seattle I consumed coffee with soy milk, tuna salads and gargantuan green salads, Kombucha and good wine. Here I drink tulsi tea, coconut milk, and an abundance of foods from the whole-milk-from-cows food group (a reasonably ethical staple here). I eat loads of fresh papaya, chickoo and pomegranate. I eat coconut chutney and curry with everything: idlis, set dosas, thali meals, lemon rice, and vadas. I have porridge with ghee and jaggery for breakfast most days. The shift has been somewhat dramatic, causing all sorts of rearranging and stagnation in my body, both emotionally and physically. The teeny mirror in the shala isn't large enough to tell if I look as different as I feel. This lack of winter downtime has been somewhat of a scrambler as well. I am skipping a season entirely, it seems, and am therefor throwing my inner clock for a loop. It is like forgetting to sleep, or missing a period, or going up or down too fast in an elevator. Those rides at the carnival were thrilling, but nothing compares to riding out culture shock.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Winter In Mysore

Inspired by the discussions I've been having with fellow Iyengar student, Joe, about meditation, I sat in my room the other night for about an hour. Eyes closed, I conjured up images that felt "divine" (a mode of advice given to me by the Guruji). The first thing that came to mind was my horse, Cosby. So I meditated on Cosby for a while. It's easy to meditate on him. He is pretty perfectly divine. I used to go out to the barn when upset about things in my adolescent youth and sit in his stall. His huge head would swing around the stall from his food to me, to his food, to me...I remember thinking he reminded me of a brontosaurus with his long head swinging like that. He would put his big muzzle to my hair and blow his breath all over me and then eat some more food. He reminded me of everything that was peaceful as my hair filled with hay and and the smell of him, his eyes twinkling at me. Thinking about ideas such as God or a Divine Mother, or Jesus, or Buddha, or whatever has brought me to consider what things have made me feel...connected, in my life. Cosby has this affect on me...a lot of animals do. India itself is enough, also. A few people I have known or loved, like my little brother, make it easy to feel like there is definitely a "super-soul" shining brightly through the eyes or leaves or tears or roots or colors of beings and things. It is nice to notice these things, and to think about them more often than I ever have.

After sitting and meditating on Cosby for a while, I laid on my bed and watched a candle burn for a long while until I felt sleepy. It was so lovely to just lay and do absolutely nothing but let this candle flicker gently in my peripheral vision, feeling the warmth and calm and peace I had just cultivated set in. I slept like a baby that night, and awoke to the sound of a powerful rainstorm engulfing the shala and all of Mysore. It reminded me of Seattle, and what is probably a cozy winter setting in there. I thought of pumpkins and stew and cider and scarves and Madison Market.

Today it is a balmy overcast. About seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Last night I spent the evening on mats in a garden eating heaps of amazing organic Indian food with a bunch of fellow yogis I have met here. I am starting to feel like I am a stable and known part of the community, my ukulele ever-present, of course. People come to Mysore once and come back again and again and again...I can see why. I could get used to this.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yoga Is Harder Than I Thought

"One, two, three years is sufficient for Asanas, and then one must keep eating cakes in order to get realization!"

The Guruji concluded with this statement today after a long discussion of the Asana limb of Ashtanga yoga. By cakes, he means one must continue on the eight-fold path of yoga to finally satiate one's "hunger" for realization of the true self. And he doesn't mean "stop" after those few years, having later explained that one should keep up the physical practice until death. There are eight limbs, or steps, to divine realization, and before discussing Asana, the third limb, he discussed the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, the moral framework for the yogi, the couple of days prior. Truthfulness, cleanliness (of all kinds), non-stealing, non-harming, happiness, and resolving to a belief in God are a few of them. One of them is Brahmacharya, the practice of controlling one's sex drive. This lit a million little spark plugs in my brain, sending me into a whirlwind of questions both for him and for myself all throughout the day. How is it that yoga has brought me face to face with one of the key factors I have always rejected in organized religion?! I don't know if was is all of the mental, intellectual and egotistical effort or the Indian food (probably both), but I ended up with some sort of an upset digestive system all throughout that night.

"Just because you have money doesn't mean you should be drinking coffee and buying things...Just because you are a youth, doesn't mean you should do EVERYTHING!" was another Guruji-ism that struck me like a gong this afternoon. What a pleasant thought. And a simple thought. I have been contentedly reading in my room all afternoon, whereas usually I am planning out my hours all day so as to pack them with all kinds of "opportunities". So what if I'm in India? I can sit in my room and read all night if I damn well please!

On another note, I have been taking some Hindi lessons from a lovely pair of ladies (Sumana and Lakshmi) who also teach art classes. The lessons are a lot of fun. I love how the language is written especially and sometimes Sumana's little daughter sits next to me and corrects my work. They do a lot of needlework while I am studying, which leaves me drooling for fibrous arts of my own, and I am thinking that after some of my studies with the Guruji let up a bit in a week or two, I will take up some sari-embroidering.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mosquitoes: The Story of My Life

Ever since coming here, I have been grappling for ways to overcome the mosquitoes; to somehow keep them from constantly swarming, drinking my blood, and driving me crazy without having to hide under my net all of the time. I have tried mosquito repellent, citronella spray, plug-in things that fill the air with poison, water lily oil, etc. All have been enough to keep the mosquitoes a tiny bit at bay but they also give me headaches. I started to realize, however, that whenever I ignored the mosquitoes, they seemed to ignore me, too. I started just saying “hi” to them all instead of trying to squash them in an angry tizzy. And miraculously, my mosquito bites have dramatically diminished, and I am dramatically calmer…and less smelly since I only occasionally feel the need to use an oil or spray.

I have realized these mosquitoes are a metaphor for a lot in my life. Missing people, heartbreak, stress, worries, changes, aches and pains, etc, are all much easier to get along with if I simply stop trying to make them “go away.” They don’t go away. If I start to think that they have or will, they get worse and I end up in a heap of tears and pulling muscles. Noticing things without judging them or trying to change them in any way is concept taught in yogic philosophy. It is a habit to be cultivated slowly, but very effective…at least for me.

Also, I recently read in one of my yoga books that food is for thought, liquids are for energy, and fats are for the power of speech. Sit on that idea for a minute. Usually I try to keep fats at a minimum, but have noticed that I have a lot to write about in my journal after eating something fried or oily. I have a lot more to say to myself than usual…India seems to be squeezing every little ache and pain in my heart out of me one large and meaningful drop at a time.