Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jen comes back to Michigan

The Practical

I've been home for a week now. This picture sums up the first few days: socks, wool blankets, hanging out with Pete around the house, passing out on the couch at 8pm, and a snuggly dog who has pretty much not left my side since I got back.

Is it good to be home? Absolutely. Many joyous reunions: husband, dog, Boivin clan, and friends that I missed very much. Do I miss India? I do. It is hard not to experience the environment here as barren, drab, and artificial after the vibrancy of India. And the experience of being so totally immersed in a world that shares my passions is not easy to leave behind. And the food. Oh, the food.

But, my life is here and my life is good. Culture shock has not been too bad: the weirdest thing was that I kept trying to drive on the wrong side of the road for a few days, and I never even drove in India! I am pretty well readjusted by now, though.

I put a bunch of pictures online if you want to browse. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenboivin/

The Practice

It's great to be back at Ashtanga Michigan and practicing with my home community. I was so happy to walk in the door and see everyone, it really is an amazing group that we have and I am so grateful for them. It helps my readjustment, too, that many of them are India veterans as well.

I am easing back into practice, what with the sitting very, very still all day for 10 days before coming home and then a full day and night of travel. I was pretty sore after my first day back, I'm not gonna lie! I have "just" been practicing the primary series for a week after traveling but I'll pick back up with my intermediate postures tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the whole experience has deepened my practice as things continue to unfold.

The Path

Indian spirituality really resonates with me, and provides a framework for understanding the world and myself speaks to me very deeply. Yoga as a complete system is a practical application of this philosophy, a technology that allows you to gradually make progress toward the goals that are the ultimate aim of every spiritual tradition. I learned so much in India, from reading, from listening, from observing, from practicing, from just being in the presence of people who have obviously made great strides on this path. I hope to be able to keep a lot of that alive here, as I process and integrate the experience and see what happens next.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Holy moly, where does the time go?

The Practical

Tomorrow is my last day in Mysore. This is slightly unbelievable to me. The place is slowly emptying out as yoga season draws to a close, and my extracurricular activities are winding down. Last week was Jayashree-less, as she went to do a workshop in Goa. Yesterday was my last dance class and last Kirtan. Martina left last week, and a few more people disappear every day. Tomorrow morning is my last practice at the shala. The ticking of the clock is deafening.

I fly to Mumbai on Wednesday morning for a vipassana course at Dhamma Giri, then I'll be home on April 11.

I had breakfast with Anita this morning and she asked if I was happy or sad about leaving. I gave the same answer I gave about leaving to come here: "both". I still can't believe it is possible to feel two such conflicting emotions so fully about the same situation. I will be overjoyed to be home and reunited with what I have waiting for me there, but I feel so connected to this place in so many ways that it is hard to imagine leaving it behind. Marika and I were on the bus the other day, (crouching on the wheel well between two seats, crammed in amongst a throng of women in saris) and she mused wistfully, as only a Swedish stage actress could: "how is it possible to love a country so much? It's just so ALIVE".

I'm trying to run around in my last hours taking all the pictures and doing all the shopping I didn't get to over the past few months because I had PLENTY of time for all that and much more important things to do...

On the very short list entitled "things I will not be sad to leave behind" are the mosquitoes and the heat, both of which are getting pretty oppressive. On the much longer list of losses to mourn are the food, the animals in the streets, the vibrant, pulsating energy that surrounds you at all times, the intensity of the practice, the opportunities for tapping into rich lineages of ancient wisdom that surround you everywhere you look, and the scores of incredible people that I have just met but feel profoundly connected to.

On the other hand, I'm going home! To Pete! To a whole different set of comforts and experiences and opportunities! To other scores of incredible people! "There is too much good in life and why can't it all be in one place": this is not a terrible problem to have.

The Practice

Working, playing, breathing, sweating, observing, practicing, practicing, practicing. Getting glimpses of this beautiful state, here described by Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

"[his] movements are freed from the shackles of his will, and he goes into a light trance which gives his gestures the perfection of conscious, automatic motion, without thought or calculation ... [he] delights in the forgetfulness that movement brings, where the pleasure of doing is marvelously foreign to the striving of the will. This is eminently true of many happy moments in life. Freed from the demands of decision and intention, adrift on some inner sea, we observe our various movements as if they belonged to someone else, and yet we admire their involuntary excellence."

Ever-so-brief glimpses, mind you. And certainly not in my newest postures. Last week I was assigned ustrasana and laghu vajrasana. Then Sharath told me on Thursday that I would be doing kapotasana today, but after watching my attempt at coming out of laghu vajrasana he decided I wasn't ready. I could have told him that! (Interesting side note: he communicated this by yelling across the packed room: "you're not doing it correctly!" Once upon a time this would have mortified me to the point of paralysis, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover now that I didn't really mind. I was quite amused, actually. Three cheers for the slow but steady shedding of past conditioning!)

The Path

I got an email from my mother early in my trip here delighting that I really seemed to have found my "spiritual home". Indeed. I have found symbols that speak to me very powerfully, connected to teachers who astound and inspire me, and engaged in practices that give me an experiential understanding of what was formerly just words. The world makes more sense to me every day, from the sacred to the mundane. I have actually caught myself laughing out loud a few times from the sheer joy of it all. Not a bad place to be. Thank you, Mother India.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dance, learning, and life

The Practical

You may have noticed it's been a while since you've heard from me. This is partially due to the electricity situation: apparently now that it's summer the power is turned off in 90-minute intervals throughout the day for energy conservation. These are just the planned outages, there are random bonus blackouts on top of these. As you can imagine, this makes electronic communication sort of challenging.

This isn't the only reason I've been slacking on the computer, though. There are plenty of times that I have electricity and think maybe I'll write something but just can't summon my own power source and take a nap instead. Goodness gracious, how did I get so BUSY?

I think I am overdoing things a tiny bit. I am just acknowledging this, without any real plans to change anything for the next few weeks... because everything I am doing is just. so. cool. that I can't help myself. There are the basic non-negotiables: sleep, eat, meditate, bucket bath, etc. Then of course there's the yoga, which is why I am here. Our shala time is now 4:30am and I am taking about 2 hours to get through my practice. I could easily live a full life here just doing these things plus writing and resting.

But then there is Jayashree, Narasimhan, James, and Sindhu. Jayashree is a Sanskrit scholar and bright light of a soul who leads daily courses in chanting the yoga sutras in her house in town. Her cousin Narasimhan then expounds on their philosophy from his vast storehouse of scientific and academic knowledge and profound personal spiritual experience. I sit and absorb in awe. This is a few hours every morning. James is a long-time transplanted Brit doing an MA in Sanskrit. He is a master storyteller with an incredible voice, and he leads kirtans twice a week and teaches classes on the Bhagavad Gita twice a week. He's in another part of Mysore, and this is another few hours on those days. Sindhu is my dance teacher, and I am keeping up with her one hour a day here in Gokulam. It's a lot to be doing, especially with the weather getting so hot that even the Indians are starting to comment on it. But I only have a few more weeks here, and who knows when these opportunities will come around again? So I sleep when I can and I blog, um, casually.

The pictures today are all courtesy of Martina, who has the very sweet habit of sneaking pictures of me on her iphone when I'm not looking and emailing them to Pete so he can get a little glimpse of me every day. So here I am: patiently waiting for second breakfast at Tina's breakfast place (fenugreek rotis with tomato chutney, yummmm), posing as the Nataraj form of Shiva so James can explain its symbolism to us, listening intently to James saying something smart, sharing my post-practice coconut water with one of the street dogs who hangs out by the shala, and investigating a (flock? herd? swarm?) of bats from the roof of Anu's Cafe. Good times.

The Practice

I am finding practicing really, really fun these days. I wake up looking forward to going to the shala and picking up where I left off yesterday. I feel like a little kid going to the playground. It is still hard work and there are still things I struggle with, but I am watching my attitude shift completely away from getting frustrated with what I can't do to tuning into all the little victories and surprises. The system is really starting to make sense to me from the inside and I love it more every day. So that is cool.

Martina has been taking really good notes from the Sunday conferences and posting them on her blog, if you want to know what Sharath has to say for himself.

The Path

One of the themes that keeps coming up in the philosophical discussions around here is that life is all about learning. We are, each of us, consciousness learning about itself. Everything in samsara is ultimately for our enjoyment and our education, if we approach it with the proper attitude. Everything that happens to us is to teach us something. This, and a few other conversations I've had lately, have me thinking about the process of learning.

I was talking to someone who had taken the harmonium here. She said she showed up to class one day really struggling with something she had practiced until she was dripping with sweat. Her teacher said, "did you practice?" She said yes, I practiced so hard. He said, "did you do it 100 times?" She stared at him in shock, but he was completely serious. There is so much to be said for that. Just keep doing. And doing. And doing. Whatever you are trying to learn, whether it's play the harmonium or be a nicer person, just keep doing it. Way more times than you think you should have to.

Then I was talking with Sindhu about the process of learning Odissi. Some actual glimpses of dance are starting to emerge from our endeavors together and she was giving me encouragement. "First, you learn each of the pieces. Then, you learn how to put them together. Then, you practice until you can do it without any tension. Then, you learn how to make it beautiful."

Wow. This is certainly not the educational philosophy that was inculcated in me through the New Jersey public school system. But what if we approached everything in life like that? And why not, isn't that what life is for? Everything from dance to your daily routine to how you walk down the street to how you interact with other people to how you understand yourself... keep finding the pieces. Keep trying to fit them together. Keep practicing to do it with more ease. And keep trying to make it beautiful.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Food, Elephants and Tibetans

The Practical

On Martina's first trip here in 2008 she had the sudden thought on the plane, "uh-oh, I hope I like Indian food!" (No worries, she does.) This was not an issue for me, since I LOVE Indian food. Especially South Indian food. Eating is going really, really well here.

I am not cooking as much as I thought I would be. It's hot, I don't want to be in the way in our family's kitchen, and I'm surprisingly busy! Plus when you can get a healthy, delicious thali for less than two dollars... it's pretty hard to want to eat anything else. Let's talk about thalis. It's your own little mini buffet of bread, rice, soups, vegetables, lentils, and dessert. It comes in little cups or piles and you eat it with your hands. (This can be awkward at first. The first time we went out for one, we pretended to be absorbed in the cricket match on the TV at the restaurant so we could secretly spy on the guys next to us. What do you pour onto what? How do you not get rice all over yourself? I am getting more proficient.) The food is spicy and delicious and you get as many refills as you can handle. So yeah, we eat a lot of thalis. And there are a few enterprising families in the neighborhood that have opened cafes catering to the yoga community, where we typically have our veg, dal, salad, and chapati dinner. We also eat a lot of idlis and dosas at the street cafe around the corner. With the exception of the fruit and granola I sometimes eat at home, and the the homemade bread I sometimes eat at the cafe run by a Swedish couple, I am only eating Indian food. And I am very happy. The restaurant situation will definitely feel like the cruellest deprivation upon my return home (with coconuts running a close second).

On Saturday I tagged along with two other women on a day trip to Dubare Elephant Camp and Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement. The elephant camp was... interesting. I had been led to expect a happy elephant preserve, sort of like SASHA Farm but for our pachyderm friends. I was not expecting ankle chains and beaty-sticks with nails in them, wielded by the "trained naturalists" boasted of on the forestry service website. I did bond with one particularly broken-looking fellow during bathtime. He was just lying there with his trunk all curled in on itself, like for protection and comfort, like a little abused kid in the fetal position sucking his thumb. It kind of broke my heart. He let me rub his head and trunk and tell him he was a good elephant, and I could actually feel his massive body responding and relaxing a tiny bit under my hands. It was cool because it's not fundamentally different from reading, say, a dog with empathy and responding with compassion, but it feels so much more intense because it's such a big and foreign animal. It was a pretty powerful experience, even if it made me sad. One day we will learn.

There was not as much pathos at Bylakuppe. We visited one of the Tibetan monasteries there and saw three beautiful, intricately decorated temples. I sat outside one of the classrooms and listened to the novices practicing chanting and music... I could have stayed there all day. One of the older monks invited me into a temple and explained a lot of the statues and art to me, which was neat. He also said he thought I would be a Buddhist nun one day, but he didn't specify if he meant in this lifetime or not.

The Practice

At conference this past Sunday Sharath talked about how yoga is to challenge yourself spiritually, to compete against your own weaknesses and limitations and ego. He reiterated the need to love yoga, to love doing asana, to love the spirituality of it, to love your practice wherever it is. He also talked about how well the ashtanga system is designed, how all the steps are laid out to help us purify ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.

I have heard this all before but I am coming to a real understanding of it for myself. Yoga works. But you have to do it right. The structure is not random and the rules are not arbitrary. When you water it down to whatever makes you feel good right now, you miss the point and you will miss the results.

There are systems that have stood the test of time and proven that they can transform people. Then there are little offshoots of these systems that might superficially resemble them, but they have been adapted to cater to the limitations of the practitioners rather challenge them to overcome them. This is true of most mainstream yoga, meditation, and religious practice, think. If you really want to make yourself a different person, you have to find a pure method, and you will have to put in a lot more work and put up with a lot more discomfort than you probably want to. We aren't very fond of hard work and discomfort, of course, so we have ended up with all sorts of new liberated systems that are fine and pleasant and fundamentally pretty useless. As Rabindaranath Tagore said, "liberation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree".

The Path

One of the things I have heard from my vipassana meditation teachers is that regular practice gives rise to a different kind of mind, one in which universal compassion arises eventually arises easily and naturally. I used to think this was a cute idea. Then this weekend, during the events at the elephant camp, I observed something interesting in myself.

Once upon a time I would have felt what I called compassion for the elephant and anger at the trainer. But as I sat there, I also felt compassion for the trainer. Easily and naturally. Happy people aren't mean, and his inability to feel any empathy for the animal he was beating reflects a deep suffering within him. I watched him, with his angry face, sweating in the sun as he scrubbed violently at the elephant, and felt nothing but the same wish I felt for the elephant. May you not suffer. May you be happy. I have heard this all before and could have reasoned it out before but still felt angry. Truly believing and feeling it, and seeing it arise spontaneously was pretty cool.

Monday, February 21, 2011

An Ode to Coconuts

The Practical

Let me tell you about the coconut situation. There are coconut stands on just about every major street corner, and one enterprising fellow who parks his coconut truck in front of the shala gate every morning and reaps all the traffic of sweaty, thirsty yoga students needing a delicious fluid and electrolyte tonic. I don't know how he scored that real estate, but he does a brisk business. We drink a lot of coconuts. There is also The Coconut Stand, which is where the bendy white people drink their coconuts at other times of day.

To drink a coconut, which costs 10 rupees (less than 20 cents), the coconut man hacks the top off of a tender young coconut with an intimidating curved knife and sticks a straw in it for you. You drink the coconut water, then he breaks the coconut open and you eat the coconut jelly or meat that he carves out for you with the same big knife (texture depends on the maturity of the coconut. I found the jelly a bit slimy at first but now I prefer it.) But the coconut's story does not end there. Then you throw your coconut on the ground, where it becomes a snack for a cow or a goat. Then someone comes along and gathers up the coconut shells and I think they burn them.

That is for young coconuts. For older, "grown up" coconuts (as Anita calls them in her adorable version of English), you don't drink them but you grate up the meat inside and cook with it or use it as a garnish. First you split the husk with another scary implement - this time a big pointy metal thing that you impale the coconut on and then crack it open. Anita makes this look easy, as she does with grating the coconut on her little knife/grater/stool thing (see photo, I can't properly describe it. But I want one.)

Then you use the grated coconut to make something delicious. THEN, you save the old coconut husks for the rainy season. Because you get hot water in the summer from a solar heated hot water tank on the roof, but this doesn't work in the rainy season so you burn old coconut husks to heat your bath water. Aren't coconuts the best?

In other news, it has taken a month but I have finally discovered something I don't like about India. It is getting _really_ hot, and I would like to be able to lounge around in a strappy tank top. That is all. But modesty rules are different here, so I have to wear sleeves even around the house (since we live with a family) and to dance class. I would smell a lot better if they were more relaxed with their dress code, but so be it. At least the shala is Westernized enough that I can practice in a tank top, otherwise I might die.

The Practice

Yoga is infinitely deep, even on a purely physical level. I could do nothing but sun salutations for the rest of my life and still not run out of subtler and subtler things to work with. Still, the ego has its own definition of progress, especially the modern Western ego that has been especially conditioned to conquer and compete and compare. "I want more postures!", it says. "I want to prove that I am special and talented!" I am getting better at ignoring this nattering, and today's practice was focused and rewarding for the little steps I notice my body and mind taking toward freedom. When I got to pashasana I actually thought, "Wow, that was tiring. I'm glad I get to stop here".

So, of course I got three new postures.

And, this will surprise no one, apparently I need to have a whole discussion with Sharath every time he gives me a new posture. Today went like this: I did my dropbacks and he came over and said, "korunchasana". I couldn't tell if it was a statement or a question. I said, "did I do korunchasana? No." He said again, "korunchasana". I said, "I should do it now? I already did backbends". He said, "I was supposed to give it to you today. If you don't do it today you have to wait two more days". I shrugged, "meh" (see above...) and he said , "Wednesday, " and held up three fingers, "korunchasana, shalabhasana, bhekasana". "I said, "all three in one day?" because I have never heard of that before. He confirmed his straightforward instructions.

So, I'll be pretty tired on Wednesday. Bhekasana is as far as I had gotten under Matthew's tutelage, so anything that comes from here on out will be new for real. Imagine the conversations I will have with him then...

The Path

What exactly is this phenomenon we call a human being? How is one supposed to work and how can I be better at being one? These are some of the questions that I've been working with lately and a big part of what took me to India. We are so crazily complicated. Reality is like a set of Russian nesting dolls. At one level, it is true that we are subatomic particles, which themselves are just temporary accumulations of energy. At another level, we are our cellular biochemical reactions, and then on up through our tissues and organs and organ systems... our primal brainstem instincts to our lizard/squirrel/monkey brains... to the transcendent inner light of pure consciousness that pervades the entire universe and that every spiritual tradition in the world teaches us is our true nature, and our job is to find our way back to it. The level of reality that is the LEAST real, whether you ask an ascended master or modern science, is this separate-self ego construction that we use to make our way through the mundane world. And yet... that is all we think we are!

"Reason says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. In between these two, our life flows."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Travels within travels

The Practical

It's hard to believe I've only been here for 3 weeks. Time passes differently here. It seems like every night before I go to bed I think, "Man, I can't believe it was just this morning that I [did whatever]". I certainly thought that a lot this weekend during our fun, whirlwind adventure in Hyderabad.

On background: Dr. and Mrs. Reddy, the parents of our good friend Vikram, are Indian imports to Michigan and have lived there for the past few decades, but they maintain a home in Hyderabad where they very wisely spend a good part of the Michigan winter. When they found out I would be in India during this time, they graciously arranged for me and Martina to fly up to Hyderabad to visit them for a weekend.

The travel itself is a fun Indian adventure story. We had a flight booked from the Mysore airport going through Bangalore to Hyderabad, but when we got to the airport (after taking two bus trips and a bit of a walk), we were informed that all flights were canceled. We had gotten to the airport early enough that we still had time to get to Bangalore by car (!) so the airline arranged for a driver to take us on the four-hour journey. Okay! We got to Bangalore just in time for our flight to Hyderabad. Now, neither of us has a phone that works here. We have our iPhones set to airplane mode so we can use the internet when wifi is available, and we have a (very old, slow) laptop with wireless broadband that works most of the times we try it, but we are certainly not easy to reach, especially if time is of the essence. Turns out the airline had tried to contact us to let us know our flight was canceled, and when that failed they called Vik and woke him up in the middle of the night and then he couldn't get in touch with us either. But, everything worked out, like it always seems to, and by Friday evening we were enjoying a massive plate of delicious Indian food at a rooftop party thrown by some of the Reddys' friends.

Saturday was a full day of Hyderabad highlights: we started at Charminar, then did a little shopping for bangles at some of the famed area markets, then it was off to Chowmahal palace. Hyberabad was ruled by Muslims for many centuries and this is reflected in a lot of its art and architecture. In the afternoon we walked around the Golconda fort, which is up in the hills outside the city. Highly recommended if you are ever out that way. It is a marvel of all kinds of engineering, including acoustic: our guide showed us how standing in one specific spot you can hear someone clapping from the top of the hill. That night there was another party. The Reddys are waaaay more energetic and social than we are, they put us younguns to shame! On Sunday they took us to a family wedding in Dr. Reddy's hometown of Warangal. It is apparently not unusual here to go to a wedding of people you don't know - wedding invitations are understood to include "you, your family, and anyone else you feel like bringing". This one was a relatively modest affair of "only" about a thousand people. It was absolutely beautiful and fun.

A note on the road trip parts of our journey: Indian highways are an interesting experience. They run through towns, for the most part, so stretches of clear road are punctuated by all that towns bring: cross traffic, pedestrians, speed bumps, cows/goats/dogs/buffalo, street demonstrations, etc. Out on the highway proper there are two lanes in each direction, officially. But in addition to cars, highway traffic includes bicycles, bullock carts, motorcycles bearing families of five, autorickshaws with nine people in them, buses, small pickups overburdened with coconuts, giant flatbed trucks with so many sacks of something tied onto them they are more trapezoidal than rectangular... you get the idea. Because of this diversity of vehicles, highway speeds vary widely. Everybody wants to pass the people who are going slower than they are, but since there are far more kinds of vehicles traveling at different speeds than there are lanes, this is not always possible if you play by the rules. So, we learned, you make your own rules, and your road trip becomes a 3-hour long, horn-blaring game of chicken. But, everything worked out, as it always seems to. And it was neat to get to see so much of the countryside between our destinations.

Now we are back in Mysore after an easy trip on Monday. (Another tidbit about travel in India: they have separate lines for women and men at airport screenings for domestic flights, so that women can be frisked in private, and the women's lines are way shorter. ) It felt really good to get "home" and to be back in the shala this morning. I'm picking up my little routine where I left off: yoga, dance, Sanskrit, and philosophy.

The Practice

Ashtanga actually has six series of postures, and the one most people are familiar with is the first or primary series, slso known as "yoga chikitsa", or "yoga therapy". According to Guruji (as quoted by Kino), "First series: body is healing. Second series: mind, emotions is healing. Third and fourth series: demonstration only".

The second, or intermediate series, is called nadi shodhana and is a set of postures designed to purify the nervous system. Matthew me practicing it last year and I had worked up to the first 4 postures. But when you come to Mysore for the first time, no matter what you are doing at home you only practice primary and Sharath decides when to give you intermediate asanas. (It is funny that we talk here of "only" practicing primary... people who are not in the ashtanga world stare at me in shock and say you do WHAT with your body and for 90 MINUTES EVERY DAY?!)

On Wednesday of last week, Sharath helped me with my dropbacks, then said, "Monday, pashasana" (the first posture of the second series). I said, "I'm not here on Monday, I'm going on a trip to Hyderabad". (Claudia had a good laugh at hearing this, and said I must be the first person who has responded to getting second series from Sharath with, "sorry, that doesn't really work for my schedule".) So he said, "Okay, Wednesday, pashasana". Then he changed his mind and said, "tomorrow, pashasana". Yes, sir! Nerve cleansing commenced. We shall see what comes out of it.

I missed two practice days while we were in Hyderabad, which Sharath pointed out this morning. He told me and Martina we had to pay 500 rupees extra for not coming yesterday. Heh.

The Path

If you'll forgive me for outsourcing my blogging to the talented and prolific Claudia once again, she has a great post about meditation based on a conversation we had recently... so it's the lazy man's way of sharing my thoughts on that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life taking shape

The Practical

It's been just over two weeks, and I am settling into a nice little routine here. Our living situation is great; we are renting a room from a family a 5-minute walk from the shala. They couldn't be nicer, it is fun and comfortable to be in a happy family environment, and it is helpful to have them as a resource in learning to navigate a new city and culture.

In addition to yoga, Sanskrit, and philosophy classes at the shala, I have started Indian classical dance classes. I am taking Odissi dance lessons from a teacher I met through Martina. I love it! It is a very intricate style of dance and I am learning all the pieces one at a time: foot positions, body position, head position, neck position, eye position, hand gestures... slowly starting to combine them and add movement. It is hard, a lot of things to concentrate on at once! It is so much fun to be playing with dance again. I didn't realize how much I missed it.

I have now ventured three times out of our cozy little Gokulam bubble into the more chaotic world of central Mysore. Once for a deep tissue massage at a place called the Three Sisters - there is one sister who cooks and the other two do things like massage you with their feet while holding on to ropes suspended from the ceiling. "Modest" doesn't begin to describe their accommodations, but it was good stuff. Then this weekend Impa (the daughter of our host family) and her friend took me shopping at a bazaar and did all my bargaining for me so I didn't have to pay Western prices for the beautiful clothes and shoes I got (see above, advantages of living with a family :). And today Claudia, Martina and I went for "the best dosas in Mysore" as recommended by Claudia's rickshaw driver, to an unassuming little restaurant on the other side of town. They were indeed delicious. (More details and photos from that adventure on Claudia's blog)

Have I mentioned that I love it here? I love the food and the clothes and the history and the art. I love how ancient it is, how vast and colorful and vibrant. I even love it for the things that are supposed to be bothersome: I love the noise and the crowds and the chaos. I love that the streets are like a petting zoo. I love the attitude toward life that you have to adopt when the water turns off for four days.

The Practice

Remember how I was talking about getting to be a spectator to some amazing practitioners? Thursday while I was waiting for a spot to open up I got to watch Kino practicing some fourth series postures. Wowza. Friday and Sunday were led classes. Saraswati led the class on Sunday, adorably attired in a blue and white housecoat. She is 70 years old and all of 5 feet tall, but she can still spend all morning helping gangly foreigners turn into various yoga pretzels. Pretty impressive.

Monday and today was more Mysore practice. I am having fun watching how the practice unfolds and matures here. I'm making a strong determination to work on strength and arm balances, which is something that still eludes me. It will be interesting to see what happens with that. I think I need to fall on my face at least once and just get it over with so I can move forward...

The Path

I have been thinking about the importance of ritual in spirituality and life in general. Ritual and tradition are such a big part of everyday life here. We Americans tend to pride ourselves on being independent of such trappings. But where we don't have rituals that have been honed and handed down over many generations, we tend to just absorb and compulsively repeat whatever patterns of behavior we pick up from our cultural influences, which are not usually very skillful. (Just look at the way we eat.)