I read Tim Miller’s blog every Tuesday. Yesterday he wrote about the Confluence Countdown and made a reference to how attendance levels had gone from a waiting list of 500 the first time to several openings still available for this year’s Confluence. This got me thinking about how Ashtanga is really the yoga that teaches self sufficiency. Not only because of the Mysore room where everyone is following their own pace and their own challenge, but because the practice is structured around building self motivation. As with any meditative discipline, you can take your mat or your cushion to the center or the shala, or stay at home. But you have to decide to roll out that mat or sit on that cushion and get started regardless of the location you decide to do that at. Community is a beautiful and necessary thing. That is why both teachers and new students thrive on their month(s) in Mysore. But I am confident in saying that one of the skills Sharath and Saraswati want to send back with their students is the ability to practice in solitude, or rather independently. That is what a good yoga teacher imparts: The ability to stand yourself. That is not a typo. I still enjoy being in large groups of ashtangis. I cannot wait to see fellow travelers that I met in India during the Namarupa Yatra when they come to NYC to practice with Sharath this summer. At the same time I now sort of insist on a day or two at home to fool around with props( research okay??) and stuff I saw online. Not that my shala frowns on props, they have them and it is a judgment free zone. I however am not so self judgment free yet, so I prefer to fool around in private. I see that as progress believe it or not because for the first 6 years of my practice I lacked the ability to motivate myself to practice alone. I think now that a person who has practiced for a few years will outgrow the format of the Confluence in San Diego unless they live nearby or it is an convenient trip. Notice I say a person who is not brand new to the practice. I highly, highly recommend a trip to San Diego for a person who does not have a community nearby or is just starting the practice. I cannot think of anything more enjoyable, except the adventure of setting aside a month of your year to spend in India. The morning practices in San Diego are really great for all levels, advanced or beginner. I got advice from Mary and Shelly that I use to this day. After the third year, the afternoon conferences become repetitive for someone with some years of practice and access to a teacher who is knowledgable and follows parampara. The repetition during conference is wonderful on the other hand for someone who is just starting the practice and has not heard the wonderful and personal stories all these gifted teachers have. I hope they fill the venue this year with people who have not had the chance to practice with these superb teachers.
I’ll be a 58 year old woman in May. I can read pro and con writing about pretty much anything without freaking out. I thought this blog entry on the subject of was worth the read just for this sentence alone:
“One of the biggest issues that deserves a continued dialogue between teachers and students is the patriarchal past and present of Indian and Tibetan society and how parampara is one way men have kept women from fully participating in spiritual training and from gaining equal status and empowerment.”
So the first 21 days of the year have been productive in the health department (both physical and mental). Camp Calm is going really well, I’ve learned to do something called chi-running on a treadmill which has done wonders for understanding the logistics of core strength and steadiness for movement and consequently I no longer hate the first 8 Suryas which were formerly the price I had to pay to get to the “good” part of practicing. I have also been on board with a saatvic diet and have learned to use hing ( thank you Kate O’Donnell). Today however I am having a mental crisis that involves food daydreaming. I don’t know if it is because I have been homebound with a snotty cold for four days, or because a snow storm is coming, but all I want is to make and eat white food this weekend.
I think I am not alone when I reveal that most of my comfort food is white or beige. Examples of what I am daydreaming:
White rice with “pegao” (the toasted crunchy bits on the bottom of the pot) and a perfectly fried egg on top.
Grilled cheese (provolone, cheddar, and mozzarella with Challah bread)
Cacio e Pepe (pasta with pecorino romano and a ton of pepper). This is always my answer to what would be your last meal on this earth.
cheese fondue, real boozy with lots of crusty wave hill bread
A baked potato with lots of butter and horseradish
and a plain yellow cake I cannot make because I never asked the only person who could make it right for the recipe.
The only thing that will save me from these hallucinations is that I am too scared to go to a supermarket before a snowstorm.
I am so thankful for my own teacher who is taking 16 of her students to India as I write. That is dedication. You know what I’m saying if you have ever been part of a class trip as a teacher or as a parent. The conditions change little with the student’s age. Fortunately for her a lot of her students on this trip are former teachers themselves. Still, being responsible for safety, well being, and the introduction to India is a big deal. Your teacher is not that person that you take workshops from, or who has the famous shala, or one of the headliners in the yoga festival. They are always traveling, with pre planned schedules of a year in advance. They are inspiring us and have excellent instruction tips, but they are not nurturing your progress every morning in the Mysore room. Your teacher is in the room every morning, sending you an email if she has not seen you in a few days to make sure you are okay, not to guilt you in to coming in. Your teacher either runs the shala or has a travel schedule. That is why staying in Mysore for at least a month makes sense. How else would Sharath be able to help your practice if he was always traveling and doing retreats and workshops? I am not saying you can never leave your students unattended, I am saying that your teacher is the one who has a home base where you can spend time learning there. It is a stable and steady place that you travel to find knowledge if you don’t have anyone close by, or are yourself a teacher who needs nurturing as well. The traveling teacher is also a wonderful resource but not the one who knows your practice.
I don’t think many of my readers are lottery buyers. Unless you are from a Latin family then maybe your grandpa or your single elderly aunt played the lottery. In my house, my dad and the maids played the lottery and although they never won anything significant, they compared how their numbers did and kept tabs on who was closest. I buy powerball every Sunday with the the Sunday edition of the New York Times which I have mostly read online already, but Ray hasn’t, and we like to diss the articles out loud during coffee. So I sometimes win the two bucks I spent, but almost never. That did not stop me from freaking out last night worrying about how I had ruined my life and the lives of those I loved if I won the 1.5 billion powerball. I worried that I did not know a trust and estates lawyer and that if I went cold calling they would hand me to an associate and not a partner. I worried about guessing which of my in laws was likely to sue me and that my sister would be furious that I would not choose her to be my private banker. I got sad about having to move because my house was to close to the street and it has too many windows. I worried that the only thing I really wanted funds for was to go back to India, and I needed a bigger bucket list if I was going to be handed one half of 1.5 billion USD. I even got scared about not being able to give it away because after giving to my alma mater, and the two other non profits I support, I have no idea who to choose plus my family would get even more mad. I even got up and did a search on what to do if you won. and bookmarked it just in case. Maybe all of our worries are this ridiculous. Every one of our “what ifs” are this nutty, guaranteed.
I can’t get going because I downloaded David Bowie’s new album and cannot stop making myself cry.
I am terrible with dates and keeping track of how long since or on this day today kind of stuff. I am going to go ahead and estimate and calculate that I have had a sitting practice for more than 20 years. This means that I sit every day now most days for 40 minutes ( I’ve timed my self created session) sometimes two 15 minute sessions, and very seldom a 10 minute hold yourself together woman please session when it is all I can do. My Pema Chodron complete collection has survived all the purges to my epic self help book collections. So have my Richard Epstein Books, my Eckhart Tolle phase ( Thank you Oprah) books, my Jon Kabat Zinn, my Chogyam Trungpa, And all the books me best friend has given me from the New Kadampa Tradition of which she is a teacher. To this I have recently added some Daniel Ingram and some Shinzen Young. This is what I can remember and still have, who knows what else I’ve read and did not keep, so it is sort of a miracle that I can sit at all with all this swirling in my head. This is not a complaint, it is sort of a preface to sharing that sitting is way less complicated and way more amazing that what I had cobbled for myself during these years, a testament to yes you can teach an old doggie new tricks, or like they say in Spanish, you actually can teach an old parrot how to speak (loro viejo no aprende a hablar). I am on day 5 of David Cain’s Camp Calm, and as you know I run out of steam when writing, but I cannot recommend his two books enough (he may have more) if you want to clean up/clarify/begin/change/recharge your sitting practice.
I am a sucker for a good story followed by a rational explanation in modern lingo. I also believe in coincidence/synchronicity or whatever you want to call it. A couple of weeks ago, the word Ekadashi flashed on one of my many online haunts and I clicked and read. It turns out that the packet my ayurvedic practitioner gave me two years ago mentions that I should fast once a week and I pretended it was one of several options. This year I found myself a Ekadashi calendar and am going to give it a whirl. Today is the first day. I do not even know why I have been stubborn about it since fasting is my favorite cure for the common cold, stomach flu, and other common ailments. It is not hard for me, although breaking the fast is not a pretty sight. I’m going to work on that part too. If you are interested you can read about it here even though it is not the fanciest format or from the MayoClinic.