Live from Mysore #14 ( in through the outdoor)

Just back from dinner at Auntys. It’s 6:15pm so we had to rush into our flat (apartment) and put up the mosquito net before the power goes out. It goes out for an hour or 2 every night around this time and if you don’t get the mosquito netting up before the power goes out you have to do it in the dark. Then there is a greater potential that a mosquito is stuck in the net with you. Did I mention I go to bed at 8pm most every night? We get up at 4:45am. Anyways, there were other things I wanted to do first but I had to get the net up. And I said out loud, “There are so many things I have to do before I can do the thing I want to do.” Then I started laughing a lot. So the mosquito netting is up and if you have ever spent the night with a mosquito you’ll know the importance of the net. It also made me remember something I heard: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito.”

Forgot to meditate before dinner so have to do it now before I sleep and with a full stomach. I guess it should never be something you feel you have to do, but shit happens. My TM teacher says you have to fall in love with the practice to get the most of it. True that… or for those of you not down with the hip–hop, that is true.

Took some pictures on the walk to Aunty’s and I realized that, besides my unhealthy obsesion with monkeys, when I use the still camera (not my video camera) I have been taking pictures of doors and windows I think look cool. It was a strange thing I wasn’t doing consciously. The question is: Am I looking for an entrance or an exit… AND is there a difference?

Not going to yoga tomorrow. That old man has beat me. I am whipped. 25 yoga (asana) classes in 26 days. BNS Iyengar does not take off Saturdays or full moons like normal yoga teachers in Mysore. He only takes the new moon off. Definately a sadist. I know he loves it, the crusty old bastard. Yes, there is such a thing as too much yoga.

Nancy and I were both invited to be extras in a Bollywood movie tomorrow. It was supposed to be last week but got rescheduled so I had to pass this time around. My days are numbered with these teachers. I can be an extra back home. But Nancy will be doing the gig. She’ll be playing the tall white foreigner.

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Live from Mysore #13 (animals)

I was standing on Double Road watching 5 monkeys in a tree. I took out my camera and started to film them. I looked over my shoulder for a second and I noticed an Indian woman in a slow passing bus using her cell phone to take a picture of me.

I woke up in the middle of the night to use the toilet. I lifted the toilet seat – because I am a gentleman – and an orange gecko jumped out of the toilet and onto the wall. The gecko moved quickly up the wall and out the window.

The next morning BNS Iyengar was pushing me really hard in Marichyasana D. I was trying to remain silent, but a sound came out of me—a squeak, like Ned Beatty in Deliverance.

We went back to the Devaraja Market to see if the 3 boys that ran the incense and oil stand I visited in 2006 were still there. They were- They have everyone who buys something sign a book with a list of what they bought. They have a guest books for every year and every country. While they put together my small order of incense, I filled out some info in the America 2010 book.

We then went to the Ashoka bookstore to buy a couple of Osho books. I decided I wanted some more incense so we went back to the oil and incense stand and the boys had gone through their old guest books and found my entry from 2006.

Tonight—as always—dinner at Aunty’s

Live from Mysore #12 (people and stuff)

If you read my book http://leavingstressbehind.com/ you have heard the name Jonathan. He helped me out when I was lost in Bangalore in 2006. Jonathan is from California also (funny), but is living and co-operating a yoga shala in Gokulam called Bheemashakti http://www.bheemashakti.org/physical.html. I did a drop-in class there and studied with H.R. Suresh, Jonathan’s partner and teacher. Suresh is a real easy-to-be-around guy. He put me on this jungle gym thing to help me open up my back and more. Their yoga is not the yoga we are used to, but it is some cool stuff. The class is done on the roof of the building under an awning so you can see a bit of the city.

Viola is our neighbor; she has been to India many times and is going next to Goa to study. She has already studied with everyone in town… she is the Joni Yung of Mysore. We had a going-away breakfast with her at a nice café in Gokulam. We ate on their front lawn under a canopy.

Between French toast and a few odd yoga poses (I did shoulder stand on Viola while she did bridge), I ran into my friend Sean. I also know Sean from my first trip to India. Sean is involved with Odanadi (http://www.odanadi-uk.org/) and is setting up an around-the-world sun salutation event to bring awareness to and help stop human trafficking. We will be joining him in LA in March.

Got the wrap on Marichyasana D on my right side for the 3rd time since being here. It would be nice to get the other side but we’ll see. Of course, then where do I go? Because it never ends. BNS Iyengar took a photo with me after class today and even smiled. Someone is making a documetary on him so I guess he’s getting used to being an 83-year old yoga rock star. I don’t think he would have done it by choice. When someone asked him why he doesn’t have a current web site he said, “Am I doing something wrong?” His classes are full seven days a week. He only takes the new moon off.

Nancy has started an Iyengar dictionary. Here’s what she has so far:
“see the top” = look at the ceiling
“surround it” = bind the pose
“introduce the hands” = put your hands under your feet in padahastasana
“come to the position” = samasthiti
“roll on” = do chakrasana
“reverse the leg” = fold your leg out to the side for pashimottanasana C
“get up!” = into utkatasana; or from garba pindasana into kukkutasana
“fold the knee” = bend your leg for utthita parshvakonasana
“arrange your head” = tilt your head back and put the crown on the ground for setu bandhasana, matsyasana, uttana padasana, etc.
“Right leg! Right leg!!” = could be any number of things he wants you to do with your right leg (or left) but isn’t telling you.

I’m sitting now in the Mandala café having chai and scrambled eggs. It’s 8:30am here.

Live from Mysore #11 (Britney Spears and the pursuit of enlightenment)

Nagaraja (my meditation teacher) was talking to me about suffering and the human condition. He told me every human is insane, but if you announce these things publicly, you will be crucified. Suffering, according to Nagaraja, is caused by unobtainable desires, like wanting a million dollars. Then he says, “… or wanting to have sex with Britney Spears.” When he said that, my first thought was, “Hey, wait a second… I was in the lobby of a condo building on Santa Monica beach and out of the elevator walked Britney Spears. She was wearing a pair of Uggs and a peach colored slip dress. As she walked out of the elevator, she was about 5 feet away from me. I remember thinking, “this girl that looks like Britney Spears has some thick leggs.” Then I realized it was her, Britney Spears. Her skin is kind of bad and has patches of acne. We made eye contact. I thought for a second, “I could have sex with Britney Spears. But I don’t think I want to.”

I think about it for a second and decide to tell Nagaraja the story. After I tell him the story, there’s a long pause and he just stares at me. I’m thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t have told him that story.” As the pause starts to get uncomfortable, he finally breaks the silence and says, “Okay, okay… Angelina Jolie.” And then proceeds to continue his lecture.

But I was stuck in a revelation: We the people of America—or better yet, LA—are privileged. Not so much because it’s possible we could have sex with Britney Spears (I mean, really, do you think some Indian boy has that chance-or wants it-?). But because we have so many good things and opportunities that a large part of the world considers unobtainable.

I’d appreciate it if no one forwarded this to Britney Spears.

Live from Mysore #10 (Monkeys!!!)

Every night we eat at Aunty’s. I feel great after eating her dinners. Chapatis dripping in ghee. Shredded carrot salad. And chutney. Last night we went to Aunty’s just like we always do but no Aunty. Just her husband. He speaks very little, even when Aunty is there. Aunty is always upbeat and happy. The husband’s always quiet. So now it’s just us and him. I don’t know where Aunty is, but the husband is making us dinner tonight. Did your father ever make you dinner when your mother was out of town? Same. Not the same.

We quickly ate, paid and left. I hope Aunty’s back tomorrow.

On the way back to our place, I see a monkey on the top of a 2-story building. Last time I was in India, I didn’t see any monkeys without having to drive out of town. This time, there’s one climbing down the side of the building 20 feet in front of us. He grabs a telephone line and swings down to the awning on the house and sits for a minute. A girl and her mother stand in the street watching with us, just as tripped out. The monkey then jumps off the awning and onto the roof of a parked car with a thump. Then he jumps down to the street like he doesn’t have a care in the world. And maybe he doesn’t.

He monkey walks across the street and starts to climb another building. As he climbs with no troubles like Spiderman, I think of what my TM teacher said… “Why do you do yoga poses? Monkeys don’t have to do yoga. They can just jump up and climb a building. No yoga. No problem.” As the monkey climbs up the building, I notice 3 of his dirty monkey friends already on the top of the building waiting for him. He jumps up to them, defying gravity, walks over to his friend, climbs on his friend’s back and humps his friend a couple times, then jumps down and disappears for about 25 seconds. When he comes back out on the ledge, he is holding an unopened package of cookies. He tears the top open and takes out one cookie, sits down and eats it.

When I got home, I wrote this note and had 4 cookies. I tried to eat only one just like the monkey, but didn’t have the self-control. But I assume the monkey stole his cookies. I paid for mine. Evolution?

Live from Mysore #9 (It might get boring)

This is a little technical. (Although I’m sure my opinions and obseravtions will make their way in). Yoga—or more importantly Ashtanga Yoga, which I am studying and is loosely the basis for the way I teach is a very strict practice. Initailly, I thought there was only one way to do this practice. 60 to 70 asanas/poses (just in the primary series), in a certain order, the same every time. Turns out every teacher seems to have a very slight twist on this. A pose is missing, a pose is added, a pose is substituted, etc.. Mostly siding with the late Pattabhi Jois, mainly because of his popularity (my opinion). There are hundereds of blogs and internet forums were westerners argue about the “right” way to do the asana part of Ashtanga Yoga (ashtanga can attract the militant at times), which, as we practice it, is only one of eight ingredients. Only about 5% of the Indian population is interested in Yoga and of that 5% most of them think Asana (the thing we do the most) is the least important. I LOVE that part of it. But my TM teacher says the only reason to do Asana (or as he calls it “the circus”) is so that we can be strong enough to sit for more than ½ hour with our legs crossed without our backs hurting. Clearly some people are not as interested in looking good naked as we are.

Anyway here is the breakdown. This is like the 10 commandments of yoga (or the eightfold path of Buddhism):

• Yama (see below)
• niyama – Commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
• asana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
• pranayama – integration of mind and body through breathing
• pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
• dharana – one-pointedness of mind
• dhyana – meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
• samadhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness
Practice of these precepts is said to result in a state in which one’s behavior spontaneously follows the five ethical precepts (Yamas):
• Ahimsa – refraining from injury (non-life supporting action)
• satya – truthfulness
• asteya – freedom from stealing
• bramacharya – living within the Self (moderation; abstinence)
• aparigraha – freedom from attachment to possessions

I am studing asana with BNS Iyengar and the rest with Nagaraja S. Pande. Studying with Nagaraja has been like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.

Last night, as a break from the entire India and Yoga thing, Nancy and I watched the movie “It Might Get Loud”. It was great, and as much as I looked at it as a refreshing contrast—which I always crave in my life—I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Yoga and Music, Music and silence, life and no life, the mind and no mind. The same (and as rain man would say) not the same.

Live from Mysore #8 ( Makara Shankranthi Festival)

Yesterday was the Makara Shankranthi Festival. I did yoga with BNS in the morning. My TM teacher (Nagaraja) invited me to his fire ceremony. Many of his followers came to his home and built 2 small fire pits in his living room. I realized as I watched them preparing, that I am his only non-Indian student. I was there just to watch, for the most part. They lit the fires and all chanted together for 1 hour. Then they got up and had me join them as we all circled the fire chanting Shiva and some other stuff I didn’t recognize. He also did a little of the Hudda chant. It was cool to get to see this. But I sure felt like an outsider.

The Makara Shankranthi Festival is every year on the same day. It’s a harvest festival. But the only thing they do besides fire rituals and puja (ritual gifts to their gods) is paint all the cows in town yellow and red. The horns are red everything else is yellow. Some people say they still do this 2nd part and Wikipedia says they don’t. I did not see it personally although I did go and look for it. Apparently at night they cover a few streets with hay, light it on fire and force the cows (painted like Easter eggs) to run through the fire. Seems like a strange thing do to your sacred animal. But I must keep reminding myself I am an outsider.

Later that night as it got dark we went to the Mysore Palace. Normally they only light it up on Sunday—by the way we have power outages every day—but they will also light it up on festival days. I thought they might run the cows through the fire after it got dark there and the palace lights came on, but they didn’t. We went to get a rickshaw for the ride home and were informed that since it was dark the price would be double to take us home. Welcome to India.

Live from Mysore #7 (full of shit)

My meditation teacher says I am full of shit. So he sent me on a run for tools. Every morning I am supposed to drink a glass of water with honey and lemon. Every night I am supposed to drink a glass of water with a spoon of Triphala Churna in it. I have heard people say this stuff is a miracle. I hear you can find it at Whole Foods. The first miracle will then be paying for it. It is a digestive system toner and mild laxative. So first thing in the morning you can clear out because doing yoga or trying to meditate with a digestive system still full is ”no good”.

We had to walk way down Double Tank Road to the ayurvedic hospital, which is directly across the street from the western medicine hospital. The ayurvedic hospital is where I would find the Triphala. On the walk there, a young boy with 2 monkeys on hand-made leashes walked towards us. Monkeys are notorious criminals in India. Also they are dirty biters. I wished I had my camera with me but didn’t. The boy with the monkeys called out to us. I was afraid if he got too close, his monkeys—which were constantly running back and forth on his shoulders and up and down his sides like tweaker monkeys—would jump off the boy and onto me. The boy’s hair was dark and wild as were his eyes. He moved quickly towards us with monkeys jumping all around on their leashes and we made a b-line fast to a place away from the monkey boy. Ironically we ran past a hanuman temple and soon found the hospital where I went in and bought my stuff.

120g for 32 rupees. About 75 cents. I know it’s all relative.

I’ll try it tonight but am a little nervous, as the food here has already made my digestive system a little more active than I like. Are you following me? In fact a couple days ago it was BAD. Like Michael Jackson. I was sure I had picked up a bug. Spending any time more than 30 feet from my bathroom was potentially dangerous. I know worrying never solved anything so let’s say I was concerned. You can shit yourself to death. I’m not sure how long it takes but I don’t care to find out. Nancy ran out and got me an antibiotic 3-pack (generic Zithromax). You can just walk down the street—full of cows, chickens, people and monkey boys—and buy antibiotics. Thank god. A lot of things are a pain in the ass in India. I keep expecting someone to ask me to bring them the broom of the wicked witch of the west before they give me what I want. But getting antibiotics—that did the trick—was simple and cheap. About 1/16 the price as in America. The same stuff. Someone is making a killing on our health.

Feeling great today. Doing my best to retain all the info I am collecting.

Live from Mysore #6 (teachers)

I am really enjoying my morning practice with BNS Iyengar. His class is super fast. It’s about an hour and we do primary series which can take some people up to 2 hours. We get in and get to the point. He is a very loving man even when he is yelling. Here is a little info on him:

“Born Mysore State 1925 .Yogaratna BNS Iyengar studied yoga under the guidance of T.Krishnamacharya. In 1984, after extensive travel to holy places within India and many years of practice in retreat in his native village, he was invited by the Swami of Parakala Mutt to Direct the Patanjala Yogashala there. He was awarded the title of Yogavisharda by the maharaja of Mysore, and in 2000 the title of Yogaratna.

BNS Iyengar teaches what he calls Vinyasa Ashtanga Yoga in terms of asana this takes a middle course between the rigidly defined series of K.P Jois or the personal practice sequences of TKV Desikachar. Asanas are taught in base series Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, Advanced B. these being adapted and extended to the needs of the student many of whom are insistant that the order as taught by KP Jois is the only correct one..However it is Yogavisharda Iyengar’s view that since asana is only 1 limb of the classical Ashtanga of Patanjali proficiency in primary and intermediate asanas is sufficient attainment for most practitioners. Who should then put their effort into more spiritually important limbs such as pranayama.”

Also found a meditation teacher. Nagaraja Suryanaryana Pande but he is teaching me way more than meditation. He talks to me everyday after our meditation for an hour about yogic pilosophy, pranayama, diet and more. He has an enormous amount of knowledge and calls himself a scientific yogi. Also he is not all that interested in the physical side of yoga. Which is what most of us are doing in the west. He is more interested in the other 7 limbs of Ashtanga yoga. Luckily he has allowed me to video tape our conversation so I will be able to review them later and with time actually retain the info.

Live from Mysore #5 (contrast)

Getting a rickshaw—or really anything—in India seems to take a lot of rigmarole.

We wanted to take a rickshaw (motorized) to the Devaraja Market. So we walk to the corner where 3 are parked. We tell them where we are going and the 1st guy says, “50 rps.” I say, “No, use the meter” (the pay meter on his vehicle). He says “No, 40 rps.” “No, use the meter.” The guy in the last rickshaw walks up behind me and says “ok, meter.” If you’re not Indian they will try to take you for a ride financially. I guess it’s not much money, but it can add up.

We get near the market and get out. The meter says the ride is 17.50 rps. We pay him 20. We then walk 30 feet in the direction of the market and there is a dead body in the street. People are milling around it (now it is an “it”). Two cops are standing around. A homeless person died in the night. No foul play was my impression. We walk the long way around the body that is mostly under a blanket. I know death is not contagious but is seemed respectful not to join the gawkers looking at this dead person who was probably ignored for most of his life.

As we get near to the market people are approaching us to take us to their “friends’” shops. We go to a couple shops and end up buying a few things just so we could leave. I felt like I was being held hostage. Survival is an interesting salesman. I guess it’s not something a westerner could understand. Eventually, we have to put up the “NO” wall and it becomes our survival tool. It’s really exhausting.

When I returned from my last trip to India I thought it was strange that I had only learned to say “no” and “go away” not “please or “thank you” in the native tongue. Being here now it’s clear why.

Out of nowhere an old man with long white hair walks up to me. He reaches out. I stood still and was not afraid. With his finger he puts a red dot on my third eye (forehead). Then he places his hand on my head and says a prayer, then he walks away. I say thank you in English.

Then we are back into the street game of pushing hustlers away. This is not a cultural judgment. I’m not close enough to really understand it. A guy hustling on the streets of Mysore sees me as an American and that means I am rich. You may think “oh, not me”. But if you ate more than 2 times today and have a place to sleep indoors, you are rich.

We negotiate again with a driver or 2 for a ride home. I’ve already gotten better at it and the transaction is quick, painless and removed. It’s not personal. A good lesson for me. But I do feel a little shut off when I operate like that.

We end up back at the Mandala Café. A woman learning Indian sax is having lunch and she writes down a musical scale for me. It’s an Indian Raga. I go back to the room and write a short pice of music that fuses Robert Johnson blues with this Indian scale.

Later we eat at Aunty’s again. Her food is great. I ask her to teach me to say thank you.

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