Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cockatiels, Aliens, Patanjali and Practice

Something very interesting (or very dangerous, if you happen to be a bird) happened during practice this morning. To get the full import of what I'm about to share, a little background story is in order: A few days ago, my fiancee got into one of her periodic bouts of furniture-rearrangement-frenzies. This latest one ended with her moving a few pretty big pieces of furniture into what used to be my practice/Buddhist prayer room. Which means that what used to be my practice/prayer room isn't so good for practice anymore. Hmm... I really don't get this craze for furniture rearrangement that some people get into. But well, whatever rocks one's boat, I guess :-)

Because of this new furniture configuration in my apartment, I started doing my practice in the living room yesterday. Another little background story: I also have a pair of pet cockatiels. They are very cute and interesting birds. Because of the round shape of their eyes, I sometimes, in my more grandiose moments, think that they may be aliens disguised as cockatiels, sent to earth to monitor my yoga practice. At the end of the day, when nobody's watching, they get out of their cockatiel outfits and go into a cleverly concealed little spaceship (this, I suspect, is disguised as that little stainless steel kettle in the corner of the kitchen counter, next to the stove... I mean, do you really think it is a coincidence that some of the latest stainless steel kettles from Europe look suspiciously like flying saucers?), from which they send dispatches to Patanjali detailing the latest yoga adventures of World Famous Ashtangi Nobel.

But I'm being very grandiose and self-important here. So I'll stop being that way. So as I was saying, I have a couple of pet cockatiels. This morning, just before I started practice, my fiancee decided to let them out of the cage in the living room just before she left for work, so they can fly around the house and get some activity (I think she thinks they have been putting on weight lately, and need some exercise). I had serious misgivings about this decision (you'll soon see why), but I think some wise guy once said, "Thou shalt not disagree with thy significant other before she leaves for work in the morning." So I left it at that.

So I rolled out my Mysore rug in the living room, and started doing my practice. The birds were pretty chill for most of the practice. They flew a couple of rounds around the living room and kitchen, and then decided to perch atop the kitchen cabinet, from where they could get a good bird's eye view--no pun intended--of my asana practice, so that they could file a good detailed practice report to Patanjali later in the day. And then, the moment I got into second series, they decided on a different plan of action. As I planted my heels on the ground and started twisting myself into Pasasana, they landed beside my mat and started waddling around (observing how deep my Pasasana twist is?). And for the next few postures (Krouchasana and the first few backbends of second up to Laghu Vajrasana), they continued waddling around the perimeter of the Mysore rug. Sometimes, they would come up onto the rug for a few moments to get a better closeup look at my alignment. Which made me a little worried that I might crush them by accident. But I was too into the flow of the practice to feel like getting up, picking them up (sometimes, they might not even want to be picked up) and then walking them back to the cage. So I continued to practice, all the while trying to be cognizant of their positions relative to my position on the mat.

And then when I got into Kapotasana, I felt this little soft feathery thing nibbling at my right knee; from what I could remember of the birds' positions before I got into the posture, I knew that it was Thelma, the grey cockatiel. I'm guessing she's probably thinking, "What are you doing? Why are you trying to become a bird?!" She looks like this:

 "Why are you trying to become a bird?!" 
[Image taken from here]

Hmm... It just occurred to me that I might start attracting bird lovers (birdies?) in addition to foodies to my blog, now that I have posted a bird picture. Interesting thought. 

Anyway, back to my story. After I exited Kapotasana, the birds kind of lost interest in my practice, and flew back up to their perches atop the kitchen cabinet. Or maybe they had specific instructions from Patanjali to look closely at my second series postures, and maybe even try to distract me a little in Kapotasana. I hope I passed the test, and I hope they give a favorable report to Patanjali. Maybe he will reward me by giving me back Karandavasana soon? Maybe even advance me to third series? ;-)

Oh, and to ease the minds of all of you bird and animal lovers out there, I have decided to keep the birds in the cage when I practice from now on. I don't know exactly how many bird fatalities result each year from birds being crushed by their owners while the latter are doing yoga, but I certainly don't want my cockatiels to be a statistic in this department. I also don't want to be charged with birdslaughter.

On a different note, it also occurs to me that the ancient yogis must have had similar issues with birds and other animals coming near them while they were doing their practices in the woods. I wonder how they dealt with such things. Anybody know of any such accounts? I would love to hear them. 

Anyway, I hope you find this latest practice (mis)adventure of mine interesting. Got to go now. More later.    


  1. How does one subscribe to your blog? I am a beginner-ish Ashtangi and like your insight. Do you teach??

    1. Hello Anonymous,
      I'm very honored that you like my insight :-) Unfortunately, I'm not tech-savvy enough to tell you how to subscribe to my blog. Alternatively, you can follow this blog (go to "Followers", and click on "Join this site"). Or you can put my blog on your blogroll, if you have your own blog.

      Unfortunately(?), I am not teaching yoga at the moment. I am living in the upper midwestern and trying to get my academic career off the ground, and I feel that trying to teach yoga right now on top of all this would be doing a disservice both to myself and to others. But I can't stop thinking about Ashtanga yoga (probably because I practice it six days a week). So I blog, and try, in this way, to offer something to the Ashtanga community.

      I'm guessing this is probably a much longer and more involved answer than you were expecting... :-)

  2. hah i have been following your blog for a while, this post is priceless. thank you!

    my tiny fluffy black cat sits on the couch and watches me, bored, as i practice. as soon as i move to the final 3 Padmasana poses, or Savasana, she starts to slink towards my mat, purring all the while. But she has finallylearned to respect the perimeter of the mat! If I am doing random stretches on my rug, on the other hand, she will run over and flop down right under me, waiting to be petted :)

    1. It's interesting that your cat seems to have a lot of respect for your practice. I have observed over the years that the energy of the practice definitely affects animals: How and to what extent it does so seems to differ greatly among individual animals, depending on the physical and mental states of both the animal and the human who is doing the practice at the time.

      But so far, I have yet to discern any more specific patterns beyond this general observation. But this is very intriguing: Somebody out there should investigate or study this phenomenon.