Saturday, July 28, 2012

Impromptu public backbending; Is the yoga sub-culture regarded as weird or unconventional by non-yogis?

The body is a very funny thing. Or perhaps I should say, that complicated mind-body composite that we commonly think of as our body is a very strange thing. This morning, I woke up to find my right upper arm still feeling very sore from the pulled trapezius that I suffered a couple days ago in practice (see previous post). I tried to get through primary, but throughout the practice, I could barely do chaturanga; there was no pain, but my right arm was so sore and achy that it simply wouldn't bear any weight. After the first few postures of primary, my ego finally got the message, and decided to just do half-primary plus a few of the last few postures of primary. Basically, I did primary till navasana, then skipped the core postures and went straight to Baddha Konasana and the rest of the nice hip/hamstring openers at the end. Even this was probably too much for my right upper body: The whole time, all I could manage were some very half-assed chaturangas plus a few walk-throughs and walk-backs.

After practice, I retired to a nearby coffeeshop, where I had some coffee and pastries while trying my best to nurse and rest my upper body. And then suddenly, I got very, very sick of just sitting around: Although my right upper body was very sore, the rest of my body was simply exploding with energy. So I got up and walked a couple of blocks around the neighborhood of the coffeeshop. As I was walked into the back courtyard of the coffeeshop, I noticed that nobody was around. And I suddenly had a crazy idea: Why not do some backbends? It may be just what my perpetually-hunched-over-a-computer-or-over-a-steering-wheel body needs! The only thing, I have not engaged in any Public Displays of Yoga (PDY?) for years now: Back when I first started practicing yoga, and was in the throes of yoga-vangelism, I would do yoga everywhere and anywhere. But there's something about becoming an Ashtanga Fundamentalist that has made me very private about my asana practice. But today, I just suddenly had an urge to backbend in public. So I walked onto the little patch of grass in the courtyard, stood with my feet hips width apart while still wearing my sneakers, and did a couple of mini-standing-half-backbends. And then I brought my hands to my chest in prayer position, leaned back while shifting my knees and hips forward, reached my hands back, and dropped back into Urdhva Dhanurasana! This was the first time in all my thirty-six years that I had ever performed a dropback with a totally cold body. And while wearing sneakers, no less! I then stood back up, and did three more dropbacks and standups. On my last standup, this guy walked into the courtyard. He gave me this funny look ("Show-off!" was probably the thought running through his head, as he barely managed to suppress a smirk.).

My whole body felt more open after doing these impromptu backbends. And maybe it's just me, but my upper body also seemed to feel less achy. And so ended my first public display of backbending.

P.S. A few minutes ago, my fiancee came into the coffeeshop, where I am now sitting here writing this post. I told her about my recent public backbending exploits. She wasn't impressed. She frowned, and said, "You're weird! Why don't you go home if you want to do yoga?"

Her response was a big blow to my ego, as you can probably imagine. But it also led me to ponder about non-yogis' perception of yogis and the yoga subculture in general. Could it be that my fiancee's reaction was only the tip of the iceberg of the public's perception of yogis and the yoga subculture? Could it be that many aspects of the worldviews of us yogis are seen as unconventional or even weird by non-yogis, and we are not even aware of it most of the time? In posing these questions, I'm not trying to create any kind of artificial divide between yogis and non-yogis, or between the so-called yoga sub-culture and the so-called "mainstream" culture. But these questions have occurred to me from time to time, and what happened today just happened to bring them to the forefront of my mind again. So I thought I'll throw them out here. If you have any thoughts, please share.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is hope the opium of the un-present masses? Pulling an Eckhart Tolle during practice (and also pulling something else)

I have a bad feeling that this is going to be one of those posts that contribute to the popular (mis?)conception of  Ashtangis as self-torturing pain junkies who delight in inflicting pain on themselves. I hope I don't contribute too much to Ashtanga's already bad rep in this area. But everything that I'm about to describe here actually happened yesterday and during this morning's practice. So I can at least say that I am being honest, if nothing else.

Before I go on to tell the story proper, I think it would be useful for me to give you a little background story. I am going through a rather nerve-wracking and angst-provoking time in my life right now: I don't particularly feel like going into the details here (although I might when all this is over, however it turns out), so you'll have to bear with me for being a little vague about things here. Suffice to say that I am waiting for a couple of things to fall through (or not), and I'll know in a couple of days whether they do. Right now, there is nothing to do except wait. And wait some more. And in the meantime, continue to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, do the practice, blog, and try to stay sane the whole time. I have tried reading Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, but honestly, it hasn't been helping much. He's just too harsh and rational about this whole being in the present moment thing for my state of mind right now. For example, at one point in his book, in response to somebody who said, "Surely we need hope to keep us going, and hope is always hope that things will turn out better in the future. So doesn't having hope imply not being in the present moment?" To this, Tolle replied that if one is fully present in the moment, one doesn't need hope: When one is able to fully savor the present moment, what use is there for hope for the future? I'm paraphrasing, as I don't have the book on me right now, but I'm pretty sure I captured the essence of his reply. I don't know about you, but I think this is kind of harsh. I mean, it does make for a certain logical kind of sense: If you are fully, fully present, you won't need to hope for anything in the future. But I think it is no exaggeration to say that we humans are hardwired by centuries of cultural conditioning to hope for a better future when things get rough. And, to borrow a phrase from Marx, perhaps Tolle is saying that hope is the opium of the un-present masses, just as religion was the opium of the masses on Marx's view. And maybe it's just me, but isn't it a little bit cruel to deny a frail mortal like me even the opium of hope in a time like this? Well, I'm guessing that Tolle will disagree here; he'll probably say that I need to go "cold turkey" and use this difficult time in my life as an opportunity to rid myself once and for all of the opium of hope. Whatever. Go to hell. (Yikes! What did I just say?)

To add insult to possible injury, I was talking with a friend yesterday about my present situation. He listened for a while, and then suggested that I take a bigger-picture view of things as they are right now. Even though things are not going quite as I would like them to go, there are many blessings in my life: Good health, a yoga practice, etc. He then proceeded to point out that material possessions and worldly position are really quite insignificant in the light of this bigger picture. Wow... this is what happens when one reads Eckhart Tolle: Even your friends start to sound like him. 

But here's another ironic twist: As much as a certain part of me refuses to buy into any of Tolle's talk about being in the present, the Ashtanga practice seems to be the one thing that is actually fostering such presence in my life right now. This morning, I woke up with a rather funky mood. My whole body felt stiff and heavy, and I did not feel like practicing at all. Well, okay, I asked myself, what are you going to do then? Go back to sleep? But I somehow knew more sleep was probably not going to make me feel much better: If anything, I'll probably end up feeling even heavier and stiffer a couple of hours down the road. So I gingerly rolled out my Mysore rug, and started moving through the practice. As I got into primary series, an idea suddenly struck me: The last couple of days, I had been re-reading Matthew Sweeney's Astanga Yoga As It Is, and familiarizing myself with the Sanskrit vinyasa count of the postures and transitions in primary. It's pretty funny to say this, but as much of an Ashtangeek as I am, I have actually never gotten the exact Sanskrit vinyasa count in the seated postures of primary down pat. I figured that now would be the time to rectify this gap in my Ashtanga career :-) Anyway, as I got into primary this morning, I suddenly thought it would be kind of cool to recite the vinyasa count mentally to myself as I did each of the postures. So on I went: Sapta, inhale and jump into posture. Ashtau, exhale and hold for five breaths. Nawa, inhale and exhale there. Desa, inhale lift up. Ekadesa. exhale into chaturanga. And so and so forth. And since Sweeney does the traditional long count, he doesn't "reset" the count to Sapta on the second side of the posture, but continues with the count on the first side. So I get to count all the way up to Ekonavimsatihi (I really love the sound of this particular word!) and then Vimsatihi, which is when you exhale into downdog before starting from Sapta again and jumping into the next posture of the series.

It's really interesting, but before I knew it, I realized that counting the vinyasa to myself really helped to remove all extraneous thoughts from my mind. Who knew that one could pull an Eckhart Tolle simply by doing the vinyasa count? Maybe one day, when all this shit that I am presently going through is over (I know, I know, I'm not being present again, but whatever...), I'll teach a workshop titled, "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Eckhart Tolle: How to use the Traditional Vinyasa Count to bring greater presence into your practice". Maybe you come? :-)

Another, less pleasant thing also happened during practice this morning. My upper back muscles, especially the Trapezius, goes through periods of tightness. Such tightness tends to recur during periods of stress or anxiety. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been feeling this tightness from time to time whenever I sit in front of my computer or when I am reading. These past couple of mornings, I have been feeling the tightness during practice itself, especially when I lift my legs to put them behind my head in Supta Kurmasana. But I thought that if I moved into and out of the pose carefully, I'll probably be fine. And in a sense, I was right. Nothing major happened in Supta Kurmasana this morning. But something major did happen as I rolled over into my second Chakrasana (the one following Setu Bandhasana). As I rolled my legs over my head to go into downdog, I felt this sharp pulling sensation in my trapezius. Somehow, I still managed to land my feet in downdog. But I knew the damage had been done. Damn... no more Chakrasana (and probably also no more putting legs behind head in Supta Kurmasana) for the next few days, or maybe even for the next few weeks. We'll see. Anyway, my traps have been aching since then. In fact, they are aching right now, even as I am typing these words. I am doing a whole bunch of gentle trapezius stretches throughout the day to relieve the soreness. But the funny thing is, even this pain has its upside: It is making me more present in my body, and causing me to fixate less on the other things in my life that are causing great anxiety. I guess this says something about my state of mind, when I am actually at a point where I actually prefer physical pain to mental anxiety. I hope this doesn't mean that I need to go see a psychiatrist or something. Scary. Anyway, I guess I'll sign off here. More later.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Matthew Sweeney on getting settled in the "seat", moving ahead, and experiencing new things

This morning, I re-read Matthew Sweeney's book, Astanga Yoga As It Is. It's very refreshing to re-read such a gem, and to come into contact with Master Sweeney's wisdom again. I highly recommend this book, especially the introduction, which covers the basics of Ashtanga practice as well as some of the more esoteric and lesser-known aspects of the practice and its philosophy. Upon re-reading it, there are a couple of passages that really speak to me. For instance, he writes:

'The traditional [Mysore] method is relatively linear and methodical. Keep adding asana, remembering the vinyasa as you go, until you come to something you cannot do. You keep practicing up to the asana that is difficult or impossible but you do not add new postures until you can do it effectively. This can be a little limiting but it does establish the body's capacity in the asana. You become settled in the "seat". An unfortunate side-effect of this format is the tendency in Astanga to ask the question "What posture are you up to?" as if this indicates some kind of personal development. It is normal to want to move ahead, particularly as far as positive motivation and liveliness is concerned. The practice should never be lifeless, something new can be experienced every day, even if it is just a changed attitude. This forward looking attitude, however, should always be tempered with present tense awareness; stay in contact with what is rather than what should be.'

These words speak to my present practice and life on so many levels. First, on the asana front, I have been doing the same sequence of postures (full primary plus second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana) six days a week for the last ten months, ever since certain issues in my body made me decide to scale back from my second-up-to-Karandavasana practice. I won't bore you with the details of exactly what these issues are; if you want to know, you can look up my blog posts from around September to November 2011 :-)

I sometimes think that if somebody who is not familiar with Ashtanga Yoga were to come to my home every morning and observe my practice, he or she would think that what I am doing is very boring, except for maybe the part from Kapotasana to the finishing backbends (even with these, though, I would still imagine that boredom would set in after a while: I mean, not to be immodest or anything, but just how many times can you look at somebody do Kapotasana day in and day out, even if that somebody can grab his heels in that posture?). But I think it was David Williams who once said that the real yoga is what cannot be seen, not what can be seen. I know he wasn't referring to asana when he talked about what cannot be seen, but in a sense, what he said can be applied here. Even though I haven't been adding any "new" asanas to my practice for the last ten months, I really feel that over this time, the consistent performance of the same postures has resulted in a certain depth to my practice. Every posture is really familiar, and yet also feels uniquely different from one practice to the next, because every single practice uncovers some new aspect of the posture and how my body relates to it. And since the mind and the body are ultimately one and the same entity, every single practice also, in this way, reveals some previously unseen or previously forgotten part of the mind. In this way, the practice is a mind-body meditation.

And actually, in a very interesting way, this no-new-asana practice has led to physical breakthroughs in other areas. Because I do not have to contend with learning new asanas, I am able to surrender my mind and body to the process of working deeper and deeper with the postures I already "have." And I can't help thinking that this attitude of surrender is very helpful with the backbends that I am currently focusing my attention on. This morning, for instance, as I walked my hands to my feet for Chakrabandhasana after the three dropbacks, a lot of mental chatter came up in my mind: "Will you be able to grab your ankles today? What if you don't succeed?" "Don't you feel your thighs burning already? Maybe you should call it a day?" And so and so forth. As my hands walked towards my feet and around them, I listened to these voices, mentally acknowledged and nodded at them in understanding, and then proceeded to continue the work of walking my hands around my feet, slowly inching my hands until they could grab the ankles. And then, with a steadiness that is almost not of my body, they held on to the ankles for five breaths before letting go. Again, something like this made me feel that the mind and the body really are one: If one seats the mind down steadily, allowing it to listen without judgment, and allowing it to direct the body to do what needs to be done, the results follow.

But having said all this, it is also true, as Sweeney observes, that "It is normal to want to move ahead." This is true both in asana practice and in life, whether we are talking about wanting to be in another physical location, or wanting to be in another, "better" situation in life. And this is good. But it is also useful to know that one doesn't always need to change one's external circumstances immediately in order to change one's state of life; "something new can be experienced every day, even if it is just a changed attitude." Or here's another way to look at it: If one wants to move forward safely and comfortably, it is best to first make sure that one is fully settled in the "seat" of the present moment. Again, this true in both asana practice and in life: If one doesn't settle oneself fully and securely in the seat and make sure the seat belts are buckled, etc., one might get thrown out of the windshield of life when the going gets rough.   

Wow. I seem to be in "sermon" mode today. Wonder why? Pretty interesting, considering that it is actually quite sunny outside where I am right now, and sunny days are not usually associated with contemplative or "sermony" modes of mind. Hmm... interesting. Well, with this thought, maybe I'll sign off for now, and try to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying some sunshine :-)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yoga is just as unscientific as astrology (and why this is not a bad thing)

I've never been a big believer in astrology. Actually, to be more precise, I've never really believed in astrology. But I do find some of its claims about the movements of the planets and how they affect individuals with different sun-signs to be very interesting. In particular, I derive some measure of consolation and solace right now from the fact that we are presently in a Mercury Retrograde, which means, among other things, that delays and miscommunications will be more prevalent than usual, and rather than get angry or resentful and try to fight it, it is better to go with the flow, relax a little, and see what these delays and miscommunications have to teach us about ourselves and life. I find this thought to be consoling, because right now in my own life, things are moving way more slowly than my ego would like them to. In particular, on the yoga front, I have had to abandon my recent plan to go to Angela Jamison's Ashtanga retreat in Ann Arbor next weekend, due to some other things in my life taking a little longer to fall into place. Ah... this is starting to look like a summer of abandonment and dis-attachment, at least as far as my yoga travel plans are concerned: First the (non)Mysore trip, and now this? But it's okay: I fully accept what the universe throws in my path (like I have a choice, right?), and will try to reflect and see what these (non)events have to teach me. 

And so, since it looks like I'll be staying put here in my corner of the upper midwest for at least a little bit longer, I may as well use this time to reflect a little more about things. Since we're talking about astrology, I'll start here. I've always seen myself as a very rational-minded person, and astrology has always struck me as being philosophically and scientifically suspect; in particular, the fact that astrological claims and predictions are not falsifiable has always struck me as good reason to see astrology as at best a pseudo-science, and therefore rationally suspect.

If you are not familiar with the notion of falsifiability, let me just give you a quick cliff-notes (or is it spark-notes? :-)) version of it, if you'll bear with my being rather pedantic here. In the 1930s, the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper came up with the notion of falsifiability in order to separate science from pseudo-science. The general idea is that a good scientific theory is a theory that can survive deliberate and genuine attempts to falsify or refute it. Take, for instance, Einstein's famous mass-energy equivalence formula, e=mc squared. This formula expresses a good scientific theory about the relationship between mass and energy, because it tells us very clearly the conditions under which it would be false: If you are able to find an instance anywhere in the universe in which e is not equal to mc squared, then you would have proven that this theory is false. In other words, a good scientific theory is a theory that "puts itself on the line" by making predictions that are precise, and which tell us clearly the conditions under which it would be false; hence "falsifiability". The general idea is that the more a theory puts itself on the line by making very precise predictions, the more scientifically credible it is, and vice versa.

Astrology runs afoul of this criterion of falsifiability, because virtually any astrological prediction about your life can be confirmed, depending on how liberally you are willing to interpret the astrologer's predictions. Popper himself, in fact, had rather harsh things to say about astrology:

"Astrology did not pass the test [of falsifiability]. Astrologers were greatly impressed, and misled, by what they believed to be confirming evidence—so much so that they were quite unimpressed by any unfavourable evidence. Moreover, by making their interpretations and prophesies sufficiently vague they were able to explain away anything that might have been a refutation of the theory had the theory and the prophesies been more precise. In order to escape falsification they destroyed the testability of their theory. It is a typical soothsayer’s trick to predict things so vaguely that the predictions can hardly fail: that they become irrefutable." (Karl Popper, "Science, Pseudo-science, and Falsifiability")

Popper's views about science and falsifiability were one of the first philosophical views I studied when I took my first undergraduate philosophy class, and while I do not profess myself to be a Popperian or any kind of expert on his views, I think it is probably safe to say that for much of my twenties (yes, you are about to find out how old I am :-)), his views had a big influence on the way I viewed things in the world in general.    

But things started shifting in my twenty-ninth year. In January of that year, I stumbled into my first yoga class, a power yoga class (for more details, see this post). I really enjoyed that first class, and immediately began practicing at home by myself pretty much right after that first class. The reasons that attracted me to yoga were many and complex. For one thing, on a purely physical level, I could feel, even from the very beginning, that yoga was much more than just "working out"; the kind of intense body awareness needed in yoga practice reminded me very strongly of the martial arts practice that I used to do in my teens. On a psychological and emotional level, yoga also immediately allowed me to stand back from and see through the useless and unproductive stories that I was telling myself in my mind all the time (for more details, see this post. Actually, I still tell myself stories even now; but I like to think that I am at least more aware of this tendency now).

On a philosophical level, I was drawn to yoga because I sensed that yoga provided a worldview that is bigger and broader than the narrowly mechanistic worldview that characterizes so much of contemporary western medicine: While the effects of asana and pranayama practice on our bodies and minds can be explained by modern science and do not contradict it, yoga practice begins with a subjective, "first-person" view of the body, one that does not presuppose a straight-forward mechanistic cause-and-effect view of how our minds and bodies work. Because of this, I found yoga practice to be a much more compassionate and empowering way of relating to my mind and body than the narrowly mechanistic worldview of western medicine. At the same time, because many of the effects of asana and pranayama practice are explainable in medical scientific terms, I also adopted a rather naively scientific view of yoga; I regarded yoga as not being as rationally suspect as "new-agey" things like astrology. Being grounded in the physical body, yoga did not seem as "woo-ey" as things like astrology, whose predictions and claims could be interpreted any which way, and are therefore not falsifiable. As such, yoga is more scientifically credible. Or so I thought.

But over the last couple of years, I have started to feel that this naively scientific view of yoga is inadequate; it does little justice to the actual felt experience of yoga practice, and may even be, strictly speaking, inaccurate. Why do I feel this way? Consider the notion of Nadi Shodana, or the cleansing of the channels of the subtle body. In Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, the second series is named Nadi Shodana, because consistent practice of this series is supposed to bring about the cleansing and purification of these subtle body channels, resulting in a more balanced and healthy nervous system, among other things. Because of its effects on the nervous system, Nadi Shodana is sometimes translated as "purification of the nervous system". To be sure, having a more balanced and healthy nervous system is a beneficial effect of the practice of Nadi Shodana, but it is not the essential objective of this practice. The objective of nadi shodana is to open up the central channel, or sushumna nadi, so that prana can flow freely through this channel, allowing for kundalini to rise from its state of slumber in the base of the spine and move up to the crown chakra. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, when this happens, one becomes immortal. If you consider this matter even a little, you will see how the narrowly mechanistic worldview of western medicine, which presupposes that the only things that exist are physical bodies and parts, cannot possibly do justice to what the real work of Nadi Shodana is. For one thing, although "nadi" is sometimes translated as "nerve", it is not a nerve, but a channel for the flow of consciousness/life-energy/prana. And since life-energy or prana is not a physical entity, it does not exist as far as western medicine is concerned. And if western medicine does not even have a place for prana, how can it possibly accommodate the notion of kundalini rising, let alone immortality? 

What I am trying to say is, quite simply, this: Yoga is not a science, if by "science" we mean a set of theories whose entities are physically detectable, and whose results can be precisely predicted and measured using precise instruments and calculations. There is, to my knowledge, no "Nadi-Shodana-meter" that can measure precisely how far along and to what extent a practitioner has purified the channels of her subtle body, and give her a reliable prediction of when (or if) the awakening of kundalini will happen for her in this lifetime. If you think this sounds ridiculous, this is because it is. Yoga is, in the final analysis, not a science, and to pretend that it is otherwise is at best to bark up the wrong tree, and at worse, an exercise in futility (or maybe barking up the wrong tree is an exercise in futility, in which case they are one and the same thing... aren't I clever? :-)).

So as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I have to state the obvious conclusion here: In the final analysis, yoga is just as unscientific as astrology. Isn't this depressing?... Well, it may be, if you think that the only things that are worth anything in life are things that are "scientific" and whose results can be precisely predicted and measured. If so, it is still not too late to jump ship: Maybe you can switch to Pilates, or this thing they call Zumba.

But here's another thought: Is life itself an exact science? I'm guessing the answer is no. Because if it were, somebody somewhere would surely have come up with a precise "owner's manual" for how to live successfully and get the most "performance" out of life by now, just as we have owner's manuals for our cars that tell us how to get the most performance out of them. And if life is not an exact science, why should it depress us that yoga, which teaches us how to deal productively as embodied living beings on this earth, is not?         

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ashtanga practice as the death of fear and ego

I just saw this video that Kino made about practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore and her thoughts on the path of Ashtanga practice. It has the same aesthetic feel as the Mysore Magic movie that came out earlier this year; which is not surprising, really, since James Kambeitz, who did the cinematography for the earlier movie, is also the director, cinematographer and editor for this one. As with the earlier movie, this video also opens with some street-level shots of Mysore, then cuts to scenes of practice in the shala, with Kino's running interview/commentary throughout the whole thing.

I am probably a bit biased here, but I feel that this video goes more in depth into the character and nature of the practice and what it does to you than the earlier Mysore Magic movie. But maybe I'm not being fair here; perhaps the two movies have different "missions": Perhaps the role of the Mysore Magic movie is to give people who are uninitiated and know little about Mysore and the shala a taste of what the experience is about, as told through the perspectives of various practitioners. And perhaps the role of this video is to go into a little more depth into just what practicing in Mysore (and practicing Ashtanga in general, wherever you happen to be) does to the practitioner. As such, I think it is a great video.

Kino is quick to say, at the very beginning of the video, that going to Mysore to practice at the shala is not a vacation (despite claims made by some people in the blogosphere about Club Mysore), and that yoga is not an escape. The physical practice serves as a mirror to seriously look within oneself. As Kino notes, very often, when one is practicing, many thoughts and feelings (some of them not very pleasant) come up. Unlike in most other life situations, when unpleasant thoughts and feelings come up in practice, one can't point to any particular person or event as the trigger. Which means that one is left with no choice but to face these feelings, breathe, and continue to practice with those feelings. Or, I suppose, one can just roll up the mat, go home (if one is at a shala), turn on the TV, and settle back with some popcorn with the TV tuned to one's favorite reality show. But if you are in Mysore, this is not really an option, right? Not with Sharath watching you... Well, maybe this is the real magic of Mysore. Damn! Got to get my a$$ there soon...

There is one other thing that Kino said later in the video that really resonates with me: In practice, as in life, if you try to accomplish things by brute force, you inevitably end up hurting yourself and others. The trick is to lean into whatever it is that is bringing up fear in you, breathe, be with that thing, and wait patiently for things to open up. Easier said than done, of course, but think about it this way: All fear is ultimately the ego trying to hold us back from expanding and deepening our lives. When we go into uncharted territory and feel our fears without running from them, we shine the light of consciousness on these fears; the fears lose their power, and we powerfully and fundamentally expand and deepen our lives. The ego tries to avoid this expansion and deepening. Why does it do this? Because it knows that if it allows life to expand and deepen, it will bring about its own death. And since the ego fears death, it will do anything to avoid having to face fear directly. Which is why it always tells us to just put on an appearance of being put-together, and push through and accomplish things by brute force, at any cost. To do the practice seriously is to face and feel these fears head-on, without either running away from them or trying to eliminate them by brute force. We could even say that to do the practice is to constantly allow the ego to die a natural death. Actually, I was just reading something by Eckhart Tolle that really expresses this point very succinctly. So perhaps I'll leave you with his words here:

'Fear seems to have many causes. Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of being hurt, and so on, but ultimately all fear is the ego's fear of death, of annihilation. To the ego, death is always just around the corner. In this mind-identified state, fear of death affects every aspect of your life. For example, even such a seemingly trivial and "normal" thing as the compulsive need to be right in an argument and make the other person wrong--defending the mental position with which you have identified--is due to the fear of death. If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die. Wars have been fought over this, and countless relationships have broken down...

Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be both defended and fed constantly. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identities. None of these is you.

Do you find this frightening? Or is it a relief to know this? All of these things you will have to relinquish sooner or later... You will know the truth of it for yourself. You will know it at the latest when you feel death approaching. Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret to life is to "die before you die"--and find that there is no death.'    

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Feeling, Emotion, Health Scare, the gift of a disability

I have not written anything on this blog for close to a week now. Why? Honestly, I don't know: It's probably a combination of life, stuff that happens in life, and whatever else it is that prevents me from wanting to blog, the origin and nature of which are unknown to me. But if we must have some kind of semi-coherent story about why I am not blogging so regularly, the closest thing I can come up with would be something that I just read over at Patrick's blog. Patrick has been documenting his experiences and feelings at a Matthew Sweeney immersion that he's attending right now. By the way, if you haven't studied with Master Sweeney before, I highly recommend it: He's very Yoda-like in his powerful insights :-)

Anyway, there is one thing that Sweeney said at the immersion that really struck a chord with me. Here's how Patrick relates it:

'Later in Q-and-A I would ask about negative stuff (fear, panic) in sitting; I'm used to it by now in asana, but in sitting, I'm not. He [Sweeney] said, "Well, humans have mess; this is entering the mess. But be careful not to turn FEELINGS, which are embodied and quite healthy, into EMOTIONS, which is how the mind ramps up feelings." I liked that. I like the idea of engaging the mess, and I've had this in asana for over two years. And I like this idea that sensation, feeling, is pure and healthy, while EMOTIONS are a sort of conceptualized feeling, the mind ramping up our feelings, sort of exaggerating them. Matthew also made it very clear: KEEP OBSERVING.'

I really think that Sweeney's words really speak to blogging: Isn't blogging (at least my blogging) a process of putting feelings into words, thus conceptualizing them and turning them into emotions? If so, might blogging inadvertently add to my emotional baggage (and by extension, yours, since you are reading this)? Hmm... I wonder if this is why I have consciously or unconsciously been blogging less: Why conceptualize that which does not need to be conceptualized?


But now that I am actually blogging (and conceptualizing) again, the floodgates have been opened, if only temporarily. So I may as well blog and conceptualize some more :-) And actually, I do have something to say about my practice this morning in connection with this. Over the last couple of months, I've noticed that I have come to regard Kapotasana as less and less of a challenging posture. I wasn't sure why this is so. Perhaps it's because the intensity of Kapotasana fades when compared in my mind's eye to Chakrabandhasana, which is what is really pushing me to my limits right now in my practice. This may be true. But this morning, when I was exiting Kapotasana, it suddenly occurred to me that on a purely visceral physical level, Kapotasana is no less challenging than it has always been, even if I have been able to get deeper into the posture with more ease now than, say, a year ago or even half a year ago: I still feel those really intense sensations in my back and in my front body, and it still takes quite a bit of work to steady my breath when I am in the posture. The difference, I realize, is that I tend to hold Kapotasana less tightly in my mind's eye (if this makes any sense); I basically do the posture, feel the intense sensations that it brings up, and then move to the next posture (Supta Vajrasana). Because I hold it less tightly in my mind's eye, there is less of an energetic shading around the posture, and my mind has come to regard it as less of a challenging posture, even if visceral physical intensity of the posture itself hasn't actually changed. This brings us back to what Sweeney was saying: The intense feeling will always be there. But if you conceptualize the feeling and hold it in your mind's eye longer than you have to, the feeling becomes ramped up into an emotion, and acquires an energetic shading all its own. Interesting, no?


I had a bit of a health scare yesterday. Around noon, I was looking closely at myself in the bathroom mirror (yes, I love looking at myself in the mirror :-)) when I noticed a blood-red spot in my eye just below the pupil. That really worried me, so I went online and googled "blood red spot on eye". WebMD then proceeded to inform me that I probably had what is known as a Subjunctival Hemorrhage, a.k.a. bleeding in the eye. F%$k! My eye is bleeding! was my first thought on seeing those words. But then it went on to assure me that in most cases, this is probably quite harmless, and is probably caused by forceful sneezing or coughing or rubbing of the eyes induced by seasonal allergies, and should clear up on its own. This made me feel a little better, but only a little, because I don't really remember sneezing or coughing very hard or rubbing my eyes in the recent past. And besides, trying to self-diagnose something is almost always a bad idea. So I went to my optometrist immediately. They ran a few tests on my eyes (checking eye pressure, etc.) and looked in my eyes with a microscope, after which the optometrist told me, to my great relief, that it really was a seasonal allergy. I could treat it with some eye drops, or simply wait for it to clear up on its own. I chose the latter.

My eyes have always been a source of anxiety to me: I am very near-sighted, and have been near-sighted since the age of eight. I am always very painfully conscious of the fact that if not for two pieces of glass in front of my eyes, my world would be an indistinct, hazy patchwork of color. But after this health scare yesterday, I took a little time to reflect on this condition of mine, and am reminded of the fact that ironically, my being near-sighted has almost certainly saved me from going blind at least twice in my life. The first time was when I was nine. I was playing and running around in a parking lot with my younger brother when I tripped and fell on my face. I landed face-first on a sharp corner of a concrete slab, which impacted my glasses and inflicted a big scratch on the lenses. As you can probably imagine, if I weren't wearing glasses at the time, my eyes would almost certainly have been on the receiving end of that scratch. The second incident happened when I was nineteen and doing my military service (in Singapore, where I was born and grew up, you have to serve in the military for two years after high school if you are a male citizen). On this particular day, a bunch of us in my platoon were doing some work with barb wire: If I remember correctly, we were setting a barb-wire barricade for an exercise. Anyway, this guy in front of me was trying to twist some barb-wire into shape when he lost his grip, and the entire length of wire sprung into my face. Somehow, the wire hit my glasses, and dropped harmlessly to the ground, leaving a big gash on the lenses. None of us thought much of it at the time: We probably even joked about my having an excuse now to go get some cooler-looking glasses from my optometrist, now that my glasses are broken. But a while later, thinking back about it in the quiet of the barracks, I couldn't help noting that if I weren't wearing glasses, I would have gotten a big gash on my eye. And while one can quite easily get new glasses, one can't get new eyes so easily...

So, as ironic and strange as it may be to say this, I have to say that my disability has actually protected me on at least two occasions in my life so far. Perhaps what they say is quite literally true: A disability can sometimes be a gift.     

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Glute/IT band tightness, groin tightness, To Rome with Love

Yesterday was a very busy and hectic day. I had to go out of town for work-related reasons. This entailed driving for more than two hours, sitting in a conference room for almost two hours having an intense but ultimately stimulating (but still intense nonetheless) conversation with a few individuals whom I have never met before, and then getting back on the road and driving for another three hours. All in all, this adds up to about seven hours spent sitting. When I finally got home in the early evening, I decided to allow myself to go to a late evening movie (I went to see Woody Allen's To Rome with Love; more on this later), and to sleep in and get up later in the morning and just do full primary: I figured that since I didn't take a rest day this past week (I spent Sunday, my usual rest day, kicking my own ass in a super-speedy primary-plus-one-third-second practice; for more details, see previous post), I should at least be entitled to have one shorter practice this week, right? :-)

The effects of all that sitting yesterday certainly made itself felt during this morning's practice. For starters, I have noticed that whenever I have been sitting a lot the previous day (especially long-distance driving), I tend to experience some tightness in either the glutes and/or the IT band. I'm not entirely sure which one it is: Maybe it's both. Anyway, here's what happened during this morning's practice: My glutes/IT band/whatever were so tight that I lost my balance and fell over while trying to get into the twist into Parsvakonasana B (a.k.a. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana). And then, in Marichyasana D on the first side (the one with the left leg in half-lotus), I also almost lost balance and rolled over while trying to bind, but managed to somehow right myself at the last second. Can you imagine what a sight it would be to lose balance and roll over in Marichyasana D? My self-diagnosis is that there is some kind of tightness in either the glutes or the IT band, or both. But the glutes seem an unlikely candidate: For one thing, I didn't have any trouble getting into padmasana. Do any of you out there have any ideas as to what might be causing this, and what to do to address it?

There was also some tightness in the groin area. The interesting thing with this groin tightness is that I didn't feel it until I got to Bhujapidasana: Just as I was jumping my feet over my arms to get into Bhuja, I felt this tight pulling sensation in the groin area. For the rest of the practice, whenever I had to do anything that involves flexing the hips with straight legs (for example, Chakrasana), I would feel this tight pulling sensation in the groin area. Hmm... I hope I didn't pull a muscle there. Again, any of you out there have any ideas as to what might be causing this, and how to address it?

If any of you out there have any suggestions/tips, I would love to hear them. Many thanks to you in advance.


In the meantime, I'm going to change the topic drastically. As I mentioned earlier, I went to see To Rome With Love last night. I absolutely loved it. Here's the trailer for the movie, if you haven't already seen it:

If you read movie reviews online, you will probably know that the reviews for this movie have been mixed thus far. Some people think that this is one of Allen's better works, while others think that he is basically just getting a whole bunch of big stars together and rehashing many of the themes that he had already explored in previous movies. My very honest response to these critics is: Whatever. I think they are kind of missing the point of what Allen is doing. To me, the entire movie was a celebration of life, gushing with the love of the Eternal City, of humanity, and of life in general. And also, this being the first Woody Allen movie that Allen himself is actually acting in since 2006's Scoop, the viewer is treated to more than a fair share of Allen's classic style of humor. A few themes that are typical of Allen's movies also play themselves out in this movie:

(1) Sometimes, it is better to be deluded/wrong and happy than to be right and very unhappy: This is a common theme in many of Allen's movies. It is all too human to want to tell ourselves stories which makes ourselves feel good. But really, what's wrong with this, if it gets you out of bed in the morning, and helps you to do what needs to be done to live the life that you want? In To Rome With Love, Allen himself plays Jerry, a reluctantly-retired opera director ("retirement is death", Jerry says in one scene) who feels that he has passed his entire career without having achieved anything truly great; he feels that the greatest work of his life is still waiting to be accomplished. While in Rome on vacation with his wife to visit their daughter who is engaged to an Italian lawyer, he discovers that his future son-in-law's father, Giancarlo (played by famous Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato) actually has a beautiful singing voice. Unfortunately, Giancarlo, who works as an undertaker, is only able to sing beautifully in the shower! When he tries to sing in a "normal" stage setting, he gets all nervous and loses his voice. So Jerry comes up with a ingenious plan to help Giancarlo get around this problem: He arranges for Giancarlo to sing live on stage in a shower stall built specially for him, complete with running water and soap! Giancarlo sings beautifully at La Scala (in a shower on stage, no less!) and becomes an operatic sensation, and Jerry thinks that he has finally achieved the great success he has been craving as an opera director. In truth, the critics love Giancarlo's singing, but thinks that whoever came up with the idea of putting him in a shower stall on stage is an imbecile who deserves to be dragged outside and beheaded! However, Jerry, not knowing any Italian, is blissfully unaware of their unflattering reviews of him, and thinks that the critics love him just as much as they love Giancarlo.

The general message here, of course, is that sometimes, it really doesn't matter if you are deluded, so long as you are happy: Ignorance, as they say, is bliss, at least some of the time. I also really love the fact that Allen is perfectly willing to cast himself in such a role and to laugh at himself in this way.

(2) We are almost never fully present in our present circumstances: This is another recurring theme in Allen's movies, and it comes up a lot in this movie as well. There is Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who is living more or less happily in Rome with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). Along comes Sally's best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), for a visit. Monica is a struggling Hollywood actress who kind of jumps from one relationship to another. Jack meets Monica, sparks fly, and Jack starts thinking frantically about how to get out of his present relationship with Sally (which suddenly seems sorely lacking in passion) in order to be with Monica. Sound familiar? :-)

(3) Life is short. Seize the moment, be daring and take a few chances: As cliched as this sounds, this is actually a recurring theme in Allen's movies, and it again plays itself out in many places in this latest movie. I won't bore you here with a recounting of the many instances in which this theme is played out, as this post is already too long, as it is. If you want to know, see the movie!           

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Super-speedy and powerful practice, coconut water pitch, being a Mysore Virgin who is often mistaken for not being one

Today has been a day of extremes. I just came back home from a very interesting weekend in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul): Where I live in Fargo-Moorhead, I'm about four hours northwest of the Twin Cities, so going down there is always a treat, not least because I get to practice with other people as well (in particular, at the Yoga House), which is a welcome change of pace from my usual home practice: In particular, this past weekend, I got to go to Saturday morning Led Primary and Sunday Morning Mysore.

I'll start by talking about this morning's Mysore practice at the Yoga House. There is something about practicing with other people around me that does something to me: It really speeds up the pace of my practice, almost without my knowing it. I'm not sure why this is so. Maybe it is due to some kind of urge to impress others? Anyway, this morning, I did full primary and second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana (I'm guessing that's slightly more than one-third of second series) in less than an hour and a half. And the thing was, I wasn't even fully aware that I was moving so quickly, except for the fact that I felt really, really winded when I got to Kapotasana. Think about that: Doing full primary and more than one-third of second in less than an hour and a half. Assuming that I took about twenty minutes to do that one-third of second, this probably means that I did full primary (including finishing sequence) in about an hour and ten minutes. Pretty cool, don't you think? Don't get me wrong: I'm not trying to compare practice times with anybody or anything: In fact, I didn't even time myself, and wasn't aware that I was really pushing myself any more than usual. It's just, I don't know, the "Mysore Class Effect"?

But my body definitely felt the effect of the practice after that. Immediately after practice, I made my way to the health food co-op nearby, and it took three (yes, three) coconut waters and one orange (I don't know why, but I have these cravings for oranges from time to time, especially when I'm thirsty) to rehydrate myself to a point where I feel like a normal person again. Oh, by the way, I highly recommend Blue Monkey Coconut Water as a source of post-practice rehydration:

     Highly Recommended for the full-time Ashtanga Fundamentalist
[Image taken from here]

This particular brand of coconut water was recommended to me this weekend by the teacher at Yoga House. Ever since I became an Ashtanga Fundamentalist, I've tried several different brands of coconut water, but in my opinion, Blue Monkey definitely blows the competition out of the water! Do give it a try. But if you already have your own favorite brand of coconut water, then feel free to ignore this (then again, it can't hurt to try something new from time to time, can it? :-))

But all this is only half the story. As I said, this has been a weekend of extremes. First, there was the extremely speedy and powerful asana practice, as detailed above. Then there was the... what shall I call it... extreme debauchery. Immediately after getting back to Fargo-Moorhead, I felt very jacked up (there's something about doing an extremely powerful asana practice and then cooping yourself up in a car for a four-hour drive that does this to you). I found myself walking around downtown Fargo, not knowing what to do with my jacked-up body and mind. And then I walked past a beer house, and thought: Ha! Maybe a beer is what I need to wind my jacked-up self down! Before I knew it, I was sitting outside this bar/beer house, eating chips and downing two big glasses of beer in quick succession. Even as I write this now, I am still a little bit (or maybe more than a little bit) intoxicated. Hmm... should one blog about yoga while intoxicated? But I hear from somewhere that beer (and alcohol in general) is tamasic in nature. Maybe I needed the tamas in the beer to counteract the powerful rajasic effect of this morning's very powerful asana practice? Well, at least that's what I'd like to believe: This whole rationale for getting drunk is starting to sound lame even as I am writing this... Anyway, I'll leave you to judge the lameness of my rationale.


There was one other interesting thing that happened at the Yoga House this weekend. Immediately after Led Primary yesterday (Saturday) morning, there was a screening of the documentary Mysore Magic (if you haven't already seen it, here it is). The reason why the Yoga House was screening it yesterday was because Jim Kambeitz, who did the cinematography for the documentary, happened to be in town, and stopped by the Yoga House for practice. 

The documentary itself is very well-made and heartfelt: It oozes the love of Mysore and the practice in every single frame. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, as I said, it is a very well-made and heartfelt documentary. On the other hand, I couldn't help feeling that the universe is rubbing the fact that I can't make it to Mysore in my face. I mean, think about this: According to my "original" plan, I'm supposed to be in Mysore this very minute! Why can't the universe leave me alone? 

But anyway, it is no use crying over spilled milk (or should it be spilled yogurt/raita?): It is what it is, and whatever has come to pass has come to pass. But here's something else that's interesting. When I told the teacher at Yoga House that I couldn't make it to Mysore this summer, her reaction was, "Oh... I'm sorry. But you've been there before, right?" And then I had to disabuse her of this notion, and tell her that I was a "Mysore Virgin" (do people still use this term?). Which is interesting, because over the last couple of years, at least a couple other people I've met have also made this same mistake of assuming that I've been to Mysore before: One of them is a senior teacher about whom I write a lot on this blog. Interesting, don't you think? Why do people have this impression? Perhaps one possibility is that people who have been to Mysore have a certain "Mysore look" or "Mysore Vibe", and that I somehow have it, even though I have never actually been there. Or maybe (and probably more likely, in my opinion) people assume that if you have a powerful practice (not to be immodest or anything, but my practice is really... how should I put this... not-not-powerful), then you must have been to Mysore: Otherwise, how else can you get such a not-not-powerful practice? (Answer: Do your practice, and all is coming.) 

Oh well. Maybe what all this means is that I need to try to lose my Mysore Virginity soon... Yikes! I can't believe I just wrote that. Must be the alcohol talking... Better sign off now, before things get even more X-rated. More later.      

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man, and a few musings about superheroes

I was going to blog about this morning's practice, but then I thought: Why? Practice is... practice. Nothing extraordinary happened. Did my usual primary plus second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana. In the finishing backbends, I barely managed to catch my ankles in Chakrabandhasana for (barely) five breaths before rocketing back up to the surface...I mean, back up to standing. Nothing extraordinary to report, at least on the asana front.

Then again, maybe something extraordinary did happen. Because everyday is a gift, and everyday that one gets to get up and practice is an even bigger gift. But all this is starting to get very, very platitudinous. Which means I might be turning into the Amazing Platitudinous Platyplus.

Speaking of amazing... here's something that might be more interesting to blog about. A few days ago, I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man. I highly, highly recommend it. I suppose I should say at the outset that I am kind of biased here, because Spider-Man happens to be my favorite superhero. I've always felt that I can relate much better to Peter Parker than to the "civilian selves" of other super-heroes. While it is true that most superheroes have "civilian selves" that are rather unassuming and socially awkward (think Clark Kent), one always gets the sense that it is the superhero playing the role of the civilian in these cases. Whereas with Spider-Man, we have an ordinary teenager with very ordinary everyday problems who suddenly finds himself with superpowers, and finds himself drawn into superherohood (as opposed to adulthood?), almost against his own will (with great power comes great responsibility...). So yeah, as I was saying, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, because he is really a very ordinary kid with very ordinary problems and flaws who suddenly finds himself with superpowers, and has to deal with this situation. But then again, I may also be biased.

While watching the Amazing Spider-Man, I couldn't help making comparisons in my head with the previous interpretation of this character by Tobey Maguire. I suppose one should evaluate a movie on its own merits, and not compare it too much with previous interpretations. But I'm not trying to do a "real" movie review here. Besides, there really are some interesting differences between Andrew Garfield's interpretation and Maguire's. When I first came out of the movie theater, I had this feeling that Garfield's Spider-Man is very, very different from Maguire's. And it took me a couple of days to put this difference into words. For starters, one gets the sense that this latest Spider-Man seems somehow darker, more brooding and emotional as compared to the previous interpretation. One can see this even on a purely physical level, in the way Garfield's Spider-Man carries himself as opposed to Maguire's: Throughout the movie, Garfield's Spider-Man adopts a more forward-leaning, head-pointing-forward stance, as opposed to the more typically chest-out super-hero stance favored by Maguire. To see what I'm saying, take a look at this:

[Image taken from here]

Which makes a lot of sense. After all, Spider-Man is not the same kind of super-hero as Superman. He's always had a more forward-leaning, crouchy air about him, which translates into a darker, more emotional feel. To illustrate, this is the typical Spider-Man-in-action shot: 

[Image taken from here]
Hmm... he looks like he does Ashtanga: This looks like the kind of movement that can be perfected by doing a lot of jump-throughs and jumpbacks. Or think about the jumping-your-legs-around-your-arms movement that one does to get into Bhujapidasana: That movement would really build up the core strength needed to wrap one's legs around one's arms and sling oneself around Manhattan skyscrapers, wouldn't it? :-)
But anyway, compare the typical Spider-Man-in-action shot with the typical Superman-in-action-shot: 
[Image taken from here]

Spider-Man clearly isn't supposed to be the kind of chest-out, head-back superhero that Super-man is. Actually, come to think of it, we can probably divide super-heroes into two kinds: the chest-out-head-back kind vs. the leaning-forward, head-pointing forward kind. The second group definitely consists of much darker characters than the first. Something to think about, no? Somebody should come up with a classification of all the super-heroes that are out there using this rubric. I think it'll be fun to see who falls into the first group (Superman, Captain America would be clear candidates) and who falls into the second. 

But anyway, if Spider-Man is clearly a leaning-forward, head-pointing-forward kind of superhero, then it would seem that Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man is a much closer interpretation of the character--much more true to the spirit of Spider-Man, if you will--than Tobey Maguire's. Besides, Garfield's Spider-Man also seems to have a more playful air about him, in keeping in line with the juvenile identity of his civilian self. Here's Spider-Man having some fun with a car thief. My favorite scene in the movie. Enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guru Purnima, Mysore, candy and nuts

I just watched the above video by David Garrigues celebrating Guru Purnima (which is either today or tomorrow, July 3rd, depending on when you take the full moon to be). I really like his analogy (at around 5:20 to 5:40) about the guru being the container that contains our shakti or, perhaps more generally, all the various formative influences in our lives. The idea, as I understand it, is that it is not enough simply to learn something from somebody, as one would do if one were learning a trade; but one needs to integrate what is being taught with one's entire personality, so that it becomes an organic part of oneself. And a guru helps one to do just that.


In other news: If you read Claudia's most recent Sunday Yoga Blog Times, you will know that yesterday (July 1st) was the first day the KPJAYI opened its doors for students this year. According to my "original" plan, I was supposed to be there yesterday! Which meant I would have been there the first time the shala opened its doors so early in the year in recent memory, and I would be observing Guru Purnima in Mysore! Think about that...

But as some wise guy* once said, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas." Or, in this case, a merry Guru Purnima. So rather than go on and on about what could, would, or should have happened, I'll just say that I'll do my best to enjoy my practice in my little corner of the planet and share it with whoever cares to learn about it, until I get to Mysore one day. And then what? And then I go back to whatever little corner of the planet I happen to be living in at that time, and do my best to enjoy my practice and share it with whoever cares to learn about it ("Before Mysore, roll out mat, take practice; In Mysore, roll out mat, take practice; after Mysore, roll out mat, take practice..."). Go figure.       

*A little online research reveals that the wise guy in question happens to be former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith. Not that you'd care, necessarily...