Monday, March 7, 2016

The Jewel is In the heart

The morning sun has just come up. I head out the door and through the metal gate into the small one lane street. The neighborhood I'm residing in is known as Lakshmipuram. Lakshmi is the goddes of abundance, prosperity, wealth and health and as far as I'm concerned she purrs. 

I like living here. The early light filters softly through the trees and lands on the backs of the painted cows who have been yellowed with turmeric, their horns rubbed with kumkum and some lovingly adorned with head ornaments showing evidence of the pujas or ritual offerings of worship to the sacred cow of India. In turn, the cows like to wade in the piled trash at the corner of our small street, sorting, sucking and licking the trash clean of anything organic.

Welcome to the Indian trash system.

I was stunned upon my arrival when I queried about trash disposal. I was literally told to drop the trash on the corner and if I felt magnanimous I was free to open the bag and spread it out for the cows. I just couldn't. For the first half of the month the trash was kind of piling up. I eventually acquiesced. 

Once the cows have their way with it, someone comes by and rakes it all together, adds some leaves and burns what's left. Air quality? You can imagine. Though, inhaling the scent of burning plastic every now and then flags India and toxic smog, as heartbreaking as it is, is a part of the experience. While some things are hard to swallow (or inhale) about the culture, other things are rich beyond compare. Like the cows. 
They are everywhere in the streets. They live on the streets, free to roam. They roam on the sidewalks, in the middle of traffic, I've even seen them wandering through the market. (See below, the rump of a cow cruising at its own pace through the market.)

They loll as they walk, in no apparent hurry. The cow is revered here as the mother is revered. The cow is earth embodied, nourishing all. The energy that this dear creature imparts in the middle of the busy day and traffic, mind you, is a steady calm. Unhurried and beautiful. Their dark chocolate eyes exude a patient endurance and they seem to hold down the fort. They keep it real. Imbuing the city with a sweet tolerance. They have stolen my heart. In the end it became my own ritual to separate the food stuff from the trash and leave it on the street as an offering, effortless and delicious to consume. The cows had become an absolute joy to encounter on my walk to the Shala.

A Shala is a yoga school. I am here to study for a month at a Shala called Stahlam 8 with an up and coming teacher named Ajay Kumar.
The city of Mysore is the birthplace of a style of yoga called Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is the classical vinyasa yoga.  A system that installs the breath as the basis of the practice. The breath takes on a deep sound that is often compared to that of Vader, Darth Vader. The Force is felt when a slight restriction of the throat voluminizes and steadies the inhale and exhale. The quality of the breath literally consumes errant thoughts and distractions of the mind. Internal chaos is swept into order by the inconquerable current of the breath and eventually entrainment ensues. This breath, synchronized with movements of the body links a continuous flow for a minimum of 90 minutes. A movement meditation unfolds as a kaleidoscope of aspects and form are explored. It is a demanding set sequence of postures designed to strengthen the body and mind for all the rigors of life; physical, mental and emotional. 

It is not for the faint of heart. 

Ashtanga requires a strong focus and will. A desire to know thyself and a desire to improve. Throw in a healthy dose of humility too because this practice will find some way to subdue the ego in the end. Which is kind of the point. If you don't know what I'm talking about read some of what Eckhart Tolle has to say about the ego in "A New Earth."

The Shala is a small room, holding about 16 people ranging in age from 21 to 50. People from all over the world, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Mexico, England, Venezuela, Italy, Kuwait, South Africa, and Russia to name a few. To be in Mysore is to be in the nexus of this style of yoga. People who come here to practice are, well, here to practice. It is immediately evident. The game face is on and drishti (the gazing point) is steady. "Begin to breathe" Ajay says with conviction, accentuating the word breathe. The breath begins, building in sound and vibration. The room immediately begins to steam up as the effect of the breath begins to create friction in the body and therefore an external as well as internal steam begins to form in a room that needs no heat. We are already at 35° C which is 95°.
Sometime into the practice the sweat literally rolls off of the tip of my nose. It feels like I'm dragging my mind and body through tar as I try to re-familiarize myself with a practice I have not maintained. Ashtanga is a daily commitment and my personal practice in the past two years had shifted away from Ashtanga. 

It took the entire month. 

I suffered and resisted. I resented and complained. I struggled and squirmed internally. Here I am in Mysore doing what I love and still, I suffered. Every lazy bone in my body and mind objected. Yogic philosophy describes energy in three forms: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic.  Tamas being inertia, heaviness and yes, resistance. Resisting with all its might change and transformation. I was up against some tamas and what a strong force it is. Many of us know what this feels like. It keeps us from growing, evolving and becoming the stellar version of ourselves. It is easy to become complacent.  Ashtanga yoga gives us a mirror to see. I am grateful for this mirror and grateful to Ajay and his assistant Prakesh for being there everyday. For being strong and clear. For holding space for so many souls to look within and evolve. To become stronger in mind, body and spirit and not subject to the forces of tamas. Through practice we become the best version of ourselves. We polish the jewel of the heart with the friction of the breath and the heat of transformation creates change within. 

After a month in Mysore I am grateful for the support of the Shala, the Guru, and my fellow practitioners. I beat the tamas for now. I feel stronger, lighter and more secure in my truth. I am becoming more aware. Ghandi's wise words of personal experience will never lose potency. "Be the change you want to see in the world." It's real. It happens within. It starts with you.