20 Jul 2011

Packing Mantra

Annual trip to the UK to visit family and friends, and to feel like I fit in again. Always being a foreigner can get tiring. Sometimes it's nice to merge into a crowd.

It can be a challenge to keep up with my yoga while on the move. But am determined to do a better job of it this year. Last year I managed an average of 3 practices a week. It's while I'm away that I keenly feel the effects of regular practice. As with anything, it's when it's gone you notice how important it is. Have been in a good routine of morning practice for a while now. Must try to continue while travelling. Preparing for a yoga trip to India is simple compared to a trip to the climatically fickle British Isles. It's been around 35degrees here in Japan most days, coming down to a cool 25 or so at night. I can't imagine wearing many clothes right now. Ah packing. Need to keep it light and simple. Light and simple.

Also a bit of mental preparation, I've made changes to my lifestyle, especially eating habits, want to keep these up and not slip back into old habits.  So easily done, it can be like I have two lives, but I want to integrate them into a whole.  Much simpler.

Bought the Manduka travel mat, folds into a neat A4 size, no padding but good grip. But it's not fairing too well in this summer heat and the rubber is sweating, making it feel slimey. But it'll save me lugging a mat around.

Light and simple, light and simple, light and simple, packing mantra.

19 Jul 2011

First Kindle Purchase

I debated, and mulled and mused, kindle, i-pad, kindle, i-pad.....  Kindle was the right size, but limited and no colour, the i-pad too big to fit in my bag.  Then, while making enquiries into the price of my phone bill I saw the galaxy tab on a sales display.  It was love at first sight.  Same size as a novel, pretty much the same functions as an i-pad.  My perfect gadget, I signed up immediately. What with all the earthquakes and nuclear meltdown I really felt the need for news and information at my finger tips. 

It was just recently that I discovered the kindle application. Danger danger danger. One touch and I have the book.  Anyone that knows me, knows I have a book problem.  At least this won't weigh my house down anymore, but am worried for my credit card.  Now I am able to carry all the books I want with me, oh paradise. Mind you I do still carry a few paper books, can't resist the pull of paper.

My first kindle purchase was Claudia's book.: 21 things you should know before starting an ashtanga practice.  Thouroughly enjoyable read it was too.  She had a nice tone throughout, encouraging to read someone else experience and views, a lot was familiar from her blog.  Claudia's opening words resonated, especially as we started Ashtanga the same year, 2004.  Seven years in the ashtanga world is indeed a blink.

I have recommended it to a couple of my students who wanted work on their English and learn about Ashtanga, perfect, and hopefully it will inspire them to continue.

Made me think of my beginnings, how I started this practice with a couple of good friends, one of whom was a teacher.  I avidly read and practised along with DVDs,  tapas in effect.  I couldn't get enough.  As much as I love Claudia's book, I do have a stubborn independent streak that makes me want to find things out for myself, experience and discovery. So I'm glad I read this after the fact. I like to find out things for myself. This does also hold me back, it is much faster to learn from others, but nothing replaces those lessons which we glean from direct experience.  I like it raw. That's how I do things.

My first trip to India - I went on a total whim.  I wanted to find out about Buddhism.  I was considering Tibet, but my friends convinced me that Tibet would be expensive and difficult, and it would be better not to give money to China. They advised me India would be freer and  more fun.  Good friends.

I knew nothing about India.  I knew the Dalai Lama's residence was in Dharamsala. That's where I would go.  I also knew there were big beautiful mountains in Kashmir, but because of the troubles, my friends told me not to go there.  Guess I don't always heed friends advice as I stepped off the plane, into Delhi, and straight to Kashmir, before Dharamsala, I couldn't resist, it was worth it, but that's another story.

I launched myself into India and was duly shocked.  I seriously knew nothing. But I'm glad I did it that way.  To see it all fresh, and make what I could of it.  I had an amazing experience.

Same with Mysore, 10 years after my first trip to India, talk about excited.  I wasn't part of a shala, I knew no one that had been, no advice, no guide, no lists, nothing.  It was great.  I just made my way to mysore on the local bus, and bumped into a Scottish guy on the first morning who took me to his house and made me chai, then set me back on my way to registration.  Then I met a teacher from Hong Kong, who helped sort me with room and moped, showed me a few restaurants, offered a few sage words of advice, on all sorts.  I like to work by chance meetings, spontaneity, always works. Within one day I was totally set up.  Still very green I broke all kinds of shala rules, Sharath was on my case, but I was so green it showed so much, peaple understood,  it's quite embarassing now. At least I knew my practice well enough.  Glad I went so fresh, no expectations, no worries, no stress, happy like a puppy, wagging tail and all friendly.

What do you think? Do you like to read up and plan before travel or just go?  I have to admit, now that time is more of a premium, I do read up and research a bit now to make the most of my experience, but no strict plans, I like flow, and to be flexible to new openings.  To wander and leave open chances for coincidence to occur.  Often I am so wrapped up in the busy-ness of life I feel that I am missing the flow.

15 Jul 2011

Full Moon Oil Bath

My full moon treat. Been wanting to try the castor oil bath for a long time now, finally a full moon holiday has coincided with a work holiday.

I bought the oil over winter. When it arrived, and I looked into the intricacies of oil bathing I realised it would by nigh on impossible in my sub temperature bathroom. To begin with the oil was in solid form.

Now the climate has turned tropical, it's time. I was surprised at just how sticky this oil is. It took a lot of work to get it through my hair onto my scalp. Left it there for the recommended 5 minutes for first timers before doing the whole body.

Castor oil is said to remove excess heat from the body, to be anti-inflammatory and so is reportedly good for relieving arthritic joints, nerve inflammation and sore muscles. It is healing and cleansing. I also read that it penetrates the skin and helps to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin. All good.

The backs of my knees and lower back became really hot, almost burning, as I massaged the oil in.  Finished with a hot hot shower and lashings of Dr. Bronner's magic soap.  After which I experienced an overiding urge to lay prone on the tatami and sweat, while listening to circadas.  The shower really was hot. I read that the hotter the better to both open pores to absorb the oil, and then to wash it off.

Either way, right now I'm feeling very mellow and particularly well lubricated. Interesting to see how practice goes tomorow.

12 Jul 2011

The man I call my teacher

I've come to think, that a good teacher is simply there to reflect your own strengths and weaknesses, and to offer advice on the way. The clearer this mirror,  that is teacher, the better the effect it has on the student.

Chilled, clean and clear. If the teacher is off kilter the reflection will change, warp slightly. The importance of teachers keeping up a personal practice and keeping that vibe is vital.

Tarik Thami came to visit us in Yamagata. He’s the teacher I see the most, so I guess he is my teacher. I do hate to use the possessive pronoun with people. I hardly ever get to Tokyo, but it is nice to have a teacher that is familiar with my practice. So we Yamagata Ashtangi gathered and practiced.. Been while since I last practiced in a strong group. It was fun. Good energy.

I was having doubts about Ashtanga, thinking maybe it's impossible for me to get past my blockage. Stuck in the same place for years, and now with clonky hips and a painful knee, certainly no lotus here sir. I know it’s not the asana really, but I do like practicing this sequence and love to feel progress along the physical path. I had even thought about not attending, very instantly mind, no way I could miss out! So I joined with the intention of just doing what I am able to.

Three days in a row of Mysore class. No teaching. Just practicing. In hot hot steamy Yamagata. Bliss.

The combination of heat, group energy and a strict teacher watching over seemed to do wonders for my weak willed practice. I could get both legs behind my head. Go figure, had totally laid off even one leg this last month, waiting to heal. I guess the rest worked, no pain, felt good.

Finally made it to Karandavasana.....now I've got some work.. I thought this would be out of the question, what with my no lotus status. But Tarik showed me a way with Bakasana style legs, knees just bent. Ha ha ha, all that Bakasana B I've been doing certainly helped prepare for this version. Ah finally to practice Pincha Mayurasana with a teacher, even tried Pincha to chatuari. Nearly did it twice, and twice thwomped my chin.

I fell like the light shone on me a little, oh I do like to be taught, the luxury having a good teacher around ; )

3 Jul 2011

Envy and Freedom

Been reading, Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack. Has it ever made me chuckle, even out loud on the bus.

Of all the unproductive emotions in the world, none is worse for the soul, none more toxic to creative out put, than envy.

Hmm yeah, so true I thought as the bus sped through the mountains up here in sultry monsoon Yamagata. Have learnt to love this steamy weather.

Been hearing a lot of the same problems from a variety of people, wanting to be themselves, express themselves, live their lives in their way, worried about what others are thinking. Often others are envious. But you don't have to bear this burden. To be on the receiving end of envy is just as torturous as projecting it out there. Japan often strikes me as an envious country, in the petty day to day life. One expression, iina-, which means *I'm so envious* is a phrase that I wish were used less, particuluarly when whined or pouted out. It’s bandied around so flippantly, mindlessly said most of the time, but shows us the mindset.  Language and thought so intimately connected.  I swear my thinking has changed since I start speaking Japanese. That's for another post.

It's summer vacation time. In Japan it is not common for people to take holidays, especially longer then a week for those lucky ones who do. I'm not sure how much this is company policy, or those unwritten unspoken undercurrent rules Japan is so good at.

I just wish people could be people, do what you want, be nice, be kind, work hard and do your thang. Some are good at this, but get the guilts from relatives, co-workers. I know of people who go off secretly so as not to incur the envy of society, careful not to get too tanned, a dead giveaway. The pattern needs to be broken. I do believe everyone needs a vacation now and then, of over a week, two is perfect, to enjoy. Enjoy what ever it is that rocks your boat. Surely all people would like this, so why the jealousy, someone goes, you feel happy for them, knowing next it'll be you.
Here’s the catch 22 – don’t take that paid leave because you feel guilt, people are envious, perhaps because they want paid leave too, but won't go because people will be envious and they will feel guilty. So the cycle continues.A cycle of repression, a samsara, of a sorts, a birth of guilt and a death of freedom.

Freedom is important. Even without the vacation, that’s not really the point, is it? It's about an inner freedom. Bhagavadgita says it perfectly:

A yogi is one who performs his duties in society yet stays free inwardly.

Dropping back from standing into a back bend makes me feel free.

I’m working on them. Decided to add one a day and keep to the inhale exhale, no breaks or fiddling. Ha! Only made it to eight. Well, shall add one every day or so, nice and slow. Body is healing, things are coming back.  Can really feel it one my legs today.  Still needs a lot of work.  Need to relax my face, and neck more, and get those hips forward and stretched out.  Need to come up more through my legs, am relying on my back a bit too much.

Meditation also gives that space, that taste of freedom. I’ll always remember coming back from my first trip to India, shaven head and meditating in a park in my hometown, and feeling free, realizing it was a state of mind. Not bad for 22. Soon forgot in the daily toil. But to experience once is to make a path, to be able to return, hopefully more and more often.

May all beings be happy and free.  As Bruce Lee said: As you think....so shall  you become.