Mysore Sunday, Final Session

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So much of my most precious interactions happen on a rubber mat with students while teaching in a Mysore space. Where else do you get to meet someone in this way, slowly over time, whilst they quietly cook in the juices of their own humanity, turning over with each deliberate breath and movement the fluctuations of the mind and heart.

It’s like getting to know someone without any context other than what plays out in the half-hour, hour, hour and forty-five minutes that one practices. Story-telling is minimized, so is the drama. The body is so intelligent. The practice is so precise. I love meeting in this way. It is so raw and real… and honest.

As a mysore teacher, the challenge is to meet as honestly as well. To cut out the superfluous, the desire to people please, the need to teach, so that the practice can do it’s thing. I often have to remind myself that the best thing that I can do is to get out of the way. The opposite is also true, when it arrises; it’s important to recognize when it’s a good time to get involved, when support is necessary.

Meeting in this way, in mysore-style classes, it is looking into a mirror and seeing who you are at that one moment. Sometimes, what I see is glorious. Other times, I see that I am one hot mess. All of it is ok and also, none of it matters. By meeting, we submit to an alchemical process, a world of change.

It has been incredibly special to lead the Mysore Sunday classes here in Mysore SF twice a month. Please come to class, I love to meet with you. I will also continue to assist Magnolia Zuniga in Mysore SF until December 10, 2015 before heading back to Asia to prepare to study with my own teacher in Mysore, India.

One with World and Practice

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Sunset at Fort Bragg’s coastline in Mendocino, California.

How many times have we looked out into the great big world, taking in one of those breathtaking views, and are awed by all that we are not? We are inspired, our imagination stirred, we are humbled, but these feelings also put us in different places–us and the world.

What would it be like to look out at the greatness that is and see a reflection of ourselves? What would it be like if we saw sameness instead of separation? If we looked out and instead of noting difference, we say: “wow, I’m a part of that,” or “that’s me, too!”

What if we looked at everything, big and small, every person we meet, no matter what the circumstance, every interaction we have in the same manner? Imagine how different life might be.

In the microcosm, this is a challenge we meet in daily practice–at least, I know I do. There’s me and then there’s the room and the people in the room. There’s my practice, and then the practice of others and my idea of an ideal practice. How many times does our drishti (point of focus) slide and we take in through our periphery some excellent (or sometimes, less than excellent) posturing and we compare ourselves to another?

There was a time when I looked upon these thoughts with a great deal of shame; I wanted  to be above it all, thinking that would make me a good yoga practitioner.

When these thoughts come up nowadays, I find more humor in them and more gratefulness for them. For the function of practice is to tease these reflections of the ego up to the surface where they can be seen in the full light of day–that they come up is not a problem but a part of a solution. As we observe them, they come up less and less and they subtly loose their power.

More and more, I have different kinds of moments when I’m teaching  or when I am practicing. Sometimes, I perceive someone who may be dissimilar in practice, body type, everything, and still I think: yup, that’s me! Maybe the current me, or 7-years-ago me, or the me I might be in a few years, but that’s me, that’s my experience also, that’s my challenge, that’s my strongpoint too, that’s my fear–and in these incredibly precious moments, I see sameness, I feel compassion.

There are other times when I see someone doing just the most impossible, gravity-defying, beautiful thing, which I cannot even imagine getting close to, and I feel beyond envy this great sense of incalculable possibility. I am inspired by our shared potentiality, though it will, no doubt, express itself differently for me.

And then, there’s the practice, which is so very personal. Yet, over time, it starts to feel quite impersonal also. Especially in a mysore space, there’s the practice that I feel is mine, (my mat, my body, my motions) and then there’s the practice that is ours, that is shared in the room, and beyond that, a practice that is shared by a global community that is still connected from teacher to student, teacher to student, all the way back to Mysore, India, the way it has been since the beginning. Then there’s the practice that is shared by everyone, which is life…

I know this looking at unity instead of difference is hard to sustain, so conditioned are we to compare or to see our own smallness.

But the photo above had me thinking about this man looking at the sunset. I imagine his awe at the scene before him, the sun setting into the Pacific coloring the Northern Californian coastline. I wonder, is he thinking: “wow, that’s a sight” or “aren’t we just amazing!” From where I’m sitting, I am also in awe and he is as much a part of the magnificent landscape, his presence completes the scene–and I am also a part of it, even though, from where I’m sitting, I might not see it.

Trust Your Struggle

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“Trust Your Struggle.” Street Art. Temascal, Oakland.

I love the Mysore room. It’s one of my favorite places to be, whether it’s practicing or teaching, I can’t help but feel alive in such a space. I love the victories after some long-fought challenge, but I also have a great respect and appreciation for the power of practice when I see a student near tears. It’s very real, this hot house of human action, people moving within a small portion of rubber mat. It’s steamy and there is a palpable thickness in the air. There’s a lot of love here–but it’s not the love of fluffy bunnies or candy-colored unicorns–it is often a love forged from gritty, sweaty, face-all-twisted struggle.

Struggle? That seems like a paradox, right! Ashtanga is a yoga practice, after all, so shouldn’t it promote a deep sense of peace and calm, physical ease and mental equilibrium?

Ashtanga is a very honest practice, reflecting back at its practitioners their life in concentrated form. When life is hard, practice takes on that hardness. When life is easy, sometimes (when we’re lucky) it’s easy, but often practice will dig a little deeper to find a soft spot. It’s a tradition designed to make you strong and also flexible–and a component of that is to whittle away at what’s unnecessary: shame, fear, pride, all forms of ego–these are not easy things to be grappling with, thus, the struggle. The struggles are there for a reason: for us to understand ourselves better.

I think it’s important to note that I’m not speaking of binding in maricasana D, suptakurmasana, learning to drop back or getting the leg behind the head but rather the human struggle that comes with the challenges that are presented by certain postures, sometimes by practice as a whole. The struggle isn’t actually getting past the pose but getting past the challenge/turmoil that the pose creates. It’s not about moving forward in any particular series, it’s about moving beyond it.

As practitioners, we are responsible for the struggles that present themselves on the mat. We must meet them, rather than run from them. And with practice, meeting them means getting up close and personal with them through our bodies pretty much everyday with as much equanimity as we can muster until they loose their power. We might relax into them, melting into some mythical grace, or we might fight them tooth and nail in some epic shit fight, there’s no blue print for how exactly we are meant to face these moments. But I think we must trust that the struggle is there for a reason, that it serves some greater purpose other than to annoy or frustrate us, it isn’t getting in the way of our ease and happiness–rather, it is the way.


Continuing to grow here in Mysore SF. It is such a pleasure to be working in such a space where the practice and the teaching is so very alive, so very real–real in the struggle as much as the joy of practice. There’s an alchemical force in the room. The potential for transformation is there. Very grateful to be taking part in it. Mysore is Mon-Thur, 6-9am. Led Class is Fridays 6am and 7:30am. Sunday Mysore is 2nd and 4th Sundays (no class September 27, it is moon day). 

When It’s Tough to Practice

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Life is not always so accommodating towards practice. There’s, of course, a work, personal and domestic life balance that needs to be maintained. And we learn to negotiate between them.

There are the other times, however, where it is not a matter of time as much as it is a matter of space–emotional space. When the factors above close in on us, it takes a toll. And the tool, our sadhana, which we so often rely on to help us deal with stress and tension, amplifies our emotions, whether it’s anger, or frustration, or pain, or sorrow, or…the list goes on. At the best of times, practice can be a slow uphill battle. When under emotional duress, it can be total carnage.

What then? The teacher’s answer would be to practice anyway. Easier said than done, I know. But when it’s tough to practice, this is when we need to be practicing the most. The mat, the practice, is a sharp yet subtle mirror, and facing it when times are challenging is difficult but ultimately helpful because it does its job. It allows us to see ourselves and the issues that weigh heavily on us.

Practice anyway.

Practice any way. It may not be your optimum, it may not even be your full practice, perhaps it’s simply getting through sun salutations, maybe it’s just getting on the mat and breathing before the thoughts and feelings crowd in on you. Then, come back and do more the next day, giving your body and breath the space to expand. The sheer guts and determination to show up for yourself can become a wellspring of inspiration and strength.

If you have the courage, the heart for it, watch carefully, observing the places of discomfort and the places where there is space. Each day watch as it gets better because everything changes. The practice itself becomes a vehicle for these small or big shifts. Slowly, what was originally disempowering becomes its opposite. When it’s tough to practice, just practice.

The Offering

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Honoring Guruji, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, on his 100th birthday. Of course, Hanuman too.

Today a student brought flowers for Hanuman and Guruji–a beautiful offering. The real offering, however, is the simple and, yet, at times, difficult task of coming to class. The sacred act of showing up, no matter what that looks like, no matter what it feels like, no matter whether we are completing first, second, third, part of standing, turning up on our mats each morning is the offering we make to our teacher, to ourselves, to our deepest purpose. To practice is to bow respectfully as you lay freshly picked flowers before your teacher. It is a kind of work/prayer that is continuous, that doesn’t ask for anything other than to be allowed to be in existence, in gratitude and in love.

PHOTO: Hanuman and Guruji, honored with flowers in Mysore SF. It has been a beautiful and challenging opportunity teaching on my own here these few weeks. I am grateful to all the students who did the simple and yet sometimes so difficult task of showing up. (Guruji would have been 100 years-old this week).

Feet on Ground

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The great art of grounding. It seems like the most simple and natural thing in the world, right? After all, don’t we all stand on two feet? Yet, how many of us find it challenging to be truly steady?

I must admit, having lived the last few years on the road, this is not strong point. But as I ground here in San Francisco, I am rediscovering my land legs and reassessing what it means to be grounded. My relationship with the ground is changing because it is no longer constantly shifting underneath me. For years I sought strength from my center in order to be spry and flexible and to find steadiness in a world of movement. Presently, without all that whirling, I am surprised to find that my relationship with the ground is not what it should be. In this relative stillness, I am finding my feet, the whole feet, the weight, how it engages the legs and feeds into the center–all of which existed before, but now, with solid ground beneath me, I feel both the support and, well, the challenge of it. The ground does not give. Push on it and it pushes back–and that’s even more supporting.

As a result I’ve been on the watch for it, not only in my own practice but in the practices of those who are in my care at present–which I suspect makes me kind of a pain sometimes. I know what it’s like to be standing on two feet and not really interacting with the ground and I’m starting to understand what it’s like when that relationship is strong and active and how it makes a huge impact in the integrity of every pose, of every vinyasa, of walking, of standing.

These days, each time I get on the mat, I ask myself, am I fully grounded, am I fully interacting with the ground beneath me, or am I just going through the motions, my feet and the floor beneath me, just barely touching.

PHOTO: Finding my feet in San Francisco. Mural Room, De Young Museum.

Moon Day Practice

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Today, as I sat having tea with some beautiful devi-friends at the Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, which was preceded by a lovely morning walk around the grounds, which was preceded by a much appreciated lie-in (anything past 4:15am is a luxurious sleep in for me during the week), I could not be more grateful for Moon Days–full moon and new moon are rest days in terms of practice, thus, I also do not teach on these days.

This New Moon felt both restful and nourishing. The opportunity to engage with the morning differently, to seek out community outside the practice space, to be outdoors and enjoy the summer sunshine–a scarcity here in San Francisco until recently. To observe moon days are a practice in themselves, and an extension of our yogasana practice. It is the practice of rest, of honoring the needs of the body to rejuvenate itself, of honoring the needs of our subtle bodies–the nervous system, the mind, the emotional body–to integrate the information that is gleaned during yogasana practice.

It is a practice to calibrate ourselves with the cyclical nature of the moon–and, thus, with nature itself. This happens naturally when we observe the moon days. We allow for the depth of practice to move beyond the rubber mat into the greater world we live in.

Particularly with this moon falling on a Wednesday, it feels like a holiday midweek. We often return from holidays with more energy, greater clarity, deeper resolve. This is an important part of practice; we ought to observe it, enjoy it, embrace it.

PHOTO: Buddha bathing in sunlight at the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park. It seems inseparable these days, yoga practice and life. Even during my break from practice, the trajectory was all to familiar: the balance of the Japanese garden, the use of elements to draw one into meditation, the discourse the ongoing journey to find the self in equanimity. Makes me smile. There is no real break from real practice.

Another World: Mysore SF

There are no signs here. No glitzy window dressings or clear glass where one might peek through and see yoga bodies. There is no merchandising. There is a door with a push-button code. Ok, the building, a dance annex, isn’t exactly non-descript, but the eye-catching yet abstract design that swirls and flows on the edifice mysteriously pulls one in—just like the practice that is going on upstairs in the early hours of the morning. This is Mysore SF.

Many Mysore spaces that I’ve visited has that in common. It’s low key. Usually not affiliated with a mainstream yoga corporation. It doesn’t dress up the practice. oys got its own energy, attitude. There is usually a great deal of condensation on the windows. The feeling of shanti or peace is not accomplished by burning incense or the sweet tones of new aged devotional chanting; it happens through consistent daily practice, a lot of patience, hard work, and on occasion a healthy dose of struggle just to remind you that you are alive and still well up for fighting the good fight. It is a room where people breathe and move. And if you stick with it, it’s a place where a kind of alchemy starts to happen.

I am always impressed and in awe of how practice evolves and translates in different countries, in different cities and spaces, and in the hands of different teachers–who, especially when they are teaching authentically, are all pretty unique. How distinct it feels and yet how it remains constant and true to the essence of Ashtanga yoga. So it is here, the same as everywhere, and yet also different. 

Like the fog here in San Francisco, students surely but quietly roll in, unfurling their mats like wings, breathing and moving, fogging up the windows, then rolling up their mats, returning the next morning to repeat the process. There is a steadiness to it, it’s substantial but also light. Like the morning fog rolling into the city, you can count on it. For me, coming into work these days is like watching the day break, seeing the world waking.


For more information, visit: http://www.mysoresf.com.

Catching Wind

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The wind of practice–how to explain this, how even in the most humid of rooms (such as the one I am currently practicing in here in Mysore, India) there is this light energy that sweeps one up, and we fly, breezing from one posture to another, flowing through the different layers of body: the physical body, the mind body, the pranic body.

It is the energy of the room, we are lifted by the breath, our own and the collective breath, as well.

For some years now, I have relished this phenomenon here in Mysore. I have enjoyed being blown about; surrendering to it has been a journey, and I have often greatly delighted and surprised at where this wind has taken me. Furthermore, this wind blows quite far and has propelled me to all sorts of places, all sorts of life lessons and experiences.

The time comes, however, when we must pilot these winds, when we must actively participate in our own flying, when we must take responsibility for determining our directions, for the strength of our own breath, when soaring whichever way is a choice not a matter of happenstance.

And when this time comes, do unfurl those sails, do allow the wind to power you, as you steadily take the wheel, steering yourself to wherever new or old lands you feel compelled to go to, taking support from the wind but– all the same– doing your own flying.

PHOTO: Among the toys and trinkets for sale at Nanjangud’s Shiva Temple during Shivaratri last month. Karnataka, India.