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.

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Into the Horizon

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We do not always know where we are going and we certainly don’t know where we’ll end up, but we look out anyway into the horizon, our eyes trying to make out that fine line between the knowable world and that which is totally uncertain. The meeting of the two can inspire so many feelings: anxiety, sorrow, trepidation, joy, excitement…

We want to know if swimming into the ocean of life, hitting against its backwater, navigating its swells, we want to know that it’s worth it, that there’s going to be something on the other side.

In our practice and with life, we are told not to reach so much, that our task is to simply be in the present moment. And, still, we can’t help but to look out beyond the now, often wanting to quantify the great unknown. We want to know that practice, that doing our thing, that living our lives will be worth it–in the end. So fixated at the big what next, we often fail to see what is before us: a whole ocean of life, teeming with possibility, and that there is actually enough mystery here to keep us busy. There is just so much, so much to explore, to learn, so much depth to dive into, to experience.

I often pray these days that I simply enjoy all that is in front of me, that I enjoy practice for what it is, not what it can be, that I savor living life for the sake of simply living it, to recognize its vast greatness, rather than overlooking it.

PHOTO: Mural in Mission District, San Francisco. Teaching at Mysore SF throughout November. http://www.mysoresf.com

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.

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.

Light Crossroad

The light crossroad where intentions and the magic of practice meet. Above our heads: fairy lights and prayer flags taking wind.

To think! A million or so possibilities. Probably more. All things, meetings, happenstance, accidents, hard work, chances and blessings that assemble us under such bright stars.

PHOTO: Above: lights and prayer flags. Below: a potluck celebrating the 4 years anniv of Mysore SF; the certification of Magnolia Zuniga, making this strong lady the only certified Ashtanga teacher in San Francisco; and the new teacher…me. Thrilled to be joining both the teacher and the community.

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.

Turning Wheels

Things go round and round. It is a constant, this wheel of life, constantly, surprisingly changing. And yet, there is a cycle to it all. Some motif that repeats, a reminder or a landmark, which often gives us a certain context: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we are going.

In many ways, practice is like a wheel in movement. It is the constant in a changing self-scape. It is also the vehicle physically moving us from one shape to another, but also moving us from one state to another.

There seems to be innumerable “wheels” and such out there, tools for transport, for self-exploration, for greater understanding. San Francisco, where I have landed–or, rather, where I am still landing at–feels like that kind of place for me. I arrived here at the age of 10 as a young immigrant with my family. I returned as a university student at Berkeley. Some years ago, I arrived quite lost, an accidental tourist with the sole intention of securing a ten-year visa to India to study yoga, which at that time was all I could think of. And now, here I am again. This time, to do what I love, which is sharing from the rich yoga tradition that has both changed me in so many countless ways and has made me more tuned into who I really am.

It is a sight. When we see these wheels turning. That is a great part of the joy of teaching for me: to see glimpses of other people’s wheels in action through their practice. But to see it one’s life, to observe it, to feel driven by it, and to eventually also take the wheel…

A great part of this new turning is me coming to teach with Magnolia Zuniga at Mysore SF. For more information: http://www.mysoresf.com