Monday, December 7, 2009

From High On My Soapbox

"I actually thought about getting breast implants because I'm a radical, militant feminist and a hypocrite, it turns out." --Maria Bamford

Hypocrisy. Not a pretty word. Within it is wrapped lying, deception, harmful selfishness, and mistrust. It is something most of us have (intentionally or not) dabbled in and all of us have been subject to.

This weekend I was witness to hypocrisy in action within a world that I have cherished (naively, of course) as a safe haven from such unfortunate human characteristics. I witnessed a yoga teacher, a person I automatically included on my "people-that-are-awesome-by-virtue-of-knowing-where-mula-bandha-is" list being a violent, intentionally cruel person without cause towards someone who was just trying to do their job.

(I should probably mention that none of this really involved me, so arguably it's time to get off my soapbox and talk about things that I've directly experienced but this really made me all itchy and bothered inside and I've got some time on my hands and have missed writing in my blog. So there.)

This is obviously pretty regrettable behavior in anybody, but something that makes me incredibly sad and depressed about in a person who should know better. Because yoga, just like most religions or spiritual traditions in the world today, encourages people to follow simple rules of behavior. In yogic philosophy, these are known as the yamas and niyamas.

In short order, the yamas: non-harming in thoughts, words and deeds (ahimsa), tell the truth (satya), don't steal (asteya), don't be promiscuous (brahmacharya), live minimally with respect to your needs (aparigraha).

(Side note: These are more "guidelines" than "rules" due to the fact that yoga is all about you, on a personal and individual level, living life consciously enough to recognize when actions and thoughts have positive value. So take what works and leave the rest--just like anything in yoga--but these tenets are simply a common sense way to live a more positive, content lifestyle.)

Common sense though, wouldn't you say? Which is why this incident, and others that I have experienced recently, make me sad. This person's actions were in complete disregard to ahimsa and arguably asteya (What did she steal? My respect! The respect of students and other teachers! Possibly keys to the studio! Gah!).

For me this person's actions were tantamount to witnessing a Christian get a bit judgy (for thou shalt not, lest that get turned around on you and ye be judged) or watching a member of PETA kick a puppy or seeing a vegan indulging in veal marsala or seeing an emo dressed in goth or observing a researcher manipulate data.

It's just not cool.

I'm not trying to attack any of these people or their convictions, I'm just trying to use obvious examples of hypocrisy. My point (I'm getting there, seriously) is this: if you choose to follow any system of belief, be it spiritual or social or dietary or whatever, your actions should reflect that system. When you choose a label, such as "yoga teacher" or "self-proclaimed follower of yogic philosophy," you take on the role of ambassador for that label. Not only did this person's actions harm herself and others, but also have negative reflections on yoga as a whole. Which obviously really bugs me.

Okay, we all slip. But I think the more we live with conscious acknowledgment of the impact our thoughts and actions have on us and those around us, the more content we can be.

In the end, what is left of a person after you strip away their convictions and the integrity behind them?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm sciencing as fast as I can!

My thoughts tend towards the future.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

"Approach everything you do with excitement and enthusiasm." --Vishvaji

I am ridiculously excited. I am wicked enthusiastic. Because I may get a chance, as a teacher, to share everything I love about yoga with my students.

At the ashram, I got a glimpse into how I felt about teaching yoga. Part of the training involved teaching 80-minute classes with a partner, each partner taking half of the class. And if I wasn't sure of my becoming-a-yoga-teacher feelings before the training, it took only those few experiences to show me how much I love it. As a teacher, you get a chance to use your creativity and your passion to transmit the benefits of yoga to students. What is amazing about the whole experience is that a teacher is not forcing any realizations upon the student, but is simply opening a channel for the student to make their own self inquiry.

I don't know if it's what I want to do as a career, but I do want to teach yoga no matter what form it takes in my life. If it's just teaching family and friends, or teaching a free community based class, or having a weekly class at a studio, I'll still get to be teaching. And that thought makes me feel all bubbly and delicious and content.

One step at a time, though. I'm trying to take everything I learned at the ashram--the training, the lifestyle, the philosophy--gradually enough to really use it all with honesty in my life. I don't want to be the bright-eyed little girl who sees one things that's beautiful and can't let it go, that can't understand that there is an infinite selection of beautiful in the world. The ashram environment was amazingly conducive to living in a beautiful way, but I can only adapt from what I learned, not recreate the experience.

Am I making any sense?

Baby steps, Po. Baby steps.

I set three goals for myself when I left India: to treat my body and mind as things of value, to have a daily yoga practice, and to approach life with equanimity. And as I'm writing this I'm going to add a fourth: to forgive myself if I screw up a bit.

Though these give me a focus for now, I have heaps of other big ideas about the way I want to live. But like I said before, if I do this, I want to do it right. A complete revamp of my life, I feel, would have great potential for me to become a hypocrite. I want to digest all of this slowly so I can know the choices I make have been made with integrity, not with whim.


On a different note, I've had some of you ask me about sitting down to talk about some of this stuff, to which I say "call me! email me! show up on my front doorstep I'll make cookies!"

Lots of love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009



At least, back in Fort Collins. Home is kinda tough for me to define right now. Can you feel homesick and at home at the same time?

My first steps on US soil in Chicago were excited--"Look! Drinking fountains! Drinking fountains that you can drink out of!"

My next thoughts--"Everything here is so...gray. And weirdly clean. And, why did the waitress at a sit down restaurant just hand me disposable plastic eating utensils? Surely they wash them later?"

So anyway, I'm back and I'm safe and now I'm just playing it by ear. I know I slacked majorly on posting anything in the later parts of my trip, but I'm going to try and fill in some bits and pieces. It was an amazing, intense experience and I want to give it due justice. Plus I was kinda spending my rupees in India in more productive ways than at the internet cafe. Like on pomegranates.

One thing about being back--there's a lot of alone time in Colorado. In the ashram, I was surrounded by 30 some incredible people who were always ready with support, be it a shoulder to cry on or a buddy to sneak out to Tulsi Restaurant with and eat Banofee pie (Oh. Wow. Salty graham cracker crust layered with caramel layered with marshmallow paste layered with bananas. Mmm...) with. I love the people I have here, but it's tougher for me to relate to them about ashram living, or yogic living, or living in India living. Conveying how incredible and how emotionally physically mentally digestively intense the experience was is going to be tricksy.

But I like a good challenge.

A question I keep getting: are you different? Are you changed? To which I say yes. But no. But a lot of yes.

I'm working on thinking through all the stuff that has been layered into my head over the past month. They weren't messing around when they called this an "intensive" course. I learned a lot, but it's going to take some time to sort through everything and decide what I'd like to keep in my own life and what I'll leave behind. What I love though, is that I finally feel like I have the knowledge to work out myself.

Big thing that I finally get: yoga is so much more than postures. In early yogic texts, postures are barely even mentioned and are used mostly to get the body ready for mediation when you're lower back is all twitchy and unhappy. The Western world kind of removed asana (the postures) away from all the rest of yoga, which is ridiculous once you start to delve into the rest of the the tradition a little bit more. So much of it is almost common sense, but also so valuable to everyday life: be nice to others, be balanced, allow yourself to find quiet, be content. Recognize your own value, try to be conscious of your actions, learn how to listen first. Breathe.

Yoga just helps define what I think we all intuitively know to be true.

One of my favorite aspects of the philosophy of Akhanda yoga is that you are your own guru, meaning that you hold within yourself the guidance you need to find contentment. You only need to learn how to quiet yourself enough to learn how to listen to him (my inner guru is definitely male. He wears suspenders and is fond of tiramisu and sunrises. I try to accomodate). I love this take on things, because it empowers you to find and use the key to your own happiness. In the past, I've had a bad tendency to give that key out, depending on an experience or person to make me happy. We all do this, "I'll be happy when...I get a new car, get engaged, get a puppy, etc." Which is unfortunate, especially when depending on someone else to keep tabs on your key. First off, you're giving up something you have an inherent right to. Second, you're forcing upon someone else a responsibility that they can't hope to always fulfill. It's just not the best plan in the long run.

Vishvaji also encouraged us to think of yoga as a science, which totally appeals to me because it makes the whole thing feel a bit more manageable for analytically minded people who like evidence and experience to come to conclusions (Not that I'm one. But I know someone). Be your own lab, right? That means that you can experiment and play with different poses, different ideas, whatever, and see what works for you. And if it doesn't work or feel right, time to try something new. Yoga is non-dogmatic, so take what you like and leave the rest.

In a book called The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope, he cites a Buddhist story that describes a state known as samvega, wherein we come to the realization that constantly grasping for happiness from things that can't hope to provide it is, well, silly.

"A dog stumbles across a bone that has been exposed to the elements for many months, and is therefore bleached of any residual flesh or marrow. The dog gnaws on it for some time before he finally determines that he is not finding any satisfaction in the bone, and he thus turns away in disgust. It is not that the bone is intrinsically disgusting; it is rather the case that the dog's raging desire for meat will just not be satisfied by the bone...when he wakes up to the truth that the bone is empty of anything that will offer him satisfaction, he becomes disenchanted, and spits it out in disgust."

It may take us a really long time to understand that fundamentally, it's ridiculous for the bone to provide us with anything that it doesn't have. Objects like people or things or jobs all may have intrinsic value, but lack the "meat" that is guaranteed to satisfy that need we have for happiness. It takes a moment to step back, to breathe, and to look at ourselves critically. This trip helped solidify my desire to understand the source of my own happiness.

I feel a bit like a little kid with a huge plastic pumpkin spilling over with of different candies right now with all the stories and thoughts and questions I want to share. How to choose which one to savor next?

But anyway it's this little kid's bedtime. More later.I'm working on pictures, but below is one my favorites of the Ganga at sunrise. So pretty, eh?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009



I am overwhelmed.

They aren't afraid of getting really Real here. So much that has happened, I wish that I could word it, that I could transport whatever it is across the ocean because I want everyone who cares about me to understand how very Real it can get. I don't think I was ready for some of this stuff, for other bits I've put it off for way too long. Some of it may be too far beyond my grasp for a very long time. I can't even decide if I like any of it.

I'm sorry that I don't know how to be less vague right now. I'm just not sure how to translate all of this. Mostly...


Lots of love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Po feels Po-etic

Ah, India.

You, my darling, are a land of many contradictions.

From all over the world to meditate in your breathtaking scenery, to absorb the wisdom of the ancients. And yet, strangely to me, so much of you is chaos. An erratic assortment of modern and ancient, a veritable mosaic of bright colors mixed with the dullness of hard packed earth.

Why is it, India, that your streets offer a breathtaking buffet of tasty bits, but those bits cannot be eaten without a great deal of risk? Is it a struggle you relish in imposing on those with unfortunately weak intestinal systems?

Why is it, India, that the ceremonies performed here to worship the gods, the sun, the greatness of life are not complete without the heavy dollop of cheesy kitsch?

Why is it, India, that your people call the might river Ganges "Holy," yet worship it with offerings like industrial runoff and garbage? Do you enjoy the mixture of your ancients ashes mixed with the refuse of a nation?

Is this all part of your plan, India? To provide a land so full of extremes? To force those who live in you to find the balance in the chaos, the middle ground that provides the only sanity in between?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A bit of toilet humor (finally)

Yesterday, Vishva held out a little bottle of pills and shook them over and over again, giggling. Vishvaji giggles a lot, I think he's the happiest and most centered person I've ever met. He easily commands a room but lightens the atmosphere with just a grin.

Anyway, the pills.

"Two things is happening when peoples they come to India. Either things gets very exciting, lots of fun trips to bathroom. Or no excitement for days. Most peoples experience this sometime when get to India. These pills they fix the non-excitement. You come, we talk, if you need less excitement in your life. I pass these around you take."

So amazing.

The students here have formed a "C" team and a "D" team.

Take from that what you will.

On another fun bodily function/fluid note, this morning, at 6 am in the glorious morning, my nostrils were cleaned with a neti pot. This involves taking a specially designed pot, filling it with lukewarm water and Himalayan rock salt, and running this through both sides of your nose. It was weirdly satisfying. Weirdly. I can't upload picture, but just google image "jal neti" there's lot of quality images that give the general idea.

Honestly my breathing has never felt so clean. Also, because we dried our noses and then rubbed the inside with ghee, everything today has kind of smelled like popcorn butter. Which has been wonderful.



I've been thinking about it, and I'm not sure I've every really felt this healthy. I haven't been here long, keep in mind but in the last 10 days no alcohol, drugs of any kind (including caffeine), nothing but wholesome vegetarian meals have passed these lips.

It's strange to me how little I really miss from home.

My creature comforts here are: my bowl, my plate, my cup, my spoon. I have a blanket, a pillow, and a key to lock my room. All I've needed to bathe is a bucket and a small cup.

I have clean water to drink.

My yoga mat acts as my meditation cushion, my desk, my chair, and of course, my asana floor.

A few days ago, two of my three pairs of pants got pretty mouldy from me accidentally leaving them in the rain. I have found, however, that the third pair of pants is more than sufficient at clothing my bottom half. Also it's a wonderfully lazy way to live when the pants act as both pajama pants and day pants. I find it saves up a lot of the useful time I was wasting on putting on/taking off pants.

The other day at breakfast, a bit of honey nearly put the students here wet our pants (number one this time) with excitement.

When I look at it, the short time I've been here has shown me the most austere lifestyle that I've yet been exposed to. Lots of the things that I left at home aren't here. I just can't remember, really, what those things were needed for.

Sometimes, I feel a little bit silly.

Here we are, perched contemplatively at the foot of the Himalayas, dissecting yoga and purpose and better living. We debate and lecture over finding our paths and finding ourselves.

Those of us perched were each able to buy both a plane ticket to India and to pay for this teacher training.

We each have a closet full of clothes waiting for us back home.

Surrounding this ashram are people who cannot even imagine ever leaving Rishikesh, much less India. Surrounding this ashram are people who have one everyday outfit and one festival sari.

Hence, I feel silly.

I'm trying to remember that this ashram was built to serve as a sanctuary for introspection. And inevitably, part of introspection requires a selfishness, and a turning a way from the world. I came to this ashram to learn about me. Not surprisingly, turns out that there's a hell of a lot more here to learn about.

Socioeconomic problems, sanitation problems, the incredible differences in wealth. The world, as it turns out, is a very big place with lots and lots of unfairness. Duh, you say. I know, but give me this time to realize how very naive I have been.

I am so ridiculously priviledged, even by Western standards. I have the luxury of taking an entire month off to go learn about a rather esoteric lifestyle and philosophy in a country on the other side of the world.

For the first time ever, I'm really starting to believe that there should be a balance. Those with priviledge need to not only find contentment in what they do but also have a responsibility to try and reflect that contentment out onto others.

Let me clarify. Sometimes I think we associate being socially responsible with personal sacrifice--we all need to join the Peace Corps or volunteer or donate or whatever. But really, maybe there are small things that we can do that contribute that really take nothing away from us. Individuals are not going to feed the world, or save the environment, or stop bad people from doing bad things.

In yogic philosophy, there is the concept of dharma. From what I understand, this is the idea that we each have a specific niche in the world that we best fit in. It's not our destiny or our fate, really, but just a place where we find our Selves comfortably settled in. Like, for my sciency people out there, the place where all your entropy is lowest. A place, a job, a mindset where you energy is the calmest and most removed from its normally chaotic state.

Once you find your dharma, you kind of automatically are giving back. Think of the most content, most centered people you know. Doesn't it just make you feel better to be around them? They don't even have to do anything, really other than be their very own Selves.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I'm pretty sure I'm taking a sharp veer into Idealistic Youthton. Population me.

...can you be a cynic and an idealist by the way?

Is this place just getting to me?