2009 – the Year in Poses

13 January, 2010

I overstated the badness of 2009 yesterday. After all it was replete with opportunities for spiritual progress (or I’ve been reading too much Eckhart Tolle). As far as my physical practice is concerned, it was a year of extremes. I practiced 217 times last year. I know this because I have a log (more on that in some other time – it’s not as lame an idea as it sounds). That’s 10 fewer times than in 2008. But the quality of my practices made up for that.

Last summer, I hit a peak which I now sometimes think might represent the all time height of my physical practice in my life. I practiced 28 times in May. These were the days I tell you. I glided seamlessly from one pose to another, slipped my legs behind my head with nonchalant ease, lifted into the deep arching back-bends that girls do all the time, and casually clocked up 2.5 hour practices that went well into the second series.

Once after practice my teacher said to me ‘you probably don’t realize it Ash, but you’re on the verge of big changes’ (It was a bit cryptic and I have no idea if he was actually talking about my practice). These were the days when Doug Swenson, was sufficiently convinced by my practice to invite me to demo Ashtanga on the Toronto Yoga Conference main stage with him. These were the days when I picked up Mark Hyman’s ‘The UltraMind Solution’ and went caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten, dairy trans-sat fat free for six weeks. 10 lbs fell off me like a belt-less pair of 32s as I went to a 28 waist. I starting supplementing with Omega 3, B12, B6, D3, Folic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, plus the usual multivitamin. People asked me what I was taking – it was that obvious that I was now operating in a new gear.

But it went pear shaped big-style come Fall. By September it was 12 practices and then in October a paltry 8. My wife broke her right knee-cap in September and I came face-to-face with understanding and letting go of my attachment to the physical practice. I had to yield. I had to step into bigger responsibilities than mastery of ‘Pigeon’. I think I’ve been pretty good at the 50/50 parent gig, but now I had to be 80 or 90 as my wife lost the ability to walk (never mind carry, bathe, rock an 8-month old around). And, being me, I added ‘small’ projects like finishing the basement (myself) and getting a Geothermal heating and cooling system put in. Something had to give and it was my physical practice.

But in a way it was good for my bigger practice to step off the mat and come to terms with the lopsidedness of my Yoga. Equanimity and acceptance, responsibility and non-attachment is what I picked up in Fall (either that or I’m reading too much Eckhart Tolle).

An Overdue Update

11 January, 2010

The nature of my last post really demanded an update considering the sympathy expressed.  I was remiss in not providing it.  As explanation I’ll just say that 2009 was a contender in the ‘most difficult, challenging, painful’ year category and blogging, for all its cathartic value, didn’t really rate highly.

If you want to measure the impact of neuroblastoma, you might draw up a 2×2 matrix: along the top, you have discover – ‘early’ and ‘late’; and down the side you would have pathology – ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Drishti’s case fell into the top left box – her tumour was found early and found to have a ‘good’ pathology. A good pathology means that her cancer appears to be spontaneously regressing. It’s shrinking. It has disappeared from her liver, and what is left on the adrenal gland is just half it’s original size. When I query our daughter’s oncologists about the ‘disappearing cancer’ they can’t really offer an explanation and what I get is ‘It just does that sometimes and nobody’s quite figured out exactly why’.

Fair enough. Who cares so long as it does just go away. It suffices to say that Drishti’s well; beautiful, cheerful and full of mischief. She’s not out of the woods. But she’ll manage. Her biopsy sample is of value to those who study cancer and apparently it is being examined closely – yet so young and to have contributed so much to the betterment of humanity!

Maybe. But she definitely contributed to the betterment of her Dad. I’ll never be quite the same.  The struggle for me is to hold onto the clarity of vision that I acquired in those challenging weeks and months when all the detritus of life fell away and I saw in the starkest light how so little of what I fretted about and valued actually mattered. The vision’s gone a little blurry again. It was bound to with the return of normality. But it’s still clearer than it was.

A Month Later

11 April, 2009

I wrote last time about trying to summarize an entire year in a blog. Well March reminded me that a month can be just as difficult. Here’s how it went: Drishti’s spitting up and not pooping so the doctor sends us to an ultrasound. Cheerfully the ultrasound technician walks us through the routine she starts scanning Drishti’s tummy, but suddenly, abruptly stops talking halfway. She wraps up, puts the results on a disc and send us back to our doctor…who, after looking at the results sends us immediately to Sick Kid’s Emergency downtown. Early the next morning we get seen to and Drishti’s in a ward room. Another ultrasound, a urine test, and finally a CAT scan confirm neuroblastoma – a mass on her adrenal gland and spread to the liver. Cancer.

A team of surgeons confer and decide on a biopsy to remove the tumour, and a bone marrow test to see if the cancer has spread. A week later, we’re quietly watching the status board in a well-appointed waiting room as she goes under the knife. An incisional biopsy removes most of the tumour (taking it all would have required removing the adrenal gland…and you kinda need that) and a sample of bone marrow is taken. More tests. Days go by. We wait. Bone marrow tests come back negative and she’s discharged a little over two weeks after we went in. The neuroblastoma specialist is now managing us on an outpatient basis – we go in every Thursday so that they can scan the tumour to see if it has grown.

I think I’m still a bit stunned by the whole episode. I think we just went into autopilot and just got ‘on’ with it. You often fall apart and lose control when confronted with the small challenges of life…and then something really really big happens and you go into some kind of zone and…deal with it. We are lucky (at least so far); neuroblastoma is dangerous and even fatal if it goes on with its business unnoticed. We found it in Drishti about as early as you possibly could.

My wife stayed with Dristhi at the hospital. I looked after the other girls with help from my Mum. I’d drive to the hospital with a daily supply of food, clothes, etc.

A couple of days before it all happened, I had taken on the biggest project of my career, two days after the customer signed, I stepped down from leading the project so that I could focus on home. I had the alacrity to think that I could somehow juggle this huge project and deal with this ‘daughter’s got cancer’ business. My executives indicated their backing whichever way I was going with this. A couple of days later I came out of my delusion and realized I must have been off my rocker. I stepped down and was given as much time as I needed to ‘deal’ with what I need to.

We managed. We didn’t fall apart. We acknowledged deep down that this was the experience we needed to be having. We did not resist. We accepted. Now, I’d never wish this experience on anyone and this is going to sound stupid but feel privileged to have gone through this. There’s a new clarity. The bullshit fades into the background. The things you were once afraid of, fretted about, or regarded as important seem absurdly trivial. It’s like yoga…on steroids.

It’ll stick too. I’m not pissing about either. Yoga’s given me perception and perspective. No doubt about it. You know what I mean. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my practice is the biggest single success factor in my career and my life. But this whole business has just accelerated it all. I don’t really mind at all any more what happens to whatever. I’m back at work now now on something interesting…but I’ve applied for a oversees non-profit assignment with an NGO in Brazil or Vietnam. I’m going to India too this year and I’m talking the girls with me. I’m going to take my time practicing in the morning. If I want to spend two and a half hours doing both primary and intermediate before work then that’s what I’m going to do.

Remarkably I practiced 25 times in March. That’s a 100% attendance record. How did I manage that?

A year later

7 March, 2009

How do you post after a year away from the blog? Do you pretend that you never left and just carry on blathering about what you did today or do you make a fist of providing a whirlwind summary of the year? I don’t know how to go about doing the latter. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I could start I guess with girl #3 born last month. We named her Drishti – my western friends think I’m a hippie and my Indian friends think I’m a right-wing fundamentalist.

I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of Satsang this year. What drove me to blog in the first place was to seek out a community of the like-minded – a support mechanism to sustain and bolster my practice (I practiced on my own, in my basement) and maybe allow me to do the same for others. On a whim about this time last year I volunteered for a Yoga Conference and the experience changed me; I immediately sought out a shala – a place to call my Yoga home.

Last year I practiced 227 times; not a 100% record – that would have been 290 following the Ashtanga tradition (if you were wondering) – but not too bad either. Most of those practices were traditional Mysore style at my Yoga Studio. Typically I drove in early, dropped my wife off at her gym and got into the studio just before seven and I’d practice for 2 hours or so before heading uptown to my client’s offices. I got to know the teachers well enough to call many my friends, and the co-owners as my mentors. I did a 200 hour Teacher Training course there over the winter (to deepen my practice more than anything). My practice is my centre of gravity. My friends have changed.

My practice is deeper and broader. Broader in the sense that I’ve progressed to deeper asanas and regularly do the second series now. Deeper in the sense that I continue to be humbled by insights into ‘basic’ poses that I’d long ago ticked off like so many scout badges. I could do Surya A alone for the rest of my life and never completely ‘perfect’ it. Amen to that.

I’m more tolerant and accepting of alternative approaches to asana and even incorporate some occasionally into my own practice. I’m a bit more skeptical of the ‘church’ if you will, even as I continue to be relatively orthodox in my practice and ever grateful for the teachings. And I’ve grown to appreciate the broader physical discipline – spending time on pranayama and delving into Ayurveda. I’m not saying I’m perfect though – this blog post was catered by Labatt and Frito Lay. But it’s been a good year. All in all, I’m better for it.

Baby’s crying. Time to finish my can of Blue and take my shift.

Like Seven Inches from the Mid-Day Sun

1 July, 2008

Mercifully the temperatures have come down this past week in Toronto which means the Shala was a mere 28 degrees this morning. (Do they actually heat this place in June? Is this Bikram and no one told me?).

Even when it gets hot again, I think I’ve built up the stamina to manage, and my practice appears to be back down to something like a normal duration. Coming from my 15 degree basement, I took some time getting used it though. It slowed me down at first; I frequently need to towel down to keep the sweat from running into my eyes, and it just pours off me as though from a tap – bringing my hands down in Samasthiti, I sometimes watch it run in streams from each hand and make ‘pud pud’ sounds on my mat like rain leaking onto a carpet

Sometimes I just stopped from plain physical exhaustion – I felt like a car being red-lined. I’d just lie in some improvised Savasana halfway through, staring at the motionless ceiling fan, my face drenched, and throbbing with heat.

Well this morning I was back down to something more typical – 100 minutes. (Whereas one day this month I finished up to find I’d practiced for 2.5 hours!)

Still, walking out the door after those hot practices, taking a deep breath and feeling the cool morning on your face…feels amazing. All I need is that celebrated coconut wala to hand me a cool one.

Good conditioning for going to India this…not that I’m going any time soon.

He Blogs Again

16 April, 2008

My blogging petered out because I no longer had the time. There is always time of course but for me, in the year that was 2007, where sleep and asanas were themselves scarcely scheduled, blogging didn’t really have a chance.

What a year… a beast that I ended with 115% billable utilization. I spent the summer working 80/90 hours a week and one monumental ‘day’ in July started at 6:00 am on Wednesday and ended at 11:00 pm on Thursday. Predictably it was a good year for the ego – I made a lot of money and increased my visibility in the Company (whatever that’s worth). I also kinda burned out…well I did burn out….and took December off to unwind, rest up, (and fill out)…and gear myself up for a new gig at a new account. I started January 15 pounds to the good. I didn’t do much yoga during my month off. Instead I took care of the household chores that piled up over a year of neglecting home – at least the urgent ones. I played with the girls. I bought proper Christmas presents.

Yoga wise, I would hazard a wild guess that on average I practiced two or maybe three times a week last year. Not so bad except that  there’d be 5 a week of my regular old 4:30 am practices and then a couple of weeks of none at all. That kind of thing.

And now? I’ve shifted into the slow lane for year. This suits me right now. I haven’t worked more than 45 hours a week since January – and haven’t worked a weekend (I don’t plan to either). Since January I’ve been re-building up my physical practice. (In January I was startled to find myself no longer binding Mari A – not comfortably at any rate).

It’s all back now. After a March in which I set a new benchmark for consistency – I only failed to practice on 6 days the entire month (and two of those were Moon days), I’m back where I left off. Which is where? Which is wondering how I get my feet behind my head and starting to peer beyond the primary practice to what lies beyond.

I’m also getting well past my infatuation with our (admittedly gorgeous) physical business – and putting it more than ever in it’s proper context and place. My yoga is broadening again past asanas; which so far involves a lot of reading –  Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Gandhi’s Autobiography, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, Andrew Weil’s Breathing – all of which have much to offer an aspiring yogi.

That’s all for now. Talk to you all again next year. Just kidding.

Mysore Talk

1 June, 2007

Mysore’s surrounded by forests in every direction except the one that takes you to Bangalore. That’s what my team lead told me – I have him here for a couple of months to work with us as I ramp up a project. He was born in Bangalore but grew up in Mysore; went to the University of Mysore. He knows exactly where Gokulam is: ‘Eight kilometres from the Hotel Metropole Uncle-ji’ he tells my Dad, before adding for further detail ‘on the road to Coorg’.

I invited him home to spend last weekend with us so that he could enjoy a home cooked meal, and watch a bit of Zee…and escape for a day or so the loneliness of his Hotel Apartment (even Queen West and Simcoe gets boring after a while…especially for this quiet lad who’s not one for going on benders). He evidently loves the countryside though, and he was taken with the lushness of our Niagara Escarpment. He said it reminded him of the Western Ghats.

Most of all he loved playing with Diya which took him back to his own little girl back in Bangalore. Or at least he tried to play with her…he’s tall, thin, mustachioed, and bespectacled and she was quite scared of him…and only really got used to him just before it was time for me to drive him back downtown.

He lives in Bangalore now – one of our firm’s five ‘centres’ in the country. But he’s got his heart set on going back to Mysore…and he’s lucky…our company’s Mysore campus will be ready in 2008 and a transfer is his if he wants it. He’s building a house there on fair sized plot that cost him what a half-decent bicycle would cost here; ‘But that was three years ago Ash’, he tells me before gushing…’now it’s worth four times as much!’ Evidently the corporates are tiring of swollen Bangalore and beginning to decamp for Mysore…wonder what that spells for the place.

Like Sharath he spends a lot of time in those forests and he regaled me all weekend with stories: being chased by frenzied elephants in the night; or spending evenings in shelters that were built by rangers who once scoured the forests for the dreaded, but now dead, dacoit (bandit) Veerapan. His talk of Gokulam, Tigers, Bandits, Forests and ‘the road to Coorg’ made me want to go. The coffee is fantastic in Coorg.

My manager is now contemplating sending me to India for a two year stint. It came up in conversation and I said ‘I’d go’ (rather blithely when I think of it now). I even added that I wouldn’t even have to consider it if I got to live in Mysore…I’d be on the next flight. And now she might hold me to it. Quite apart from the ‘details’ (wife, kids, and the house – on the lush Niagara Escarpment – that we all adore), I’m really taken with the notion. Can you imagine that? Seriously, that is having your nanaimo bar and eating it. imagine keeping your Canadian job and studying Yoga in Mysore for two years…simultaneously. Stuff of dreams innit. Two years at AYRI. Crap…that’s a lot of wonga. I wonder if they have an annual membership.

I suppose I better run this idea by the wife though.