Yoga: The Show and Conference, 2008. Part 1

1 May, 2008

I volunteered at the Yoga Show and Conference here in Toronto last weekend. Previously I had attended only one such event back in 2004, where I signed up for workshops with Mark Darby, Dharma Mittra and Beryl Bender Birch. The experience had been positive back then; it broadened my perspective and took me beyond asanas really for the first time. I found literature (in Paramahansa Yogananda’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita and in Iyengar’s guide to the Yoga Sutras) that fundamental transformed my approach to Yoga. I was also inspired in the company of the thousands of Yogis of all ages who had wandered into Toronto for the show from all over the continent – with their enthusiasm, commitment, and zeal. Also, it was at that conference that I made what now seems to me a common sense realization that being in the company of Yogis makes you feel good – at peace, contented, relaxed and deep-breathing (It seems common sense to me now because I guess I’ve known all along that you absorb the energy, positive or negative, of those around you).

I started out planning to sign up for some workshops and come as a regular attendee, but changed my mind and decided to volunteer instead. What with the return to reasonable work hours, and the wife and girls accompanying my In-Laws to Los Angeles for the weekend, the timing of the show was perfect for me.

I chose to volunteer primarily as a way to ‘give back’ to Yoga (having gotten so much from it); having unpaid volunteers instead of paid staff allows the event to become accessible (i.e. cheaper) for attendees. Also, perhaps after 8 years of practice I figure maybe even I had some modest insights to share with the other attendees (as well as benefiting myself from theirs). Then, there was professional curiosity compelling me; I’m a Project Manager and I wanted to see how a Project such as this one, so far outside my usual business (IT Consulting) is run. Volunteers are expected to be available for 19 hours of work. The work itself is varied and includes anything from assisting the various exhibitors to running workshops (managing the doors, keeping the faculty on time etc). In return volunteers can attend workshops when they aren’t scheduled for tasks (provided there’s room) and have free access to the show floor. We also got to keep our uniforms (a nice bag from Bandha, Yoga Pants from Show sponsors Roots, and a show ‘staff’ T-shirt.

Instead of the mandated 19, I must have put in about 30 hours over weekend. The place was addictive. I didn’t want to leave each day – it just felt good to be in the company of these Yogis, whether attendees, volunteers, staff or faculty. But ironically, in spite of intending to give back, and for all the extra time I donated working the show, I still figure I got so much more out of it than I gave.

David Swenson on Pranayama and Bandhas

29 April, 2008

I heard a wonderful explanation from David Swenson regarding the importance of pranayama, breath bandhas in Yoga and their relationship to Asanas; He used the analogy of an sculptor. To build a statue an artist needs and uses both heavy duty tools and detail-oriented tools. Smash away first with a hammer and large chisel to get some ways to where you need to get…and then use the smaller picks, chisels and scrapers to bring out the detail. You need both

You could use the subtle tools alone but that would take a very long time. You could use the heavy duty tools alone but the end product won’t have the subtle detail you need. The Asanas are the heavy duty tools. Pranayama and Bandhas the subtle tools. The former prepares the body and the nervous system for the power – the prana – that will be released through pranayama, and then contained and channeled by engaging the bandhas.

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.

10 Rolfing sessions later…

20 May, 2007

I had heard some good things about rolfing – particularly as a means to enhance the physical practice. So I gave it a go and went through the standard 10 sessions over the winter. So how do I feel? Any dramatic changes? I have no counter-factual so I can’t say whether my asanas have benefited. I’ve progressed in my poses over the past six months, no doubt,…but whether that’s down to the rolfing I can’t say.

It has had an impact off the mat though. I have greater length – I look longer and leaner in the mirror. Also I feel that I’ve gained an inch or so of height next to colleagues and acquaintances – It’s maybe not so much that I’ve actually added height…but more a matter of standing straighter and therefore getting my full height. In the past, I’d occasionally become conscious of my slouching stance and would force my head up…but it felt unnatural. Now standing tall actually feels right and natural. I also walk differently – my feet land evenly now whereas before I rather walked on the outside edges of my feet. My wife swears that I have a far more graceful gait…apparently I had a something like a bow-legged bounce before. The genuine proof of the change in my walking pattern are a pair of shoes I bought last October – they’re not wearing per the old pattern that’s evident on all my old shoes – i.e. outside edges of my heals and soles. And now I’m very conscious of the outward slant that those old shoes are putting on my feet when I have them on (so I guess I better start replacing them).

I have a greater awareness of my body – that’s really what my sessions have given me. I realize for example that the chronic tightness in my hamstrings is down to the fact that, probably all my adult life, I have been leaning forward when on my feet, with the weight of my body on the front half of my feet. Try it yourself. Stand up with your weight evenly distributed on your feet. Hold your hamstrings…and now lean forward…can you feel them tighten? Well that’s what my issue has been. My hamstrings have been more or less constantly engaged.

So with those kind of benefits I suppose my asanas have improved subtly…but without any massive breakthroughs (which I suppose would have been unrealistic and unfair to expect).

Speaking of asanas, the past three weeks or so have seen me on the mat on 4-5 times a week…the mad hours have dissipated and it’s good to be back to what again resembles a daily practice.

Return of the Blogging Dead

2 May, 2007

Blogging fell off the agenda when work went into overdrive – 105% billable utilization and 3 hours of commuting. Today I’m feeling demoralized, tired and frustrated…but it’s an off day. I’m generally pleased with the way things are panning out with my career and on the whole…on most days….and during the better part of any given day…I’m having fun. I’ve been asked to prove myself in the most challenging circumstances – and the rewards, admittedly, have been commensurate.

I made an implicit choice regarding my career. I knew and accepted the consequences. Less balance. Less time even for Yogasanas (between billable hours and periodic flu I’ve probably averaged only three practices a week). If I want to practice, it has to be at 4:00 am…and sometimes it’s tough getting up at four. One crazy night I had conference calls at 10:30 – 12:30 am and then the next morning at 5:00 am. That’s globalisation for you.

But do you sometimes get the feeling that whatever you try to do, life’s got certain stuff in mind for you and there’s nothing you can do change it? Here’s irony for you…by moving up a gear, I was letting go of any chance of taking a 3-month sabbatical for Yoga – that just doesn’t happen for 30-somethings on the career track I’ve put myself on. But there’s the rub…my mad job that supposedly leaves me short of time for yogasanas is taking me to Bangalore in October…a cab ride from Mysore. Go figure. I’m getting my shots and I’m going to Mother India…business class.


19 November, 2006

All changes right now. The wedding I wrote about last time left me weary for two weeks as I slowly detoxed. It provided a reminder on the impact my diet has on my happiness, productivity, vitality and general well-being. I felt sluggish, slow and ill two weeks. I’ve since returned to my usual diet and the change in how I feel is dramatic. Why should I be so surprised?

The asanas are still good and regular. I lost Mari D after the wedding though…but I’m getting it back – binding the first side for the last week or so. It’s all 4:30 am practices right now. That is the latest I can get up and still make the office in time (8:15 am) for my call with Bangalore (or Bengaluru as it’s now called). My new train commute gives me tons of time to read for the first time in years…and to communicate with my wife. We’ve probably spoken more about non-essential stuff (you know…actually talking about things other than the kids, mortgage etc) in the past two weeks than in the preceding six months.

People ask me whether I miss working from home. I don’t. I’ve had to give up some things. But I’ve gotten some nice things in exchange. That’s an attitude more than anything. And I think it’s one that Yoga is responsible for awakening. Besides, I think I’ll still be able to manage a few days a month from home once I’m settled on the engagement.

Hey! I’ve also been to a couple of rolfing sessions since I last wrote. All I can say about the first session is that it was ‘pleasant’. I enjoyed it – is about as much I can offer. I felt the alphawaves waft over me as I drifted in and out of a semi-conscious state. Perhaps the changes being effected were too subtle for me to understand, notice and realise. It was after all the first session of what is usually ten. I had the second on Friday night – the focus of which were my feet – and the outcome of which seems a minor miracle; for as long as I can remember, I’ve had very high arches and tended to rotate my legs outwards, walking on the outer edges of my feet. I’ve sprained my feet numerous time because of the tendancy to land on the outer edge – once really badly coming down from a volleyball spike.

Since Friday though, I’ve been walking straight. I don’t rotate outwards. As I stand, I feel my weight evenly balanced on my soles. When we were done the session, the rolfer asked me to walk 10 or 12 yards up and down in front of her. I noticed the difference immediately and just looked at her shaking my head and laughing. It was when I got into the car to come home though that I really noticed the difference. My feet sat squarely on the pedals, instead of half-slipped off their edges – now that really felt different.

Needless to say, I’m going back for more. What other myofascial tendancies do I have locked up inside me that keep my bones from sitting properly and what stress, tension and emotional logjams are being created as a result? What other spaces are there waiting to be opened? What’s it going to do to my asanas?