Why am I in Mysore?

Screen shot 2016-01-10 at 6.28.06 PMI just finished reading The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and one thing that struck me from her many insights was a really simple idea about identifying passions.

Think about what you enjoyed doing when you were 10 or 11 years oldThat’s probably your passion.

This is not what your parents thought you should be doing, or what your friends did, but what you honestly liked spending your time on. For Gretchen, it was always writing and journaling, and though she spends her life as a professional writer now, it took some time for her to realize that her passion and her deepest joy is really in books and writing books.

I began to think about my passions and why I was really here in India. It’s harder than you might expect, because, as Gretchen points out in her book, a lot of our ideas about ourselves are actually things we think we should be doing. (ie: We think we should love listening to Jazz, art and fine dining, when what we are actually truly happy and passionate about is a little less exotic or classy sounding: staying home to read, 80’s pop music, cartoons.)

I thought about yoga, the practice to which I have devoted my life and the reason I’ve traveled to India twice in the past year, and wondered if the seeds of my practice were in fact planted long before I took my first class at age 16. Suddenly I was struck with memories of me as a child (something I don’t actually have much of)…

At age 10, I loved the idea of travel and I loved reading about different cultures. There was a period of time where I completely immersed myself in studying ancient Egypt. I had book after book on the subject, I would play outside in elaborate ancient Egyptian fantasies, I pretended to learn to write in hieroglyphics and I even dressed up as Cleopatra for Halloween (mom, let’s see if we can find a photo!)

I had the same deep interest in Japanese culture. I played in tea ceremonies, wore kimonos, almost perfected origami, and created homemade sushi with my dad (I think we still have the sushi roller).

Coming home after school around 3:00 or 4:00pm, I’d be thrilled that I’d just made it in time for my favorite TV show: Lonely Planet Globe Trekker. I was obsessed with that show. I soaked up any and every country the hosts (Ian and Justine were my favorites) traveled to: India, Greece, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand…I loved them all.

So I thought back to the original question: why I am here in Mysore? The answer for me, is seeped in my true passions, which are more complex than just ‘I like to travel.’ I’ve always longed for immersion into cultures other than my own. I longed to feel included in practices that are foreign to me. I love the idea of learning something from the masters.

A few years after I began practicing yoga, I realized I wanted to learn yoga from Indians. I wanted to understand the culture it comes from. I wanted to see India, to feel its pulse and to understand how this very Indian practice translates to me.

A lot of adults I know think that high school or college were the best years of their lives. I am shocked when I hear this. Being an adult has meant, for me, the beginning of the realization of my passions. My yoga practice is a mirror, a tool, I am using daily to connect with my passions, while creating stillness and stability in me at the same time.

And that’s why I’m in Mysore.

What’s your passion?

Wandering Towards Gratitude

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I was lying there on the upper floor of the dressing room, finally in rest after Mysore practice the other morning, when my mind began to wander.

My mat was slick with sweat, and I’d used one end of my towel to cover my eyes. I was perfectly still. I’m sure I looked serene. But, let’s be honest, my thoughts had been wandering all morning. Though I find the exquisite power of dristie to be an incredibly useful tool to keep overall concentration in check, that unsettled mind of mine has some pretty elusive tricks.

But instead of scolding myself into a forced, shallow ‘meditation,’ I began to follow my mind. To watch it wander. And to play a sort of game: what could I unearth in the layers of my mind?

I followed my mind as it thought about food, what would be for breakfast, omelette or porridge? And then I said to myself: “Yes. Nice. You’re hungry, and food will come. And what’s beyond your hunger?”

I dug past the dull pain in my lower back, and left knee. Again: “Ok, and what’s beyond your aches and pains?”

I dug a little further and missed my boyfriend and my family. “Yes, valid. You will be reunited and separated many times in this life. And then what’s underneath that short-term longing?”

I played this game, allowing my mind to ramble through every distraction it wanted. I meandered around all of these temporary diversions and continued to pose myself this question: “but what’s underneath that? What are you left with if you take that away?”

And, as I alluded in the title, I was left with gratitude.

It was as if I’d sifted through the mud and been left with a shimmering piece of gold. Thankfulness. I wrote about gratitude last year, when I was here in Mysore on Thanksgiving, but this fell a bit different. This didn’t feel forced, it felt unearthed. It didn’t feel circumstantial, it felt all-encompassing…

I smiled, and allowed myself to sink a little deeper into gratitude.

What are you left with?

Trip Two: Ready for Love

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And so I find myself, again, sitting in London’s Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Bangalore, India. It  was actually only eight months ago that I was making this journey for the first time, to study Ashtanga Yoga at the KPJAYI in Mysore.
Last week a student asked me what I loved so much about going to Mysore to study. He used those words, “love so much,” which I have to admit, caught me a bit off guard. I actually can’t say I ever thought about loving my first trip to Mysore. I needed it. I appreciated it. I respected it. I am thankful for it. I am, though cautious to use this word,proud of it. But I’ve never actually thought about whether or not I loved it…
The journey was challenging and rewarding. It was frustrating and beautiful. It was complex and yet, in some ways, so utterly simple. It was an extremely important time in my development…a critical moment, in which I took steps to devote myself to this specific practice, re-evaluate my creativity, witness my evolutions (physical and spiritual) and learn a lot more about world travel.
But I felt a bit off during my time in Mysore last year. I was overwhelmed by the fervor of the other students and wound up in the mystery of my weird Indian-induced hair-loss. But at the same time I was incredibly inspired. I wrote poetry. I felt my body in new and exciting ways. And there was a warm, challenging comfort during my study with Sharath, Saraswati and Laksmish.
So when I think about returning to Mysore, actually, the only feeling that comes up is this new intense longing love. I’m longing to see those worn-with-use rug-covered floors in the shala. To taste the fresh perfection of a coconut after practice. To remain still in the sensory bombardment of colorful Indian smells, delicious sights and strangely textured sounds…
I’m already falling in love this time.


Trip One: Mysore Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Mysore Style

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This Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend and fellow yogi Shannato a school in the outskirts of Gokulam where she volunteers to teach weekly. The class of ten girls and ten boys (all about twelve years old) were thrilled to see her, and meet me, “Miss Dana.” We taught in a small room with two benches (no desks or chairs) and a chalkboard.

The students are precious. They are smart. They are beautiful. They are blessed. They are so interested to learn, and so bright and hopeful for their futures. These kids could probably jump into any American class of their grade level and be ahead of their American peers, even though their English is still not perfect. They want to be doctors and software engineers and teachers and one lovely little girl, a dancer. Another darling girl says she writes poetry.
Shanna’s lesson plan includes personal journaling and drawing in their special notebooks (which she donated to them). We then taught the basics of Yama and Niyama, the first two limbs of the path of Yoga. We helped the students write sentences describing daily actions that might fit into the categories of Yama and Niyama. For example “I help my mother clean the house,” or “I wash my face and come to school to learn.” The kids are sweet and social, and extremely polite, even though they’re a little rowdy!
Then we took a rickshaw all the way downtown to a restaurant called RRR, where they serve food on banana leaves. After a mix of rice, chickpea curry, spinach lentils, and some other amazing and delicious concoctions we were really feeling the Thanksgiving spirit! We finished our feast with some traditional Indian desserts from the bakery nearby. Mysore Pak, made of pure ghee and chick peas, was delicious, as was the ball of sweet dates, raisins, and shaved coconut.
Later that night we stopped by a kirtan at Chakra House (a restuarnt in Gokulam, near the shala) and finished with a mini evening feast of papaya, dosa and chocolate chip cookies from the Chocolate Man.
Now, back in my room, on a new moon day, I’m meditating on gratitude…

I am thankful for:

The unusual and wonderful Thanksgiving I was blessed enough to experience this year.
The space I have from the commercialized American holiday craze.
Having a close and healthy bond with my family, and the confidence that time away does not mean less love.
Health all around.
My partner, and the unselfish and insightful support he has given me during the time we’ve known each other.
My job. And the ability to take time away from it.
All the wonderful and diverse teaches I have learned from.
My physical apartment, and the increasing realization that home is not always the same space; it can exist wherever I am.
om santih santih santih.