Kale Phone

Kale Phone

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Happy

“2-9 it is today. Somebody’s birthday. I don’t know them.”

Jadwiga used to announce this every morning at breakfast as she stirred milk into her coffee in the mug with the cat on it.

“B-b-b bir-day, shanana nana. Cococococa.” Cococococa was Marc's name for me. Whether or not it was my birthday, Marc liked to chant B-b-b bir-day, shanana nana. Cococococa this all day long. On the toilet, while he was shaving, and while he was slicing his breakfast banana. Birthdays were a big deal at my L’Arche house where I lived with five adults with intellectual disabilities. Weeks ahead of time, Nathalie, our head of house, would make sure the L’Arche workshop was preparing a beautiful homemade card for you, along with a Happy Birthday banner. You got to invite your favourite people, request your favourite meal and pick the kind of cake you wanted. My favourite food is Indian, and from her years living with Muslim families in Madagascar, Nathalie knew how to make it from scratch. Homemade samosas, papads, chana masala. Eight, nine years later, I can still remember how delicious it was.

Before cake, it was L’Arche tradition to have a birthday prayer. If you weren’t into Christianity, then they wouldn’t read anything from the Bible. But at the time, I was trying to get a thing going on with Jesus and I didn’t mind. For my twentieth birthday, Nathalie picked a verse from the Beatitudes, in the Gospel of Matthew. The line went, “Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Since my twentieth birthday, I have definitely drowned myself in cynicism, negativity and self-deprecation for days, weeks or months on end. During such periods, it is nice to remember that somebody once looked at me and decided I had a pure heart, and that I would see God.

After the bible verse which was short and sweet, Madeleine read a poem that Judith, one of our assistants had helped her write. Madeleine came to L’Arche when she was in her early fifties. Coming to L’Arche, she had all these big dreams. She wanted to learn to read and write, and maybe get a boyfriend and learn to take the bus by herself. Whenever we went to church, she would hold the hymn book open and concentrate so intently on the words, dying to be able to understand. It took her a long time to accept that not all her dreams would come true. Still, she wrote really wonderful poems.

Madeleine’s poem began with, “A twentieth birthday is a special day, and you are a very special person.” I will keep it forever. Another L’Arche tradition during birthday prayers was to pass a candle around the table. When it was your turn with the candle, you gave thanks for the things you loved about the person. Some people gave thanks to God, and some people just gave thanks. It all sounds so cheesy and yet, it ended up being pretty perfect.

Madeleine always gave a big speech that was similar to her poems. And thank you, Erica for taking us to the library. And thank you, Erica for that time we walked all the way from… Usually we had to tap her on the shoulder to get her to wrap it up.

Jimmy, a new L’Arche member liked to make speeches too. He was obsessed with Power Rangers, and with me as well. At every birthday, he made fun of me about the time I was having dinner at another L’Arche home and I stuck my hair in my mouth. “Remember, I asked you if you wanted ketchup? I have to tell your mother about that.”

“B-b-birday, cocococoCA, shanana-na-na,” Marc would say a few times. Then he would take my hand and whisper, “Cococococa,” one more time.

Isabelle loved Jesus and prayers. She was the same age as me. Born with cerebral palsy, Isabelle doesn’t move or talk that much, though she laughs and smiles a great deal and says yes and no with her eyes. At my birthday, Nathalie held the candle in front of her face and she broke into hysterics. Over and over again, her eyes looked up.

No matter whose birthday it was, Jadwiga said just about  the same thing. "Awe, what should I say? Same as Madeleine. Happy birthday. Keep up the good health. Keep up the good work in L'Arche."
 

These days, it seems like some of the cool people don’t like birthdays. People are too cool for such frivolous celebration. Oh well. Too bad for them. I’m still alive and I’m happy.

 
When it was a child’s birthday at Montessori school, we put a brass sun in the middle of the Circle time floor. Polishing brass is one of the Montessori activities. The children polished the sun with diluted all natural licorice -flavoured toothpaste.  Sometimes this made the sun shiny and other times the sun became encaked with greenish chunks. In any case, the child with the birthday took the painted globe and carried it around the sun.

“Isaac is one year old,” we’d say when he completed the circle.

“Isaac is two years old.” The child would walk around the circle as many times as the earth had rotated around the sun with him on it.

“Isaac is five years old." Then we would sing happy birthday in as many languages as we knew. English French, and Spanish.

More than once, I teared up as I watched a child walk around the sun. What a surprise.


In Halifax, I picked up on a tradition of doing the same number of sun salutations as the age you are turning. Some people also do this many backbends. I tried this tradition for a couple of years and it was fun. Here in Mysore, you can hardly expect the crowds to wait for you as you whip off your age in sun salutations and backbends. But although there is no official birthday tradition, Mysore is just one big birthday party anyways.  In most cases, I would advise you that not everyone is as happy as they appear on the Internet. And yet, here I am, and my face and the insides match.

Fake Rebellious Yoga Selfie I
The joy is real.

Fake Rebellious Yoga Selfie II
Some of the joy must be attributed to the Fanny Pack
Also to the Spiritual Pants

And to my dear friends

Got this from the Boatman this morning. It's our friend the moon.
The Boatman is going to be the moon for Halloween



Wish you were here, babe.
Otherwise, I am the luckiest girl on Earth.

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How I am old
 
 
 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ashtanga Yoga and Pre-school

I always thought that Montessori was like the Ashtanga of preschool. Just like students in the Mysore room, children are only allowed to do the lessons that the teacher has shown them and the teacher only shows the child a lesson when she feels the child is ready. Lessons have pre-requisites. Spooning beans from one bowl to another comes before pouring rice from one jug to another. After pouring rice, if you don’t leave the floor in a total catastrophe, then you might get to practice pouring water which is very exciting. Spooning beans is like the sun salutations for the practical life section of Montessori work. There are sun salutations for every section of the Montessori curriculum. For sensorial work, the first lesson is the pink tower. After the pink tower, children learn to build the brown stairs. Before learning how to write letters, they learn the sounds that letters make. Before writing them on a chalkboard they practice tracing them with their fingers. Lessons become increasingly complicated, but only at a degree that the student can handle.  

Pink Tower
Once children have received a lesson, they can take it out to work with it. We refer to all their activities as “work.” Taking out work and putting it away, this is the practice for a Montessori child. As with Ashtanga, transitions are very important in the Montessori classroom. Before taking out new work, children have to push in their chairs and put away their other materials. I call this the Montessori Vinyasa. Vinyasa stems beyond just tidying up; it’s about taking care of the world, making the world better for your friends, and at the very least, not hitting anybody. Your work is important, but so are your friends, and your friend’s work is important too. It is the same with Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa is way more than floating in and out of postures. All the stuff about your friends and your world, this applies to the spiritual people too. You and your practice, these are not the most important things in the world.  
Sharath and Sambhav having love and laughs at conference
Photo courtesy of Josh Pariah Yoga
Last week at conference Sharath said, “No one is greater. Everyone is great." He also said, "Everyone is special but at the same time you are all equal." Some of the three year olds I worked with used to think they were so special that they shouldn’t have to follow the rules. To this, the Montessori directress used to say, “You are very special, but you need to follow the rules like everybody else.” Even though we are all special, most of us do better learning slowly, one step at a time, whether we’re figuring out how to build the pink tower or how to stand up from a backbend.

Of course, almost all parents feel as though their children are exceptionally gifted.

“He’s so smart, he knows all his letters and he speaks three languages. Shouldn’t he be learning advanced math? Long division? Should we hire a tutor?” The child is three years old.

Parents know best. Probably the child is highly special and gifted, but hiring a tutor for a three year old is ridiculous. He’ll be doomed to catch Gifted Child Syndrome.  I caught Gifted Child Syndrome when I was six years old and it took me decades to recover.  Taught carelessly, both Montessori School and Ashtanga yoga hold some risk of Gifted Child Syndrome. In both cases, it might take decades to recover.

I say, of what use is long division, if kids can’t line up at the door without pushing their friends? Speaking of line ups, the children at the Montessori School were terrible at lining up. Everybody wanted to be first and every day they would push and shove and cry. It was the most irritating part of my job. Usually, I would get so frustrated that I would start speaking English instead of French.

“Everyone can be a leader, even if you’re not first.” None of the children believed me.

“When I go to the Superstore, and Sarah is in front of me, do you think I push Sarah so that I can go first?” Sarah was the other Montessori teacher. The kids thought I was little bit funny. Still, they kept pushing and crying if they lost their spot. I regret misleading the kids into thinking that adults don’t push each other in line, or fight to be first. I’d forgotten about that poor person who got trampled and killed in the lineup for Walmart on Black Friday. Also, I’d never experienced the line up at KPJAYI.* As fate would have it, line ups are also the most irritating part of Mysore. People say, we’ve travelled so far, we want the Shakti. They’re afraid the magical star inside of their pelvis won’t ignite if they don’t score their magical special spot. I say, of what use is Karandavasana if you can’t line up without pushing your friends? And why is your magical star inside your pelvis more important than everyone else’s? One of my Canadian friends thought that maybe we could instate a single file policy. I told her that probably this would be shot down immediately.

The good news is that in twenty years, when my Montessori children will come to KPJAYI to release the trauma inflicted by their grumpy French teacher, they will absolutely rock the led class line up. For immediate good news, tomorrow’s Butt Club has moved to a new shala. The space is slightly larger with plenty of room for all. No need to push and shove. In case of a crowd, please line up in a single file. And please be mindful that our instructor, La Reine Des Fesses has recently adopted baby kittens and so it is especially important that you don’t trample each other on the way in. Nobody likes a dead kitten.
Nobody likes a dead kitten.
The End.

See you at Butt Club, 4:30 P.M., shala time.

*Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute

p.s. If anyone was dying to know how the Knitting Club is going, it couldn’t be going any better. My Cool Friend From Belgium found some wool.
 



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Day Trip

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Day Trip

A couple Thursdays ago, I woke up and my vagina was bleeding. Since I am very advanced, I don’t practice yoga when I first start menstruating, not even in Mysore. The day before I had maxed out on lying around, masturbating on the internet and eating very strange ice cream. So I decided it was time to take a little Day Trip.

According to Google, there was an interesting little town called Srirangapathna that I could visit in less than a day. I wandered down to the shala to see if anyone wanted to come. People seemed busy looking for tiger balm to rub into their hamstrings and buying curd for their morning granola. On practice days in Mysore, the quest for tiger balm can be more than enough excitement for one day. People applauded my ambitious plan to catch a bus in Mysore city, but no one was feeling my sense of adventure.

Oh well, I figured it could be sort of fun to hit it up on my own. I went to the main road to see if I could find a rickshaw driver who could drive me to the bus station. One seemed particularly delighted to see me.

“Where you going?” he asked. His name was Sri Brahmanam or something spiritual like this.

“I’m a guide. We go to Big Century, Temple, Museum. 500 rupees. Good deal. Good guide.” I didn’t know what Big Century was, but, what the hell. It sounded like a pretty good deal. In Halifax, 500 rupees can’t even get you from one end of the city to the other.

Mysore rickshaw. I thought rickshaws in India were guys pulling and I swore I would never take one. They have rickshaws like this in Halifax. In Mysore, rickshaws are kind of like sturdy black and yellow golf carts.
From the horror stories I’ve heard about driving in India, I’d imagined that getting on the road would mean chronic fear for my life and spinal cord as I scarcely survived one head on collision after another. The reality is much less terrifying. I like riding rickshaws. The wind cools me off and I can look at things without worrying about my horrible sense of direction and driving skills. On the way to Sri Rangapathna, we passed many fields where people work all day in the hot sun. I asked my rickshaw driver what they were growing in the fields.

“Good guide,” he answered. “First we go to Big Century.” And he pulled into the Rangantitthu Bird Sanctuary. Although most of the birds were far away on an island in the middle of the river, it was refreshing to be out of the city. We walked along the path by the river. After about 300 metres, my rickshaw driver seemed tired.

View from Lookout at Big Century
 “Tired,” he said. “No breakfast.” I told him to rest on the bench while I explored. I climbed up and down a couple of lookouts and could sort of see birds. All I could tell is that they were white. Further along the path, a young man was painting an iron fence yellow.

“You need guide, Miss?” he asked.

“My guide’s resting,” I said.

“Come with me,” he said. He motioned for me to go under the fence. Probably this was a terrible idea. But I figured he worked there, so that was somewhat legit. Also, I felt like I hadn’t seen 300 rupees worth of birds. Maybe this guy would show me something interesting. I went under a part of a fence that wasn’t covered with fresh yellow paint. Yellow Paint Man grabbed my hand and led me down a wooded path. I let go, however, my hand still got covered in bright yellow paint. Yellow Paint Man continued to reach for me on the steeper parts of the path.
Yellow Paint Man's Hands, with red flower
“I’m okay,” I said. We came to a clearing.

“Marriage?” he asked me. The Boatman and I have never been married or engaged, except for Indian purposes.

“Yes, I’m married,” I said emphatically.
 
“Beautiful,” he said. “Photo?” He took out his phone
 
“No no.” He showed me a red flower, and a bush with fuzzy red sumac like plants on them. Yellow Paint Man mushed the fuzzy part until a red paste formed between his fingers. He pointed his red and yellow index finger towards my forehead.
Sumac Type tree. I am not excellent with plants. Anybody know the tree?
“Bindi?” he said. Bindi are red dots you see Indian women wear on their forehead in line with their ajna third eye chakra. Marriage is one of the reasons women wear bindis and to protect you and your husband.  It is also good for cultivating your third eye chakra wisdom. I love chakras, and suddenly the Boatman and I were married. Even so, I did not want a bindi, especially not one mixed with yellow paint.
 
“Oh, no thank you,” I said. We continued into the woods. Here Yellow Paint Man reached for my butt and tiny boobs once or twice. 
 
“No touching!” I said once I was positive his caresses were not accidental.
 
“Oh, okay mam. Sorry mam.” Well, I guess I had been confusing about my marital status since I had refused the Bindi.  Now we were at a river bank. He motioned towards a bed of dried grass reeds in front of a bunch of bamboo trees. “Lovers, mam,” he said.
 
“My lover is in Canada,” I reminded him. On the way back, we made one more stop at a grove of bamboo shoots.

Lovers
“Lovers,” Yellow Paint Man said again, showing me where couples had carved their initials. I did not ask for Yellow Paint Man’s initials, nor did I write Exuberant Bodhisattva + The Boatman inside a heart. Finally we were back at the yellow fence. I climbed under and said good-bye.

Probably the whole ordeal took about twenty minutes.

“You losted! You losted!” my rickshaw cried out when I found him.

“I’m fine.”

“Where were you? You’re my response. 500 rupees there and back to Gokulam. You’re my response.*”
 
I suggested we sit down the steps leading up to a gazebo.

“No breakfast. Not resting. Worried. You’re my response.” He let out a big sigh. Then he put two fingers in front of his lips and turned to face me.

“Kiss, kiss?” he asked.

“No!”

“Oh, oh oh. Sorry, miss. So sorry, so sorry. Testing. Testing only. You’re my response.” Anti-harassment activists reading this are most likely horrified that I landed myself in two potential molestation situations within half an hour. Perhaps I should have fired my rickshaw driver, taken the first bus back to Gokulam, and made the non-negotiable vow to never do anything else by myself ever again. Honestly though, neither incident left me very traumatized. Of course crawling under a fence was not consent for Yellow Paint Man to grab my ass, but at least he more or less  understood the concept of no-means-no. And to give him the benefit of the doubt, there might have been some misunderstanding  about the marriage situation. Maybe he thought I said yes, I’d marry him, or maybe he thought my marriage with the Boatman wasn’t serious because I’d refused the Bindi. In any case, as far as horny, sketchy dudes go, I have met much worse in North America. To me Yellow Paint Man seemed like a 14 year old and the rickshaw driver was like a small child. 

Even so, before continuing on with my rickshaw driver, I made sure he got the message.

“Don’t do this again! Never do that again.”

“Oh, okay miss. So sorry.”

“Guides should not do that.”

“Oh okay. Testing, miss, just testing. Good guide, good guide.”

“No, no. Never do that again.”

“Okay miss, so sorry miss. Good guide. Excellent guide”

At the Sree Ranganatha Swamy Temple, he repented by giving his gods several bunches of coriander. Everywhere I went, people stared. I guess they were captivated by my extreme height and whiteness, and possibly my curly hair and biceps.  Several people asked if they could be in a photo with me. If it was women and children, I said yes. When I shook their hands, they got all giddy. It was a little bit sweet. Even hunching, I towered over them in the photos. I hope I didn’t make too many funny faces.
 
Besides the temple, we went to a jail, the grave of Super Warrior Tippu Sultan, a mosque and a couple of art museums. My favourite place was these steps by the river where people swam and did their laundry. Got the biggest stares here. 
By the river
 At one o’clock, my rickshaw driver finally had some weird deep-fried chip like concoction for breakfast. Then he drove me back to the Gokulam coconut stand.

“Needing good guide. Calling any time.”

I’ll be sure to keep this in mind.

The End.
 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Peanut Butter, Pubic Hair

Somehow I have made it through three and a half years of blogging without inflicting friends and strangers with my long elevator speech about pubic hair. Pubic hair used to be my Designated Issue. A Designated Issue is a matter you deem to be of such utmost importance that should you succeed at dealing with it, then all of your problems will disintegrate. Common designated issues include paying off your mortgage, finding a life partner, or perhaps finally achieving a sought after yoga posture. Once you cross the Designated Issue finish line, the whole world becomes easy. In my early twenties, this is how I felt about pubic hair. A good friend of mine from high school shared in my misery. Because we had thick curly hair on our heads, we were certain that the hairy reality down there was much worse than everyone else’s. The roots ran deeper and our razors left behind itchier, redder and more hideous bumps.

Also, I’d been traumatized by the Vegan Life Coach who had once complained that the hairy abundance on my nether regions was “not aesthetically pleasing.”

One summer I was back for a visit to my home town, when my friend and I decided that enough was enough. It was time to get our bushes ripped off professionally. We found a newly certified aesthetician who raved about the sugar wax she used to complete her full Brazilians. I have yet to find anyone quite as cheerful and enthusiastic about ripping out pubes.

“It won’t hurt that much at all,” she promised.  The cost was 35 dollars. We considered drinking beforehand but our appointment was at noon and we decided that maybe this was too early. My friend popped a couple of advil and I went in sober.

“This will be so easy. You’re so flexible,” said the Cheerful Ripper. Then I took off my underpants. “Wow.” she said. Our sessions took about 45 minutes each. I tried not to make too much noise. My poor friend cried out profusely and consistently. It was the closest I have come to witnessing a birth.

“You guys are hairy beasts,” the Cheerful Ripper exclaimed. When it was all over, my fellow Hairy Beast had sweat stains down to her waist.

“You’re going to feel so great though,” the Cheerful Ripper promised. As fate would have it, we felt okay.

Back in Montreal a few days later, I walked up the stairs to my apartment after biking home from the yoga studio. Something felt a bit off. In the bathroom, I found a large pinkish bump along my groin.

Even though I hadn’t had sex in ages, I felt absolutely certain that I had herpes. I walked across the street to the hospital where I begged for a spot at the walk-in clinic. Three and a half hours later, the doctor on call said that herpes was highly unlikely. She took a swab anyways and suggested I might come to the hospital’s anxiety workshops.

My herpes scare provided no cure for my Designated Issue. I made room in my poor student budget to get my pubes waxed off every four weeks or so. I also had to budget for alcohol since going sober was far too painful and humiliating. In the metro, I sipped Mason jars filled with fruit juice and vodka. Mostly I went to little spas run by Asian women. Alas, none of them had sugar wax and I often hobbled away with a burning, pockmarked crotch.

“Oh. Very hairy,” said almost every single aesthetician I went to.

“The ass?” one lady asked after forty five minutes of seething torture. I rolled over and spread my cheeks.

After a few months of this, I found a lady in Old Montreal who used sugar wax. Everything in her spa was maroon and felt very exotic. Even so, aggressive ripping was still involved and my pubic area continued to suffer from its fair share of blood and pock marks. At least I was pretty sure it wasn’t herpes.

One time the ingrown hairs were particularly bad.

“You have infection,” said the Exotic Sugar Lady. “You are touching. Don’t touch!” Through my vodka buzz, I tried to promise Exotic Sugar Lady that in fact, I didn’t spend my spare time rubbing my ingrown hairs. She didn’t believe me. Cheerful Ripper suggested using a dry brush. This brought only moderate success, and as my student loans dwindled away, I felt it was harder to justify the 50 dollar monthly expense.

I gave home waxing a try and managed for about a year. This practice left me patchy and blotchy. It also became less sustainable as my tolerance for drinking during the day consistently decreased. I asked my fellow Hairy Beast how the pube situation was going, and she reported, “I just shave the sides and call it a day.”

In preparation for my Sex Trip to go see the Boatman in Halifax, I decided I would try for a similar tactic. I used a combination of the sketchy toxic smelling nair, a new razor and some tweezers. The Boatman had no complaints, but within a few days I was itchy and pockmarked. Despite this, the Boatman still invited me to move in with him.

When I arrived in Halifax a week later, we obviously got into the habit of having sex every day. Eventually, the Boatman noticed my red marks that had become worse from persistent shaving.

“You know, babe,” he said. “You should just let yourself heal. Let it grow.”
Over the past three and half years, there have been a multitude of signs that the Boatman and I are meant for each other. The “Let it grow” speech is one of these signs. Short pubes, long pubes, shaved pubes, waxed pubes, the Boatman is happy with all of it.
“It’s all about variety,” he says. What a saint.
Judging from models at the Boatman’s life drawing nights, it seems that almost all adults around my age have joined the “Hairless Generation.” Although zero pubes can be fun, exhilarating and exfoliating, it should definitely not be obligatory. To be repulsed if someone lacks the bald crotch of a seven year old seems highly questionable.

Life Drawing Model from the Hairless Generation
Drawing by the Boatman



That said, I hear that in India, you can get yourself waxed for pretty cheap. I thought maybe this would be a relatively interesting experience for the blog. Since I don’t wear Kino shorts, I was all set to let my pubes grow for the occasion. Then my friend invited me to a secret silent pool for the afternoon. I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to chat while attempting to even out the farmer’s tan that I’ve developed from constantly covering my shoulders. Of course I would come. With bells. Despite my sincere efforts to have a fully liberated crotch, I had mixed feelings about letting stray hairs poke out the sides of my red two-piece bathing suit. My waxing excursion would have to be postponed. So I shaved the sides and called it a day.

Probably red bumps appeared within approximately 27 and a half minutes.

Oh well. At least it looked like I tried.

The End.


The Kino shorts that got lost in the mail. Easier for grooming
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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Brand New Mysore Clubs

In Mysore, I have a Cool Friend From Belgium (CFFB) who I met while I was in Miami. The other morning we sat together in chanting, as we almost always do. My CFFB loves chanting, but as she looked around the room, she scrunched up her nose and rolled her eyes.

“Everyone here is so boring,” she said. “All they ever talk about is yoga.”

“I know,” I exclaimed. “Only 89 percent of what we talk about is yoga.”

“Well, at least you talk about other things. Like masturbation.” I knew she was going to say this.

The thing is, even if you talk about masturbation, you are probably still very boring. Most people are very boring. The key to life is finding boring people who you like. Then when they go on and on about their pelvis and their lunch and their mother, you still have a nice time.

The Boatman and I are extremely boring. The Boatman likes to draw and drink tea and laze around and read and watch Netflix. Sometimes he goes to the gym. He likes buying food at the market. What else? Every once in a while, he has a beer. These days we are taking up the outdoors. So far we have been camping two and a half times.

Besides taking up the outdoors with the Boatman, I like to do yoga, write, and occasionally meditate. I go for walks in Point Pleasant Park in my five fingers shoes.  Sometimes I watch Netflix with the Boatman, or go to the market. And I like yattering away like a verbal machine gun. Lucky for me, the Boatman doesn’t mind.

Obviously, we take breaks from the Netflix and the verbal machine gun and the outdoors to hump each other. It is quite ideal.


Boring Happy Dorks, in the sky
But in Mysore, me and many other people have no one to hump. And even if you have found yourself a few boring friends you love, it’s quite likely that you have more time than you ever imagined possible. Most people get bored at least once. If this happens, probably the most spiritual thing to do is learn Sanskrit. But for those of you who are too lethargic, and/or you don’t want homework, my CFFB and I have invented these three brand new Mysore clubs. Unlike learning Sanksrit, they require little to no skill, commitment or prep time.

Club Number One: The Glutes Group
My CFFB is very concerned that everyone who does Ashtanga has a flat butt. The other day we spent at least twenty minutes observing our own butts, as well as all the other Ashtanga butts that we could find on youtube. I am pretty sure my butt isn’t that flat, but I’ve been known to be delusional. You won't be able to judge whether or not my butt is flat, because I would never ever post my butt on the Internet.
Got glutes? (not sure what is happening with these red patches...)
Even if your butt isn’t flat, it could still be dysfunctional. A couple of months ago, I read about a big yoga butt scandal on the internet. A yoga teacher from Toronto was trying to protect her injured knee, so she went crazy with hip openers. Over time, her glutes weakened and overstretched until one day, pop, pop, pop, all three glute muscles tore off the bone. Ick. For years, this teacher remembers being told, “Soften your glutes! Soften your buttocks!” Perhaps this is why so many of the yogis have flat butts. Flat butts may or may not go along with other pelvis and lower body problems. This is why my CFFB and I have invented The Glutes Group. At the Glutes Group, we thought we could do some extracurricular butt exercises to cure our Ashtanga butts.  My favourite butt exercise is the Fire Hydrant.
Fire Hydrant Butt Exercise
My CFFB doesn’t have a favourite butt exercise yet. In April, Eddie Stern posted a bunch of butt exercises for people with Femoral AcetabularImpingement Syndrome. I have tried Eddie Stern’s exercises many times. Me and my femur bones have zero complaints. Plus Eddie Stern is so funny and cute. We will definitely do some of his exercises at the Butt Club.

Eddie Stern Heals the Ashtanga Butt

Club Number Two: Knitting
Knitting is relaxing and soothing, but not as boring as meditating. I am jealous of my CFFB because she brought her own knitting needles and wool. My CFFB has extra knitting needles for me, but no wool. It seems like she only has enough wool to knit one shawl. So far it only has one or two holes in it.
My CFFB's shawl
As she knits, I alternate between turning on my verbal machine gun, and looking at Facebook. When my CFFB runs out of wool, we will have to go on a search for more wool which could be a challenging adventure. I thought that India would be too hot to wear woolen things, but on a Day Trip last Thursday, I passed by a stand selling woolen caps. Somewhere in India, there is wool. We just have to find it. If we can’t, maybe my CFFB could be like Ullyses’ wife Penelope. Over and over again, she can unravel her shawl, and then reknit it. That sounds very spiritual, doesn’t it? My grandmother always says, “A good knitter is a cheerful ripper.” My grandmother is an excellent knitter, and very spiritual.

Woolen Hats
Apparently there is a yoga student here in Mysore who crochets. If he or she would like to join our knitting club, he or she is most welcome, along with anyone else.

Club Number Three: Lying Down Club (LDC)
This is a solo club, and all you need is a floor or a hard bed. Lie down and close your eyes. You can put a pillow under your neck and your knees, or not.  If you received a mask on the airplane that doesn’t have formaldehyde in it, then wear that. (Mine has something in it that burns my face so I stopped wearing it.) Lying down with your eyes closed is easier than both meditating and sleeping. Both meditating and sleeping can be difficult in Mysore. I try to do each of these things once or twice a day, but sometimes it is too hard. The scooters and the birds and the dogs are really loud. And my brain is not the same as it usually is from getting up for practice at 3 a.m. and also from talking too much. Maybe I will get used to all this and start sleeping and meditating like a pro.  For now, I am grateful to be a member of the Lying Down Club.

Please feel free to join any of these clubs, in body or in spirit or with your very own boring friends. We thought that the first Glutes Group Meeting could meet this Monday at 4 p.m at my CFFB’s house. Let’s say shala time, just for fun. Knitting Club meeting time is yet to be determined and we invite your suggestions for time and location. As for the Lying Down Club, this is ongoing and we sincerely value your consistent and devoted participation. 
The End.
 
In other news, I no longer walk with a stick because I am no longer afraid of the dogs.  Mysore is like the Land of Oz. Things come and go very quickly.
Some people have been reading my recent Ashtanga Yogalogue, You Cling to Things Until They Die. Or at least they have been clicking on it. It is a little long, as these days I have been rather long winded. But maybe you are between Mysore clubs and you have a little time... Serene Flavor wrote this kind response clarifying that I am not a poster child for Ashtanga Dysfunction, but that I do fall upon the Ashtanga Spectrum. Success.
Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook       
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

You cling to things until they die

“You cling to things until they die.”

A yoga teacher from Halifax said this to me once. I don’t think he meant for his words to haunt me as I meditated on the breath below my nostrils for three and a half days, but they did. Other catch phrases from this same yoga teacher.

“You have a hard practice.”

“Your practice is violent, harmful.”

I’d seen this teacher order a ham wrap for breakfast. What could he tell me about violence?

Arriving in Halifax three years ago, my Ashtanga attachment issues were pretty extreme. I was four years into doing a solid “traditional” Mysore practice at Darby’s. Taking up practice six days a week had coincided with a rush of creative energy, sexual gratification, body acceptance and an eight-month hiatus from puking in my mouth

Puking in my mouth was this weird rare eating disorder symptom that I hated myself for but could never get rid of. After every meal and snack I would regurgitate food into my mouth and then reswallow it, over and over again. It was like clinging to food until it died and/or became so acidic and disgusting that it felt like my teeth would disintegrate and fall out.
Then came Ashtanga, and suddenly with almost no effort, the puke in my mouth stopped. A million things in my life that used to be so hard were now so easy. My whole world seemed to click.

Now comes a long story about the vegan life coach, prozaac, coffee, toenails and raw food cleanses. This is to say that among other things, I did start puking in my mouth again. But I kept practicing through it all and eventually my eating disorder more or less stopped completely. And this was all because of practice. My practice wasn’t violent, it was magical. If ever I ever stopped, me and my life would go back to being a horrible catastrophe.

In Montreal, it was perfectly reasonable and common to give up everything for your yoga practice. The die-hards made up a whole club. Maybe you worked four to six hours a day for 40 to 60 dollars. But it was considered rather unreasonable for work to start before 10 a.m. And the best was if you practiced and then had enough time to lounge around for post-practice coffee afterwards. During coffee time, you could talk about your pelvis problems, sex problems and money problems. No matter the problem, at least we had our practice. That was the most important thing. Whatever happened, as long as you practiced, you would be somewhat okay. 

When I moved to Halifax to live with the Boatman, I had two main objectives.

Number one: Do not get pregnant.  Number two: Do not stop practicing. In Halifax, there were two different Ashtanga studios. I confess I was hideously judgemental of both of them.

At the first studio, there was an enormous prop room. What a scandal. The prop room was full of straps, blocks, blank chairs, pool noodles, bolsters, iron weights, sand bags, dumb bells and even an exercise ball. Some people did the “traditional” Ashtanga sequence. Others lay on chairs, bolsters, with sandbags or weights on top of their legs, or they rolled around on pool noodles. Still others did a little bit of both. There was a lot of chatting, and a few ipods.  I felt smug and a bit special because I could do all of second series and I didn’t use props. 

As for the other studio, I arrived one Friday morning for Led Primary. My timing couldn’t have been worse. The teacher hobbled into the class. Her hips hurt so much she could barely walk. She had one of her students lead the class for her as she breathed and winced through the practice. At the end, she reported feeling much better.

“That really says something about the power of the practice.” All her students chipped in about their experiences with pain, arthritis and cortisol shots.
“Yikes,” I thought.  For the most part, the ham wraps won over the cortisol shots. I ended up spending more time at the noodles and chairs studio. It was easier to get to and the teacher there was quite brilliant when it came to anatomy and adjustments. And he asked me if I had ever done tick tocks. I said no. Darby didn’t really teach those. I reverently went on to say that of course I never asked for postures because that was like asking for oral sex which the Vegan Life Coach says wasn’t allowed.

 “You’d be surprised,” the teacher responded. “Sometimes you’re allowed to ask.” Henceforth, I got to learn tick tocks.
Kino MacGregor mid Tic Tocks (Image from here
The first time I did tic tocks was in a bar in Montreal with a celebrity actor personal trainer who also happened to be a little person. The second time was with Sri W. Ham Wrap.
Another big perk was that he was willing to let me teach a bit. Although I’d done teacher training with Darby in 2008, I remained utterly inexperienced. For me, teaching yoga was in the same category as oral sex and yoga postures. You couldn’t ask for it, you had to be asked. But when I was asked, it was a big ego trip.

“Teacher training with Darby is a good thing,” said Sri W. Ham Wrap. Perhaps it was. This didn’t prevent most of my classes from being terrible. I apologize to anyone I disappointed.
I had only a couple of moderately inspirational lines. In Janu Sirsasana B, I told students to “luxuriate on their perineums,” and when they switched sides, I’d say, “same perineum, different heel.” It was charming.

I also remember saying to yoga students, “Just because you did it yesterday, doesn’t mean you have to do it today.” Alas, those who cannot do, teach. My peppy words never applied to me. Every day, I demanded the same results from my body. Because I was severely unemployed, I figured I didn’t have an excuse not to go full throttle. Plus now I was a “teacher.”

A couple of months in, my left s.i. joint shifted out of place. If you have never done yoga, perhaps you have never heard of an s.i. joint. Lucky for you. Before I started yoga, I didn’t know what my s.i. joint was either. Then one day, crunch, there it was.  I injured it soon after Darby started to take me through second series and ever since it has probably shifted out of place three or four times a year, if not more.

Many yoga people think there is something internal and symbolic about their injuries. Pain is not just physical. It represents an emotional, psychological, and spiritual pattern coming to the surface. Some people see pain as a pranic or energy blockage. Practicing yoga, and other breathing and meditation techniques is supposed to help liberate the blockage and ultimately heal the injury. I believe there is some truth to this. Over the years, my pain hasn’t been constant and seems to appear and disappear mysteriously. Sometimes all it takes is a good fuck for it to go away. Or an uncomfortable email for it to reappear. I have longed for the pivotal moment where the deepest root of the injury reveals itself and burns away and I become a whole and liberated person. In the meantime, however, pain radiates intermittently across my sacrum, down my hip and above my knee. And I wonder if I will need surgery within the next decade, and if I will be able to walk when I’m eighty, or even forty-two.
That said, despite my pain, I have always insisted on showing up. For every practice and every posture. During my early Halifax days, although I may have done primary instead of second series, my practice remained ninety minutes to two hours. For better or worse, I attempted every posture. It was egoically and emotionally painful for me not to complete a posture in its full expression and for this reason, I would only slightly modify postures, “working my edge” too intensely in attempts to make the desired shape. I never really gave my injury the space to heal.

When I told the hip-injury cortisol-shot yoga teacher about my injury, she said, “Well, I’m not surprised.” I waited for her to continue.

“You have a flexible body and no Moula Bandha.” She told me to draw my navel strongly into my spine and stop fiddling around to get further into the postures.

“I have arthritis in my s.i. joint,” she said. I think she said it was from going too far in backbends with no Moula Bandha.  At her studio, I did my best to focus on following the breath count and engaging what I vaguely understood to be Moula Bandha. While I always left her studio with a clear and focussed mind, my back hurt more every single time.
Sri W. Ham Wrap had a pretty straightforward exercise for getting my s.i. joint to go back in. All you had to do was squeeze his legs between your knees while he pushed out hard. This worked about 70 percent of the time. About 80 percent of the time the joint would click back out within a few days, if not during practice. As I practiced, I cried frequently. Sometimes this might have been deep rooted emotional baggage coming to the surface; however, more often it was a primarily shallow frustration at the fact that postures that had once been so easy for me were now painful and out of reach. One day, Sri W. Ham Wrap was astute enough to point this out.

“You’re only happy when you can do the postures well.” I asked him what the solution was.
He took out his Iphone. “You can take delight in something,” he said. “But you can’t expect it to last forever.” I didn’t care about Iphones and I wasn’t ready to let go of my practice yet.

“What should I do? Only primary series?”

“You know lots of postures beyond primary series. There are twists, inversions. Lots of options.” I imagined him taking me through a long boring sequence with pool noodles and sandbags and chairs. This sounded like a terrible option.

“But what if I want to stay within the Ashtanga sequence?” I asked.

“Then you may as well join a church. Churches are even better. You get nice comfy cult robes.” I told him that at Darby’s we would always keep practicing through injury, just making sure to avoid acute pain.
“That’s one way of doing it,” said Sri W. Ham Wrap. “But there are consequences to that. Poverty. Homelessness.” I can’t remember what else was on his list. Depression, suicide. Whatever it was, it was very dark. And all this from sticking with Ashtanga. Then he told me a weird story. I get the sense that maybe there are different versions to this story, and I cannot confirm which version is the truest. To protect the privacy of those involved and hopefully reduce the spread of Ashtanga rumours, I am altering several details.

So a man started doing Ashtanga later in life. His body took very easily to the practice and soon he was executing advanced and impressive postures. People were amazed that he was able to learn so much, so quickly, and at his age. He drew a great deal of attention and the man became a huge inspiration.

Then he had a bad car accident. He didn’t become paralyzed or anything, but he broke a few bones and suffered from nerve damage throughout his body. The doctors said that although he would recover and remain independent and functional for his age, it was not likely that he would be able to continue to practice as intensely as before. Certainly the advanced postures he’d been doing would never again be possible.

“So what happened?” I asked.
“He killed himself.”

Regardless of whether or not this story was true, Sri W. Ham Wrap was essentially calling me an Ashtanga suicide candidate. I went home in a huff. The Halifax yoga community was leaving much to be desired. Either I could eat ham wraps and lie around on chairs and pool noodles, or I could break my back. Or I could commit suicide. Or all of the above.

There was no post-yoga coffee club in Halifax. Except for me, everyone seemed to have jobs. Back at the Boatman’s house, I decided it was a desperate housewife sort of day and so I vacuumed and mopped. I can distinctly remember the sharp nerve pain travelling around my sacrum, hip and swollen knee as bent over and tried to vacuum the dog hairs from under the couch.
 I spent the next week moping around and practicing at home, enduring the same moderate level of pain. At least for now, I wasn’t homeless or dead.

That weekend I decided that my best bet against homelessness was to write a self-help book. My goal was to write it in three days and make one hundred thousand dollars. Then I could keep living at the Boatman’s house, and I could pay for more than just toilet paper.  And I wouldn’t have to get a regular day job, which seemed excessive, strenuous, and unconducive to my die-hard practice. The book was supposed to be about the nine gurus in my life including Darby, the Vegan Life Coach, old bosses and a couple people with disabilities I had worked with.  Unfortunately, the guru book didn’t write as easily as I had anticipated. The idea seemed more awkward than catchy and I contracted horrific writer’s block. All weekend the Boatman had to endure my obnoxious behaviour and it was looking like maybe I would end up homeless.
On Monday, I went to Sri W. Ham Wrap to pick some bones about cult robes. I told him about the self-help book, and my money problems.
“You cling to things until they die,” he told me. So many times, these words have pervaded my psyche. During my practice and during my life. Because they are a little bit true. Nothing in my life is casual. Everything has to be a major monumental action that will bring me something that lasts forever.
I told Sri W. Ham Wrap that one thing I have clung to consistently is this idea of surrendering to a magical yoga teacher. In blogs and ashtanga memoirs, I always read about these beautiful surrender moments. A student meets her teacher and her heart melts and from then on that person is okay forever. Certainly Darby and I had a strong connection and until my body gave out, I was wholly committed to whatever he taught me. Despite all the misplaced boundaries and drama, I believe we both carry one another in each other’s hearts. Still, I can’t remember my heart ever melting and well, being okay forever seems highly unrealistic. All this could simply be a mythological experience. And yet, I feel like so many people have been through this heart melting thing. Sri W. Ham Wrap got it, I think twice. Why not me?

“Well, you can’t plan for that,” he said. Alas. Another thing he said you couldn’t plan for is having your deep-rooted injury to heal itself on a physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual level and never come back. Alas again. Even the best Lululemon goal setters can’t plan for this. That said, Sri W. Ham Wrap healed his spiritual s.i. joint injury after months of getting the shits in India, plus a day or two of similar digestion in New Zealand. Maybe all it takes is a good bout of Delhi Belly. Mysore is an okay place for this. I could try and drink more tap water.

I’ve been in Mysore for two weeks. So far I don’t have any Delhi Belly, but yesterday I ate too much coconut chutney. I used to think I was allergic to coconuts. My roommate just told me that coconuts were a laxative. This makes a lot of sense. Coconuts and Delhi Belly might heal my pelvis. Or possibly my future is paved with hip replacements and cortisol shots.

Anyways, let’s bring this mammoth tangent back to the breath below my nostrils. Meditating on the breath below my nostrils turned out to be one mammoth tangent after another.  I had looked forward to vipassana because I thought it would be great to get eleven whole days off from yoga. For seven years, I’d barely taken any days off beyond the sanctioned rest imposed by moon days, Saturdays and ladies’ holiday. Probably the most I’d ever stopped practicing was four days, and this occurred only a handful of times. Vipassana, I believed, would provide an excellent break, both for my mind and for my pelvis. This turned out to be merely wishful thinking. As Goenka says, “Nothing doing.” Apparently there is no rest for the neurotic. Pelvis angst remained alive and well and all through the day, I obsessed about practice. Should I stop Ashtanga completely and take up wilderness camping? Yes, I should stop. The hell with it. I shouldn’t go to Mysore. Or I should stop practicing until I get to Mysore. Let Sharath fix me from scratch. Or I should quit and become a nurse. Definitely I shouldn’t do any more than sun salutations until Mysore. Maybe I could do one sun salutation per day until I got to Mysore. This went on and on.
I felt pissed off at Darby. Even though these days he is so mellow I worry he might float away.

I felt pissed off at Sri W. Ham Wrap. Even though he was right. I cling to things until they suffocate and perish.

In Mysore, people are constantly taking turns rehashing their “Ashtanga Memoirs.” Some people have magical heart-melting type stories. Some claim that their practice didn’t start until they met Sharath. Others are way more low-key about the whole thing. They have teachers who they learned to trust gradually. They came to Mysore because they were curious and they keep coming because they like something about it.  So far I haven’t met anyone who is heinously injured, though many have tweaks here and there.

The other day I was in a café and two women beside me were going on and on about their elbows and obliques in karandavasana. I used to do that pose every day. The laboured, grunty process made me feel like a mammoth. I had all sorts of beautiful visions and fantasies about what my life would be like when I could finally do that posture.  Until it died. I haven’t thought about this posture in a long time. At the café, I jumped into the conversation and told the girls with the elbows and obliques that the key to karandavasana was childbirth. I read this on a yoga blog somewhere. No, no, no, they emphatically responded. Neither one wanted kids. I can understand. Kids seem like they would be horrible for your pelvis. Although I imagine that when a small creature pushes its way out of your crotch and begins to say funny things, it can be somewhat rewarding. 
Karandavasana, the Mammoth Pose
Besides teaching yoga, Sri W. Ham Wrap throws super fun parties where he makes awesome martinis. One night over martinis, we argued about practice and diet and following rules. Sri W. Ham Wrap said that imposing rules upon yourself is just another form of violence. Forcing yourself to be a vegetarian is more violent than eating meat. Blindly and dogmatically following a tradition is more violent than staying up late watching Netflix and sleeping in. And being self-righteous about following all the rules is worse than breaking them. At the time, it seemed like a cop-out, as well as highly convenient for people who liked hamburgers and sleeping. But everyone knows at least one starving, die-hard vegan who, went running for the bacon after years of deprivation and turning yellow. And although Ashtanga yoga most often makes people thrive and glow, it’s possible that some long-term practitioners have hung on too hard for too long, ending up with washed out faces, creaky joints and infertile uteruses…

Sri W. Ham Wrap believes that our practices and lifestyle choices ought to evolve organically and without force. For some of us, this means that our future holds heaps of ham wraps and Netflix. Others gradually make their way from ham wraps to vegetarian lasagna to sprouted lentils to coconuts to occasional sips of air and water. Or from Netflix to yoga blogs to crossfit to Mysore rooms. Everyone has a different path, just like everyone has a different pelvis. One pelvis isn’t necessarily better than the other. You could argue forever about whether or not this laid back approach justifies and perpetuates destructive choices. But arguing is probably horrible for your pelvis. 
Mr. Goenka was always saying, “deep attachment equals automatic suffering, automatic misery.” Deep attachment, this is also horrible for your pelvis. You can try and let go, but letting go is hard to plan for.

In the meantime, perhaps there is not much to be done.
Your Iphone is breaking.
Everything is dying.

Dear Halifax. I am sorry for my cult robes, and for being such a yoga snob. I look forward to seeing you and the chairs and the pool noodles when I get back from India. Until then, may your pelvises remain free of cortisol shots.
The End.
 
After the guru book died, I tried my hand at another self-help book called I Let Go. I have yet to crack 100 grand with the profits. Maybe this is because I cling to things until they die. Or maybe this is because it is only 2 dollars. Anyways, if you have two dollars, please click here to buy it.