How a Snake becomes a CrocodileWe awoke this morning to the sound of heavy rain. It is Wednesday and were definitely moving a bit slow this morning. All packed up for practice we put on our rain coats and got out our umbrellas and began the walk uphill through the muddy alleyway between the houses. The hard rain coming down forms a little river that flows through the alley and we are careful to navigate around the cow patties and rocks. And so todays’ adventure begins… A man named Ulhas has been driving us each day to the shala. Ulhas is a very helpful and friendly Indian man and most importantly he is quite a punctual driver! He shows up promptly at 6:30am and awaits our arrival with open doors and a large smile. There are so few tourists here during this time of year that he seems very happy to have the regular fare. He takes us along the road from Candolim up toward Anjuna and then just a bit further up to Vagator. It takes approximately 20 minutes every day which is actually a great ride because it gives a chance to see the locals engaging in their morning rituals.
Exiting the vehicle upon arrival the blue Shiva statue greets us on our way into the shala. We promptly take off all of our rain gear and step up the 3 steps to the raised practice space. Rolf and Marci arrive at 7:00am. Right now there are about 10-14 students practicing each day. During the busy dry season it is said that Rolf and Marci have about 130 people practicing Mysore in four shifts of about 35 each shift running for about 5-6 hours daily! I say all of this for one, to point out how remarkable it is that they have this many students who travel from all around the globe to study with them and second that there are so few students with him during monsoon. We feel quite lucky to be getting so much personal attention! All of this special help is extending our practice time to between 2 1/2 to 3 hours each day. Both challenging and amazing. Some of the more difficult postures that we will normally gloss over a bit when practicing on our own have now become intense explorations of discovery. Discovery of how we tend to compensate by using areas which are strong to mask and avoid areas which are untapped and weak. Much to our delight (I think) Rolf and Marci have this knack for seeing this right away from anywhere in the room and immediately get us to target the areas we are avoiding and then persist with this development to the point of shear exhaustion. And just when you think you have made your way through the posture thoroughly they will say,”O.K. let’s try that again… O.K. you practice this one or two more times by yourself and then I will come over and help you once more!” Oh Joy!!
Today, Tamara went into Bhekasana(Frog pose) for the 3rd try and right when she came out of it I heard Rolf say, “Tamara, you do again, I come and help you.” I started to laugh and she looked to me laughing as well as if to say, you laugh now, it is your turn next! In second series, Karandavasana is Duck posture, this pose in my opinion is the nemesis pose to all Ashtangi’s. You go up into a forearm balance of Feather of a Peacock. Then fold your legs into lotus pose while balancing. Then slowly round your spine while gently landing your shins onto the upper arm bones. From there you hold for 5 breaths. Next is the clincher… lift the lotus above the hips and unfold the lotus back into forearm balance. Only to gracefully land into chaturanga. I imagine this to be like climbing the Himalayas just within these few vinyasas. I have been working on this pose for several years now and am feeling slow progress but still much exploration is needed! Fortunately for me Rolf is gifted in adjusting this pose. I worked with this pose for a while and soon my arms felt like noodles cooked in hot sauce… burning and limp. The next pose is Nakrasana (Crocodile pose) and as I am giving it my best Rolf yelled out, “it is crocodile pose not SNAKE pose!!” This got the whole room to chuckle a bit. Add to this that there are numerous baby kittens moving about the room and they love to climb on top of you while you are in postures, this also adds a little bit of humor to it all. These animals I do not mind, however the many ants and mosquitos swarming I could do without! Great opportunity to exercise inner focus and mind over matter. With the rain there is much humidity and so much sweat that there is literally more water dripping off of our bodies than there is landing on the floor from the leaky roof. After all is done for today. We roll up our mats with a sense of amazement. Mysore practice is truly amazing as it allows us to work individually yet within a framework that is so solid and sound. This practice comes from a tradition of excellence and this is yoga as practiced in India! There is much to be said for Tradition!!!
Monsoon SurfingThe ocean is taboo during monsoon season. The fisherman are not allowed to go out and fish for two months during the monsoon. This allows for the fisheries to replenish and also because the seas are very rough compared to other months. It is said many tourists drown here each year and hence this perpetuates the myth. I wonder if it is that many of the tourists that visit here may not be strong swimmers to begin with or perhaps they indulge in a few too many Kingfishers?
Originally when we had planned to travel to Goa it was purely to practice the yoga with Rolf and Marci and have the chance to explore India again. I had always seen photos of Goan beaches and the water has always been flat as a pancake. I thought I would look into it and low and behold I was finding that there is surf in Goa! Just my luck this only happens during monsoon season and guess what, Virgin Atlantic allows you to bring a surfboard for free(completely unheard of)!?! So of course now I am traveling to India with a surfboard!When we arrived my board got left behind in London and at that point I thought my chances of seeing it again were pretty slim. We are staying about 500 meters from the beach and as soon as we got settled we went down to the beach and it was a solid 4-5 foot and offshore winds and I thought I had stumbled upon a hidden gem.
To my amazement the next day my board arrived, but so did the rains and onshore winds. Each day for the past week I have been checking the waves religiously and it has been one big washing machine, close out, mush ball, onshore surf session after another. To add to it, upon arrival I have had so many people tell me that the ocean is so dangerous and don’t go out in the waves. All I have heard is this person has drown and that person never came back and and watching this big soupy mess made me think there might be sea dragons living out there! To me the waves look just like at home with a solid swell and to be honest not that big of a deal. The stories however just never let up.One morning when I was feeling very hopeful I walked down with my board under arm and when I saw the conditions I was completely uninspired. Again, big, messy surf and to add to it I am the only lonely surfer on this entire stretch. All the locals hang out on the beach but no one ever goes swimming. So I decided well at least if I am going to go out it needs to be decent. When I was walking back an Indian woman said “did you go out in the water?” I replied “no” and once again came another story! The only catch here is I have felt this before. When I was in Indonesia on a surf trip to Bali and surfing waves of so much more extreme consequence I was told to never wear green in the water! If you wear green it is very bad luck and to ocean gods will do you in. There is also this thing called superstition. I am not one to give in to superstition. Yet when a whole culture believes it to be true it really gets you thinking. There is also the opposing side that says live in the moment and experience this reality. Tourists here come to party and end up being completely disrespectful to the local community. What it boils down to is this is not a surfing culture! So here comes American guy with surfboard under arm and heading down to go “monsoon surfing”!
The last three days the sun has come out and the weather has been spectacular. What a difference. I have never seen rain like this in my life and then to have it turn back around to beautiful sunny skies…there is hope!
After practice with Rolf in the morning I went down to the beach again and I knew that today was going to be the day I was going to go for it. The waves were still mushy from the onshore wind and they were only about head high out the back so it seemed reasonable. Tam and Ethan followed me down there and we walked past another heard of cows hanging out under the coconut palm trees on the way. The life guard shack was open about 800 meters down the beach and they had the red flags up along the beach so I knew I better get in quick before someone came up to me and said I wasn’t allowed in the water. I jumped in and began to paddle out. The set up is a classic victory at sea beach break, wave after wave of whitewater, duck dive after duck dive to try to make it out. I seemed to be paddling in place and in no time at all I heard the whistle blow and and turned to see the lifeguard waving me in. I took my moment and turned, caught a wave and rode it up onto the shore. I ran up to him and to my surprise he changed his mind and said all was o.k. for me to continue. I must have passed the test and went back out!
Finally, I had my first surf session in India! Sloppy and messy yes, but so much fun. It felt so good to be in the warm water and I feel I was probably the only one surfing for miles! To me, yoga is surfing and surfing is yoga. Merging these two wonderful arts into this travel experience makes me so thankful to be alive!!
We had the chance to visit the Maruti Temple in the city of Panaji here in Goa. It is a beautiful temple located on top of the Altinho hillock overlooking the Fontainhas district on Panaji which is the capital of Goa. Upon entering we had the opportunity to purchase some flowers (pujas) from the local vendors. One of the ways that we can express devotion is to place an offering or pujas before the object of devotion. Quite simply it is a gift given with good intentions and given selflessly to express gratitude and appreciation. While in one of the smaller temples a tiny sweet Indian woman entered and smiled very graciously. She seemed happy to see us and although there was a language barrier we attempted to communicate. The Hanuman Chalisa was written in Hindi on the wall of the temple and she chanted it for us. So much joy can be found in attempting to understand others’ culture and beliefs. All too often it is easy to see something different from what we know and criticize it or just shy away. By simply opening up to the differences we can begin to see that really there is no difference. This is one reason I love the Hanuman Chalisa. Many thanks to our teacher Tim Miller for opening our eyes to the practice of singing the Hanuman Chalisa.
The ancient mystics of India have long recognized the benefit of cultivating intense love and devotion to aid in the process of realizing unity with the Divine. We are often very self centered and lack a sense of caring and compassion for others. When we live like this we diminish our capacity to feel and experience a sense of harmony with our selves and our environment at large. The yoga practice aids us in cultivating a personal aspect of greater evolution and helps to shift the emphasis of being alone in a world of many to being a part of many that are all a world of one.
If we are to make a cake, several ingredients go into the recipe. When we combine the ingredients together and add heat we are left with a delicious treat. Each ingredient needs the other to complete the qualities that make up “cake.” Yoga is made the same way. When we are to enter into the practice of yoga there are several ingredients that create a rich and rewarding experience. We have posture, breath, devotion, love, wisdom and selfless action. We can derive great benefit from cultivating just one of these qualities or practices. However when we begin to incorporate a multitude of these qualities into our lives, we begin to weave a seamless tapestry of moment to moment awareness that is unparalleled to what we think we already know.
In other words, yoga practice is much more than practicing asana or posture. It is possible to realize that by extending compassion to others in our speech, thought and deed we are really just enhancing our own relationship with ourselves. When we practice “actionless action,” or karma yoga, we perform action without any attachment to the result of our action. Through this simultaneous merging of qualities our yoga practice becomes what many of us were originally attracted to in the first place. Peace, tranquility, equanimity and transcendence.
Yesterday was our first full day here. We figured out that it is not a good idea to leave the house without an umbrella and rain coat. The previous day we tried to walk to the beach and as soon as we got close a thick cloud of rain started to come and everyone on the beach was running the other way. We did the same. So Saturday we tried again a little better prepared. We got down to the ocean and the waves were breaking really nice. It was an offshore wind and the swell was about 4-5ft. There were only a few locals on the beach and a couple of men were fishing from the shore.
We decided to travel into town and we got on the local bus and headed to Panaji which is the capital city of Goa and it means “Land that never floods.” This is a good thing because it rains pretty serious here. There are many hills along the banks of the Mandovi River lined with classic red tiled roof houses that are reminiscent of Europe. Goa’s history dates back to 20,000 – 30,000 years with rock art engravings that show some of the earliest proof of human life in India. In more recent times Goa was ruled by the Portuguese from 1510-1961. Goa exhibits an interesting blend of Indian vibrancy with European fortitude.
Traveling by local bus is a great way to see the culture of Goa. It is hot, sweaty, loud and colorful. The locals are friendly enough yet keep to themselves. Loud music plays to the liking of the driver ranging from Goan trance music to beautiful ballads sung in Hindi. The bus gets extremely overcrowded and it pulled over so many times and just sat still which we are still trying to figure out why. We later realized we were waiting for the possibility for more passengers! (not sure where they would fit) Traveling by bus is a great way to practice meditation. The intensity of it requires patience and the need to not focus on any one distraction too much. This experience is so much different from our local bus system at home…air conditioned and timely.
While in Old Goa we visited the Se Cathedral of Santa Catarina. It is the largest church in India and probably the most celebrated religious buildings in Goa. It exhibits a Tuscan exterior and a Corinthian interior and reminds me so much of being in Florence. There are about 24 million Christians in India which constitutes 2.3 percent of the total population. Historically the Christians and Muslims have not practiced tolerance for other religions and culture. So with this said I wonder if all Indians were happy that the Portuguese got kicked out? Not so. The popular opinion seems to be that this region was much better off from the work the Portuguese Catholics have done here. They say the infrastructure was so much much stronger and that there was a lot less corruption then as there is now. I remember on our first trip to India I had the thought that Gandhi was a hero to all of India. Then I met some Indians that said Gandhi was not practicing for the best interest of the people. I was shocked. So once again, India turns all my misconceptions on their heads. Another reason why I love this country so much.