Category: Bali

totally worth it… : )

The sun was shining on my last day in Bali.  A gentle breeze rocking the bamboo drapes.  “Is it ok if I take some pictures?”  My voice rose up above the excitable din in the shala.  Three of us were leaving that day.  It had that school-breaking-up-for-Summer-holiday feel about it.

“Yes, you can take some pick-tures”, Prem clipped his American to mimic my English accent, followed shortly by a deadly serious disclaimer, “not during practice though.”

I nodded my head, as if I would never have considered such a thing.  How was I going to get an action shot of Mr Buffalofolous now?  Or get photographic evidence of how ridiculously mental it is, when you have a second series student next to you, walking around – upright on their hands, with their feet wrapped up, like a bow, around the back of their neck?  It is MENTAL!  We are reminded regularly to focus on our own practice, not to get distracted by what’s going on around us…which is fine, in theory, but we beginners are still incredibly susceptible to the Jedi powers of advanced practitioners.  Especially when they have the same name as you, but are from Brazil, and pronounce it with a beautifully poetic rounding of the vowels, purring of the r, and the final – a – a softened breath disappearing into thin air.  This particular Jedi is a true inspiration.  The yoga way is to not gossip, and to not feel envy of others.  I’m prone to such negative displays of insecurity, as I think most people are at some point in their lives, and it was the moment that I met her, spoke to her, saw her, that I realised how far away I’ve grown from all of those things.  I guess she emanates the true yogic glow: a natural, radiant beauty, accompanied by a humbling awareness of self.  I put Prem’s advice into practice and responded with awe, not becoming overwhelmed.  One day…one day….

MY final practice was just as I wanted it to be.  I plonked down on my mat, in the far corner of the room, and was absolutely beaming as I looked around me.  7 whole weeks coming to an end, and what an incredible experience it’s been.  I’ve met such an amazing group of people, all of which have inspiring stories of their own – at points of huge transition, taking control of their lives, or simply letting go and watching everything unfold.  You’ve followed me through the pain-staking physical and emotional roller-coaster of a ride it’s been, and it’s with great pleasure that I confirm it’s all worth it.  Absolutely worth it.

Confronting the monkey thief in my room at 4am, journeying to the airport, coping with security, flying, immigration at the other end, baggage reclaim, taxi ranks, Bangkok’s traffic, and the semi-psychotic ranting of a recently dumped German lady I shared a taxi with – an absolute breeze!  An absolute breeze.  I smiled my way through the whole thing.  Not a single twinge of irritation, or dampening of spirits.  I was a wide-eyed child, peering through the window, wanting to absorb everything (except the fumes).  Too late for any real adventure, pleased by the fact that German lady had scarpered after I’d been shown to my room at the hostel, I clambered down the dangerously thin, wooden stairs and found a quiet corner in the restaurant to order some food, reflect, and put some thought into what’s next.

What do I want to do?  I looked around me.  Tattoed, bone-pierced, young bodies, smoking joints, drinking beer, smelling of sex and newly discovered freedom.  How did they manage to make it look like such an effort?  Next table, single American lady, trying to catch my eye.   Creepy man, tight greasy curls, staring at me, empty bottles stacking up on the table-cloth.  Quiet man, intent on i-phone.

I ordered a water…couldn’t help but notice the roll of the eyes…oh – how different this is from Ubud!  A Thai Green curry – you have to don’t you – and then read my book for an hour, before crawling back to my cabin-room, and turning out the lights.

Slept for eight hours straight – at peace with the world.

Namaste : )

Much love and thanks to Prem and Radha for all their patience, support and guidance.  I’ll never forget the things you’ve taught me.


Penultimate practice

I feel very tall today.  Walking up Hanoman street after practice, I still had “Mula Bandha” echoing in my head.  Mula Bandha, Mula Bandha.  The mystical root lock – yoga’s equivalent of the G-spot.  You haven’t lived until you’ve discovered it…and when you’ve hit it…you just know.  Apparently.

In preparation for this life-altering moment you have to just keep engaging, not the muscles exactly, but everything in the kind of groin area…or something.  I figure if I just lift and tense, just enough to feel a kind of an awareness of it, then I’m headed in the right direction.

Today was a crazy day.  The last seven days have seen a steadily building pressure of black clouds.  The humidity is stifling, and the damp has crept mercilessly into every fibre of my world.  Bags that are beyond redemption have been discarded, every item of cloth ferried to the Laundrette down the road to see if an industrial strength detergent, washing machine and dryer will dissolve the highly contagious mould.   Mosquitos are breeding in the festering puddles on the side of the road, dogs and flies relishing in the pungent piles of litter.  And perhaps, most terrifying of all, the monkeys are rioting.  Alpha males bellowing and howling as they charge across the roofs of shops and cafes on the outskirts of the Forest.  Teeth are bared with a ferocity that sends me cowering back into Nyuhkuning, as if it were a street gang war…I don’t want to get caught in the cross-fire.

The shala was not protected from this seasonal chaos.  Water gushed and poured down the bamboo drapes, collected and pooled in the corners of the room, seeping into the rows of yoga mats.  An energy and banter filled the room, like being at school when a hurricane warning turns red.

Prem told us that due to the weather, the cold, the rain, we had licence to pick up the pace, generate more heat, take deeper breaths.

I don’t know if it was the weather, the energising fullness of the moon, a balance in my diet, or the permission from Prem to pick it up, but something kick-started in me, maybe it was that spark, that flare of a fire they’ve all been talking about.  I felt strong and powerful.  Completely in control of every motion, sinking deeper into each pose, hips surrendering, chest opening up…my lungs felt clear.  It was fucking marvellous.

But what I know now is that I mustn’t get carried away.  I mustn’t  get swept up into the euphoria of a successful practice…I can feel it, enjoy it, but ultimately observe it and let it go.  In the same way that I’m learning to let disappointment and frustration move through me, and not hang around my neck like a tightening noose.

I have one day of practice left, and my health is precarious.  Bites and grazes are swelling up and refusing to heal.  The beginnings of a cold
dripping into the back of my throat, a rash, that looks like scabies has spread across my knee, but I’ve been reassured by Cas, who’s a nurse, that its more likely Poison Ivy.  I’m trying not to research the internet at 3 in the morning, and deciding to just have faith, like I’m beginning to have faith in everything else, that things will just work out.   The whole point of this practice is that you do it every day (except for Saturdays and Moon Days), whether you’re happy or sad, energetic or tired, busy or bored, stressed or relaxed.  Whether the sun is shining outside and the birds are singing, or the shala’s about to get washed away, like today.  If you’re with people, or without.  Travelling or at home.  The practice is about you, just you, and the mat.   How wonderfully uncomplicated, how reassuringly constant.


Cultural apathy?

I have just two practices left, flying to Bangkok on Friday morning.

Nearly 7 weeks have passed.  I wonder whether I should feel guilty about all the temples I haven’t seen, the waters I haven’t swam in, the dances I didn’t go to, or the art galleries that remain unchecked on that to-do list I wrote back in January.  Am I disappointed by the lack of Balinese I picked up, and the fact that I still can’t quite work out what Mawa’s father is called?

Ordinarily I would say yes.  Yes of course.  What a wasted opportunity.  Why haven’t I immersed myself in this ornate, smiling culture?  Ordinarily I would have probably made stuff up, to make it look like I had.  Spent a few days doing exactly the things I haven’t done, just so I could post pictures on facebook to reassure my friends back home of my adventurous spirit.

But, how many things do we do each day with our peers’ perceptions of us, and who we should be steering the way?  It has always been a particular weakness of mine.  Well, in a positive light, a weakness that helps one strive to be a better person.  Recycling, even on those lazy days, putting that tenner towards someone’s fundraising venture instead of going out that night for a couple of pints, watching that documentary about something mind-bogglingly political, instead of laughing indiscriminately to Scrubs on E4.

Not that I’m suggesting these things wouldn’t happen without such encouragement, it’s just that sometimes it’s what people would think of me, as opposed to what I want to do for myself, that drives my actions.

I’m sure, that if I had put more of my energies into doing all the things we are meant to do when we travel, my experience here would be richer in a cultural context.  I would have been letting Bali in, and as a result, taken a bit of Bali with me wherever I go.  But, even before I booked my flights, I knew that this journey wasn’t going to be about that – especially this first chapter.

I arrived heavy.  Bags bursting at the seams, lungs packed tight with nicotine, stomach clogged with wintry feasts, and a tightly wound mind and heart that’s just starting to unravel, with unsettling rapidity.  I’m not here to pick things up.  I’m here to let things go.

I’ll be packing up my room in 2 days time, and wonder what I’ll be leaving behind.  It’s hard for me to tell right now, where I’ve got to, how far I’ve come.  There have been so many hurdles, inner conflicts, and physical blocks, that I can’t remember what the start was like.  I’m trying not to spend much time dwelling on the past, or speculating about the future…and so I have to accept that there are no measures.  But there is a feeling, there is a something that I can’t quite define.

In slowly shifting my energies towards transition…packing up, planning goodbyes, checking my flights…it feels right.  It feels, like I’m ready.  Whatever it was that I needed to do for myself here in Ubud, it’s done.  I don’t know what Thailand holds for me.  I’m not going to set any parameters, or benchmarks, write long lists of expectations – I’m just going to let it unfold and see what happens…

With a mere 5 days left of yoga with Radha and Prem at Raka Raka in Ubud, I’m pretty sure I learnt my last pose today.  I say learnt, with the most spectacular degree of generosity.

“Go into downdog” Radha instructed me from two places down, mid-assist of Cas into Urdhva Padmasana (some sort of inverted, levitated lotus position…).  I complied, with considerable ease.  Ahh – down dog – the rest pose, that is finally, after nearly six weeks of daily practice, beginning to actually feel like a rest pose.

“Now, jump your feet around your shoulders”

What?  Is that for me, or Cas?  Over my shoulders?  Urm….

I looked up, trying desperately to clarify what a) that would actually look like, and b) how the flip I was going to do it…

I don’t do much jumping in my practice yet.  Jump backs, jump throughs – I’m more of a stepper.  Slow and methodical, conserving my energy for all the gut and hip busting twisting and opening that I need to focus on.   I have strength, but really struggling with my flexibility and coordination.  I could foresee a potentially disruptive catastrophe so kind of part hopped, part shuffled my feet towards the front of my mat, tried to hook my shoulders in between the top of my thighs, and looked about me with a confused crease  denting my forehead.

“is this right?”  Could it possibly be right?  What is it supposed to look like?  What the hell do I look like right now???

“That’s it Laura, hands behind your heels.”

Shuffle, shuffle, deepening crease of confusion in my forehead.

“Hands flat, hips higher.”  Cas folding into a similarly confusing position, “arms straight…arms straight.”

Is that me or Cas?  At this point I wasn’t even sure what direction “hips-higher” was in.

“OK.  Just stay there for now.”  Radha had moved away from Cas’s successful completion of the pose, and had started to walk towards me.

“What, 5 breaths here?”  My voice was barely audible through the folding of body parts and meek projection into an upside-down shala.  There is something undeniably frustrating about having to confront your physical limitations with such unforgiving regularity.   And then there’s that conscientious slap on the wrist – or ankle, or whatever body part your hand happens to be bound around at that particular moment in time.  “Patience and non-competitive thinking!  Patience and non-competitive thinking!”  It’s an absolute battle-field out there.  Out there being your body, your mind, your ego, your self…all bickering and coaxing and sending mixed messages to each other.  Push yourself, you can do it!  No, hold back, don’t strain yourself.  Breathe.  Don’t forget to breathe.  STOP TALKING TO YOURSELF!  Mulah bandha.  Ground yourself.   Urgh, ahhhh.  Stretch, jump/step, thud!  Hope no-one saw that.  Who am I kidding, Radha and Prem see everything.  They can see straight into your soul.  Because that’s what yoga does to you.  Turns you inside out on the mat.  There’s nothing you can run away from, or hide.  You is just there – exposing itself through the sweat that forms a puddle between your hands, the crook in your shoulder, the knotted emotions in your hips, the single stutter in an outward breath.

When people say – ah, you must be so relaxed – time away and all that yoga.  I don’t know whether to nod my head in agreement, or shake my head in exasperation.   In some ways it is so relaxing.  Those moments when the voices stop, when all you can hear is the flowing of your breath, and the comforting warmth surging through your body as you just click, hips and all, into place.  But, to get to those moments, to learn to sustain such moments, is in some ways the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

Last time I wrote I spoke about riding out, being on the cusp of another breakthrough.  I’ve not broken it yet.  Not sure I ever will.  It’s not that kind of breakthrough.

I was having a really difficult time in practice.  Hips jarring, energy sapped.  Feeling disappointed with myself, paranoid that my teachers were disappointed in me.  I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t focus.  The loosening toxins in my chest making me feel sick, recurring emotional pain not letting up.  I decided to give Reiki a go.  I’ve heard good things, and I guess the further I get into my practice the more things like energy channels resonate.  Maybe it’s the way the steam rises from the body when you are just sitting in a pose, breathing, the way energy lifts in upward movements, and then grounds on the exhale.  My appointment was on Wednesday morning, and I had no idea what to expect.  All I could remember was that wonderful feeling in yoga when one of my teachers would do reiki on everyone in rest pose.  Gently, moving his hands, hovering just above your head.  How the tingling sensation and heat would spread like tentacles through your brain, behind the eyes, and all the way down to the base of your spine.

Ok.  So that’s what I was expecting.  An hour of invigorating, regenerating tentacles chasing away the demons, unblocking all this crap, releasing me…

And it wasn’t like that at all.  She stood over me, speaking softly, fan was off.  It was a cooler day.  Everything still, except for the rustling of rice pickers in the paddy fields behind the organic white cotton curtain.  My eyes were closed and I waited expectantly, felt her finger tips press gently on pressure points on my forehead, temple, behind the neck.  Waited patiently as she moved her hands along my body, over my heart-space, hips, groin…asked me to turn over…back.  I wasn’t feeling anything, because I couldn’t connect with my body – my mind wouldn’t let me.  Incessant, unrelenting, frenetic, schizophrenic…the voices echoed, multiplied, got louder and louder until I was sure that she could hear them.  She turned on the fan, and I felt a jolt and shudder, arm spasm, wished she’d turn it off.   And then it was over, and I opened my eyes.   Distorted black blobs floated and settled in my line of sight.  The voices had abated, and I sat still for a moment, sipped some water, felt the onset of a headache, but could sense my answer.

She told me the heat in my chest and hips was stronger than she’d felt for a while.  She couldn’t go past them for ages, because something was blocking them.  It made sense to me.  My hips are stubborn fuckers and those lungs of mine are in a right old state.   But that’s not what struck me, it was what she said at the end…”You know who you are.  You know your path.  You have to trust yourself.”  Trust yourself.  Isn’t that exactly what Prem had said to me the day before, as I grappled with the concept of doshas and practically cried out:  “What am I?  What am I?  I don’t feel like a Kapha,” and sighed.

Was it worth it?  Perhaps I would be reluctant to swear by it and recommend it to others, but for me, it was yet another important pointer in the right direction.  Maybe it was her healing hands, or maybe it was just that time in stasis, with no distractions, but it was clearer to me at that point, than any other, that my mind…my ego…is what’s holding me back.

But holding me back from what  –  Getting into Bhujapidasana?  Finding my happiness?  My peace?

I needed time to think, to be alone.  I didn’t want to fight anything, just to seek solitude and let things settle.

I cycled the steady incline across town, on the clunky, rusty boys’ bike I’ve rented for £1 a day.  Huffing and puffing, thinking that perhaps I now knew the answer to all those running and yoga forum debates.  With all the good that Yoga does  –  improved cardio, is not one of them.  Not  in the way hill climbing does anyway.

A friend had, with the kindest heart, invited me to stay at hers for a few days.  Staying in the guest room of a villa overlooking the fields, I had to say yes.  It was like my very own ­Enchanted April.  The perfect setting to, please please please forgive the tired cliché – self-discover.

I filled pages and pages with scrawled thoughts and fears.  Read books cover to cover, and re-attempted The Power of Now, discussed meditation and ethical responsibilities over dinner with my hosts.  I raced with their young daughter in the pool, took my tea in the gazebo, and swam for hours in the afternoons.  But holiday antics aside, the moments that counted more than any other, were when I found that place from which I could observe my thoughts, and my emotions.

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I guess the answer has been there all along.  Just like my friend Mike told me before I went away.  “You’ve already got everything you need…Trust me.  You don’t need to go anywhere.  The only reason you have to is to realise it.”

I’m sure we all get lost sometimes, behind our egos.  The false interpretations of who we are.  Manifested and constructed through society and upbringing, past pains, and future projections.  This is who I am, because of all this crap that happened last week, and last year and when I was a kid, and this is where I want to be, but I don’t really know where that is and how to get there, or why?  What about right now, in this very moment, in the only moment there is, according to Tolle.  He writes that the incessant voice or voices in your head can’t tell you the answer, only the silence within.

What I’ve gained from all of this, is merely an indication of how dominant and obstructive my ego has become.  I’m not sure I’ve ever known who I really am in the moment, in the now, in the silence.  I care too much what people think, and those voices in my head have always been so loud and assertive, that I dare not question their authority.  I had no idea that they are separate from my being.  A mere projection that I can control and manage.

I don’t know, just yet, how to do that, but I take comfort from my yoga, and more importantly still – this path I’ve chosen.

I guess no one thing is going to be the solution – whether that be yoga, or reiki, or travel, or the beauty of nature.  It’s just you, making use of what’s there to turn yourself inside out and rediscover, or even discover for the first time – who you really are, minus the voices, in the now.

Isn’t that exciting?  All those things you’ve thought of yourself for all those years, all those experiences that you’ve used to define yourself, often negatively, can be let go.

I’ve got a long to way to go, but when Radha indicated that it will be unlikely that I’ll be mastering Bhujapidasana anytime soon, I released from my deranged alternative entanglement of a pose, plonked down on my mat, with a beaming smile and an enthusiastic “brilliant!”  However long it takes, and however silly I may look and frustrated I get in trying to get there, it doesn’t matter.  Its time to trust myself, and the path I’m on…right now.

Introspection and thoughtfulness leave very little time for recording things.  Instead of trying to create a blog entry with a theme or purpose I think I’ll just share some highlights from the past couple of days.

1)  I will be taking down the blog about how annoying boobs can be when trying to get into Marichyasana C in the next day or so.  I’ve always considered myself  to be quite worldly…but looking through the search terms in my blog stats, I realise how naive and innocent I can be.  As for the emails I’ve been getting….bloody hell.  That’s not yogi!  Not at all.

2) Practice is going well, and I’m about as daunted as I am inspired by the dramatic shift in overall experience in the room.  I’m pretty sure, even though I can’t be totally sure, that one of the new girls is the very same woman I used to watch on youtube for inspiration.  She has temporarily distracted me from Mr Buffalofulous…

3) STILL can’t do Marichyasana C without the help of Radha and Prem, well when they help me I feel somewhat in keeping with how the pictures look…when they’re not helping me it’s probably quite a distressing picture to behold.

4) I actually saw someone OHM their food yesterday.  With all the yogic, thou-shalt-not-judge, will in the world I couldn’t help but think “dickhead”.  It’s not the OHM itself, it’s the disingenuous nature of it all.

5) AAAAAAHyurveda, head in hands! has become a bit more…aaaahyurveda, stroking chin and glancing out into the distance.  Taking it slow.  Planting seeds.  Have decided to integrate things as and when they make sense…which, this week will be:  no glugging back water with my meal, do make lunch the main meal of the day, and eat more salads.  See, that’s not so hard is it?  Next week, maybe it’ll be a few things extra, and the week after that something more.  Even just thinking about it at this stage is a positive step – so NO MORE FREAKING OUT!

6) On the cusp, riding the wave, of another break-through.  I think it’s the twists.  Dredging up all that gunk in my lungs, massaging, and pushing my organs into funny shapes.  Its triggering all sorts of side-effects.  Tearfulness, once again.  Poor Prem.  “Its ok to get upset” he reassured me.  “English people aren’t very good at that”  I responded, bottom lip quivering erratically.   Found myself back at the football pitch after class thinking of the universe and then sobbing over this lost puppy that had adopted this family, and they were trying to scare him away, and I, oh lord, I couldn’t watch.  Was like some sort of Disney film, but without the assured happy ending…

7) I’m SCATTY as at the moment.  Am losing everything, literally everything!  I felt the irritable, cheek-flushing rage of my imbalanced Pitta today, as I rummaged through the depleted belongings of my bag in the pouring rain.  Nope.  I don’t have my keys….or phone, or towel, or book.  What the fuck did I do with all of it???

And that, my friends, is the lowdown of the last 48 hours or so….

For the next 48 hours, I have accepted the most wonderfully generous and warm-hearted invitation to stay with a friend.  A beautiful tranquil haven where I intend to sit quietly and let the recent emotional, physical, and philisophical upheaval dance about, eventually tire, and settle.


I’M SO CONFUSED!!!  Head in hands, “Essential Ayurveda” spread-eagled next to me, ten web links bookmarked on my computer, Kapha lists of what to, and not to eat strewn next to the recipes with ingredients neither Tescos, nor I, have ever heard of.   It was at the yoga conference a couple of weeks ago when I realised that every yogi here is Ayurveda bilingual…except me.  What is this strange science?  Kapha, Pitta, dosha, Vata, agni…are just a few of the alien terms seeping into my vocabulary, and that, I realised, is just the beginning…

Have you ever heard of a blue hole?  These incredible, vertical caves that can sink to over 200 meters.  They preserve skeletons of the Arawaks and scientists are continuously discovering prehistoric fossils and creatures one would only expect to find in a film, like Avatar.  I went to see one once.  It was our grade 9 Abaco trip.  A whole year of 13 year-old’s fishing for sharks, running away from boars, climbing light-houses, and flirting with first-loves on the basketball courts before lights out…(yes – I had an amazing childhood).  The blue hole itself was absolutely beautiful.  Just look at it….

I’d never seen water that colour before, and it seemed a shame to disturb it with our adventurous bodies.  I was a strong swimmer at that age.   Competing in inter-school meets, and very much at home crashing out beneath the waves of Cabbage Beach, or snorkelling off the shore of Rose Island.  Yet this Blue Hole terrified me.  I remember being one of the last to leap in.  Its depths rendered it breathtakingly cold, and if you opened your eyes under water, it was as clear as the air above the surface.  I assumed a kind of suspended fetal position, clinging onto the rock-face.   The rock face that was so smooth to touch it soothed me.  Soothed me, to such an extent that before too long, my grasp began to slacken, and I could feel my legs stretching out behind me.  Tentatively, I rotated my body, and peeled myself off the wall.  Head above water I ventured towards the middle, with ungainly, doggy-paddle strokes.  My heart began to lift, the sense of adventure counter-acting my fears, and the beauty all around me embedding itself deep into my memory.  I started to laugh, and splashed about…with Philip I think…and in a moment of confidence I dived under water, and that was when the panic set in.

Darkness.  The water was so dark, and all I could see was the smooth rock plummeting into blackness.  I felt so small.  So unbelievably insignificant, that I clambered back to the edge, and waited impatiently for Mr Key to tell us it was time to leave.  I’m not sure if it was the unknown, the depths, or the striking awareness of self in the context of something greater that shook me to such a degree, but I remember, to this day, like it was just yesterday…Philip reaching out to hold my hand as he lifted me up onto the edge.  How I stood there for a moment, looking back, marveling at how extraordinarily wonderful it was.

The last few days have been quiet for me, because I have submerged myself into something deeper.  Ancient beliefs, and the science of being…not just for  humans, but animals and everything that is nature.  I’ve been given guidance as to what my constitution is – whether it be earth, fire or air.  Discussed the importance of balance, and symptoms of imbalance, and have had to ask myself so many questions…and that was when the panic set in.

I don’t feel like I’m me anymore.  I don’t feel confident in things that I would ordinarily take for granted, and all the traces of the positive steps I’ve taken thus far, seem to have been washed away by this great surge.

And then, just like all those years ago, a hand reaches out and lifts me up onto the edge.  He tells me its ok to be confused, and to not know all the answers.  He also tells me, I need to let go.

I think I’ll stand here a while, looking back – marveling at how extraordinarily wonderful it all was.


Yoga and Boobs?

Boobs have always been a pain.  You’ve heard me rant about the Robocop contraptions you have to bind them in, in order to run, and followed me in search for the waterproof sports bra to carry them through the triathlon.  But, yoga?  To be honest, I’ve been rather enjoying NOT having to think about them all that much.  I can wear normal, underwired, cotton bras and my god is it freeing.  Not having the blood flow restricted beyond your shoulder blades, and the elastic digging into your ribcage.  Feeling like a woman, breasts rounded and soft, not squashed and flattened into lego-shaped blocks.

Up until the last couple of days, I hadn’t even really noticed that not that many other people in the shala share a similar shape to me: wide hips, big tits, and a bum.  No.  Looking around today, I started to see a bit of a trend.  Slender and lean.  Athletic, and elegant.  Not rounded and bulbous like me.

It doesn’t bother me.  Not like that feeling in the changing rooms at school, when you discover the first stretch-mark across the hip and thigh, because you seemed to have hit puberty and ballooned out into a womanly shape overnight.  Truth is, I’ve grown to quite like my body – just the way it is.  The yoga’s helped with that.  The heightened awareness and control, you carry yourself better.  You hold yourself with some sort of personal pride.  This is my body, and I like it just the way it is.

Which is wonderful, until you come across a pose and wonder what the fuck is going on.  Like Matthew Sweeney’s workshop back in June.  We had to lie on our fronts and thread our arm across our chest to stretch out our backs and shoulders.  It was a bit disconcerting, balancing atop two fleshy mounds, looking down on everyone.  Matthew spotted me from his stage, and added a quick disclaimer.  Obviously, the larger breasted of you, ie me, would have problems with certain poses.

What do I do?  I wanted to scream from across the hall, rocking from side to side, arms like two oars jutting out from a bold-breasted sailboat.  I just waited silently for it all to be over, and sighed to myself.  Ho-hum.  The curse of the dratted boobs has struck again.

Today, I felt the tiniest hint of embarrassment, as I tried to wedge myself into position in Marichyasana C.  I’m pretty sure, it was mostly to do with not grounding my hip, elongating and twisting my spine enough, but lets just say, the additional inches of fat protruding from the front of my upper body weren’t particularly helping matters…

I tried on the right side, and Prem, was moulding me, like he usually does.  “Back straight, back straight, twist, reach, that’s it…”  But, then, after a quick conference with Radha on the side of the room, it was Radha next to me for the left side.   “Back straight, twist, that’s it, now sweetie how about you lift and move your breasts to the side….”  Ahhhhh – it all clicks into place.  A bit of a shift and a heave to the left, and my – what a difference it made.

Having larger than average breasts, I think you sometimes forget that they’re there.  But when you really stop and think about it….the additional weight, the amount of space they take up, the imbalance….I guess it’s not that surprising that when you stand in a shala, or look around you at the starting line up of a race, that there aren’t that many girls with a shape like you.  I could rant at them, like I rant at my hips, feel self-conscious when a male teacher doesn’t know what to do with them…or I could just laugh at myself, like I did today.

With time, I’m sure they’ll shrink, just like the rest of my body’s beginning to.  And you know what, that makes me feel quite sad.  I realised today, that I want them to stay – just as they are.

At the end of an exhale

We don’t practice on Moon Days.  Full moon, new moon – we’re reminded in class the day before and prompted by a sweet handwritten notice on the door: No practice tomorrow, 21st Feb.  New Moon.  Xx

Up until now, I’ve just been grateful for the rest days, without questioning as to why we have them.  It’s like Ashtanga Friday Party Night – round two.  Turn off the alarm, eat a heavy meal for dinner if you want to, and hell, why not head to the Havana bar and sit out on the balcony and drink a mojito or two?  But yesterday, when we finished, despite it being only two days on since Saturday (our weekly rest day), I felt in my body that I needed another rest.  I wasn’t tired as such, but I was just finding it harder to focus, like I was being weighted down and needed some time to process stuff that’s going on in the background.  Issues of the heart, and things like that.

I’m saying goodbye to something that needs to go.  Has done for a while, but I’ve not had the courage, or the self-worth, to actually do it.  Even though my head, my gut, my closest friends are telling me its right, there’s still something in me that feels loss and pain over the whole thing.  I’m not sure if it’s mourning the what could have been, even though there was never going to be a future in it, or whether it’s just a bad habit – like smoking.  An emotional crutch, that once gone has the potential to set me free.

I looked up Moon Days today.  I woke up, and unlike any other rest day, wanted nothing more than to sit on my mat for a few minutes.  I love my yoga mat.  I can’t even remember where I got it, or how much it cost, but I’m pretty sure it was an on-line discount investment a few years back, in the hope that it would encourage me to start practicing at home.  The result of which was a highly sporadic and intermittent practice, that barely covered the cost of it…until now.  Every morning I’m with it.  Watching my hands and feet pressing into it, hovering my body, just a few centimetres above it, before lowering my pelvis, and feeling my chest open and lift as I straighten my arms, and look to the sky.  I can feel its texture right now, the way it softens under pressure, and has started to lose its definition from the imprints of my palms.  I don’t really like its colour, but I love the way it sweeps across the floor and flattens, marking out your space, your territory, wherever you are…a rectangular space, just for you.

So the reason Ashtangis don’t practice on full moons and new moons, is because of the watery nature of human beings, and its correlation with Earth, and the phases of the moon.

The Ashtanga Yoga Centre states that the gravitational pulls of the sun and the moon create energy cycles that mirror that of the breath.  I’m sure you’ve gathered, by my blogs to date, that the breath is fundamental to the practice.   The full moon, correlates to the end of an inhalation.  Uplifting, energising, but carries you up into the clouds.

A new moon is like the end of an exhalation.  Lowering, constricting, grounding…at our least active.  Today, I feel that way.  I feel like my mind and my gut are overriding my emotions.  Being still, on my mat, in absolute silence, I made my decision to say goodbye.  Perhaps I was cruel in how it was done.  Perhaps its the greatest kindness to the two of us.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so much, but tomorrow a new cycle begins.  We start to inhale, we start to lift, we carry on….


Mariarchi and Mr Buffalofulous

This morning I could remember the names of my most recent conquests (poses that is…) Marichyasana A, B, C and D.  When I get to it I think of a Mariachi band, sombrero and giant moustaches, a little guitar clutched beneath my arm, or Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis – Moriarty.  For some reason his name triggers my memory…perhaps its because the poses are all about transfiguring yourself into a right old bind.  But when it came to actually remembering what the poses were, I had a bit of a panic.  I looked online this morning, but its impossible to tell what’s what, and where the whats what begins, ends, and ties into whatever else what.  And throw in a couple of modifications, to accommodate those tight hips of mine, oh, and I think I’ve identified where my next hurdling block is going to be – the chest, and it was impossible to tell.

I felt a bit like a kid going into school for a test, who didn’t have a chance to study.  “Wes, Wes!”  I hissed across the room…”Moriarty, I mean Marichyas.assas..ana,” moving my hips, temporarily distracted by the colourful Mariachi band playing in the background, “what’s the order?  I can’t remember.”

He walked up to me, serious as could be.  “It’s D, A, C, B.  Just remember that ok.  D,A, C, B”

Ha ha!  NO – Seriously!  I pleaded.

“D,A,C, B…” the door closing unforgivingly behind him.

Thankfully Jo took pity and stood over me before everyone settled onto the mats.

A – I know that one.  Right leg bent, foot firmly planted alongside the hip, left leg stretched out in front,  breathe in, stretch right arm up and forward, hook your shoulder behind the knee, twist your arm behind your back, and clasp your outstretched hand with the left.   Oh, and then lean forwards.  Breathe – 5 breaths.

B – Can’t do lotus.  Modify.  Which leg does what???  AHHHH!  Ok, ok, Jo reassures me…same as before.  Right foot, planted firmly alongside right hip.  No back a bit, back a bit (Radha corrected me later on…), but this time left foot pulls in closely to and beyond the groin.  Bind again, in the same way as before….lean forward, lean forward…no Laura lean forward.  Aren’t I?  Poor Radha was tugging on my hand pulling it towards her, and bless my hips, back, chest….whatever it is, I don’t even know anymore in this pose, I wasn’t going anywhere.  Right.  Lean – 5 breathes, then bind.  I’ll get there….

C – Hmmmmm.   C.  Mariachi band in the background.  Will they notice if I just do B again….Prem spots me.  “C?”

“Yes.  C.”

Left leg straight, right leg bent, foot planted firmly alongside the right hip, but this time, I hook my left shoulder in front of the right knee, and then twist and stretch my left arm around my leg past the front of my body, right hand looping behind my back, grappling for my fingers, upper body twisting, twisting, back upright, breathe, breathe, back upright, twist, look over right shoulder.  My ujjayi breath (breathing into the back of the throat, mouth closed, creating a soft hissing, noise) getting louder and louder.  All the while Prem is rolling my hip to the floor, shoulder back, moulding me into position, “Breathe” he instructs.  And I do.  With each breath I get further and further around and I can feel it resonating through my chest, the steam rising from my body (it was bloody humid today)…It felt amazing.  “Good, good”  I released, smiling with his encouragement.  Left side…same again…but feels tighter in my chest, a little harder to breathe.  Its intense this one, can envisage another breakthrough of sorts before too long.

D.  Ahh, I like D.  It reminds me of the twists in my yoga class with Jeremy.  I feel great comfort from poses I recognise.  Not only is it less daunting, but I can also see how far I’ve progressed.  There are so many challenges each day, with new poses, varying levels of energy, the heat, that sometimes you forget where you started.  Not a bad thing I suppose, but isn’t it nice every now and again, to just look back and see how far you’ve come.   It makes the now, all that more enjoyable and invigorating.

Anyway – D is still a modification – can’t do lotus remember, but I get to bend my right leg, and plant my foot firmly alongside the left knee, left foot tucked into groin, and that stretch across my right hip and thigh feels so damn good that it’s virtually impossible not to let out a slightly erotic “ummmmmmm”.   Thankfully, Prem had left me to it by that stage…

This week is feeling like a very good week indeed.  I watched Warrior last night and fluctuated between crying as if it was the scene in Little Women, when Beth dies, punching my fists into the air and cheering, “GO ON TOMMY!” as if it was the final fight in any of the Rocky, or Van Damme films, and feeling my heart skip a beat whenever Tom Hardy looked particularly tortured or vulnerable.  OMG his tattoos are so ridiculously sexy….And speaking of buff bodies, I finally had the opportunity to speak to the man who’s been distracting me from my practice, with his very small shorts, and amazing muscles – aka Mr Buffalofulous.  I didn’t quite summon up the courage to ask if I could touch him or take his picture, but just like everything else in life – backbends, release of tension in the hips – you have to work up to these things don’t you?  Patience and positive thinking….Patience and positive thinking….

This little world I’m creating for myself is so thoroughly enjoyable that I find myself breaking out into great beaming smiles whenever I pause for just a second.  I’m mystified by the boredom other people around me have started to complain about.  The need to distract myself by doing things all the time, seems to have just slipped away.  There’s so much beauty around us, wherever we are, what is it exactly, that we’re always running away from?

A different kind of sun salutation…

Sunday’s always a good day for yoga.  You’ve had a rest day, been a bit naughty and splashed out on a few drinks at Ku De Ta…by Sunday, you wake up looking forward to an early start.  There’s a comfort, a focus, created by the ritualistic nature of it all.   I’m used to not eating beforehand now, and the nausea I felt for the first couple of weeks has disappeared completely.  I think I was just nervous.  All the intensity and the sweat can be a bit discomforting at first.  You’re learning so much about your body and tapping into parts of you that you didn’t know existed, and of course that’s going to be a bit intimidating.  What if you don’t like what you find?  As you progress it gets easier to deal with.  My hips….my dratted right hip….well, I don’t hate it anymore.  I’m still doing a modified pose for Ardha Baddha Paschimattanasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (you can see why I’ll be needing at least 30 minutes a day to learn the Sanskrit), but each day it’s getting easier, and every now and again I test it.  Gently, gently, pull the heel of my foot towards my stomach, careful with the knee, oh so careful with the knee.  My left leg is there.  Knee falls flat, or points directly to the ground, but I can’t fold forwards yet, because I need to wait until my right side catches up.  I’ve known that my right side is problematic since the marathon.  Massage Man told me that it’s quite common with right-handed people to have overdeveloped muscles on the right-hand side.  Its easier for us to be dominated by the right, and let the left hang lazily.  As a result, the muscles in my back, shoulder, and leg have hindered my flexibility and caused all sorts of tightness and restrictions.  Whereas my left – not as strong – is significantly more supple.  So with yoga, which is all about balance, I have to put extra effort into stretching and opening my right, and ease up on the left so that at some point they’ll meet in the middle and be in harmony.

Radha told Jill and I one day at the pool, that she’s had very few issues with personal injury through Ashtanga because she took her time.  She was taught, strictly, to take her time.  Ashtanga is the type of asana practice that is, I think, most strongly associated with injury.  Of the knees, wrists, ankles.  It requires a lot of upper body strength and the poses aren’t always appropriate for certain body types.  But Radha’s been practicing for over 20 years.  It took her seven years to complete the first series, five, I think for the second, and now she’s on the third.  There are six series.  I can’t even begin to comprehend what that looks like or go into that right now.  It’s a bit like training for your first sprint triathlon, and then you meet someone who’s competing in the triple iron man.  And I genuinely believe that there isn’t that much difference between the two (triple iron man and third series ashtanga I mean). Different activities, sure, but by the time you get to that extent of endurance and stamina, I’m in no doubt that participants are reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness that us mere mortal folk, can only imagine.

Even from my marathon experience, a mere fraction of what a triple iron man would be, I’ve drawn so much from in my beginner’s pursuit of Ashtanga.  It’s the meditative side of it mostly.  Spending all that time, oh-so-quietly, in your own head.  Discovering limitations, and learning how to manage them.  The people you meet.  Sharing stories of pain and frustration, successes and breakthroughs.  Emotional.  There was a point in the marathon, when I saw Julia on the side of the road, not even half way through, and the tightening of my chest, and heat behind my eyes, was not dissimilar to how I feel when I’m struggling through Utthita Parsvakonasana.  The day after the marathon I spoke to a friend of mine, told him I was happy as could be, but couldn’t stop crying.  He, a seasoned marathon runner and triathlete, wasn’t surprised by that at all.  You’re stirring up stuff so deep of course its going to come out and take a while to recover from.  Perhaps that’s why his view on life and positive, accepting attitude is so similar to the people here, in Bali.  Well, some of them anyway.

One struggle I’m having is learning to manage the ashtanga-extremists.  I’ve spent most of my time trying to explain to friends, colleagues, family what yoga is…that its not just a bunch of stretches…a sport for lazy people.  Oh my god no!  So not for lazy people.  (Just a quick note:  Ashtangis have a tendency to be A-type personalities –  just like marathon runners.  That means – narcissistic, masochistic, or both).  And I’ve spent so much time trying to defend yoga that when I do come across people who have taken it to the other end of the spectrum, I’m thrown completely.  Debates about mung beans and quinoa, and the disapproving looks over people who opt to put ice in their drinks, is what puts me off.  5 minutes with a German Ayurvedic gnome was enough to make me want to pack the whole thing in, hit the nearest bar, knock back a bottle of vodka and spark up a marlboro red or ten.  There’s so much bull-shit that goes along with it, that it makes me think of religion.  Once you’ve stripped it all down, you’re pretty much left with something very beautiful and pure.  Kindness to others, awareness of the self, acceptance, forgiveness, and, as I mentioned before, appreciating that you are a ridiculously small part of something much much bigger.   I’m still new to this whole thing, but what I’m taking from it so far, is that I don’t think what you learn through yoga is necessarily restricted to those that practice yoga.  The same way that atheists and religious extremists, who are normal and good human beings, probably share the same values.   You don’t need to put names to everything, or follow the same doctrines.  If the willingness is there, you all kind of reach the same place and understanding…in your own way, in your own time.  And sometimes, finding that way through life, and hard-knock experience is the truest way.  Anyone who judges, or disapproves, or makes somebody feel like a lesser person, because their path doesn’t mirror their own, must surely be more of a beginner than the person in the back-row, who can’t touch his or her toes, but accepts those around him or her, just as they are.

I guess that’s what I’m working towards.  Acceptance of self, then acceptance of others…just as they are.

With the hardcore yogis, I felt like I’d been led astray, but it also acted as a mirror.  It was like my inner-voice had been strangled, and I could no longer see where I was heading, but I could also look back and recognise myself in them, recall conversations in the past where my voice was perhaps a bit too loud, a bit too egocentric.

So I did have a few drinks.  I probably broke every Ayurvedic, Yogic rule in the book for a day or two, and for what?  To re-strike the balance.  To reconnect with myself and the path I’m on.  I got swept up, and I needed to take stock and feel the ground beneath my feet again.  And to do that, I did what I know.  I drank, I had a laugh, I took the piss, I listened to house music, and watched the sun come down.  I’m in a transitional stage, just like everybody else, and with so much changing, and so many things opening up in front of me, and even in me, I just need to take care every now and again to make sure I don’t get lost.