I know my last post made it seem like this place is all sunshine, soft breezes and butterflies, and there is plenty of these things, but it's also quite challenging. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well.
Several people have collapsed on their mats and cried, and some wait til they get behind the closed doors of their rooms before they let it out. Something is sore at any given time and several people take naps during the mid day free time to be able to make it through the afternoon.
We are fully engaged from before the sun comes up until well after the sun goes down. And we are confined to the ashram 6 days a week, with only one day off when we can rest here or take a taxi elsewhere.
And meditation is hard. You know the myriad of modern distractions the world has to offer, so it's very challenging to block literally everything else out and just be quiet and alone. And you're constantly thinking "Am I doing this right? I bet everyone else is blissfully meditant except me who's swatting at flies and Mosquitos and constantly adjusting her legs because they're going numb." Probably not, but I don't know because my eyes are closed and I don't have telepathic powers like my favorite childhood superhero, Jean Gray.
It's mostly summer camp with a dash of school mixed in because we take notes and have to study for exams. Our first test is on anatomy, which I really enjoy learning more about. Since I double-majored in marketing and Communication, there wasn't much time left for science so I only took the basic required Biology and Chemistry in college.
On Friday I had a breakthrough. I was able to go up into headstand with straight legs, as opposed to bending the knees in close to the stomach first for more leverage. I was so excited to discover I had acquired "almost abs" and subsequently the strength to pull my legs up vertically. With more practice, this newfound skill will help further both my forearm and hand stands. (I was on an asana accomplishment high and actually went back to the studio later that afternoon for more core work. And if you read my last post, you know that previously core exercises drove me into a silent rage.)
Only later in the day did I realize that the night before I had been focusing on my Manipura chakra as I drifted off to sleep. This is the third (from the bottom) of seven concentrated energy (prana) areas believed to be in the body. The Manipura is associated with vision, feet and digestion, all things I have issues with, so I figured it couldn't hurt to try to get some good vibes going there. It's situated in the spine behind the navel, the chakra closest to my lower abs, which is where I found that extra strength today. Now obviously I'm not saying this is causation because I've also been pushing my practice forward for 5 months but I think it's a bit more than coincidence.
Chanting that night was also more enjoyable and a handful of folks even got up and started dancing. I was content to stay seated on the floor clapping but I may feel the urge to move around more during one of the later chanting sessions.
This weekend was like a rollercoaster in the dark; several unforeseen highs and lows. As high as I was from my newfound ability on Friday, I crashed a bit on Sunday when I woke up with pain concentrated in my right bicep. It only hurt when I contracted it, so I figured I'd modify any of the asanas that required me bending at the elbow, namely sun salutations. So instead of chaturanga and cobra, I just held plank instead for two extra counts (Because, you know, I love ab work so much now.)
I could do pretty much everything else with straight arms. I didn't feel much pain during the morning session but afterwards, the pain steadily snowballed all day until it reached critical mass during the last afternoon session and by then it had spread to my shoulder as well. I almost reached a breaking point on my mat, due more to the frustration of not being able to perform up to my usual self-imposed standards rather than the pain itself. I shut my eyes tight during the relaxation but one stubborn read managed to squeeze out of the corner of my right eye and roll down my cheek. I had been trying to avoid having to take any meds and just work through the inevitable muscle soreness but I had to take an ibuprofen before dinner.
Oh and by the way, we also had our (unnecessarily stressful) anatomy test that afternoon as well. It was in the wall-less, open dining hall which is usually so relaxing, letting the perfect amount of breeze roll through unobstructed, except today of all days when we experienced what I'm fairly certain qualifies as our first monsoon. In the middle of the exam, we had to scramble to move ourselves and the tables and chairs to drier, more central parts of the hall. And the temperature dropped so much that my fingers started going numb as I wrote down my answers. All angles of this were just miserable, including the exam itself. Then even after the rain is gone, you have to worry about mud and puddle traps that spring up across the ashram grounds like liquid land mines waiting to explode all over your clean(ish) clothes.
Anyways, Sunday night after dinner (with dessert - a weird dessert with inedible pieces of wood in it - but it still counts!) we headed to the smaller studio next to the dining hall for a talent show. Long story short, the talent show on our schedule was planned for the last night of teacher training in September but I guess they wanted to do one for the last night of the two week yoga immersion that was happening simultaneously as well. I had recorded some funny thoughts here and there in my phone but felt nowhere near ready when I was asked to participate prematurely in this one. I decided to just go with what I already had and asked to perform somewhere in the middle or end.
It was a nice mix of talents from the group. One girl sang a beautiful, traditional Norwegian song, one girl
Read her favorite poem in her perfect British accent, a few others read poems and the most adorable German couple sang a few songs with their eukalele, shaker and small cymbals. Then it was my turn. I had a few key words scrawled on my hand and hoped for the best. I had about 10 jokes and an impression and was relieved/delighted that I had to pause so many times to wait for everyone to stop laughing. It was nice to hear especially since everything else we do at the ashram tends to be more on the serious side. Afterwards, so many people came up and complimented/congratulated me. I sincerely appreciated it and the attention made my heart flutter but I'm really bad at receiving compliments so I usually follow it up with something self-deprecating like "This is just what goes on in my head. That's why I'm so bad at meditating."
(A lot of people said they wished someone had recorded it and/or that I needed to do it again and record it. So if there is indeed a subsequent performance, the video will end up on my blog.)
But speaking of meditation, one quick anecdote. On our first day of class, Krishna had promised chocolate cake to anyone who could count up to 108 breaths then count backwards back to zero (so 216 breaths total) during morning meditation. "Challenge accepted" I thought to myself. Because I'll do almost anything for cake.
I was finally to accomplish this task with the help of some wooden prayer beads I bought in town for just 100 rupees. It's a long string of 108 normal beads then one extra with a tassel at the end. (Ages ago it was the inspiration for the Catholic rosary.) giving my hands something to do actually helps my mind focus more. So I told Krishna in class earlier that week that I had met his challenge and to my pure joy and amazement he actually followed through and I enjoyed a dense and delicious slice of chocolate cake after dinner on Sunday. (And even shared it with a few friends in my immediate vicinity even though I could have inhaled it all myself.)
I had some trouble falling asleep that night, probably a combination of the positive reception of my performance and that fact that tomorrow was our second day off, which I was looking forward to spending at the Golden Temple and in town back in Mysore.