Monday, July 30, 2012

Oil bath

Taking an oil bath was recommended highly by Guruji, so this Saturday I decided to take a crack at it.  Let's define terms in the negative, first.  This does not mean I filled a vat, or a cauldron with a fire beneath it if you want to evoke fairy tales, with oil and sat in it.  Furthermore, the theories expressed in this blog are in keeping with Indian traditional medicine, know as Ayurveda, and, as I like to say while I'm teaching, have not been evaluated by the FDA.  In the Indian conception of the body the physical and the metaphysical are both superimposed and interchangeable.  So when one speaks of things such as heat, bandhas, or breath, in yoga one could be talking about physical or metaphysical or both at the same time.  Keep this in mind and bare with me, here.

The goal of an oil bath is to draw accrued heat out of the body built up from the week's asana practice.  The bath requires oil, preferably castor oil, and an equal mixture of soapnut powder and green herbal hairwash powder.  First, I poured a generous amount of oil into my hands and massaged it into my head and scalp (not the face, though) until my hair was quite saturated.  After five or so minutes, I rubbed, more like slathered, oil over the rest of my body.  I made sure to get extra oil into my troublesome joints, which are the shoulders, knees, and lately, my ankles.  I sat, naked and slathered in oil on the bathroom floor for about ten more minutes, letting the oil do its thing.  Phase two was to dump scalding hot water over my body, thus opening pores and letting oil get in that much more.  Phase three is the rinsing process.  I got the powder mixture, which I had made into a molasses-like paste by adding water, and slathered that over my body.  The powder's ability to absorb the oil was like magic.  I rinsed and everything came right out, like it had never been there.  I did a final wash with soap and shampoo for good measure.

Now, my impression of the whole process was not that the oil drew the heat out of my body, per se.  In fact, the opposite.  With all more pores sealed up with thick viscous oil the heat built up, at first.  But when the oil was rinsed off I felt a very powerful release, like water exploding finally out of a hose that had been kinked up for minutes.  The rest of the day I felt deliciously languid.  This is something of which I could definitely make a habit.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Conference report

This Sunday in conference Sharath discussed the oft-neglected drishti.  As Sharath explained it, in Ashtanga yoga we stand on a tripod to reach up towards a purer mental state.  One leg is asana, the other is breath, and the the third is drishti, which is focus of the eyes.  To each asana is assigned a drishti, some examples of which are the tip of the nose or the feet.  When we fix our eyes on one thing, hopefully the mind will follow, creating a state known as ekagarata, or single-pointed concentration.  Sharath said that it sometimes (probably often, for him) happens when he practices that he loses all sense of his body, time, and place. Now, here's the thing:  this transcendent state can be achieved doing other stuff besides asana practice.  We've all heard of runners' high.   One of my students who danced all her life has told me she's felt it dancing.  A colleague's boyfriend mentioned that he got there through the repeated practice it took to master a 360 degree dunk.  So, then, what's the difference? Here we have three activities (asana practice, sport, and dance) which offer the same set of circumstances, yielding similar results: an improved physical body, achievement of goals, when well-executed they are beautiful to look at, and, in rare lucky cases, a state of mental transcendence.  The difference between  hatha yoga practice and sport and dance is one of prioritization.  In sport and dance the mental transcendence is a pleasant by-product while the emphasis is on achievement either of victory, or mastery of a skill necessary to victory, or on cultivating perfection of technique or execution of a given choreography.  Hatha yoga practice is the inverse: the acquisition of technique; of victory, if you will, over a given asana is a pleasant by-product of the search for the state of mental transcendence.  Like all pleasure, the pleasure experienced in the respective by-products can be a pitfall, though.  The athlete chasing mental transcendence exclusively will lose.  The dancer doing likewise will fail.  The hatha yoga practitioner who only chases victory over asana will never attain yoga.

Friday, July 20, 2012

no guts, no navy cross

for a guy named after that aspect of god which is the destroyer who dances in flames, shiva is remarkably cool and deliberate.  he's a figure in the mysore scene who changes currency, rents scooters, finds apartments, and probably hooks people up with weed.  his business card lists "hard to find items" among the services he provides.  there was a kerfuffle with the place i had lined up and i had to scramble to find a place when i got here.  shiva, cool as a cucumber, hooked me up.  i told him what i wanted: cheap, to myself, a little out of the way.  within 15 minutes i was looking at a place that i took.  it's a room in a two-bedroom flat upstairs from the house of one mr. sharada, a gentleman who runs a silver shop out of his home.  my room is quite small, and it has its own bathroom.  the bathroom has a western toilet, but no showerhead.  instead there is a spigot coming out of the wall with a bucket underneath.  to bathe i fill the bucket up with hot water, pour some over myself, soap and shampoo up, and then rinse by pouring the bucket over myself.  it's actually quite nice.  the bucket also serves as a my washing machine.  after practice i put my clothes in the bucket with some laundry detergent and hot water and leave them there for an hour or so.  then i dump the water and refill it again to rinse.  the whole flat was coated with a serious patina of dust that i'm still working to get cleared up.  pretty serious ant problem, plus the first time i looked in the toilet bowl there was floating the corpse of a most impressive cockroach.  when i flushed a salamander was propelled out from the inner rim.  i fished him out and threw him onto a tree outside.  ahimsa for salamanders, but fuck the ants.  them i kill wholesale with bug spray.

so why so spartan?  i mean, i am paying about 185 bucks for six weeks of rent but i could afford a little more  and get housecleaning, laundry and wi-fi somewhere else.  i feel like roughing it some is part of the experience.  nowadays one can come here and live in comfort and connectedness with back home such that it could be like never having left home.  but then why leave home?  to me, coming here, leaving home is part of the sacrifice that helps growth.  i think of the pioneers who came here back in the day, who barely could use a telephone.  granted, here i am blogging, talking to my wife on the phone, and, come to think of it, going to see batman today but i guess despite all that i'm trying to get some of the original flavor of the place.  one must pick one's battles and know one's limitations and all that.  so my battle is with not necessarily the most comfortable or clean living conditions.  it is my third day here and so far i am happy.  i'm very much looking forward to getting practice underway.