Monday, August 27, 2012

A Post for Allison

Just over a week till India trip 7 and I am getting excited.  Those who have never gone ask over and over about certifications and greater permissions and will never know how impossible it would be to quantify this annual transfer of knowledge and self realization.  But one more person will now get to experience it for herself.  This trip I am taking my student Allison with me.

Answering Allison's questions about making the trip to Mysore has brought back tons of memories and reminded me of all that makes India so special.  I hope the answers will help you whether you are traveling to Mysore or simply envisioning this great journey.

Questions for Lara:

What are some of the things to do that you recommend for first time yoga students in Mysore?
1. Get a massage at the 3 Sisters
2. Walk up Chamundi Hill
3. See the Mysore Palace lit up
4. Go to the Market
5. Eat at the Green Hotel

What made you decide to take your first trip to Mysore?
It was my teacher who influenced me to make my first trip.

What are some memories from your first trip to Mysore? 
I remember exiting the airport and smelling the air thick with incense.  The car ride from Bangalore to Mysore was like a feast for my eyes. I was amazed at all the animals in the road. The first taste of chai was equally unforgettable.  I remember going to the shala for the first time and being overwhelmed and under dressed for Guruji's birthday celebration.  Feeling shy and dirty!  Practice was amazing every day.  After that we'd have long breakfasts at Green Hotel and go on day trip after day trip to temples and waterfalls and to visit Indian friends of my teacher.  It was exhausting but also invigorating.  I stayed with an Indian family.  I remember the sounds of the family eating dinner and watching TV at 10PM and the vivid Malaria pill induced dreams.  Mostly I remember feeling unbelievably happy and free.

Is there any special yoga ‘etiquette’ at the shala?
Oh, yes.  First thing to remember is the shala clock is 15 minutes fast.  Set your watch to it when you arrive.  If you make plans with someone you have to ask if they mean regular or 'shala time'.  Arrive about 15 minutes before your assigned time, which means a half hour before that actual time. LEAVE YOUR SHOES OUTSIDE! You will wait in a little room for people in your time slot to be called.  Be quiet in this room.  You move closer to the door as it gets closer to your time.  It's important to be patient and kind letting those who arrived before you go first, but also to go when it is your turn so you don't hold up the flow.  You put your mat down and then go in the changing room to leave your extra things.  Make sure to always close the changing room door behind you. Mats are close together.  Try not to be in another student's space, but don't fixate on this as it is nearly impossible and you are there to practice not stress.  Don't do any poses that haven't been given to you by your teacher including during led classes.  After back bending go to the changing room to do your finishing poses.  Be silent in that space.

India is conservative.  Cover your arms and legs when outside the shala with scarves and skirts over your yoga pants.  It's best not to touch people of the opposite sex.  A simple Namaste is best for greetings and goodbyes.  Stay out of the middle of the street as this bothers India's famously fast drivers.

What is a typical day for a yoga student in Mysore?
There is no typical day, as the trip can be anything you want it to be, but there are common practices.  Most people get up well before their time to wash, drink coffee and prepare for practice.  After practice it is customary to have a coconut or two or three and sometimes a chai.  Breakfast is the biggest and longest meal and there are a couple options of where to go.  After that there is time for chanting, studying, reading, touring, volunteering, resting, etc.  Around 5:30PM you'll usually see students at the coconut stand for 'Happy Hour' before heading home to watch a movie on their computer or read before an early bedtime. Getting crazy in Mysore might mean getting an ice cream or going to swim at the pool in one of the local hotels.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Filling the Cup

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 
                                                                                             ― Lao Tzu

Six times down and now a seventh on the way.  Not one trip to India has ever been a simple decision.  I have lost family while there, missed major moments in friends' lives, skipped seasons and all the sounds and colors that go with those seasons.  Never before have I surrendered Autumn though.  And now my heart aches for the crunchy leaf New York days I'll never get back.  Can you be nostalgic for future nostalgia?  Miss moments you would have spent missing moments?

Each year New York threatens to own me, to tie me down in attachments and pleasures and feelings about things imagined and unreal.  And then India comes and takes me away and takes everything away from me.  Home, family, friends, feelings, personality even.  Gone.  Left there with nothing but my soul surrendering I have become my strongest me.  And now India is coming again to take me and shake me and show me who's boss.  But this time, this seventh time, she's given me an even loftier mission than leaving it all to find myself.  Now the purpose of this journey, all these journeys has become clear.  For the first time, I will be taking a student with me so that she can have a journey of her own.  

Below are the questions I asked first time India traveler, Allison Lafferty, and the answers she gave me.  At the end are her questions to me, which I will address in the next post.

Lara: What is the farthest you've traveled to date?  What is the longest you've been away from home?

Allison: Well, I have travelled within the US and to Canada, but never further.  The longest flight I have been on was to Las Vegas, but never experienced an international flight.  I think the longest I have been away from home is a week or two, but that was a while ago.  Most of my travel plans had been derailed during the last couple of years when I decided to go back to school to study Occupational Therapy, so this is a big trip for me.

Lara: How long are you going to India?

Allison: I think it works out to be 19 days, so just shy of 3 weeks.

Lara: What made you decide to take the trip to India?
Allison: The Sharath and Saraswati led class in April in NYC was such a meditative experience that energized my practice and me.  After, I started to think about how a trip to Mysore could impact my practice and how it could allow me to experience the deeper dimensions of the practice.  Being in sore need of a vacation, I am very lucky to have this opportunity to travel to Mysore with Lara and it was a blessing to be able to go.

Lara: What does your family/significant other think of you going to India?
Allison: My parents and brother are very excited and instantly thought I should go, without a doubt. My boyfriend, Bill, can’t believe the trip is coming up so soon and he is excited to hear about the experience!  I initially wanted to take the trip with him and share the experience, however, Bill didn't think he was ready for the trip.
He is open to the idea in the future and maybe our next trip will be together!

Lara: What did you do to prepare?
Allison: I didn’t realize there would be so much preparation - guess it’s because I haven’t travelled in a while!  Getting an Indian Visa, all the shots/immunizations, getting electrical outlet converter/power adapter, deciding on the kinds of clothes to pack so you don’t offend anyone, how much clothes to pack to limit washing clothes in a bucket, deciding what mat to bring, and a lot of little details.  Being away from home for 3 weeks you want to bring a lot of stuff, but not everything is practical!  Thankfully, Lara has been very helpful in giving me tips on what to bring.

Lara: What do you most want to do/see?
I want to experience Mysore fully – including taking chanting/Sanskrit classes at the Shala.  I would also like to visit the palaces in Mysore and other local sights.  Most importantly I want to be open to new experiences!

Allison: What do you expect Mysore and the yoga shala to be like?
I am trying not to go there with any expectations, however, I am expecting the shala to be busy and possibly crowded. 

Questions for Lara:

What are some of the things to do that you recommend for first time yoga students in Mysore?

What made you decide to take your first trip to Mysore?

What are some memories from your first trip to Mysore?

Is there any special yoga ‘etiquette’ at the shala?

What is a typical day for a yoga student in Mysore? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Keeping the Old in with the New

Keeping the Old in with the New
by Rachel Segrest
Most of us have probably heard a story beginning with, “when I was a kid all we had a was a ball to toss…” The truth of the matter is that a ball will never again suffice to occupy anyone for an entire day – even our dogs have more high tech toys to play with. 
For the most part, things like maps, books, and even bowling have been left behind. Why use a map when a GPS is far more efficient? Why bother with books when an e-reader will hold an entire library? But most importantly, why would a kid physically go bowling when he can just bowl from home? 
Today many traditional activities for children have gone digital. Digitized games have allowed children to enjoy most of their favorite activities from the comfort of home. However, many of these games don’t actually require kids to be physically active. Children can bowl a strike with a flick of a finger or run endlessly by holding a button; leaving the couch is optional. While this may be entertaining, modern technology is not realizing its full potential. In fact, according to the researchers, Ogden and Flegal, 20% of kids between ages 6 and 11 are obese ( Do I sense a connection between obesity and inactivity? YES! 
Nintendo was on to something when it created the Wii, which integrates physical movements into the digital world. Adventures in Yogaland is taking this concept a few steps further. By using a digital character, Chloe the Yogi, the Adventures in Yogaland app teaches yoga to kids while allowing the adults in their lives to participate in the fun as well. The e-book/app is compatible with tablets like the iPad and Nook, which makes the gift of yoga available to the largest number of children. 
Consider the findings of Pew Research Center, which estimates that 11% of Americans own a tablet. That’s about 33 million people! These tablet owners are able to practice yoga with any of the children in their lives: their kids, nieces, nephew, brothers, sisters, cousins and anyone else with whom they’d like to share the gift of yoga. The portability of tablet computers combined with the versatility of yoga allows both kids and adults to get out of the house and experience a fun and rewarding activity together, anywhere from the living room to the park. 
After the baby boomers came the echo boomers, which is the generation categorized by a desire to learn while being entertained. The next generation has an even higher demand for entertainment, which is further intensified by rapid technological developments. With its digitally integrated approach, the Adventures in Yogaland app provides kids with a way to appreciate and understand yoga in the format with which they are most comfortable.
 A few months ago I was playfully chatting with my nephew, Cullen. At the incredibly advanced age of three and a half, Cullen uttered a common group of words, which I had only heard from college students and the like – and even from them, I did not like the connotations that surrounded these words. 
“What did you just say??” I asked with complete shock. 
Unaffected, Cullen repeated his question, “Aunt Rachel, do you have Angry Birds?”
While Cullen poked around on my smartphone, searching for a game that he would never find, I let the reality of what he had said sink in. Please understand that I think most apps/games are a waste of time. I advocate actually doing things rather than virtually doing them. Hurdling down the New York streets on my bike, reading a book, or simply talking to a person ranks leagues higher than playing with small cartoon birds. After this incident, I took care to press blocks and books upon Cullen, while I kept my smartphone safely hidden away.
When I learned about Adventures in Yogaland, I was thrilled! Not only does it teach kids a life skill that can be used in the real world, but it allows adults to participate also. I immediately thought of Cullen and how much fun he would have learning yoga. He has a ton of energy, plus he loves to sing and dance, so I know this wonderful innovation is perfect for him. Whether I like it or not, Cullen and his peers have grown up watching Baby Einstein on lap tops and playing Angry Birds on smartphones. These kids could probably figure out the computer system at NASA before any of us could add a contact into the next iPhone. Adventures in Yogaland is one of the first tablet apps to take advantage of children’s tech savvy and to use that savvy for the children’s betterment. Yoga is an age-old practice that has changed lives all over the world; meanwhile new technology is continually spreading to every corner of the globe. Whoever coined the phrase, “Out with the old and in with the new” was severely misinformed. Sometimes the sweetest things in life just combine the old things we love with a new way of understanding.