26 Dec 2011

Christmas Day Death

It was a different Christmas. White.  Beautiful. A new moon. The day started with a phone call to tell us our friend had passed away.  He'd been suffering in the final stages of cancer for a few weeks, so it wasn't a shock as such, but still, it was very real.

Life ending.

H. was busy on the phone, being the closest friend he had to let people know. He said I should go for a board and then come pay respects to the body.  I think he wanted time to himself too, this friend goes back way longer than our relationship.

Got into the car.  First song that came on my i-pod was Queen, 'Who Wants to Live Forever'  ha!  How apt.  Brought tears to my eyes that didn't stop flowing all the way up the mountain.  We'd been expecting this call for a few weeks now.  Once it come though, that was it.   I just had a couple of runs down, boarded like a bat out of hell.  Felt like I had to get something out of me, had no fear, and was going well over speed for so early in the season.  Felt good.  Then cried all the way back down the mountain to more Queen. I guess we all deal with things in different ways.   He was a boarder too, maybe I was connecting.

Went to pay my respects, his face looked so peaceful the pain had gone.  Yet another body with no one home. 

Again in the midst of more Japanese funeral rituals.  More reminders.  Close friends gathered in the evening, told stories, talked about life and death and the nature of it all.  Am always thankful for the yoga philosophy at times like this.

21 Dec 2011

A pot is a pot

Was mulling over Grimmly's post, while listening to a BBC radio podcast.  I learnt that Japan was the first place in the world to make clay pots.  16,500 years ago to be precise. 

These people were most likely the first people to eat and make a stew..of sorts.

The first pots were decorated with twisted string patterns.  The designs would change consistently every 25 years.  The archaeologist said that even to this day Japanese culture stresses continuity through change.  Continuity through change seems so very contradictory.

Still, for 16,500 years, there is a strong pot making tradition in Japan.  There have been constant changes but a pot is still a pot.   This pot (Image from here) is an ancient Jomon pot but had gold leaf applied inside and was used in Tea Ceremonies in the 18th Century.

It made me think of Ashtanga changing with each generation.  Minors tweaks, additions, subtractions.  but the general form, function and essence remain.

Sometimes to get too bogged down could be seen as an attachment to tradition, no?  Of course it is good to often go back to the source, if things get too distorted and a pot is no longer a pot we would have problems.  I'm sure a lot of potters study the Jomon era pots, just as we all go back to the Yoga Mala, Krishnamacharya's teachings, and the ancient texts, keep things authentic.  Keeping as it is yet ever changing.

7 Dec 2011

Small Progress

Have been working on Bakasana a lot recently, on straightening my arms and the jump into Bakasana B.  The jump is coming slowly.  It's just I seem to lose control on the landing on the very last 5cms.  Bandha control me thinks...it's that final abdominal curl I have difficulty with.  Have a feeling this is gonna come into play big time once I start focusing more on Karandavasana, for now I am still just toying with that. 

But my arms are finally pretty much straight in Bakasana A, wohhooooo a little progress, feels good.

Oh and my Tittibhasana doesn't look as bad as it feels.  I thought my legs were much more bent, it still is my worst set of asana in my whole practice, but we are making friends. Just a bit longer, and who knows it could turn out to be my all time favourite.

Have an authorised teacher coming up for a weekend mysore class session, am very much looking forward to practicing with people again, and, well to be taught...something... I wonder what? 

5 Dec 2011

Daily Tittibhasana Practice

Practice has been good.  I've been sticking strictly to the six-day-a-week ashtanga routine. Occasional Vinyasa Krama routine in the evening. The mornings might slip a bit once the snow comes, when I'll be practising my breath work riding down a mountain. Planning on some evening Vinyasa Krama sessions this winter.
Nothing much to write home about really, the elusive Dwi Pada Sirasana (both legs behind the head) comes and goes.  Been focusing more on Yoga Nidrasana which felt really good today.  Probably due to my late start time, makes such a difference.  Bakasana, arms are getting straighter and jumping in is slightly more predictable.  Feel like I'm even coming along in my version of Karandavasana.  Knee is getting better, almost there.

It seems I'd developed a keen disliking of the Tittibhasana sequence. I never had strong feelings about this before, but I realised I'd been quite content to be stuck at Dwi Padasirasana over the years.  It was time I fessed up to myself and to pull out the proverbial finger, I needed to do Tittibhasana more, A LOT more.   I have stuck to a strict six-day-a-week-ashtanga-home-practice. I have practised Tittibhasana everytime,  no avoiding, primary only once a week. It is good.  I've made myself do all the Tittibhasana just to get through to Pincha Mayurasana, which I enjoy greatly.

So why do I so dislike this relatively innocuous asana.  You don't hear people talking about it much, people don't get stuck here, so what is my problem with this?  Well, I am pretty bad at it, I don't know how to make it feel good.  I just do it.  Get it out of the way.  I generally don't like to treat asana in that way, but Tittibhasana. ..  Well first law of attraction: proximity. So I am forcing my self to get up close and personal with Tittibhasana everyday.  It's working, I don't feel like avoiding it quite so much anymore. We are slowly making friends.

Really enjoyed reading Kino's post  Six Day a Week Ashtanga Yoga Practice. We were talking about this in class along these lines, but Kino says it very simply and succinctly.

"When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself."

"The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga."

4 Dec 2011

Cat on a ledge

During class:
Me: Did you drop back by yourself?
Her : Yes 「big grin」
Me: How many times?
Her : Five 「bigger grin」
Me: Excellent!

Cool, this lady has had all the parts in place for a long time now, flexibility, strength, timing and a very firm practice. I've said everything I could say, I help as much as I can but at the end of the day it's up to her, the only thing stopping her was her mind.

End of class:
Her: My cat got stuck up on a ledge other day.
Me: Really?
Her: Yes, it was the second time.
Me: Cat's are good at that eh.
Her: Yes, we coaxed her down, smiling and calling, she was so scared, bottom in the air, meowing. We knew she could do it, but she was so scared
Me: Ahh that's cute. Did she make it?
Her: Yes, it took a while for us to persuade her back down.
Me: That's good.
Her: Yes and it made me think this is how you must see me. Every week, coaxing me to do drop backs. I saw myself scared like the cat and you as me coaxing and encouraging her to come down, knowing she can do it but watching her fear. So I knew I could do the drop backs too.
Me: Ha! Yes, it's something like that 「big grin」.
Her: 「Big grin」

Rolf Naujokat talking about the role of teacher in the book Guruji:
"So it's the teacher following the student rather than the other way around. It's an interesting idea.
Or maybe walking together and you just hold the hand in difficult spots. I often felt that Guruji did just that, hold the hand as I pass over some difficult area. But again, it's according to each person's nature, and it works somehow because in the end it doesn't matter - whatever makes it work, wake up, that's fine."

Japanese Buddhist Funeral

Sometimes I forget this is a Buddhist country, but am once again reminded, and remember it was one of the things that drew me towards Japan in the first place.

The funeral process was beautiful. I'd been a little critical of Japanese funerals before this and I take it all back now.

Thursday I spent a day in a light warm tatami mat room with a corpse. Gentle old lady laying in a white futon in a beautiful blue silk kimono with a white, lace edge handkerchief over her face. Looking peaceful. She died peacefully painlessly at the age of 93. We burnt incense and sat around drinking tea and just being with the body. The body of the decease must not be left alone, so we took it in turns to be there. My husband and his family spent the night there too.

Before being cremated a Priest prayed and performed a ceremony, then we wait again, in a tatami room drinking tea and chatting. Then we are called down. There are the charred bones and ash that once was a lady called Kimiko. The chief mourner and closest relative took the first bone together, the only time people can ever hold the same thing with two pairs of chopsticks, and put it in the small wooden urn. Starting from the feet , using extra large wooden chopsticks, we placed the bones in the urn. It was a strange feeling being so close to the remains of a person, strong reminder of the transient nature of the world. I resolve to work on my own attachments with renewed resolve. We found the melted ten yen coins. Apparently six coins are needed to cross the river to the other side. The deceased will be traveling for 49 days in the netherworlds. The next Journey.

The head was placed last by the crematory staff with bare hands. He then carefully, and so respectfully wiped the table for any misplaced ashes with his hands, then placed the lid. The urn was then painstakingly and touchingly wrapped perfectly in a white wrapping cloth, over which an ornate yet subtle gold and white cover was placed over the urn. This we took away, along with the photo, and wooden Buddhist name tablets.

Everything was respectfully done with incredibly precise and well practiced movements. The Japanese have precision, understatement, respectfulness and politeness as a well practiced art. It really is amazing to watch. Especially at times like these.

We drive over to the temple. It's a Zen temple, by coincidence, one I used to very occasionally visit for early morning zazen. A beautiful old temple. I must go back and take some photos, the detail and decoration is just, well, inspirational. The Priest chanted sutras, and performed his ceremony. Part of which involves the swishing of a tailed wand, I always imagine this is him symbolically helping to cut away attachment to this world. Helping them to move on to the next stage. It was calming and full of imagery. We all said goodbye, made offerings of incense and paid respects to the Priest.

Finished. It was so quiet and simple. So Zen.