“There are no rules here, only invitations.” And with that my instructors invited me to spend a week in silence, in Mouna. I am a talker by nature and so the idea was daunting. I am also hospitable to a fault, so the thought of not returning a stranger’s hello with the same was very uncomfortable for me. Turning off the cell phone, unplugging from email, no problem, in fact a welcome respite, but not saying goodnight to my roommate Mary… odd, unnatural at first but ultimately amazingly liberating.
I don’t think I realized how much energy I put forward to make others comfortable, and not that it is a bad thing, it is just a fact. Every door you open for someone else, every time you step aside to let someone else go first, or you struggle to remember whether it is the time of day to say bonjour or buenos noches you are expelling energy that could, if channeled correctly, be used for reflection, introspection, or just plain zoning out. Not that I plan to forgo common courtesy for a pious life of silence mind you, I am merely enjoying the sensation of utter selfishness.
I mean if we are being honest here, what could be more selfish than leaving my perfect lovely life in search of more? Shipping myself off around the world, stopping in Bali of all places to dedicate three weeks purely to Self, is there a clearer example of hedonism? Don’t worry, you are going to get something out of this too. One must assume that I will be changed by this experience, so perhaps a month from now it will be like you are reading the musings of a completely different author. At the very least I’ll have some fun Sanskrit words to throw in to keep you guessing.
Sights and Sounds
The energy and spirituality here in Ubud abound affirming my decision to take this time for my practice. Everywhere you turn there are sculptures and effigies, and at the foot of each one, or seemingly nowhere for no reason there are offerings. The offerings consist of goodies in handmade banana leaf baskets, some just folded into trays, others intricately cut and tied into shapes more fanciful than any paper snowflake you could imagine. Filling these baskets are fruits, flowers, rice and incense. Everywhere there is incense – Bali smells amazing.
My commute to the yoga Shala is along a stone path through newly planted rice paddies. It takes me less than five minutes from my cottage and I pass eight altars in just that short walk. Each altar is littered with fresh offerings every day. I have never seen anyone place an offering, but there they are, usually with a still-burning stick of incense when I pass by.
The flowers here confound me. Given the sheer volume of petals and buds that carpet every path, altar, basin and table, it is a wonder to me that any are left on the vines, shrubs and bushes that carpet the landscape. Can you make fuel from Hibiscus? If you could, then this might be the solution to the energy crisis. Because in Bali their seems to be an infinite supply.
I am not one of those girls who shriek every time I see a spider or a tick. In fact, I am fascinated by insects. Take ants for instance, while I can’t say I like them, and truth be told I have hated them at times, I admire their sense of duty. Here the bugs are like nothing I have seen before. There are dragonflies as big as hummingbirds, Spiders who stand an inch high, and lightening bugs – oh the lightening bugs. So many they practically illuminate the paddies at night.
When I applied for this yoga school one of the application questions asked you to describe your greatest challenge in your practice. My answer was, surrendering ego. Well let me tell you, there may be no faster path to an ego-less existence than group Neti. If you are unfamiliar with the practice I will spare you the details, but know that until this afternoon Neti was something I reserved for when I was sick, congested or suffering allergies and I would never have dared dream of doing in front of anyone else. But in yoga school we do it together hanging our heads over the railing of our Shala. Mental note… don’t walk barefoot around the Shala.
Then this afternoon we all practiced finding and lifting Mula Bandha. This completes the removal of pride from my existence. As our Chilean-born Guru says, “de Mula is between the anise and the henitols.” I’ll let you translate on your own. Now picture if you will, 18 people gazing downward, their faces showing the strain of serious concentration, trying to lift their Mulas. Ego cleansing complete.
Each morning I rise at 5:30 and adhere to a series of Kriyas (purifications). Neti is the first, then I clean my tongue with this medieval scraper thingy and finally I sort of cluck like a chicken – that one is harder to explain, and always makes me laugh at myself when I do it. From there I go to the Shala for morning meditation.
Ever since the first time I was introduced to OM in a yoga class, I have loved the power of mantras. Up until now my experience was mostly limited to OM, but oh how powerful just that one little word can be. OMmmmmm… the sound of the universe. Before I left Aspen I asked my beloved Yogi if we could chant OMs during my last class. He kindly obliged, and I was sent off around the world showered in a bath of energy from my classmates.
In some cruel twist of fate or gross error, I was accepted into the School for Creative and Performing Arts way back in the eighties, largely because I scored high in the singing audition. To this day I am convinced they mixed my application up with someone else’s because there are howler monkeys out there who can carry a tune far better than I. But when I chant I feel melodic, beautiful, I feel in tune, because it is just me and my key. When my classmates and I are in morning meditation we start sometimes a bit shaky and timid, but by the end we have all found the key of OM and together we make a powerful chorus, one who is singing out love and accepting the love given by the others. It is my favorite part of the day.
Currently we are studying Astanga Yoga, which is the basis for the kind of more free-form Vinyasa Flow Yoga that I practice. Astanga consists of series of poses done in order, with breath and movement leading you into each pose or Asana. There are around 70 poses in the primary series alone, which you do after you have done two Suryanamaskaras. The first Namaskara consists of 9 poses and you do it five times. The second Namaskara consists of 17 poses and you also do it five times. Then you do the series of 70-ish poses and in between those poses you do Vinyasas which are sometimes and another 4 or so postures.
Anyway, my point is that it is a butt load of poses and I have to memorize them all and the movements and breaths that get you into each of these postures or Asanas. In fact I have to know them well enough to show someone else how to get into these postures and follow their breath and how to find their Mula Bandah. Today it feels like yoga teacher training should be a four-year degree and that 21 days is woefully inadequate. Of course any yogi will tell you it is a lifetime practice, but I’m guessing most of them don’t have an exam in two and half weeks.
At this morning’s practice - about the time that I have finished the second Namaskara, I realize that I have no idea what to do next, even though I have done the series dozens of times before and have been studying the poses in my texts - I start thinking I may just end up being a yoga school dropout. And then Satya, the Chilean Guru comes over to me and she says “Ray-shell” in her thick accent, you did that beautifully and she lovingly guides me into the next posture and then the next and I look around and there are five of us all in a row who all got lost in the series in the same place, I am not alone, and she guides us all through the remaining postures.
She helps me use my breath to twist into poses I never, I mean NEVER, thought I’d be able to do. And while I will get lost again tomorrow, likely between the standing poses and the seated ones, I know now that I can do this. I just have to breath, activate my friends the Mulas, remember to smile and have a little faith.