Life Between Sun Salutations & Startups

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Yesterday I had dinner with an old friend. We’d both been having interesting — challenging — weeks, really high highs and really low lows, including the sudden death of an acquaintance from college.

Life seems so absurd at times when it’s this kind of bizarre mix of extremes, inhumane in its randomness.

We ascribe rationality and meaning to events, but most times, it’s completely meaningless. Things just happen, sometimes for a reason, and often for no reason at all.

Good things happen to good people.

Good things happen to bad people.

Bad things happen to good people.

Bad things happen to bad people.

And yet, it’s not entirely random; sometimes there’s a pattern. But more often, there isn’t. 

It’s the universe’ selective application of pattern that is so hard to understand, and that creates the cognitive dissonance that challenges good people to grow. 

Our minds seek pattern — it is an evolutionary adaption that frees up calories and brain space for higher order thinking, like language and all the things that result from it.

The patterns, these forms, give our world structure. We need form, and we rely on pattern. We are comforted and enabled by patterns; we ‘get’ this.

And then — I find especially as we reach the age where people we looked up to start to age, or die, or people who are our peers disappear from our lives — we get to a point where the patterns we relied on suddenly seem like cruel lies.

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I was just a few minutes ago daydreaming about the time I went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as part of a summer biology class I took before my sophomore year of college.

We were some college students, some professors, and some alumni of all different ages, interests, backgrounds.

We visited each of the islands aboard two small yachts, afloat in the middle of the ocean at the earth’s equator where you see the constellations of both the northern and southern hemispheres. The stars were so thick that you couldn’t pick out the big dipper.

One afternoon, we were relaxing and swimming near our boat, which was still for the day. Some people were diving off the third-story sun deck of the yacht, a good 30 or more feet up from the water’s surface.

I’m not a strong swimmer, and I’m actually irrationally afraid of the water, especially the ocean.

I had refused the dive all day, but the social pressure was getting to an embarrassing point. The group around me couldn’t feel the phobia that gripped me inside; it probably seemed like I was just being shy.

I climbed my way up to the highest point on the yacht, and stared down at the water far below. I could feel an asthmatic tightening of my ribcage, an aversion from deep inside my intestines.

No no no NO NO NO… YES!

And in that moment where I traded analysis for recklessness, I threw myself over the edge. 

This is letting go of the pattern. An instantaneous swap of ‘red’ for ‘green.’ Change didn’t require a gradual strengthening, though it can sometimes work that way too. For me then, it was just a moment, a choice not just to accept gravity, but actually *propel* myself in the direction I was being pulled in — leaping, not falling.

And then later, it will be a swap of ‘green’ for ‘red’ — change, the most magical and painful of life’s realities, is both continuous and instantaneous. 

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This is the inscription I want behind my eyes. Run toward the darkness, and shine.

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I’ve been living afraid of the dark places, the corners where unknown fears live and multiply. I run from the fear. Push it from me with gloved hands, swallow it so that I don’t have to taste it.

I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for The Savior to come and wither those mortal fears with brilliant color.

I have a good life. A pretty life. A life that gleams in the sun, all sparkly and clever and enviable. But oh when the dusk descends.

I don’t see stars. I don’t see anything, because my eyes are clenched tightly closed, afraid to behold loneliness, to gaze upon merciless infinity, to stare into personal impermanence. 

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Lately, about fifty times a day, I have the sensation of diving. Not through air into sea, but through ocean into even deeper waters. It’s visceral and so completely real. I can feel my chest parting a hundred tons of water, my arms arcing upward and outward, my throat reaching forward into the current. 

It visits me constantly, the ocean diving feeling. I think it is my courage unfreezing, breaking through a lifetime of protective ice.

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"I dont know why, but for some reason I see you with this Light beaming from your chest…," someone said to me recently.

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Lately, I’m often on the verge of tears. 

Not backed by sorrow, but propelled by an immense feeling of release whose origin is somewhere deep within my solar plexus.

I remember this feeling from the first time I really opened my spine while back-bending, letting all the mortal fears scurry forward like a living tapestry of blind rats.

Now those rats rush outward as a thousand beams of color — beautiful, girly, sparkling color — carried on a crest of unstoppable, salty tears.

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I’m going to Kohlapur in 13 days, and I’ll be in India for four months.

It’s not about India, really. What’s unfolding isn’t a story about that place, or about Goa, Mysore, yoga, meditation, samadhi, adventure, curiosity, chappathis, Holi, Guruji, or practice.

I’m leaning face first into a long fall, wind and water opposing the gravity of my body, light exploding from below.

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To speak your love to someone is to accept the inherent inadequacy of words.

Randomly occurred to me while composing a love letter to my mom today…

Preparing for yogamudra, before final seated meditation.

Preparing for yogamudra, before final seated meditation.

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It’s tax season, birthday season and allergy season, and I’m 28-going-on-29.

"I don’t care about age" and neither do any of my 28-going-on-old friends, and yet here we are: privately facing the first real foreshadows of our mortality while publicly condescending toward commercial society and its superficial Botoxers, P90Xers, wantrepreneurs.

This time thing, it really doesn’t go backwards, does it?

"I am time, the destroyer of all."

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the human form of the god, is disguised as a chariot driver to the sweet and troubled Arjuna, who is facing the ugliest moment of his life on a battlefield against his own brothers.

After lots of talk of meditation and the right path, Krishna finally reveals himself to be the god of gods. It’s a beautiful vision, brilliant and unmatched “like a thousand suns,” but it’s also terrifying.

Arjuna finally sees that the very god he’s been yearning to understand, whome he loves, is also destruction itself — he achieves a visceral, not just intellectual, realization that inherent in every life is death and that is in fact written onto the face of every living thing - every living moment.

Thus, there’s no use in agonizing over the gray hairs, the birthdays, the missed milestones. All the guilty or stressful things we say to ourselves (about our appearance, our careers, our love lives) all seem pretty silly, if you think about the actual direction of time.

This vision also frees us to take action. Krishna says it as a way to unfreeze the warrior from his emotional and spiritual paralysis. Time has already killed these fighters from the moment they were born, he tells Arjuna, therefore fulfill your duty and do the most right thing you can do right now. There will always be consequences to every course of action.

Don’t worry, and don’t delay.

"We “grow sorrowful,” but we rarely describe ourselves as “growing joyful.” Imprinted in our language is an instinct that suggests that happiness is a state, while grief is a process."

"Do you even go when it rains?"
(standing outside of our Mysore room this morning, a cold, wet week in San Francisco)

"Do you even go when it rains?"

(standing outside of our Mysore room this morning, a cold, wet week in San Francisco)

"Ahimsa paramo dharma."

- Ahimsa (non-violence) is the highest dharma.

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29 days out of 30 I feel like crap. But the one day you feel great, you’re not really working — that’s the day you coast. The 29 are the days you actually improve.


Sometimes getting at the heart of things just doesn’t feel good. Sometimes? Always. It involves uncovering lots of stuff that’s been buried, and possibly festering, for entire phases of your life.

The “flexible” people that can do every posture without breaking a sweat (a) probably need to get a new posture so they’re working again and (b) if not, aren’t really practicing — they’re just coasting. What’s the fun in that?

And yet, there’s a difference between feeling like crap during something you know to be beneficial, and feeling like crap in a dead-end job or an abusive relationship. Even those two things have something to teach us, but we probably shouldn’t stick it out for months and months waiting for that magical 30th day to prove our troubles.

As usual, no answers here, but I just thought I’d debunk the myth that everyone else is having a great time partying through their supta kurmasana while you suffer through minor agony each and every day.

*My teacher told me this one night at a party for our ashtanga community. He practices third series. His strong ujjayi and focused dristi have never given away the fact that he’s in agony in Chakorasana.

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"In some places, participants think nothing about answering cell phones in the middle of postures, or taking a short break to chat with a friend."


A recent post on the India Ink blog of the New York Times juxtaposes Indian yoga, the way yoga is viewed by Indian teachers and practitioners in India, and Western yoga, the “multi-billion dollar industry.”

Even in the serious KPAYI shala in Mysore, there was an “Indian” Mysore Ashtanga class. Instead of beginning practice at 4:30 am, alongside dozens of the most serious and dedicated Ashtangis in the world, it started some vague time in the afternoon. Saraswati could often be seen chatting and joking with her Indian students, many of whom seemed to spend as much time sitting in a relaxed slouch, propped by their arms (and not in lotus position) as they did doing actual postures.

The Western yogis haunting Mysore were lean, even gaunt, seekers on a path towards… something.

Shaila, the Indian auntie who invited visiting yoga students into her home for lunch and cooking classes, was also a longtime yogi — maybe one of the “casual students” that the NY Times references. She was stout, round, and embraced the practicality of everyday life.

From the Times’ blog post:

“Yoga is not just about asanas, it is a union of the body, mind and soul,” Delhi yoga teacher Nivedita Joshi told Times Crest, a Times of India publication, in an article also refuting the idea yoga can be dangerous. “It’s not an exercise, it’s a way of life,” she said.

In Sanskrit*, “Yoga” literally does mean “way,” “path,” “union” — a method, I’d assumed, towards some kind of enlightenment that I did not yet know.

But now, after traveling the path for awhile, I think maybe it’s more of a treadmill than a glorious Saturday hike in the hills leading to a vista.

Some Western yogis in Mysore, goofing off.You’re not walking to reach a destination, because there isn’t one (remember, there’s only one outcome to all of this); you’re traveling as a practice. An activity that’s ultimately pointless, on a results-based evaluation.

Will it make you fit? Maybe. Will it give you an opportunity to show off your body in form-fitting clothing for a few hours a day? That’s up to you.

However, today’s yoga practice is just one of many. Each moment of beauty, or humiliation, is just one dot on a long arc angling its way towards ultimate decay.

So I tell myself, Hold on tight while you let go.

*I am not a Sanskrit scholar, I just play one on this blog.