imageI’m sitting in the Schipol airport in Amsterdam as I write this blog. It is significant, as this is the final stop before going ‘home’.   Edmonton isn’t home for me yet.  I know now that Medicine Hat never was and that Fernie always will be.  For now…

Home. Some people never leave it.  For some people they feel at home wherever they are.  For my son, home is where his friends are.  For others, it’s where their family is, or where they grew up.

My heart is aching for the 3 hour drive from YYC down hwy 22.  That drive that I’ve done solo, so many times now, that takes me home.  To my small group of friends that hold my heart and make my home.  Because, for me, comfort is in that place.  Comfort that provides a safe place for me to be uncomfortable.  And I am right now.  Uncomfortable.

Pune becomes a bit of a home while we are there.  The rickshaw drivers, maids, landlords and shopkeepers, little communities that we begin to care about. The students at the institute, the friends you make or reconnect with while you’re there all become family. The Insitute itself especially feels like home.  It is familiar to the point we notice if something’s been moved, added or changed since the last trip.  I wonder what happened to the coconut walla when he’s not on the street after class.  I tip our rickshaw drivers a little extra, because I am  worried, as they are that, that the foreign students may not be enough to support them too much longer.  The building and community around it, the students and the teachers all feel like home to me.  I was surprised how sad I was to leave this time.  I’ve never been sad before, but that’s because I always knew I would be coming back.  I don’t know that this time.

So, I relished the crazy rickshaw ride with Amin to the airport last night.  Soaked in the craziness of India as I’ve come to know it, because there’s no better way to be ‘in it’ than an open air rickshaw navigating the masses on a Saturday night in Pune.  I’ll take that with me in my heart as I make my new home in Edmonton.  I’ll take it with me whenever I go back home to Fernie or Valemount.

I’m  coming home 🙂

love, Sam


imageYou know when the last tumbler falls into place and you feel/hear the little ‘click’ of the lock that’s about to open? Or the proper arrangement of the puzzle piece as you place it in its right spot?  There is this sense of ‘aha’ to the mystery of what’s been before you the whole time…

Prashant has been gathering us at the far corner of the practice hall to look at a magnificent tree in the courtyard just outside the window all week.  He’s been using it as a metaphor, analogy, teaching tool. He’s been talking about rendering and seasoning in conjunction with it as well and I’ve been standing back letting it wash over me.  Because I just cannot try to understand that man.  Either he makes sense to you, or he doesn’t.  For me, whether I understand or not changes with the day and the topic and how he ties the philosophy to the asana work.  So my mode of operation in his class is to just let the commentary roll over and through me until the tumblers fall into place.

Which happened today… Click!  i wasn’t getting the ‘seeaasson, seeaassonning, seeassonned (season – but say it like that and you’ll get the rhythm 🙂 that’s been a big theme for him the last few classes.  It’s not far from the rendering idea, but deepens the lesson of it.

What finally made it click for me was his use of the imagery of seasoned wood used to make a door compared to unseasoned wood.  In monsoon season, the unseasoned wood expands with the moisture and is difficult to close, in the dry season, there’s gaps that let bugs in because it shrinks.  When seasoned wood is used, however, it always works properly because it is unaffected by the external forces.  It is in a non-dual state!  Ha!  Tumble, tumble, Click!

And this we take back to the asana.  The rendering  effect the physical practice has on our consciousness, will over time, season us to a non-dual state if we do the work.  Not to become disengaged or separated, but so that we work properly no matter what external forces, people, attitudes, climate we are exposed to.

India is filled with external forces that test how seasoned I am!  The assault on the senses, the effort it takes to go anywhere or get anything done, the yoga we are expected to do… And then throw in the extra glitch, because there’s always an extra glitch in India!  Illness, accidents, riots, floods, this year it’s a currency debacle that has everyone scrambling to try to get money – I’m going on my first scooter ride today to try to get some money today.  Everyone that has been here before just went ‘Holy shit!’ Everyone else – you have no idea!! All these things prove that I’m still in the seeaassonniinnnnggg  phase, because I am affected.  Relatively I’ve got it easy here but I still don’t want to go to the bank to stand in the throng of people just to find out there’s ‘no money left, come back tomorrow’.  I get tired waiting for my bill.  I sneered at the lady who sat on my mat yesterday.  Have i lost it? No.   I’ve come a long ways since the first year when I stopped going to classes because I knew if I kept going I might never come back.  I’ve matured since my second trip when the classes kicked my ass physically and I felt like a failure for most of the month.  I’ve transformed since my 3rd trip which was the first after my separation and I was emotionally raw.

Each trip here, just like each time I step onto my mat, is a rendering.  Sometimes the effect is a relatively swift awareness of acheivement – like doing an assisted drop back to Urdhva Dhanurasana today, sometimes it’s the slow steep that can only click the lock into place by trusting the process.  Letting the effects of the work wash over and through me, render and season me, until…

Tumble, tumble, click.

love, sam





imageWe are into backbend week at RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute) and it is a different experience (as always) this time – partly because I’ve come at a different time of the year.

In the past I’ve come in June or July when the weather is hot and heavy with rain.  The practice then, although challenging, is more from the Intro 1/2 and IJ I/2 syllabii.  Now as the weather becomes cooler, we are doing more jumpings, arm balances and yesterday with Geeta got right to Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (a difficult backbend) legs straight and together as our first foray into backbends just so she could evaluate where we are at.

Unlike other systems that put the body into false conditions (hot yoga with a consistant temp and humidity) we are expected to keep our body in tune with its natural surroundings and adjust our practice accordingly.

That is the 1st layer according to Prashant, the son of BKS, and philosopher of the family.  Practice according to the weather, our personal needs, our age and ability, the maturity of our practice.  He teaches the same asana again and again, even with the same instructions, but expects different outcomes each time depending on the subject he wants you to study with each attempt.  Asana for the body, asana for the breath, asana for the brain.

He started the month by asking us to find the usefulness of what we are doing.  For the beginner it is enough just to do, but if we want to progress, we must find the usefulness of the what, how, why we are doing.  And in order to do that, we must study the subject.  To which Prashant says; if we want it to be easy, we are not students.  Because the subject matter, if worthy, will challenge us with unknowns.  Demand absolute attention.  Require multiple attempts from different approaches. And the subject is important otherwise the Iyengars wouldn’t put so much incredible effort into trying to get their point across.  Attempting to get our brains to be like butter, as Geeta says, rather than stone, so that we can absorb and learn the teachings.   The subject is important because it is not just asana, it is not even yoga, the subject is our own consciousness.

Today in class Prashant made a point of referring to all of the asana pictures of Guruji that are displayed in the practice hall.  We (Hatha, or asana-based practitioners) are often thought of as superficial because of the physicality of our practice.  As opposed to the deep thinkers of a Jnana or Raja yoga, the contributions of Karma yoga, or the outward beauty of mantra.  With each asana we do however, we are expected to – as Guruji did – ‘render our consciousness’.   Just as a razor blade is rendered sharp and useful through exposure to extreme hot/cold temperatures, we render our consciousness through the challenging conditions of constantly exposing ourselves to the asana and studying ourselves through its lens so that we too may become razor sharp.

Geeta worked with a small group yesterday to get them to lift their heads off the floor in a backbend.  When they did it she pointed out that the result was not their acheivement, it was hers.  They were only able to do what they did because of her observations, her use of props, her instructions.  Now, if they are students, they will take all of that into their own practice and work on it until it becomes their acheivement.   This is how we render our consciousness.  By being the student, studying the subject matter, doing the hard work, taking what they are giving us and making it our own.

Those of us here this month are incredibly fortunate.  Geetaji has had health challenges her whole life and is having them now, however right now she is teaching beautifully and we and can tell she wants to take us somewhere.  (I’m not sure how much longer she will be able to teach…)  Prashant is as Prashant has always been, but I am different this time and am getting more out of his classes than ever before.  They have both been and continue to be, as their father did, students of the ultimate subject.  They have rendered themselves to finely honed instruments of knowledge.  They are trying their best to pass it on so that we may take their acheivements and through our own practice and study be able to render our own consciousness.  Hone it to become useful.  To our body, breath, mind.  Our family, community, students.

These trips are not frivolous, they are not holidays, they take us to places within ourselves that can be just as dark and scary as they are beautiful and glorious.  We all make sacrifices to be here – financially, time away from home, health risks – nothing about being a householder in India is easy! But even if we don’t realize it to begin with, none of us would come back if we didn’t feel the effects of the rendering taking place.

May my brain be like butter 🙂

love, Sam


The Story is in the Bread

Yesterday I went for a 4 hour food tour. Do it! Wherever you go, make this a part of your trip. Anthony Bourdain is right…the culture is in the food.

This is a sharing culture. One built on families and neighbourhoods. This land is also very much meat-based…sorry all my veggie friends – you may want to stop here 🙂

There were 7 of us on the tour…from Canada, Australia, Ireland and Switzerland that joined local Marrakecher, Atman for a tour of 4 eateries with some extra stops along the way.


We started in a narrow alley way in the heart of the Medina that no tourist would get to unless by mistake. In this laneway hardly more than a body-width wide, there were 5 small booth restaurants side by side that roast & sell meat. Sheep predominantly. In all its various forms. Behind the counter is a hole in the floor and in the hole is a cavern that is constantly fuelled with wood and filled with sheep. It doesn’t sound that great when I write it…but stick with me! These family-run roasteries serve tanjir (clay pots stuffed with meat and spices that are slow cooked to yummy, juicy, tender perfection) and roasts of sheep. Including the head. But not the brain… I don’t know why or what happens to it, but it seems Iike everything else gets used. It is brought on trays lined with craft paper and served with the local bread and sweet mint tea (Morrocan whiskey). We eat with our fingers and sop the juices up with the bread. Someone other than me eats the eye… But not really, it’s just the meat of the socket. The eye is not eaten, just left behind beside the rows of teeth in the jaw bone. Don’t forget – yesterday was Halloween.

Our next stop was a favourite local fish spot. We had a choice between sardine sandwiches or patties with veggies in the side. Ground sardines mixed with olives, tomatoes and spices stuffed inside a pita-like bread. It was good, but I wouldn’t stand in the cue that sometimes goes around the corner for it.

On our way to the next restaurant, we stopped at the neighbourhood bakery. Not the place that makes its own bread to sell, but the place you take your bread to be baked. Or cookies, turkeys, fish… The small room is lined by shelves and kept by a man that has stood by the opening to the massive oven for the last 40 years. He knows all there is to know about the neighbourhood, because the story is in the bread. The texture of the bread ingredients, the size of the loaves, the clothe it comes wrapped in, the tray it comes on, the number of loaves, if someone doesn’t show up when they are supposed to. Everything about the bread that comes into be baked tells the story. And this man knows…when someone needs help, when company is coming, who is a good match for who, when there’s extra money, when there’s not… It is not a nosy way of life. It is a life built on community. On connection. On knowing what it means to be part of the neighbourhood. And on trust. You don’t mess with people’s bread!

Every neighbourhood in Marrekech has 5 things that keep it together: a bakery, a mosque, a school for children to learn the Koran, a vegetable market and a hammam. Ah… The Hammam :)! It is the community bath house. Women go from 8am-8pm. Men, when the women aren’t there. Like the bakery, there is a man in the bowels of the hammam stoking the fires that keep the water warm, hot, hotter!. The one we visit is a fuelled by a happy, content man, because he knows he is providing an essential service valued by everyone in his community.

I had a hammam today in the small one provided at my Riad. It is decadent to be bathed and pampered by someone else. It is also something I would never, ever do in Canada. But here, because it is so much a part of the culture, for some reason it is ok. And essential. Go to Marrakech, have a hammam. Stay at Le Bel Oranger, have it on site. Please. Do yourself a favour!

Back to the food… From the bowels of the smokey oven that fuels the baths we went to a women’s-only trade square that had the most amazing couscous! It is the only area in the souks that is run by women – including this restaurant that is a second-generation eatery serving the some of the only vegetarian fair to be found… Couscous, along with tanjin is the traditional local fair. And if you can find your way to the Nomad restaurant and ask for the women’s market – order the couscous for the next day and make sure you remember how to get back. It’s worth the wait and effort!

Olives… They are the other traditional fair here. I thought I didn’t like them – but since they are served with every meal, like re-fried beans in Mexico – one develops not only a taste for them, but an appreciation! All olives come from the same tree (who knew!?) – the color depends in the time of harvest and the texture on the type of preservation. If the pit isn’t the same color as the skin, you’ve been duped!

The last stop was for fruit smoothies and cookies. They don’t really believe you here if you say you don’t want dessert. Commonly, it’s orange slices with cinnamon, but the little cookies we had are also a sure way to end a meal.

I was the only one in the group who had never been on a food tour before. I see why it is a necessary part of some peoples’ holiday… It’s not just about the food, it’s about the stories, the people and the culture fuelled by the food.

Bon appetite!