India: On Painted Storks and Packing

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Painted Stork photo CC by Rupal Vaidya

“I’m only halfway home I gotta journey on
to where I’ll find the things that I have lost
I’ve come a long long road still I’ve got miles to go
I’ve got a wide wide river to cross”

Wide River to Cross, by Buddy Miller*

Mysore India. A few yards after embarking on a walk with a friend around Kukkarahalli Lake we saw one of the Painted Storks that live there. The lake is set in the middle of the University of Mysore and is one of the freshest places in the city to walk as well as a great place to see birds—reportedly 180 different kinds have been spotted at the lake. We hardly saw that many, but storks, being quite large, are pretty easy to see. There are 19 species of storks in the world, and while they’re abundant here in India, only one species breeds in North America (the endangered Wood Stork) but nowhere near where I live in California. So storks are a treat to these eyes, and I’ve enjoyed seeing them, large and glider-like, drifting over the city throughout my two-month visit, and again at the lake (evidently there is literally, a town whose name translates as “Village of Storks,” off the Mysore Highway outside of Bangalore, where hundreds of Painted Storks live!).
Upon further research, I learned that storks don’t migrate and are also mute (!).  Clearly, if Ashtangi’s were birds they would not be storks!  Most of we students have traveled thousands of miles to practice here (to whit, tomorrow night, I’ll get on a plane for the first leg of a 10,000+ mile trip home), and while Mysore feels increasingly familiar with each visit, I can never claim to be more than just perching in India.
Likewise, my friend and I certainly made up for the non-migratory storks’ lack of dialogue as we circumambulated the lake, going over our recent experiences here. Much of the discussion also was about when or whether or why we’d return (There’s often debate over one ‘needs’ to go to India to really experience Ashtanga and this occurs even among those who come!).
What you’re ordering up by coming here to practice yoga, whether that refers to your mind, your perspective or your body. I’ve come to think of asana’s newly performed akin to cairns along one’s personal path. While I could report back to you what poses I fully realized and those I’ve not quite reached (or come near, haha) this trip, that’s hardly the point. Furthermore, different poses signify different mile-posts to different people (for example, my friend and I have both received new poses but we’re working our stuff in completely different series’!).  The real action happened in between the new or elusive binds and bends and balances, and the point is how that translates to leading and experiencing our lives.
There’s a pivotal book in my reading life by Salmon Rushdie called ‘Imaginary Homelands’. I read it long before I did yoga or could imagine I’d one day go to India, but I always re-remember the book when I’m here. A collection of essays and criticism, Rushdie writes as a citizen of the world about place and writing and politics. A quote from that book, has been branded in my brain since I read it, and resonates more as time goes:
“The migrant suspects reality: having experienced several ways of being, he understands their illusory nature. To see things plainly, you have to cross a frontier.”


Rushdie was writing about mass migrations as relating to Brazil, but the quote uncannily sums up much of my experience in both the practice of Mysore-style Ashtanga, and traveling so far to do so. Most of the time one leaves the mat in a very different ‘place’ than when they arrived. I’ve never come to India to practice and not experienced a sea change within.
Nonetheless, I’ve been spending much of this day with the mundane activity of sorting through objects, folding clothes and contemplating my suitcase. I traveled light and didn’t acquire many new things. Some things are getting chucked. But this is not to say I don’t have some takeaways, mainly a slightly altered view of my less tangible ‘things’ including my relationship to practice, in general and when in Mysore, which is clearly a homeland of sorts, however temporary (or even imagined). At my real home, I expect I’ll see more clearly, as has happened upon every return,  how this trip has altered me. And while I don’t know when, I expect I will return to Mysore if for nothing else, the unique and usually life-changing perspective it continues to provide.

Deborah Crooks
Deborah Crooks (www.DeborahCrooks.com) is a writer, performing songwriter and recording artist based in San Francisco whose lyric driven and soul-wise music has drawn comparison to Lucinda Williams, Chrissie Hynde and Natalie Merchant.

Singing about faith, love and loss, her lyrics are honed by a lifetime of writing and world travel while her music draws on folk, rock, Americana and the blues. She released her first EP "5 Acres" in 2003 produced by Roberta Donnay, which caught the attention of Rocker Girl Magazine, selecting it for the RockerGirl Discoveries Cd. In 2007, she teamed up with local producer Ben Bernstein to complete "Turn It All Red" Ep, followed by 2008's "Adding Water to the Ashes" CD, and a second full-length CD "2010. She's currently working on a third CD to be released in 2013.

Deborah's many performance credits include an appearance at the 2006 Millennium Music Conference, the RockerGirl Magazine Music Convention, IndieGrrl, at several of the Annual Invasion of the GoGirls at SXSW in Austin, TX, the Harmony Festival and 2009's California Music Fest, MacWorld 2010, Far West Fest and many other venues and events. She toured the Northwest as part "Indie Abundance Music, Money & Mindfulness" (2009) with two other Bay Area artists, and followed up with "The Great Idea Tour of the Southwest in March 2010 with Jean Mazzei.
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