on stuckness.

London in August. A mocking sun occasionally appears, setting the backdrop for the temporary migration of people out and in of the city (locals out, tourists in). In this month London feels even more of a transitory place to be, and with it a confusing pattern of weather in a place that only truly suits greyness. I find that I endure August waiting for September when greyness descends once more and the days get shorter so that my sadness can hide better in the darkness.

People said to me that submitting the PhD is an anti-climax, yet it wasn’t quite that. Rather I experienced a hollowing out which was both a relief and an empty feeling. I am lighter but I am also more pointless.

Lauren Berlant described writing as a performance of stuckness. Recently I have wondered if once unraveled, writing leads you back to stuckness. But along the way you hope something might shift.

A week after submitting my thesis the country descended into the biggest political and economic crisis of my generation. Soon everyone was aware of precarity and how porous safety can feel. It can feel sudden, or somewhat arbitrary, the way that familiar structures dissolve. Left with liminal spaces and no hidings places we were all just blobs striving to divide ourselves – remain/leave, British/other: all that was solid melting into air.

In this way stuckness is never just stuckness. It’s a dynamic and moving reconfiguration, but one where the transformation cannot be known in advance. Yet we still need images and visions to hold us, to keep us in place, on track. In short, we need optimism.

For this reason stuckness has always fascinated me, theoretically. The ambivalence of grief is an extraordinary demonstration of becoming an obstacle to one’s own flourishing, to progress, to recovery. But the desire to hold on to what is no longer there provides its own comfort and optimism even as it counteracts the notions of modern life, where life should be lived at a pace, and there are so many things to do, people to meet, roads to cross.

I like to think that flourishing is possible in stuckness, and that stuckness is only one interpretation of an experience. It might feel like stuckness, or it might feel boring and banal, liberating or terrifying. But stuckness cannot be transformed simply by changing how you think about it. Stuckness, liminality, is also a structural problem (its not necessarily a choice). It’s a state caused by the existence of structure, by falling in-between. It’s not nothingness.

Stuckness is also a judgment, a negative one, but only if existence is viewed linearly. I found that grief was one instance that can revert people to a cyclical way of living. As a vision of the future died along with a person, people focused on building new structures to get them through the everyday. The banal activities of daily life – grocery shopping, cleaning, taking the dog for a walk – became important strategies to navigate what I described as the liminal space of grief.

The repetition of the everyday is not always a reaffirmation of sameness but a hope for change. Its an energetic movement: if energies are directed towards particular actions, a shift must occur. But what actions to choose? The engagement with the seemingly banal activities of managing the everyday are viewed by the bereavement professional as distractions not cures. The judgment is that this is stuckness, not healing.

Perhaps, as psychologists of grief tell me, people need meaning and linear stories – we need conventional structures and to be able to make sense of things. Ontological security, sociologists would describe it. What then of flourishing? I think the thread I was trying to follow – that perhaps I still haven’t grasped – is that life is lived not only when the future is knowable, but in the liminal unfolding present.


lost notes from Mysore.

There was a phrase, a thought cluster that repeated itself all over Mysore the last month: Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown.


The only thing to say with any certainty about the process of getting older is that you become more accustomed to your edges. That is, you see the repetition of things, of your actions, and deduce that perhaps it is not simply error but what is consistent in you. Consistency becomes persona when we perform similarly enough times to have a coherent sense of who we take ourselves to be. Though sometimes what is consistent in us turns us off: bad habits, resentment, insecurities. How to remedy the gap between that which we are: problematic matter, and that which we ‘ought’ to be: in control, bounded.

Coming to the concrete realisation of being the odd one out: it’s a lesson I’m still learning. But then we are always becoming odd and becoming normal as we travel across different spaces. We’re moving targets. Failed performances start to become instructive when we see failure not as reflective of innate characteristics of our personhood but as reflective of environments that hold us or reject us. India is a place where I feel both held and rejected. It’s a space for unravelling but that unravelling rarely happens at a rate you can control. The cost of unravelling might cause you to feel violated. And it’s hard to find space for flourishing amidst violence.

How to build a world that can hold us when in constant transit, a world not centred around four walls, a world with no centre at all. When in flux what can hold us? What is lasting? Is it the practice, is it pure repetition itself. Is it love without the attachment – is it love that remedies the gap when our loves manage to hold an image of us more complete than the image we can hold of ourselves?


Sometimes days happen like this in Mysore. Friday I get stopped by a woman in the street. She’s lost her yoga mat. Can she borrow mine? Sure. She repays me later in breakfast and it turns out we live in the same house. We see a flyer about Amma’s visit to Mysore this weekend. My friend is going, says my newly discovered housemate, I can ask her to get us tickets? I am curious, I say. Next day, practice, then conference, then some more breakfast. We’re indecisive about going. We get told you have to be there by 8am or you haven’t a chance of getting a hug. It’s now creeping up to noon. We decide let’s just go and see. We rickshaw over to the Ashram, the driver likes my skull tattoo. On entering a beaming face wearing all white greets us. My housemate mentions her friend has got us a ticket. Somehow she knows. We get fast tracked past hundreds of people to the front of the stage, hanging out with the VIPs. We exchange a look of disbelief – and guilt – people have been waiting for hours. Amma is a few rows ahead, singing, I’m trying to take it all in. When we exchange our ticket for a hugging number, I get A5. The order goes alphabetically. Before I know it I’m led through eager pushing Indians and I’m buying fruits to gift to Amma. What language? Where are you from? ask two men as I prepare for my hug. I get moved along into Amma’s arms and she makes what sounds like a wailing noise in my ear before giving me a mini banana and Amma brand sweet. I get told to sit on the stage behind Amma and I look to the hundreds queuing and waiting. At some point a group of Bharatanatyam dancers take the stage and I get moved again to the other side and find myself in a special queue of people to give prashad to Amma. In the queue we get trained how to put the sweets into Amma’s hand. Be fast, not too firm, you have to stretch, watch her hand at all times. I’m still not at all sure what’s happening but as I get closer, I feel my heart pounding. As I have my 4-5 goes at putting sweets in Amma’s hand I get a closer look at the hugs in action. So many people telling their stories. And women, Indian women clearly overwhelmed and overjoyed to encounter their inspiration. Women hugging women. And men, all the men too wanting a touch of this woman. And in this politics of late: of wrong female flesh, of male gazes, of violence and repression, the idea of Amma started to make some sense to me. Here was a safe space at a time when a safe space feels hard to find. After my prashad honour was over, I wandered the ashram grounds. Another kindly face dressed in white asks me if I have a ticket, oh they took it already I tell her. You have already met Amma! And you have had time to sit on the stage? Yes I gave prashad also. Wow! she exclaims, it is usually only us tour group who do that. Yes I say I don’t know how it all happened. “It is Amma’s grace,” she tells me. I smiled curious as to why Amma would wish to favour me. The skeptic in me had been trying to resist but I had to admit there was a very haphazard quality to the past two days. Whether there’s something more meaningful to the whole series of events, I still don’t know. When I left five hours later the queue had only got to L.


There’s been something funny in the air in Mysore this time round. I’d thought it was just me, but after conference today I got a sense this was something collective.

Though its not as though I can really compare. This is my second visit to Mysore. The last time I came was three years ago. It is more a sense that people seem to believe there’s something markedly different about practicing in the shala now. Nostalgic attachments to the way things were are nothing new. Even I who was blissfully naive to the Ashtanga world on my first trip – I had no idea what Kino McGregor was – was never too far from a complaint on the changing atmosphere of practicing in Mysore.

And now Sharath is reflecting these themes back to us. After all he has the best vantage point of us all. That’s why he’s sat talking about the ones who just ‘pass through’, the ones who want the photo moment and the instagrammed asana (Sleepless I searched #kpjayi on instagram last night, it was a waking nightmare).

If last weeks conference didn’t make us cringe enough when the first hand to go up asks how he gets authorised; this week a question – that seemed to come from a place of genuine confusion – asked should we still come here if we don’t want to become teachers, i.e. leaving space for those on the authorisation ladder. When Sharath just looked and said ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’, didn’t we all feel small then realising it was just our own stuff after all. That we have to all take responsibility for our own elbows when we’re at the gates before led practice. That we are creating this, not Sharath or anyone else. And that this is a collective responsibility. There’s no point abdicating responsibility elsewhere.

Personally it’s my instinct when people get aggressive to retreat, so much so I got told off by my fellow 6.30 waiting group, who literally pushed me into the shala the other morning, “You’re always so slow!”. What’s the the happy medium on the passive/aggressive scale??

I suppose that here (this is a presumption from my own limited means of tuning into the collective energy) there’s lots of people who are wanting to be seen, by Sharath, to be validated, recognised, authorised. It’s not that I don’t get the desire to be seen by one’s teacher but Mysore for me is a place to come to disappear. In the shala I’m a zero. This lesson disturbs me as much as anyone else. It shows itself up in a fat complex, repulsive skin rashes, compulsive shopping, blocked sinuses.

On the conscious level I’ve been spending a lot of time asking myself the reason why I wanted to come here. I’ve been getting caught up in the idea that I needed a purpose to be here other than the practice. After all in order to get here I had to sell Mysore to my PhD supervisors: I’ll have so much time to write! Think how productive I will be! And persuade an unconvinced Director of Post Grad studies in my faculty: “This is what we’ll call an informal arrangement”. I had to move out of my rented room and become homeless again. I put my belongings into an airing cupboard and said goodbyes to friends, lover, cat. Sometimes the act of leaving becomes such a big deal you feel you need to return with something to show for it. But what can I tell people but to say actually Mysore is an incubator for madness. It’s not going to make me productive in any productive sense. I might evolve but only sideways. I won’t get a shiny teaching certificate, or ‘find myself’. I won’t be instagramming asana porn from a beach, I probably won’t be getting any new postures and might just be plodding through primary for the duration. I will get lots of itchy insect bites though and inconvenient tanlines. I’ll return with dodgy intestines and dirty feet, sunburnt nose and clothes destroyed from bucket washing.

It’s hard to explain why the practice is an end in itself. Because its not something that can be explained in language, only direct experience. It too can feel hard to keep concentrating on that even here where desires are strong and confused and often ambivalent. Where we’re all a bit confused about where we stand in relation to one another, to Sharath, to the practice, to the lineage, to India. Because you can come to Mysore and not change at all. You can surf on the bubble and never get taken over by it all. You can come and get what you want and a vegan pancake and pass on through.


Before I read the Yoga Sutras I was reading Sociology. It was Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault and Gayatri Spivak that taught me that ‘I’ was only a composite of networks of power, dispositions and that before I could speak I had to unlearn my privilege as loss.

In my brief forays into the Ashtanga/yoga blogosphere, in between the lines I read a lot concerning positionality; confusion and criticism about unexamined western romanticism and privilege. There’s plenty of violence to be done, and is done, and that’s evident in the trivial: from not covering our female flesh in India and Om tattoos, to cultural appropriation and ignorance. We are all ignorant so long as we’re trying to speak in a language we haven’t taken the time to learn.

And then last night I was reminded how violence is universal, and that although in one schema I may hold privilege, in another I’m just a body upon which violence (specifically gendered) can be enacted.

I was walking home, it was 9pm and I was mere moments away from where I live in Gokulam. Before I understood what was happening a hand grabbed my breast. The sensation was so unexpected I gasped. A strange noise passed my lips as I looked up to see a young boy on a bicycle peddling away muttering something.

I am certainly not naive to the gross gender inequalities that exist in India. Nor am I naive of its complex and perplexing views on sexuality and masculinity. Further still I am highly aware as a (white) woman in India objectification happens on a daily basis. I’ve been grabbed in all the usual places, followed by groups of men, harassed by rickshaw drivers, touched inappropriately by a security guard, mistaken for a prostitute. And if I need to clarify: I’m always covered from neck to ankle in India (I wasn’t asking for it).

Yet there was something about the mundanity of last nights encounter that it took everything to carry the sadness round the corner to my house so I could just get behind a door and sink. Such invasion of space and one’s body is never acceptable but I felt I was pretty wise to it, be sensible, cover yourself, that’s just how things are. Perhaps it was the youth of my perpetrator, perhaps because I was so close to home, perhaps because I’d spent too long looking at Gokulam with a rose-tint it came and grabbed me back to reality.

In between the tears I wondered how to account for the situation, with violence going both sides, where education is lacking and ignorance is growing. A situation where even when you cover those shoulders you’re still on object. How did I become an object? And what are ‘they’ (male, other, Indian) to me? How can we get to a situation where we can see each other clearly?


Being a student of Ashtanga in Mysore is a practice as good as any for a bodily understanding of what it means to unlearn your privilege as loss. Being here is where you do your homework.

I will have in an undergraduate class, let’s say, a young, white, male student, politically-correct, who will say: “I am only a bourgeois white male, I can’t speak.” In that situation – it’s peculiar, because I am in the position of power and their teacher and, on the other hand, I am not a bourgeois white male – I say to them: “Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?” Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position – since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak. I call these things, as you know, somewhat derisively, chromatism: basing everything on skin colour – “I am white, I can’t speak” – and genitalism: depending on what genitals you have, you can or cannot speak in certain situations.
From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programmes of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you will be heard. When you take the position of not doing your homework – “I will not criticize because of my accident of birth, the historical accident” – that is a much more pernicious position.
In one way you take a risk to criticize, of criticizing something which is Other – something which you used to dominate. I say that you have to take a certain risk: to say “I won’t criticize” is salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework. On the other hand, if you criticize having earned the right to do so, then you are indeed taking a risk and you will probably be made welcome, and can hope to be judged with respect.

Gayatri Spivak (1990) The Postcolonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Routledge: London, p62-3.

the end of the world.

I’d forgotten about the smells. Every inhalation is an intoxicant. Returning to Mysore is a trip.

I arrived on the tail end of weeks of sleeplessness and living in freezing temperatures without heat and water. Disregarding rest I walked across the town back and forth high as a kite. I kept seeing faces distort. I swear I was hallucinating.

Being here is like a dream. I feel as though I’ve gone back in time. Or that I’ve always been here wandering these dust roads and the past three years never happened.

On the last leg from the dark grotty streets of downtown Bangalore to the contrastingly quaint morning glow of Mysore, we made a quick chai stop. That first cup of chai, injected into my sleepy stupor, was blissful beyond words. A kid nearby kept staring at the odd lonely pasty woman and I stared back at him, stoned on just everything.

Entering the bubble, I have already made contact with the politics and the scene. It amuses me to think how much this turned me off, how much it disappointed me, all those three years ago. I have been to register two times now only to be told “You come tomorrow”, “You come tomorrow”. People wait from 1pm for 3pm registration now. Things have sped up in my absence. Okay tomorrow, tomorrow. I turn away with a smile.

Mysore is evolving. It’s bigger, better and shinier. This is how it should be. Mysore is evolving the way its people are evolving. Where it’s headed, no-one can tell. Time collapses in on itself here.

I ponder sometimes whether Mysore is only a world created inside my head, complete and perfect in its myriad imperfections. Bodies travel space and time to this place where everything moves in circles. Time and space and bodies folding endlessly. Daily existence is first and foremost sensory. That’s why the memories last longer, and the love happens easier.



Practice is quieter, that’s for sure. I’m taking myself out of the equation. I’m getting out the way and its taking me wherever it chooses. I’m getting overwhelmed with sensation – I’m easy like that – and I’ll keep coming back for more.

The practice is silently eating ‘me’ up. ‘Me’ – the academic by day (yogi by dawnlight). Though 5am in the city doesn’t really exist. I’m not here, the bodies on the train aren’t here, we’re still in dreams and disrupted sleep. This is some secret hour we stole from the rest of the city, but we won’t ever let on – the ashtangis, night-shift workers, cleaners, baristas – how we see magic in the grimy morning sky over the river.

This ritual expends five hours of the day before I’ve even logged on. The working day shrinks as the kapo tiredness hits me and I spend the afternoons in my subconscious. Its been a little hard to admit that the mornings on my manduka turn me on more than the PhD fieldwork. I made the false assumption that I had to separate the two lives – thats why there’s two blogs: the academic brain and the yoga stuff.

Truth was I was concerned the yoga stuff would undermine my credibility as an academic. Besides it was too personal.

Anyway phew, I’m tired.

What I wanted to collect were some thoughts without a container. Disparate thoughts following a winding conversation on the weekend regarding consciousness, where lies vitality, samadhi, the soul or core self, death and so on.

I’d been unknowingly stifling words by blocking the stream of consciousness that I used to let flow here. It got ugly at times and so I kept trying to pull back. It is within this censoring maybe where my frustration with what I have been experiencing as an incompatibility between my two spaces of daily existence had been bubbling up.

This has manifested in childish bunking off and making rules lax (though this is a good medicine for the active militant in me).

What it is more about is how conflicting it is to carry around these contradictions in models of selfhood, one where the self is integrated within itself, able to present a coherent narrative of oneself, bounded and containing a core. And another self that exists on the surface, integrated with other and all living things, radically relational, and concentrated to the point of silent awareness.

Right now I’m trying to reconcile the two, whilst thinking about the violence that can be done in the name of potential, and being overwrought with sensation that has no place and my vested belief that after death lies nothingness.

Emotions have to go somewhere so the counsellor tells me, so deal with them, complete them else they’ll come back to get you, inhabit you, become you. There’s only so much space and energy that already exists that circulates in and over. So then what do we create? How can we find space? What about encounters that become relations, something is evolving there, being built, a life together. What could feel like bare space becomes so full, so so luxuriously full.

And then a little image from my memory to conclude: A whispered exchange in bed on the nature of consciousness – here is bliss is it not? – and the last thing I uttered before sinking into sleep: “I can only write about sensation, and even then not very well.”

my moon and me.

For a while now practice has been happening on a level words can’t reach. So it’s been quiet here, and for a little time last week it got quiet inside my head too, while the body buzzed. Buzzed and hummed. Equally in my other life thought has been deadened by busyness: the hubbub of emails and scheduling and interview timetables. Admin is noisy.

I have of late wherefore I know not…

This then is an attempt. Here’s some words for you:

Laghu vajrasana: Blocked.

Kapotasana: What a breeze!

Supta vajrasana: Arms pinching.

Handstands: Because “You need some fun in your practice”, says my Teacher. (Apparently even in practice I have my melancholy face on. Here’s me thinking practice surfaces varying personas to the ones commonly performed outside. I’m melancholy through and through).

These words don’t reach too far. That’s not to look down upon the superficial. I can revel for hours in the banal yoga chat (it’s the social lubricant – nay glue – of daily life in Mysore). Something feels different though. I no longer feel the need to publicise my practice. I think this has come about from a) realising for most people in my life the ongoings of my ashtanga practice are of little consequence (read blank faces), b) I don’t need it anymore – it being affirmation, recognition. Sure sometimes I want it, a lot of it. But I can practice alone, I don’t need it.

This feels like a little big deal for me. Still I devoured avidly all the blogs and videos I could find on kapotasana after beginning to tackle it a couple weeks ago. It’s one of those steps in the practice that comes with its own fanfare, or perhaps that should be hauntings. But on the first few attempts after a few abbreviated breaths and before my lungs got used to the contortion, not a whole lot happened. No big deal.

What’s been the most noticeable aspect of my practice these days has been the non-happening of the practice. First this felt like boredom – normally at its peak around Janushirasana C. Yawn this practice is so long! But has since started to move away from the awarenessness of the emptiness of thought to what feels like a folding into quiet. (Removing resistance we could say, or surrender). At least until around Laghu when it gets all vritti again.

I keep thinking about the incompatibility of a regular practice to modern city life. A life that speaks in rhetoric of career, and doing more and being better and getting out there and linking in. When a daily contemplative practice brings quiet, everything else becomes such a din. The world we inhabit – say academia – might demand adeptness with noise while the practice contrarily demands adeptness to quiet.

Following two different desires the point of incompatibility arises. When the practice is no longer a refuge but a foundation and background the quiet starts to cloud out the noise, and where should the noise go? Do we quit our job? Do we complete the PhD and do nothing? And the language is deliberate – but wouldn’t that be a waste of time, when you could be spending time producing (reach for the Das Kapital here).

Hell, keeping up a daily habit like ashtanga has taken me away from lots of activities, like wine drinking on a weekday and heavy foods after 6pm and staying up writing in the early dark hours and probably too, from making new friends – I’m barely clinging to the few tolerant ones left. I used to say I would never date anyone who did yoga. I had a vision of men that did yoga and for some reason it wasn’t favourable. Just as well those feelings changed.

People don’t often get that it never felt like I was leaving anything behind. I knew what I discovered was so much more exciting than those other activities – which only ever felt like modes of getting by – could ever feel. People don’t get that its about exploring and expanding desires not prohibition. Life most of the time feels like denial, except when I practice. Veganism and daily yoga = boring as fuck right?? Some of my dear loved ones even feel that way. Maybe they got past the yoga stuff to realise I had a ‘personality’ or perhaps I do enough crazy poses for it to be ‘cool’ and after all surely I’m just in a phase.

We all make choices on how we live our lives, I mean the choices that we get left with after our lives are moulded by forces beyond our control. Rejecting normative fantasies and exploring alternative ideas of what is considered the ‘good life’ does not equate to abstinence and limits. I’ve certainly met many a self-confessed loudmouth rebel that bored me silly.

At weak moments, when I feel worn and threadlike, when I feel as though I am always on the precipice of a deep well terrified of what lies beneath, I have doubts about whether I am missing out on something. It can often feel as though I’m wandering the airless face of the moon alone, unable to share its fearful beauty with anyone. That’s why the interesting question for me is not what leads someone to start a yoga practice but why and how they maintained their practice. What sustenance is the practice giving them, what changes did they have to make in their lives to make room for it, what have they gained and what have we lost.

Maybe these thoughts don’t crop up in your typical Rocket Yoga class. Perhaps its the Lululemon-clad calorie obsessed yoga as fitness crowd that are giving yogis the boring reputation, or perhaps they’re making yoga more hip (read mainstream), I really couldn’t say.

Not sure I’m selling my practice too well by talking about non-happenings. So back to the buzzing.

I used to experience what I thought was sleep apnea, where I would stop breathing in my sleep and faint before waking gasping for air. My body would start to go numb and in my dream it felt as though I was falling without end. I was never sure why this happened. It might have been the large quantities of ibuprofen or the bottle of wine I used to consume each night. I stopped both and so too the dream fainting stopped.

The experience would always terrify me but afterwards the tingling sensation of my body, that first intake of breath, felt exciting. I felt my body paralysed and then revived again. I was numbing different types of pain with sedative causing substances: painkillers, alcohol, sleep. Yoga too began for me as another of these modes of getting by. The consolation prize at the end of the day was a yoga class instead of a bottle of wine. Difference being that instead of numbing me, the practice began to open me up. What this led to was all sorts of exposure to stuff. I can’t go into any more detail about what this means because its too personal, suffice to say, I learnt what it felt for the body to buzz and hum, in a very organic way. That’s where the drug kicks in. If someone asks me why I practice (and they do often, in curiosity, though now and again in accusation) I don’t know what to say. It feels like its beyond my control now.

If I were to attempt an answer I might say it feels like a homecoming. For me, love is feeling like you’re home. There’s no need to keep looking, there’s no further to travel, you’re home, you’re in love. Recently I learnt what this felt like when captured all inside one breathing moment.

And that’s about all I can say.