Underbelly • 1 September 2012

Ladyboys of Bangkok 1

The white tents of Denver airport showed up again, in Edinburgh. They're pitched in the Meadows in the middle of town, and home to one of the Fringe Festival’s naughty shows: The Ladyboys of Bangkok. For this past moon cycle, I’d pass each morning at 4, walking .8 miles north through the city to practice. The circus lights outside the empty tents would still be on… very Lost Boys. Those lights bounced off the peaked tarps, and the first sun from out over the Atlantic outlined the cragged dome of Arthur’s Seat.

There is a north-south promenade bisecting the Meadows, and a white line down its center. Pedestrians on the west, cyclists on the east. But at four in the morning during Festival, it was just me and couple dozen sweet, dancing drunks.

One morning was quiet: just me and another guy. He entered the top of the promenade as I entered the bottom a quarter-mile away. Under the lights, I could see him weaving. Like a drunk driver attempting to follow the white line down the road, his lurching made a helix. So I walked the line, shushumna to his pingala; me north to the shala, him godknowswhere. I was loving this order-chaos dance, but as we neared each other, he tripped over his heel, spun in a circle so that his canvas raincoat flapped like a sail, and then gently laid down in savasana. Then he moaned: Oh noooo ohhhhh noooooo ohhhh noooo. He was semiconscious, his breath deep, when I passed. Good place to sleep it off.

Further north, at the end of the commute, there is an inflatatable, upside-down cow udder. Like a bouncy-castle, but purple and enormous. It sits at the center of Bristo Square, the geographic heart of the Festival. There is an granite Benedictine church-hulk on the north side of this square: its monks have released the old rituals and given the space over to spirituality by other means: upstairs, a “wet” refuge for drunks who won’t go off the sauce, and in the basement, the yoga shala. And below that, I suspect by way of Patanjali’s methods, are layer upon layer of my ancestors' bones.

This whole zone of the city is called The Underbelly, in reference to the historic Cow Gate at the bottom of the next cobblestone hill. It took me two Festivals to understand that the giant purple bouncy castle was an udder, and that according to this metaphor we are all walking around on the belly of a gigantic tipped-over cow.

But since my first visit last August, I’ve called this shala—like the now defunct AYSF in The Haight—The Belly of the Whale. Jonah meets Matsyendra. Practice in that vestibule is hot and safe and honest. And, being a refinement process, said practice steeps in itself and finally gives more energy than it takes. There is a sort of purifying, attractive heat radiating out from that place, moving up, moving down, moving out. As above, so below.

For this intensive, the planners called our workshop Practice in the Belly of the Whale, and in the evenings I taught on Pratyhara. Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

I rather prefer imagining the shala in the belly of a whale than in the interlocking mala of a cow’s four stomachs; and then again, the shala owner's ishta devata is Ganesha. Whale, cow, elephant. Who knows. But it feels accurate to understand ourselves – doing this ashtanga yoga—as being digested over and over again by some huge immortal animal we can't quite perceive. 

11 Comments

  • Posted 2 September 2012 at 5:36 pm | #

    Geography hitch: sun comes up over Firth of Forth by way of the North Sea (or as Scottish swimmers say ‘the arctic ocean with a different name’). Swimming in that water is certainly a sense depravation into enlightened equanimity.

  • Posted 3 September 2012 at 4:46 pm | #

    I had to share: My husband had the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” playing just now and it made me think of your post, so that is now the soundtrack I have tagged for “Underbelly.”

    How cool to think of pratyhara as instead delighting in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves. I will certainly credit Insideowl if and when I borrow this concept. 😉

  • Posted 3 September 2012 at 5:29 pm | #

    Oh sheesh, how embarrassing. Gregor, I am actually enchanted by the Firth of Forth. Need to come back to spend much more time on its shores, according to my last cab driver. Last week, a walk on the Water of Leith pretty much overwhelmed my sense pleasures outward and inward. Anyway, if the sun does not rise from the Atlantic over Arthur’s Seat, wheretofore is there pink above said knob in the picture above? Fringe fireworks?

    Rose… I honestly taught two weeks of nightly seminars on this topic. We had from 2-10 students per class. That seems like a lot for pratyhara workshops. 🙂 The studio and I didn’t really advertise them. In keeping with the teachings of the Hathayogapradipika, I am really conservative about shifting the focus of practice from the physical layer to the deeper ones. But when a student finds herself drawn to the subtler koshas (as all your recent writings, especially the last post, experess) well then, ROCK AND ROLL.

    That said, I’m thinking of being a little less conservative with this blog. I figure if people actually have the attention span to read it, then what I’m going to offer is some explicit, maybe even bawdy, summonses to engage the practice as an uncompromising meditation. Pratyhara is just a particular set of techniques for doing this…

  • catygray
    Posted 4 September 2012 at 8:55 pm | #

    You didn’t bother to dip the wallet of this sozzled savanyasin? You have been at all of this for years and not learned a thing about appropriate adjustments. Would it not have been a small, crepuscular kindness to have desisted his drammled deviations from correct method?

    At least you have (finally) understood the need to pimp your blog. Orientalize the font, embed some tanha-inducing toe-touch tips, guide your notoriously parsimonious perusers towards the lotus petal patina’d products you know full well are pre-requiste purchases for the parampetically-parted to progress in this son-of-Peleus inspired purushushumnal projection and sort some proper fucking name-dropping sidebar references out, too. Add a few bits and bobs about books, orphans, jocular syphilitic Indian ladies and house plants and you might have a product twee enough for customers to engage with in numbers greater than the seven back-ricked rhetoricians which constitute your current readership.

    And. Please. Do not use phrases like ‘feels accurate’. They make your pitch seem off-puttingly profound.

  • Posted 5 September 2012 at 12:56 am | #

    Oh Carlos. You are nobly green, not gray; and yet each verse of thine, outdoes the owl, outdoes her broken vowels. So ok; no more feelings of accuracy. I’ve grown rusty.

    Regarding your question, I didn’t want to touch our sanyassin’s nether parts, of course. Some things aren’t worth said green. So I won’t pimp any more than I will grope. How boring.

    But do you suppose nobody is looking…? Soon the overfed ashtanga-internet will collapse back on itself. 3.0 is folding. But some avatars still keep showing up. Prakriti is funny like that.

  • Posted 5 September 2012 at 11:20 am | #

    Um. the pink, any pink, in the sky in Scotland is from faeries, like swarms of moths. They come from Denmark which is due east of Edinburgh, Denmark not being anywhere near the Atlantic, cause there is a big line dividing the atlantic from the north sea, somewhere off the north coast of Scotland. Yes it’s connected, I’d be happier if it was the Indian Ocean which in some way is also the same body of water! Genesis did a nice song called the Firth of Fifth, nice live version on Seconds Out. More bawdy/mind!

  • Jamie
    Posted 5 September 2012 at 11:49 pm | #

    I’d go with feeling and accuracy.

  • Posted 8 September 2012 at 8:44 pm | #

    Oh, J.

    I finally understand, Gregor. North Sea. Faeries. Bawdymind. Genesis.

    More time in Scotland is needed.

    Something good on ecstasy blues and killing hope.

  • catygay
    Posted 15 September 2012 at 4:32 pm | #

    Well we do try to make a neccesity out of a rather dubious virtue and, of course, there are some of us who just wont have the sand-clogged hemp cloth and head rag eschatology of the mean spirited denizens of the Haus of MoMo. Yet perhaps our time is running straight now and this, the last tracheal thunder of creation is less the booming breath which clears the kalpic cough than a zephyrous Zinfadel mist to soften the West windings.

    Not felt so sad since Cuivienen, I’m afraid. Bookings are down a bit, too, which is most disconcerting.

  • Posted 16 September 2012 at 1:51 am | #

    Oh Carlos. I know. Your stock is sliding. I’ll revive the good days of 2008 for you. When your bookings were on the rise, and eschatologies were all tagged to our oh-so-unapocalyptic 2012.

    I thought I’d do a group retreat on Dec 21 this year. Conveniently, a Saturday. Nobody will notice.

    Who’s MoMo?

  • catygay
    Posted 22 September 2012 at 10:44 am | #

    MoMo? ‘Moses&Mohammed’ – last year’s spring collection was, i am told, the most promising for years. From the eyrie it looks much the same to me, but i do enjoy the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ aesthetic their work inspires.

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