Friday, January 31, 2014

Musings from Hampi

Yeah man, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to be here. Rule breaker. Travel rebel. My friend Jason would be proud I think. Only minutes from my guest house, but off the main road nevertheless. I'm happy.  Barely anyone is here wandering through rice paddies, climbing rocks, in the mid day heat.

For sunset sure. For sunset they will pack their provisions, buy chai from children and "chill" boulder high smoking mediocre weed and singing poorly, but with all their hearts, songs by Dylan and Bono and John.  Today I can see where they played last night.  Plastic and ash.  Litter for the goats.  It paints the landscape like some graffiti stains walls.  Maybe one day we'll be banned from here like we are from entering the Lotus Mahal which has the marks of forbidden lovers I can only imagine are like those that span Chamundhi Hill.

"What are you searching for?" asked the Israeli boy matter-of-factly. He was twenty two, really not such a child post three year army term. I tried not to be one of those thirty-three year olds who calls a twenty-two year old a boy, but it was hard. I forgave myself, remembering all the thirty three year olds I also called boys.

"I'm not searching for anything," I said. And it was true.

Sure, searching never ends, or life ends. Yearning, learning, beginner mindset are all daily mantras I hold dear, but I'm not on a quest here.

I'm okay.

He was looking for a girlfriend. He told me. An Israeli girl or maybe an American Jew. Was I Jewish? Yes. He could tell by my nose. The other wanted me to stand to see some defining Israeli characteristic that was clearly below belt. I declined and sadly never did find out which quality of which part makes Jewess.


They seemed like best of friends. I imagined them going to war together, vowing to take Hampi and Goa and where ever else Israeli's go as soon as they got out, but when I inquired I found they'd met last week.Travel does that though. It binds people together, especially people seeking themselves but really seeking another.  Am I wrong? I'm proposing.

I was always an outsider looking in. Though lately I'll have an experience. Lately I'll try groups, immerse, bond, play, etc.  So many people smarter than I have said we humans are social creatures. Not meant to be alone. Some calling solitude an illness. That, I'm not sure. Somewhere there's always a balance. Somewhere always two opposites are true. (That's another blog, a favorite topic of mine.)

For this blog I'll conclude like this: Travel is lovely. Quite time is good. So is talking to people. I hope every traveler finds her way. I think broken hearts are mended on river boats and rice paddies. Nature is a real healer. The quiet way she softens. The shocking way she clears. If there's any nature left I'm sure we'll always be healed.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Conference Notes: January 26th, 2014

The topic of this week's conference was Bandhas.  Sharath said that students always ask why we talk about Posture, Breath, and Gaze in regards to the focal points in our asana practice but not about Bandhas.  This is because Bandhas are meant to be engaged all the time, not only during asana practice.

Bandha means stopping or sealing and involves a contraction at the specified area. The three most important Bandhas for us to know about are Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and M.  Jalandhara involves bringing the chin toward the next to lock the throat.  Uddiyana is engaged by contracting the area of the lower abdomen located 4 inches below the belly button.  Mula Bandha is found by engaging the muscles of pelvic floor located between the genitals and the anus.

Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha should always be active.  Guruji said that one should turn on Mula Bandha each morning like a light switch and keep it all day until turning it off for bed. (My note.) Jalandhara Bandha is used primarily in pranayama and in some asanas but is not engaged constantly. Sharath said there are many shastras explaining the benefits of the Bandhas and one main effect is the yogi appears to be quite young, even in old age.  (Looking around the room I noted the numerical ages of my peers and nodded in agreement that the slowing and even reversing of the aging process is a visible effect of the yoga practice.)

Sharath went on to explain that all of us are made up of the Pancha Bhutas (five elements): earth, water, air, sky, and fire.  The source of these elements is the Supreme Power or Supreme Energy. (Sharath explains that he is now avoiding the use of the word G-d because it scares people away).  The source to controling the mind is Mula Bandha.  The one who masters Mula Bandha becomes a Raja Yogi (King Yogi).

How does Mula Bandha come?  (Like everything else) through practice.  Sharath explained that we don't know when it will come because it is not a holding like holding a mat bag.  The Bandha in an internal energy that when it is tapped into heals each organ and gives the body supreme strength, especially in the lower abdomen.  

Sharath noted that if Mula Bandha comes, Uddiyana Bandha comes automatically, and vice versa.  He said many struggle with Karandavasana even though they have strong arms and this is because their Bandhas are weak, mentioning that this is also the case with those who have difficulty jumping through forward and back in their vinyasas.  Sharath said that once one is connect to her Bandhas there is a feeling like flying in the practice.  The whole body comes into her control.

The other element to attaining this kind of control of the body is concentration.  With proper concentration, the asana practice becomes a meditation and Dhyana happens automatically.  Sharath said that this is what we should build.  We should bring that meditation to practice in our asana.

Q: A student asked if they have a dedicated student who is stuck at a certain pose for a couple years, for example Marichasana D, and not binding, is there ever an exception where Sharath would give them the next pose.

Sharath gave a swift, "No" before going on to say that there is no pose a student can't get if he practices it in the proper way.  It may take years, but it will come.  If it isn't coming that is due to too much thinking or fear.  Then the body will resist.  But eventually the pose will come.  (There are some exceptions which Sharath did elaborate on but I leave out since it applies only to yoga teachers.)

Q: Another question was about how to practice the Bandhas.

Sharath said to work on holding them especially in Podmasana while breathing.  The lower belly should not move, only the chest.  He also highlighted Utpluthi and Navasana as important asanas for strengthening Mula Bandha and the waist, noting that when one strengthens the waist, the Bandhas get stronger.

Q: There was a funnily phrased question about what Sharath means when he says "inhale lift up, exhale jump back".

Sharath said he means "inhale lift up, exhale jump back".  He expounded saying that the student should first learn how to lift upward and only then kick the legs back.  They shouldn't try to jump back all at once especially if they don't have the lift.  (Land Yoga students have heard me say this 100x)  Sharath also made a point to say that learning to jump back can take many years of practice.

Q: A student asked Sharath to show us some breathing techniques he had mentioned previously.

Sharath showed a very simple alternate side breathing with no retention and equal lengths inhale and exhale.  He explained the benefits of this technique which include getting rid of allergies, relieving nose blockages, curing asthma and reducing stress and anxiety.

"Breath controls the mind", Sharath said.  When we are stressed our breathing pattern changes.  We lose control of our breath when we have too much emotion and its rhythm is lost.  Stress, anger, even too much happiness/laughing can disrupt the breath.  Sharath encouraged us to sit in a corner and practice the alternate side breathing when we are feeling "like hitting (someone)".

Q: Someone asked how to help a student when they have fear in an asana.

Sharath said that when one is stuck in fear, the fear is dominating where the person should be dominating the fear.  The student needs to work it out.  "A little fear is good, " Sharath said with a smile, "No fear, No fun." He also noted that by daily practice the student should be able to let the fear go.  Fear represents some weakness and yoga practitioners have to be "a little bit brave."  To see ones inward purity, one has to let go of fear.  Only a yogi who has no fear will be able to see the purity inside and recognize his purest form.

Sharath shared a story about Vivekananda, one of India's most important yogis and the man credited with bringing yoga to the west.  Vivekananda came to the US in 1893 to teach people yoga, but many were scared.  One man told Vivekananda that he didn't look like a gentleman because he wasn't wearing a blazer.  Vivekandanda responded that in the West a tailor makes you a gentleman, but in India only by purifying the inside does one become a gentleman.  By how one behaves, reacts, and by ones thoughts does one become a gentleman.  Not by blazer wearing and not by saffron wearing either.  By looks no one can become a gentleman.

The believe in India is that everyone is born a Yogi.  Our true nature is that of a yogi and until 6 or so years of age we are close to G-d like.  By our environment we are taught greed and cheating and move away from our true nature.  (As Sharath spoke these words you could hear children outside laughing playfully.)

Q: There was a question about why Japa is done at night and not in the morning time. 

Sharath responded that we have our yoga practice in the morning.  After that by engaging with the world and with each other we will have many distractions.  If we do Japa at the end of the day (about 1/2 hour before bed) we will clear our worries and sleep well.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Allison L. Trip 2

"There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart." - Mahatma Gandhi

Photo Credit: Christine Love Hewitt

Reflections on My Second Trip to India

Soon I’ll be departing India and heading back to NYC to return to
normal American urban life.  This trip went by remarkably fast and I’m
honestly very sad to leave.  I realize only now that my first trip to
India allowed me to adjust to the culture and lifestyle of a yoga
student; I had never experienced jet lag and been away from loved ones
for so long before.  The first three-week trip was a sufficient amount
of time and I was ready to go by the end.  This time around the time
flew by, I was eager to start practice and get into the slowed down
pace of life and soak-up the warm Indian sun; no more home-sick
feelings or adjusting to a foreign place.  This time of year the shala
is packed and with that comes a stronger sense of community with
practitioners from all over the world.  Everyone is here for the same
purpose, to practice, learn and connect with the lineage.

I am truly blessed to have the time, resources and guidance of a
extraordinary teacher to make this trip possible, but I have realized
that the next trip needs to be at least a month to fully delve into my
practice (not just the physical aspects).  I have come to the full
awareness that my practice and self have grown to a point where I am
ready to dedicate myself to more intensive study, making me re-align
my priorities for the year 2014.

If I could describe this second trip in one word I would pick
strength.  I realize this trip was about building strength within the
primary series and becoming a stronger person to face fears on & off
of the mat.  While many asnas are still (and may always be) difficult
and I am certainly not the strongest person – in India feel strong & I
am very inspired by the community of practitioners and feel connected
to the practice.  Many people, including friends, family, and
acquaintances ask about what I gain from the trip and it’s not always
a simple explanation.  I can tell you, however, that there is one way
to dig deeper into the devotional, meditative, and empowering nature
of the practice and that is to study with the current holders of the
lineage in Mysore, India.

I hope to continue to build strength, be inspired, and develop a
devotional practice upon returning to NYC.  It will be hard to say
goodbye to India after such a short trip but I will leave moved by the
practice, places, and people I have met and wish to keep them in my

Monday, January 20, 2014

Porter G. Year One

Since opening Land Yoga in June of 2011 I have offered my students a chance to join me on my annual India pilgrimage. So far two have accepted: Allison who came last year and again this year, and Porter who made his first trip this year.

Porter is an artist and his approach to India was to feel its colors and experience its rhythm.  He used a polaroid camera early on in the trip which was a big hit amongst the Indians we met.  Later he relied more on his digital devices.  During his time here Porter was a source of inspiration to me, helping me re-image our spaces at Land adding an Indian flare.

Upon leaving Porter expressed that though he didn't have the experience he imagined, he had the experience he needed, and he was very grateful.

Here's what Porter had to say about his first trip to Mysore, India for study at the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute:

I found the people of Mysore to be very soulful, caring and kind. They naturally and humbly embodied the Yamas and Niyamas that are the first two limbs of Ashtanga.

I loved my teacher Saraswathi’s 6:30 a.m. daily mysore class. She has a no nonsense style and simply told me “you do”. Yet in her actions she was maternal, loving and caring and every day she got her 73 year old body on the floor with this sweaty westerner and help adjust me in the postures that are difficult for me. I made  a lot of progress with my physical practice and this trip allowed me the time and space to go inward and return to New York more balanced and content, having let go of many unnecessary obstacles that have been in my way.

A special thank you to my teacher Lara and my fellow student Allison for sharing this incredible adventure. I would recommend it to anyone thinking about staying in one place and going deep.


All the photos below were taken by Porter during his two weeks in Mysore.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Conference Notes 1/9/14


Sharath started by talking about Surya Namaskara.  He said everyday when we practice, whether it is primary intermediate, or advanced we always start with Surya Namaskara.  This is because it is very good for health.  Surya means the sun and the sun is the God of Health.

Aruna Prashnamis the Vedic chant that explains how the sun gives us good health.  Sharath quoted one of the most famous Vedic Hymns in praise of the Sun God:

aum bhadram karnebhih shrunuyaama devaah
bhadram pashyemaakshabhiryajatraah
sthirairangaistushhtuvaansastanuubhirvyashema devahitam yadaayuh
svasti na indro vriddhashravaah svasti nah puushhaa vishvavedaah
svasti nastaarkshyo arishhtanemih svasti no brihaspatirdadhaatu
aum shaantih shaantih shaantih

Om! O Devas, may we hear with our ears what is auspicious; May we see with our eyes what is auspicious, O ye worthy of worship! May we enjoy the term of life allotted by the Devas, Praising them with our body and limbs steady! May the glorious Indra bless us! May the all-knowing Sun bless us! May Garuda, the thunderbolt for evil, bless us! May Brihaspati grant us well-being!

Om! Peace, Peace, Peace!

Sharath said our body should be strong and healthy and we get that from the Sun God.  This is why we start with Surya Namaskara.  He mentioned that many different yoga people do different styles of Surya Namaskara but ours is scientific because of the breathing.  Surya Namaskara A has nine vinyasas and B has 17.  Sharath noted that doing 108 Sun Salutations is not necessary.  We should do max 7 of A and 5 of B if we have the time (not in the KPAYI shala in January!) or 5 of A and 3 of B is also okay.  He mentioned that there is a puja where one goes around the fire doing 108 Sun Salutations but that is if someone is sick.

The sun is so important, Sharath said, that in India when a baby is born the mother or grandmother brings it out on it's 3rd or 4th day at sun rise to get the rays from the sun for good health.

The other reason that Surya Namaskara is so important is that it warms up the body.  Sharath said he knows that many students think they are going to a competition and stretch themselves before practice.  He warned that you can injure yourself this way, especially those doing hanumanasana pre practice and reminded us that it is not necessary.

Sharath told the story of the origin of Surya Namaskara which came from Guruji.  Guruji studied many manuscripts and by piecing them together came up with Surya Namasakara.  He showed what he put together to Krishnamacharya and it was approved.  Sharath noted that both men were scholars and that the process of creating something like this Surya Namaskara can only be valid when multiple scholars are in agreement.

The importance of health was a major theme in conference.  Sharath reminded us that bad health is one of the obstacles to progressing in ones spiritual practice.  (The others are inertia, doubt, inattentiveness, lack of energy, proneness to sensuality, mistaken views, not being able to maintain the progress attained, unsteadiness in progression.) (Patanjali's Yoga Sutras Verse 1.30) Also, we should realize that just strength doesn't mean you are healthy.  Health means full physical and mental health.  Yoga balances us.  It works our physical health and makes our mind stable.

Sharath warned that western countries have so many options it is easy to get distracted.  So many options creates confusion.  This is true for the west's yoga offerings as well.  We should understand that yoga is not something that comes in 15 days.  It takes 15 years to know what yoga is.  It takes a very long time to stabilize the mind and the body.

Fast coming will fast go.  Slow coming will last forever.

When we start yoga we experience many things physically and mentally.  For six months we might be extremely focused and then suddenly we don't want to do yoga.  Nothing is happening.  There are many ups and downs in the practice.  Sometimes all the asanas are easy.  Sometimes pain comes and suddenly  we don't enjoy practice.  When you become wiser in your practice where there is pain you will enjoy that also.  It is sweet pain.

Going back to his point about the practice bringing us mental stability, Sharath compared our minds to Lombard Street in San Francisco or to Off-roading.  He said the mind goes through different terrains.  Sometimes it is smooth like an expressway and sometimes it goes off road through rocks, sand dunes, hills, etc.  Sharath compared yoga to a four-wheel drive land cruiser.  He said if you do yoga properly it becomes terrain management for the mind.  This is why it is very important not to stop practicing whether we have a flexible day or a tight day.  We should take both equally and definitely not stand around the coconut stand talking about our "bad practice".

Sharath spoke about life, saying that we have good and bad experiences.  We can't always have good.  We must have bad times also, but this is what shows us the value of the good.  He said that how we keep ourselves stable and straight minded through these extremes is what is important.

Then he quoted the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Sloka 38.

Sukah dukha same kritva labha alabho jaya ajayau
Tatah yuddhaya yujasva na evam papam avapsyasi

Treating alike pain & pleasure, gain & loss, victory & defeat, engage yourself in battle.  Thus you will incur no sin.

Sharath pointed out the words for profit and loss, again saying how important it is to take all things equally: 

What I'm telling you now, your bending your body is not all yoga.  How you manage your emotions, everything, that is yoga.  I'm not going to say how you bend is not important.  It is important.  But that itself is not the final stage of yoga.


Next Sharath took questions.  I'll recap a few points from the Q & A:

If you have fever you should take a day's rest.  If you have a cold you can take self practice at home and do some breathing techniques which clear the congestion.

When jumping into Chaturanga Dandasana one should jump straight into Catuari position, not jump back and lower down.

Don't stretch before practice.  You can get injured.  You can also get injured by going to unexperienced teachers.  Adjusting correctly takes research.  If you want to be a teacher you should train for 15 years with one teacher.  You do not learn by teacher training but by doing your Sadhana and dedicating yourself to the practice for many years.  There is no way around this folks! (my note)  Sharath quoted this Gita again and spoke about our responsibility to protecting the truth.

In further response to a question about teacher training, Sharath spoke about the energy in the shala.  He noted that he knows he can't please everybody, but said surely everyone has had a real experience.  He said everyone here must acknowledge they have felt the energy of what Guruji created and once one has had that experience he/she knows parapara (the passing down of knowledge through a teacher-disciple lineage).  He encouraged us to come back annually to grow our physical and spiritual practices.

When asked about the future Sharath said that future generations should be guided properly.  The meaning of yoga has already changed and if we don't teach as we learned it will change all the more so in 100 years.  

Yoga should be for self transformation.  It is nothing else.

(Only) how it can take you to greater levels of consciousness.

You will go through many things in your life and in your practice and then you will know the true meaning of 'Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah'

Friday, January 17, 2014

Just Keep Going

first trip to India

When I began my yoga practice I could not touch my toes.  I was not particularly strong or flexible.  I was definitely not especially coordinated or well balanced.  I was frustrated a lot.  So why did I continue?  I knew, by which I mean I felt in the place where one feels truth, that yoga was good for me.

I tried a lot of yoga but there was only one class I liked.  It was called Power Yoga and it was taught by this tiny, toned, blond lady.  I didn't realize until years later that it was actually an Ashtanga Yoga class I was doing.

I didn't like chanting.  I didn't like depictions of Hindu Gods.  I didn't like most other yoga students.  I just felt it was good for me.  I just kept going.

In Brooklyn I found a Led Ashtanga class.  I quit all other types of yoga and committed myself to taking class at least 4 times a week.  I often went more.  I got the chills.  I got fever.  I was achy, hungry, and exhausted.  I suddenly became a napper.  This went on for four months straight.  I was also exhilarated.  I felt I found a secret something and I just had to keep going to where I didn't know.  Things were changing.  My body was opening.  I began to trust the practice and take more risks.  I learned to stand on my head.

One day I heard students talking to my teacher about something called Mysore style.  I had no idea what that was.  I had no idea what Ashtanga was.  My teacher told me it was time for me to study with a teacher who taught this Mysore style.  She had been right about so much already so I did what she said.  She gave me three names and a brief sentence about each person.  I made a choice.  I went.  When I arrived I said my teacher sent me, explained what I'd been practicing and what I thought I knew.  I got a grunt.  I didn't feel welcomed.  I didn't feel coddled and loved and "shanti-ed".  Inside I wanted to run but instead I stayed.

I repeated to myself that this yoga practice was for me, not for anyone else.  Not the teacher and not the other students in the room.  I said this every day and I just kept showing up.  I'd arrive early.  6:30am.  I was in my 20's but I wasn't doing what 20 something year olds do.  I had to get enough sleep to make it to class rested and on time.  I had to eat well and the right amounts.  The practice caused me to create a disciplined life around it.

My teacher started talking to me.  Asking me to do things I wasn't sure I could do.  I felt more fear so I said to myself, "this is fear" and I kept going.  Somehow naming it helped.  Each time I faced a fear and moved through it I reaffirmed my ability to recognize and defy the feeling.  I was touching my toes by then and doing lots of things I never thought I could do with my body, but more importantly  I was refining my mind.

Outside of class I recognized the feeling, "this is fear" and I sustained the same mantra, "just keep going".  "You can stop at anytime.  You are in control.  Just keep going."  At the same time I had a complete Paradigm shift.  I was an A student with an A-type personality and I had always been taught to work hard to achieve more.  But yoga screamed the opposite.  Yoga taught, "let go, you'll go further".  "Do less, you'll do more".  It tripped me out.  It opened my eyes to all the places in my life I was working just to work, all the areas where I was missing the point.

eighth trip to India

Then the opportunity came to go to India and spend a month at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute.  It was a no brainer.  I jumped at a chance to experience India and find out more about what this Ashtanga thing was all about.  I bopped around blissfully for those thirty days.  Smiling my way through a practice that seemed suddenly so effortless and transported.  I took cold bucket baths.  I went to temples.  I saw another way that people live.  At the end of the trip my teacher said, "Next time you come three months".  He seemed serious.  It seemed right.  All along I had trusted in the process and it had supported me.  I went home, saved up for six months and flew back for a three month trip.

Seven years later I'm on my eighth trip to Mysore, India.  This time two students are with me.  I have my own yoga shala and a fully established way of life which melds my India and New York selves.  I have patience.  I have trust.  I believe in my mind's ability to perceive at extremely subtle levels.  I understand the difference between thinking I know something intellectually, and true knowledge which creates practical change.  I am becoming more and more skilled at transferring that kind of deep knowing to my students.

And still I feel I'm a total beginner.  I really do.  There is so much I don't know.  There are poses I don't know, levels of mediation I have not explored, so many questions I have not yet answered.  I keep returning to this place because I am still a student and will always be a student.  There are so many things I don't know, but so many things I believe I could.  The practice has given me that belief.  It has broken every self imposed ceiling until I've had no choice but to trust it.  It has challenged me, and supported me and given me a structure to live by.

So many people ask why I keep coming to India.  When you find truth you want to be near it.  You want to go deeper.  Each time I'm asked that question I feel fear bubble up.  I experience the sensation of self-doubt as I see myself reflected in critical eyes.  It barely touches me though, my mechanisms are strongly in place.  When I feel fear automatically I hear, "This is fear.  Just keep going."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Conference Notes: January 12, 2014

In my opinion the way the conference started was the most notable thing, especially in light of how conference ended.  Sharath THANKED us, his students.  HE thanked US for making room for each other and adjusting to the crowdedness.  He told us that they were doing their best at the shala to fulfill every students needs both in terms of asana and spiritual development.  He took the time out to say those things and it touched me very deeply.  It also embarrassed me.  I mean there he is, sleeping something like 3 hours a night, working crazy hours looking into each of our practices and I believe, our souls, and he's thanking us.  It was humbling. It was touching. It was embarrassing.  It was real.  And I think it makes a good beginning to this blogs ending, but I'm skipping ahead...

"Yoga is not doing. Yoga is happening."

Sharath then dove into conference.  He spoke about his grandfather, Guruji and how he brought Ashtanga yoga to light.  He explained the definition of Ashtanga, 8 limbs, and went into the elements of first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, noting that the first three limbs (Yama, Niyama, Asana) are external but without them the internal limbs will not happen.  Sharath pointed out how hard it is to follow the Yamas and Niyamas and encouraged us to practice them while doing our asana practice.  He said that once one has rooted himself in the Yamas and Niyamas, he will automatically go to the higher levels.  One can not get there (close to G-d, enlightenment, infinite) if one has dirt or blockages inside and out.

Sharath said one of the biggest problems he sees is with Brahmacharya (celibacy or being true to one's partner).  He also spoke quite lengthily about Asteya (stealing) sharing the subtler layers of stealing which I have found extremely important to be careful of.  He said taking easy money can be stealing and to be wary of it.  He also warned (and I follow this strictly) that one should not take gifts that were not earned or too many gifts from one person.

Next Sharath spoke about Saucha (cleanliness) and the two kinds: internal and external.  He spent more time on internal cleanliness, making clear that it involves good thoughts, good actions, a purified nervous system, eating pure food and more.  Santosha (contentment) has to do with being satisfied with what one has.  Sharath said that happiness comes from developing this.

He then spoke of Tapas which he said is to lead a disciplined life.  He made sure we understood that this doesn't mean hurting ourselves.  It involves keeping to a schedule and avoiding things that disturb our practice.  This included poor eating and having too much food especially at night time.

Sharath spoke of Svadhyaya (self study), saying it does not mean you don't need a teacher.  The Guru brings out the light inside of the student.  He noted (and I thought it was an important point) that the relationship between Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana is very close.  This has to do with the element of surrender.  Sharath shared how he sees many people have a fear of surrendering but encouraged us to do so noting that it is not the kind of white flag surrender which sends you to prison! Once the mind and body are pure it is easy to connect to a higher energy.  Sharath said the best way is through Japa.  We should chant a mantra that speaks to us daily a half hour before bed.  By constant chanting you go into a different stage and connect to the divine.  BUT you can't just chant and have bad thoughts in your head, you must do it meaningfully and devotionally or it is better not to chant at all.

Sharath said you can practice yoga for 35 years but unless you try to follow the yamas and niyamas it has NO MEANING.

"It's (yoga) my life, not my living.  My life."

A student asked about pain in asana from trying perhaps too hard.  Sharath suggested that this pain shows what you did in your life before yoga (sports, etc).  He implored us to give time for our bodies to change.  He also noted that yoga is not a competition and sometimes people get hurt because they look at others and try to do what they see others doing even if it is not right for them.  

"Yoga is self transformation."

"Yoga is 100% good.  It's people who have spoiled it... Yoga is like the sun.  The sun has no time. It was here before us.  It gives us solar energy and good health.  But what will happen if you look at the sun with a telescope? You'll burn yourself.  How you utilize it is very important."

Finally a student asked about the pushing to get into the shala and to get a good spot close to the teacher in led classes.  How do you think Sharath responded?  Do you think he spoke of Ahimsa (non harm)?  Or gave some peace, love, shanti shanti quote?  Wrong.  He talked about all the different cultures where there is pushing and shoving.  He pointed out the rushing to no where which is New York City. 

And he said this: 

"When you do your pilgrimage it's not easy.  Nothing will disturb you.  Your aim is to see God.  If it becomes easy it is not a pilgrimage.  It's a tourist spot... I agree pushing is not a good thing, but when you are eager to see God, to experience something--  Everyone wants to experience that."


The amazing thing is this- Sharath doesn't see harmful pushing.  He sees students aching to learn.  He started conference thanking us for making it all work, for making room for each other.  I don't see so much pushing either.  Sure there are crowds and there is a movement forward and sometimes it is intense, but I see January in Mysore (busy) and I'm so glad, so grateful to be able to be here amongst the warmth and the intensity and the gathering of people from all over the world that go nuts to get into that room.  That room has a power that draws us to it, and we are also making the power... full power... Mysore Style.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

a Conference & a Couple days In

We are here.  Me and my two daring, dedicated students, Porter and Allison.  We didn't get here quickly.  We took the only route there is to India, the long one.  The night before we left we were at Land Yoga Shala for the New Years Eve Candle Lit Class and Meditation.  Twenty-four students arrived ready to purge themselves of all that didn't work in 2013 and emerge clean, clear, & open for 2014.  It was breath-taking.  I helped each student to recite a mantra and we set fire literally what they wrote they wanted no longer.  Then we practiced half primary series in a circular formation, each mat lit by candle light and Guruji's image at the front surrounded by flames and fresh flowers.  Our practice was dedicated to letting go and creating space.  After the asana practice I talked the students through a 25 minute meditation to enhance the feeling of openness, forgiveness, and readiness for what's next.  We concluded the night with a blissful chanting of OM and as midnight struck and I could sense we all entered 2014 with a feeling of presence and excitement.

I stayed up all night.  5:15AM the car came and the journey began... 32 hours to Mysore, India.  It's hard to explain what happens to the brain, body, and spirit on a journey like that.  One enters a different zone.  It's trying, but I have to admit I like it.  I need it.  The hours provide the space I need to transition out of western and prepare to enter eastern life.  I sleep and sleep and during that sleep I heal and digest and when I arrive in India I feel more ready.  And one has to be ready, because India is always coming for you.  India is the mother who will give you every lesson you need.  She will love you, but it won't be easy.  You will take your medicine.  You may at times be punished.  But if you go with flow, if you try to listen to her heartfelt directions, you will flourish.  Ma is good.

We checked into Green Hotel and because India wanted it so, we have 4 glorious nights here before moving into our "permanent" home for the month on Shala road.  We've registered for our classes at KPJAYI, done a good deal of scarf and bangle shopping, there was some pool time, and today we climbed to the top of Chamundi Hill stopping at the Shiva Temple and receiving all the blessings and prasad we could.  It was wonderful. It was my eighth time to the top and it may have been my favorite, which just shows how mood and company and weather and all those funny factors can make any experience.

But that peak wasn't THE peak.  The high of the day was our first Conference of the trip.  Sharath gives Conference on Sundays and it's like getting filled up with your favorite most nourishing food.  That's the best way I can explain it.  It's divine.  Just sitting near Sharath and feeling his words makes me so happy.  In Sanskrit there are four levels of translation to any passage and though Sharath speaks in English, I believe we have this too.  I always try to hear the deepest meaning, the essence, of his speech.

Here's what he had to say today:

Sharath began with a reminder of the importance of quality of breath.  There is a believe that we have a set amount of breaths in our lifetime so by drawing out the breath and taking fewer breaths each day we can increase our lifespan.  There are also asanas that extend life by preserving Amrita Bindu (vital energy).  The most important are Sarvangasana and Sirsasana with all their variations.  Sharath made a point to say that these asanas can be practiced by anyone, even some with blood pressure issues, if done correctly (no pressure on the head) and under the guidance of a qualified teacher.  Then he demonstrated!

A student asked about having imbalance between the right and left sides of his body.  He felt that because podmasana is always right foot first that this would increase the imbalance.  Sharath reminded him of asanas like Marichasana D where left food does go into the podmasana position.  In podmasana right foot is always first because of pressure you want on the liver and spleen and also because that is what the shastras say.

Later another student asked about why we do the right side of each posture first and Sharath gave a beautiful explanation about energy flow.  What I took is that he really wanted people to understand that it's not that right is good and left is bad.  (His daughter is left-handed.)  But there is a natural energy flow which occurs through out the body.  Energy flows in through the right side and then around and out the left.  Remember what I said earlier about Mother India- Go With the Flow!  Sharath compared it to another energetic flow int he body, the digestive process, and told a rather graphic story of Krishnamacharya explaining that though you have two holes in the body, there is one you put food into and one it comes out of.  Similarly, each part and side of the body has a different energetic purpose. 

Sharath spoke about perfecting one asana before even thinking of the next and quoted Guruji as saying an asana must be done 1,000 times before it is perfected.  At the same time, Sharath also reminded the group that practice isn't to be judged by how well one thinks one had performed his asanas or a particular asana that day (for example catching ones heals in back bending).  It's being on the mat and doing ones practice that is in itself having a good practice and he reiterated how important this was to remember.

He spoke of the obstacles to "long termed, uninterrupted, devotional practice" and specifically expounded on lazinesses.  Sharath said that the day you feel too lazy to get out of bed is a day that laziness is dominating you.  You should dominate it by defying it and doing your practice that day.  He said, as I've often heard him say, and have experienced myself, that the day you do that will be your best practice and your mind will become very strong from defying its obstacles.

This prompted a student to ask about self doubt to which Sharath replied that doubt is good because with out doubt there can be no improvement.  If we think we are perfect we have no where to go.  When one knows what one needs to work on, that self knowledge is very good.  It can't end there, though.  Improving self means making in effort in that direction.  One shouldn't get stuck in self pity but move forward using the Yamas and Niyamas as a guide.