31 March 2009

I have heard these words inside me

The narrator of the Gateways of Light video says that we are coming to some type of major defining moment in our history and "those people who are meant to unfold through this are unfolding and are doing it pretty rapidly."

Words similar to those above were said to me about 15 years ago when I got back on this yogic and spiritual path. The first time I talked with a spiritual adept she stopped and looked me in the eyes. She said that the world as we know it will seem to split into two camps, and that those who have been working on their inner life will ascend while the others...well, it will take them a bit longer, so maybe not in their present lifetimes. Then she said, "and you will be part of this ascension on a global level, part of the new paradigm." At the time I said nothing and took it with a grain of salt, merely nodding my head. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

I've had more than few conversations like that in 15 years, and things that were told to me have come to fruition, slowly but surely. Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that I would experience "divine grace" around 2010. At the time I did not even know what divine grace meant so I shrugged it off.

But I will be at the Kumbh Mela next year, the "great festival of the pot of nectar of immortality", on an auspicious day and I've known in my bones for a long time that something will happen to me. I can't say what, but something is calling me there like nothing else has ever done. I can't explain it so I just let it be. I surrender. I have felt the shakti in certain temples in South India and have broken down. I surrendered. I've even thought that maybe I will die in India, and if so, all things happen for a reason. At least I will be on the Ganges and my body can be burned.

The narrator speaks of the disconnectedness of this world and I have seen this more and more in even long time yoga students, their disconnection from their bodies, the fear of closing their eyes. Students I've been teaching for over 5 years are suddenly like beginners again and they have no explanation. It is as if they have become afraid to feel.

I truly believe that all the turmoil that is happening in the world today is meant to be -- the economy, the layoffs, the environment. This Kali Yuga is a cycle. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin the climb back up. Sometimes you have to lose everything in order to wake up.

My time on the cushion now brings me much more satisfaction than asana ever did. Sure I feel good physically after asana practice, but it's always a dance between forms and formlessness. As Gary Kraftsow said, " isn't about getting to know the postures. It's about getting to know yourself." In the past month I have a felt a new spaciousness inside me that was not there before and I know that what I do now will culminate on February 12, 2010. I know this in my bones as well as I know my name.

All I can do is surrender.

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Patanjali.....

OK, that was NOT the latest cattle call for yoga teachers, but with studios cranking out newbie yoga teachers faster than you can say Utthitahastapādāṅguṣṭhāsana it could be.

This is for all you unemployed New York City yoga teachers. Seen at YogaDork's place via Yogoer:

"The audition will be held Tuesday 3/31 2pm at the Equinox @19th St and Broadway. Please show up between 1:30-2:00pm and sign in at the front desk where you will be asked to show ID. The audition will be held on the 2nd floor Main Studio. Our auditions are held in a round robin format and will be moderated by Sarra Morton, one of our GFM’s. Your audition will last only 2-3 minutes depending on the turnout. We will try to get you all out by 4pm. Mats are provided unless you prefer to bring your own.

We are looking for those instructors who have at least 3 early mornings available (6:30-8am) to pick up regular classes AND BOTH Saturday and Sunday (9-6pm) available. Please do not attend this audition if you are not available for both these times. We have no daytime or evening weekday available classes.

Our auditions are a lot of fun, so no need to be nervous, just come with a smile.

No need to RSVP and please hold all questions till the audition."

Note that the operative word is AUDITION.

I wonder if they'd like my tap-dancing.

Stripper poles, anyone?

(Seriously -- I've heard about a "yoga" studio that has a stripper pole.)

26 March 2009

watch this space

I am in the very preliminary stages of planning a yoga retreat in Africa or Zanzibar one year from now. Watch this space -- Metta Yoga -- for announcements about it and any future teacher trainings in India.

Metta Yoga is my official corporate name and I do have my own business website, but I've created a Wordpress site to get the word out a bit more globally. The site, as is the retreat, is taking baby steps.

Stay tuned.

And who would not want to do an eco-yoga retreat with a safari option in Tanzania?

20 March 2009

"hey, brother, can ya spare a yoga class pass?"

"Images from the Great Depression 2.0 - Yoga and Starbucks for the Unemployed"

From YogaDawg, of course. And be sure to read this.

Happy Spring, y'all. Support your local yoga teacher.

18 March 2009

my short cut to nirvana

(This image was originally posted to Flickr by Naresh Dhiman)

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I am planning a lengthy stay in India next year. I had planned to spend two months in an ashram in south India studying yoga therapy with a swami. I have since learned that the ashram is not all it was cracked up to be which actually didn't surprise me all that much. I am certainly not going to spend my hard-earned yoga money on an ashram or a swami who makes false recommendations on an India travel website.

I learned that there were about 10 obviously fake posts on the thread about the ashram and they all seemed to be from the same city in India (Madurai, where the swami is based) from people who claimed to be from outside of India. Any website owner knows where people are located by the IP address, i.e., your computer's signature, the same way a blogger knows where readers come from by looking at their site meter.

I take all things with a grain of salt (sometimes with a ton of salt) so while I had received very nice and friendly emails from the ashram when I was planning my stay, I was always cautious, I did not drink all their Kool-Aid. That's just what I know about India and the spirituality biz. There are many people in the spirituality game in India who love to part Westerners from their money because so many naive peace-love-dove feringhees are willing to give it to the first dark sadhu who says "Come, I give you enlightenment."

After learning about this I emailed the ashram asking for an explanation. I never heard back from them.

Now I have more money for my trip, the money I won't be giving to the ashram. I've changed my plans to taking private classes again at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram like I did last year (and believe me, they also like Western money) and I can spend more time in my Indian home, Chennai.

Now I can get to the Kumbh Mela in February instead of in March because I won't be spending January and February at the ashram. This will be extremely auspicious because Shivaratri is February 12 -- "Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava'. It is also believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati Ma."

I can already feel the shakti. OM KALI MA!

The best part is that I can spend more time with my friend (who originally was going to meet me in Delhi after my ashram stay), so we're going to travel for two weeks in the south then head north for the Mela. This will be my fourth trip to India and her ninth trip, one of which included a Mela. Thirteen trips between the two of us -- can you tell that we both have the same passion for India? Well, with India it's always a love/hate relationship...;)

If things work out I will fly to Africa after the Mela to conduct a yoga retreat either in Tanzania (maybe with a safari option) or on the island of Zanzibar. My friend who lives in Tanzania flew to Chicago last week to see me -- we had not seen each other since India, 2005 when we were together for a month at KYM. We've always stayed in touch and she had invited me to teach in Arusha, Tanzania but the timing was never right. Next year it will be. She knows people who own eco-resorts, perfect spots for a yoga retreat. If it happens, it happens, I am not attached. But it would be DAMN COOL to conduct a yoga retreat on Zanzibar! But I will detach from the outcome. To my global readers who have told me that would they would love to take classes with this space!

The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010 is the MAHA Kumbh Mela, the GREAT Mela, not the Ardh or half Mela. The Mother of all Melas. And I'll be there, me and about 50 million of my closest friends. The largest spiritual gathering in the world.

My astrologer has always told me that the years 2008 to 2010 will contain great learning experiences for me and not just in yoga. That I will soak it all in "like a sponge." Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that during the years 2008-2010 I will experience "divine grace."

I take everything with a grain of salt. Whatever happens, happens. But all things happen for a reason.

17 March 2009

yoga teachers are the new waiters

They say that every restaurant server in Los Angeles is an actor or actress waiting for their big break. So are yoga teachers the new wait staff?

This post over at YogaDork makes one think:

"...many aspiring teachers who hear the call will follow the dream no matter what it takes (meaning, lots of odd jobs and stretching the dollar). For some it’s not worth the stress. Caleb Asch teaches 6 classes a week, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. “The stress of not having enough to live on is a killer,” he said.

JG wrote this comment: "This quote - “The stress of not having enough to live on is a killer” - really hit home for me. I’ve been teaching full time for over five years and I’ve never made a fortune, but I always made the bills. This year has been the exception. With 30+ “one-month-intensive” YTTs in my city churning out teachers and the studios offering increasingly low pay to teachers (after all, why pay when there are people willing to teach for free?), I’m beginning to question my decision to teach, as much as I love it. 2009 may be the year I throw in the towel."

I've written more than a few posts about the economics of yoga teaching and about the plethora of yoga teacher trainings in the Chicago area. The fact of the matter is that there are too many yoga teachers and not enough students, yet studios keep cranking out newbie teachers because teacher training programs pay the bills. A studio doesn't make money teaching group classes and a yoga teacher certainly doesn't, not when a studio owner pays a teacher anywhere from $4-$7 per student. I don't know anyone in the real world who is willing to work 90 minutes to make $4. Yet yoga teachers are expected to and to accept it with a smile and no complaints. And if you don't like it then you can get out because there are 10 more newly minted yoga teachers waiting to take your place, some who are more than willing to teach yoga for free just for the thrill, uh, experience. This is real world yoga stuff that Yoga Journal does not write about.

Yup, yoga teaching sure has become a funny business in this here Om-mera-ka. In fact, I had a moment last week when the thought popped into my head, "why am I doing this?" The longer I teach, the more yoga nutbars float to the surface. As a yoga teacher friend told me about the following email, "the longer we all hang around this USA, the weirder this yoga tribe is gonna get."

I received an email with the subject line "private yoga instruction." I receive more than a few emails like that because I have a website, but it made me suspicious because this was the entire email:


How much do you charge for private sessions? How long are they usually?


It made me suspicious because when most people ask about private instruction they tell me where they are, what injuries or conditions they have, how they found me, what they are looking for, among other things. Their emails are not two sentences. What also made me suspicious was that it came from a [first and last name] I don't want to give the name because I don't want to give this woman any type of publicity.

I googled her name and found a very professional looking website that was, in my opinion, too slick and a bit over the top, a website that buried you with information. The young woman bills herself as "Teacher * Scholar * Consultant * Yoga * Transformation * Sustainability."

Uh, me too.

I responded: "Why do you want to know that when you are a yoga teacher yourself and not someone in my local area looking for private yoga instruction?"

Ms. Yoga Expert immediately emailed a one sentence reply:

"I am looking to hire Yoga teachers, and gauging further inquiries and
potential offers according to responses to the questions I asked you."

When I read that sentence I thought "yogabot." Now is it just me or is this woman disingenuous? Why wasn't she up front about her real intentions in the first email? Why wasn't her subject line "yoga teachers wanted" instead of "private yoga instruction"? As far as I'm concerned, she lied and she's dishonest. As a "scholar", shouldn't she know how to word an email so as not to make the person receiving the email suspicious? But what do I know? I only graduated summa cum laude so I don't know if that makes me a scholar.

Something about the tone of her emails and even her very professional looking website made my skin crawl. I really wanted to email her back and tell her that and some other things, but of course, that would not be very yogic of me.

I don't belong here. I need to find my own yoga tribe.

07 March 2009

yoga in the real world

When I told a show-biz yogi who shall remain nameless that sometimes I teach in places where there are no props, she said with a sniff, "I don't teach in THOSE places anymore...." Well, now. Maybe one of these days I will have permanently traded up my yoga teaching venues sans any dysfunctional yoga studio owners of course. But in the meantime I look upon my teaching experiences with great affection because I learn from all of them.

This morning I was teaching my private class in my house and the security system's alarm started screaming. There had been a thunderstorm with a huge lightening flash over my house (talk about raising the kundalini) and shortly thereafter the alarm went off. And when I say screaming, I mean the sound feels like a drill going through my ears into the middle of my brain. It makes your teeth bleed. My students looked at me with a "what the hell is that?" look and I ran downstairs and tried to shut it off. No luck. Still screaming. I went back up to my home yoga shala and told them not to worry, no one is breaking in and nothing is on fire. Then it stopped. Then it started again. By this time all I could was laugh.

I ran back downstairs and called the security company. They told me that the power must have gone out momentarily or there was a power surge and the system was rebooting itself. As I talked to the security company the message on the control box showed everything back to normal. I could stop grinding my teeth. I told the security person that the alarm had gone off while I was teaching a yoga class. She thought that was hilarious.

Good thing I practice mindfulness meditation: "screaming alarm feels like this..."

Yesterday afternoon I taught to 20 musicians of a symphony orchestra in the massive basement of their auditorium. As they sat in stillness before savasana I heard massive doors open. I watched a janitor come in pulling a massive industrial size garbage can behind him on a platform with wheels that obviously needed lots of oil. I saw the janitor and smiled, thinking back when I used to teach regularly in THOSE places.

Two other people walked in and opened the doors of a massive closet, the size of a room. The storage closet was lined with shelves of liquor bottles and the man and the woman rolled out two bars which I'm sure were for the audience for last night's performance. By this time the students were in savasana. After class I told them that this was the first time anybody set up a bar in back of the room while I was teaching.

Years ago I taught for a park district. I taught in their community center in a large a multi-purpose room with a stage. Saturday morning class, all the women up in downward facing dog -- "BREATHE, WATCH YOUR BREATH...." In walk two uniformed policemen. I was the only one who saw them because everyone had their butts in the air, eyes closed. "Everyone come down into child's pose...hello, officers...." Twenty heads jerk up.

"We're just here to get the lectern,", i.e., the one that was up on the stage.

"That's nice, officers. I thought you were here to strip-search us."

The men in blue laughed as they hustled the lectern across the stage, down the stage steps, across my teaching space, and into the room next door, the door slamming behind them. Of course.

Yoga teacher trainings don't teach you how to handle these things.

Do you want to hear about teaching next to bagpipe practice and above a dog obedience class? Fortunately these two things were not occurring at the same time.

There is no sound on earth worse than bagpipe PRACTICE, not even a screaming burglar alarm. Think about it.

A day in the life of a yoga teacher.

Oh, yeah. I've paid my dues.

06 March 2009

I must not be livin' right

Seen at YogaDork's place....

"Beth June Shaw, marketing guru and captain of the YogaFit ship, must’ve had $1.349 million burning a hole in the hidden pocket of her Lululemon pants, because that’s what she paid on Jan. 22 for a three-bedroom, two-bath at 736 Calle De Arboles Dr. in Torrance (California)......"

Beth Shaw, Down Dog Millionaire!

Hmmmm....I bust my yoga butt (oops, I hope that phrase is not trademarked by Beth because I can't afford to hire a lawyer) with all my yoga continuing education, travel to India to learn from Desikachar himself, and I'm still living in an area where houses haven't sold for over a year and yoga studios struggle to survive. DAMN, WTF am I doing wrong?

I guess cranking out "yoga teachers" who learn all about teaching yoga in a weekend must be very lucrative.

I must not be livin' right.

04 March 2009

my teacher's wisdom

"Charles Darwin’s 200th birth Anniversary has indirectly energized many to restart the debate about God, Creation and Evolution. This kind of discussion, though, has been going on from time immemorial.

Sayana, the well known commentator on the Vedas, starts his commentary by pointing out that several of the sayings of the Vedas on Heaven and the less favorable place and the details of how to get to the former and avoid the latter can never be proved or disproved. Even if they debate for a billion years (sata koti varsa) the believer can not prove to the nonbeliever the existence of these worlds and God, nor can the non-believer disprove their existence to the believer. Recently, several Darwin believers have put up graffiti billboards, etc., proclaiming, inter alia, “Probably there is no God, so go out and enjoy life”, drawing an equally telling response from a believer, “God exists, so go out and enjoy life”.

The most popular theory of creation of modern science is the Big Bang theory. Great minds have propounded this theory. Basically it asserts that the present Universe we experience evolved out of a dime sized entity called “Singularity” that the universe has expanded from this primordial hot and immensely dense initial condition at some finite time in the past, and continues to expand to this day. The mathematicians would say that this singularity has no dimension and infinite density. Then the Universe evolved out of it. I understand that the Big Bang theory does not address the question whence the Singularity was formed and how. Some speculate that these are formed from matter and energy sucked by the Black Hole(s), which is the end chapter of the previous evolution. Implicitly there is no mention of the need for an intelligent cause (Nimitta Karana) for the creation. It evolves by itself. Of course there are many scientists who believe that there could be an intelligent principle behind it—though they may not call it God. This view that the Universe evolved without God or an efficient cause has been there along with the theistic view from time immemorial. An orthodox philosophy, Samkhya avers that the entire Universe evolved out of a singular non-dimensional entity called Mula Prakriti, without an efficient cause (nimitta karana) called God.

Both these views hold that the Universe, the macrocosm that we experience has a real, material cause. And theists believe in a material cause which is also efficient/intelligent cause, which is God. This macrocosmic view that out of the huge macrocosm, countless individual entities like us have sprung up or were created, or evolved, is generally accepted. But there is a third view less known, less straightforward, which tries to understand the whole evolution from a different point of view, from the point of the individual microcosm.

Yoga looks at it from the individual viewpoint, as briefly explained below, which will help and lead us to understand the third viewpoint about Creation propounded by the Advaitic School of the Upanishads.

All my life I am the subject and the world around is the object. I see objects, hear sounds, smell things etc. When I am awake and see an object, the sequence as all of us know is as follows. Light falls on the object that I see, the light is reflected by the object, and the light particles, reach my eyes and then the retina. The retina
converts them into electrical impulses and they reach some part of my brain. Then there may be some chemical changes in my brain cells and communications among the brain cells resulting in my seeing the object. But in physical terms all the information reaches my brain and is absorbed. With this the physical phenomena end. After these reach my brain, how do I see the object, outside of me, in front of me? The information is in my head physically but how do I see it outside of me? Nothing goes out of my head. The brain projects an image, not outside but in the mental space according to Yogis, because the projection does not and cannot take place in the physical space. My mind projects it and there has to be some awareness or consciousness in me which sees or experiences this mental projection. The yogis call
the projection a chittavritti. The chittavritti is the projection of the mind made out of the information received through the eyes.

Of course the projection is a little more involved. The mind not only gets information through the eyes but also through the ears and other senses, and the mind collates the information and makes a composite presentation which I see in the mental space, just as the objects appear to be outside of me. I not only have the outside picture reproduced in my mind but also me, the subject, as part of the experience. I am also aware that I am in the midst of the total picture as the ‘subject’ experiencing the outside world. I also feel emotions attached to the mental picture. I also react to the experience, sometimes with a happy or sometimes an unhappy
disposition. Anyway there is a composite picture I experience. The totality of what I experience including that I am the observer, I like it, I don’t like it, everything -- this is the chittavritti at a moment. In the next moment, the chittavritti changes. Moment after moment there is a new chittavritti and the non-changing Self, the pure consciousness keeps observing this changing flux of chittavrittis.

The chittavritti is not confined to objects outside that I see directly. Sometimes, I infer from partial sensory perceptions or occasionally I try to picture on the basis merely of what I hear. Then there are occasions when I close my eyes and produce my own chittavrittis, without objects, like in dreams—day or night. Then I have chittavrittis produced purely from past incidents which I remember. Then of course my mind completely closes shop when there is an ‘experience of sleep’. So I have a variety of chittavrittis, all taking place in my head. My chittavritti which is the totality of my experience at any given moment takes place not in physical space but in mental space or in virtual space. So even though the objects I
perceive may be real, what I experience is virtual. This is what happens in all of us all the time. But even as the experience may be with virtual objects, the objects of the outside world are real according to Yogis.

But the Vedantins especially advaita vedantins ask a further question. If the experience we have takes place in mental space or chitta akasa, the experience of the prior moment also should be taking place in virtual space. So the objects that reflected light particles for my eyes to perceive themselves are virtual objects. Thus going back they aver that our entire life experience is only virtual and not ‘really’ real. We can extrapolate this to the entire outside world and say the Universe is not really ‘real’, it is an illusion.

So we have three possibilities, following this line of reasoning. Firstly the universe is real even though our experience, known as chittavritti is virtual. This is the position of the Yogis, and we would agree with that. The second view is that it is not possible to say for sure if the outside world exists or not (anirvachaniya) since our experience is limited to our virtual chittavrittis. The third view is that there is no real outside world, there is no real creation and the experience is virtual and the universe is illusory. But, one may assert that the objects are real, we can see, we can feel them. But the Mayavadins or those who say that the world is only an illusion, aver that just as we feel the dream space, dream objects and the dream self to be real during dream but they are found to be an illusion when we wake up, likewise the waking state experience also is virtual and there is no real world outside. They say that there is no real creation, all our life we have a succession of virtual experiences.

Let us get back to the ideas at the beginning of the article. So we have now three views about creation of the universe. One is that it evolved from “Singularity” and that is the material cause of the Universe. Like the modern scientist, Samkhya does not feel the need to agree to an efficient cause like God, the creator. The second view is that God created the Universe and He is both the material and the efficient cause. The third view is that the creation itself is an illusion and hence there is no need to subscribe to a material cause, like the Singularity or the Mulaprakriti. However since there is an experience, the experiencer (Atman or drashta), which is non-changing pure consciousness alone exists which observes the illusionary experience. Some Buddhists schools find no need for even postulating the constantly observing Self.

So, the Upanishads aver that there is an origin of the Universe, like the Singularity of the Scientists or the Mulaprikriti of the Samkhyas, which ‘origin’ the Upanishads call as Brahman, literally meaning “the principle that expanded into this Universe’. But the comparison ends there. While the Singularity is inert, without consciousness, Brahman is pure, non-changing consciousness. It is the considered view of the vedandins that matter cannot produce or become consciousness; the object cannot become the subject. The advaita vedantins further aver, likewise, Consciousness cannot produce or become matter, it can only be an observer. So they postulate the theory that what evolved out of the Brahman is not really real, but only an illusion. Brahman does not expand like the Singularity does as postulated by the Big Bang Theory. In fact it is said that the zero dimension Brahman contains the entire universe within itself, but the Universe appears to be outside of it--like during our dream state the dream objects are within our consciousness but appear to be outside us. Or, it is like the thin film of the reflecting surface of a mirror giving the impression of having the three dimensional space and objects behind it.

One may therefore examine theories of creation other than the most popular views of “God created the Universe” or “the Universe evolved on its own”. The third view is that there is no real creation. Uncomfortable? But this obviates the need to answer the rather difficult questions, “Whence did all this material come to make this
Universe.” Or “Why God created this Universe” and many other questions. The theory of illusory evolution is plausible and tantalizing. Some traditional theists (astikas) who are drawn towards the logic of this third theory of Virtual Creation (maya vada), call the Lord a Mayavin, or the Creator of the Grand Illusion."

Srivatsa Ramaswami, March 2009