31 December 2009

donation update and until we meet again

I mailed a check today to the Seva Foundation in the amount of $200 asking it to be used specifically for the Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology. You can read about the eye clinic here.

A big hug and thanks to:



and Svasti

for their donations!

If anyone else wants to donate, please DO NOT send the money to my Paypal account, send it diretly to Seva as per the instructions in my link.

My wish for the Universe for 2010 are the Four Immeasurables, compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity:





This is my last blog post of 2009. I leave for India and Africa next week for the yoga adventure of a lifetime. I've written about it and you've read about it's time for me to run into Ma India's arms and return to my soul's home....(the quote is a link to another post)

"I was alone, finally, with no one to protect me. I wanted to sing for happiness -- a rare, raw, immediate sort of happiness that was directly related to my physical situation, to my surroundings, to independence, and to solitude. The happiness I felt that morning had nothing to do with the future or the past, with abstractions or with my relationships to other people. It was the happiness of entering into something new, of taking the moments simply for what they were, of motion, of freedom, and of free will. I loved not knowing what would happen next, loved that no one here knew me. I felt coordinated and strong, and the world seemed huge and vibrant. It was a relief to be alone...

My happiness was a feeling of physical lightness, of weightlessness, like drifting on air..."

Mother India, I'm coming home.

29 December 2009

handbook for life, 2010

Lots of good advice here, but my three favorites are nos. 21, 33, and 37.

1. Drink plenty of water.

2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like beggar.

3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in plants.

4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.

5. Make time to meditate.

7. Read more books than you did in 2009.

8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.

9. Sleep for 7 hours.

10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

11. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is about.

12. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control.
Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

13. Don't over do. Keep your limits.

14. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

15. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.

16. Dream more while you are awake.

17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

18. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.

19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.

20. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.

21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

23. Smile and laugh more.

24. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

25. Call your family often.

26. Each day give something good to others.

27. Forgive everyone for everything.

28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.

29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

30. What other people think of you is none of your business.

31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will.
Stay in touch.

32. Do the right thing!

33. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

34. God heals everything.

35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

37. The best is yet to come.

38. When you awake alive in the morning, be thankful for it.

39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Many thanks and much metta to my teacher, Bhante Sujatha.

"In the traditional greeting of yoga, 'With great respect and love we honor your heart as your Inner Teacher. May the harmony of yoga manifest within and without'".
-- Mukunda Stiles

28 December 2009

pruning out the deadwood

photo ©Loba Landscapes, 2009

An oldie but a goodie that I think is appropriate for this time of the year....

Making Room for New Growth

Whenever I talk on mindfulness meditation (or mindfulness training as I call it now) I always throw out these questions:

how many of you are working on automatic pilot? are you so comfortable that you have become numb to the present moment?

"How much pruning do you need to do in your life? Are you strong enough to cut the deadwood out of your life no matter how painful it is?"

24 December 2009

peace on earth

This is all that any of us really need.

Merry Christmas

Happy Holidays

asalaam 'alaykum





That is my wish for you.

23 December 2009

how yoga heals: yin yoga and ulcerative colitis

I believe that all yoga is healing if applied in the right manner. No one called Krishnamacharya a "yoga therapist" and you were surely not able to become certified as one back in his day. When I took my first two courses of study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, we listened every day to the stories of private students about how the particular style of yoga that is taught at KYM is a healing path. I have experienced my own healing at KYM with the private yoga therapy that was prescribed for me, certain asanas that I still do.

My work with private students is a mixed bag, but I always use what I learned, and continue to learn, at KYM. I have heard that style of yoga called "old ladies yoga" because it is a slow, deliberate practice, breath-based and heart centered. Some believe that "the kind of yoga he [Desikachar] espouses is becoming, like the polar bear, something of an endangered species." I can tell you that I met more than few astangis at KYM, some of whom studied directly with Jois in Mysore, who came to KYM to heal their bodies. They told me that the yoga practiced at KYM was like a light bulb going off over their head. As for myself, after my first month-long intensive in 2005, my practice and my teaching changed forever.

So I am never surprised when my students tell me their stories of healing. Below is a story written by one of my students who is only 22 and no longer has a large intestine. I felt that a yin yoga practice would be extremely beneficial for her condition and my intuition was right-on -- as I said, I believe all yoga is healing if applied correctly, it does not matter what the style is. I asked her to write her story so that others can read about the true power of yoga. However, please remember that yoga is not one size fits all -- your body is different from this student's, so your mileage may vary...;)

This is why I teach, and I am blessed to have students like this. I couldn't get a better Christmas present than that.


"For the past seven years I have been dealing with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disorder of the large intestine. During these years I have been hospitalized and medicated to keep my symptoms under control. Since the doctors could not find a medication or therapy that would be sustainable for my treatment over the long term a full colectomy, the removal of the large intestine, was performed on me in May of 2008. After some complications, I had my second surgery in July of 2008 and was considered “cured.” I was doing well until May of 2009 when I developed autoimmune pancreatitis. Twice in two months I was hospitalized for this condition, the doctors supplied me with pancreatic enzymes to take whenever I ate. Because I developed another autoimmune disorder, I decided that it was time for a change in my lifestyle and mindset, time to learn how to deal with the stress that life brings. For me, that step was to start taking a yoga class.

It was the last semester of my associates degree and I needed one more P.E. credit and since yoga was an option, my counselor and I decided that it would be a great class for me to take. This was not a decision based on physical fitness, it was a decision based on a need for a new mindset. So, I bought my textbook, leafed through it, and went to my first day of yoga. I walked in exhausted, nauseous, and in pain from my latest autoimmune disorder of my pancreas. That class we went over the syllabus and did some breath work. Before class ended, Linda announced that if you had any physical conditions, to stay and talk with her after class, little did I know that the conversation we would have would end up being my cure.

So I stayed afterward, waiting for the people with bad backs and knees to let Linda know about their issues that could affect the different poses that we might be doing in class. I explained to Linda what I had been through and that my surgery scars bothered me when doing core work because of scar tissue issues I had. We delved into my ailments, and she had a thought. Linda explained a little to me about what yin yoga is and that she had a class that I could join. She thought that yin might be more beneficial to my issues than only doing the regular yoga. I was on a mission for change in my life and yin sounded like the idea that might help me.

The next Wednesday night I went to Linda's house for my first yin yoga class. When I arrived I was terribly nauseous, so badly that I almost did not go that night. Linda decided to do a stress practice that focused on the stomach meridians. By the time I left that yin class, my nausea had dropped by about 80%. It was absolutely incredible to leave feeling as I was, I hadn't had that lack of nausea for about 4 months. I was excited, but nervous that this might be a temporary fix and not long term. I left open minded and with anticipation for the next class. Reading my yoga text and taking that class simultaneously with my yin class was another benefit of the last 5 months. It was interesting to see how I felt if I missed a yin class one week, but still had my regular yoga class.

After a month of doing yoga, especially the yin, my symptoms had improved so much that I was able to stop taking my pancreatic enzymes. Also, I started to do my own yin practice on a daily basis. Everyday, whenever I could fit it in morning or evening, I do a full hero [supta virasana] for 10 to 20 minutes, then child's pose for 5 to 10 minutes, and the downward facing dog for 10 to 12 breaths. This daily practice has given me days, and now months, free of nausea and pain. Accepting the realization that reality is reality and it is always changing and out of my control along with watching my breath, which has brought my mindfulness to a better level, has truly been a life-changing process and I can't wait to continue on this journey. [emphasis supplied.]

From my first yin classes where I could feel my insides unwinding, to now where I can still feel my meridians winding out, I am 100% positive that yin has benefited my health in ways that I would have never imagined. I love doing my yoga practices, but my daily yin practices, focus on breath work, and the realization of what reality is, has been the most beneficial milestone is my life thus far. I am always looking forward to my yoga time and what I learn from it, and encourage anyone with autoimmune disorders to give it a chance, because such a simple thing can be so life-changing."

22 December 2009

random yoga ramblings

(originally uploaded by

I'm leaving the country for eight weeks in 15 days so I've been feeling a bit scattered, making my lists and checking them twice. I have to sit down soon and concentrate on writing my dharma talks for Africa -- one is an introduction to mindfulness meditation and the other is "Buddha's Four Foundations of Mindfulness and how they relate to your yoga practice." Deep. I only have two more classes to teach this week and I won't teach again until March. The thing is, I'm relieved bordering on glad. I need to fill this vessel with soul food because I've been running on empty.

In between jotting down my dharma notes I of course take time to read my fave blogs so here is some food for thought....

the title of Sadiq's latest post resonated with me: absorbing what we already know. Sadiq wrote:

"What if we took a single lesson and thoroughly absorbed it? Rather than being gluttons for more knowledge, what levels of spirituality might we reach if we remained with only one holy sentence – a single, spiritually potent concept?...

Traveling the mystical path isn’t about learning more or doing more. It’s about absorbing what we already know – a vastly more difficult task."

"Absorbing what we already know" and when you really think about it, it IS a difficult task. What do I know about yoga and meditation? What people have told me or what I intuitively know in my bones?

Real knowing has nothing to do with accumulated knowledge, borrowed from others, from books, from parents, from teachers. After all his travels and teachings from ascetics the Buddha parked himself underneath a tree and merely watched his breath, nothing more nothing less, and when he opened his eyes he knew. His awakening came from his experiences and when asked what he taught the Buddha said that he taught about suffering and the end of suffering. There comes a time when you know that you know.

Many of you might think of me as the snarky yogini of a certain age, but I can't even begin to tell you about the doubts I had about teaching in Africa, about whether I can really do this. People are impressed with the yoga celebrity culture nowadays and I am a nobody comparatively speaking -- maybe that is why I must leave here to truly fly. There comes a time when you know that you know.

I believe we have to reach a certain point to truly know that less really is more. Reading the post I was reminded of Chogyam Trungpa's concept of spiritual materialism: we search for so many things that we dig many shallow holes instead of one deep one. Lots of asana practice out there, but not so much sitting. I surely did the same until I knew that doing less gives me so much more.

Fernanda quoted Peter Kupfer on sankalpa, i.e., a firm resolve or intention about putting your dharma into will have to use the Google translator:

"Sankalpa means resolution...Aims to enhance a positive aspect of personality at a subconscious level.

The sankalpa goes underground, strengthening the structure of the mind and awakening the latent forces that will facilitate the achievement of our goals. Is to activate the positive qualities that exist within us all, but remain locked in the subconscious. This will give a direction more suited to our existence.

We need to do a self-examination to identify our primary need and recall vividly what we want to update and improve. Although sankalpa is made mentally, it starts the heart."

Swami Sivananda said "just as you require food for the body, so also you require food for the soul in the shape of prayers, japa, kirtan, meditation, etc. The food for the soul is more essential than the food for the body...."

What is your soul's food? Yoga classes usually take a hit during the holidays, at least in my area, and frankly, I don't understand why people feel the need to starve themselves during this time and not feed themselves what they need -- and I'm not talking about fruitcake, darlings. Then people complain about how much running around they do and how burnt out they get during the holidays. Our lives are created by our choices.

Fernanda wrote that the "End of year is time for renewal, transformation. Time to let the old go and embrace the new. Time to go back inside and rethink what has been done and what will be done going forward."

Her words made me think of my upcoming travels and how much has changed for me in the past year and yet, very little has changed in essence. I am the same person but this year I've let go of so much that did not serve me. Last year at this time I was in such a deep funk that I experienced PTSD and an old addiction raised its ugly head. I mostly kept this to myself, even my friends did not know how depressed I was, but I knew what brought it on. While I was in my funk, I resolved, as Kupfer wrote, to awaken the latent forces that would facilitate the achievement of my goals. At the bottom of that dark well that I dropped myself into I found my sankalpa.

"As you establish your sankalpa depending on your need, we must first see what the need is. To take this course, nothing is better than a good self-analysis, deep and sincere, so as to identify the most striking aspects of personality...Then, the sankalpa is established on the basis of attitudes...Every mistake is a lesson, each winning a deepening of understanding."

How blind we are to what we really need and how ruled we are by our wants. As a teacher I used to want so much but now I know what I truly need in order to continue teaching.

What do you truly want and need as a yoga teacher? I used to want lots of students in my classes, I assumed that meant I was a "good teacher." Now I am happy with the two or three private students on any given night where they are content to listen and not necessarily practice. A packed group class means more money but at what cost? When is it legit to quit?

"When teachers become disillusioned with teaching, sometimes it's about what we are teaching....At other times, our disillusionment has to do with whom we are teaching."

What and whom are the operative words for me.

I am finding that I like teaching meditation more than teaching asana because I truly believe that people need the former much more than the latter. My yoga classes are infused with mindfulness as much as my personal practice is informed by my vipassana practice. I find it interesting that my own students tell me "we love that you're here and we are grateful for your teaching, but you need to get out of here." I wonder what is it about how or what I teach that my own students tell me that I don't belong here.

I resolve to further let go of what no longer serves me, to find that direction more suited to my existence.

17 December 2009

'tis the season for giving and karma yoga

Did you know that two-thirds of the 45 million blind people in the world are female, yet women receive less than half of eye care services?

The Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology in Moshi, Tanzania (KCCO), supported by the Seva Foundation, was to be the recipient of the money I was going to collect from each western participant in my Yoga Adventure in Africa in February. KCCO’s programs are improving eye care services throughout eastern Africa, a region with 210 million people in 18 countries spanning from Egypt to South Africa.

The cost of the retreat was $1,108.00 and I was taking $108 from each westerner for the Seva Foundation. It was hoped that the founders of the clinic, Dr. Paul Courtright and Dr. Susan Lewallen, would be able to give us a tour of the facility. I thought it was a win-win situation for everyone + meditation + buddhadharma + seva under the African sky.

But no one signed up.

At least no one from the West. I sent my announcement to over 100 people around the United States, advertised it on Facebook and Twitter, and put an ad in a Chicagoland yoga magazine that has a circulation of over 20,000. The Seva Foundation put an announcement on their website's home page. But not one person showed any interest in spite of the charitable component of the retreat. Fortunately my retreat was filled by Arusha yoga students within two days. I think it filled so quickly because they thought it would be filled by Americans because of my heavy advertising and they wouldn't be able to get in. But the donations were going to come from American yogis.

Seane Corn's organization Off the Mat and Into the World has a Global Seva Project in Uganda and Seane's seva challenge fundraiding total to date is $493,531.15. That's almost half a million dollars.

I would have been very happy to be able to donate a mere $1,080 if 10 Americans had signed up for my retreat. That amount would have meant a lot for the Moshi clinic. I tried taking my yoga off the mat and into the world, but I'm neither a famous yogini nor do I have celebrity endorsements. I guess that's what people pay attention to nowadays even in the yoga world. Hey, Paris and Lindsay! I have a yoga cause you can endorse!

I would be a liar if I said I was not disappointed with the lack of response. It was not the lack of registrants that disappointed me because believe me, I get it about not being able to afford something (I've curtailed my yoga spending this year in order to be away for two months), but the fact that not one person donated one thin dime.

So I am giving people one last chance up until December 31, 2009. My yoga sister Svasti suggested that I ask my global blog readers to donate. This is what she told me:

"There's a couple of reasons I've been thinking about this. First, the consumerism of Christmas always sickens me, even as I play my small part in the game. Second, I've been thinking about hobbits. Not sure if you've read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, but hobbits have a tradition of giving presents to their friends for their birthday. Which I've always thought was kinda cool. Then finally, I just got my copy of Yoga of the Heart. I've only watched a little bit of it so far, but I've heard enough. Swami Satyananda talking about how if we can take care of the people who need it most, it will solve a lot of problems in society.

And there's no reason for anyone in the western world who can afford to house, clothe and feed themselves, not to support a charity that helps other people."

Maybe those of you who are thinking about buying those yoga pants that cost almost $100 could forego them and donate that money to the Moshi eye clinic. We're talking karma yoga here. Talking the talk and walking the walk.

Svasti is right. There is absolutely no reason in the world for any western yogi who can afford $100 for yoga pants not to support an organization that gives the gift of sight to an African.

This is how it will work:

There is a Paypal button in the sidebar. In the description you will type "KCCO Moshi, Tanzania" and donate an appropriate amount...let's say, the price of those hand painted yoga pants you've had your eye on. Then you will trust me enough to send all that money to the Seva Foundation before I leave on January 6. I will also take a photo of my check made out to the Seva Foundation and upload it to a blog post thanking you for your donations.


You can donate directly to the Seva Foundation. You will email Julie Nestingen, the Development Manager, at jnestingen AT seva DOT org, and tell her that you want your money to specifically go to the Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO). Tell her that in lieu of going on my yoga adventure, you are donating money instead. I am sure she will be happy to take your money and send you a receipt for your taxes.

It's called compassion in action. And it begins with you.


Seva Foundation banner

Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

(Thank you and metta to you! Also a big thanks to the yoga bloggers who helped advertise this retreat -- you know who you are!)

09 December 2009

the gratitude of a bloggin' yogini

I've been writing this blog since 2005 when I decided that nothing would stop me from traveling to the heart of yoga. On March 25, 2005 I entitled my first blog post "no turning back". I was reminded that I started planning for my trip in 2004, only two years after I became a teacher.

I smiled when I read that first post today because I remembered my naivety about India. I wore my rose-colored glasses the first time and now Indians ask me if I live there. Words like Gangaikondacholapuram roll off my tongue without a second thought.

I was 51 and had never been overseas in my life and I went alone to a country that many people warned me against. But when I took my first step on Indian soil the feeling was primal -- I knew I had come home and I never looked back. If I have to explain that you wouldn't understand because words are not adequate to describe what I felt, a feeling I remember as if it was yesterday.

Reading the words that I wrote in 2005 --

"I've been told by an akashic record reader that when I go to India, I will "disappear". Not literally, but that I will melt into that world as if I were going back home."

-- chilled me because that certainly happened. There has not been one single day since I returned from my first trip that I do not think of India. I guess that's obsession. But not attachment. Because even if I never returned to Ma India, my memories would last several lifetimes.

I also knew that I had to deepen my personal yoga practice because when I got back into yoga in the mid-90s I was like a sponge, and I knew in my heart that this sponge had to soak up everything yoga before I died. So off I went to the school named after the father of modern yoga and it changed my practice and my teaching forever.

I don't know why I started blogging because I am usually a very private person. I don't like people knowing my business, never have. I guess it was merely to chronicle my trip and my yoga experience in India like a diary. I never really thought anyone would read what is now over 300 posts. I have strong opinions that I don't apologize for at my age and like spicy South Indian food, I am an acquired taste. But read you have.

What has amazed me about the blogging experience are the people I have "met" in the yoga blogosphere. I've written honestly and authentically about some very shabby treatment I've experienced in the yoga world and I received more support from my readers -- people I don't know and have never met -- than from yoga people in my own backyard and for that I thank you.

It also overwhelms me that people have emailed me or left comments about how my posts have inspired them in some way. Sigh.

I've "met" people who I would dig practicing and hanging out with in the real world. Yoginis like Brenda, Svasti, Amanda, Nadine, Fernanda, and Roseanne, plus others like my thankachi (Tamil for "younger sister") FlowerGirl. We need some testosterone in the mix so YogaDawg, too. He gave me the YogaDawg Seal of Approval a long time ago. I have a feeling we all practiced together in some past lives somewhere.

So I was amazed and overwhelmed again when Roseanne picked "this is my real yoga" as one of her Top 15 Yoga Blog Posts of 2009. It did my heart good because I used to be a writer of poetry who won a few awards back in the day (I actually took a grad course in Ezra Pound), so to be recognized for my prose is very nice. Roseanne was an editor of ascent magazine which was my favorite yoga magazine. Thanks, Roseanne, and y'all go check out the other fab 14 yoga blog posts.

I will be gone for two months starting in January and I like to disconnect from my life here as much as possible so I don't know if I will be blogging at all. I wanted to keep all my previous posts about India in another blog so I moved my old posts to Ma India, My India, -- you can check there for any future updates. Good stuff, so read!

Just like 2005 was a new chapter in my life, I feel that my upcoming trip will be just as momentous, maybe more so. I've been told -- just like a spiritual adept foretold my reaction to India in 2005 -- that it will be "life changing."

Who knows? I take everything with a huge grain of salt. But whatever happens, good, bad, or indifferent, I am grateful for it all because it's always about the journey, isn't it?

"I came into this world to live out loud." (Emile Zola)

04 December 2009

Donna Farhi on yoga

My blogging time here is growing shorter. Thirty-three more days and I step on the plane for a yoga adventure of a lifetime (and yes, this woman of a certain age still feels blessed to be able to do this.)

I'm starting out in Chennai, my second home, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Taught by Desikachar's senior teachers, I will have four private classes a day in meditation, pranayama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and vedic chanting (which will be my favorite class to attend.) I will also have a yoga therapy consultation and a yoga therapy program designed for me -- I will then do two asana classes with a KYM therapist. For me this is yoga heaven, and of course, I will spend time with the friends I made on my first trip to Chennai.

I am spending the least amount of time in Chennai this trip. I usually stay a month, but this time I will only be there for two weeks when my friend meets me and we fly to first time outside of South India.

However, before she arrives I am spending a weekend at the holy city of Thiruvannaamalai to climb the holy hill Arunachala and visit once again (I was there in 2006) the ashram of the great Advaita Vedanta sage Ramana Maharshi. He said, "enquiry in the form 'Who am I' alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than self-enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again." He considered his own guru to be the Self, in the form of the sacred mountain Arunachala.

I am blessed to be able to climb the holy hill.

I am beginning to turn inward more and more the closer I get to leaving, a deep knowing is coming to fruition. After Arunachala, I will be blessed with Kali shakti in Kolkata at her temples and visit the Temple of the 64 Yoginis in Bhubaneswar.

Finally at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar I will dip my toes in the Ganges on MahaShivaratri and witness the tantric yoga rituals of the ultimate yogis. Me and 50 million of my closest friends.

After India, even more amazing to me is that I WILL TEACH YOGA IN AFRICA. I am bringing a style of yoga (yin) to yogis who have never experienced it before. It amazes and overwhelms me. My weekend is sold out, the spaces bought by the small yoga community of Tanzania, and I am blessed to do this. Paul Grilley told me "YOU GO, GIRL!" YES!

Sounds like a good idea for a movie...another Enlighten Up!, only better.

So with my death and rebirth looming before me in India (as has been told to me for more than a few years by various spiritual adepts), I will be blogging less and less. There will be another guest blogger in the near future, one of my college yogis who, I am happy to say, has totally drunk the yoga kool-aid. She will be writing about the true purpose of yoga: healing and transformation -- how yoga has helped with her ulcerative colitis.

In my blogging laziness I give you a conversation with Donna Farhi, Svasti's guest posts being good segues into her conversation about yoga. Years ago I did a workshop with Farhi and she was another teacher that made a lightbulb go off over my head when I was a newbie teacher. Everything she said made sense to me. Here is an excerpt:

Q: How do you differentiate between "good" and "bad" yoga?

Donna Farhi: Good yoga cultivates a deep sense of self-acceptance and tolerance for others. When I witness someone practicing and living yoga well, they have developed clear perception, concentration, and the skill to respond to any situation with a presence of mind. In my yoga classes that means that the form of the postures is not the goal - you can be as stiff as an ironing board and much less flexible than your compadres in a yoga class and still be practicing beautiful yoga if your practice is fostering that respect and care for yourself.

In this sense the greater and greater emphasis on the form of postures in the West has been a two edged sword. The refinement has allowed us to make the postures much more beneficial, but Westerners are so caught up in external image and the meaning they attribute to those images, that for many Westerners good yoga means touching their toes. The trend in the U.S. in the last ten years has been to judge people's yoga almost purely from their physical adeptness. We attribute some kind of spiritually advanced state to someone who can put their feet on the back of their head. That is we've started to mistake the map for the territory. Quite often this supposedly good yoga is fostering a sense of superiority and judgment towards others who practice any other form of yoga. To me, any yoga that fosters those qualities is bad yoga.

Talk amongst yourselves.

02 December 2009

"I don’t know how old yoga is and neither do you" -- part 2

ancient stone carving of vrksasana at the UNESCO World Heritage Site,
-- more than 100 years old

photo © 2005 Linda-Sama

Keep those comments comin' as you read the second installment of Svasti's guest blogger post. I give my sincere heartfelt thanks to Svasti (my yoga sister in more ways than one) for taking on the challenge!

By the way, one of my classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in January is specifically on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Will report back on that in March!

MY last word on the subject is put out there for all to see in this post. Like I've said before, you do your yoga, I'll do mine. Anyone who has taken the time to read what I've been writing since 2005 knows my feelings about the "American yoga question." Like Svasti, I don't care how old yoga is because it doesn't matter to me. I never really bought into the idea that it's 5000 years old, that number sounds too convenient, but I also don't believe that "postural yoga" is a modern invention. That stone yogi in my photo is one old dude.

Talk amongst yourselves.


That’s yoga?
Waylon gave us a picture of a coin depicting what looks like a guy in padmasana. His argument to dismiss this was a two word sentence: “That’s yoga?”

My reply is this – why isn’t it yoga? Why couldn’t it be yoga? If you were an artist trying to depict what yoga meant to you on a coin, what would you create? Would you be thinking when you did so, that whatever you make might be used in an argument 5,000 years from now to dismiss asana as being more than 100 years old?

And does the fact that asana isn’t mentioned specifically in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras mean it couldn’t have been around at the time? I mean, I could write a book on yoga tomorrow that has no mention of asana in it. Not that it’d be a very good book, but hey, I could write one! And what if that was somehow the only book that survived after 10,000 years? Would that be proof that we never did asana in 2009?

To be fair, I don’t know if the image on that coin is depicting a yogi or not. Or whether asana was around 2,500 years ago. And Waylon, Nick, neither do you. Just because we can’t prove/disprove something, doesn’t make it true/false.

On a more practical note, I’ve gotta ask: Where do you think all this wonderful yoga philosophy came from? Perhaps the various gods of the Hindu pantheon incarnated into this world and wrote it all down for us. Or perhaps somebody (or several somebodies) sat in meditation for a very long time. Which, I should add, is not possible to do without having done an awful lot of asana.

And as you may be aware, the original intent of asana was to clear the channels of the body and prepare it for meditation. Sit in meditation for even an hour or two without a properly prepared body and you’ll be in serious pain. So I’m guessing that for all of that incredible philosophy to arise, there must have been some form of physical practice.

Just sayin’!

And finally…
Nick said: “Something doesn’t have to be old for it to be great”. And I agree.

But if you don’t care how old something is, why bother insisting that yoga is 50 or 100 years old? If you can’t prove it, why say it? Why attempt to draw a line in the sand and call what we do now “modern” yoga? Just because it’s only been 100 years or so since the first yogis came to America? And just because mostly what you see in commercial yoga studios these days is purely asana?

Why slice and dice yoga, cutting it down to size and suggest that yoga is only 50-100 years old? Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a joke.

Sure, there’s a mass of people for whom yoga is purely a physical practice. And I say, so what? That doesn’t make it lesser than the yoga practiced through the ages. If I have kids, I’ll be introducing them to yoga via asana, but it certainly won’t be all they learn. And a physical practice might lead some people to look deeper and see that… ah yes… there is more to yoga than a toned butt! Of course, if it doesn’t, that’s all good too.

Seems to me that even though Nick clearly had some interesting experiences during the filming of Enlighten Up!, in his own words, he was “subjected” to yoga. He didn’t come to it of his own accord. He doesn’t practice yoga regularly now. It seems Nick has done his research and decided yoga isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Which is fine. No one has to dig it the same way some of us do.

However, if that’s the case, is it cool to be speaking on behalf of yoga? I know, I know...Nick was in a movie and people want to interview him about it. Fine. So speak from your own experiences. But please, don’t re-write the history of yoga or suggest that "yoga’s anything you want it to be..."

Personally I think a true understanding of yoga can only come from a sustained and regular practice - whether its asana, meditation or a combination of the two, plus pranayama and whatever else you want to throw in, except maybe swinging from the chandelier in your chakra undies (nice one, Linda!).

Because yoga is primarily an exploration of the Self. And not one that can be understood in-depth just by reading books or doing yoga for a short amount of time.

I’ve been a practicing yogini for seven years now and wouldn’t dream of talking about yoga except in the broadest of terms. What would I know? I’m merely a beginner on this life-long path.


P.S. Many thanks to Linda for offering me a guest post on her marvelous blog. Hopefully she didn’t cringe too much at my Australian English spelling! [@Svasti - no!]

P.P.S. On a final note – in comments at YogaDork and here on Linda’s blog, I decided I’d plant a bit of a furphy. It seemed like everyone was cool with Nick saying whatever he wanted about yoga. So I thought I’d create an argument around academics who write about yoga, suggesting perhaps they weren’t writing from the place of a practitioner. Understandably, some commenters found my statements a little annoying. Truth be told, I have no idea if there are any academic writers on yoga who aren’t also practitioners. But writing what I did certainly made people wonder. Fact, fiction...hard to separate sometimes, eh?

01 December 2009

"I don’t know how old yoga is and neither do you" -- part 1

The question went around the yoga blogosphere not too long ago about how old yoga REALLY is. elephant journal wrote about it here, Nick Rosen of the movie Enlighten Up! created controversy at YogaDork's house when he said that the asana thing is only about 100 years old, and I added my two rupees here. The discussion about this question ran hot and heavy in the comments to all these posts. I felt that Svasti made excellent points in her comments over at YogaDork so I asked her to expand her discussion here (since I totally agreed with her...heehee.) She was kind enough to write a guest post, so without further adieu, here is Svasti in her own words -- I have neither added nor deleted one word. Her post will be presented in two parts.

Talk amongst yourselves.


I don’t know how old yoga is and neither do you

And to be perfectly honest, I actually don’t care.

I’m not over here in sirsasana romantically imagining myself back into the annals of time, okay? Sure, yoga has been around in one form or another for a long time. But as to its exact age? I don’t know. And despite much diligent research, neither does anyone else.

This post is not an argument about what yoga and/or “real yoga” is, or whether yoga is as ancient as some people claim. Instead, I’m suggesting that in general, it’s not a good idea to run around saying that yoga is only 50 or 100 years old. Why? Because you can’t prove it.

We really don’t know how old yoga is, or when asana first came on the scene.

A friend of mine recently said to me that real science is based on disproving theories rather than proving them. Let me state that I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

And I get what he means. In terms of yoga asana, I’ve constantly disproved myself over the years. I remember once thinking I’d never be able to do some of the asana I now find very simple. Up to and including a good portion of this year, I’ve always had a hard time with any balance pose. I used to think it would always be that way. Now I’ve disproved that, and I also understand why I’ve had so much trouble with them in the past.

Right now, I’m learning some very challenging asana in Shadow Yoga and I’m in the process of disproving current limitations I was certain my body had. Only last Sunday, I learned that one particular asana (which they call chakrasana, although it’s not wheel/bridge pose) is not hard work at all, if I can just trust my feet implicitly (something I plan to write a post on shortly).

There’s plenty of other things I’ve disproved in my life, including that I’ll always suffer from PTSD; that I’m uncoordinated; and that I’ll always bite my nails, to name but a few. Basically, there’s enough evidence around to make whatever point you want.

Much ado about asana
Got myself in a spot of bother over at Yoga Dork a couple of weeks back. So much so, that Nick Rosen (cynical star of Enlighten Up!) called me “un-yogic” (IMHO that’s just another way of telling someone to shut up). Then Waylon Lewis over at Elephant Journal chimed in, perhaps feeling the need to support his “longtime acquaintance”. Waylon even suggested to me (via DM on Twitter) that when I get around to replying (and BTW, this is my reply) that I shouldn’t hesitate “to be mean”. Wow, I guess Waylon and Nick think I’m mean. So do some of the commenters on the Yoga Dork post.

Now, folks are entitled to think whatever they like. For the record, I am not a mean person. Like almost everyone else I do get angry sometimes, and I can be intolerant when I think people are talking through their butt cheeks. Thing is, getting angry doesn’t make me either yogic or not yogic. What is yogic is what we do with our reactions.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. Sitting with these events and considering my reactions and other people’s too. In fact, this whole brouhaha has taught me a lot. Generally I avoid online debates, but this time I didn’t. Some people found my frank and upfront comments to be rude. They were never intended that way. So let me say right now: if you were offended by my part in the debate, please accept my apologies. Because I did not intend to be offensive.

So what was it exactly, that got my ire up? Couple of things really. First of all, we have Nick Rosen running around saying that yoga is only 100 years old, both in the Yoga Dork interview and also in a piece he wrote for Huffington Post (won’t go into what I think of that article - don’t wanna start another war!).

Then, when a couple of people (including me) suggested this was a ridiculous statement, Nick changed his mind and said that maybe yoga was 500 years old at the most. Then he decided to clarify, saying he was talking about “modern yoga” – y’know, that asana-only-based thing some of us whities call yoga. Oh, that’s only really 100 years old, if that. Riiiiight…

Modern yoga - WTF?
Listen up people: not all “modern” yogis think of yoga as Nick has defined it: “a set of postures and movements we undertake to achieve health and for some a sense of spiritual/meditative calm, as an end in itself”. Funnily enough, I can think of at least 200 yogis I know personally who wouldn’t dream of describing yoga like that. Wait - let me add in the entire Bihar School of Yoga, which is a world-wide organisation. None of those people think of yoga as purely a physical pursuit, either.

Speaking of the Bihar School of Yoga, they are one of several living traditions that do not conform to Nick’s idea of “modern yoga”, and yet they are in the here and now. Let’s look at the Saraswati lineage from which BSY was founded. The current head(s) of the lineage are Paramahansa Satyananda, and his successor Swami Naranjananda. Satyananda’s guru was Swami Sivananda and his guru was Swami Vishwananda.

These four generations tell us that the Saraswati lineage is over 100 years old, at least. Further back than that, we don’t know for sure. There’s plenty of oral teachings, many of which I’ve been given, but no concrete evidence. So we don’t know either way.

But what do we know for sure about BSY? First of all, asana is specified by both Satyananda and Sivananda. I don’t know too much about Vishwananda except that he was Sivananda’s guru. But given Satyananda learned what he knows from Sivananda, it’s safe to assume that Sivananda learned what he knows from Vishwananda. Probably, right?

And what did they all teach? Yoga as a complete path to for life as well as practices to achieve enlightenment. Including asana, pranayama, meditation, philosophy, health, music, dance and so on.

So you could never suggest that BSY falls under Nick’s definition of “modern yoga” and yet it’s practiced by thousands of people worldwide today. So I guess that mustn’t be everyone’s definition of “modern” yoga after all!

And I can’t buy into this idea for another reason: Yoga is a constantly evolving practice. Let's say yoga is (for argument’s sake) 1,000 years old (not that this can be definitively proven either way). The yoga that was practiced 900 years ago vs the yoga that was practiced 800 years ago vs 700 years ago vs 600 years ago etc… are bound to be different. That's the thing about time. There’s always change. That doesn’t make what we practice today less than what was practiced before. It is still yoga, based on the same principles.

From my personal practice, I can tell you that the fruit (or results) of practicing yoga (I’m talking about asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra and bandha here), have in some cases turned out to be eerily similar to those of yogis who lived long before I was born.

Then, according to certain oral and written traditions in yoga, this world has been around for much longer than whatever age scientists are currently suggesting it is. In fact there is a belief/idea/theory that the entire universe is cyclically created and destroyed (MahaYuga) at the completion of the four Yugas (cycles of time). Personally, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Point being, we really have no idea.