27 May 2007

out with the old karma, in with the new

March, 2006

Kannen and I walked to the ends of Dhanushkodi, almost to Sri Lanka, in the noonday Indian sun, but I was too hot and too exhausted to walk back to where we had started. I opted for the 30 rupee truck ride back. Other people joined us in back of that truck and at one point we got stuck in the sand -- we all got out and the men pushed and pulled the truck until we were free. Using the rope that was tied to the top of the truck, I grabbed it and swung myself back up, enjoying every moment of the ride back. I did not understand a word anyone was saying, but I felt comfortable, never out of place in the back of an old truck on a beach in India.

My right-out-of-the-ocean fish lunch was waiting for me – and for Kannen, of course, since I paid for his lunch and the ride back – and it seemed to me that I had never had a more delicious meal. Sitting at the fisherman’s makeshift lunch counter in front of his open fire, I watched him cook as his daughter cleaned the planks that were used as seats and tables. Kannen told everyone that I was an “American yoga teacher” and everyone smiled and nodded their heads and asked me if I liked India. “I love India!,” I said, and that brought even bigger smiles. One Indian showed me his Bible and asked me if I knew Jesus. I told him that I certainly did know Jesus and the man was satisfied with that, he did not try to convert me. When we left, the fisherman asked me to stay in Rameswaram to teach his daughter English. I laughed and told him I would if he could find me yoga students. If only I could have stayed...

I got back to my hotel and that night Kannen and I walked to the great temple. The Ramalingeshwara Temple was built in the 12th century, and has magnificent pillared walkways, 1,212 pillars on the north and south sides. This temple is different from other temples as it is a temple for worshipers of both Shiva and Vishnu. The temple contains 22 temple tanks (like wells) each with water where one can “bathe”, that is, three buckets of water from each tank are poured over you by a temple attendant. Each tank is said to have special benefits: one gives you relief from debt, one gives you “complete wisdom”, one gives long life to a woman, and other things. I was to go through this dunking early the next morning.

Kannen and I sat and talked for a long time. Once again, as in all my travels, I was the only westerner. We sat by a tank where a man was pouring water over a boy and Kannen pointed out that was what I was going through tomorrow. I felt very much at peace in this temple, I felt like I could have slept there all night. Kannen told me about his life, his children, how his sister lived in Germany, how he likes meeting so many people from all over the world. He said he would arrange for my bucket ceremony. He told me it would cost 300 rupees, which I knew was a scandalous rip-off, but I did not care. I saw what the price was on the sign outside the temple and the cost was at least three times less than that, but I also knew that prices are automatically increased for foreigners. Besides, when would I be here again?

Kannen picked me up at 6 AM the next morning. We walked to the temple and I met my “bucket man”, a friend of Kannen’s (of course.) We stopped at each tank with the rest of the pilgrims and my man would put the bucket in the tank three times and pour the water over my head. However, he was practically running from tank to tank! I figured he was thinking, OK, I got my money, let’s get this show over with, and I told him to slow down, that I did not want to fall because the floor was sopping wet from the dripping clothes of all the people. He got the hint and we walked a bit more reverently. I was going to take as long as I could to get through all 22 tanks. I noticed that one tank was all about Brahma and it said that water from this tank would extinguish my past karma...I liked that. I must say that I did feel a bit more cleansed after that bucket of water washed over me.

The last stop was going into a temple room with other women where I wrung out my salwar kameez before meeting the temple priest for a puja. I bought flowers and fruit and made him an offering; and he then smeared sandalwood paste on my forehead, blessed me, and gave me a packet containing "temple things" including a little container of temple water.

I was done. My bucket man had disappeared, my 300 rupees in his pocket together with a new pen. I think he appreciated the "new pen" more than the rupees. I found my sandals and started to walk back to the hotel, knowing that I was in a different state of mind.

I slowly walked along the beach, stopping every so often to watch the pilgrims bathing in the ocean before they walked into the temple. Halfway to the hotel I looked up and saw Kannen walking toward me. “You look beautiful,” was all he said.

He told me to rest, to not take a shower for a few hours, that I should just let the energy from the temple water soak into me. My train to Chennai was leaving at 3 PM, and he said he would come back to take me to the train. “Beautiful,” he said, as he walked away.

25 May 2007

be part of the solution

I'm an old hippie who still believes that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. But here's a book and a website that can help all of us be part of the solution.

From the Better World Shopper website:

"Globalization has brought wonderful products from around the world into our homes, but it has also allowed companies to exploit the resources, workers and us, their customers, to their benefit. One will spend less for such products and they will appear to be more convenient, but by acquiring such products these companies are also making us complicit in the devastation they bring to the environment and the additional suffering they cause to the animals and people used to make and sell their products. Would chocolate taste as sweet if you knew that the company that sold it employed children in sweatshop conditions and used unsustainable farming practices to produce it? The problem is that most consumers don't know which companies do the right thing when it comes to environmental stewardship and other ethical practices and which ones just don't care. If consumers had this type of information at their fingertips, most would forgo the small savings and modest conveniences and buy products that are better for the world and the beings that inhabit it....

Over seventy product types and the corporations that sell them are graded on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. For $10, this website sells a convenient pocket size book that makes it is easy to refer to as you shop ethically. An average American family spends $18,000 a year on goods and services. Make those dollars count by using them to teach corporations that being responsible to the world is being responsible to their bottom line...."

The website lists the 10 best and worst companies on the planet based on a comprehensive analysis of their overall records of social and environmental responsibility for the past 20 years:



If any of you have read my posts on the situation in Tibet (please read "News from Tibet" in the sidebar for the latest), you know that I try not to buy things that are made in China. That is very hard to do nowadays, but I'm wacky about reading the labels of everything I buy. Yoga peeps, look at the labels of your yoga clothes next time you reach for those funky yoga pants. Are they made utilizing child labor?

And let's think about yoga mats: where are they made? As yogis, can we make better choices? Can we recycle those old mats that are made from non-biogradable materials or do we just throw them away to end up in a landfill somewhere, out of sight, out of mind? Yes, those eco-mats are more expensive, but in the long-run, which are a better choice? If my college students decide that yoga is not for them, I ask them to donate their mats and props to me for use at the domestic violence shelter where I teach. I tell them it is a better choice than the mats ending up in a landfill...or under their beds gathering dust!

I also refuse to support the Wal-Mart corporate culture. Some time ago I organized a citizens' group to fight Wal-Mart to keep them from building next to a wetland/bird sanctuary, so I know first-hand how they play the game. They stop at nothing. We still got a Wal-Mart, but we "won" the fight: we saved 50% of the land, the developer moved the Wal-Mart across the road to "vacant" land (a farmer's cornfield), and I worked with my town and the commercial developer to buffer the wetland from the strip mall that was eventually built through the use of native landscaping.

Don't be part of the problem.
Be an educated consumer and shop mindfully (what a concept - mindful shopping!)
Engage in conscious choices.
Support your local farmer.
Eat organically.
Think globally, act locally.

These are not cliches. Change begins with each one of us. Be the change. And if the yoga peeps who read this blog could post about this Spread the word...and spread love.


18 May 2007

food for thought

Willing to experience aloneness, I discover connection everywhere.
Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within.
Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the Universe.
Surrendering to emptiness, I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me.
Each condition I welcome transforms me,
and becomes itself transformed into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so; who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is pure delight.
To honor its form, true devotion.

Jennifer Wellwood

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sarah Powers read this poem at the end of her yin yoga teacher training last month. A student asked Sarah who her teachers were and Jennifer Wellwood was one whom she mentioned. This poem is from Ms. Wellwood's self-published book. I love it.

Read. Think. Embrace.

n*ked yoga

Since I am very curious by nature (some would say nosey), I check every day on the location of my readers. For those of you who don't know, many blogs have a site meter that allows the blogger to see exactly how someone finds their blog and where they are in the world. I've started to notice how many people -- I'm assuming men, or is that sexist? -- from around the world do an internet search for "n*ked yoga" or some variation thereof and find this blog! I've only used the word "n&ked" in five posts and never wrote about "n%ked yoga". I used the word in a post about ayurvedic massage, in reference to hippies, and wrote about Shiva babas at the Kumbh Mela in India, all of which are innocent enough.

I'm no prude, but all these searches are beginning to creep me out and from now on, any time I type the word "n#ked", it will be typed with a character in it, and not the full word. In fact, I am going to go through my blog and retype each and every instance of the word "n&ked", just like the way someone types their email address using the word "at" instead of @ to keep spammers away from their email addresses. Well...let's say I will do that for all except one recent post, and you will probably be able to figure out why....:)

OK, I get the fascination with looking at n*ked pictures of whoever, but why "n#ked" and "yoga" together, lately and so often? Maybe someone can explain this to me?

Here are some of the latest searches during the past two days via Google and Yahoo:

"n&ked yoga women" from Pensacola, Florida

"n*ked yoga fitness center Chicago", location unknown

"n%ked yoga" from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"n*ked picture of Tamil actress" from Oman. According to Wikipedia "even though Oman is a modern country, western influences are quite restricted. The Ibādī form of Islam is also conservative like Sunni Islam and Shi'a Islam. About 75% of Oman is Muslim..." hmmmmm....and that dude found MY blog?!?

"n#ked yoga girls pics" from Arroyo Grande, California

"n%ked yoga pictures" from Kingston, Illinois

And this is just from the last two days. I've been keeping track of my hits since January.

Get a clue, guys -- we know where you are!

15 May 2007

cool countdown to India

As you can see over at the sidebar, I've installed a countdown clock -- my countdown for my third trip to India in days, hours, minutes, and seconds! But who's counting?...:)

I booked my flight today -- leave for Chennai in December and will spend most of January in 2008 in Tamil Nadu. First week, yoga school in Chennai for private lessons, then travel by train to Thanjavur area and Kerala. This time definitely one and maybe two of my yoga students will come with me, taking the classes with me. I've also been invited to a wedding in Chennai where I will wear a sari! I've always wanted to see how I would look in a beautiful sari...

AAARGH! I haven't even finished blogging about my SECOND trip!

The wave of feeling that I felt when I clicked "book flight" on the Lufthansa website could only be described as "I'm going home..."

Also in the sidebar is a little award graphic announcing that this blog has been selected as's Cool Site of the Day! Coolpick says that every day they pick "one extremely high cool factor web site worthy of your esteemed clickage" so that's me!

Woo-hoo! I'm cool in cyberspace! And at my age!


walking to Sri Lanka

March, 2006

I woke up early and Kannen picked me up for our walk to Sri Lanka. Not literally, of course, but we would be close enough – we would be walking to Dhanushkodi, on the most eastern tip of India, less than 20 miles from Sri Lanka. He asked if I wanted to ride in a truck out to the point, but of course I didn’t, I wanted to walk all the way. This woman of a certain age was going to walk along the Indian beach no matter how long it would take me to get there.

Rameswaram is an island in the Gulf of Mannar at the very tip of India. Rameswaram is the place from where Lord Rama built a bridge across the sea to rescue his consort Sita from her abductor, Ravana, It is also where Rama worshiped Shiva to cleanse away the sin of killing Ravana. Dhanushkodi, named after Rama's bow, is at the eastern end of the island about 8 kms from Rameswaram. The boulders around the sea between Sri Lanka and the place known as Adam's Bridge are believed to be used by the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, to leap across the ocean to Lanka to rescue Sita.

Before we left for the beach, Kannen took me to the street market where I bought fruit for our trip. Everyone knew him – I’m sure I wasn’t the first westerner he brought there – and I sat with the fish sellers as they told me about their catches of the day. I was again glad about how different the Indians were here compared to the ones I had met in Kodaikanal only two days before.

We got to the place on the beach where we would start our walk, but before we left, Kannen took me to the fisherman
who would cook our lunch when we got back. The fisherman took us behind his hut and I picked out my fish that he had caught that morning. One couldn’t get a fresher lunch than that! I can tell you that I was so hungry when we returned that I would have eaten that fish raw.

We started walking and by this time it was close to noon. The sand was blazing hot and it kept getting into my shoes, the sun high in the sky beating down on us. Thank goodness I had plenty of water with me. Kannen and I had an easy conversation – as I said, he was a smooth operator. He kept asking me how I was. I asked him what he would do if I couldn’t walk any further. “Carry you,” he said.

We rested in the shade at the old ferry stop that stopped running ferries in 1964 when the area was hit by a cyclone. I had a thin cotton sarong with me that I used as a dupatta and Kannen tied it gently and carefully around my head so that my scalp and forehead would not get sunburned.

We met up with other travelers walking along the way. Again, I was the only westerner and I trudged along the Indian beach with old men, women, and childen, sweating in the noon sun.

We came to a fishing village and Kannen introduced me to the “oldest man in Dhanushkodi” – I knew that I was not the first westerner he brought to him. Kannen told him where we had walked from, and the old man told Kannen that I was a “strong woman”. We sat in his hut for a long time, and his sons came in with the old man’s pet monkey, a baby that I wanted to hold, but I knew that would be a bad idea, as a bite would mean automatic rabies shots. Seeing that little monkey with a chain around its waist made me sad, but I suppose it had a better life on the island than in a cage in Chennai. We sat a while longer and a Shiva baba came into the hut, another old man who had walked even further than we did, all the way from Rameswaram proper. I gave him some of my water and he blessed me when I told him om namah shivaya, jai jai shiva shambo.

We came to another fishing village and Kannen and I walked around talking to people he knew. We sat for a long time with a family who spoke no English -- the woman made me chai, and the man repaired his nets. Kannen did most of the talking and I stared out at the ocean. I couldn’t believe I had walked all this way, almost to Sri Lanka. I left him and walked along the beach, picking up shells that I had only seen pictures of in books. Those shells and a sea urchin are now on my altar in my yoga room.

I felt very lucky to be here, I was filled with gratitude and awe because I am always drawn to the ocean. Some people are drawn to mountains or forests, I am drawn to the ever changing face of the ocean. I feel the rhythm of the waves inside me. I've always felt like I can walk out into the ocean, dive beneath the waves, and survive, returning only when I feel like it.

Kannen told me that he brought two western women (“Swedish”) out where we were and they stayed for three days, that he had set them up with a beach hut and water. The family we had sat with cooked their meals, and it only cost them 500 rupees per day. He told me he would do the same for me, that I could wear a “swimming suit” and swim in the ocean. I looked at him and said that I thought women are supposed to stay covered up in this part of India. I told him that people told me to stay covered, that South India was conservative – I pulled out the strap of my camisole that I wore under my sleeveless kurti and I asked him, “you mean I could walk around with this top on, no problem?” He said, yes, no problem, no one would care. I asked him why that's so, and I waved my hand to encompass the whole area. All he said was, “we have freedom here.”

He told me if I wanted to do the beach hut next time, to call him, that he would pick me up in Madurai and we would drive to Rameswaram. The idea was extremely tempting to me, but the thought of being alone on an almost deserted beach at night where drugs and people were trafficed gave me pause. Besides, my gut told me that I would not be alone in that hut for very long.

14 May 2007

Crone power!

Standing Women

A book for any woman who thinks she can't save the world..."Sharon Mehdi has been prodded by spirit several times in her life to make what she calls journeys of faith...."

I love that phrase "prodded by spirit." As Sri Krishnamacharya said, "yoga is about life."

Crone Chronicles

"Crone" is identified as the third aspect of the ancient Triple Goddess: Maiden/Mother/Crone. Crone symbolizes the wisdom present in a woman of any age, but which usually becomes stronger as she grows older....

The patriarchal culture's valuation of the female is based on the youthful beauty of her bodily appearance, her 'image.' By this measure, the older a woman becomes, the less she is valued...."

Does anyone see a theme here? NEVER underestimate the power of the older woman!

Those of you with blogs probably already have a "site meter" where you can check to see who reads your blog. I usually check on the location of my hits and today I found the search criteria "women n@ked yoga pictures" from San Francisco, California. That's not the first time that someone has searched for "n*ked yoga" or "n%ked yoga woman"!

Let's have some artfully done photos of n*ked yoga crones of a certain age a la Calendar Girls! Imagine the expressions on the faces of the searchers for n*ked yoga pics when they get an eyeful of a 75 year old n&ked yoga crone who is not ashamed of her body...:)

they're not NAKED YOGA BABES, but for all guys googling for "NAKED YOGA", "NAKED YOGA CHICKS", "SKINNY YOGA CHICKS", "HOT YOGA BABES" or some variation thereof, here ya go! take a good look, boys! C'mon guys, show these dudes your downward facing dogs! kisses!

11 May 2007

reader warning: yoga rant!

My birthday yesterday got me thinking about aging in particular, but in general the use of youthful yoga images in the Western media to sell a product...yes, let's admit it, yoga in the West is mass-marketed and a brand name in some cases.

Feminists say that the older woman, that is, a woman over 40, is invisible in modern society. I've read more than a few articles about how older Hollywood actresses believe that there are few good roles for the aging actress in a culture obsessed with youth and Botox.

I will throw the question out there: is Western yoga culture guilty of the same offense? Think about the covers of your favorite yoga magazines and the pictures that accompany the stories inside. Think about the ads for yoga products. How many wrinkles can you count? Indeed, how many rounder bodies do you see, the more zaftig, Rubenesque forms?

Vanity Fair has a slide show on famous yogis and yoginis (thanks, Marilyn!) and while the photos are fabulous and I was glad to see master teachers like Desikachar, Jois, and Iyengar, I noticed that there weren't many older women. Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa was featured, and I'm assuming that Trudie Styler is over 40 since Sting is in his mid-50s, but where are all the older women? Surely Vanity Fair could have found more than two...or am I just being overly-sensitive? And if I am being hyper-sensitive about it, so what?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting tired of seeing the young, skinny, cellulite-free bodies in Yoga Journal and other yoga magazines. I want to see people in my age group and older featured in the articles, and not just in articles about "senior yoga" in chairs or yoga in nursing homes! And I certainly don't want to see a 20-something yogini demonstrating the asanas in an article about yoga for menopause! I want to see older yogis and yoginis as cover models, wrinkles, saggy breasts, and softer bellies included. But I guess we're not the right demographic age group -- after all, it's all about who buys what.

I plan on practicing and teaching yoga the rest of my life and the current collection of popular yoga magazines just don't appeal to me anymore. I used to read Yoga Journal cover to cover and save each and every issue -- now I barely skim it and it gets recycled very quickly. At least the YJ interview in the latest issue (ahem...on the last page) features Patricia Walden, an "old" yogini. My favorite yoga magazine is ascent, founded by Swami Sivananda Radha -- you can count lots of wrinkles in that magazine!

You may have seen the movie Calendar Girls where "old" Helen Mirren and her "old" friends take off their clothes for a fund-raising calendar. If someone somewhere would do a calendar like that featuring us older yoga bodies, honey, sign me up! Sing the Body Electric!

I Sing the Body Electric -- Walt Whitman, 1900

"...This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but myself and it...

Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice...

Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul..."

10 May 2007

an attitude of gratitude

Today is my birthday. And that scary picture of me (and my boyfriend Harry, or Hari as I used to call him) is circa 1971 when I was a young hippie chick in high school. I killed too many brain cells back then to remember who took that picture.

And how often do you get an email from The Universe on your birthday?....

Hey!! Sama, there's not been a single day in your life when you've been anything but magnificent. Give this to yourself.

Every day you move mountains, touch lives, and perform miracles.

Every day you're a success, a hero, an example.

And every day you change the world for the better...

The Universe

If any of you would like to get daily personalized messages from The Universe, you can sign up at The Adventurers Club - Thoughts Become Things. Yeah, yeah, I know...none of us need any more emails in our inbox, but it's kind of neat to get a personalized message from the Universe!

I've been around the sun over 50 times now, and every year on my birthday I look back over my life. I can honestly say that I have no regrets, not even about the bad things I've experienced because I've learned lessons from it all. I don't regret the drugs I took or hanging out with the people I hung out with, some good, some not so good, some wild and crazy, and others, just crazy. I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back, and for a while making it to age 21 was a little iffy.

Those of you who have read my very early postings know that I dabbled in yoga and meditation in my college days, when yoga was seen as the milieu of half-n@ked hippies sitting around chanting OM. My claim to fame is OMing with Buddhist and Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg at a hippie party, and no, none of us were half-n*ked, but I do remember some wacky tobacy and Ripple wine. On a quest for something more, I started reading the books of the Eastern wisdom traditions even earlier, when I was in high school.

Then my life detoured taking many twists and turns until I found the road sign again that pointed the way back to the Path. I believe there are no coincidences, and yoga brought me back home to myself, to the me that used to be, sans drugs and craziness this time. It is said that yoga connects or re-connects us to our True Self....I know it has in my case, and I've had a consistent practice for about 10 years now, and teaching for six. The rewards of yoga for me are so much more than physical -- although the physical practice keeps me flexible and open and strong, the non-physical practice makes me whole. My meditation practice keeps me on an even keel, keeps me focused on the NOW, keeps me from becoming reactionary and held prisoner by my emotions or erratic thoughts. My spirituality feeds my soul.

A few years ago I had my birth chart done, and during our first meeting the astrologer told me that she has rarely seen a chart as powerful as mine because of the way certain planets line up. Pluto is very heavy in my chart, Pluto being the planet of death but also the planet of spirituality. She told me that according to my chart, the first months that I spend in India will be the most perfect times in my life to be there. She did my chart before I went on my first trip and she told me that "it will feel like you are going home." She was right. Dead-on right. The waves of recognition that flooded over me the minute my foot hit Indian soil were too strong to be denied, and I had some deep emotional responses to certain areas in Tamil Nadu.

After my second trip to India I did my "astro travel" birthchart at, and my Moon and Pluto (there's that planet again!) lines intersect right through Tamil Nadu, in the exact spot where I travel. The crossing of Moon and Pluto means "there is a tremendous potential for transformation in this region...the path towards catharsis under Pluto's guidance often leads through a valley of tears, but once you are through it, you will receive completely new insights. Mighty energies operate under this crossing. Repressed memories, past emotional hurts, and unprocessed fears come into consciousness to make you look at events of your past which you thought were long forgotten, as a result of which you experience cathartic releases..." Hmmmm....maybe that's why I broke down in those Murugan temples.....

My astrologer has said that according to my chart I have not even begun to reach my potential, that my 50s will be a training ground for what will come after age 60, "taking it on the road", as she calls it. All my yoga training and spiritual retreats are preparing me for what she calls an exponential explosion into the global realm, because the "Midwest is just too small for you. You came out of the womb looking to get out of the box..." A vedic astrologer told me, long before going to India was even a thought in my mind, that somewhere between 2008-2010 I would experience "divine grace." I don't know what that is exactly, but it sounds good.

I've always taken anything adepts have told me with a huge grain of salt, if things happen, they happen, I go with the flow. I traveled overseas -- solo -- for the first time in my life at the fabulous age of 51, and for whatever reason the planets lined up to take me to the heart of yoga. I returned six months later, once again a solo woman-of-a-certain-age traveler.

At an age when many people start thinking about retirement, I know in my bones that the best is yet to come for me. Many my age have health concerns, but I don't concern myself with that. My arthritis is worse than some -- I developed it in my 30s, and had shoulder surgery in my 40s. I had an ovarian cancer scare that required another surgery, and that's when I created my mantra "I AM NOT THIS BODY, I AM NOT THIS BODY, I AM NOT THIS BODY". It works for peace of mind and perspective, believe me. If I develop an incapacitating condition, I already know where I want to spend my last days, and it won't be in an American hospital, I can assure you.

I regret nothing, and look forward to everything that will come my way, even the unpleasant things. I decided a long time ago not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Life is a delicious ebb and flow and I want the entire banquet, not just a few nibbles at the buffet. Yoga cultivates many things, and one thing it cultivates is an attitude of gratitude. Thank you, Life, for being an excellent teacher.

05 May 2007

notes from the Dalai Lama

This might be first place you'll read that the Dalai Lama is cute -- a stooped, shuffling little old man whom you want to hug, or at least help into his chair. There is something so endearing about a stooped, shuffling little old man with a beautiful smile, twinkling eyes, and a hearty laugh. A simple monk, as he says.

I spent three days in the Dalai Lama's teachings in Madison, Wisconsin, and also received a Green Tara empowerment and blessing. I sat less than 30 feet from him for all three days, and when he walked in, everyone in the huge events center rose from their seats and you could hear a pin drop. I was seeing him for the first time, and I started to cry. In my training with Sarah Powers she spoke about meeting the Dalai Lama and how he radiates "presence" -- how as yogis we should cultivate "presence", not merely cultivate awareness of being in the "present moment". Think about that, yoga peeps. Now I know what Sarah meant by "presence".

His Holiness' teachings were on Lama Tsongkhapa's Experiential Teachings: "Songs of Spiritual Experience: Condensed Points of the Stages of the Path" and "The Good-Goal Expression of Realization: The Spiritual Autobiography of Lama Tsongkhapa." These texts were divided into short paragraphs and His Holiness spoke at length in Tibetan about each paragraph which his translator then explained to us. His explanations were fascinating, but two lines from Tsongkhapa's Songs of Spiritual Experience resonated with me: "If we do not contemplate the causal process of the origin of suffering, we will fail to understand how to cut the root of cyclic existence."

Here are a few notes from my three days with His Holiness:

He advises people to stay with their own religion, because sometimes changing religions can cause confusion. He feels very strongly about this. But he also believes that we can learn from other traditions, so the "whole planet can be one entity." Having knowledge of others' practices, leads to having more respect for the other person. However, if the other tradition (such as Buddhism) seems more effective to you, then study it deeply. It is our individual choice, but it does not mean that our original tradition is no longer good or effective, we should still respect our former religion.

He said that the key approach to Buddhism is the cultivation of "discriminating awareness", i.e., developing a deeper insight into the nature of reality which is the impermanence of all things. This discriminating awareness will bring about the transformation of our emotions from a mind that denies what is real or exaggerates what is real to an awakened mind that arises from a deeper understanding of the buddha-dharma.

To be truly on the Buddhist spiritual path, one must be grounded in the nature of reality, which Buddha taught in his First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma upon his enlightenment, i.e., the Four Noble Truths: that there is suffering, what is the origin of suffering, what is the cessation of suffering, and what is the path that leads to cessation of suffering. It is only when we have this basis of understanding, that we have the potential to change via the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha said that root of all our suffering is our own ignorance of this reality; our own ignorance is what perpetuates our own suffering and keeps us in the "cyclic existence" of our own negative samsaras.

As for following a spiritual path, I thought that what His Holiness had to say can also apply to the relationship between a yoga teacher and the yoga student. He said that someone whose own mind is not disciplined, should not be training others' minds. The Dalai Lama believes that this idea should be taken seriously.

According to Vajrayana Buddhism, the student should examine the person they want as a teacher. The teacher's qualities should not be confined to knowledge, because knowledge can be inferred. The key is to check the level of realization -- again, a disciplined state of mind. I took this to mean not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, with sincere effort. As my own teacher says, even if you fall off the path 500 times, get back up and keep walking, with determination. His Holiness believes that if the spiritual mentor displays the qualities that the student is seeking, then the student can infer from external behavior the suitability of a teacher.

But the spiritual seeker also needs certain qualities -- objectivity, no bias one way or the other; a certain degree of intelligence to evaluate right and wrong; and sincere interest. As I tell my students, come to class with a beginner's mind and an open heart, but take that attitude off the mat and into your life.

After the teachings, I went to the Dalai Lama's public address where a few Christian fundamentalists were demonstrating against him, handing out their literature that said that Buddhists have no concept of right or wrong and that the Dalai Lama is going to hell unless he accepts Jesus Christ. I thought about how ironic this was considering His Holiness' strong belief in not leaving your own religion. The topic of the Dalai Lama's public address was "Compassion: The Source of Happiness." I guess those Christians should have sat in on his speech.

As a practicing Buddhist, being in the Dalai Lama's presence and experiencing his teachings was profound and powerful for me. I must still be in the Dalai Lama Zone when my students tell me how grounded and centered I look. What I especially loved about His Holiness was how he made fun of himself and how he admitted to being judgmental -- like how some of his meetings are a "waste of time", how he thinks some speeches are "boring", and how he probably would not have a lot of patience with raising children! He's human! And a simple monk, with exquisite intelligence and a beautiful smile.

may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
may all beings never be parted from freedom's true joy
may all beings dwell in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion
om mani pedme hum