30 April 2008

turn out the lights....

...the yoga party is over.

well, at least for a while.

I have decided to stop blogging for the time being, at least for the summer. I will not say when I will pick up the pen again. I took almost all of 2006 off from blogging, and I think it's time for a break. I will keep the comments enabled only for a week, then shutting them down.

I want to concentrate of getting healthy again....not that anything is seriously wrong with me, but I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I also want to concentrate on my own personal yoga practice (a yoga therapy practice) and for me that means cutting out extracurricular stuff that keeps my mind off my own practice.

it's gotten to the point where I'll be taking a shower and a blog post will pop into my head or I'll think about how to tweak a sentence or two, and before I know it, I've been sitting in front of the computer for three or four hours writing and tweaking. can't do that anymore. besides, the weather is getting too nice to be sitting inside for any length of time.

so I am doing what the Buddha taught: giving up an attachment -- blogging. I have made many cyberfriends in the blogosphere -- you know who you are and I will still read your blogs when I check my emails. but I won't be attached to them.

who knows? if the mood strikes me I may sit down and write another yoga rant, but for right now, it's all about me and my yoga and getting healthy again -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

thank you all for reading this blog and for all your beautiful comments...remember to breathe peace, be peace.

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


28 April 2008

one person at a time

Believe it or not yoga teachers can become very frustrated, sometimes even depressed about their teaching situation. I don't know any teacher who does this for the money -- maybe some do, but I don't know any. yoga teachers also get burned out and quit teaching AND yoga altogether, I've known more than a few. I heard Paul Grilley say that yoga teacher burn-out begins to happen between years 5 and 7, but if you can make it over the hump, you'll be teaching the rest of your life. I remember that several teachers went up to him after the workshop, me included, with tears in our eyes thanking him for speaking the truth about teaching, telling him "I thought it was only me." I start my 7th year of teaching this summer.

Yoga teachers deal with lots of heavy stuff (again, maybe not all, but I do and several of my friends do.) those of you familiar with this blog know that I dealt with an alcoholic studio owner last year -- her actions of walking into my classes drunk coupled with her denial and lies about her problem was not a easy thing to deal with. it affected my own health.

then there are the students who are just there to sweat, and the students who come into your level 2-3 vinyasa class who have never done yoga before, and they tell you they have rheumatoid arthritis AND herniated disks...but then get very upset when you tell them, uh, I don't think this is the right class for you.

students run the gamut from A to Z. and then there are students like this:

"I don't know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours for five years until I started getting sick (well, my body got sick). I moved and I have been really focusing on becoming healthy in every meaning of the word (spiritually, mentally, and physically). I wanted to look you up because I have tried a couple of yoga classes and they just are not the same as when I practiced with you. They were more fitness yoga, and that is not what draws me to yoga. I found you! and I was so excited, but then I read about what you have been up to and I am just so happy for you! It seems...[that] you are really following your path.

I finally started studying Buddhism with more inventiveness. I bought that book you told me about a long time ago, Awakening the Buddha Within. I never really looked at it until now, and now I cannot put it down. I do not think I was ready to read it when I bought it, but I am happy I have it. I also came across The Buddhist Society of Western Australia Video Dhamma Talks on Youtube, and they have really changed my perspective on so many things.

I cannot say things are perfect, but I deal with life a lot better now I think. I have you to thank for so much of it. It was no coincidence that I took your class so long ago, and you have never left my thoughts since."

This is what makes it all worth it despite alcoholic studio owners, students with senses of entitlement, and students who walk out of a class without paying.

I received this email this morning and was humbled. It reminded me of the second time I studied in India and we talked about having gratitude for the teachings and gratitude for our teachers and their teachers and their teachers before them going back all the way to Patanjali. I was so overcome by our discussion that I left the classroom and found the nearest computer to email my teacher trainer in Chicago, thanking him for everything that I had learned from him.

I cried this morning when I read this. the weird thing (but maybe not so weird in my world) is that I have been thinking about this student, in fact, just last week. I kept one of her papers because it contained some great references for teaching yoga to MS patients.

I teach yoga at a junior college and she reminded me of me when I was her age, a smart-ass (OK, I'm still a smart-ass), searching for something, feeling out of place from where I was. she really connected with yoga even though her physical form was not the "best" -- it is not important to me if my students look like they can be on the cover of Yoga Journal. I knew that she was "getting it" in a way that the other students weren't so I always left her alone, no major adjustments. we connected and she would always stay and talk after class, telling me everything that was going on in her life, some of which wasn't all that great.

In many ways my students are also my teachers and they help me realize -- no matter how much I second guess myself, no matter how many times I think about quitting, no matter how many times I think I taught a lousy class -- that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

one person at a time.

26 April 2008

Rumi: the poetry of yoga

...there's no need to go outside.
Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.
A white flower grows in the quietness,
Let your tongue become that flower...

...Lay down your head.
Then one by one let go of all distractions.
Embrace the light and let it guide you
beyond the winds of desire.
There you will find a spring and nourished by its see waters
like a tree you will bear fruit forever...


where the rubber hits the road

"Buddhism is a practice," says Levine. "It's not a bumper sticker. It's not about attending the Dalai Lama's teachings with 10,000 other people. It's about practicing generosity in your daily life. It's getting on your ass and training your own mind on your meditation cushion."

from Dive-bar Dharma

Considering that I just spent two days in the Dalai Lama's teachings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the last paragraph from this article was pretty potent.

I love that quote -- get off your ass to get your ass on the cushion or on your yoga mat.

I am certainly guilty of laziness just like the next person, but when I feel the need to get my yoga butt on the cushion or the mat, I do it. it may not be daily, but I stopped beating myself up about that a long time ago. it is a tangible feeling I get in my body that says "get thee to your yoga room" or to someone's class.

I teach seven classes a week so I need to feel another's yoga. I did my first teacher training in 2002 and I still go to my trainer's studio in Chicago every other week, besides doing my own personal yoga therapy practice. frankly, I don't understand how any yoga teacher can NOT do their own practice or take someone else's yoga class because you always have to feed and nourish your own practice or else you become stale, at least in my opinion.

How can a teacher feed his or her students unless they are feeding themselves? in my mind, it's impossible. when I returned from India this third time I really felt like I needed to stop teaching for a while and totally immerse myself in being a student again. I just might do that -- I'm feeling in my bones that I need to spend 6 months in India but that involves giving up my classes, a scary thought giving up my yoga security -- you know, all that attachment and clinging.

My siddha yoga sista in California told me that it's her experience to see people return from long India retreats to find their "material world" suddenly do a change up for the better. she asked me, "what would happen if you went, like you'd come back and nobody would sign up for classes? I don't think so...because when you're off on your retreat, you'll be posting on your blog and otherwise stay connected to your past students and other interested types, even once a month, just to keep it fresh and alive. ...I tell ya, sista, when you're plugged into the divine Ma Shakti of India, good stuff happens..."

In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi writes:

"...determine whether this teacher has his or her own strongly developed personal practice. Such a teacher will naturally stress the importance of self-practice. Teachers who believe that teaching class is their personal practice are likely using the students as their motivation for practice and have probably yet to develop a strong allegiance with their own inner atman. ...Any teacher who claims that personal practice is no longer necessary has probably stopped learning and is ill prepared to foster an appetite for fresh inquiry in students."

I am always a student first, and a teacher second.

17 April 2008

in his presence again

I leave tomorrow for Ann Arbor, Michigan where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will give a teaching. I will see him again in July when he visits Madison, Wisconsin.

Last year I wrote about the first time I saw him in Madison, which was an incredible experience. to be in his presence is simply amazing. as soon as he appeared on stage I felt my heart chakra open and I broke down in tears -- not tears of sadness, but tears of joy, happiness. I expect that I will do that again.

Christian fundamentalists demonstrated against His Holiness last year in Madison. This year the Chinese will be demonstrating -- from the Jewel Heart website:

"A Statement by Gelek Rimpoche, April 15th

I am aware that a group of Chinese Students have applied for permission from the University to stage a demonstration during this weekend's teaching at Crisler Arena. We support all non-violent expression of free speech and expect anyone attending the teaching to respect that right of expression without confrontation. We do not anticipate these demonstrations to interfere with any of our programs."

To listen to excerpts from Gelek Rimpoche's teachings on the events in Tibet, compassion, and more, click below:

The Dalai Lama has said how the events in Tibet have upset him:

"As pro-China demonstrators waved signs in downtown Rochester on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama admitted to having feelings of helplessness in recent weeks. "Since March, last month, my mind is much disturbed,"....

When asked about how he keeps his composure amid recent troubles, the Dalai Lama said he never loses compassion for people, choosing instead to focus on the negative emotions that cause their actions.

"I take their afflictions to task," he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate added that he has coped with recent difficulties by practicing tonglen, a meditation technique in which a meditator mentally takes on the suffering of other people and sends out warm feelings in an effort to alleviate that suffering.

When facing disturbances in life, the Dalai Lama said, it's important to keep a basic mental attitude of calm and inner strength."

The Dalai Lama has always said that he is a simple monk. so for him to say that his mind is disturbed comforts me. it comforts me to know that even the Dalai Lama feels helpless sometimes, as I do. each of us can take a lesson from His Holiness about compassion, and next time when I have my own doubts about myself, whether I am "good enough" for this Path, I won't beat myself up (so much....)

I will endeavor to keep His Holiness' words about compassion in mind when I see the Chinese flag waved in protest of the Dalai Lama. I admit that it will be very difficult (pictures of Tibetans shot dead by Chinese armed police), but I will recite the prayer that I use to end my classes:

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

I will write about his teaching when I return.


14 April 2008

how easy to forget

"Happiness is what greases the wheels of life. It's also what opens the floodgates, marshals the forces, commands the elements, raises the sun, aligns the stars, beats your heart, heals what hurts, turns the page, makes new friends, finds true love, calls the shots, waves the wand, connects the dots, feeds your mind, frees your soul, rocks the world, and pays compound interest.

Yeah, so easy to forget.

Wild on,
The Universe"

This was my email from The Universe this morning. happiness: something that is easy to forget, yet easy to choose.

We've been having a typical Chicagoland spring with days of brilliant sun mixed with freezing days of snow and sleet. as I drove to the yoga studio yesterday morning the sun was shining gloriously after a Saturday of gloomy clouds and rain, cold enough for me to start my fireplace. as I drove I thought that even though the day before was exactly the type of weather I hate, how wonderful it was to experience everything that this life has to offer. I was grateful, I had an attitude of gratitude by the time I reached the studio.

Sometimes unpleasant things can teach us greater lessons more so than the pleasant. I am still dealing with an eye problem, still dealing with (sometimes) excrutiating lower back pain, still dealing with the remnants of rage left over from the actions of an alcoholic yoga studio owner.

yet, I am grateful. despite the eye problem, I am not blind in one eye. despite the back pain, it is not constant and I can still do a strong yoga practice and still teach. I know in my bones that my back pain is a manifestation of the rage I felt over the betrayal I experienced at the yoga studio where I used to teach. after deep examination I've come to know that the rage is actually against myself for allowing myself to be affected so deeply by the actions of others. I've beat myself up for not "letting go and letting be." but that realization is a way through it and out of it. it's all good, every day is a gift.

The Buddha believed that our natural state is happiness. As Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche writes:

"We need to seriously investigate whether people who have fame, power, and wealth are happy and whether those who have nothing are always unhappy. When we look into this, we see that happiness is not based on objects but on one’s mental state. For that reason, those who are truly happy are the ones who appreciate what they have. Whenever we are content, in that moment, we are fulfilled. The teachings of the Buddha are common sense.

On one hand, it’s very simple: we are all searching for happiness. How do we become happy without a big effort? Whenever we appreciate what we have, we are happy. That effort is an intelligent technique. We might have a very simple life, but still we can think, This flower is lovely or This water is good. If we are too picky, thinking this is wrong and that’s wrong, then nothing is ever perfect. We need to learn how to be content so that whatever we have is precious, real, and beautiful. Otherwise, we might be chasing one mirage after another."

In Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield wrote:

"When the mind ceases to want and judge and identify with whatever arises, we see the empty flow of experience as it is. We come to a ground of silence and inherent completeness. When we stop struggling and let be, the natural wisdom, joy, and freedom of our being emerges and expresses itself effortlessly....

To come to this we must accept paradox. As T.S. Eliot beseeches, 'teach us to care and not care.' In meditation we learn to care with full-hearted attention, a true caring for each moment. Yet we also learn to let go. We do not separate out only those experiences we enjoy, but cultivate a sense of harmony, opening constantly to the truth within us and connecting with all life."

Atma hrdaye
Hrdayam mayi
Aham amrti
Anrtam anandam

"Let my life force be linked to my heart
and my heart be linked to the truth that lies deep within me.
Let that truth be linked to the eternal
which is unending joy."

12 April 2008


While working with a private student this morning I asked:

why is it that people are so attached to things they CAN NOT change and don't do anything about (or are so detached from) the things that they CAN change?

How does that view of reality get so turned around in people's heads?

You can't change the bad weather, you can't change being stuck in traffic, you can't change a slow line at the airport, you can't change the way your mother or father treated you in your childhood. so why are you intimately attached to your own suffering? maybe because your suffering gives you your identity?

do you experience sadness or are you a sad person? do you experience anger or are you an angry person? hugely different scenarios.

However, you can change the way you look at things: you can cultivate more patience, you can become less judgmental, you can become more compassionate (always first towards yourself), you can slow down, you can stop multi-tasking. so why do you have aversion to changing your conditioning? maybe because if you changed your conditioning you would not be "you"?

oh those pesky samskaras! who would we be without them?

It dawned on me that this is the cause of so much suffering.

I am not going to write a long esoteric post of what the Buddha taught, but some of the things he taught were about the impermanence of all things, about seeing the true nature of reality, about attachment and aversion.

People cling to the mindset of "that's the way I've always been" or "that's the way we've always done things" when they are talking about their lives in the HERE AND NOW. Because X happened 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, that is why they are like this now. We are "survivors" of this and "victims" of that. that has nothing to do with NOW.

I always use the example of concentration camp survivors when I talk to students about changing their way of looking at things....

two men survive Auschwitz. they both lost their entire families. they are all alone. they both suffered through the cold, the lice, the dysentery, the starvation, through the same horrors. but when they are liberated, what makes one a Nazi hunter and what makes the other a hungry ghost shackled to the past? are they both survivors or are they both victims?

I am reading Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi. this is one of the best yoga books I have encountered and it will definitely be on the students' required reading list when I start my own teacher training program. it is not a book on asana practice, it is so much more...just like yoga.

In the chapter "A Box of Monsters", Farhi writes that separating our true Self from our box of monsters is no easy task, and she cites the advice of the great Hindu sage, Ramana Maharshi. She says that Maharshi used an analogy repeatedly with his students to help them understand the layers of their experience:

"It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen; it remains the screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states [wakefulness, dream, deep sleep]. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it. On the screen you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream, and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self."

Maharshi's basic question was: are you the screen or are you the projection?

Farhi says that if you think the projection and the screen are the same, then it is like thinking that every time a horror show is on television, you're going to have to fix the TV.

Yes, as feeling human beings we are affected by the horrors we endure, but that is not our endgame because we are so much more. Some may call me a survivor, a statistic, but I am so much more. we have a body, but we are more than our bodies. we are more than our box of monsters. what remains after our own horror show remains undamaged.

As a wise-ass Buddhist once said, life is suffering, life sucks, but pain is optional.
the choice is yours.

Impermanent are all compounded things.
When one perceives this with true insight,
then one becomes detached from suffering;
this is the path of purification.

Dhammapada 20.277

11 April 2008

om shanti to you, sister Alice

Alice Coltrane in Bombay...

my favorite Alice Coltrane song...Journey into Satchidananda

salaam aleikum
so shall it be

interview with Desikachar

(photo original Chennai Online upload)

Chennai Online Interview with Desikachar

"Intro: Where is the delusion when truth is known? Where is the disease when the mind is clear? Where is death when the Breath is controlled? Therefore surrender to Yoga - T Krishnamacharya in Yoganjalisaram.

Yoga was in the family. Krishnamacharya was born in Karnataka in 1888 and belonged to a family of distinguished ancestry. Among his forebears was the 9th century teacher and sage Nathamuni, who was a great Teacher who created remarkable works....In his youth, Shri Krishnamacharya experienced insights around some of these teachings in a mystic dream whilst on a pilgrimage....

His son, TKV Desikachar, had the privilege of living and studying with his father. For over 45 years, TKV Desikachar has devoted himself to teaching yoga and making it relevant to people from all walks of life and with all kinds of abilities. His teaching method is based on Krishnamacharya's fundamental principle that yoga must always be adapted to an individual's changing needs in order to derive the maximum therapeutic benefit."

Chennai Online link to Google video of Desikachar speaking about his father.

I have studied three times at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India and I am transformed a bit more each time. It was during my first trip three years ago during the month long "Universal Yet Personal" intensive that I heard a teacher say that personal transformation in yoga can only begin in a group class but is accomplished in working one on one with a teacher, in the old way, the traditional way.

The longer I teach, the more I know this to be true.

I bow in gratitude to the teacher of teachers, Sri Krishnamacharya. I am honored and humbled that I am able to study with one of his long-time students (30+ years) Srivatsa Ramaswami, with whom I will spend a week in a teacher training next month. I touch his feet and thank him for showing me what pure yoga is and for inspiring me to go to go home, to the heart of yoga.

10 April 2008


Nandri is "thank you" in Tamil and I'm thanking Sindhu for giving me these blog awards. nandri, nandri, nandri, Sindhu! hugs to you, my Indian sister! I think you know how I love Tamil Nadu!

Please check out Sindhu's other blogs, especially Flower Girl's Rural India and Flowergirl's Recipes (for all you Indian food lovers.)

Sindhu honored me by asking if I would write something about my Indian adventures so mine was the first post in her Travelogue section of her blog. anytime I feel "homesick" for India (although I've only been to Tamil Nadu three times I consider it my second home), I go to Sindhu's Rural India blog. my most wonderful experiences have been in rural Tamil Nadu, and I'll tell you a secret: my dream is to open a yoga shala in Kumbakonam, teaching western visitors and helping the locals with therapeutic yoga. sigh...if only...hey, there's a donation button in the sidebar, hint, hint...maybe I'll get an anonymous benefactor...sigh....

People talk about wanting to go to India to see the "real India" -- people think that the "real India" is all about naked sadhus, spirituality, yoga, and temple incense. but all of India is the "real India" -- from the $200 a night hotel rooms to the rich Bollywood movie stars to the street beggars to the naked slum children using garbage for their toys. one of the things that I love about India is that nothing is hidden, everything is in your face 24/7, life and death on the streets. that can be very hard for westerners to get used to, if they ever do, but for me, it is liberation.

you either love or hate India, there is no in between. as soon as I put my feet down on Indian soil, I feel as if I have come home.

07 April 2008

mark whitwell, again

It's been a while again since I've written about yoga. the Tibet situation got me rather riled up (and I'm still riled about it) and I felt I had to blog about it over at Ramblings. but I'm back!

I'm writing again about Mark Whitwell, a yogi with whom I have never studied, but want to. You'd think I was getting paid to write about him but I'm not.

There is something about him and his writing that resonates with me, probably because his teaching is grounded in the Krishnamacharya lineage. The longer I practice the more I know that yoga is all about feeling the breath, nothing more, nothing less. It's about being "in here" instead of "out there".

I subscribe to emails from his website and this is an excerpt from one I received recently entitled "Yoga and Free Participation in the Breath":

"Yoga is so easily practiced and is a natural healing activity that is
available to anyone who has breath. It is for everyOne everyWhere including individuals who do not have normal physical movement.

My friend Ram Dass was showing me with great joy how he had adapted his Yoga to his needs. One side of his body is paralyzed. He holds one arm with his good arm and moves the whole body as breath. It makes him feel well and joyful. It brings health into his system. He wanted to know why he had not been taught this earlier in his Life when it is clearly devotion. It is Bhakti yoga to which his Life has been devoted. It is the direct intimacy with our Nurturing Source. In a poignant moment he tearfully apologized for Hatha Yoga being so poorly represented in the West. He said he never had a chance to do it because all his Hatha yoga teachers were show offs. They would teach him extreme exaggerated, heroic things to do in the dualistic psychology of trying to get somewhere idealistic, imaginary enlightenment. Not the direct intimacy where each person participates in the wonder of Life already Given, in us as us. So he was sweet. 'I have it now,' he said. I love this man.

As described in Yoga of Heart:

'Physical practices are essentially about free participation in the breath. To be with the breath is to be with that which is breathing us. The body remains soft and structured around the breath movement and the moving anatomy serves the breath process. The body movement is the breath movement and vice versa. The mind naturally participates in this process and becomes clear as it links to the whole body, the intelligence of Life.

This may be a challenge but not a struggle. The challenge is within the breath limits, not in the musculature. Practices are designed for the individual and the real yoga is within everyone's capability. It is not an attempt to impose the mind's predetermined structuring of the anatomy or any cultural proposal. The breath too should not be overly controlled, but flow organically and smoothly within comfortably managed breath ratios.

The goal of yoga is to unqualify the organism of mind, not qualify it. This occurs through intimacy with body, breath and mind as one process. Finally this goal itself is seen to be an obstruction and unnecessary because the living organism already stands in its intelligence; the natural state. There are no steps to be taken.'"

(emphasis supplied.)

The idea about Ram Dass adopting his yoga to his needs struck a chord with me because I experienced another health crisis about two weeks ago (I've had more than a few in the past year). this time with my left eye. I am not going to bore anyone with the details, but it got me thinking about being blind in one eye and/or facing major eye surgery. I could not do inversions with this eye problem so it naturally affected my downward facing dog.

I teach about seven classes a week. does not being able to demonstrate asanas make me a "better" teacher, or at least change my teaching? let me assure you that it does.

teachers, how would you teach a class if you could only talk your students through it? would your language become more precise? would you talk about intuiting your way into a pose, or having a felt sense of it -- and I don't mean mouthing the cliches that we have all heard in yoga classes.

students, how would you do your yoga class if your teacher could not demonstrate any asanas? would you listen more carefully, would you finally begin to internalize the felt sense of the asanas?

in my classes other than beginners' classes, even without this bad eye, over the years I have found myself demonstrating less and talking more because frankly, I don't want my students to watch me. I want them to feel, not think. I don't want them them to copy me.

How many yoga students or teachers reading this are so attached to your bodies, to solely the physical aspects of yoga, that you would not know how to adapt your practice or your teaching? think about it. would you feel you were somehow lacking if you could not do asana but could only do pranayama and meditation? and if you could only practice pranayama and meditation, and could never do the physical practice ever again, would you feel that you are still doing yoga?

talk amongst yourselves.