26 June 2009

"the truth is as it is"

Narrated by Ram Dass.

I visited the ashram in Thiruvannamalai on my second trip to India. Amazing. I want to go back.

It really is so simple. Really.

25 June 2009

random musings: life, connections, India

I read Why India? this morning and left a comment for Braja. I told her that she was preaching to the choir (and thank you, Braja, for posting that awesome pic that I liberated -- that little pic says it all for me!)

Why India indeed? Braja wrote about it -- I listened to a deep, inexplicable stirring inside me and I went, alone. I was 51 and had never been overseas anywhere in my life. I told my husband (who for an entire year before I went was very negative and not supportive of my decision whatsoever) that nothing and no one will stop me because the feeling I had was so intense. That sense of urgency is called samvega and if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand. You just have to feel it and know it in your core. And when you feel it, there is no turning back.

It was my karma. The minute I set my foot on Indian soil at 2 am outside the Chennai airport and walked into a sea of brown faces I knew I had come home. It was primal, visceral, certainly a past life thing, and there has not been a single day since 2005, not one, that I do not think of Ma India. That's me in the photo, upon first seeing the temple in Gangaikondacholapuram. I stood there amazed. The shakti was palpable.

Now I am planning my fourth trip for January 2010 and I'll be moving out of my comfort zone of South India. My friend and I decided to visit Kolkata. We'll be there for about 8 days before moving on to Delhi and then taking the train to Haridwar -- where the Ganga spills out of the Himalayas -- for the Maha Kumbh Mela. Yup, us and about 50 million of our closest friends. We will be there on a most auspicious day, Mahashivaratri, Shiva's day, and I will be there when he dances. I don't want to sound dramatic, but for about the last two years I have felt in my bones (just like I knew I was going to India) that something will happen for me there. A few weeks ago a spiritual adept confirmed my intuition, and if it happens, it happens. I won't say what she said, you will have to wait until I get back. If I come back. My students and my friends know there is always that chance.

So I've been very pensive these few days. The details of my African yoga retreat are being finalized, and since finishing my latest training I can now fully concentrate on my India trip. The line from a Grateful Dead song keeps going through my head, "what a long, strange trip it's been." Indeed.

Yesterday as I walked to the Chicago yoga studio where I trained I thought about how nervous I was on the first day of training, a mere 7 years ago. Now I am planning my fourth trip to India, I'm leading a yoga retreat in Africa in February, and I might be teaching in Australia next May. I've created my own holistic healing modality, a combination of my Phoenix Rising training and yoga therapy teachings from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, and firmly grounded in insight meditation and mindfulness practice. And yes, I'm trademarking the name, I'm going to play the American yoga game at least in that respect. Seven years. "They" say we go through major changes every seven years.

And those connections we make. I've always said that I feel more connected to the global yoga community via this blog than I do to yoga people in my own backyard. For one thing I've received more support from people who I've never met than from people who know me here. Funny how that works. People like Kevin who paid my deposit to the ashram I was going to study at but then changed my mind (yes, he got his money back from the shady swami.) We've never met but he paid a deposit. That's trust.

People like Nadine who calls me one of her "yoga mothers." We've never met but we both attended KYM at different times so we have the same yoga sensibility (and we both love love love Mark Whitwell.) Nadine hooked me up with the woman who can make my Australia teaching possible. But me, a "yoga mother"? I cried when I read that because I am only a mother to cats. Most people I know would never think of me as mother material, in fact, they'd snort and laugh and roll their eyes at the thought. But what they don't know about's their own avidya.

And of course dear Svasti. We are both survivors and connected in that way. She said, "I have this theory about the little blog world here...that it's made up of similarly disaffected people, who get it because that’s also been their experience."

Yeah, I get it. Connections. There are others and I hope you know who you are.

None of this is lost on me. Life is ebb and flow. Some of us have some pretty heavy karma to burn through in this life. There are no accidents and all things happen for a reason even if we don't know the reason at the time. The realizations I've had in these last seven years, well, let's just say that if I died tomorrow (and I am very comfortable meditating upon my own death), I would be happy. Very happy. And grateful.

It's all so connected, it's all so real to me: yoga is life.

What's so hard to understand?

19 June 2009

Sri Ramaswami on P. Jois and birth and death

(AUM written in Tamil)

I am an ongoing student of Srivatsa Ramaswami and this is what Ramaswamiji had to say in an email about the passing of Pattabhi Jois and birth and death.

Sri Ramaswami was Krishnamacharya's longest standing student outside of Krishnamacharya's family. He studied with Krishnamacharya for some 30 years, longer than P. Jois, Iyengar, and Desikachar.


Three of the disciples of my Guru, Sri Pattabhi Jois, Sri B K S Iyengar and Sri T K V Desikachar, propagated Yoga in the modern times and their influences have been phenomenal. The oldest of them, Sri Pattabhi Jois, taught the unique adaptation of my Acharya’s asana teaching, christened Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It has caught the imagination of hundreds of thousands of Yogis all over the world and is practiced with tremendous enthusiasm. His passing away at the ripe old age of 94 leaves a void in the Yoga World. A tremendous teacher, Guruji was dearly loved and highly respected in the Yoga world. I had not met him but am aware that he was an ideal student of my Guru. The debt to a father is repaid by the offspring by exemplary conduct. “What good karmas the father should have done to get such a wonderful offspring”, people should say of the son/daughter. Likewise it is said that a student should bring out the glory of the teacher by his teachings -- “Acharyam praksayeth.” People should wonder, “Who was his teacher?”

Sri Jois by his relentless and pioneering work on Yoga brought name, fame and respect to the legacy of his teacher Sri Krishnamacharya.

Om Shanti.


All the orthodox philosophies which accept the authority of the Vedas subscribe to the Theory of Karma, even as they have significant differences in the interpretation of the Vedas.

According to the Vedas, the individual soul surrounded by the vasanas or impressions of the past lives and also the remainder of the accumulated subtle karma bundle, gets attached to the subtle body of the individual. The subtle body itself, according to Sankhyas, is made of 18 aspects, the three internal organs of the chitta, viz., mind, ego and intellect, the ten indriyas and five tanmatras. When a person dies, the non-changing pure consciousness -- the soul or self also known as purusha or jiva along with the subtle body undergoes the first transformation when it goes through ‘fire’, as the physical body is consigned to the fire after death. Then the subtle body goes up the sky space and approaches the heaven, but due to the avidya and the power of the accumulated karmas, stagnates and then is absorbed by the rain clouds, which is the second transformation due to the ‘fire’ of water. The subtle body then descends to earth with the drops of rain and is absorbed by a plant which is the third transformation through fire of earth. Then when the plant or the plant product is eaten by a being, it is absorbed and becomes the generative fluid of that person. This is the fourth transformation through the fire of the being, or gastric fire. Then when it is transferred to the female being, it undergoes another transformation through fire of the womb and becomes an embryo. Then according to Samkhyas the embryo has the subtle body and the genes/genetic body. The subtle body which went through five changes now gets the second body or the body given by the parents (mata pitruja sarira). This embryo then gets nourishment through the mother and develops another body known as bhuta sarira (the physical body) or a body made of the five elements -- earth, water, fire, air, and space. And then one is born again. These five fire transformations is in the panchagni vidya of the Upanishads, and the Samkhyas talk about the subtle body, the genetic body, and the physical body to complete the story of the journey from death to birth. But those yogis who have attained Kaivalya or Moksha or Nirvana have their souls liberated and are able to shed the subtle body when they attain liberation and are able to break this cycle of samsara or transmigration. One who is able to clearly understand the process of transmigration through meditation and understanding of the panchagni vidya briefly narrated above are able to attain liberation (for better understanding, read the panchagni vidya from Chandogya Upanishad.) Such a person is able to see the distinction between the changing body going through all the transformation between birth and death and then between death and birth and the non-changing pure consciousness or the Self. Such a person is able to identify with the non-changing consciousness as ‘oneself’, the immortal self and becomes immortal. The rest, considering themselves to be mortal go through the cycle of samsara repeatedly and endlessly say the Upanishads.

dreamin' those India dreams

Make your own Countdown Clocks


Near Bhubaneswar is the Temple of the 64 Yoginis -- don't think I'll be missing that one. Also spending time at the two Kali temples in Kolkata here and here.


18 June 2009

The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India

I want to give a shout-out to a new book written by my blog pal, Shelley Seale. The Foreward is by Joan Collins with endorsements by Geralyn Dreyfous (Executive Producer of Born Into Brothels), Kate Dancy (Save The Children), Dominique Lapierre (Author of City of Joy) and more. I first "met" Shelley through her blog The Weight of Silence -- we both share a love of Ma India that is primal.

Shelley first went to India to volunteer with a children's charity and fell in love with India and its people. I know how she feels because when you travel to India you are inevitably surrounded by begging children wherever you go. It's been three years since I saw this girl in Pondicherry and the photo still haunts me...those are my rupees in her hand.

Shelley's book is available in stores right now. Buy her book, donate money, help the children of India.

You can read an excerpt from Shelley's book here.

Q&A with Shelley Seale author of The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India

1. What is the book about?

By now, everyone had either seen, or at least heard of, the movie Slumdog Millionaire, about the lives of two brothers who come from the slums of Mumbai – made even more desperate after they are orphaned. What many don’t know, however, is that for 25 million children in India, the harsh world depicted in the movie is their everyday reality. Yes, that’s 25 million kids who have been orphaned, abandoned or trafficked. My book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows my journey over the past four years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India where these children live without families or homes of their own. I became immersed in their world, a witness to their struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.

2. When did you first go to India, and why?

One day in early 2004 I was paging through a local magazine when an article grabbed my attention. It told the story of Caroline Boudreaux, who had visited India three years earlier and happened upon an orphanage full of children living in incomprehensible conditions. She had returned home and started the Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit which raises money and recruits sponsors to help support the home. I began volunteering for the organization and sponsored a child, and Caroline invited me to go to India with a volunteer group. My first visit was in March 2005.

3. How did you first start thinking about writing this book?

When I arrived that first time, I assumed all the kids there were orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died. Instead I was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them, which in some ways seemed an even greater tragedy. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go back home, or if they ever had. Many of them had also been affected by other issues such as disease or child labor and trafficking; some had been found living on the streets.

As I bore witness to the harm that lay in each of them because of their pasts, as I discovered the stories behind the faces and the names, there was simply no way to go on with my life afterwards as if they did not exist. So I embarked on a three-year journey researching the issues, traveling throughout India and talking to many professionals and those working in the trenches to uphold these children’s rights and improve their futures. I could see that they were “invisible” children, without a real voice of their own. My sole purpose in writing the book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.

4. How did you involve your daughter in your work?

When I first went to India in 2005 and the idea for this book was planted, my daughter Chandler was a 14-year-old junior high student. Like most typical teenagers, she paid little attention to my volunteer work with the Miracle Foundation – until I actually went to India.

When I returned, Chandler was pretty excited and enthralled by my photographs and the stories I told her. That fall she started at a new high school that was very progressive, featuring a Global Citizen class and a spring “project week,” in which students were given a week off regular class schedules to complete a project of their own design. Some students made videos or art projects, others did community service. Between the school’s focus on social and political issues and living in Austin among a set of friends with broad viewpoints of the world, Chandler decided that her project week would be India – going on the volunteer trip and compiling a photo journal of the experience.

Chandler already had a broader sense of the world than I had at her age, and a compassionate nature. I yearned to foster that seed in her. I thought, what an incredible blessing it would be for a person to grow into adulthood without the blinders, without the sense that the small corner of the world she knew was the only one there was. I knew she would be enriched by the experience, and I also knew it was a gift she would not take lightly. And so I returned to India exactly one year after my first trip, with Chandler in tow. It was such an amazing journey for both of us. The look on her face our first day with the children beat any day I had ever spent with her in my life, after the day she was born. She never once complained about the heat, the dirt, the food, the place we stayed…you have to know that this was not Mumbai, this was a tiny, poverty-stricken, rural village. She didn’t want to come home and cried when we left – as we drove away from the orphanage on our last night, at the hotel, on the airplane.

5. What was a pivotal moment in writing The Weight of Silence?

I was about halfway through the book when I attended the Prague Summer Workshop for writers in the Czech Republic, in July 2007. There I was part of a nonfiction manuscript workshop with about ten other writers. I couldn’t really figure out how to integrate the personal journey and story part of the book, with the bigger picture research and statistics about the issues affecting these kids. It was unbelievably helpful to get objective input into what worked and what didn’t, from people who didn’t know me at all and hadn’t read the manuscript before. And learning what worked – it was almost magical, sitting there listening to the other participants read aloud the passages that they loved. It was like an “a-ha” moment; I knew exactly how it was supposed to flow, exactly how the finished book would read.

6. There is so much poverty and plight in the U.S.…what drew you to India?

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked: Why India? You’re right, there is much poverty and need in the U.S., and we must all be aware and active in the struggles against poverty, racism, sexism, social inequities and other challenges that create vast problems right here at home. I believe that, and I am also involved in a huge amount of work on behalf of foster children and children’s rights in the U.S.; I donate much money to these causes and volunteer hundreds of hours a year here at home. I truly believe it is all of our obligation as citizens. It’s not like I think only India has children in need.

My simple answer to the question “Why India” is, why not? Once I got involved and then traveled to India and the orphanages myself, and began researching the issues for my book, the vast differences between children’s issues and lives in the two countries were glaring. Extreme poverty in India is not the same as poverty in the United States. And there are very little, if any, safety nets for the children who fall through the cracks. Although we have vast problems as well, millions of children in the U.S. aren’t threatened by malaria and tuberculosis, denied their entire educations or trafficked – sold into factories or domestic labor if they’re lucky, to brothels if they’re not. A childhood cannot wait for the AIDS epidemic to subside, for poverty to be eradicated, for adults and governments to act, for the world to notice them. And quite simply, because those twenty-five million children exist.

7. Do you worry about being a non-Indian writing about these issues?

Yes, I am very aware of being a westerner writing about India, and am quite direct in the book about its purpose not being to tell Indians how to solve their own problems. My only desire was to give a strong and hopeful voice to these children. Foreigners, including myself, do not and cannot know what is best for India. It is not a matter for us to come and instruct or order; for efforts undertaken in that way, no matter how well intentioned, will always fail in their arrogance. Foreigners rarely fully understand the society they think to “improve,” and the potential for imposing their own cultural bias can result in negative consequences for those whose lives they seek to change. We should come to listen, to learn, to assist where and when asked; and so the goal of this book is simply to allow us to hear what those voices have to say.

8. Who has inspired you on this journey?

From a very early age, my grandparents and parents always inspired me. I have the most wonderful, close, loving family who have always supported me unconditionally. It’s an amazing gift, which is why it breaks my heart to see other children go through life without that. While writing the book, there were so many people along the way who inspired me and have become my heroes. Caroline Boudreaux was the first one – this woman gave up a very successful television advertising career after meeting a group of orphans, by chance, on one evening – and dedicated the rest of her life to supporting them and ensuring their fundamental rights. Dr. Manjeet Pardesi, her Director of Operations in India, has a similar story – he left behind a successful accounting business in Delhi to open and run an orphanage and home for unwed mothers hundreds of miles away.

Outside of the social workers and professionals, there were so many people who awed me with the lives they laid bare to me. One woman in particular in Vijayawada in Central India, named Durgamma. This woman lives in a slum village that has been completely devastated by AIDS, which has wiped out a large portion of the middle generation there. What it has left behind are dozens of families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren, after their own children have died of AIDS. This type of household is so prevalent there that the women have developed “Granny Clubs” to support each other. Durgamma is trying her best to raise her two young grandsons – one of whom is HIV-positive. She is a stooped, elderly woman who can barely walk, and yet she may be one of the strongest women I have ever met.

9. If you had one wish what would it be?

That there was never a reason for me to have written this book in the first place – that as I sit here and complete this interview, there aren’t currently 25 million children living in orphanages or on the streets in India. All lives, no matter where they are lived, have equal value. All children are born with fundamental rights – to food, clean water, medical care, education, and a home. It’s up to us to ensure those rights – as well as that most basic of rights – a childhood. Once it’s gone, that childhood can never be regained. Let’s not wait until it is too late.

10. What do you hope the readers “take away” from your book?

Two things. First of all, that even though the topic is serious and the stories often heartbreaking, it is not a depressing book or subject! These kids, and their stories, are incredible and awe-inspiring, hopeful and inspirational. In my journeys over the last three years into the orphanages, slums, clinics and streets of India I have become immersed in dozens of children’s lives. Their hope and resilience amazed me time and time again; the ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. Even in the most deprived circumstances they are still kids – they laugh and play, they develop strong bonds and relationships to create family where none exists; and most of all they have an enormous amount of love to give. The issues are tough, what has happened to a lot of these kids makes you want to cry – but the bottom line of their stories is a very strong, hopeful voice.

Second, just to get involved and do something; to realize that just a little bit can move mountains. Too often, I think the natural inclination of most of us in the face of some of the large problems in the world is to become overwhelmed and throw up our hands in despair. They seem insurmountable. But the truth is, the smallest actions can make the biggest difference in just one person’s life, and if you can affect one person’s life, it is the world to that person. Most of us could never sell all our belongings and go work in the trenches in India, but that doesn’t mean we should think, then, that we can’t do anything at all. Amazing things can be done that aren’t difficult at all. A reader doesn’t even have to come away from my book and do something about India – I think the key is to discover what you are passionate about, what you have genuine feelings and caring about – and then do something about that issue. But just do something.

11. If you could ask people reading this to do one thing, what would it be?

Give these children a voice by reading their stories. And, as I said, find the something that is “your thing” and take action to make a difference in someone’s life. Remember, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Slum boy using garbage for a toy, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 2008

Slum children, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 2008

17 June 2009

my life on the yoga D-list

I returned yesterday from my Level 2 Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training in Vermont to find out that there was a glaring omission in Yoga Journal's story about yoga blogs -- me. And how did I find out that Yoga Journal neglected me? From my brother from a different mother, YogaDawg. So just like a good brother he came to my rescue by mentioning me in his blog post about being anointed by Yoga Journal. He said that he "couldn't let it go without giving you a plug at the end of my blog post", reminding people that I continue to "kick yoga's ass." Thanks, bro!

Let's see who else thinks that Yoga Journal should have put me on their A list of yoga blogs...Dr. Jay over at Yoga for Cynics who said "I think you should've been in the YJ blog list, too" and Yoga Dork who thinks that Yoga Journal should have also included "Linda’s Yoga Journey, Everything Yoga, Yoga Nation, Svasti and It’s All Yoga, Baby."

I feel like Kathy Griffin. Kathy is a loud-mouthed, snarky broad from Chicago (what is it about Chicago women?) whose show My Life on the D List is hilarious (at least I think so.) The show follows her struggle as a self-proclaimed "D-list" celebrity to climb the Hollywood ladder.

Hey, wait a minute. This blog is about the same thing, only in a different world. This blog is about my journey up (and down) the yoga ladder and like Kathy, I'm also unplugged, uncensored, and unafraid to dish the dirt about what really happens on the yoga road. So how can Yoga Journal ignore me?

Yogini writers (real writers who actually get paid to write!) like Anne Cushman and Lucy Edge could not have been wrong when they wrote their kudos about LYJ. Over 30,000 global readers can't be wrong. What's a yogini blogger to do? I'm just so vaklempt that YJ writer Lauren Ladoceour did not think LYJ worthy enough to be listed on her yoga blog A List, especially not worthy enough to be called snarky and satirical! After four years and 300+ cathartic and snarky posts? Moi?!?

So just like Kathy Griffin who enlisted her mother, her assistants, and her Mexican housekeeper to call musicians to ask them to vote for her Grammy nominated comedy album (I know I am dating myself by calling it an "album"), I am asking all my lovely and faithful readers from all over the world to email Yoga Journal at to tell them how you feel about their glaring omission. In no uncertain terms. Let your throat chakra open up and speak your truth. Pretend that you're calling Simon Cowell and voting for the next American Yoga Idol. Over 30,000 readers have passed through here so let's see if Yoga Journal's computers can handle all the emails! Yeah! Knock 'em on their asana!

Listen, Yoga Journal, who needs your stupid list anyway? I will hold my head high and proudly channel Groucho Marx who said:

"I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member."

So there. Besides....



09 June 2009

Happy Saga Dawa!

In the Tibetan tradition, June 7 was Saga Dawa, a remembrance of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar which this year began on May 25 and ends on June 22. The seventh day of Saga Dawa, May 30, is the day of the historical Buddha's birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa which was June 7.

A faithful reader sent me this link to a series of gorgeous photos and pithy dharma quotes in the blog of a very talented photographer: Gritz Photo Blog. One bit of wisdom from the blog:

"Conflicting emotions come from within this mind, this inner security we have set up for ourselves, where we think of our emotions as legitimate. For the world to function it is not necessary to have a belief that it is real or permanent. If I am convinced that all phenomena are impermanent I am convinced that my distractions will be reduced. We have to give up wrong views, an improper attitude towards others, that everyone is ever lasting …There is a discrepancy between how things are and how we see them.

We know everything is impermanent but we would rather see it as permanent.”

--Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

Tomorrow I am off to Vermont for seven days to attend Level 2 training of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. I'm excited about seeing Vermont as the only place I've been out east is Washington, DC. Funny how I've been to India three times and never to New England. Here is what I wrote about how I resonated with the Level 1 training. We shall see what Level 2 brings.

may all beings have happiness 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.

05 June 2009

home is where the heart is

I have been reading this blog occasionally but have recently been hitting on it more and more (I've blogrolled it.) I like to go back and read the very early posts of a newly discovered blog just to get an introduction to the blogger. When I read what I've quoted below I thought, oh my god, thank you, thank you, thank you...

The thing is, I belong here. It claimed me, India. The first time I smelled it in the Delhi airport at 1am on a cold January morning; the first time I slid into the back seat of an Ambassador taxi, booked into a true-blue Indian darmashala, sipped chai from a roadside stall, got gut-wrenching dysentry, cried in a temple because I found myself, laughed with a crazy local villager who insisted he was Krishna and dressed like him every day, put my back out on a rickshaw ride from hell, slid into the purifying waters of a holy pond at Govardhan Hill, and bent down and touched the soft, powder-like dust on the ground of the spiritual centre of the universe, Radha-kunda...all these things claimed me and made me their own. Those holy towns left images in my memory; as I paid my obeisance in temples, the ancient floors left impressions in my body that leaked into my heart and remain there still. Home is where the heart is? Yes...

I had never been overseas in my life until I went to India, alone, at age 51, to study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai. As soon as I stepped onto Indian soil as I walked out of the Chennai airport at 2 AM, it hit me: I had come home. The feeling was primal. Crying in temples because deja vu overwhelmed me? Oh, yeah.

Thank you, Braja, for bringing back my first night in India. There has not been one single day since September 2005 that I do not think about Ma India and count the days until I can run into her arms again.

03 June 2009

the beauty of India

Originally uploaded by snonymous at

snonymous said:

"Beautiful and unexpected performance by a pair of white peacocks at the Byculla zoo in Mumbai, April 2009.

Repeat performance on 3 May 2009.

I usually do not look at the caged animals at the zoo which I visit purely to enjoy the rare and varied flora, for which it is a treasure house.

This spectacle however, earned my rapt attention.

The green hue is due to the strong mid summer morning sunlight filtering through the green fiberglass translucent roof of the cage."

We're so accustomed to the brilliant colors of India that seeing something absent of color is shocking! The peacock's full performance is here.

Beautiful albino peacock!

02 June 2009

Mark Whitwell...again and again

I've written about Mark Whitwell before in these two posts and I've now finally had the chance to experience his teaching over the weekend at the Midwest Yoga Conference.

All I will say is that I was blown away. I wish I would have met him 8 years ago when I started teaching but better late than never. Besides, I might not have been in the right head space at that time because all meetings happen at a particular time in our lives when we are ready to receive. My blog pal and fellow KYM-er Nadine also wrote about him, so between the both of us you can decide for yourself whether Mark is your cup of chai. Mark is definitely masala chai.

Mark's teachings have always resonated with me because he studied with Krishnamacharya and Desikachar and I study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India. His other teacher was U.G Krishnamurti who told Mark, "there is nothing to attain!"

For Mark, and also for me, yoga is yoga. I took four workshops with him where he basically said the same things in each one: yoga is yoga; that all the names and styles given to yoga nowadays is an American invention (and if you're a regular reader of this blog you know how I feel about Americanized yoga.) Stop labeling yoga as this style or that style -- it's just yoga! I laughed out loud when he said that the yoga demonstrations at yoga conferences are merely exercises in ego and acrobatics -- stop the performances because they're about an inch deep.

Here are some excerpts from my notes:

Yoga -- true yoga -- is not about getting anywhere: "Yoga is not a means to get SOMEWHERE as if you were not SOMEWHERE already. It is your direct and intimate participation with Life."

If you are striving to get somewhere in your yoga practice, that only means that you're not HERE.

Nothing in life is not nurturing (yes I know that's a double negative.) Pain is nurturing. Sickness is nurturing. Develop a new orientation to your pain because it is the nurturing force of reality.

If we didn't have pain, we would not be able to change: pain is what tells us to pull our hand out of the fire, pain is what forces us to change our lives.

All our looking and searching for SOME-THING is the problem. If you're looking for something that means you don't have IT. If you look for God, that means you don't already have God.

Can you say that you are the essence of an extreme universal intelligence? If so, then can you say that the unseen force is there, within us, that there is no duality?

We have been habitually taught to look for God and that has caused misery and a denial of life.

The ordinary life is not considered sacred anymore so stop looking for enlightenment because it's already here.

It is not appropriate to separate meditation from asana (THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU, MARK!) -- so STOP MEDITATING!

That last statement caused a few gasps in the room and what Mark meant was that meditation must be seamless with yoga and life. Stop separating a meditation practice from your yoga practice because if you practice yoga as it was originally meant to be practiced, i.e., body movement is breath movement, the breath starts and ends with your movement, that the BREATH IS GURU TO THE ASANA as Krishnamacharya taught, then meditation is naturally arising.

Don't require anything from your yoga practice and don't practice it in any linear or obsessive way because there is no place to get to.

There are only five things to remember for your practice:

1. Body movement is breath movement; the asana is for the breath, not the other way around.

2. Breath starts and ends each movement (as in the KYM way.)

3. The inhale comes down from above as receptivity; the exhale comes up from below as receiving.

4. Asana creates bandhas and bandhas serve the breath.

5. Asana, pranayama, meditation, and life is a seamless process. Don't separate them.

Mark also has a blog and this is what he says about the essence of yoga:

"The essence of yoga, and I hope I’m teaching yoga, is to allow a person, the practitioner, to be intimate with their life. Right? So, that is the essence, to give practical practices that a person can actually do, that allow that person to feel intimate with their life, with the whole body and the breath of the whole body, which is this magical aspect of our life, as the breath that we have available in the whole body. Right? So, to give those in a way that a person can actually do, not in any linear struggle of trying to get somewhere as if they are not Some Where, capital S and capital W, but allow them to be deeply connected, to feel the Life that is in their living system … in the polarities of above and below, inhale/exhale, left and right, front and back, male and female. And then, of course, comes this great wonder of life, which is the outer polarity, our relationship to our own experience, to each other, especially and including our intimacies with each other."

Mark is definitely not an "isms" type of teacher -- he dissed Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and all other patriarchal traditions equally as being "life denying" -isms. After his last workshop Mark and I talked at length about Buddhism and other things, and I think I got him to see where my own brand of Buddhism is coming from and it's certainly not "life denying."

Mark and I connected during the 8 hours we spent together, so much so that he told me about me. All I will say is that I will never again question my teaching abilities or capabilities. It was no accident that we met.

If I wasn't saving my money to go to India and Africa for two and half months next year, I'd definitely go to Fiji in December with Mark.

Damn it. Attachment feels like this.