30 June 2010

feeding my soul

Over the weekend I went to a talk on yoga psychology by Uma Krishnamurthy. She is a psychiatrist, a yogi, and an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer. One of my favorite things that she said was not about yoga but about dance: if you are angry, dance. To help dissolve your ego, direct your anger to God, and dance. Then you will forget what you are angry about.

Uma quoted from the Gita, the Vedas, and the Yoga Sutras, from Ramakrishna and Aurobindo and Krishnamurthi. Her lecture on how yoga and the ancient teachings teach us about the true purpose of yoga which is personal transformation was so inspiring to me, yet I left her talk feeling a bit depressed.

Her talk made me feel as if I were in India again listening to my teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Yet, I left depressed because I feel sometimes that I am the lone voice in the wilderness where I live insofar as getting the personal transformation message out there. I left with the feeling that I don't belong here, that my ideas on yoga are too "out there." The feeling that I don't belong here is so overwhelming at times that it tears at my heart and soul. But that feeling also makes me grateful for my private students who come to my house because they are so dedicated to change and to their practice.

One of my former private students, a business entrepreneur, once told me that it's hell being a pioneer, that it's much easier being a follower because the pioneer is the one who gets the arrows shot up her ass. Take that advice for what it's worth. I will write more later about Uma Krishnamurthy's lecture.

I told my husband when I got home that the truth that is held in the ancient teachings that Uma spoke about was the reason I travel to India -- it nourishes me like no other place does and I can't explain it. This post comes the closest to an explanation.

I think I will put on some music and dance.

28 June 2010

yoga whores* for the corporate dollar

Oh my.

"Yoga" and "whore" in the same sentence. That's a jolt to the manomayi kosha.

Sometimes strong language is needed to get people to sit up and take notice. What can I say? When I was a young hippie chick I looked up to strong-talking women like Angela Davis and Germaine Greer.

No, I'm not dissing any working girls. In fact, I have a lot more respect for a woman who has to make her living on the street than I do for some of the *corporate* yoga antics out there right now. I'm using this definition of "whore": A *person* considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

To clarify, be advised (and that language comes from my working for lawyers for 20 years) that I am writing about CORPORATIONS, NOT about any specific yoga person who is a spokesperson/model for a yoga mat company, yoga clothes, etc. I would not mind being in an ad for the eco-mat that I use because I love the brand (and no, it is not Manduka.) For your ** reference, see the U.S. Supreme Court's "corporate personhood" debate.

My phrasing is comparable to the way one of my city representatives used it when she said that my town was whoring itself for the local sales tax revenue if the powers that be allowed Walmart (one of the 10 worst companies on the planet according to to build next to a marsh/bird sanctuary. Long story short: they didn't. A citizens' group that I started stopped them from doing that.

A grass roots group. I made my own flyers and walked door to door. No corporate sponsors. Power to the people.

Roseanne is on fire with her post on the rained out "yoga gathering" in New York City. She says:

"I wonder, do we have to do this dance? We all know it’s a dance. You really can’t convince me that, other then sponsoring an event with a guaranteed captive audience of 10,000, do these companies embody yogic values? JetBlue would like to co-opt the openness and transparency associated with yoga by guaranteeing “no blackout dates, no seat restrictions” on its frequent-flier program. It’s nice of adidas to sponsor a high-profile yoga teacher, offer free yoga classes around the world and develop a line of sustainable yoga wear ~ but its other business practices include endorsing the slaughter of kangaroos (an endangered species) in Australia and sweatshops in Asia. Can we separate these actions from its endorsement of yoga?"

Max Strom posted this response on his Facebook page about it:

"...exciting that 9000 people gathered in Central Park to practice yoga and I have been waiting for an event like this for some time. But it my opinion the event was sadly squandered. All the media was there, CNN, the NY Times, everybody – the cameras were pointing. For the first time in history the world put the ...microphone at the mouth of the larger yoga community in America. But what was the message given? We are celebrating the Solstice. We want more people to practice yoga. That’s it? We have nothing more to say to the world but that in 2010? With the oil gusher reminding us all that solar power is desperately needed, 9000 people doing salutations to the sun could have brought the world an unforgettable visual and call to invest in a nonpolluting technology. And with hurricane season kicking up in the Gulf, we could have bought attention back to the people of Haiti. Let us come together again in mass. Soon. But next time let’s show what we stand for. And yes we can do it without corporate sponsors. Martin Luther King did."

Instead, everyone walked away with swag bags.

I loved Max's last two sentences, especially since I watched Martin Luther King march through my Chicago neighborhood in the late '60s. I also saw a crazy throw a brick at Dr. King's head and saw him stumble and then march on. I became politicized, radically, at an early age.

YogaDork asks whether we want to smell like Eat Pray Love....

"“Pray” journeys to India’s sultry incense and spice history with jasmine, pink pepper, patchouli, amber, juniper berry, cardamom, and musk for a woodsy scent laced in exoticism."

...and alerting the advertisers' new dream, the yoga moms, that they should get ready to take out their wallets for the Home Shopping Network:

"Well, thank goodness for the candle set. What if you want smell like exotic praying patchouli, but want the room to emit love and mangoes??"


I kinda remember India smelling a bit differently....

Yeah, something stinks. And it's not the new Eat Pray Love perfume.

Of course corporate sponsorship is the way of the modern world. Sports teams started it a long time ago. People even get corporate names tattooed on their foreheads (hey, I like tats but you couldn't pay me enough) and name their kid after their favorite soda or car.

Just because it's the way it is nowadays, does that make it "good"? Really?

Have we really become that numb that no one asks the question anymore, "when is enough, enough?"

27 June 2010

when yoga bloggers meet

Another successful yin-yang yoga workshop at the Chicago Yoga Center yesterday made even more special by finally meeting two cyber-yogis from the yoga blogosphere....Bob and Brooks. Always good to finally put faces to the online voices!

Yoga obviously makes us happy!

A big thanks to Brooks and Bob for your support of the yin-yang yoga dharma.

24 June 2010


Buddhists believe that giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Dana is a concept in Buddhism that means generosity or giving. It is also the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the perfections (pāramitā): the perfection of giving. It is characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

Many Buddhist retreats operate on the concept of dana. My yoga and meditation training at Spirit Rock operated on a sliding scale fee basis and on the last day you also gave what you could afford to pay to all the teachers and staff.

I was inspired to write after reading Blisschick's post on her installation of a donation button on her blog. Like Blisschick, I don't have ads on this blog and also like her, I have written many words over five years -- this is my 400th post! -- and very much appreciate the relationships I have developed because of this blog.

More than a few people have written to me over the years about how inspired they were by my words ("I thought I was the only one to feel this way!") or how I have helped their yoga practice in some way (for example, my many posts on yin yoga.) This blog is a global teaching tool just as much as my yoga classes are locally.

An old friend told me just the other day that my knowledge is valuable and she suggested that I write a book. She thought it would be shame if I did not put my unique yoga philosophy, my teachings, down in a book because, she said, "You are special, what you have done is special, and once you are gone, who will carry on your teachings? They will be lost."

My friend wrote a book containing her family recipes because she wanted to share her knowledge, she thought it valuable enough. More importantly, she valued herself enough to do that.

Her words reminded me of what the teachers told us at KYM: that we should spread our knowledge, because if we did not, we would be nothing more than thieves, taking but not giving.

So, like Blisschick, my time and energy and words and experiences are worth something, and I have had a Paypal donation button on the right side for some some time now. If some bloggers can ask their readers to help pay for their yoga teacher training, then I will also graciously accept and appreciate your dana, gratitude, and love offerings. A heartfelt "thank you" goes out to the readers who have donated a few rupees over the years! Of course, readers are free to ignore the donation button, it's your choice.

But if you have benefited in some way or learned anything from this blog in five years, then consider what that knowledge -- indeed, the wisdom of an ageless hippie chick Buddhist yogini -- has been worth to you.

Metta to all my readers!

23 June 2010

the truth of my unknowing

more on this later....

"This aliveness is nothing being everything. It’s just life happening. It’s not happening to anyone. There’s a whole set of experiences happening here and they’re happening in emptiness … they’re happening in free fall. They’re just what’s happening. All there is is life. All there is is beingness. There isn’t anyone that ever has or does not have it. There’s nobody that has life and somebody else doesn’t have life. There just is life being life.

This message is so simple it totally confounds the mind. This message is too simple. Already your mind’s saying, “Yes, but come on … what about the levels of enlightenment and what about my emotional blocks, and what about my chakras, they’re not all fully open? What about my stillness – I’m not really still yet, and what about my ego? Somebody told me I still have an ego … it’s a bit reduced but it’s still there.”

But all of that, all of those ideas are adopted lessons about how it should be. The ego is what’s happening. The ego is just being ego. Thinking is just being thinking. There is only being. There is just being. There’s nothing else. There’s nobody that’s running that. There’s no destiny, there’s no God, there’s no plan, there’s no script, there’s nowhere to go because there is only timeless being. Being is totally whole just being. And it is alive and fleshy and sexy and juicy and immediately this; it’s not some concept about ‘there’s no-one here’. It’s not some concept about ‘there’s nowhere to go’. It is the aliveness that’s in that body right now. There is pure beingness, pure aliveness. That’s it. End of story.

Really it is simply that."
(Tony Parsons)

There is nowhere to get to because we are already here.

There is no enlightenment because we are already enlightened -- it is merely covered up with as much muck as is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico right now. Our searching for it is like trying to swim in quicksand.

We are no different from the rishis of ancient India, only we have forgotten what we are, they did not.

It really IS so simple, but none of it is easy.

22 June 2010

ongoing saga: yoga ink!

You can read about the start of this new ink here.

Tattoos are like India -- ya either love 'em or hate 'em, I don't think there is any in-between. While Serena was setting up yesterday she told me about a dreamcatcher she was going to tattoo on the back of a guy's head (obviously he's bald.) The tattoo was also going to include a set of antlers coming up onto his scalp that would "hold" the spider web he already has. Hey, everyone needs a pair of antlers on their head, right?

Today I went for the second sitting and for some crazy reason I thought it would be finished today. I did not realize how complicated it is! Here it is, minutes after I got off the table, in all its raw glory -- click on pic for a better view:

The staminal column (the official name for the inside of a hibiscus flower instead of having stamens, pistels, or filaments) is yellow but probably does not look like it because of the fresh blood. Also, the lotus petals inside the yantra are not as red as they appear, they are more pinkish but again, because of the blood the initial color will be different. More information that you want to know, I'm sure!

Of course, now the butterfly needs freshening up. Never ending...just like plastic surgery or so I hear!

(Tattoos by Serena)

18 June 2010

feel good friday

It's been a long time since I've been able to listen to Macy Gray. Up until very recently her music reminded me of an extremely painful time I went through a few years ago, an incident that manifested PTSD. So I look at my posting of her new video as a small victory. And I liked the title.

I taught my favorite class last night, my karma yoga at a domestic violence shelter. Despite what y'all read here about yoga economics, who signs up for workshops, yoga studio owners, whatever, it's not all about that. I love the ladies there because they are my teachers AND they understand intuitively the true purpose of yoga and meditation. They are grateful and beautiful and amazing and we empower each other. gardens rock!

This photo is from last year. I added new prayer flags in the gardens and seeing them outside my kitchen window every morning makes me smile intensely and immensely. It's going to be hot and steamy today and I'll still be out there digging in the dirt because life is too short.

As for everything else....what I say, what I write, my life, my path, I can only be true to myself. This blog is a combination of the sacred and the profane just like I am. If that makes someone uncomfortable, oh well. Go read Eat Pray Love instead.

From a non-conformist business newsletter I get:

"...if what you're doing is truly innovative, not everyone will understand in the beginning, and maybe you should just go for it. Lately I've been thinking about what Henry Ford said: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ''faster horses.''"

From a student:

"While not everyone is ready for you, those that are will garner great experiences and make important adjustments in their life because of you and your impact."

Yeah, I need these reminders.

Beauty in the world, yo.

16 June 2010

a high level of confusement

The warehouse manager at my husband's company once told The Hubs that he (the manager) had a high level of confusement. ;) :)

I'm throwing the question out there: as a yoga student, do you get confused when you experience a style of yoga you are not familiar with? Or do you just go with flow and if it resonates with you that's fine, and if not, that's fine too?

The reason I ask is that a yoga studio owner gave me that reason as to why he did not feel comfortable with me doing a workshop. He thought his students would get "confused."


As a teacher getting my name out there in my area, I send a lot of emails to studios asking if they would like to offer one of my workshops. It's a simple, standard email introduction of myself, giving them my website link, stating what I can offer, giving them a link to news articles about me, things like that. It's a standard business introduction. A yoga teacher friend told me that when she took a "business of yoga" workshop, the presenter said that you have to get your name in front of people at least 7 times before they connect with you. Sometimes yoga studio owners tell me "let's do it!", but for the most part I never hear from them. Not even a "thanks, but no thanks" response. As my husband the Big Shot Corporate Guy has told me, a lot of small business owners have really crappy personal business skills. They may know what they're doing in their business, but as for people skills, forget it.

This week I heard from one local studio owner who said that he would feel more comfortable if I spent time at his studio getting to know his style and "methods" so that I could "get an understanding of where the students are coming from." Then he said, "I don't mind if students seek out other styles on there own, but if I'm going to offer it to them [workshops], I feel it is my responsibility to offer programing that keeps into alignment [sic] with the other offerings so as to not confuse the students."


Now I have a high level of confusement.

The website states that the studio is an "intimate studio that creates a safe environment for exploration into the yogic arts." OK, sounds good to me, which is why I emailed the owner. I happen to know that the owner is heavily Iyengar influenced because a long time ago one of my former students also practiced with this teacher. The studio is not specifically an Iyengar yoga studio and the classes are advertised as simply being yoga classes, not Iyengar yoga classes.

I was amused by the owner's email. I must say that this was the first time anyone ever told me that I should spend time at their studio getting to know their style and methods. From the class descriptions on the website, I don't understand how the owner would think that what I do is so wildly different from his offerings. Obviously I am not going to send my workshop proposals to name-branded studios that only offer Bikram or Anusara yoga or to strict Iyengar yoga studios!

In my response to him I said (tongue in cheek) that I think I know a little bit about classical yoga and therapeutic yoga since I study at Desikachar's school every year. I said that I am certainly familiar with Iyengar yoga and while it is not a style I have studied in depth, I've attended many Iyengar yoga classes over the years. My own teacher in Chicago studied at an Iyengar Institute and also with Pattabhi Jois. If he had taken the time to read my website (and from his response my gut tells me that he did not -- or maybe he did and he was confused!), he would have seen that I've been around the yoga block more than a few times.

I told him that to me, yoga is yoga, and it all comes from the same source which in this modern yoga era is Sri Krishnamacharya. I said that this was the first time I had heard a studio owner say that students might get "confused" if they experience a style of yoga that is different from what they are used to doing. Wouldn't taking my workshop be their choice anyway? If they are curious they will take it, if not, they will pass on it.

I asked him to explain why he thought his students would be confused because I was honestly perplexed by his statement.

In any event, I said that the testimonials from my students speak for themselves on my website, so if he would like to offer his students the gift of another style of yoga that may further them along their path, to contact me in the future.

I will let you know his response.

If it's not too confusing.

13 June 2010

where's the money?

YogaDork blogged that Lulu-NO THICK GIRLS ALLOWED-lemon had their best ever financial quarter. The company "plans to open 30 new showrooms and up to 15 new stores this year" Lulu-NO FAT BOTTOM GIRLS HERE-lemon said that "net revenues for the quarter ended May 2 were $138.3 million..." and "ended the quarter with $173.6 million in cash and cash equivalents compared with $59.3 million at the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2009."

That's a lot of clothes. That's some serious coin.

Yoga Journal has always told us that there are millions of yoga practitioners in the United States spending millions of dollars on yoga paraphernalia, teacher trainings, you name it. Speaking only about teacher trainings, we all know that they can start around $2,000 (that's an inexpensive one) and go well beyond $10,000. Sarah Powers started the Insight Yoga Institute and while the training sounds absolutely wonderful, it costs approximately $15,000.00 to complete.

Sarah, along with other teachers, also started the philanthropic Metta Journeys which travels to Rwanda and benefits Women for Women International. The Rwanda trip costs $5,745 with a $1,000 donation to Women for Women International. The cost does not include airfare and depending on where you live in the United States it could cost you $2,000 to fly to Africa.

Of course we have all seen the ads in yoga magazines for all types of yoga retreats taught by people you've never heard of and you can google "yoga retreats" and find literally hundreds all over the world. My teacher in Chicago is offering a yoga vacation in Italy costing $1,340-$1,880; a 10 day yoga vacation to Peru costing $3,140-$3,950; and his 19th yoga vacation in Mexico for $1,700-$2,800.00. None of his trips include airfare and as far as I know, he has never had to cancel a trip due to a lack of students.

(And yes I know I have just given everyone free advertising; would that I get the same from someone for my yoga endeavors.)

My question is: where's the money?

In other words, who is going on all these trips to all these places for yoga?

The reason I ask is that I have an opportunity to teach in Bali for 10 days, two classes a day. If only 6 people came I would get my lodging and airfare paid for. If 7+ people came I would get paid a certain amount per person. It's a legitimate offer from a reputable person and it sounds totally sweet, doesn't it?

So why am I not foaming at the mouth with delight?

Because the last time I taught overseas not one person from the United States signed up for what I offered.

You may remember my Africa trip, my yin-yang yoga weekend with a seva component:

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

But no one signed up.

At least no one from the West. I sent my announcement to over 100 people around the United States, advertised it on Facebook and Twitter, and put an ad in a Chicagoland yoga magazine that has a circulation of over 20,000. The Seva Foundation put an announcement on their website's home page. But not one person showed any interest in spite of the charitable component of the retreat."

That's why I am not jumping for joy at this latest offer for me to teach overseas. My Africa weekend was not that expensive relatively speaking because it included everything: yoga plus lodging and food and I told people where to get discounted flights to Tanzania.

The Bali retreat organizer has a client database of over 1,000 people but I hesitate to spend any money on advertising (i.e., another $500 ad in the local yoga magazine) because frankly, what happened last time (or should I say did not happen) felt like a kick in the teeth (and this is the first time I'm saying it out loud.) I advertised to literally over 20,000 people via print ad, my business newsletter, and of course social networking, but zilch. I can understand no one wanting to fly to Africa. What I don't get is not one person expressing one iota of interest.

I believe that even in a bad economy there are people with disposable income. They're spending it on $100 yoga pants. Obviously. Just ask Lulu.

I understand how someone with children can't take off for 10 days, but I also know people (including teachers) who can't commit to a weekend of yoga in their own backyard. For the most part, people who do yoga (and this includes teachers) tell me that any type of yoga trip is too expensive for them even in the United States. "It's the economy," stupid.

Maybe the lack of response to my thing was because I live in the Midwest, not the trendiest part of the country even if it is Chicago. Maybe it's because I don't do the fancy arm balances or kick someone's yoga butt and that's what people want. Maybe I really don't have anything to offer.

So I ask again: where all the yoga peeps with money that I keep hearing about? Who is going on all these retreats?

Someone is because I see photos of lots of smiling faces at Kripalu or Omega or Esalen or Land of the Medicine Buddha or (fill in the blank.) I don't see a dearth of people here.

Where's the yoga money?

09 June 2010

Mark Whitwell, part 2: enlightenment, head yoga, and all that other stuff

"There is nothing to attain! There is no such thing as enlightenment, only Life in you as you. No need to realize God when God has realized you. It is intimacy we want and it is freely given. It is the search that is the problem. Looking for something presumes its absence. As long as we strive for a higher reality, the looking implies this life is a lower reality."

Those words are from Mark Whitwell's Facebook page, but he talks about this in his workshops.

Last year I heard a few gasps when Mark told us "stop meditating!" I smiled when he said that because I knew exactly what he meant: that meditation should be part of your life 24/7. Not the formal sitting on a cushion but if meditation comes as a siddhi as Mark claims, then this intuitive inwardness is always with you. As I tell my students, ultimately you don't turn it off and on like a switch. Just like the space between asanas is still asana, you don't turn it off and on when you move from one pose to another. It should needs to always be there, this mindfulness practiced as asana, this formless quietude between the shapes that we take.

Our sadhana is yoga + pranayama. As I also tell my students, you don't always have to sit and do a formal pranayama practice as I have seen in yoga classes so many times. That is, structured segments of this, then you do this, then you do this. Frankly, in all my years of yoga, I have never heard any teacher say that your conscious breathing IS pranayama, that your embodied breathing IS pranayama, that you should embrace your breath instead of being a witness to it. The guru to the asana is breath, that is what Krishnamacharya taught. The breath is always first, not the asana. You don't start the asana and then think about the breath.

Of course all the techniques such as nadi shodana, surya bhedana, chandra bhedana etc. are formal pranayama practices (kapalabhati is not considered pranayama in my lineage, it is considered a kriya), but I have never heard the breathing that I was taught at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and the breath work that Mark teaches (and that svasti described here) ever referred to as pranayama. Sometimes I think my students get sick of me talking so much about the breath. During class I ask them, "how's the breath? and where is your mind?" Most times I get back, "I'm holding it, and I'm thinking about lunch." There ya go. Switch on, switch off.

As for enlightenment, people are so anxious to get somewhere else other than where they are right now. I am always amused to hear what people think "enlightenment" is. After he sat under the bodhi tree, the Buddha merely said he was "awake." Awake to what? Awake to the truth of living, the nature of reality, awake to the causes of suffering but also awake to the end of suffering. Not running, but embracing reality AS IT IS.

Mark says it's not enlightenment we want but "intimacy with life in every aspect; stop looking and start living."

So how do we truly live when we're trying to get away from life, from our minds? People think meditation is stopping the mind, stopping thoughts -- that's just another way of trying to stop life.

When I was in teaching in Africa one of the students asked me during the dharma talk how to stop her thoughts when she sits. I told her, "stop trying." She looked as if I had slapped her and I saw a flash of insight that looked like relief. After the talk she was the only student who engaged me in a deep conversation about meditation and she said she felt like a rock was lifted off her shoulders. I said, "You see? Your flash of insight was one step closer to liberation. It is so exceedingly simple, but not easy." When the weekend was over she told me how much deeper her practice was because she stopped fighting. As Mark says, it was her search that was the problem. You can't get it by trying to get it.

Mark said that we must have a connection to our embodiment of body + breath before mindfulness (and he calls it mindFULLness, which I love) can begin. He said if there is no embodiment, if there is no asana + pranayama, dharma teachings remain abstract.

I found his comment interesting because I'm reading The Great Oom, the book about how an early 20th century yogi named Perry Baker (aka Pierre Bernard) brought body/breath based tantric yoga to his communities in the Gilded Age, something that was quite shocking at the time.

The author states how Vivekananda brought his meditation-based yoga to America as the "safe and practical way" for Westerners to dial into infinite. Vivekananda, who started the Vedanta Society, expounded at great length on the three paths of devotion mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita -- karma, bhakti, and jnana yoga -- yoga from the neck up as the author of the Great Oom calls it.

"Vedanists and Theosophists shared the view that hatha yoga's body-centered practices were queer and dangerous. Blavatsky [founder of the Theosophical Society] warned that pranayama was 'injurious to health' and useless to those seeking spiritual liberation. Vivekananda dismissed hatha yoga's asanas as 'nothing but a kind of gymnastics,' and later put a finer point on it for curious followers. 'We have nothing to do with it...because its practices are very difficult, and cannot be learned in a day, and after all, do not lead to much spiritual growth.'...

'Body and soul are co-existent.' Bernard insisted. 'One is but a manifestation of the other. The best way to perfect the soul is through the body and the senses.'
The Great Oom, pp. 72-73

Mark referred to the swamis who came to the West as doing "Hindu missionary work" instead of bringing yoga. The author of The Great Oom writes:

"In India, hatha yogis were forced to the margins of society, as they had been for centuries, not only by the British colonizers and their Indian sympathizers but also by Christian missionaries from the West, who saw such practices as the embodiment of heathenism. As a result, the generation of educated monks who came to America around the turn of the century were essentially a coterie of Theosophical-leaning Tantric-deniers and hatha haters."
The Great Oom, p. 73

Hatha yoga IS tantric yoga, according to Mark, because tantra is the direct participation in life. HA = the masculine, THA = the feminine, and if breath is the reason for asana as Mark believes and we become directly intimate with life via asana + pranayama, then hatha yoga is the pathway to the Universe that is in us. No more discussions needed on "what is tantric yoga."

Without our embodiment of asana and pranayama, the teachings, the dharma, are abstractions that are not realized. "Yoga from the neck up" is DISembodiment.

In my opinion, the embodiment that Mark talks about is similar to what Buddha taught in his Four Foundations of Mindfulness -- unless we are fully embodied in breath and body, how can we know the dharma of the nature of reality which is impermanence? And fully knowing this truth, via the body/breath/mind, will we run from it or allow it to liberate us to become fully intimate with life?

Does this full knowing of the dharma of reality, the truth of impermanence, then allow us to fully embrace the juiciness of life from day to day, the intimacy with life that Mark speaks about?

I choose to be a rasa devi.

Love your body's embrace of reality and truth.

08 June 2010

where the ordinary meets the extraordinary

My regular readers know that I attended the Kumbh Mela in Hardiwar in February for 9 days. I bathed in the Ganges on Mahashivaratri. While I was not at the Mela towards the end in March and April when there were millions more people than in February, I certainly don't feel as if I missed anything. I was there on a very auspicious day and it was wondrous and indeed, extraordinary. I hope that my karma is such that I can return to the Maha Kumbh in Haridwar 12 years from now. Who knows? I would be almost 70, hari om....

Baba Rampuri shared this video with me. It shows the initiations of a "blue-eyed" yogi and a yogini.

Rampuri's book Autobiography of a Sadhu has been republished, and I read it in 2005 when it came out under the title Baba: Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi. I found it a fascinating account of the naga baba life from a western perspective.

In this video the initiation is being done in the naga babas' camp. I walked through the camp twice during the Mela and was blessed by this sadhu:

He is an Urdhabahu Sadhu, a sadhu who keeps an arm up until it atrophies, the physical manifestation of tapas and bhakti. Most of the men and women in the camps are tantric yogis.

Where the ordinary world meets the extraordinary world.....

after bathing in the the Ganges

06 June 2010

things that make you want to say "namaste, bitches"

The New York Times article about etiquette in yoga studios is making the rounds of the yoga blogs.

YogaDork is quoted about people barging into class:

"'You are Zenned out,' said the blogger YogaDork, who asked to remain incognito, describing the splendor of Savasana, resting pose. 'And people are fumbling for bags and rolling up the mats.'"

Let's see...what are my pet peeves?

Men in yoga classes are few and far between where I live so no chance on seeing any cojones flying in the breeze because of loose yoga shorts. And no, I'm not disappointed.

As for barging in, once I had a woman rip off the plastic of her brand new yoga mat in the beginning of class when everyone was sitting in stillness, making a very loud tearing noise, and then act like she did not know that would happen when I shot her a look. And that was AFTER she unzipped her winter coat. Loudly. Did I say she also came in late?

As for cellphones, I've gotten used to them by now. That's not to say that they don't bother me -- HELLO! YOU'RE NOT THAT IMPORTANT, REALLY!! -- but they don't bother me as much anymore.

Once in a class during savasana a woman's phone rang and she must have jumped a foot off her mat. Now THAT was funny because she literally looked like she levitated, very quickly. I mean, her whole body came up like a plank. BOING! After class she told she did not know how to turn off her phone. Really.

Drumroll, two biggest pet peeves, one as a teacher and one as a student, are:

1. As a teacher, gum chewing.

Why would someone chew gum in a yoga class?

In the first place, I don't even understand gum chewing. I've never been a gum chewer, what's the purpose of it? It seems like everywhere you look nowadays someone's jaw is flapping away.

Next time I have a gum chewer in class I'm telling them I won't revive them if they choke on it.

2. As a student, anyone walking on my mat.

This is very common in workshops. It makes my skin crawl.

Why are people clueless about this?


And sometimes people even act insulted when you quickly pull up your mat when you see them walking towards you.

How about it if I put my foot on your nose, sister? I've walked barefoot all over India, maybe you want a piece of that in your face?

Aaaaahhhh.....I feel so much better now.....

OK, Divine Ones....your turn.

"Transformative Fire"

(photo credit: omtapas)

"There is a great fire that longs to burn you --
Don't let fear imagine a separation.
It is only yourself, burning for the truth,
The truth burning for itself.
Knowing this, give yourself, without reservation:
In ecstacy the fire burns."

"Having deeply opened to the annihilating aspect of the path, and having alllowed it to act on us, we may find that now and then it acts through us, cutting through ignorance and sentimentality with a voice of ruthless clarity..."

This is why I always say that yoga cooks us.

(Poem and commentary by Jennifer Paine Welwood,
Poems for the Path,
© 2001, 1999, 1998)

05 June 2010

Mark Whitwell: sex, peace, and all that other stuff

I had stopped attending the Midwest Yoga Conference but I went last year for the first time in a long time just to experience Mark Whitwell. I attended every one of his workshops and I drank the Whitwell kool-aid in a huge way -- I decided that if I could only study with one person the rest of my life it would be Mark.

This year I registered on the spur of the moment for the pre-conference one day "teacher training" with Mark -- here is the abridged description:

"Part 1 - Yoga Is Peace -
Peace is our natural state and it is freely Given. You will learn how to practice your own Yoga, which is your direct intimacy with life in every way. The essence of life is regenerative, nurturing, healing and dependable....

Part 2 - The Yoga of Peace, Intimacy, Sex and Relationship

In this session Mark will go deeper into Method and Understanding that Yoga is relationship and relationship is peace. To be very clear Yoga postures (asana) is hatha Yoga and hatha is tantra, the non-dual understanding. When asana is correctly practiced, actually and naturally, daily but not obsessively it helps intimate relationship of every kind.

You will understand that you live in a powerful regenerative force. Nurturing Source is appearing as the extreme intelligence that is Life, that is you. Mark will guide you to understand how to participate directly in this force and enjoy optimal health, intimacy and sex. You will learn the specifics of hatha yoga practice to make sure any Yoga practice is entirely your own....Mark will help you make use of real Yoga in your real life."

Mark Whitwell is going to talk about sex? Hey, sign me up!

Seriously, though, I was not disappointed. Mark is so true to the Krishnamacharya lineage that I felt recharged.

It was an intimate group of only 9 people and he started the morning by asking us why we are here and what we would like to get out his teaching for the day. One woman was very interested in the sex intimacy aspect of his teaching. She said she wanted to learn how to use yoga as a way to enrich the intimacy between her and her husband. In my head I wished her well because I remembered when I got my husband to try a 20 minute Rodney Yee yoga for abs DVD -- he lasted about 10 minutes and almost passed out. But I digress.....

One of the reasons I love Mark's teaching is that yoga is just yoga. The longer I practice and teach the more tired I become about the different styles. Mark believes that these yoga labels are an American phenomenon. A few people told Mark that they are "doing yoga" more than once a week, running from class to class, from teacher to teacher, and from style to style, but they felt they do not have their own personal yoga....which is Mark teaches -- how to make yoga your own.

I know for myself that I am comfortable with MY yoga, and that's what I say when people ask me what style of yoga I teach. I tell them, "my style. come check it out and if it resonates with you, nice, if not, have a joyFULL day." I say on my website that I developed my own vinyasa style "in an intuitive and eclectic way based on Krishnamacharya’s method", integrating elements from other schools that enhance my practice and teachings. It is “Mindful Yoga”, nothing more, nothing less.

As for those different yoga styles and lineages, Mark feels when we are stuck with one style of another, it's a false identification with another culture and we do not acknowledge other cultures. He said the yoga lineages are not the point -- the point of yoga is not to be attached or identified to something so solidly that it blinds you to the full participation in life itself.

He asked us how do we practice asana without wanting to get to the next asana because trying to get somewhere implies that we are not already here. Get it? Yoga is not about "looking for", it's about "participating in" the given, i.e., life. Yoga is about our direct experience with life, there should not be a stylized struggle for a future result.

Mark said he was disappointed that Krishnamacharya's ideas have been absent from modern yoga. He said that while Krishnamacharya taught Iyengar and Jois, they did not fully utilize Krishnamacharya's practices of non-dual tantric yoga. Mark believes that the Krishnamacharya lineage of viniyoga has become nothing more than physical therapy in this modern yoga age.

At that point I told Mark that it seemed to me that many astanga practitioners are obsessed with perfecting the physical part of the practice (and I'm not dissing any astangi!), doing countless drop backs and jump throughs over and over again until perfection is achieved. Mark said that obsession comes from feeling inadequate; again, it's that trying to get somewhere else when we are already here. He believes that yoga should be practiced consistently, not obsessively. No time frames, no certain number of asanas, just be your yoga, and in fact, your asana practice may fall away completely when the things that are obstructing you from full participation in life are removed BECAUSE of your yoga practice.

To make your yoga truly yours Mark recommends starting with a daily 7 minute practice, and who doesn't have 7 minutes a day for asana and pranayama? Don't obsess, just start with a 7 minute sadhana of asana and pranayama, or even just breathing -- embracing your breath, not merely being a witness to it. Mark believes that when asana is our bhakti, i.e., our connection to the divine, then meditation comes as a siddhi. be continued.....

01 June 2010

Srivatsa Ramaswami: chitta vritti

One of my primary teachers is Srivatsa Ramaswami, who studied with Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, longer than anyone in Krishnamacharya's immediate family. Ramaswamiji was one of the original trustees of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, the yoga school where I have studied every year for five years.

I first met Ramaswamiji in 2003 and he inspired me to travel to the heart of yoga. I knew that I had to study more deeply the yoga that he teaches, vinyasa krama. Vinyasa krama yoga is a systematic method of practicing and adapting yoga for the individual. "Krama" is a Sanskrit word meaning “stages.” It is a step-by-step process involving the building in gradual stages toward a “peak” within a practice session. This progression can include asanas of increasing complexity or gradually building one’s breath capacity. It is the yoga that I practice for myself and that which I use with my yoga therapy clients.

Ramaswamiji says that “By integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath...a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. Vinyasa krama yoga strictly follows the most complete definition of classical yoga.”

To me, Ramaswamiji is a true yogi. I consider him to be my guru but I know he would be embarassed if I called him that. I am honored and humbled to be mentioned in the Acknowledgement of his book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga as one who has “studied vinyasa yoga in depth with me” and who has “incorporated essentials of vinyasa krama into…teaching and practice even from Day 1.” I was shocked and amazed and started crying when I saw my name.

The words below are from a newsletter that Ramaswamiji sends to his students. During one of my trainigs at KYM the teachers told us that if we do not pass on the teachings we are nothing more than thieves.


"The Sanskrit word vritti is used commonly in many Indian languages to indicate one's main activity or avocation. A farmer is said to be in krishi vritti or agriculture. A sanyasin is said to live on Uncha vritti or high way of living which is basically asking for minimal food with a begging bowl.

So vritti is used to indicate one's jivana or livelihood, vritti-jivane as the grammar book says. One mantra in Suryanamaskara is “apa ca avrittim” which is a prayer to be gainfully employed -- a+vritti meaning joblessness. Some other prefixes also modify the meaning of the word: pra+vritti or pravritti will indicate activities towards getting what one wants whereas ni+vritti or nivritti will indicate activities (and the result) associated with getting rid of what one does not want. Chitta vritti would mean the activity of the chitta. Chitta itself has an interesting meaning.

Chitta which is usually translated as "mind-stuff" or brain is that which though is inert matter appears to have consciousness. “Citiva bhavayati”, like my computer which does not even have life but appears to be super intelligent.

So what does the chitta do, what are its vrittis or activities? Basically the chitta through the vrittis gives us experiences of varied types. It projects different images within its confines -- in its own space, mental space, even though the projections appear to be in the outside real space.

For the sake of convenience several works divide functionally the chitta into manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), ahamkara(ego) and smriti/citta(memory). I receive information from the outside world through my senses, eyes, ears, etc., due to the vrittis of the indriyas. Then the manas or mind which is also known as the 11th indriya collates and coordinates and presents to another faculty of the chitta called buddhi. Buddhi analyzes all the information and makes a judgment and then the ego or ahankara aspect of chitta comes into play. If it likes the presentation, it is happy but if not it shows its unhappiness and produces various reactions. When the Buddhi or intellect is active then the chitta vritti is also known as buddhi vritti, but when it is dominated by ahankara aspect of chitta the chitta vritti is known as ahamkara vritti. When some one says that I am a good person I am happy, my ahamkara vritti makes me expansive and I hit the roof. If then someone says I am a lousy yoga teacher, I feel bad and am down in the dumps due to the ahamkara vritti. So moment after moment I have a chitta vritti which includes images not only of the outside objects but also me as the subject of the whole experience. Therefore the chitta vritti is the totality of my experience at any given moment.

The one that experiences or observes all these successive chitta vritties is the real “I”, the purusha, the drashta or observer or the non-changing and hence eternal pure consciousness.

Patanjali says the chitta is capable of transcending all the vrittis and remaining oblivious to all the vrittis. To understand that state he lists all the chitta vrittis in five categories, the main purpose of it is to indirectly know or infer the state which is beyond the chitta vritti state, trying to show the unknown from the known.

What are these known chitta vrittis? The first one is called the pramana vritti or those vrittis which produce correct knowledge of the various objects. Through the senses, I get information of the outside world thanks to the tanmatras received from the objects and the knowledge produced is the pramana vritti. If the knowledge produced is incorrect then that vritti is classified as the viparyaya vritti. Either one interprets the incoming information correctly or incorrectly but the chitta produces a vritti for experience. The chitta sometimes needs no outside information to produce a vritti experience in which case it is called vikalpa vritti, the typical example is the dream vritti. Then we have deep sleep which is considered another activity of the chitta which vritti is due to the dominance of Tamas and hence is known as tamo vritti. Finally we have a lot of information stored in our chitta and when we recall something vividly in the mind it is termed smriti vritti.

Is there a moment in our lives when the chitta is without a vritti? No, according to the exhaustive classification of chitta vrittis, there is not a moment when the chitta stops its activities, its projections in the mental space, its vrittis. While ordinarily the chitta wallows in these vrittis, Patanjali talks about a state in which the chitta transcends all the vrittis mentioned above and remains in that state. That is the state of Yoga.

It happens when the chitta uses all its faculties and yogic training to concentrate and knows for sure the true nature of the observing self/soul, the non-changing, hence eternal consciousness. With that knowledge, with that direct experience, the chitta remains in a state of resolution, on realizing the nature of the the Self in its true form (svarupa). When there is realization in the chitta that nothing, none of the vrittis changes the essential nature of the pure purusha, it becomes quiet - completely quiet. In that state the chitta does not have any of the vrittis mentioned above. But when not in the state of Yoga, it does not know the true nature of the soul. Rather than trying to locate and realize the nature of the Self (as a Raja Yoga practitioner attempts to do), it creates and projects a shadow self using its own vritti, a viparyaya vritti. The chitta is capable of creating this deception.

Take for example what the lazy chitta does during dream state. Getting out of deep sleep, but yet unable to wake up completely, the chitta creates its own dream space, dream objects and also creates a self, a dream self, only to discard it when it wakes up.

Patanjali uses two terms about the nature of the Self and the nature of the pseudo self. He uses the term swarupa or own form to indicate the nature of the true Self. He uses the term sarupa or something similar to the form of the Self for the self image created by the chitta. It is like the difference between the subject and the wax model. The model however much it may look like the original is still a copy and not the original/Self. In fact Patanjali uses the term sarupa which would mean similar to rather than tadrupa which would mean identical with or the exact replica. The emphasis is not so much on how similar or look alike they are (like the mirror image or reflection, etc. which would be tadrupa) but that the model is not the real thing. The implication is that the created self or ego or ahamkara is a creation of the chitta itself; it is itself a chitta vritti (vritti saarupya).

The ultimate state of Yoga of the chitta is that in which it transcends all its vrittis. In that trance-like state the Yogi is oblivious to the surroundings, not sleeping, not dreaming nor thinking of the past. The brain or the mindstuff has also another set of vrittis. The samkhyas call it the samanya or samanya karanaa vrittis. This set of vrittis helps to maintain life even of the Yogi. These are vrittis of prana which itself is an aspect of chitta. These non-descript or ordinary vrittis maintain life. They are known as prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana vrittis and correspond to the life sustaining autonomic activities of the brain. They function until the Yogi decides to call it quits.

What do I do?
I teach a class.
What do I experience?
I experience that I teach a class.
In the last sentence, there are two “I”s.
Which “I” am I?"