I’m not dead. Or, how the yoga rubber meets the road.

me in India, only half dead

only half dead in India, 2008

Miss me?

I used to be a prolific yoga blogger.  I used to be a well-known yoga blogger, once called a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere, and was even quoted in the New York Times during the Tara Stiles controversy.  But everything has its expiration date.

I got tired.  I got tired of writing about Yoga in OMerika because I thought, “what else can I write about?”  I read this excellent piece today and it addresses issues that I wrote about years ago.  Bottom line, same shit, different day.  Not much has changed since I started writing this blog in 2005, almost 10 years ago.  The funny thing is, you know how each generation thinks they’re original, like they’re the first ones to come up with an idea?  Kinda sorta how I feel when I read a yoga blog nowadays, like, been there, done that, you young whipper-snapper, ’cause back in my day….

It has also appeared for quite some time that the yoga blogosphere has become a tad cliquey, all rah rah, kiss kiss, pat each other on the back.  OK, a lot cliquey.  When I first started this blog the yoga blogosphere was a bit more outlaw-ish, the voices were of different tones, not so scholarly.  Not that there is anything wrong with scholarly (hey, I went to grad school), but I remember being called “anti-intellectual” by a well-known yoga blogger because I dared to question the overanalysis and didacticism.  I knew I was no longer in the top echelon of yoga bloggers (my tongue is firmly in cheek) when this post only received 5 comments where in the past I know it would have generated many more.  One has to be one of the Kool Kids now, someone who is Someone to continue to get your blog posts Facebooked, tweeted, or interviewed or asked to review books. You know what Groucho Marx said about being a member of a club.   Another photo of the latest celeb du jour walking into a yoga studio?  Really?

Over the past year I have had some major epiphanies that rocked my energy body.  Last March I dealt with two very problematic people on my yoga retreat in India who I realized later were my teachers.  Of course I did not realize it at the time because then I only wanted to kick their ungrateful asses into the Arabian Sea, but they taught me much about how to deal with people of their types so I thank them.  They were a lesson in how everyone can be your teacher and the more difficult ones more so.

I dealt with betrayal.  Lots and lots of meditation helped me with that one.  I am here to tell you that if someone fucks with you, just sit and meditate daily on their sorry ass until the vision of them no longer brings up feelings of attachment or aversion, until you can see them and feel neutrality.  It works and it’s wonderful.  Very freeing.  I learned to finally love myself completely.  Not a bad lesson to learn as I enter my 6th decade of this incarnation.

I dealt with trust issues I have with women and also (again) in my local yoga world.  The resolution to that is that I am damn fine with being alone and a loner.  Well, I was already, but I truly came into my own in 2013.  Probably because I finally owned what I do.  I’ve been teaching since 2002 and it took me all this time to realize that yes, I AM a damn good teacher, I am unique in what I do and fuck outside validation, I don’t need it.  My yoga is outside the box and I own the fact that what I offer is not found elsewhere.  I have studied with direct students of Krishnamacharya both here and in India and am damn proud of that.  Never mistake my confidence for arrogance.  Yes I do say I teach Real Yoga and don’t care if someone takes offense.  Mine is a bold statement and people like J.Brown who puts it out there when he says that he “seeks to change the dialog and direction of yoga practice in the west” inspire me.  You bet your asana I do the same in my little corner of the yoga world, one body at a time (“…you taught me more about Yoga in five minutes than anyone I’ve ever met in a yoga class, teacher or otherwise,” said a satisfied Yoga customer.)

I also finally came into my own as an energy worker.  That was a huge energetic shift for me in 2013, so much so the shift was also physical.  It is no coincidence that I learned I am part Native American (more on that below) in the same year I decided to make known the energy healing work I have practiced for over 10 years — because my work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman.  Energy healing is a deep, spiritual practice for me.  It feels natural.  I finally own that I am a facilitator of profound change.

I am happy to reside in my little yoga cave of my home studio with only two or three students in class.  If all my students suddenly disappeared, I am fine with that.  Bottom line, if I never taught another class in my life, I’m good.  The thought of never teaching again for whatever reason used to freak me out.  “Yoga teacher” used to be my identity but no longer.  I have peeled my onion layers down to the core.  Yoga is life, but Life is more than Yoga.  DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

The biggest revelation of 2013 came to me in the form of genetic testing and discovering my true ancestry.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German-Polish, but I also always intuited that I wasn’t.  I am part Native American, enough that I can self-identify as a Native American; unfortunately, a genetic test can not determine tribe.  Either I was the product of an affair or my sister was really my mother.  My nephew who is only 7 years younger is probably my half-brother.  How would you handle that if you found out in your late 50s that you were lied to about your heritage and parentage?

As for handling things, after planning my 8th trip to India (departure in 9 days) for yoga study, my yoga therapy course was cancelled just last week.  This affected my entire trip because my trips are a tax write-off — no yoga study, no tax write-off.  Plans I had made almost a year ago and reservations on planes and trains all had to be changed when I got the news.  I cancelled the last 7 weeks of my trip and I would have cancelled the entire trip but I would have lost too much money in airfare and other fees so my trip changed in one day from almost 3 months to one month.  Dharma 101: How Life Changes in a Second.

The day I received the news of the course cancellation I was more than a little freaked but by evening I was at peace.  A deep peace and I was surprised at how deep that peace was — because YOGA ISN’T REAL YOGA UNLESS IT HELPS YOU DEAL WITH HOW LIFE CAN CHANGE IN A SECOND.  

Knowing how I love India (in reality it’s a love-hate relationship), my friends thought I’d be more upset than I was about cutting my trip by more than half.  Nope, not really.  Because that’s where the yoga rubber hits the road.  What good is your yoga if you can’t deal effectively with life’s major and minor ups and downs?

As for Ma India Herself, if this upcoming trip is my last I am good with that.  Finally.  Because in the past the thought of never returning to India created such angst I would shake.  Even cry.  India is in my bones and always will be and each time I am there I know I am Home.  I know I will die there but just like Yoga Teacher became a piece of my identity, so did India.     DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

Real Yoga sure as hell ain’t about the asana but I already knew that.  108 Sun Salutations or a sick arm balance would not have helped me when I learned that the woman I thought was my mother was probably really my grandmother.  Or maybe my sister is really my mother.  I will never know.  Made up yoga, as A. G. Mohan calls what passes for yoga nowadays, could never help me with that.

Real Yoga is so much more.  It’s Freedom.

finding my tribe

godsNgoddesses

Recently my Kali Sister, Svasti, wrote about finding her tribe.  I can certainly relate to that.  That has pretty much been the story of my life. usually an outsider, always the loner.  I’m that person whom when you first meet me you think I’m a bitch or creepy because I don’t do small talk, never have.  I’m a hard nut to crack.  A former boss told me a very long time ago that those who give up or who don’t want to make the effort aren’t worthy to be in my life anyway.  My nickname used to be Loba (Spanish feminine for wolf) because as I was told, wolves and wild women are always misunderstood.

This relates to the tarot card reading I had last week.   Besides what I wrote about the reader was emphatic when she told me that I should “be ready” when I get back from India because I will “need” to find a bigger space for teaching, she was certain of it.   Whether it is enlarging my home shala, renting space, collaborating with someone,  whatever it is, she said it will happen.  And yesterday it fell into my lap.

Yesterday I met a former student now yoga teacher for coffee.  We had a lovely discussion and she said she had a theory about me (I love hearing people’s theories about me), that I am not a “pushing” teacher but a “pulling” teacher.  By “pushing” she meant the type of teacher who is always telling you to take their classes, filling your in box with emails about workshops, etc.

In her opinion a “pulling” teacher draws you in by virtue of, well, by not doing the things a pushing teacher does.  Students find a pulling teacher on their own, kind of like a resonance, radar, synchronicity, whatever you want to call it.  I thought about what she said and realized that my home shala students are just like that because they’ve been with me almost since Day One of my teaching over 10 years ago.

This woman only took 16 weeks of yoga with me more than a few years ago at a place where I no longer teach but she said she never lost sight of me, she always followed my doings.  We reconnected because she invited me to take her class, a class specifically for belly dancers as she is one herself.  Her teaching was lovely, the real deal, it wasn’t scripted, it was honest and smart.  She is a new teacher but not a “new” teacher if you know what I mean.  She is already seasoned and has marinated for a while and long time readers of this blog know what I mean by how yoga marinates us.

The space where she teaches is inside a belly dance studio that is inside a holistic center in an old, rehabbed building (read: “with character and good energy”) in an area where I used to teach.  The holistic center offers energy work, acupuncture, holistic chiropractic care, among other things.  When I walked in I was greeted immediately by the person at the door with warmth and laughter and the building had nice, uplifting energy.  The yoga teacher who had the space for a number of years left (from what I hear she couldn’t make a go of it for whatever reason) and my friend suggested me to the belly dance studio operator.  She then connected us on Facebook and before I had a chance to respond, the proprietress contacted me.  We will start discussions and if it’s meant to be when I return in April, it’s meant to be, I’m open.

What does this have to do with finding my tribe?  That I should find my own tribe is something my astrologer first told me years ago, even before I went to India the first time.  It’s in my natal chart plain as day.  The longer I teach, the more I realize the so-called yoga community is not my tribe, but there is nothing negative in that idea.  It just is.  Unfortunately some in my local yoga scene think that if you’re not with us, you’re against us.   No, not so because I’ve never been part of mainstream anything.  I’ve always walked to a different drummer, you say go right and I go left.  It’s probably why I’ve never had any desire to attend any type of yoga fest.

Without getting into any specifics I’ve heard a plethora of stories lately about people in my local yoga scene, stories about teachers and owners, the usual yoga studio drama yama, all of which makes me uber-glad once again that I teach out of my house.  It also makes me glad that I am leaving for India a week from this Sunday.  As a friend told me, “I bet you can’t wait to leave.”

So given the stories I’ve heard lately and one thing that happened to me just this week (again, no specifics), Kali Ma gave me a slap upside the head as She is prone to do.  Boom Shiva!  I thought, it ain’t the yoga peeps, baby, it never was, my tribe is other energy workers (why the serious call last year to learn more energy healing?) and dancers (since I connect with dance as much as I do with yoga.)

Coincidence about the possible space?  I think not.

Boom laka laka laka, I’m gonna take it higher.

let’s give ‘em something to talk about

Fasten your seatbelts, kids!  I’ve seen a flurry of articles about yoga on Facebook that SCREAM for pithy comments!

Here goes:

Tony Perkins Upset That ‘Goofy’ Yoga Classes ‘Driving Religion Out’ Of Military

Christian conservative leader Tony Perkins is upset — this time, about yoga classes being offered to military members.

Why? Because the “goofy” style of exercise has been used as a “wacky” substitute for a “personal relationship with God,” effectively driving religion out of the military.

My first thought on that was hmmmmm……maybe if yoga was not taught as strictly a fitness regimen in many places (“power” yoga, “yoga boot camp”, etc.) and the therapeutic (healing for both body and mind) aspects were emphasized, maybe this guy wouldn’t think it was a “goofy style of exercise.”  Maybe if he knew that real yoga is all about healing and transformation……  but I know I ask for too much.

I am  not talking about yoga therapy.  I am talking about therapeutic aspects of yoga in general.  I don’t separate the therapeutic aspects in my classes.  I occasionally do private yoga therapy sessions (such as trauma sensitive yoga), but I consider ALL my classes therapeutic in one way or another.  In western yoga culture, there is yoga and then there is yoga therapy.  Separation.  Duality.  No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”   Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“   He taught that yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.   When people lined up down the street outside his door he prescribed practices for them based on their individual needs, asana+pranayama+meditation.  It was just yoga.  It saddens me that I still have to explain to people that yoga heals, it’s not all about getting your ass kicked in a yoga class.

Actor, columnist, cook: Meet Yoga’s glamour girl Kathryn Budig

Damn, and I thought I was yoga’s glamour girl!  Ripped off again!  A comment from my Facebook page:  “‘she realized she was meant to be a yoga teacher.’  I never had that realization.  Rather, my teachers told me.  And I resisted.”

My teacher also told me to become a teacher and I resisted, too, but I became a teacher at 48, an age that some people think you’re all washed up.  I read something the other day:  in this culture when a woman hits her 50s she becomes invisible to men.  When a woman hits her 60s she becomes invisible to other women.   Good thing Ms. Budig is already a sensation at the ripe age of 29.

A New Year’s Resolution for Queer and Trans People of Color: Forget the Gym, Occupy Yoga Studios

This piece rocks!  I absolutely love it.  Although I am not black/brown/L/B or T, I feel the same way:

I’m tired of Googling “yoga” only to have images spat back at me that scream entitlement–the kind of entitlement that comes with being able to pay $18 for a class that takes place in some bourgie studio with the words “om” and “namaste” printed on everything and giant pictures of the Hindu God Ganesha everywhere.

I’ll tell you what I’m tired of:  yoga bleaching. 

yoga bleaching: 1. a form of marketing in which yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle is used to make an otherwise unrelated product appear to be in line with yogic principles. 2. the act of using yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle to sell an unrelated product. 3. a form of spin or marketing intended to deceive consumers into believing that a product is related to yogic practice or theory when in fact it is not.

The local studio is selling a natural deodorant with the name of DeOm.  Yes, you read it correctly:  DE OM with a conspicuous AUM symbol on the bottle.  It was created by a teacher at the studio using minerals and organic herbs.  You can sweat like a horse in your hot vinyasa class but not stink like a street in India:

pondicherry sign

Now I am all for women entrepreneurs and I know the teacher; she’s very nice, I like her, and I hope she makes a lot of money, I really do.   HOWEVER…..using a sacred symbol to push your product a la yoga bleaching makes me all types of itchy.  A different name and image perhaps such as LOTUS, even AKASHA?  I would probably buy a natural deodorant named Lotus or Akasha but wiping something with the AUM symbol under my arms?  But hey, that’s me.

Would it be any different if I invented some new fangled toilet paper and named it “Jesus Wipes” and put His image on it?

Just askin’.

Not Your Parents’ Yoga

Jason Brown once again knocks it out of the park:

Among serious-minded practitioners, there is palpable discontent with the course the yoga industry seems to be on. Teachers, who in the past were voices defining what yoga is in the 21st century, are now understandably more concerned with enjoying their latter years than attempting to push back against entrenched forces that care little for the soul of yoga. The newer generation has often been thrown out into the wilderness without the tools or knowledge to fulfill their impulse to carry the torch. In the absence of teachers framing the conversation and defining yoga in authentic ways, the market will always fill the gap with whatever sells….

One of my readers here wrote to me and said how refreshing it was to see someone doing “old school” with no apologies. There is much to be said about staying true to yourself and not caving to mainstream.  I may not have lots of students because I no longer teach in studios but as a friend told me, I and my students have created a true sangha, old school yoga way.

Folks are not buying just anything as yoga anymore. And they are telling their friends. The rampant commercialization and co-opting of yoga has become so overblown that even the unfamiliar are skeptical. Times remain too tough to effectively continue hocking candy-coated platitudes. From out of the daunting malaise of pressures and seeming demise, conditions are becoming more ripe to slough off obsolete thinking. No more will we be led around by false gurus or complacent with hypocrisies. No longer will success be defined by status or achieved at the expense of others.  We can and will do better. Let us have the courage to imagine it so.

I’m certainly not a yoga sensation like Ms. Budig but when a woman younger than her tells this Crone, “You are a life saver.  Without you I would be a stressed out 20 year old bitching about everything.  Now I live my life and I’m writing my own story and I have never felt better.  I tell everyone about you and how you guide people to find not only  happiness but themselves.  I thank you for opening my eyes to that.”….

….. THAT is success.  Priceless.

The New Mantra: Replacing ‘Om’ With ‘Glam’

The athletic-wear company Lululemon, known for its yoga togs, introduced a meditation-specific capsule collection in fall 2012, with pieces retailing at relatively affordable prices, including a Devotion Long-Sleeve Tee ($68) and an Intuition Sweater Wrap ($178) that doubles as a meditation blanket. With its extra-deep hood, the Please Me Pullover ($118) is perfect to wear during Zen Buddhist meditation practice, said Amanda Casgar, a spokeswoman for the company, since during the process “you keep your eyes open but focus on a point on the floor in front of you. Pulling the hood right down over your eyes automatically creates that line of sight,” she said.
For the more affluent enthusiast, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen line, affiliated with her charitable wellness foundation of the same name, has become a popular choice (sweat pants, $995).

Oh.  My.  Goddess.  How the hell did anyone meditate before the Please Me Pullover?!?  I mean, really?  Apparently these guys don’t know a damn thing about yoga and meditation ’cause they’re all nekkid!  How did they survive all these years?

IMG_1373

Real Yogis, Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, 2010

“When meditating, the author Gabrielle Bernstein avoids belts or drawstring pants. “Tying anything to your body blocks the energy flow,” she said.”  Please show me the palm leaf in India where that is written.   Is that in the secret palm leaf library in Tamil Nadu?

Note the traditional red string tied around the waists of these babas.

Just sayin’.

Lastly, while this is not a post on yoga per se, I believe it is relevant considering the NYT piece.

Creativist Manifesto:  Consumer v. Creator

I think it absolutely ties in with modern yoga.

Being a consumer means accepting an essentially passive role in our life, one in which we seek fulfillment through the accumulation of stuff, whether it be material goods, a high status job, or even in terms of our relationships.

And yet, increasingly, we know that living our life as consumers is damaging us—damaging us as individuals and as a society, and damaging the earth that supports us. As consumers, we are left searching for that which will give meaning to our lives, as we fail to find lasting satisfaction in consumption….

Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers, I believe we need to see ourselves as Creativists.

A Creativist is a person who creates and connects and acts. Creativists are connected with who they are and are driven from the inside out, rather than being defined by a position as a consumer in society. Creativists fulfill their need to create which is part of all of us. Creativists use their gifts, and in doing so connect with others and in turn society benefits.

The distinction is clear. Consume versus Create. And the forces of consume versus create contain within them a series of choices that we make everyday in our lives—in our relationships, at work and in our communities.

And that’s why Yoga — REAL Yoga — is a radical act.  As Krishnamacharya said, “Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.”  Real Yoga enables us to make appropriate choices for our relationships, work, and communities.

The renouncers of the Vedic rituals, the ancient yogis, the sramanas,  were radicals who made the choice to break free of mainstream 8th Century BC.

No special clothes required.

the Rune Inguz

“Drawing this Rune may mark a time of joyful deliverance, of new life, a new path. A Rune of great power, receiving it means that you now have the strength to achieve completion, resolution, from which comes a new beginning.”

“As you resolve and clear away the old, you will experience a release from tension and uncertainty.
You may be required to free yourself from a rut, habit or relationship; from some deep cultural or behavioral pattern… The time of birth is always a critical one. Movement can involve danger, and yet movement that is timely leads out of danger.” -Ralph H. Blum

Runes are the letters in the runic alphabets which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter, some of the specialized purposes being divination.

Today I had a tarot card reading specifically for my upcoming trip and the reader asked me to pick a rune out of bag.  I picked the rune pictured above.  It gave me chills.  The meaning was potent because my astrologer has been telling me for years that I’m “pregnant”, ready to give birth to something BIG, something that will rock my world.  Or THE world.   She has told me more than once that I am at the end of a learning cycle, near completion.  Done marinating as I like to say.

What is fascinating to me is that this rune is about male fertility AND the Moon, which is feminine energy.  That’s fine because I am a woman with more yang energy than yin although  yoga has balanced that out over the years.

From my readings today I learned that inguz contains the essence of both male and female energy.  That’s certainly Shiva-Shakti — if they are not held within the seed, there can be no life.

What Rune Inguz means

The first Osho-Zen tarot card drawn in the tarot reading was “traveling.”  Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences.  Every card after that had words such as rebirth, totality, breakthrough, silence.  Breakthrough, busting out of stale paradigms, I can dig it.  The reader said that when I return from India things will be very different for me in my personal yoga world, that I should seriously consider finding a space for teaching.

I’m going to Varanasi, the city where the dead are cremated on the banks of the Ganges and their ashes thrown into the holy river.   Death and rebirth.

I’m ready.

 

tarot

ch…ch…ch…changes

lotus feet

“Lotus Feet of the Lord” and a rose given to me by Swami Avdheshanand Giri, head of the Juna Akhara naga babas, at 2010 Kumbh Mela, Haridwar

Happy belated New Year!  May you all be well and happy and peaceful in 2013!

This is my first post of 2013 which is amazing to me since I started writing this blog in 2005 before my first trip to India.  But it is also my last post for a while because I will step onto Indian soil for the 7th time on January 29.  I’m blessed and oh so grateful to be able to have traveled to Ma India all these years.  That realization is never lost on me because India is truly my soul’s home.  As someone told me, my trips are not just to study yoga, they are pilgrimages.  Jai Ma.

This trip will be very different as a group of 7 intrepid travelers and yoga practitioners will be meeting me in Chennai for my first attempt at a group trip.  Kali help me.  I could never be a full-time travel agent because the details of organizing this trip have given me more than a few migraines.  And I am quite accustomed to being alone in India which is how I like to be.  Now I will be with 7 other people for a full 16 days.   It surely will be a test but I expect nothing less from Ma.

I start the trip with taking Module 4 of Ganesh Mohan’s yoga therapy training and then I am off to Calcutta and Varanasi and Sarnath, where Buddha did his first dharma teaching after his Enlightenment.   In Sarnath I will attend a dharma gathering led by Christopher Titmuss. After that, off to Varkala, Kerala for a week to see the preparations for my first ever retreat then back to Chennai to wait for the arrivals of 7 first-time travelers to India.

One thing that is VERY COOL is that I finally get to meet my long-time blog reader and cyber-friend Svasti!  How exciting is that?  Since we are both sisters of Kali we thought meeting up in Kali’s city of Calcutta would be auspicious.

Back to Chennai for a few days after the retreat then off to Goa and Mumbai, both for the first time.  I was invited to Mumbai by Sharell who writes Diary of a White Indian Housewife and I said “why not?” because life is too short and I have a lot more years behind me than I have ahead of me.  I found out about this yoga place  in Mumbai and contacted them about whether they would be interested in hosting me for a workshop before I leave India.  They said yes, so maybe I will bring Yin Yoga to Mumbai….we shall see!

After all that, I will start plans to an October 2014 yoga retreat to this place in the Himalayas….interested?  Two of my students already are thinking about going.

As for me and my yoga, 2012 was a year of santosha once I returned home from India.  It’s hard to explain but I’ll try.

Although I cut two weeks off my trip last year, I surely did not want to come home because I was content where I was and how I was.  I realized in India what a freak I am in my local yoga scene of hot yoga and acro-yoga and yoga with weights and yoga with such names that I can’t even figure out what it is.  People feel bad when I call myself a yoga freak but I don’t hold any bad connotations on that word just like my hippie friends and I were proud to call ourselves freaks back in the day.  So yeah, I consider myself a yoga freak and I let my freak flag fly.  You either dig it or not.

My yoga practice is more meditation than asana now and an epiphany came up and bit me in the ass as it usually does: santosha.   I used to get bent out of shape about not having a load of students.  Frantic as a matter of fact and I almost quit teaching.  Since I no longer teach in studios (other than workshops), the only regular students  I have come to my house.  A friend told me that we are true sangha because it is yoga the old school way.   My students are 150% supportive of me even though I will be gone 10 weeks — they know I need to get back to India to re-nourish myself and they know I bring back more yoga for them.  My students are empowered enough to do their own practice at home when I’m gone.

I almost canceled my group trip because of the Kausthub mess, but only one person backed out; the rest trusted my judgment about continuing the trip and studying at KYM and the majority of those coming have never met me.   That speaks volumes.

I get a ton of hits on my website but my phone does not ring off the hook — in fact,  it does not ring at all — for yoga inquiries.  I get no calls for private yoga, trauma sensitive or otherwise.  I’ve been told that with my training and experience I could make $100,000 a year in New York City teaching private classes.  I worked with one woman all last summer who was a survivor of sexual assault and she got to the point where she reunited with her husband and was able to move out of town, a story of transformation.  But other than that, nada.

Do I care?  I can honestly say no.  I’m detached from the fruit of my actions.  Sometimes it’s scary how detached I am.   My gut is telling me that the detachment will open me up for something much greater than I can imagine.  Those who want my style of yoga will find me, those that don’t, won’t.  And I am finally content with that.  And that’s liberating.  My own practice has gone so inward that I’ve turned myself inside out.  Last year I had planned to go to Varanasi but while meditating I heard a voice tell me “everything you are seeking you already are.”  That’s why it’s called insight meditation.

Yes, I still do workshops and I’m creating a Yoga for Inner Healing training that will utilize yin yoga and trauma sensitive yoga.  I’ve been asked to teach twice monthly next year and a place where I taught once a month.  I will work on “Freedom Style” Yoga workshops in the style of Erich Schiffmann.  I should say, in MY Freedom Style as Erich suggested.   Because that’s what yoga is to me:  freedom.  Once you silent mind, once you shut up, that’s when the knowledge flows in.  That’s freedom.

I realized not too long ago that I’ve developed siddhis.   Of course I am not talking about levitating or turning water into wine or developing the ability to drink poison unscathed.  I am talking about the ability to watch a negativity come up and then burst like a balloon or disappear like a rising bubble in champagne.  POP.  GONE.  Over and over again.  That’s real magic.  My reactions to things in the not too distant past that would have been loud and immediate just aren’t there anymore.  POP.  GONE.   Those are the siddhis of transformation and I don’t quite have the words for it.  But that’s OK because I don’t think about it, it just is.  It’s this low-grade almost imperceptible constant buzz of santosha.  Silent mind it and shut up and do your practice.  Thinking less, feeling more.

I’ve done few yoga trainings this year but felt called to learn more energy work which I did in the form of Emotional Freedom Technique and Quantum Touch Healing. This is work I rarely talk about because when I talk about it someone invariably wants to label it and put it in a box, and that’s not what my energy work is about.  People here are dazzled by “master” this or that and how many letters you have after your name on your business card.  My friend in India just tells me “bring your healing.”  No one asks me what it is, what it does, etc. etc. etc. because it’s understood as being a part of life.  Something tells me to combine it with yoga but not here, there.  I just can’t bring myself to name it Blah Blah Blah Quantum Reconnective Reiki Blah Blah Blah Yoga Blah Blah — as I saw a class similarily named today.  It’s just yoga.  It’s just healing.  Life is yoga and life is transformation.  That’s it.

There is always a morphing, a changing, a moving on inside me.   I’ve always known my real home is the world and not where I live.  I knew that when I was living by myself eating government cheese and using food stamps when I was in college.   Maybe my niche is yoga travel to India and beyond.  Maybe my teaching niche is to small, select groups who can see beyond mainstream.

Adios, kids.

love is

erich be love

“LOVE IS THE WILLINGNESS TO RECOGNIZE WHAT IS REAL”

I had the good fortune last week to attend Erich Schiffmann’s training, “Going Deeper” at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center.  It just so happened that two workshops I was scheduled to teach at a new studio in my town were canceled.  So being able to fly for free to Los Angeles, getting a rental car on credit card points, and using a $150 gift card toward a hotel stay, I said “I’m outta here” for some Erichji Yoga.

“Going Deeper” was described as….

Freedom Style Yoga as taught by Erich Schiffmann is about growing into your own personal, authentic expression of yoga. It is an intuitive approach to LIFE with three strands: 1) Meditation, 2) Asana Practice, and 3) the rest of the time.

It’s about learning to be “Online” all the time. The teachings and practices culminate in the ability to channel Online Knowing. This looks like you and me living our lives with creativity and wisdom. The idea is to listen inwardly to your heart and conscience, so that the intelligence of the Universe becomes your common sense. This can be summarized as, “Do not decide in advance about what to do or not do. Instead, listen inwardly for Guidance and trust into what you find yourself Knowing.”

This is not an inherently strenuous practice, but it is advanced. It requires that you be brave enough to follow YOUR deepest impulses about what feels right and what doesn’t. This is not always easy. It involves the development of self-trust based on the growing conviction that YOU are the specific and unique self-expression of that which is ultimately trustworthy: Life, Love, Truth, Presence, GOD.

Of course I loved it.  Erich’s teaching speaks to my heart.  I realized last year when I attended his weekend in Yellow Springs, Ohio for the first time that I’ve been teaching “freedom style” for years.  Because like Erich, my yoga ain’t all about the asana, it’s about going deeper.  “Advanced” yoga isn’t about putting your leg behind your neck.  It’s not even about doing a headstand in the middle of the room.  Or doing a headstand at all.   The biggest learning from yoga is that it’s a lifestyle.  The more “advanced” you are, the more it should come back to the simplicity of things.  Mentally being “online” all the time and according to Erich, the way to do that is what he calls “silent mind it.”  Or as I have written here numerous times, “shut up and do your practice.”  Just.  shut.  up.  Be mentally online from wherever you find yourself being.  “Think less, feel more”, Erich said.  “Silent mind it” does not mean you become unconscious — you become super-conscious and then the wisdom of the Universe can flow in and become your common sense.  Isn’t that what the root word of yoga — yuj — is all about?  Yoking?  Yoking with the Infinite?

When you silent mind it and stop the mind chatter, clear seeing occurs.  When Erich mentioned that I thought about how often during the day I notice my own empty mind.  Not dull mind, not spaced out mind, but just…clear.   Clear is an excellent word.  Clear like a glass of water with the dirt settled at the bottom.  When I notice the clarity my mind immediately says “wow.  no thoughts.”  Then I usually start thinking about something but eventually empty mind returns.  It’s nice.  It’s liberation.

As Erich says I don’t feel unconscious but it’s a heightened awareness that allows me to notice things in a different way, to see things differently, clearer.  Indeed, Erich says we should practice saying “I see you” whenever we see anything.  Not just see but really see.  Think about that.  Saying this again and again interrupts the habitual mental commentary.  Look at a rock: “I see you.”  Look at your cat: “I see you.”  Look at a homeless person: “I see you.”  You can go around all day saying “I see you” to everyone and every thing.  We always look but do we really see?  Then it becomes not just “I see you” but “Ah….I SEE you….”  A WOW moment.

I can tell you from my own experience that silent minding it has led to more than a few WOW moments of the realization of interbeing. Not merely paying lip service to the concept, but in my bones KNOWING that I know this to be true.

Then take it up a notch.  After practicing saying “I see you”, then say “I love you.”  Ouch.  Wince.  Loving your boss?  Loving someone who abused you?  Loving your partner who cheated?  Really?

What’s your definition of love?  Erich said his working definition is the quote at the beginning of this post.  What is real and true?  It’s about seeing reality as it is.

Erich speaks a lot about relaxing, not clenching, because when we clench physically, mentally, we are always bound up.  If we’re bound up, tense, how can the download of Infinite Wisdom occur?  It’s like trying to put something into a plugged up bottle, you can’t do it because there is no room.

When he talked about love being the willingness to recognize what is real, I thought about what the Buddha had to say about it:  our suffering is caused by our wish for reality to be different from what it is.  Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering” but my Buddhist teacher (a Theravaden monk) said that the truer meaning is “discomfort” or “dissatisfaction” about the way things really are.  In that regard, think about how many times during the day we are dissatisfied or discomforted.  Our inability to see what is real IS the clenching that creates our dukkha.  More clenching, more dukkha, more dukkha, more clenching.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Endless cycles, more samskaras.   Now think about Erich’s definition of love:  being willing to recognize what is real in ourselves and others.

It feels good when someone sees us and loves us for our own reality.  Erich’s advice is to say “I see you and I love you” to break the habit of not seeing and not loving.

Practice the yoga lifestyle:

1.  Silent mind it.  Be aware of what you’re doing in each new now.  Every moment.

2.  Relax.  Unclench.  Mentally and physically.

3.  Practice love, i.e., seeing things as they are with a clear mind.

A friend told me today about someone she knew who returned from a group tour of India.  She said she hated India because it is so filthy.  Yes, that’s certainly true — India is filthy in many places.  It is also beautiful and these qualities exist side by side at the same time.  That’s the reality of India:  the Taj Mahal and legless beggars, side by side.  But the woman only saw filth.  I thought, how would that woman’s experience be different if she followed Erich’s advice, “I see you and I love you”?

Be love.  Be real.  Because there is no other way to be.

“Ultimately you must choose between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” — Mingyur Rinpoche

yoga for the revolution

“Why this cult of speed?

Because we don’t know how to deal with our mortality.”

This quote from The Slow Revolution video is one of the main reasons why I believe people find it so hard to sit for meditation, for any amount of time.  Even three minutes of stillness is interminable  to many, including yoga teachers.

But they don’t know that’s the reason.  Peel those onion layers away.

The Slow Revolution

The realization that I am a freak — I like to think iconoclast — in the yoga scene in my area of far west suburban Chicago hit me on the head like a shovel last week.   If you can’t label it and package it, then you can’t sell it.   Simple.  That’s Marketing 101.

Happy to  be on the cutting edge of the slow yoga movement.  My students and I are revolutionaries and have been for a long time now.

But the revolution will not be televised because it happens within.

just yoga, part 2

Part 1 is here….

Sigh.  Maybe it’s because this time of year is colder and darker;  maybe it’s because it’s that time of year when my  head is in India but my body is still here; maybe it’s because of the modern yoga scene in general.   But it’s the time of year where I turn even more inward and become philosophical.  Or ranty.  Take your pick.

Am I the only one who is not impressed by photos of people doing what’s called “acro yoga”?  You know….the photos of someone being hoisted skyward by someone with their legs in the air?  Sure it looks cool and fun and it catches my attention for about 3 seconds.  And yeah, I’d like to try it just like I would like to try flying through the air with the greatest of ease on a trapeze.  Once.  But for a studio to put it on their regular schedule?  Really?  Do studios actually make more dough with acro yoga on their schedule?  Or is it just another yoga fitness version of the Slide?  Something to catch our attention for 15 minutes because we’re never satisfied with doing JUST YOGA?

I taught a yin yoga class over the weekend at a place where I only teach once a month so I don’t build any type of student-teacher relationship with drop-in students.   A new woman came in and like I always do I introduced myself, asked if she had ever done yin yoga before (never), and asked about her injuries.  She told me she practices vinyasa and proceeded to give me a litany of her issues and then stopped and said, “I’m sure you don’t want to hear everything.”  I said, “yes I do.  that’s my job.”  So she gave me a few more and knowing she would fine with what we were going to do, I told her to take it easy, that the class is more about letting go than muscling in, and that I would keep an eye on her.

After the class I asked how she was and she said fine, that she liked it, but she had trouble with stillness because she moved all the time in vinyasa.  I shrugged and said, yes, people have a hard time with being still.  That’s just par for the course in yin classes with vinyasa practitioners who don’t know any other way to be their yoga.  Notice I did not say “do their yoga.”  Someone then complimented her on her vinyasa practice in spite of all her injuries and she began telling me again about all her injuries.  I just nodded and said, “well…sounds like you need some yin yoga to complete your practice.”  However, I really wanted to ask her, “why isn’t your yoga healing your body? ”   But more importantly I wanted to ask her, “why aren’t you even questioning whether the yoga you’re doing is right for you?”

I hoped she would return.  I intuited that she could really use a yin practice and not just on the physical level.  But rarely do students I meet in public classes seek out classes in my home shala to get the personal attention they deserve.

I read this blog today and thought it was entirely applicable to the student who was in my class:

Yoga is a healing modality that creates balance and transformation. Sometimes people may become obsessive about how to heal from a certain ailment or malady. They focus so hard upon what ails them and their energy becomes consumed in a downward spiral. By Yoga practice you expand your awareness to explore your boundaries. What is the mobility of my body? What is the capacity of my breath this breath in this position? In? Out? How long before the tendencies of my mind interrupt my silence? This expansion of awareness is akin to taking stock on all your resources or being the manager of all your systems and behaviors. Healing which really lasts comes from the intelligence provided by observing yourself and choosing those things which you intuitively feel bring you towards well-being.

An excellent, thoughtful article and one that makes me despair about the modern state of yoga with its myriad of styles.  So many people have asked me lately what “style” of yoga I teach that I want to run away screaming.  It seems like all that people know about modern “yoga” are labels and not the essence, a healing modality as the blogger above writes about.  More times than not, people (and I am talking about people who have gone to yoga classes) have no idea that yoga is a healing modality when I tell them I also do private yoga therapy sessions.

When people ask me if yin yoga is a style, I honestly say no, it’s not, at least not the way I teach it.  I tell people in workshops that it’s just another way to be your yoga, the asanas are the same, that there is merely a different emphasis on stillness.  Even when I teach vinyasa (and I am loathe to call it flow), my emphasis is stillness.

My website says that:

...“Metta” is a Pali word (maitri in Sanskrit) meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence. Yoga practiced in this manner is about befriending your body and becoming your own best friend.

Metta Yoga is the yoga of Awareness, a powerful combination of yoga, meditation, breath awareness, and intuitive healing.

It is yin (stillness) and yang (movement) yoga, blending softness and strength. You will be encouraged to compassionately explore your edge as you grow your practice, strengthen your body, expand your heart, and free your mind. You will be challenged and supported, but most importantly, reminded to bring your full attention to your body and to your breath, ending class with pranayama and mindfulness meditation.

I posted that on my Facebook business page today and a woman responded “this sounds like just what I need…are there classes near me?”

For some reason, her question made me very sad.

That’s all I teach.  Just yoga.

Come take a class with me and you’ll see.  Quickly.  Before I run away screaming and, as a friend has said, I take up residence in India.

de-culturing Yoga: Or, “You say asana, I say assana”

sadhus (yogis) at the Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, 2010

I’m a fan of The Babarazzi and of this post in particular:  Is De-Culturing Yoga an Act of Good Faith or a Promotion of Xenophobic Ideology? /// A Light and Easy Subject

There is a great discussion going on in the comments and I liked this one in particular.  A commenter said:

“There is a similar “secularizing” trend in Buddhism these days and some thought provoking articles in the Fall issue of Tricycle.  A quote from one:

“We reassure ourselves that the changes we’ve made in Buddhism are all for the best — that Buddhism has always adapted itself to every culture it enters, and we can trust it to adapt wisely to the West. But this treats Buddhism as if it were a conscious agent — a wise amoebic force that knows how to adapt to its environment in order to survive. Actually, Buddhism isn’t an agent and it doesn’t adapt. It gets adapted — sometimes by people who know what they’re doing, sometimes by people who don’t. Just because a particular adaptation survives and prevails doesn’t mean that it’s genuine dharma. It may simply appeal to the desires and fears of its target audience… Is a designer dharma what we really want?… People sometimes argue that in our diverse, postmodern world we need a postmodern Buddhism in which no one’s interpretation can be criticized as wrong.  But that’s trading the possibility of total freedom from suffering for something much less: the freedom from criticism…” -Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Replace the word “Buddhism” with “yoga” and tell me how it reads then.  As Thanissaro Bhikku asks, is a designer dharma Yoga what we really want?

More than a few yoga bloggers have written about the commodification or the cultural appropriation of yoga in the West.  Another commenter to the above Babarazzi post said, “In tonight’s class the teacher invited us to pantomime Hindu deities (i.e. “Kali” = squat and bring arms up and growl like lil’ grizzly bears; “Ganesh” = make an elephant’s trunk with our arms ; “Shiva” = stand on one leg and pretend to play the flute).”  Actually, the last one would be Krishna not Shiva.  Wonder if the teacher actually said Shiva.  Yikes.

I stopped saying namaste at the end of my classes when I came back from India the first time because I learned it does not mean “I bow to the light within you” or “the Divine in me honors the Divine in you” or “I honor the [fill in the blank] in you” or whatever the latest interpretation is.  After my first trip, saying it at the end of my class did not feel true to me anymore, it felt false, but that’s me.  Hey, you say po-TA-toe, I say po-TAY-toe.  As my friend Caroline says, “Don’t fold your hands and say ‘Namaste.’  Nobody does that, and if someone does, it means they have earmarked you as a naïve foreigner.”   Caroline lives in India.   People do not say it where I go because Tamil is spoken, not Hindi.

There was a short discussion on the use of namaste in my last training with Ganesh Mohan.  Every morning he led a practice and at the end said a simple “thank you” — as the teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram say at the end of class; they never say namaste, the Westerners do.  The teacher I certified with also does not say namaste at the end of class; again, he simply thanks us.  I’ve wondered how namaste-ing at the end of a Western yoga class started.

When Ganesh said “thank you”, some of the students responded with namaste.  Ganesh smiled and said, “about that namaste….” and began to explain that at its most basic it means “hello.”   So why would I say hello at the END of my class?  I open my workshops with a big NAMASTE and I bow.

He said nama means “to bow” and te is the familiar form of “you”, just like there is the familiar and formal uses of “you” in Spanish, tu and usted.   However, he explained, in India one would not say namaste to an elder or to someone who is, shall we say, higher on the economic scale, that in fact, they would be insulted and might even get angry.  Better to say namaskar, Ganesh said.

After the explanation the students were silent for a few moments.  Then someone said, “well, another thing we’ve appropriated.”

Yeah, kinda.

I recite the four Brahma Viharas at the end of my classes:

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the cases of suffering.
May all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
May all beings be free from attachment and aversion.

and then…

OM MANI PADME HUM
SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIH

And I bow and thank them.

Peace and gratitude….good things to leave class with.

final words on a yoga scandal

I received more than a few messages of support and appreciation for my writing about the Kausthub mess.   People know that I have a bit different perspective about it considering how long I’ve studied at KYM.  Thanks for your support!

But I received one message that interested me very much and that I thought was important enough to share.  The person I received this from used to write a blog on spirituality, one I thought was a cut above the usual, one that was much deeper than the new agey blah blah that’s out there.   He is someone I know who has “done the work.”  He said that he did not want to comment publicly but thought I would find some value in his thoughts.  I did, so I asked his permission (which he gave me) to publish his words.  He said he followed (but not closely) the Anusara story and did not know much about Desikachar, either the person or the tradition.

Any serious practitioner knows that yoga is about energy.  Prana is of course one of the first words we learn about in yoga.   Shiva/Shakti energy is discussed in some yoga circles.  And yet, what does all that really mean?  Do we really understand the implications of that concept coming out of a 200 hour teacher training?

Some people are fascinated by Tantra.  They think it’s all sexy and mysterious and the secrecy about it draws them in.   Hell, even Oprah talked about it or at least one aspect of it — sex.  Who doesn’t want in on some sexy, mysterious yoga voo-doo that may confer power over mere yoga mortals?  I recall that John Friend was all up into it, to his own demise.  One becomes fascinated with something that is called the Left Handed Path and they think they can become a yoga sorcerer.

What this reader refers to in his comment below is rarely talked about in modern yoga training, at least in the West.  We’re all into the asana, perfecting that handstand or chilling at the yoga fests.  But there is a whole other deeper aspect of yoga that is often not even mentioned, merely hinted at.

To put it bluntly, without mature guidance, yoga can fuck with your head.  As Paul Grilley said in a training I did with him, yoga is slow medicine but even good medicine can kill you if taken injudiciously.  That’s why it is so important to have the guidance of a seasoned, competent teacher who has done the work and can honestly answer your questions.  However, ultimately, the path is walked alone.

Yoga can work some heavy changes, both positive and negative.   Real yoga is about dealing with that Shadow Self.  Yoga is not all about love and lite manifesting 108 sun salutations that might save the world from itself.  That’s why I believe and have always said that “yoga cooks us” especially if you’re doing the important work.   Kausthub certainly knows how transformative yoga is as evidenced by his lecture to us this year.

As the reader told me about his comments, you can take them or leave them.

It’s all food for thought, not just about the latest scandal, but for all of us.

**********   

My comments are more general in nature and may not apply to these specific situations, but in all likelihood, they have some merit.  They are based on some observations I have made along my own journey regarding the way energy tends to flow in the realm of human interaction.  They are also based at least in part on my observations of my own responses to various situations as a proxy for all human (especially male) energy.

These yoga practices can very often and easily drive up combinations of energetic imbalance that predictably result in such situations. I used to wonder why so many of these yoga gurus would end up in scandals, if they are supposed to be models of “enlightenment”, but now I can see that it is not at all surprising.

Because yoga is primarily a “fire path” (with practices designed to move shakti upward through the spinal and central channels and out the crown), males in particular are susceptible to these problems.  Most men are already somewhat imbalanced toward this “fire” direction, as opposed to most females, whose “water” (cool) energy tends to flow downward more easily and are thus more naturally grounded when practicing yoga.

It’s easy to spot when this happens – the result is usually short temper, arrogance, magnetic power, etc. This imbalance tends to seek out its opposite polarity to create harmony.  Thus, in the case of men, they seek out female energy.  It often results in sexual activity because of the unconscious nature of its manifestation. When you’re not grounded at all and you’ve bypassed your lower chakras to shoot out the crown, those lower centers tend to act on their own.  And it can also result in various forms of male/female domination, abuse, and control. The women in these situations are in many cases imbalanced as well (in the opposite direction, which tends toward sadness, depression, etc.), and when they meet this charismatic male energy there can be an explosive response. Needless to say, typically none of the parties involved are well equipped to deal with the consequences of their engagement.

Let’s face it – we’re all playing with fire here when it comes to spiritual cultivation, no matter what the path. It’s a challenging situation, and (temporary) imbalance is inevitable.   It helps a lot if you can anticipate it and understand what some of the antidotes are (or if you have good teachers you can trust to watch over you). Unfortunately, as I’ve witnessed many times and am now coming to understand more clearly, virtually all “systems” of cultivation are pretty much only half-baked and often tend to ignore these imbalances when they occur. Many of these systems actually predictably create imbalances, or at least ignore large parts of what it means to be a “complete” human.  I don’t want to comment specifically regarding any particular tradition, but I will say that even when they do have balanced practices available, many practitioners (especially the ones that tend toward imbalance) will ignore them and do too much pranayama, etc., in order to develop more power.

Personally, I’ve found that it’s possible to combine the best of multiple approaches, although this is also a perilous path and requires much wisdom, diligence and vigilance.  Even then, you can never really know how it’s going to turn out, as everyone is different and what works for one, may not turn out so well for another. When it comes to organizations, I’ve mostly tried to avoid them, as they come with a lot of baggage and tend to crystallize their belief systems.  However, I’ve also found that they can be very useful if one doesn’t get too caught up in their dogma or feel too desperate to belong to something. …

Evolution is a painful and difficult process, and anyone who thinks it isn’t or shouldn’t be that way is simply naive.  The Earth itself is currently undergoing some radical shifts in its own energy/consciousness, and it’s inevitable that in the process there is going to be much resistance and upheaval.   It really explains the polarization of American society as embodied in politics and the “liberal/conservative” axis.  There is no difference between the micro- and the macro-, they dance with each other in unison.

These “scandals”, both the individual parties who sparked the controversies, as well as the reactions of the populace, are all evidence of this evolutionary process.  We cannot separate our individual selves from them, nor should we.   Rather, we can embrace the whole of who we are at both the micro- and macro- scale, and continue to work on ourselves to find the balance and harmony that we so naturally seek.