Spiritual Tour of South India: Proposed Itinerary

It is never too early to start planning and saving for a trip to India, especially if it is your first time.

I am using the tour company I used for my trip to Rajasthan this year because I was so happy with their customer service and they have come up with an amazingly awesome itinerary.   It is so amazing that even I, an 8 time traveler to India, am impressed!

I am planning this trip for September 2015 when the hotels are less expensive and the timing gives prospective travelers one year to save.  A friend told me she saves every $5 bill she receives for her vacation fund.  It all adds up!

Also, as I did with my yoga retreat trip in 2013, a portion of what you pay will be donated to The Banyan women’s shelter in Chennai, India.  Go on this trip and you are helping women.  Compassion in action.

Where possible we will have time for Yoga and meditation as well as discussions regarding our experiences.  We will have one guide throughout the entire trip.  You will have ample time for the usual sightseeing and shopping.  Travel between towns will be via a comfortable bus.  The complete trip will be 15 days with the first and last days being for arrival and departure.  Final pricing yet to be determined however I estimate the final price to be under $3,000, excluding your airfare to Chennai.

You can Google all of these cities to learn where you will be going!

The bottom line:

1.  if you come on this trip it will be a trip of a lifetime;

2.  you will help women in a women’s shelter in Chennai, India;

3.  it will be the trip of lifetime

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

NOTE: O/N = OVERNIGHT IN A CITY

DAY 01 : Arrive Chennai. O/N stay at Chennai.

DAY 02 : Leave Chennai to Kancheepuram (75 kms / 02 hrs), visit Ekambaranathar Temple (element of Earth) & Kailasnatha Temple (shiva temple).  O/N stay Kancheepuram.

DAY 03 : Leave Kancheepuram to Tiruvannamalai (130 kms / 03 hrs).  Visit Arunachaleshwarar Temple (Element of Fire), circumbulate Arunachala Mountain
O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 04 : At Tiruvannamalai visit Sri Ramana Mahrishi Ashram.  O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 05 : Leave Tiruvannamalai to Pondicherry (100 kms / 0230hrs drive). O/N stay at Pondy.

DAY 06 : Visit French quarters (old part) of Pondicherry & Auroville International village.

DAY 07 : Leave Pondicherry to Kumbakonam (180 kms / 04 hrs drive),  enroute visit Chidambaram Sri Nataraja Temple (Element of Sky), and later continue to visit Gangai konda Cholapuram (Shiva temple). O/N stay at Kumabakonam.

DAY 08 : At Kumbakonam, visit Kumbeshwarar temple (Shiva), Swamimallai Temple (Murugan), Darasuram Iravateeshwarar Temple (Shiva).  O/N stay at Kumbakonam.

DAY 09 : leave Kumbakonam to Trichy (110 kms / 03 hrs drive), enroute visit Tanjore Sri Brahadeeshwarar temple (Shiva) and Tanjore Palace with Art Gallery. O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 10 : At Trichy, visit Rock Fort Mountain temple (Ganesh), visit Srirangam Ranganathaswami Temple (Vishnu), Thiruvaanaikovil Sri Jambukeshwarar  Temple (Element of water). O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 11 : Leave Trichy to Karaikudi (90 kms / 02 hrs), on arrival visit Chettinadu village well known for their architecture and Chettinadu food and where group can witness the Chettinad cooking demonstration at the hotel.

For more info of Chettinadu, please visit  http://www.srmuniv.ac.in/downloads/chetinad.pdf

O/N stay at Chettinadu.

DAY 12 : Leave Karaikudi to Rameshwaram (150 kms / 0330 hrs drive), O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 13 : At Rameshwaram for full day visit of Sri Ramanthaswami temple. O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 14 : Leave Rameshwaram to Madurai (175 kms / 04 hrs drive), visit of Tirumalai Nayak palace and Sri Meenakshi temple with rituals. O/N stay at Madurai.

DAY 15 : Full day free for independent activities and connect evening flight at Madurai airport to Chennai.

elephant pondy

Getting blessed by Lakshmi, the temple elephant, at Ganesh temple in Pondicherry, 2011

who wants to go to South India?

Tamil Nadu to be exact.

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, 2006

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, 2006

Nandi, Thanjavur, 2008

Nandi, Thanjavur, 2008

Last year I led a group of stalwarts to Chennai for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Madiram and then on to Varkala, Kerala where I led a yoga retreat.  You can read a review of that trip  here.   A few told me it was their trip of a lifetime.  :)

This year my friend and I were going to lead a two week yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala but we had to cancel because there was no interest in it whatsoever.  We were both very bummed about it.

Ironically, after that cancellation three people contacted me about leading a trip to India in the future.

If you have followed this blog since 2005 you know how much I love India, especially South India.   The typical tourist trips to India usually go north — Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Rajasthan, the Buddhist circuit.  There is nothing wrong with those areas, but in my opinion, the South is special and overlooked by the usual India tourist.  Actually, overlooked is how I like it because where I go I am usually the only Westerner.

I first traveled to Chennai to study at KYM in 2005 and have been returning yearly.  I always go to the South first.  I realized on my Rajasthan trip this year that I truly am a South Indian Girl.  I always tell first-timers to India that the South is a bit easier place to land.  I have been to Haridwar in the north, jumping into the Ganges at the Kumbh Mela in 2010.   I’ve been to the opposite side of India, in Calcutta to Kali’s temple where I got hit with a shakti blast so hard I almost fell down.  I rode a motorcyle into the Thar Desert in Rajasthan this year.  But Chennai in Tamil Nadu is my home.  One day I hope to live there for 6 months out of the year.

Tamil Nadu is rich in history and spirituality because of the multitude of important temple towns.    The history of the Tamil language and its literature is equally as rich as the Sanskrit language and its literature, but unless one travels to South India, it remains unfamiliar to many if not most.  An important Yoga text came out of  Tamil Nadu, written in Tamil.

Because I love showing people My India, I have decided to investigate leading a SPIRITUAL TOUR OF SOUTH INDIA in late 2015.  It would be 15 days which if you count the days on a calendar it is really two full weeks, not a full three weeks.  The trip would be a Tamil Nadu temple yatra and where possible I will lead Yoga classes.

I contacted the tour company I used for Rajasthan this year to put together a preliminary plan.  The time frame would be September 15-29 or October 1-15 or October 26-November 9, whichever they can do.   You would fly into Chennai and we would bus it around Tamil Nadu from town to town ending up back in Chennai.  I MAY do an extra week in Varkala, Kerala on the beach for people who wanted to stay longer.  Maybe.  That would be an extra cost.

The cities I have planned are (two days in each):
Chennai;
Tiruvannamalai — visit Arunachaleswara Temple,  climb or walk around Arunachala and visit the Ramana Maharishi ashram;
Auroville/Pondicherry — visit Auroville and relax, shop in Pondicherry;
Chidambaram; visit Shiva temple, where Shiva is in the form of Nataraj;
Thanjavur and Srirangam — side trip to Swamimallai and Gangakondacholapuram possible?  Rest in Tiruchirappali or maybe Kumbakonam?;
Karaikukudi and Rameswaram — the water ritual inside the Ramanathaswamy temple;
Madurai — temple rituals, shop — good day to have a South Indian cooking class OR have a South Indian dinner prepared for everyone for last night;
back to Chennai to fly home.

You can Google all those places to see what’s what. 

Right now I estimate the approximate cost to be $2000-2900, excluding flight, taxes, tips, meals (which are CHEAP in India.)  The optional extra week in Kerala would be an added cost.

Serious inquires only.  Let me know your interest.  It is never too early to plan your first trip to India.

If not now….when?

Gangakodaicholapuram, 2008

the whiteness of yoga: time to change the question?

I’ve read more than a few articles lately on how blindingly white modern American yoga still is and the cultural appropriation of it. In fact, I asked about the color of yoga back in 2007 when this blog was at its hottest. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“Why Your Yoga Class is So White” is the latest from the Atlantic Monthly:

“The magazine images may seem like stereotypes, but they’re grounded in reality: About one in every 15 Americans practices yoga, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study, and more than four-fifths of them are white.

“‘Racism is so implicit that you never even notice that it’s a white girl on the cover every single time,” added Amy Champ, a PhD from the University of California, Davis, who wrote her dissertation on American yoga. “But when you begin to ask yourself, ‘What does yoga have to do with my community?’, then you begin to question all these inequities.'”

The key goals of South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) as stated on their website are:

“…to revise the perception that yoga is an exclusive practice; to intervene in a largely segregated yoga environment; to ensure that yoga remains a resource for all bodies, all races, all classes and identities.”

[Emphasis supplied in both.]

“Columbusing” is a term used to describe what white people do when they “discover” something that has existed forever.  We can reflect on that as Western culture “discovers” mindfulness like it “discovered” yoga about 15 years ago. 

Before I definitively learned that I was Native American (after intuiting it all my life), seeing white people wear Native American headdress always bothered me tremendously.  Don’t ask my why it did, it just did, it looked wrong and felt wrong to me.  I’ve been told that’s my tribal blood memory.

The issue of the Color of Yoga in Modern America is always a dicey one.  My good friend and San Diego yoga teacher, Oreste Prada, deliciously turns the question around in his guest post where he asks, in essence, “why do white people care so much about whether people of color do Yoga?”  Spinning it around again, “why are white people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?”  Do white people need Yoga more than other races do?  Excellent and provocative questions so here is what Oreste has to say….talk amongst yourselves.


 

“Over the last few years there has been much discussion online about the demographics of yoga classes particularly on the notable absence (or suspiciously low representation) of ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Latino, which comprise just over 12% and 16%, respectively, of the U.S. population.  Typically these discussions raise observations that quickly are treated as causal:

1. Yoga Journal (arguably the most popular yoga related magazine in the U.S.) shows mostly (some would say only) White women on their cover.

2. Yoga studios are located mainly in White neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes are prohibitively priced for low income communities.

This leap from observation to causation is, of course, a dangerous one without looking deeper and dispassionately into income and race demographics, regional variations, and cultural differences between ethnic groups in the U.S.  It also tends to fall all too comfortably into inaccurate ethnocentric projections.

The underlying assumption is that, all things being equal, Blacks and Latinos would be drawn to yoga classes just as much as their White counterparts if only:

1. Media representations of yoga practitioners would show Blacks and Latinos.

2. Yoga studios were located in “ethnic” neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes were cheaper so that Blacks and Latinos could afford them.

This assumption is just that, an assumption, and it misses an obvious question. 

Rather than ask why Black and Latinos don’t attend yoga class, is it not interesting to turn the question on its head and ask why are White people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?

My friend Linda, who so often throws interesting and controversial topics at us often relayed from a different than typical perspective, recently posted on her Facebook wall an article on precisely this idea of the “Whiteness” of yoga in the U.S. and what many groups are doing about it.  It struck me that the author, all of the folks interviewed, and all of the commentators on the article, were taking this idea for granted that yoga was something everyone would (or should?) be drawn to and that the lack of representation of ethnic minorities came down to something that magazines, studio owners, yoga teachers, or the very White yoga community at large were doing wrong.

No one seemed to see the inherent ethnocentrism present in that assumption.  My comment to her post and now this subsequent guest post was born.

To be sure, this is not to discount the observations noted above.  They are, after all, observations of a reality that has presented itself.  I make just as many generalizations with my perspective (among them treating White Americans as a monolithic group which they most certainly are not.)  What I propose is that the reasons for this reality may not be what we assume them to be and that taking a step back and trying to better understand differences in culture and race are more meaningful ways to understand the reality. 

I think it is worth pondering the question of whether something within Yoga practice (as it exists in modern time) makes White Americans uniquely attracted to it.

It isn’t unreasonable that it would be.

1.  Yoga practice is individualistic.  Yoga practice is ultimately concerned with the Self.  Although we can argue that this Self is shared, we approach it through our own experience within our own bodies.  Yoga is not (with some exceptions) a group experience and it certainly isn’t a team effort.  It begins and ends with individual experience.

This might be very attractive to individually-minded White American culture.  But can we expect it to be attractive to cultures that place greater emphasis on family and community?  Looking at India, the birthplace of Yoga, which is very family focused, we see that most folks don’t actually practice Yoga.  Those that do are almost exclusively sadhus (who leave their families for spiritual pursuits) or folks involved in religious groups.  The householder yogi is a fairly modern concept as far as we know and he/she remains a minority in Yoga’s home country.  Within India itself the majority of practitioners (in non-religious) Yoga schools are Westerners and it has been the case for almost a decade now that there are many more practitioners of Yoga (asana) within the U.S. than within India (India has an overall population 4x the size of the U.S.).

2. Yoga offers spirituality without dogma.  Many yoga practitioners today come to the practice seeking a spiritual component in their lives.  Many are agnostic or have weak religious ties (both of which are much more common in White communities in the U.S. than in any of the ethnic communities).  Yoga can provide a much needed sacred experience for these folks.  The strong religious influence within Black and Latino cultures raises the possibility that the spiritual component of Yoga is not as attractive since those needs are already being met.  This idea is more compelling than the income argument given that Asian Americans (the only minority in the U.S. who earn a higher income then White Americans) typically have strong family and religious ties but also don’t rally to yoga studios.

3. Yoga classes offer a support system without community-mindedness.  Yoga teachers often talk about “group energy,” this ethereal quality that is formed out of the collection of students and teachers in the room, maintained by those same people and which benefits everyone.  Studios in general and classes in particular can be places where individuals feel the support of others and in the best cases have teachers who are invested in their growth and the realization of their potential.  For an individually minded culture this can be very attractive because you can pursue your own goals and growth with the indirect support of others, and by your presence and your energy you are helping others achieve theirs, all the while maintaining your space.  The best example of this juxtaposition of shared versus personal space is the yoga mat which has become a strong representation of an individual’s sacred space.  I have yet to attend a teacher training where the question of whether or not it is appropriate to step on someone’s mat doesn’t come up.  [Oreste, love ya, babe, but keep your stinky feet off my mat...I put my face on my mat!]

4. Yoga in the West is generally associated with the New Age movement.  The New Age movement with its non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and its emphasis on health and harmony has at its best been very attractive to Americans who resist and reject dogmatic religions but who seek a deeper sense of purpose and order to the Universe, especially if it offers a way to participate in it.  At worst, the New Age movement is viewed by (non-fundamentalist) White Americans as strange but innocuous.  For many it offers a vehicle to venture from yoga into other practices that might be interesting or even helpful for promoting health.  

This is not the attitude of the typically deeply religious Black and Latino communities that view the New Age movement with suspicion at least and contempt at worst.  New Age tenets and practices are disturbingly close to the ideas their churches warn against.  Individuals in these communities who practice yoga often face constant warnings by friends and family and can even experience alienation from their religious communities.  [my note:  I found this true when I was teaching Mexican women at a domestic violence shelter where the Jehovah's Witness minister of one woman told her not to return to my class.]

Given the ease with which yoga practice fits into the needs of many White Americans perhaps Yoga in the U.S. is actually focused on the folks who would benefit the most from it.  

If this is the case, why are we concerned about representation and whether yoga practice makes it to other communities?  Is it a form of ethnocentrism to assume that something that White Americans have found useful for personal and spiritual growth is necessarily beneficial to everyone?  Or that others are not already experiencing the fruits talked about in Yoga through other means?

I’m not playing devil’s advocate here.  I was born outside of the U.S. and until I was 19 years old lived in a community that was almost exclusively Latino.  In that time I met many people who exhibited abilities not unlike the siddhis talked about in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts.  In the 15 years I’ve been a yoga practitioner and teacher, where I’ve been surrounded mostly by White Americans, I’ve met less people who exhibit those abilities.

So it is worthwhile to ponder whether ethnic minorities not participating in Yoga is a problem at all.  The assumption that these communities need yoga practice seems to be at least as ethnocentric (so as not to use the overused term “racist”) as the idea that they are being excluded from the yoga community.

One additional note: I’ve made sweeping generalizations throughout but I want to draw special attention to one which Linda raised and which I think may begin to instruct how we can go back to using yoga to serve people as opposed to drawing more people to it.  

I have assumed that all Latino and Black individuals receive unconditional support within their communities.  This is not true for many marginalized groups: anyone who has encountered physical or sexual abuse, gay/lesbian and trans individuals, and even second generation immigrants (who often straddle conflicting identities) have many times been rejected by deeply religious and traditional communities.  For folks who have been alienated, humiliated, and experienced rejection by family and/or community, the tools and practice of yoga can be a Godsend for the very reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  It’s emphasis on individual work and worth can grow self-esteem, its dogma and judgment free spirituality can be a more tender surrogate for the religion that rejected them, and its sacred space with the support of teachers and fellow students can begin to rebuild a sense of social acceptance.

The way these groups would be brought to yoga, however, would likely differ significantly from what we normally consider when we imagine expanding the yoga community so it is more ethnically inclusive.  Representation on Yoga Journal’s cover, studios in ethnic neighborhoods and lower cost classes don’t serve these communities directly.”

Me and Anne Lamott: Happy Birthday to Me

I officially enter Yoga Cronedom next weekend.  This Ageless Hippie Chick — who was not supposed to see the age of 17 because I tried to kill myself when I was 16 — hits the big 6-0.  What a long, strange trip it’s been, and I’m not even talking about the yoga.  I am grateful for every damn thing that has come my way, good and bad.

When I saw this Anne Lamott quote on someone’s Facebook page, it resonated with me.  Apparently everyone has read Anne Lamott except me so I looked her up.  The blurb on her agent’s page says that “she writes about what most of us don’t like to think about” and that she “tells her stories with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice.”   I thought, hmmmm…interesting, people used to say that about me and my yoga rants and musings, I should check her out.

So I decided to take some of her lines and do my own spin on my upcoming birthday.

AL: “This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life.  However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32….  My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.  My feet, however, frequently hurt.”

Next weekend is the last weekend of my fifties.  I also do not look or feel 60 and I certainly don’t move like I am 60.  What is that supposed to look like anymore?  When I grew up in the ’60s when people hit 60 they looked damn old.  Most people don’t know I smoked for 30 years, less than a pack a day, and I gave it up just like that when I became a yoga teacher at 48.  When I was in my early 20s I weighed 200 pounds, another thing that no one believes.  I lost about 60 pounds when I was in my early 20s but I still see a 200 pound face in the mirror.  You want to talk about Yoga and Body Image?  Just ask me.

I also have a near-perfect life considering some of the things I’ve experienced:  child abuse, domestic violence, attempted suicide, sexual assault, a lot of drugs and rock n roll as they say (don’t you wonder who the hell “they” are?)

Like Lamott, my heart is not any age.  Oh yeah, it will stop pumping one of these days.  But I am an energy body and energy is neither created nor destroyed, I will morph into something else somewhere.  And it’s not my feet, but damn, I have a tweaky back sometimes.  

AL: “My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness and self-care.”

My greatest blessing is surviving and radical self-care.  The older I get, the more powerful I become.  I have not even begun to reach my full potential.  When a lot of people my age are thinking about retirement, I feel like I am just getting started….funny, when I’ve been teaching for a dozen years now.

I always tell my students, “ask yourselves, if not now, when?”  But I’ve known too many women who put themselves last after everything else in their lives, behind husband, partner, children, even in this time of post-Women’s Liberation Movement.  

AL: “I’m pretty spaced out.” 

Over the years I’ve noticed many times how still my mind is, like a still pond.  Many people tell me their minds are rarely quiet in spite of being long time yoga practitioners and practicing meditation.  I catch myself on how often I am not thinking but standing in pure awareness, at least that is what I call it.  Maybe it is my mind observing itself and it sees emptiness, a clarity, and then when it notices the emptiness it yells “hey, where are the thoughts?!” and that’s when I get distracted.  

“The tranquil state of mind when it rests constantly upon the contemplation of the goal after having again and again detached itself from myriad sense objects through a process of continuous observation of their defects, is called Sama.” Vivekachudamani, Adi Shankara, 8th century.

AL: “Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now.  Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.  …Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.”

During my last yoga therapy training we discussed the concept of equanimity.  Many believe that when we finally reach the ultimate state of equanimity we become like Ramana Maharshi where we can sit in meditation and allow the ants to bite us without reaction.  I thought about that after our discussion and thought that if I can not feel passion about something or experience compassionate rage then you can keep enlightenment. 

AL: “Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato.  This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe.”

I learned a long time ago that forgiveness is for me not for the one who treated me badly.  Forgiveness is to relieve my own suffering.

In the last 6 months I received confirmation via three DNA tests that I am Native American with Spanish and Southeastern European thrown in.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German and Polish.  Surprise!  Not a drop of German and the Polish is iffy.  That is what I was always told.  My life was based on lies and deceptions.  Imagine finding that out when you are thisclose to 60. 

Anyone who can tell me the truth of my birth is dead.  I came up with three possible scenarios:  I was the product of an affair; my sister (who was 19 years older than me) was my mother because she got pregnant with me before she married when I was four and had given me to the people I thought were my parents but were really my grandparents; or, someone gave me away to the people who raised me because in the mid-1950s my parents would have been considered too old (41 and 48) for an official adoption.

Follow?

I had always intuited that I was something other than what I grew up believing.  A friend who also found out she is Native said that Native Americans have blood memory of their heritage — so that’s what that feeling was all these years.

Do you want to talk to me about forgiveness?  When I found out I am Native, I was ecstatic because I have always felt a kinship with anything Native American even as a young girl.  Then I sank into a morass of despair — it explained why I was treated the way I was until I moved out when I was 18.  It explained why my sister wanted nothing to do with me and rarely had any contact with me.  Then I became enraged at the lies and deceptions.  I created scenes in my mind that if I could go back in time to confront the liars and abusers I would destroy them.  But then I said….

JUST STOP.  

What difference does it make now, in this present moment?  Why should I create my own suffering over something that happened 60 years ago?  My life is NOW.  Not in the past, not in the future.  Just this, just here, just now.

I saw my astrologer yesterday and told her the story.  I asked, what if my birthday is not what is on my birth certificate since it was obviously altered.  No problem, I have the same akashic records of my birth that makes me ME.  The akasha is beyond any date on a calendar.

Then I began to think how truly lucky I am.  Because I have the power to create a new Me, at age 60  I shed my past like a snakeskin.  I am a blank slate and how many people can say that at my age?  Because my early life was not about integrity, I can now claim the integrity of my New Consciousness.  I separate myself from the betrayals that went before.  Maybe that is why people have branded me “fiercely authentic” and why my astrologer always told me I can not be anywhere near any thing or person is that is less than true.     

AL: “So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today.  I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light!  Wow.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I have experienced things in 60 years that would have made a weaker person crazy or dead.

I facilitate personal transformations via Yoga and meditation.  I teach people how to breathe to save their lives.  I help them regain mobility or peace of mind.  I will never own a studio and I will never again teach to a large group of people unless someone invites me.  I do not see that happening in the foreseeable future because what I do and how I am is not everyone’s cup of chai.  I am too masala for many.  I am not the modern yoga status quo and I am happy now to stay in my little yoga cave.  But I am honored and humbled to be in a book with some famous yoga teachers….and then there’s me.

I do what I can every day to live the idea of “I will not die an unlived life.”  Or sometimes I do nothing at all.  I have always said that life is a vinyasa. 

I celebrate ME, my surviving, my ups and down of my entire life thus far because every day is a blessing.  I have become so detached from the identity of “yoga teacher” that sometimes it frightens me.  That’s because true freedom can be frightening.  Think about that one.  If I never taught another class I would be happy.

Because I am so much more.  I am everything that is contained in this Universe, good, bad, and indifferent.  I caught a glimpse of that as I did energy work on a student this week.  The Native American shaman that is buried in my DNA is raising her head.  At the risk of sounding foo-foo and woo-woo, those things that I disdain in the New Age scene, we are stardust.   

And I thank the Universe that I am capable of such Joy.

 

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.