a very special yoga retreat for 2018

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After years of taking people to South India for yoga, I’ve decided to head north.  Way north.  Almost to the top of the world.

If you have always wanted to visit India but did not want to go alone or in an impersonal group, then this is the perfect way to do it — space is limited to 16 and the trip is a go with 4 minimum.

In one of the most beautiful places on Earth deepen your Yoga sadhana with the joy of movement and breathing, stillness and silence, live in the moment simply and joyfully, and engage in meaningful cultural exchange between the East and West.

My friend Piyush Kumar owns DUNAGIRI RETREAT, an eco- retreat center about 7 hours north of Delhi, where “HEAVEN MEETS EARTH.” Piyush has been trying to get me up there for years and we have finally planned October 1-12, 2018 for you. Read more about Dunagiri at the link above.

The Himalayas are revered as a place where spiritual practices are heightened by the energy of the land. India’s ancient yogis knew there was transformational power in these mountains where divine energy is palpable. We will dive into a daily breath-centered authentic Yoga practice in the Krishnamacharya tradition. We will also practice some Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra and all classes will include guided Pranayama and Meditation. Reflexology and Integrated Energy Therapy will be available and for those who wish to be attuned to Reiki Practitioner Level 1, I will offer attunements at the additional cost of $100 — think how potent that transmission will be in the Himalayas!

You will fly into Delhi and we will be taken to the wilderness of the Kumaon. We will be welcomed by Piyush and delicious vegetarian food will be prepared for us daily. The Himalayan wildlife and flora surrounds us as we take trips to spiritual sites (such as the birthplace of Kriya Yoga) with breathtaking views of the mountains. There will be many opportunities for you to relax and renew and to soak up the peace and stillness of the Himalayas.

Dunagiri is a very special place in India because according to this article it is where “Mahaavatar Babaji had initiated Lahiri Mahasaya to Kriya Yoga almost 150 years back. And a lot of Babaji followers came to Dunagiri to visit the caves.”  If you have ever read “Autobiography of a Yogi” then you know what this is all about.

The price includes airport to airport service – meaning that you are picked up at Delhi airport, taken to the Delhi hotel for overnight stay, transferred to Dunagiri the next day, spend 10 nights at Dunagiri (double occupancy only — a roommate will be assigned if you choose not to pay the single supplement), be taken back to Delhi for an overnight hotel stay and then taken to the airport. All lodging and transfers are included in the price. The hotels chosen are in a Delhi neighborhood that offers great shopping. Piyush tells me that an extra night in Delhi can be included complimentary depending on your arrival/departure time.  And it could not be any easier to get your E Visa for India right here!  (affiliate link)

All meals and all activities like treks, guided walks, and drives/day trips around Dunagiri for the duration of the retreat are included. The weather is perfect in October with daytime highs in the upper 70s. Rooms can be heated at night if need be — see Dunagiri’s website link above for a look at the rooms.

$3, 360.00 USD
Double Occupancy
$3,560.00 USD
Single Occupancy-
LIMITED AVAILABILITY

NON-YOGA PARTICIPANT (Double Occupancy) — $2,860.00 USD
NON-YOGA PARTICIPANT (Single Occupancy) — $3,060.00 USD
A ROOMMATE WILL BE ASSIGNED IF YOU TRAVEL SOLO
OR YOU MUST PAY SINGLE OCCUPANCY RATE IF NONE IS AVAILABLE
(bring a friend or family member!)

**$500 NONREFUNDABLE DEPOSIT DUE BY DECEMBER 31, 2017**
(SEE NOTE BELOW)

 

JULY 1 — Balance due.
AUGUST 1 — 50% refund of any amounts paid minus $500 deposit – request must be received in writing by this date.
SEPTEMBER 1– Due to payment requirements of Dunagiri, NO REFUNDS of any amount paid will be made after this date. If cancellation occurs while retreat is in progress there is no refund for any unused portion. Deposit and trip price not transferable.

THIS TRIP IS AN INVESTMENT BUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD WILL BE PRICELESS

If you wish to pay in installments AFTER the $500 deposit, please do so by the 15th OF THE MONTH JANUARY-JUNE 2018. If you are paying for DOUBLE occupancy, the monthly installments are $475 with final installment of $485 due June 15. If you are paying for SINGLE occupancy, the monthly installments are $510 with final installment due June 15. Please contact me for other installment arrangements.

As Dunagiri Retreat is a very popular destination, the dates in October will fill up fast unless I have committed attendees. I have found over the years that the best way to plan a trip to India is to gather people who are seriously interested and committed to TRAVEL THAT TRANSFORMS.

This will be a trip like no other, very different from my previous ones.  As Piyush says:

“…we feel it is our responsibility to offer a unique and fulfilling visitor experience, and to do so in an environmentally and culturally aware and respectful manner. The facilities we offer at Dunagiri Retreat are modern, comfortable, minimalistic yet authentically ‘deshi’ — right down to the cow’s milk sweetened from its diet of fresh mountain herbs. Through sustainable tourism, we also fulfill our mission of maintaining the ‘thin distance’ between heaven and earth at this very special place. For doing so, we offer dignified livelihood to residents of the area; supplement local educational resources and provide primary and preventive healthcare.”

(**If there is not enough interest by December 31, 2017 the trip will be cancelled and your deposits refunded. If there is enough interest, deposits are nonrefundable.  As with all my trips, airfare to India, visa and passport fees are not included.)

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who says yoga classes should be 90 minutes?

New York yoga teacher J. Brown raised an interesting question today in his blog post regarding the “Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class.”

He writes, “In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.”

When I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s the class I attended at my local park district was 60 minutes.  I practiced at the park district for about 7 years (never moving into an “advanced” class whatever that meant back then) before I did my first teacher training and started attending yoga classes in Chicago studios where the classes were 90 minutes.

Those 7 years of 60 minute classes were never “just asana” classes.  Not that we talked much about philosophy or even did formal pranayama, but the teacher was a mindful yoga type before being”mindful” was a thing in Modern Yoga.

J. Brown writes, “Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.” [emphasis supplied]

I have a simple answer for that: don’t call the asana only/exercise regimen classes “yoga.”  Truth in Advertising, what a concept.

I wrote about that in 2010 (sigh) when I said it was a question of semantics.

Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.

Getting back to the length of time of a typical modern yoga class, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I trained the morning asana classes are 60 minutes.  The asana classes also include pranayama and meditation (which is how I teach) and the classes do not feel rushed, in fact, they are perfectly sequenced.  Long savasana is not needed (like a 10 minute one at the end of typical American classes) because we do one or two minute savasanas after certain sequences.

So who decreed that a yoga class needs to be 90 minutes?   But I guess that depends on what calls “yoga” (getting back to semantics.)

At the KYM pranayama classes contain some asana and the meditation class — a whole hour of meditative focus, how shocking! – contains some asana and of course, pranayama.  In other words, the yoga is not compartmentalized like it is here, the yoga is a seamless process.

A shorter, powerful practice is absolutely possible, it depends on the skill and training of the teacher.  But who can teach that way coming out of a modern 200 hour teacher training?

If what is referred to as “yoga” nowadays is shrunk to 60 minutes of posing and a 5 minute nap at the end, how then is that Yoga?  A 60 minute class of 20 minutes each of functional asana, pranayama, and meditation, skillfully taught, can be more potent than 90 minutes of something where “the teacher kicked my ass” that I used to hear all the time in studios.  How many 90 minute classes are nothing more than rushing through as many sun salutations as possible with no attention paid to the breath and doing a typical vinyasa flow once on each side and moving on?

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my “freedom style” yoga class in India

Thank the Goddess I no longer teach in yoga studios.  J. Brown writes, “The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore.”

Maybe so, I haven’t taught in studios for years.  I teach out of my house and I’ve been told my classes ARE like going to Yoga School.  Maybe that’s why some of my students (few that they are nowadays) have been with me since Day One of my teaching in 2002.  They keep telling me every class has been different in all those years.  I still can’t figure that out.

As a wise and pithy friend commented in my semantics post linked above:

“It’s [Yoga] a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:

Now, the teachings of yoga.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Otherwise awareness takes itself to be
the patterns of consciousness.”

That can still be done in a 60 minute class.  You just have to know how.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga: breathing the walking wounded, part 3

breath + movement = roots

Psychologist Babette Rothschild has said:

“Breath is a reminder of trauma. Sensory messages from muscle and connective tissue that remember a specific position, action, or intention can be sources of triggers. Accelerated heart rate and increased respiration can be implicit reminders of that same reaction that accompanied the trauma.”

As we talked about the breath during the training, I thought about how fortunate I am to have studied directly in the Krishnamacharya lineage — studying with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Desikachar, Mark Whitwell, and lately with Gary Kraftsow.  They all studied with Krishnamacharya and Krishnamacharya’s yoga is all about linking breath with movement.  This aspect is crucial in teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Donna Farhi has said that “breath is a dynamic system that most of the time runs on automatic, allowing input from internal organs to mange the rate and depth of breathing.”

Trauma is stored in the body and body memories can override thinking.  Breath is the doorway to the nervous system — trauma survivors have layers of physiological defenses in place that serve as psychological infrastructure and protection from implicit memories.  Removing these defenses too quickly can result in significant destablization.

Hearing this I thought about the yoga classes I’ve taken where pranayama is indiscriminately taught, seemingly for no purpose other than to fill space in the class (this is my experience, your mileage may vary.)  I became more aware of this after I returned from studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram the first time.

In that lineage yoga practice is asana-pranayama-meditation.  I remember being in a class after my return and the first thing the teacher did was kapalabhati breathing — no explanation, no instruction, just do it.  It was very jarring (I started but did not finish) and I thought…HUH?   Does this teacher know everyone’s dosha in the first place to be doing this?   If it did not feel at all right to my system, an experienced practitioner, I could only imagine what it felt like to the ones who were brand new to yoga in this class.

If you’ve read the first two parts of this series, you’ll know where I am going with this.  Breathing — just doing it or hearing the breath of another student — can be a PTSD trigger for trauma survivors.  Ujayi breath can be very scary; techniques such as kapalabhati and breath retention are out of the question in a trauma sensitive yoga class.

Trauma sensitive breathing should always be performed in the context of a muscular, physical form (asana) to facilitate grounding and present moment experience.  The movements are always initiated by the inhale or the exhale, because breath alone can trigger PTSD.

What are some breath practices for a trauma sensitive yoga class?  Simple breath awareness (constant attention to the breath); “add a little” breath; emphasizing breathing through the nose because some trauma survivors breath through their mouths; nadi shodana; and ratio breathing, i.e., different counts for the inhale/exhale.

The bottom line is helping people notice when their breath changes, helping them notice the quality of their breath so they can notice their experience in the present moment. Mindfulness. Just this, just here, just now.

As you may have determined, with so many PTSD triggers, being trauma sensitive in a “regular” group yoga class would prove difficult.  Although a trauma survivor may really want to experience yoga, the thought of walking into a public yoga class might be too challenging, too scary.  In his book Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, our teacher Dave Emerson wrote about the experiences of trauma survivors in public yoga classes.  One woman said that just the experience of a teacher walking up to her slowly and silently as the woman was in child’s pose was enough to make her run out and never return.  She did not feel safe at all.

Creating a yoga class exclusively for PTSD or trauma survivors creates community, a sangha.  We were advised not to do this work in a vacuum, but to connect with a mental health professional, a VA center, a domestic violence shelter, among others.  We were also advised not to work privately with students because of safety issues.  I feel confident enough to work privately with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, but I might not feel secure with others, it would depend on the situation.  I am using The Trauma Center’s protocols in working one-on-one with TS students: (1) the student must also be working with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional so we can work together as a team; (2) the student must continue taking their medication, if any; (3) the student must not have been hospitalized for any psychological issues within the last six months; (4) there can be no active psychosis.

At the start of our training, the question was raised: how must yoga in America change if 80% (according to a collection of research) of the population have experienced or witnessed trauma?  Trauma is defined by Dr. van der Kolk as being inescapable stress, heightened alertness (constant hyperarousal), or helplessness in response to an event.  Some responses to these states are detachment/disconnection from the body, self, or social relationships; insomnia; fight or flight responses; depression; chronic pain; constant intrusive thoughts; consistent feelings of anger and shame; substance abuse.

We were asked: do we need to return to a “simpler way” of yoga?

This training was one of the most influential trainings I’ve taken in my 10 years of teaching.  I hope I have helped both yoga teachers and trauma survivors in this three part series.

Krishnamacharya said that breath is central to yoga because it is central to life…and yoga is about life.  Trauma is a part of life, but we do not have to allow it to define us.  Yoga is about replacing old negative patterns with new positive ones, one step at a time.

Just this. Just here. Just now.

body consciousness: a discussion


There were so many comments posted to Body Consciousness that I thought I would turn them into an entirely new post. my readers’ comments are too insightful to be ignored.

talk amongst yourselves!

Steven:
Maybe it’s just wording, but I disagree with “Yoga was meditation and meditation was yoga, no duality.” If they were the same thing, there would be no need for two words. Also, from what I’ve learned, yoga has been a preparation for meditation, and thus separate. Obviously very interrelated, but separate nontheless. Your point remains, though, that the asana practice has become very separated from the meditation practice in the West, but still, even if some people never find or care about the non-physical part, many will, and that’s good. It sure would help if yoga instructors would stop yammering quasi-spiritual stuff through savasana and allow more than 1 minute of silence to clear the mind!

Sama:
asana + pranayama are prerequisites to meditation according to the lineage that I follow. not just asana. and is not asana practice a moving meditation? I suppose it depends on what your definition of meditation is.

come to one of my classes. I don’t yak during savasana. but even if I did, would you be able to observe the external sounds and not react to them, engaging in pratyhara with equanimity?

thinking more about your comment, steven….

have you ever done walking meditation? is the meditation separate from the action of walking? and if you are walking, are you JUST walking? or is your mind “in here” instead of “out there”?

gartenfische:
This is so insightful (and yeah, we’re thinking along the same lines!). I know that we Westerners—me included—are way too head-oriented. It’s why yoga and meditation are so important for us.

I think that yoga and meditation are different, but that yoga (asana, that is) can be a meditation.

I am not a teacher like you, but as I practice longer, I see how asana, breath, the bandhas, the driste, all lead one into a meditation. Presence is so, so important—inhabiting each pose, as Pattabhi Jois says (Iyengar says this, too, and I’m sure the other great teachers); otherwise, like you said, it’s just acrobatics.

Yoga is such a gift. I am so grateful for teachers, like you, who bring it to us here in the West—we so, so need it!

Sama:
the thing is, gartenfische, each time I come back from my studies in India, the more I feel like an outsider here, in the western yoga world.

Kate Holcombe, a teacher in San Francisco and who has studied extensively at the same school I do, has said that for a long time she hesitated calling what she does yoga because it was so different from what is practiced in the west.

I now know what she meant.

gartenfische:
So is there a way to bring more of the true yoga into the West, or is it hopeless?

Most of my teachers are, at least, trying to be very true to the Indian teaching (Annie Pace, especially).

Even if it is not yoga as it is supposed to be, I have known a lot of growth and healing as a result of my practice, and I am grateful for it. I don’t know—I may never get to India.

Sama:
gartenfische, I am in no way saying that the yoga I study is the way it’s “supposed to be”! that would be so autocratic! and no way am I saying that all yogins/yoga teachers have to go to India to study! HA! India is definitely not for everyone! however for me, the first time I put my foot on indian soil, I felt like I had come home.

I just know that what I study there resonates with me and it is a traditional style. for example, when I’m there I study chanting, pranayama, meditation, asana theory, etc. and from my teachings I’ve come to realize that (for example) pranayama is taught indiscriminately here in many classes I’ve been to, like an afterthought, or with no purpose. A teacher will announce “ok, let’s do kapalabhati” in the middle of the class. I can tell you after my first training, I immediately stopped teaching that pranayama in group classes. that’s just an example.

my classes are always asana/pranayama/meditation. of course, YOUR yoga is what resonates with YOU!

gartenfische:
I have the same hesitations about pranayama, but I think they came from reading something several years ago that warned that it should not be taken lightly and that beginning yoga students shouldn’t do it at all. I have heard of teachers teaching it indiscriminately (it seems) and I’ve wondered if they know what they are doing.

Earlier, I was reading about pranayama in Light on Yoga. He recommends Nadi Sodhana Pranayama for headaches, but elsewhere, he talks about supervision by a guru or teacher being necessary to practice pranayama. So I don’t know if it would be okay to try it as a remedy when I have a headache. Probably not. I have noticed that even ujjayi breathing helps, though

Sama:
yes, I agree about having a qualified teacher to teach pranayama. another thing that is never taken into consideration regarding pranayama in group classes is the dosha, or the body type, so to speak, of each student.

a certain pranayama might be appropriate for one student while it may completely agitate another student, in a group class. how does a teacher know the dosha of each student in a group class? just like yoga, pranayama is not one size fits all, so that is why I believe pranayama is indiscriminately taught in western yoga classes.

also, regarding the bandhas: Krishnamacharya believed that bandhas should not even begun to be taught unless the student can comfortably inhale 10 or 12 counts, and exhale 10 or 12 counts. now tell me how often a teacher in a group class will announce “engage mula bandha!” or whatever bandha as if every student knows what she/he is talking about!

this is why I have said time and again what I have been taught: personal transformation can begin in a group class but is accomplished in a one on one relationship with a teacher.

and THAT is the difference between east and west as I see it.

gartenfische:
Mula bandha is a common teaching in Ashtanga, including with the teachers who study in India. I am NOT saying you are wrong! There just seem to be different “rules” coming from different teachers.

But it is confusing for people, because we don’t know! All these teachers are teaching pranayama and then other teachers say they shouldn’t be. Then everybody’s teaching the bandhas and others say no.

Sama:
I know that mulabandha is common in astanga — altho I’m not an astangi, I did a workshop once with Manju Jois, Guruji’s son. what I am saying that things like pranayama and the bandhas sometimes are taught indiscriminately or not deeply enough. and Krishnamacharya was Iyengar’s teacher AND Patabhi Jois’ teacher, so how THEY interpreted his teachings was up to them!

Nadine:
I for one, totally agree with your post (as I would!)
I am so tired of that other yoga, that is in fact not-yoga.
And the hotpants/ flashy yoga gear that goes with it. Why are people so very very afraid to face themselves, unarmed, undressed (as it were)?

Sama:
yah, what’s up with the hot pants?