still askin’…If 16 million Americans are practicing yoga, why does our world still suck?

I welcome guest bloggers and this post is written by the indomitable Holly Westergren of Namaste, Bitches blog fame or infamy, as the case may be.  Holly has taken a yoga and yoga blogging sabbatical but when I posted on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to take the plunge and write for LYJ,  Holly dived right in.

When Holly started blogging we connected with each other immediately — we both have an affinity for no bullshit yoga and wise-crackin’ men.  She’s a heart sister from another mister.   Some of  you may think that Holly put the bitch in namaste, but I happen to know that Holly is dedicated to life as service and bringing yoga to the disadvantaged and the underserved.  My type of broad.   The real deal.

Enjoy her words.


“It is no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti

“And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”  – Joni Mitchell

“Love‘s in need of love today.”  – Stevie Wonder

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” – Cree Indian proverb

Linda and I most certainly share an African soul, a connection to the spirit and sounds of Mother Africa.  We also clearly share sacred hearts on fire to bridge the gaps in this world between white and black, rich and poor, people who “do yoga” and the rest of humanity.   Apparently, we’re both not all that white— whatever that means, everybody knows we’re all just Souls camping out in these bodies.   Could someone please send Condoleeza Rice that memo?    I heard Ms. Rice say recently, “ We’ll never be race blind in America.”    With all due respect, whatchoo talkin’ bout, Condy?   Great Scots, what kind of message is that to the children, who are indeed the Future?   Don’t make me come over there and have you bust out 108 Sun Salutations to The Greatest Love of All.   Jeeza Louisa, Condoleeza.   I absolutely refuse to believe we will never be race blind in America Everybody knows we’re all just rainbows. Ho hum and Hare Om.

I like this question Linda had posed very much, though I confess, I don’t much care for the word “ suck”, nor do I think any of us can afford to see the world in this way despite the temptation to feel disenchanted, disillusioned, and thoroughly fed up with the ways of the world.   I would invite us all instead to blast Louis Armstrong’s “ What a wonderful world” and stay in that sunny piece of Heaven for a stretch.   There is still quite a lot of good left amidst the atrocities and injustices.   One of my favorite Satchmo quotes is “ There’s some people, who if you can’t tell ‘em, they won’t get it. “ That’s sort of how it is right now in the world in this fight for the triumph of good over evil .  We’ve been polluted for so long.   And lots of people have straight up concrete in their heads.   Pray for them.   Forgive them Father for they know not what they do-style.

There are simply a lot of broken hearts on the mend, a lot of ancient wounds that still need healing.   And a lot of  God’s children in America are eating a whole lot of fake food, watching Wheel of Fortune, barely surviving on Welfare.  The plight of the walking wounded and weary in this world has not yet tugged on the heart strings of the people in power livin’ the life of Riley.   At least not the point where hearts begin to bleed and feed people in need. But a man cannot live on bread alone, as we know.   It is spiritual food and shelter this world needs — we are all just souls longing to be free and healed, living purposeful lives of peace and joy.

And so, it is indeed a curious thing, with all the people “practicing yoga”, with Oprah and Deepak joining forces and Stevie Wonder and Shiva Rea putting their heads together that We the People have not found ourselves, in this so-called land of the free, home of the brave, in better shape, on all fronts.   But how can we truly be surprised that “yoga”, as it has been packaged and sold in the West has not made much  of difference in the way things work or rather don’t work in America, at least within the confines of the “system“?   Yoga is still very much a white person’s extra curricular endeavor in America.   Or something that occasionally happens at The White House.   Or something people do on Comcast ON-DEMAND.  All this yoga, and we’re not getting to the root of the problem, which is the healing of our collective relationship to Mother Earth.

Holistic healing is still very much a luxury in this country, with a few exceptions.   It costs a lot of money to choose natural, homeopathic healing and food in this country, which is part of why everything is upside down and backwards. The easiest way to be healthy is to live simply and in accordance with the principals of Nature.   Needless to say, this is not the American way and an even more difficult undertaking if you are living just enough for the city, as Stevie sings.   We need a whole lotta miracles round here.   And then some.   It is time for all the money and beauty and in the billion dollar yoga industry and Oprahland and Chopraland to be shared with our brothers and sisters who have never stepped foot in a Whole Foods, never heard of Wanderlust, and sure as hell aren’t reading Elephant Journal or Shambala Sun.   In order to raise the vibration of the planet, we must share resources and knowledge with open hearts and minds.

Another big reason things are so out of wack in America that it’s going to take a while before Truth will infiltrate corporate America and our political circus wash it clean.    It all comes out in the wash, but as we all have learned the hard way— what we resist -persists and a lot of people are holding on to old ways of thinking, being, and relating to each other and all living things on this One Planet.   There is a massive disconnect between the people who are living in accordance with Divine will and the folks who are making decisions in this world about how things are run and regulated and what people have access to.   A reversal of Separation of Church and State might help but that’s a pipe dream I’m working on seeing come true.

There is still quite a bit of fear ruling this country, quite a bit of xenophobia in the hearts and minds of people, quite a bit of nonsense, noise, disease, dysfunction, and backasswards bureaucracy.  Americans have much to learn from the rest of the world, especially our brothers and sisters in the East about how to honor the sacred in every day life and how to live —  simply, beautifully, peacefully, with reverence for the Divine.   Part of the reason yoga isn’t making a dent in the American political system is that, well,  quite simply, it’s an American political system.   People have yet to admit to themselves and each other how many lies they are living and tell themselves and each other.   To do so would mean that many things would have to fall apart and to change– old ways of thinking will be challenged, conventions will be turned upside down, masks will have to come off, people will have to get real and accept who they actually are instead of who they have been pretending to be.   And most people are not ready for that.   Recovery is painful.   And the Truth hurts, depending on how blind, delusional, and trapped you’ve been.

Lots of people have still not surrendered the mess of their lives and of  this world to the all-healing, all-merciful and miraculous love of The Creator.   We’re too busy fighting about whose God wins instead of focusing on achieving Universal consciousness of  radical Love and self-acceptance that transcends the barriers we place in our minds between you and me and me and you.   So happy together?   There is not yet a correlation between people practicing yoga and things changing in our corporate, legal, health care, and political systems because there has not yet been a shift in power, an admission that we have failed each other, that we have not loved ourselves and each other the way God so loved the world, that we have everything we need to heal.   People are still holding on to things they can’t take with them .   We worship the new and not the eternal– and that can only get you so far in this Life.   And don’t get me started on the toxic waste of time that are the talking heads of the main stream media these days.   Sigh.   I think The Muppets should likely start reporting the news for a change.

Unfortunately, it seems many people in power are more interested in being rich and right than healing the world from the inside out.   People have failed to recognize that the only solutions to our word’s major problems are spiritual in nature and that there is no way around that Truth.   I’ve found great comfort, hope, and inspiration in the legacy, work and Foundation of Sir John Templeton, whose vision for uniting science and theology in the uplifting of humanity gives me goosebumps.   There is no masterminding needed when God is at the wheel.   There’s just surrender, prayer and Faith in compassionate action.   And there is the knowing that we are marching in the Light of God, that we are here on borrowed Time and nothing actually belong to us, when you get right down to it.

Mother Theresa said, “ If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”   Until human beings understand and viscerally experience that existential Truth in every cell of our beings and live and love from that place of consciousness, we will not experience the great cosmic shift  towards a whole new world order that is our Destiny, that is the change, the revolution the Earth has been waiting for.

Before I ran away with the yogis,  I worked as a Press Secretary for a New Jersey Republican politician,  dropped out of graduate school for art history,  fake smiled my way through a job as a Public Relations manager for Comcast, loved my job as a teacher at the Center for Literacy in West Philly, shook things up in my job as a Communications consultant for a homeless services non-profit, got fired for rolling my eyes at a Advertising Agency.  I’ve also been a barn hand, a barista, a wedding singer, a nanny.   I wore many hats before I realized I was born to blaze my own trail in this world and be a messenger of hope, healing, and peace a world gone asunder, to live my life according to God’s will for my life, not mine.   I am here to help build a bridge between the haves and the have nots, the yogis and Christians, the Arabs and Jews, black and white and all the colors in between. Walls must come down.

We all know by now that many systems throughout the world are broken, defunct, outmoded, corroded and working against the greater good— it’s all part of the breakdown process as we are poised on the precipice of a great awakening, a rebuilding, a renewing of our Spirit, a global rebirth. But as Einstein said, “ You cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that created it. “   Many people in power have not transcended, have not been transformed by the renewing of their  minds nor do they seem to be terribly interested in the spiritual work required to do so.   After all, it’s heavy lifting and the only way out is through. So, things are staying the same. If people don’t let go of the old paradigm, we shall stay mired in the mud, at the mercy of defunct systems and stupid rules designed to keep people feeling victimized, diseased, dumb, oppressed, depressed, addicted, confused, and comfortably numb.   We are being asked to evolve, to rise above and see the dawning of a new day where humanity reclaims itself. We are also being asked to be quiet and listen, to heal, to regenerate, to still the collective consciousness in order that we may hear the voice of God.

Likely politicians and people in power suits think they don’t have much time to devote to spiritual transcendence.   But it should be like brushing your teeth, really.   So, as things are moving at warp speed, what we all really need is permission to slow down, be quiet, and do nothing.   Especially Oprah.   Sister Winfrey could sure use a break— I’d like to challenge her to not produce anything for a month and go instead to Vipassana.   That’s the silent retreat center where you shut your trap for 10 days.   What’s more, it’s free, so she can save her ducats for feeding her horses.

Take it from a Queen of the Dream with her head in the clouds while chanting to Kali Ma or singing Tracy Chapman or ABBA or David Bowie or Arvo Part: the old patriarchal paradigm shall crumble.   Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.   It’s the new Mother Nature taking over.   We are on are way, those of us who have been called to defend Gaia and usher in the return to Eden.   But we have miles to go before we sleep.   And men best get a move on embracing their Divine Feminine and honoring and healing the Mother wound.   Otherwise, this hocus pocus holy experiment will simply not work.

Often my mantra is “ Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart.“   And with God’s vision, you see beauty everywhere, even in the ugly.   The world is a vast, glorious, miraculous work of art and wonder and paradox which human beings have polluted and abused out of greed and the need for speed.   The world has simply been corrupted by the forces of Evil and people are sick and tired of being sick and tired and don‘t know what they don‘t know.   But there is hope for all of us, and all can all be transformed and made whole and new again by Divine eternal love and by remembering our true nature through yoga.   Healing is simply about recalling who we are:  creatures made perfect in God’s image, perfectly perfect just as we are, just as we were when we were born. Happy babies.

Until the West removes the Western goggles, challenges convention and conditioning and considers the other side, we’ll never spread our wings to actually let freedom ring for the people in this world who are still not free, trapped below, confused, bereft, aching inside to be uplifted by love, beauty, and hope of deliverance.   This country is very much still enslaved to its own ideas about the way things were, the way things should be, who we are as a country and what we stand for anymore.   It’s an identify crisis of the highest order in these so-called United States, that doesn’t seem very united at all.   We must see a new open world before us and dare to dream the impossible dream for the future of this country.  As David Bowie sings, “ Gotta make way for the homo superior.” We are One under the Sun. Big wheels keep on turnin’……….

“Mechanism of Meditation” — lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/15/12

The second of Kausthub’s lectures at the “Discover Yoga Anatomy” intensive at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, March 2012….


Many people make claims about meditation, but still don’t  understand it.  They assume that TECHNIQUES are meditation. 

What is happening in modern day science and medicine is that they say meditation works, but we don’t want to understand WHY it works.  Books on this subject are merely guidebooks, they give no explanation as to HOW meditation works.  If we take a tool like meditation and become attached to it, there is no understanding.

WHY is more important than WHAT.

There are three domains of meditation in yoga, but modern yogis are concerned with bendy bodies, fancy clothes, and taking their pictures in front of waterfalls.  They should be applying for jobs in Hollywood, not in yoga.  Yoga is meant to be done as a meditative practice.

The first domain is that meditation is about helping us live our lives better.  We have daily activities, actions concerning the world, we’re part of a social eco-system.  Many times we do not deal appropriately with this eco-system because of our klesas — we make mistakes.  To help us see clearly, to improve our actions, meditation is done.

The second domain of meditation is to improve or regain our health because we get sick, whether it is body, mind, emotions, or spirit.

The third domain has to do with self-realization.  The difference between animals and us is that we are not only interested in eating and sex, but as humans we have the potential for self-realization.  We have the ability to question the meaning of life and our role in it, what we can give back.

It is my hope that there will be enough sanity in future yogis to move beyond the body and go inward.

So how does meditation work in these three domains, because it does not work the same in each.

For the first domain, yoga philosophy says that there is a process in which an action begets another action.  We hear or read something (knowledge) and that awareness creates a desire.  That desire creates an action, so we act from a place of desire.  The action is not the end of the cycle because there is a consequence.  The consequence leaves an impression on us, good or bad.  This is where mistakes happen.

Meditation works here by addressing the source:  is your awareness right or wrong?  Our knowledge is not based on a fact but what we are drawn to.  We have the illusion of clarity, we see what we want to see, not what is really in front of us.

In meditation for this domain, the practice is designed in such a way in order to give us clarity of perception.  It takes us to a neutral space, not from a bias.  Meditation can influence how we see things, i.e. with greater perception of clarity.  In that way, our responses in life become more appropriate — this is the opposite of what we usually do, how we usually react in and to life.

In the second domain, it is given that the mind controls the body.  For example, we have a nightmare and truly believe that whatever is happening in the nightmare is actually happening to us, we have a physical reaction to the nightmare  — that is how strong the mind is over the body.   In the same way our mind can influence us in a positive way.  Modern science is finally seeing this.  When the mind moves into nirodha samskara (YS Ch. 3), the mind becomes stable.  Meditation helps us change the patterns of the mind which can thereby change the patterns of the body.   In yoga philosophy, diseases and health are seen as nothing other than a set of patterns.   Patanjali introduces the concept of yoga therapy in the second and third chapters of the Sutra-s.   The mind is very powerful — there is a reason why it is said “mind over matter” — because the mind can literally change matter.   This seems paranormal, but it is not.

The trouble is that we always want things to change quickly, but change takes time.  The mind is linked with the senses which are linked to matter.  What is held in the mind moves towards what holds the senses.   We have seen what could be called miracles at the Mandiram, when all we do is show a person how to breath, how to meditate, when they came here and could not even lift an arm.

However, the same thing won’t work the same way with everyone.  The stupidity of modern times is that everyone is the same — we want the same prescriptions.  The same focus will be different with everyone.  A metaphor for this is that the same food will be cooked differently whether it is cooked in an electric oven or a traditional tandoor — same food, different result.  How your mind is will affect what the change is.  Giving the same medicine to everyone and expecting the same results is ridiculous.

Patanjali said that each of us has different kinds of mind — which mind that holds the object of meditation will affect the change.  The standardization of meditative practices is rubbish.

The third domain is the spiritual domain.  The exploration of our potential is the spirituality contained in the Yoga Sutra-s.

We all have within us seeds that are dormant, seeds that will grow.  Meditation in the spiritual domain is like a dry field with seeds — prana is equivalent to water for that field.   The prana will irrigate that mind field so that our seeds will sprout.

But we trap ourselves.  We are ignorant of our seeds.  We don’t nourish them because we don’t have the patience.

We don’t want to be who we are, we want to be someone else.  We think being different is somehow better.  This is where acceptance of ourselves is so important — a mango can never be a papaya.  We have to start accepting who were are and stop rejecting who we are.

The river of prana must water the deep levels of the mind, but remember that we also have negative seeds.  Besides the beneficial seeds, a field also has poison seeds, weed seeds — we have to accept both.  We do not have authority to judge ourselves or others.

If prana is remaining in you, it finds you worthy of something — look at the positive, not the negative, because no one is perfect.

“Transformation in Yoga Philosophy” – a lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/7/12


This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March.  I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career.  Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn.  I will never call myself an expert.  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.  I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.

For those who don’t know, Kausthub is the son of T.K.V.  Desikachar, who is the son of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga.


Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga.  Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep.  He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages.   In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.

It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.)   He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana.  This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical.  Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.

The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body.  Our perception become very sensitive.  Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36.  Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.

At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm.  Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs.  However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.

At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis.  We start feeling like crap.  Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years.  Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.

This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting.  This is the time to especially sustain the practice.  Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in.  The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE.  Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same.  Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building.  This is progress.

The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built.  Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp.  It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.

The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach.  It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.

There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation.  That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now.   In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference.  There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.

Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga.  Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead.  As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute.  Every mind, every body, every day is different.

  The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced.  He gave an example of child’s pose:  it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do.  Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement.  But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.

Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you.  When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student.  Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”

Referencing current problems in modern  yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays.  Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability.  Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation.  A serious question to ask is:  if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet?  In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga.  Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays!  Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings.  That is what makes a great teacher.  Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties.  If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain.   The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.