Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Festivus For the Rest of Us

Happy Holidays to you all as we celebrate and rejoice in Spirit!
May your days be filled with the warmth of friends and family,
May the darkness of night be lit with flames of love, peace, and joy.

May the thoughts and actions of our lives contribute
to the happiness and freedom of all beings.

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu.

Aum. Shanti Shanti Shanti.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

America's 1st "yogis"

The yoga tradition has an incredibly diverse and ancient history. Argued by some to be the oldest living religion in the world, yoga originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago. Just like any religion or tradition, yoga has changed over the centuries, adapting in response to the particular time and cultural context. It is in this sense, one of the oldest living traditions in the world. Yoga as it is practiced in America today, however, is only roughly 100 years old. It is the latest manifestation of an ancient living tradition.

Long before there was Iyengar, Asthanga, Anusara, and Vinyasa Flow, there was a yoga that existed on American soil. Looking back at mid-19th Century New England, we find can find its roots within the intellectual circle of the Transcendentalists; who began exploring the exotic philosophy of the East, and indirectly initiated the transmission of yoga in America. Ralph Waldo Emerson first met the Hinduism of India through its sacred texts; particularly the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, “The Song of the Lord”. He found in ancient India the mystical expression of his vision of the transcendent Self. He discovered what he termed the “Oversoul”. In his infamous essay written in 1841 titled The Over-Soul, he writes,

“… Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.”

Emerson’s words echo the Ultimate Reality or Brahmin affirmed by the Upanishads and other ancient texts of India. A younger student of Emerson’s, Henry David Thoreau, also took an influential interest in the East. He wrote from his cabin at Walden Pond,

“In the morning, I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta…in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.“[2]

The renunciation of his stint at Walden Pond is reminiscent of the ascetism of the Indian yogis. And in this regard, Thoreau can perhaps be seen as one of the first American yogis, at least in an intellectual or literary sense. In a letter to a friend, he writes,

“… I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.”[3]

Without analyzing the degree to which Thoreau or Emerson actually carried out yogic practices, it is an important moment in our history. The words of the Transcendentalists provided Westerners for the first time with the “idea” of yoga; an exotic discipline and practice that was just as near as the natural world. Their exploration set the stage for the arrival of yoga in America.

[1] "Ralph Waldo Emerson's The Over-Soul." The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

[2] Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. New York: HarperOne, 2002. p. 95 – from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

[3] De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism. London: Continuum, 2008. pp. 2-3

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yoga in America: the numbers are in

Yoga Journal Releases 2008"Yoga in America" Market Study

Practitioner Spending Grows to Nearly $6 Billion a Year

February 26, 2008 (San Francisco, CA) – The latest "Yoga in America" study, just released by Yoga Journal ( shows that Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media (DVDs, videos, books and magazines). This figure represents an increase of 87 percent compared to the previous study in 2004—almost double of what was previously spent.

Data for this survey were collected by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau on behalf of Yoga Journal. The poll surveyed 5,050 respondents, a statistically representative sample of the total U.S. population. Yoga Journal commissioned RRC Associates, a research firm in Boulder, Colo., to perform the data analysis.

The 2008 study indicates that 6.9% of U.S. adults, or 15.8 million people, practice yoga. (In the previous study, that number was 16.5 million). Of current non-practitioners, nearly 8%, or 18.3 million Americans, say they are very or extremely interested in yoga, triple the number from the 2004 study. And 4.1% of non-practitioners, or about 9.4 million people, say they will definitely try yoga within the next year.

The study also collected data on age, gender and other demographic factors. Of the yoga

practitioners surveyed:

  • 72.2% are women; 27.8% are men.
  • 40.6% are 18 to 34 years old; 41% are 35 to 54; and 18.4% are over 55.
  • 28.4% have practiced yoga for one year or less; 21.4% have practiced for one to two years; 25.6% have practiced two to five years; and 24.6% have practiced more than five years.
  • 71.4% are college educated; 27% have postgraduate degrees.
  • 44% of yogis have household incomes of $75,000 or more; 24% have more than $100,000.

"While the yoga population has stabilized, spending among practitioners has nearly doubled," says Patricia Fox, senior vice president and group manager of Active Interest Media's Healthy Living Group. "Yoga practitioners are a devoted consumer group supporting a thriving and vibrant market."

The 2008 study also indicated that almost half (49.4%) of current practitioners started practicing yoga to improve their overall health. In the 2003 study, that number was 5.6%. And they are continuing to practice for the same reason. According to the 2008 study, 52% are motivated to practice yoga to improve their overall health. In 2003, that number was 5.2%.

"Yoga is no longer simply a singular pursuit but a lifestyle choice and an established part of our health and cultural landscape," says Bill Harper, publisher of Yoga Journal. "People come to yoga and stick with it because they want to live healthier lives."

One significant trend to emerge from the study is the use of yoga as medical therapy. According to the study, 6.1%, or nearly 14 million Americans, say that a doctor or therapist has recommended yoga to them. In addition, nearly half (45%) of all adults agree that yoga would be a beneficial if they were undergoing treatment for a medical condition.

"Yoga as medicine represents the next great yoga wave," says Kaitlin Quistgaard, editor in chief of Yoga Journal. "In the next few years, we will be seeing a lot more yoga in health care settings and more yoga recommended by the medical community as new research shows that yoga is a valuable therapeutic tool for many health conditions."

The growth in the yoga market is reflected in the growth of Yoga Journal. The magazine saw an increase of 5.8 percent in paid circulation, and an increase of 9.2 percent in paid subscriptions, in the period from July through December 2007, over the same period in the previous year, while the first two issues of 2008 were record issues in terms of ad revenue and ad pages. The magazine is also a top-selling health and fitness title at Barnes & Noble nationwide as well as at Whole Foods.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tara Comes to HSU

Today in my class Meditation, Contemplation, and Imagination, we had a wonderful guest lecturer, Allison Rader. Allison is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who is now the head lama at Chagdud Gonpa Rigdzin Ling, a Vajrayana community out in beautiful Trinity County. I had the pleasure of doing an experiential retreat weekend through the Religious Studies department last year, led by Allison at the Gonpa. She is an incredible teacher, so real, and engaging. And she has the ability to hold such sacred space. In a room full of 30 people, I felt like we were engaged in a private conversation (and so did everyone else!). For an hour and half she gave an incredible Dharma talk, describing the spiritual path of the Vajrayana, and particularly leading towards a general understanding of Tibetan visualization mediation practice. We then closed our eyes, sat up straight, and she led us through a basic Red Tara practice, visualizing some of the basic elements of Tara - compassion, loving-kindness, humility, etc. It was so beautiful, I slowly opened my eyes feeling tingly all over. Then we read aloud:

In the space in front of me the mother of all the victorious ones, Arya Tara, actually appears and to her I pray:
Now, as I and countless others are lost in the ocean of samsaric suffering,
I seek buddhahood to gain temporary and ultimate happiness for myself and all living beings.
For this reason I take refuge in Arya Tara, embodiment of pure awareness,
inseparable from all perfect qualities of buddha, dharma, sangha, lama, yidam and dikini.
From the depths of my heart I pray, evoking from Tara's forehead, throat and heart
a brilliant surge of rainbow light.
As the light rays touch me and all other beings, the poisonous fruits of negative karma-
sickness, demonic afflictions and obstacles - evaporate like dew in the morning sun.
Merit, wisdom, glory, wealth and longevity increase beyond measure.

Illustrious Tara, please be aware of me. Remove my obstacles and quickly grant my excellent aspirations.



The last part in Tibetan we sang/chanted in harmony. There was a brief moment of rational discomfort, to be chanting in the classroom... then I realized, we're chanting in the classroom! It was such a beautiful practice. The Tibetan syllables left my body vibrating in illumination. We finished with a proper Buddhist dedication.

Throughout my many lives and until this moment,
whatever virtue I have accomplished
including the merit generated by this practice, and all that I will ever obtain,
this I offer for the welfare of sentient beings.
May sickness, war, famine and suffering be decreased, for every being
while their wisdom and compassion increase in this and every future life.
May I clearly perceive all experiences to be as insubstantial
as the dream fabric of the night
and instantly awaken to perceive the pure wisdom display
in the arising of every phenomenon.
May I quickly attain enlightenment in order to work ceaselessly
for the liberation of all sentient beings.

Prayer of Aspiration
Buddhas and bodhisattvas altogether:
whatever kind of motivation you have,
whatever kind of beneficial action,
whatever kind of wishing prayers,
whatever kind of omniscience,
whatever kind of life accomplishment,
whatever kind of benevolent power
whatever kind of immense wisdom you have,
then similarly I, who have come in the same way to benefit beings,
pray to attain these qualities.

The Auspicious Wish
At this very moment, for the peoples and nations of the earth,
may not even the names disease, famine, war and suffering be heard.
Rather may their moral conduct, merit, wealth and prosperity increase,
and may supreme good fortune and well-being always arise for them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just a word...

What an experience it is to be a human California... in 2009! Such a diverse and complex world that we find ourselves in - so much information, technology, products, advertisements, and the choice, oooh the freedom to choose, which kind of toothpaste we want from the infinite variety available on the shelves. Humans have clearly made immense progress technologically in the past few hundred years. Our external world has drastically changed. But I often wonder has the human condition changed? Do we not still have the same basic needs and desires in our modern world as did the peoples of the ancient? Food, shelter, warmth, to love and be loved, to be happy, peaceful, to live a joyous life... While we have made much progress externally, have we done much internally as a society to fulfill these basic human desires? Are people more happy now with their iPod's, televisions, SUV's, and hair conditioner? Perhaps. I admit it is pretty incredible to have 5,000 tracks of the most amazing music ever created all in one device that fits in your palm, ready to make you feel warm and fuzzy at the press of a button. Or has this material gain and freedom to choose actually pushed us further away from the things which we truly care about?

I believe we each have these basic human desires, a basic spiritual yearning towards wholeness, towards peace, freedom. Yet unconsciously so many of us are looking outside of ourselves through material pursuit to fulfill this basic humanness. And guess what... it ain't working, the most basic needs are not being met. You can't subsitute prozac for peace. A quick fix won't do. Temporary satisfaction ain't the game. We're talking about true freedom, infinite lasting peace.

I got one word for ya...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What should I do about my meditation practice?

I recently started reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and have to say I am really loving the book. I think she's brilliant, funny, insightful, and has got me jus itchin' to travel....
Has anyone else read it?

Gilbert presents her story like traditional mala beads, weaving together 108 tales or beads. The number 108 is seen to be very auspicious, "a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes." She then divides the mala-book into three sections about her travels to three countries Italy, India, and Indonesia. This leaves us with three sections of 36 tales, written during her 36th year of life! Wow that's a lot of threes...

Right now we're in an ashram in India....
Here's an excerpt that I found particularly meaningful, and humorous :

"What should i do about my meditation practice?" I ask Richard one day, as he's watching me scrub the temple floors. (He's lucky - he works in the kitchen, doesn't even have to show up there until an hour before dinner. But he likes watching me scrub the temple floors. He thinks it's funny.)

"Why do you have to do anything about it, Groceries?"

"Because it stinks."

"Says who?"

"I can't get my mind to sit still."

"Remember what the Guru teaches us - if you sit down with the pure intention to meditate, whatever happens next is none of your business. So why are you judging your experience?"

"Because what's happening in my meditations cannot be the point of this Yoga."

"Groceries, baby - you got no idea what's happening in there."

"I never see visions, I never have transcendent experiences - "

"You wanna see pretty colors? Or you wanna know the truth about yourself? What's your intention?"

"All I seem to do is argue with myself when I try to meditate."

"That's just your ego, trying to make sure it stays in charge. This is what your ego does. It keeps you feeling separate, keeps you with a sense of duality, tries to convince you that you're flawed and broken and alone instead of whole."

"But how does that serve me?"

"It doesn't serve you. Your ego's job isn't to serve you. Its only job is keep itself in power. And right now, your ego's scared to death cuz it's about to get downsized. You keep up this spiritual path, baby, and that bad boy's days are numbered. Pretty soon your ego will be out of work, and your heart'll be making all the decisions. So your ego's fighting for its life, playing with your mind, trying to assert its authority, trying to keep you cornered off in a holding pen away from the rest of the universe. Don't listen to it."

"How do you not listen to it?"

"Every try to take a toy away from a toddler? They don't like that, do they? They start kicking and screaming. Best way to take a toy away from a toddler is distract the kid, give him something else to play with. Divert his attention. Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with. Something healthier."

"Like what?"

"Like love, Groceries. Like pure divine love."

(p. 140-141)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Travelers and the Grapes

Four men - a Persian, a Turk, an Arab, and a Greek - were standing in a village street. They were traveling companions, making for some distant place; but at this moment they were arguing over the spending of a single peiece of money which was all that they had among them.

"I want to buy angur," said the Persian.
"I want uzum," said the Turk.
"I want inab," said the Arab.
"No!" said the Greek, we should buy stafil."

Another traveler passing, a linguist, said, "Give the coin to me. I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you."

At first they would not trust him. Ultimately they let him have the coin. He went to the shop of a fruit seller and bought four small bunches of grapes.

"This is my angur," said the Persian.
"But this is what i call uzum," said the Turk.
"You have brought me inab," said the Arab.
"No!" said the Greek, "this in my language is stafil."

The grapes were shared out among them, and each realized that the disharmony had been due to his faulty understanding of the language of the others.

"The travelers," said the Agha, "are the ordinary people of the world. The linguist is the Sufi. People know that they want something, because there is an inner need existing in them. They may give it different names, but it is the same thing. Those who call it religion have different names for it, and even different ideas as to what it might be. Those who call it ambition try to find its scope in different ways. But it is only when a linguist appears, someone who knows what they really mean, that they can stop the struggling and get on with the eating of the grapes."

(excerpt from Idries Shah's - The Sufis)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Diwali!

Light a candle,
Say a prayer.
May Goddess Lakshmi bless us all!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Micheline Berry Kicked My Buddhi

This past weekend at Om Shala, I participated in an incredible workshop intensive with guest yoga instructor Micheline Berry who came up to Humboldt from LA (she teaches at Exhale in Venice Beach). Let me begin by saying, Micheline blew my mind, and kicked my buddhi. I didn't have too much expectations before hand, and I wasn't sure if I was going to vibe with her yoga. Originally trained in Forest Yoga (Ana Forest), she has now been studying with Shiva Rea for the past few years. She teaches a style of Tantra or Prana Yoga, a Vinyasa which she calls Liquid Asana. Vinyasa Liquid Asana from LA?.... didn't particularly sound like my style... Wrong. It was amazing!

Micheline is from Brazil and comes from a dance background, teaching a style of yoga which is definitely 'out of the box' and 'off the mat'. In fact our first class together, she started by telling us to roll up our mats and put them aside. She threw on some funky music and had us dancin, gettin down for almost 30 minutes. Then, heart-beating, dripping puddles of sweat, 'now, get out your mats!' I've seriously never sweated so much in my life... I couldn't believe the next morning was Detox Yoga. What was this?!

The most powerful aspect of the weekend was the Teaching Empowerment sessions we shared together. There was a group of about 10 of us teachers, and we really went deep. As we were doing such intense physical practice on the mat, stuff came up for just about everyone. I was so impressed with her ability to hold sacred space, and to navigate through all our inner turmoil with such compassion and insight. She actually came to yoga through her experience with Buddhism, like myself and many others. With this foundation in meditation, compassion, and loving-kindness, I feel she truly embodies the Divine feminine. In fact each class, she beautifully sang an invocation to Tara, accompanied by her Indian shruti box.

She worked diligently with each one of us individually, to help us tune to the creative source flowing within, to harness our own Shakti. Reminding us that we are each artists, with our own unique gifts and creative expression, our own personal myths. However, we are all connected to Source. And our vulnerabilities, and our weaknesses, are actually our gifts. They are the little, perfect imperfections which make us human, which connect us all. "Be who you are," she said, "it's a shortcut to who you are."

I feel so blessed to have had this experience this weekend, continuing my yoga education. It was tremendously inspiring and empowering. And such a joy to connect with the community of yoga students and teachers here in Arcata. What a beautiful sangha we share. I am so grateful right now. Great and Full. Feeling the Love. More than ever. Give thanks ya'll.


"Trust the Yoga"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snakes Dancing in the Rain

Poem & Reverie assignment
inspired by a dream,
written for class this morning.

Snakes Dancing in the Rain

3 snakes slithering through my mind's eye,
burrowed deep beneath cold earth.
Mother has just given birth.
Fresh life, new born blood
drips from its thin brown tail.

Fear grips, clenching breath tight.
Father hisssssses his hungry tongue,
gaping at newborn bloody son.
The land is dry, cold, dark.

Sky opens pouring heavy rain,
Kissing the earth
Fresh wet life breathes again.
New born blood washed away.
Snakes dancing in the rain.

The wise omnipotent serpent king. Continually shedding it’s skin, changing with the wind. Slithering and winding through tall grass prairies, across desert, forests and mountain peaks. The great change is among us, impermanence in the sand. Dancing and shaping, shifting lands. Soul speaks through slithering tongues and hissing lungs, breathing, and breathing in the dirt. Nestled and burrowed between heaven and earth. Guiding our dreams through ancient mind streams, swimming and sliding through underwater valleys. Waking visions of life teaming with images rife with meaning of a life dreaming full of meaning. Hissssssssssssss…… rain drops falls from the heavens and kiss the earth. Each drip drop ripples stillness across. Echoing silence, returning to that place. Dwelling deep within the heart cave of my earth body. Echoing stillness, echoing stillness, echoing stillness. The rain dances across my face, splashing palms. Life-force seeps into my skin, melting my body, nourishing my soul. Life is born from dreams such as these.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Soul of the World

Today in my class Meditation, Imagination, and Contemplation, we discussed the concept of Anima Mundi, the latin phrase meaning 'soul of the world'. It's a concept that extends the notion of psyche/soul beyond the individual, connecting with the larger psyche, or soul of the world. Psyche is not necessarily something that exists alone, internally within a floating head. The Earth has soul. The mountains, rivers, and trees, like us, are expressions of Anima Mundi. When we experience beauty in the world, it refreshes the soul, for it naturally yearns for beauty. The awe we may experience from witnessing a magical sunset, is a recognition of soul; a deep need within each individual. These moments of 'awe' infuse our life with meaning, they humble us as humans, and reconnect us with the Infinite.

In our yoga practice, as we explore deeper into ourselves, we can begin to extend our vision of Self beyond this body, this thought, this breath. The word asana, literally means seat. And we can recognize that whether we sit or stand in each asana, we are connecting to the Earth. Each step we take on this journey, no matter what direction, the Earth is lightly kissing the 'soul' of our feet. The air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, deeply connect us all to this beautiful blue planet, our only home. There is no separation between you and me and the air we breathe. Humans are not separate from nature, our psyche has just been disconnected. Humans are... naturally natural by nature. The only separation exists within the mind, the ego, the one which creates Me, Myself, and I. But where do I end and you begin?... It's like asking where does the Earth end and the sky begin?

In yogic terms, Anima Mundi can be seen as Purusha, or Spirit. Or in Vedantic terms, related to the great Brahmin, the underlying Ultimate Reality within all things. It is ultimately, the path of the yogi, to penetrate through all false illusion, wipe away the dust from the mirror, to reveal Thy true Self. It is Sat-Chit-Ananda, Experience-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute. The soul longs to experience itself, to remember it's own Divine bliss. To re-awken the unity within the multiplicity and rest in peace with God.

Until then... let us return to our breath. This powerful life-force, literally breathing us alive each moment of every day. Let us remember that each breath we take in, the trees are exhaling fresh oxygen, and with each breath we exhale, the trees are inhaling, taking in that which no longer serves us. It is this reciprocal dance of the Earth which enables life to exist. Deeply interdependent, connected with all. As long as we breathe the air of this Earth, we have a responsibility to serve and protect it. It simply starts with a shift in awareness. Extending our limited idea of self, to expand towards its potential it so yearns to experience, to know our Supreme Self, to recognize the awe of Anima Mundi, and to rest in the bliss of it all.

I'll leave you with some words from Deep Ecologist John Seed:

"...'I am protecting the rain forest' develops to 'I am part of the rain
forest protecting myself. I am that part of the rain forest recently
emerged into thinking.

What a relief then! The thousands of years of imagined separation are over and we begin to recall our true nature. That is the change is a spiritual one, thinking like a mountain, sometimes referred to as 'deep ecology.'

As your memory improves, as the implications of evolution and ecology are internalized and replace the outmoded anthropocentric structures in your mind, there is an identification with all life. Then follows the realization that the distinction between 'life' and 'lifeless' is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4,000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks?

Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are the immortal part of us."

- Blessings to you all, as we continue dancing like rocks, the story continues...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yield and Overcome


Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.

Therefore wise men embrace the one
And set an example to all.
Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
Not boasting,
They receive recognition.
Not bragging,
They never falter.
They do not quarrel,
So no one quarrels with them.

Therefore the ancients say, "Yield and overcome."
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.

- Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What we need is LOVE.

Peace. Shalom. Shanti.

May we each spread this Peace,
This Light, into the World.

One Love.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jai Kali Ma! Blessed October!

October is here! Halloween is just around the corner.... as we move into the Autumn season, lets see what we can learn from our friend, the Hindu Goddess Kali, and reflect on the grand illusion of this Divine Dance.

Here are some excerpts taken from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, enjoy!


"On the feet of the Goddess are, among other ornaments, anklets of gold. Her arms are decked with jewelled ornaments of gold. She wears necklaces of gold and pearls, a golden garland of human heads, and a girdle of human arms. She wears a golden crown, golden earrings, and a golden nose-ring with a pearl-drop. She has four arms. The lower left hand holds a severed human head and the upper grips a bloodstained sabre. One right hand offers boons to Her children; the other allays their fear. The majesty of Her posture can hardly be described. It combines the terror of destruction with the reassurance of motherly tenderness. For She is the Cosmic Power, the totality of the universe, a glorious harmony of the pairs of opposites. She deals out death, as She creates and preserves. She has three eyes, the third eye being the eye of Divine Wisdom; they strike dismay into the wicked, yet pour out affection for Her devotees" (11).

Kali and Maya

"Sri Ramakrishna, on the other hand, though fully aware, like his guru, that the world is an illusory appearance, did not slight maya, like an orthodox monist, but acknowledged its power in the relative life. He was all love and reverence for maya, perceiving in it a mysterious and majestic expression of Divinity. To him maya itself was God, for everything was God. It was one of the faces of Brahman. What he had realized on the heights of the transcendental plane, he also found here below, everywhere about him, under the mysterious garb of names and forms. And this garb was a perfectly transparent sheath, through which he recognized the glory of the Divine Immanence. Maya, the mighty weaver of the garb, is none other than Kali, the Divine Mother. She is the primordial Divine Energy, Sakti, and She can no more be distinguished from the Supreme Brahman than can the power of burning be distinguished from fire. She projects the world and again withdraws it. She spins it as the spider spins its web. She is the Mother of the Universe, identical with the Brahman of Vedanta and with the Atman of Yoga. As eternal Lawgiver, She makes and unmakes laws; it is by Her imperious will that karma yields its fruit. She ensnares men with illusion and again releases them from bondage with a look of Her benign eyes. She is the supreme Mistress of the cosmic play; and all objects, animate and inanimate, dance by Her will. Even those who realize the Absolute in nirvikalpa samadhi are under Her jurisdiction as long as they live on the relative plane" (50-51).

Jai Kali Ma!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Lovely Day

Mmmmm.... what a lovely day. After weeks of AT&T phone robots, technical support, and terrible "can you please hold" music, I am finally connected to the internet at home. Connected to the world (wide-web)! Lame, I know... but it feels really good to be connected, and I plan to update the blog more frequently now. So much has transpired these past few months that it almost seems ridiculous to squeeze it into a single blog post, so i'll just continue with my lovely day...

After my AT&T karma was settled... i made it just in time for Paula's Advanced Hatha Yoga class at noon. It was such a yummy class: We started off with a sweet meditation, imagining the Higher Self, as a separate entity, standing before us, with Truth and open arms. Am I ready to receive? If Truth knocked on the door, would we know it?... We moved into a great asana practice with lots of shoulder and hip opening, and did some partner work playing with pincha mayurasana and rabbit pose, ending in a nice long juicy savasana. Mmmmmm. Thank you Paula. Namaste.

Next on the agenda was Religion in America. Today we moved through the timeline to African American religious traditions, and a classmate gave a powerful presentation from within the tradition. It was a great presentation, passionate, and inspired, but it was heavy and very controversial. Without getting into too much detail... the title of the presentation was, "Are we Africans or The Lost Identity of Ancient Hebrews, the Untold Truth" As the title says, the student's presentation was to reveal the "untold truth" of the ancient Hebrew people. Using the Bible as guide, he revealed scriptures (mostly Deuteronomy and Leviticus) which point to a very different story then the one many of us grew up with. The ancient Hebrews, the people of the Tribes of Israel, he claims, are not the Jews of modern Europe/America. The real Hebrews of the Book, are of African descent. After Moses freed his people, they migrated south to Africa, spreading the tradition of Abraham. Eventually in the 1600's, with the Atlantic-Slave trade routes, these captured Hebrews were taken on ship to the New World, to the Americas, bringing us to today. He used Biblical references of plagues and prophecies depicting the real Hebrews. Explaining how the European translation of the image of Jesus, became a blonde haired Caucasian, while scripture describes him as dark-skinned with "woolly" hair.

What I found personally most controversial about the presentation, was the underlying argument that the Jews of Eastern Europe, the Ashkenazi Jews (my direct ancestors) were not the Hebrews of the Book we have believed - they have stolen the identity and tradition of the ancient African Hebrews. Whoa, hold on. So the 6 million Jews which were slaughtered during the Nazi Holocaust of WWII, were not the Hebrews of the Bible? Have they mistaken their own identity as the "chosen people" of God? Are they not the same peoples who have been persecuted and oppressed time and time again for the last few thousand years? Okay, I'll stop myself right here, because clearly I don't know enough of the history, nor have I studied the Hebrew Bible enough to fully understand. But this raises a lot of red flags and I encourage all who are interested, to join me in investigating this further...

This hypotheses stirred up a lot for me, especially as I try and understand my own cultural identity, being born to both Jewish parents, and with grandparents and extended family from Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi Jews). This created a nice bridge to my Geography 304 class, studying ethnicity, race, and human migration. People today ask, what are you? What they really mean, I think, is why does your face look like that? Where does your face come from? What ethnic backgrounds comprise your facial composition? lol...Well... I'm a Polish/Lithuanian/Jew...although I don't know a single Pole or Lithuanian, and I don't go to Temple.... Identity is a strange thing, living in the United States in 2009. I feel I'm striving to find this balance between understanding the past, knowing where I came from, while at the same time not allowing "my" story to draw lines, to divide and separate me from the rest of humanity. Maybe, being proud without having pride. Honoring my ancestors and our roots, honoring tradition, yet not being stuck or bound by it. Finding new ways of expression, creating tradition which is inclusive to all, universally sacred. Jew? Hebrew? Human? Sometimes I just don't know... At the moment I feel like a Jew-Bu-Sufi-Yogi.

I ended the day, teaching Community Yoga at Om Shala. It was one of the best classes I've taught yet, twelve students showed up and the energy was amazing. The almost full moon was shining down, illuminating Chandra room as we breathed and flowed through a beautiful practice. We ended class with 3 deep continuous AUM's, which were so loud they woke up Peacock who was resting on the massage table next door! I have to say, I am fully enjoying this new turning as a yoga instructor - it is the most incredible "job" I've ever had! It's such a pleasure to be able to create sacred space for people to connect to their bodies, connect to their breath - to be an instrument of guidance and to share this special practice of Yoga. I feel so tremendously blessed and honored to be of service, and am so excited as this journey continues to grow and unfold. I am learning and growing more each day than ever before. One student said to me after class a few weeks ago, "Ya know, you're probably half my age... but I'll tell you what, there's not one person on this Earth I can't teach something to, and there's not one person on this Earth who can't teach me something. Thank you." If we can keep this humble attitude, this open-heartedness towards each other throughout the day, I think life becomes a bit lighter, our smiles a bit brighter. Breathing in Ya Shakur, the attitude of gratitude. And exhaling ahhhhhh, melting into stillness.

Aum. Shanti. Shalom. Peace.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Global Mala 2009

This September is National Yoga Month, join millions of yoga and health enthusiasts at hundreds of events nationwide and around the world. Deepen your commitment to a healthy lifestyle by celebrating the transformative power of yoga with friends, family and your global community! Yoga Month invites all styles of yoga to participate in an awareness campaign designed to draw attention to the many benefits of yoga and inspire our fellow citizens to live healthier, happier lives.

The Humboldt Lotus Collective is a club at HSU I co-founded last year with a few other yogis on campus - we hold free yoga and meditation classes every week for students and faculty! On September 19 or 20, in sync with the Fall Equinox, the Lotus Collective will be holding an event to celebrate the Global Mala - an effort to unite the global yoga community, and the bigger human family, to create peace, and raise consciousness through the sacred practice of yoga. To connect the Global Mala thread in Arcata, we'll be leading 108 Sun Salutations, filled with kirtan, chanting, dance, meditation, and more! Stay tuned as I find out more about this incredibly exciting event, I'll be blogging it as it manifests.

For more info, check out:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How We Live Our Yoga

While perusing the stacks not so aimlessly in my store the other day, I came across a book I had never seen before, How We Live Our Yoga: teachers and practitioners on how yoga enriches, surprises, and heals us. I began reading it and could not put it down, I flipped through the final pages after just a few shifts at work. It's an incredible collection of unique essays and personal stories shedding important light on the yoga tradition. Unlike most yoga books on the shelves, this book is not filled with asana descriptions and mechanics, it's not another how-to-do-yoga book - but more of a how-to-live-yoga book. The authors provide candid insight on many pressing dilemmas facing modern yoga teachers and practitioners. Pulling from very real life experiences, their stories explore the paradoxes encountered when practicing the ancient art and science of yoga in contemporary America.

In the essay Coming Apart in Pune, Elizabeth Kadetsky shares her Self-destructive and enlightening experience studying yoga in Pune, India with the great master B.K.S. Iyengar. One of the most difficult and controversial dilemmas facing American yogis... sex. In The Meaning of Brahmacharya, Adrian M.S. Piper dives deep into this very personal account, questioning whether it is appropriate and/or necessary for a modern yogi to practice celibacy. And in one of my favorite essays, The Guru Question, Jeff Martens, provides thought provoking insight into the age old question, does one need a personal guru to progress on the spiritual path?

Each of the essays are unique, filled with personality and depth. They are humorous, sad, intriguing, brilliant, and ultimately, very inspiring. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in experiencing yoga beyond the asanas. Through their own courageous explorations, the authors helped me to examine my own personal yoga practice, and to come to know my self a little better. Blessings and happy reading!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lost in Love: An Evening With Krishna Das

While I was in Grass Valley I had the opportunity to go to a live kirtan concert with Krishna Das! It was an amazing night, so powerful and filled with love. There were probably a few hundred people from the local community, and it was so nice to be surrounded by such beautiful loving souls. KD was accompanied on stage by a lovely women on violin, an older man on the "buddha bass" plucking strings that "penetrate through illusion", and a young man on the tabla drums who was amazing! They said they were in Oregon a few days before and decided, hey let's go to India for a couple days. So they flew across the globe, hung out in India for a few days, and just got back to cali in time for the show! What a crazy life... they were pretty jet lagged all over, but still managed to lead an incredible kirtan.

The chanting has quickly becoming one of my favorite practices, it's a way to drop out of the mind, and sink deep into the heart. When we chant in the sacred sanskrit tongue, we are able to tune our consciousness into the ancient vibrations of the Infinite, as the language and words themselves have been spiritualized by the ancient rishis of India. The singing usually starts off slow then picks up real fast and slows back down toward the end. Some of the songs last up to 20 minutes! Sometimes my whole body starts vibrating and I feel really strong sensations around my nose and face, sending me into a deep meditative absorption. After the song ends, my heart melts into the silence, the stillness sends waves of peace through every fiber of being, everything stops......... you just drop in. It is a powerful practice of Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion, of pure love. We're singin love songs to the Divine Mother. Opening our hearts and allowing light to pour in - it is an incredibly healing practice that left me feelin so so high. Here's the words to one of my favorite chants:

Om Namoh Bhagavate Vaasudevaayaa

Ram Ram Seetaram Ram Ram Seetaram
Seetaram Seetaram Ram Ram Seetaram

KD has such an incredible presence, and I could feel strongly the presence of his guru Maharaji through him. He's also a great story teller and has a beautiful sense of humor, partly from his New York Jewish roots! Another Jew lost and found in the (far) East. There was a more serious story in particular which was so inspiring it set the mood for the rest of the evening. Some years ago, Krishna Das, Ram Das, (all the Das's!) and other westerners were at the ashram in India, when another westerner from Canada came on the scene. He arrived in hopes to learn about meditation. So he went up to Maharaji and asked him, "How do I meditate?" No one had ever seen Maharaji meditate before. He never gave formal teachings or lectures. He was always laying around, throwing food, smiling, loving, very playfully, just BE-ing. When the man asked him how to meditate, he responded, "Meditate like Christ meditates." And sent him to the back of the ashram with the rest of the westerners. "What did he say?" they asked. "Meditate like Christ." "Oh."....... "What the heck does that mean?" They went back and asked Maharaji, "How does Christ meditate?" He started to respond, then suddenly became silent, his eyes closed and he entered into a deep state. Everyone was blown away, they'd never seen him meditate. All of a sudden he started smiling and tears began to pour from his eyes. He returned and said, "Christ didn't die on the cross. He lost himself in love... He lost himself in love." Krishna Das asked us, "How can we do that? How can we love everyone so selflessly. How do we get lost in love?" The music began... as his question melted into my heart, it became a mantra for the rest of the evening. I was lost in love.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ananda Yoga Teacher Training

Blessings great souls,

I just returned from a month-long Yoga Teacher Training intensive at the Expanding Light, Ananda Village ashram in Nevada City. It was an incredibly powerful, empowering month of self-discovery, tuning deep into the sacred vibrations of Yoga. It was a wonderful experience to live and be a part of the beautiful spiritual community of Ananda, located on 800 acres of sacred land in the foothills of the Sierras. Ananda means Divine Bliss, and the community feels like a bliss bubble of heaven. The outside world seems to melt away, as the high vibrations seep into your consciousness. There are wild animals everywhere including deer, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, all kinds of colorful birds, and even black bears. Because of the yogic/vegetarian/ahimsa energy of the place, the deer are fearless of humans and come so close you can almost pet them!

The members of the community are all disciples of the great master Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi - and in just about every room, you'll find photos of all the great masters and saints, watching over the whole scene. It was really wild, many times I'd catch myself during class, daydreaming or thinking some impure thought, and I'd look up and see Paramahansa gazing at me with his Divine eyes, smiling lovingly, telling me, "I know. It's okay. It's all God. All part of the cosmic dance." It was a very humbling experience.

The training into Ananda Yoga was incredible throughout the month. The love and energy put forth by all the teachers and staff was inspiring, for they truly live the teachings of Yogananda, and are great yogis themselves. It was quite difficult at times however, because this style of Hatha Yoga is unique and different than my own personal practice prior to coming. The asana pratice moves at a much slower pace, holding each pose longer, enabling the practitioner to go "deeper" not necessarily stretching "further". The whole practice is aimed at preparing the body and mind for meditation, as is traditional in Raja or Patanjali Yoga. In fact, the asanas are seen as "meditation in action." As it is a level-1 200 hr training, we were learning how to teach yoga to beginners with little or no experience, how to teach to seniors, people with osteoporosis, high blood pressure, hip replacements, etc. We moved slowly through each pose, breaking down the components of the asanas so that we can modify them for any body. I am very thankful for the knowledge, however, it was challenging at times to stay in "Beginner's Mind"- I found myself craving more advanced poses, and we'd often sneak off after class to practice inversions...

Ananda Yoga can be summed up in 3 words "In and Up" - the whole practice focuses on bringing energy into the body, and directing it up the spine toward the brain. On a more subtle level, we are receiving prana/life-force and raising it up the sushumna central channel to our spiritual eye-center, the ajna chakra point between the eyebrows. In this way we are working to raise our consciousness, to move toward superconsciousness. When we can begin to tune into to the subtle energy flowing through our practice, then we can really go deep. One of my favorite classes of the month was a Chakra Asana practice led by Gyandev, the director of the program. We started at the root chakra, the muladara and worked our way all the way up to the crown, practicing asanas specific to awakening each energy center. It was a powerful experience, where I was able to touch deep into the subtle body, experiencing the swirling energy of the chakras fully for the first time within. Noting where energy flowed more fluidly, and where there were blockages. This subtle energy is working all the time, however, when we begin to consciously direct our awareness towards the centers, we can begin to really work with the energy flow, leading to powerful awakenings. It was very inspiring, and I'm excited to study chakras further and integrate them into my own practice and teaching.

The thoroughness of the training was excellent. We studied asanas, pranayama, chanting, philosophy, anatomy, diet, and much much more. I feel that I received an incredible foundational yoga training that will serve me greatly in whatever direction yoga takes me. However, the best part of the experience was the people, the teachers, the staff, the community, and mostly the other students in the group, the family - the tribe. Interestingly enough, I was the only male in the group, amongst 13 other women, which was an experience in and of it itself! I feel like I was also receiving a degree in Women's Studies as well as yoga training lol... But they all quickly became my soul mommas and sisters and the group came together really tight. So many laughs (thank you Meadow for your beautifully contagious laughter), many cries (we couldn't sit down for sharing circle without the kleenex making rounds as well), ups and downs - we all were there to support each other, and created such a safe space to learn and grow. Thank you all so much for your love and kindness, I miss you already. Jai guru!

The last week we split into four groups and did team teaching. We really got to put everything we learned into practice as we led two classes with our groups. It was an awesomegasana experience and so much fun to feed off each other as we flowed through the classes. The classes were open and free to all so we had some folks who were on personal retreat attend, which was a lot of fun - we got to modify a lot of asanas, bust out some chairs, and really get in there with the adjustments.

Before I knew it, the month was coming to a close. I am still in awe at how quickly the month flew by - Ananda is seriously on another plane... The last night we had a closing circle filled with lots of laughs and tears. I looked around the room at all these beautiful people I spent so much time with these past weeks, I could not believe I would not be seeing them every morning for sadhana. My heart was filled with an incredible sensation of blessedness. So thankful for the opportunity and time we all shared. Once again I was blown away at the thought of the ancient lineage of Indian masters, who's teachings and practices have been handed down over years, brought to life in this moment. This sacred current of Yoga, the thread still being weaved, the sutra we are all forming. All the teacher trainings around the country - we were brought HERE, right NOW. Breathe.
Thank you great souls. We performed a sacred Vedic ritual by chanting the Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya Mantras seven times over candle flame, followed by making an offering, writing a blessing/prayer and releasing it into the burning flame, the smoke sending our prayers into the universe.

Our final graduation ceremony was held in the beautiful Hansa Temple. It was a festive morning, after much anticipation, I couldn't believe we were here. The ceremony was very beautiful. Gyandev gave a talk on what makes a good yoga teacher. He reminded us that this is a service gig - we are carrying this light, this wisdom as a gift to share with others, to awaken and heal. What makes a good teacher is not necessarily knowing every asana mechanic or alignment, every benefit or modification, etc. That knowledge is all great, but... what really makes a great yogi is being able to tune to the great Masters, to Yogananda, attune yourself to the Infinite. Allow yourself to be an instrument through which to share the sacred practice of Yoga. His partner Diksha played the harmonium one last time as we chanted and sang, one by one sitting before the altar, praying before the masters, the great yogis, to guide our practice, to guide our teaching as we move through this life. We then walked up to the altar and received a powerful blessing from Gyandev, before receiving our certificates. It was such a beautiful scene, and I walked away feeling very high.

I am now back in Arcata, once again surrounded by the redwood rishis of the Northcoast. It's good to be home, transitioning back to waking life. However, I miss everyone so much. Ananda already feels like a dream, a beautiful bliss dream... I am so grateful for the time I spent there and the teachings I received. I am very excited to put this wisdom into action and start teaching yoga here in the community. Thank you all great souls! Jai guru jai!