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!