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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yoga East, Yoga West?

It has been my experience that the question "What is Yoga?" is answered in various ways, depending on the individuals experience and needs. While I tend to lean towards the Eastern philosophy of lifestyle and self-realization, many of my peers bend towards the Western experience of yoga as physical fitness. Is one a better approach than the other? This depends on what the person is looking for. Is one more complete than the other? My opinion is yes, but again, this is my experience, not every ones. We are all on our own path and each path is special and unique.

So what is this yoga thang? Yoga is the union of the mind, body and spirit. While asana (or the physical postures) is one of the eight limbs of yoga in the Sutras of Pantanjali, Yoga is not asana as is commonly thought in the West. In the West "yoga" and "asana" are used interchangeably. I also wonder if most yoga studios should be called "Asana Studios" rather than "Yoga Studios". As it seems very few offer lessons from ancient texts, history, chanting etc.., but rather focus more on a physical workout.

I am not writing this post to prove my belief system, but rather to encourage people to question what they know as Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali is the foundation of Yoga. The soul (pun intended) purpose of yoga is Yoga, not physical fitness.

In the West are we practicing yoga or are we mainly practicing asana? Asana aids us on the path to yoga, so it is important, but it is not the point.

The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali begins with threads 1.1-1.4, when combined is something along the lines of:

1.1 Atha Yoganusasanam
1.2 Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.
1.3 Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.
1.4 Vrtti Sarupyam Itaratra

1.1 "Now the practice of yoga begins".
To me, yoga is not something I do, it is something I practice daily. Do not ask your self, "Do I do yoga?" Ask yourself, "Do I practice yoga?"

1.2 "Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field". Ask yourself if you are aware of your thoughts and do you explore harnessing those thoughts if they do not serve the purposes of uniting mind, body, and spirit? Do you do this while practising asana only or is the something you strive for off the mat also?

1.3 "Then the seer rests in His true nature". We are all Knowers or Seers, not body nor mind. The truest YOU is always the same,but is confused or mixed up due to funky mind-stuff.

1.4 "At times the true Self assumes the form of the mind-field". If you detach yourself from all of your labels and possessions that you identify yourself with, you have the purest and truest you or "I". Yoga , when practiced in it's complete form aids us in self-control and constant self-adjustment in order to keep you from prescribing to false identifications of the self.

I was in a training recently where there topic of "yoga" as a workout and yoga as a way of life were equal. Is a teacher who prescribes more to the physical asana practice less than a teacher who studies to teach a more complete and Eastern influenced yoga class? I would say no, but I would ask if some teachers should call themselves asana teachers rather than yoga teachers. This is not a black or white issue, but it is true that asana alone is not yoga, but only one part of it. Asana does not offer the complete yoga experience. In the West if you can practice handstand you are considered an advanced yogi. I would say you are most likely advanced in your asana practice and I might even ask if you if you have a background in gymnastics because most likely the answer is yes. I introduce the notion that an advanced yogi is one who harnesses the mind and tries to maintain contact with the pure "I". I consider myself, after 15 years to be advanced in asana, but still a beginner in the "true" practice of yoga, but my goal is to at least reach intermediate status in my own spirit by the time I pass from this planet.

So, bluntly, I will argue that in the West we are mainly practicing asana, not yoga. This is simply my opinion and while I do believe this is not a complete practice, I respect that this is part of the path to yoga. I only hope that we do not confuse ourselves too much with the notion that we have "made it" in yoga because we are only starting in asana.

Namaste' and may you find your Sat Nam!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hugging Amma

On June 30th of this year Amma embraced me, just as she does every other Divine light who comes to her. I really have no words to describe the experience, although it reminded me of being back in India, the land where its people are raised to see the Divine in all. There freedom and acceptance when one is in the presence of people embracing this philosophy. No one is lower or higher or better or worse, instead we are all part of the whole.

Waiting in line I did not feel as if I would be meeting a celebrity, rather reconnecting with family member I had never met. As I knelt in front of her, waiting behind others on their knees, it amazed me to see so many people coming to her for healing,unconditional love, and the chance to feel at home in their own hearts. Some people broke down in tears and everyone smiled. Her hug was sweet, sincere and her unique and beautiful smell stayed with me the rest of the day. One of my yoga teachers stepped up and introduced me to Amma when it was my turn and for this Amma gave me an apple. Wasn't I the one who was to bring her an offering? Surely there are others more deserving of this apple. I kept the apple on my desk for awhile, not knowing if I should eat it or not. I ran a short pole and everyone said I should, so I did. It was the best apple I have ever consumed. This reminded me that every apple I eat, every food I eat should be seen as a gift, as there are so many who go without.

I did notice the feeling of floating outside of my body for several hours after we left Amma which did not fare well for driving in Dallas traffic and when I returned home I dove into even more research about Amma, wanting to know more about this woman who goes around the world embracing anyone and everyone she meets. I am a hugger, so I "get" the gift of what she is giving and for it I am grateful.

This Humanitarian is tops and the light shining from her is truth, love, and warmth. I look forward to my next hug from Amma and while I would love to write something deep and profound explaining my experience, my only advice would be that it is something that one must experience to understand and that each experience is unique and special.

Hugging is such wonderful medicine and it is Free!

Om Namah Shivaya Ya'll!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

India, What a Trippy Trip!

It is an early Saturday morning at 2:30 a.m. and I am unable to sleep as I transition from (as my Mother so accurately described it) between two realities I now know. My children sleep soundly in their beds with Bendhi's on their heads (little red dots at the brow believed to enhance intuitive consciousness), my husband exhausted and sleeping so deeply as he recuperates from the 18 day gift of India he has so graciously given me, while one of my cats nuzzles my left leg for attention (at least my leg is smooth given I was able to shave in my nice, spacious, beautifully designed Western shower). I am unable to sleep as it is 2:00 P.M. on the other side of the world in India and my internal clock has not yet switched over completely. I suddenly feel inspired to write, so I honor my internal scribe, but first I try to replicate a cup of Indian Chai, but this does not fair so well, however this cup of tea is no less worthy of sipping. I resist the urge to play music as I usually do while I write, pretending I am at the top of the Himalayans in a cave with my computer in keyboard tapping silence (I accept that I will never be a true Saddhu/spiritual renunciant as I doubt any Guru would agree to the typing of a keyboard being conducive to my enlightenment). I am okay with this; I accept it, as this is the truth of the reality in which I was born. I am a Western living a life with a beautiful family, supportive friends, a job I love and all the comforts the material world has to offer. I will now attempt to travel back through the 18 days that has changed my life. I liken the change to the one that took place the moment I held my first child in my arms. I do not remember the person I was before I had my children and to visit India leaves me wondering who I was before I was so blessed with the experience of knowing India.
What I heard many times in India was the command," Come", "You like Chai?" and "5 minutes only" all with a slight wobble of the head. So, make a cup of tea, Come, read, 5 minutes only (Please keep in mind the Indian minute is much longer than ours in the West).

Since my return I have been asked by many people to describe my experience, and while I know what it is I want to share I do not feel I can truly express the profound and unique experience of India. I can say with confidence that the most beautiful and inspirational attraction of India are its people. I feel God placed me and my travel companion and fellow yoga teacher Bonnie in the most unique situations during our travels so we would experience India to its fullest depth. While I enjoyed the breath taking architecture of India's many temples and main attractions like The Taj Mahal, the fabulous Indian cuisine, and the comforting taste of India Chai tea, it is the people of India that I miss the most. There is a peaceful feeling among the people of India, a feeling of acceptance and Santosha (contentment) I can not describe, but being in this environment it becomes a part of you as well, it is as if India is hugging you at all times with the purest love and acceptance for who you are, no matter your differences or indiscretions. People wonder how the people of India can be how I describe considering the caste system, but the cast system has been in use for many years. The values of the caste system are held strongly and it has continued to keep a sense of order and peace among the people. This is their life and they all have their own place among each other and accept that it is the way to keep their homeland from disintegrating to chaos. Practices such as women, children, disabled, and the elderly begging on the street seem cold and inhuman to Westerners, but to them this is a way of life and the longer I was there the less it bothered me, but I did give when I felt God wanted me to. I heard stories of men and women working construction from 5 a.m. to 9-10:00 P.M. for the equivalent of 1 American dollar per day and I saw for myself people riding their bikes 1-2 two hours to work in the factories outside of New Delhi. I went to pick up a Sari I had made for Kiran and I do not think the boy who made it was anymore than 13 years old. As our friend and driver told us," It is a hard life, but it is what they must do." In India, there are no masks; it is truly a country of what you see is what you get. At one point we were at a road block and we had top pay to get by, so I asked Praveen what that was all about and he said," They are taking money illegally." I asked why e could not just drive through and he responded," They would destroy my car." "What about the police?" I asked. He said," they are all into it together. So, no matter what walk of life they have been born into, it is simply the way it is. It all seems like a sort of peaceful disorder to me and no matter how shocking things seemed when I heard them I found that in the end there is something refreshing about it. If I had to mention one thing I miss the most is how much people sing in India. Someone was always singing!!! There was a child-like quality about all those I met.
This seems the appropriate time to transition to telling you of the people I came to know and love. Praveen picked us up at the New Delhi airport when we came in, made sure we settled comfortable in our hotel, got us off safely to Rishikesh and picked us up again when we came back to New Delhi, spending 3 days with us, so you can imagine how much we were able to learn from one another. Praveen has the most beautiful smile, gracious spirit, and most amazing family. I feel like I have an adopted family in India and I know for a fact Bonnie and I were his favorite tourists ever! He asked us many questions about how and why we do certain things the way we do in the U.S. and we asked him the same about his country. He also told us that Americans are very welcomed in India and I experienced this fully when at 4 different times families asked to have their picture taken with me. I felt like a movie star, only dirtier considering I could never quite shave fully or get the soap completely out of my hair when taking my Indian bucket baths. In any case we told him the day he chooses to come to America we will pick him up and take care of him as he did for us. I also met another man on the train ride from Rishikesh to New Delhi, an Engineer who once spent a month in Rishikesh living in an Ashram. He had some hard times in his life and wanted to become a renunciant and only worship God for the rest of his days, but the Guru told him it was not to be his path. I found people told us personal stories with no problem at all; again, what you see is what you get. What freedom! In any case, I asked this man if everyone in India was so hospitable, kind, and open? He told me," In our country we believe that when you enter our home you are to treat people as good as you would treat God and we see the Divine within everyone." This is a lesson I heard taught over and over again in India. No judgment.
I also found that people never forgot your face and if they really liked you they would offer you Chai. How often have you heard," Come. Sit. Talk and have Chai please."? I experienced this many times during my journey. We also made friends with two Babas and they took us on an adventurous hike up to a beautiful waterfall. This is the place the babas go to meditate; sometimes they sleep and cook-out there. It was like a little paradise and it was a welcomed chance to relax after trying to keep with the babas. (They are very fast). One of the babas practiced yoga postures (amazing!!!!) and then the babas took showers. They wanted us to, but we didn't. After sharing some oranges and bananas we headed to the ashram where the Beatles stayed. It has been abandoned, but is still very beautiful. We are lucky we were able to get in through a back opening since it is locked and shut to the public. Bonnie and I agree that this day was the icing on the cake. At the end of the day we both got baba names. One of the babas (who is very happy, always singing and telling us to watch out for the elephant "toilets" played his wooden flute and sang for us almost the entire time). We asked them questions about baba life and both have been on the streets since they were 12 and 14. Happy baba is 32 and my guru Suryagaribaba who named me is 24. Although we can not fully comprehend their choice of life, it is a very happy and peaceful one for them and they all take care of each other. Happy Baba was trying to convince me to have a baba life here when my kids were grown, but I told him I did not think Guru Dirk would support that idea too much. We also had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world during The International Yoga Festival which consisted of 7 days of our travel experience. There were people at the Yoga Festival from 34 different countries, so every meal we meet new people. Our favorites came from Italy, South Carolina, and even one from Dallas! I came home with a handful of email addresses.
The yoga training was phenomenal; I can't explain in few words all I learned. With my current background in yoga I am taking all of this in even more and all the pieces came together on a whole new level. Kundalini Yoga was my favorite! It was affirmed what I already knew to be true and that is that Yoga is not about Asana (posture) practice, but a way of life. We saw this in India. It has always been my hope to help my students see the benefits of yoga on the deepest level and now I will no longer water down what I know needs to be taught. There is a saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will come. It is my belief that people who are ready will find me.
There are many adventures to be had in India, so now I will explain just a couple.
Driving in India is a new kind of adventure. Driving in India is a free-for all, drive at your own risk endeavor lacking any order whatsoever. I could make out white lines indicating there were supposed to be lanes, but no one saw these lanes but me and Bonnie (at one point I looked over at Bonnie and she was doing the whole Catholic thingy across her chest and she is not even Catholic). There were also speed limits, but again these were invisible to everyone except the two Americans. We shared lanes with buses, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, cows, dogs, monkey's, and people who walked across the craziness in amazing calmness. We would find out from Praveen towards the end of our trip that had someone hit him or he hit someone else, even if it was not his fault he would be dragged out of the car and killed. I had read this in the book Shantaram, but to hear it from the mouth of one of the sweetest men I had come to know it was even more disturbing. I quickly asked," Would they kill us too????" He laughed and said," No, it is no problem, you are safe." He would later jokingly ask if I would like to drive and I told him I would like to live a longer life thank you very much.
One of our favorite days was the day we went river rafting on the Ganga. We were picked up by our driver on a Motorcycle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh. My. Gosh that was some scary fun. At one point Bonnie said," I promise I will help Dirk raise the kids." No safety measures were taken, just get on and hope you don't fall off......3 of us on one bike. He dropped off to go river rafting. Bonnie and I were on a raft with 7 young men, so we thought we were going to get taken care of. Hells no! The boys on the trip were some MBA graduates and sissy-pants. Bonnie and I found ourselves doing almost all of the work. We sang songs and they asked to hear an English song. The only one I could think of was Ann Murray's "Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in-love with ya honey.............." I wondered later why that was the only song that came to mind and I think it is because so many people ain't got money here. In any case, that song was older than all of the boys, but they seemed to enjoy laughing at me. We did stop half way to play volleyball which nobody was good at and since we had sand all over we all got in the Ganga. They said," You are a yoga teacher, you can do it!" I placed me hand at my heart, closed my eyes, went under and was blessed by Mother Ganga. It was freakin cold!
That evening, after out last Aarti ceremony, we went to see the Guru of our Ashram. I asked how I could raise my children to be compassionate and aware of how blessed they are in this life. He told me children follow the dance of the mother and they are always watching, so I must always remember this. I thanked him for this life-changing time I have had and almost cried at the thought of not being back for awhile. I really feel at home there and it is my dream to take Dirk and the kids there soon. After being around many orphans during the course of my trip, I feel even stronger about teaching my children well. I, Taragaribaba (my baba name) have a lot of work to do.
If you are still reading this I have to end by saying that I wish everyone the peace I have felt since experiencing the wonderment of India for the first time. Maybe you too will travel to India or maybe you will just set yourself free here in America. Free of judgment of yourself and others, free of the race for material possessions, free of all which no longer serves you. It is my hope that you will set your voice free and sing from the depth of your soul. I don't believe we need to move to India to become this way as it is already there, we only need to bring it to the surface.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Samarpan Ya'll

Since I was a wee little girl I have expressed myself through drawing & writing. I started out drawing on walls and such, then began keeping a diary in 1st grade which lasted through collage and especially during my divorce at age 25, kept pregnancy journals for both of my children, and at the birth of my 1st child in 2001 I joined an on-line writing community. When I began teaching yoga I kept a teaching journal expressing the trials and tribulations of doing something I never thought I could. I stopped writing a journal a few years ago and began writing yoga class plans instead and reading everything yoga related I could get my hands on. The more I learned, the more I realized I did not know. The path to self-realization became such an obsession that I completely forgot the I AM of myself. Sat Nam!

I decided that the only way to get back to the I AM of myself was to start a journal and refrain from writing anything regarding yoga. I named my first Blog, I AM and the first entry was titled Labelasana. It was all about the labels we place on others, ourselves, and our attachment to them. I noticed that, while I wanted to refrain from yoga-speak, the first entry was, in fact asanad. Hmmm......

I manged to write 3 more entries without yoga language, but with the help of a mojito or 3. Then I over-dosed on Mojitos at a party one night and well, my entries ceased. I just sat there week after week looking at the little hand smudged computer screen not knowing what to do. I kept wanting to wipe clean the monitor and write about yoga.

So, here I am. I still have not wiped clean my children's hand prints, but have decided everything is yoga to me. All of life is yoga: the trees, food, my family, my is all yoga to me.

Samarpan is Sanskrit for surrender. So, I samarpan to the fact that, I am, in fact, going to write a yoga blog. :)