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A vacation back to my hometown: a photo essay

I took a trip back to my hometown of Albuquerque for vacation this year. I wanted to see my father who has had some health problems in the past few years and my 89 year old Grandmother. It was a bit of a bittersweet trip as my mom who has lived in Hawai’i for 22 years decided to move back to New Mexico recently and was along to search for a new house.

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This is my brother David and his wife Von. Von doesn’t like pictures, but I thought this was an adorable picture of them. My brother is a loving husband and a hard worker.

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One of the charms of Albuquerque this time of year is that hot air balloons festoon the skies preping for the balloon fiesta in early October. I remember as a child one of these landed in our school yard and they let us all out to see. This was taken from my brother’s front door.

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What New Mexico lacks in greenery, it more than makes up for in other colors. Here is the red cliff in the Jemez Pueblo, an Indian (Native American) reservation an hour north of Albuquerque.

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No trip to Jemez in complete without Indian fry bread. With a little honey this will put any doughnut to shame. Being fried in pure lard may have something to do with it.

img_1148Jemez Springs is quintessential New Mexico in my opinion. You can see the Spanish Mission influences in the architecture, the cobalt blue skies, and red clay mountains. This is where I spent some special moments in my youth fishing and camping with my parents.

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Green chile is a New Mexico staple. Every fall these are roasted in metal drums and the aroma is earthy and otherworldly. I remember in college me and two roommates ate a half a trash bag full of these one afternoon. We suffered, but it was worth it.

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This is my dad making enchiladas. In New Mexico, they are stacked with an over easy egg and red chile smothered on top. Red chile is made by drying the above green chiles on “ristras” or hanging chiles which have a dual decoration and culinary usage.

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Next day we went shopping in Old Town Albuquerque. Here Native Americans sell there beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry as they have done for years. There is actually a “Romero” street (my last name). Romero is a family name traced back to the Spanish conquistadors in New Mexico 400 years ago.

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Here is my mom in an Old Town cafe. Again the colors…

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This mercado sells Mexican blankets for a very low price. As well as aisles of colorful pots and other goodies.

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These will make a great addition to my yoga props for my students….

 

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Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.

http://advaita.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf

 

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Jupiter’s South Pole…the great mandala

This image just came back from the NASA satellite Juno launched in 2011 to explore Jupiter. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Jupiter from the Voyager missions. It is such a turbulent planet with a toxic gaseous atmosphere and a great storm with winds up to 400 miles per hour. Jupiter’s beauty lies in its turbulence.

It also has many moons among which is Io, a volcanic moon which is a pure firework spouting sulfur hundreds of kilometers into space. That makes it visible from Earth, as Galileo discovered it in the 1600s from the crude astronomical instruments at the time.

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I am part of a Hubble Image discussion group on Facebook on which there are serious astronomers. I am just there because I like to see the images from the universe. One scientist in the group commented that he does not like people referencing the spiritual or God when commenting on these images. To me, one can simultaneously be scientifically minded and still view the wonders of the universe as spiritual experience. In fact one who can’t do both is quite limited in my opinion.

As one gets into their yoga practice for several years, one starts to see that they are not separate from anything. The Upanisads say that Brahman is everywhere in the universe. When I see these images, I feel a deep connection, as though I am a part of them in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. The galaxy is full of wonder. Not only with its contents, but with its sheer vastness. The opening mantra of the Isa Upanishad talks about how all is infinite and perfect, and that we are very much a part of that infinity and perfection.

Carl Jung theorized about the archetypes, or images that recur throughout all of humanity. One he was particularly fascinated with was the mandala. One can see forms of mandalas in all religions. From the stained glass at in the Chartres Cathedral, to the dancing pattern in Sufi’s whirling dervishes, to Tibetan sand forms. When one sees the underside of Jupiter, one sees all of these and more.

Each ring in the photograph represents a different “belt” of clouds. Very much like the Earth’s tropics above and below the equator, these belts represent a different direction in which the weather patterns move. When we do twisting asanas like parivrtta trikonasana, our bodies take on this very same phenomenon with different fluids and gases of the body moving in spiraling patterns. When we do pranayama, the air enters our system and heats up immediately. This causes “storms” in our different bodily region and regulates our prana. When done correctly, the weather in our body is harmonious. When done improperly, like Jupiter, our nervous system becomes turbulent. We are not different than the universe. The universe is not different from us.

 

 

 

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…2 years later

Saturday marks the the second anniversary of Guruji’s passing. I think he would be happy to see that his community of teachers and students continues to grow. As it is now assessment season, we can expect at least another 100-plus Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) by year’s end in the US, and perhaps another thousand or so worldwide. Considering we are a planet of  7.5 billion humans, the number of CIYTs is exponentially small in comparison. However, we have to see how many lives each of these CIYTs touch to  give these numbers more power.

In the yoga world, there are very few who have not at least heard of Iyengar’s name. He has had such a large influence on the yoga world, that even those who practice other systems have to give some acknowledgment to his contributions in the systemization of  asanas and the way they are taught.

One year ago during Birjoo Mehta’s workshop in San Diego, he said that as a teacher he should not “parrot” Guruji’s words, but to rather convey the “essence” of his teachings.

I may be talking about what he is giving me through the guru tattwa which where the books of his, which where teachings of his, what he said in lectures would only serve to confirm to what I have to say, what I have to feel, but it is not something he said.

As a CIYT, I can understand this sentiment. I could easily sit in front of my class with a copy of Light On Yoga and teach straight from the text. But that would be mechanical and boring for the students. Instead, he has taught “how” to teach by observing to who is standing in front of you. That requires tremendously more effort and creativity than reading from a script. It also gives one the discernment on what to teach and more importantly what not to teach.

I think he wanted us all to learn to see our students deeper than they themselves can perceive. A lazy knee in tadasana is telling on many other factors that the student may not be aware. Once you bring that awareness to the student, many other changes happen as a result. Seeing Guruji’s tapes and videos, I have seen him bring this type of awareness to his students again and again and again.

Even his photographs on Light On Yoga has enormous teachings which are not written. During my teacher trainings, my mentoring teachers, colleagues and I pour over pictures of a certain pose we are studying and always learn one more facet of the pose through that experience. The text is just basic. But through his system we have learned how to “see” a pose even from a photograph on a very deep level.

What he have given the world is a miracle. He resurrected yoga as an old and antiquated practice, to something that has tremendous healing force for the world in its current state. There is study after study about the effects of Iyengar yoga on health and each study confirms the sophistication of this system as a legitimate healing modality.

In a newspaper interview earlier this year, Prashant Iyengar said about his father’s teachings that “he left a legacy and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt.”

So it is our duty as CIYT’s to carry his legacy forward by teaching the “essence” of what he has taught us. Even if we have never met him, we continue to be taught by him what has been passed through his senior teaches, his books, videos, and lectures.

May your light continue to shine on yoga and all of humanity, dear Guruji. You are indeed missed by all.

(photo credit: Penney Sing)

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A standing pose sequence if you have minimal props

If we want to do more yoga outside the studio, it is best to be practical. I like to integrate yoga into my work day, and therefore keep a few props at my desk at work. For this sequence, all you need are a mat, a block and a strap…

 

1 Tadasana

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2 Urdvha Hastasana

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3 Urdvha Baddanguliyasana

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4 Gomukhasana Arms (use strap if you can touch hands)

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5 Utthita Trikonasana (illustration Lior Hikrey)

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6 Utthita Parsvakonasana (use block if needed)

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7 Ardha Chandrasana (use block if needed)

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8 Prasarita Padottanasana (use block under head if can’t reach the floor)

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9 Salamba Sirsasana (omit if mensturating, high blood pressure, or eye problems)

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10 Dandasana

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11 Upavistha Konasana

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12 Baddha Konasana (use strap around feet if you can’t reach them)

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13 Setu Bandha (bend knees, feet on floor if only one block)

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14 Savasana

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Enjoy your practice!

 

 

 

 

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Carl Rogers: transmitting shakti

When I was getting my masters in counseling psychology, we had to study all the great personality theorists: Sigumud Freud, Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, Karen Horney, and Albert Ellis just to name a few. But the one theorist I have gravitated toward and still utilize to this day is Carl Rogers.

Rogers was in psychology during an interesting time. It was all “behavioral” psychology of B.F. Skinner et al. Every thing had to be “observed” and proven very much like it is in a scientific study. That works well for some things. Namely stopping an identifiable problem like smoking cigarettes or gambling too much. However, I have found it doesn’t work well for human beings in their natural state. We are very nuanced and complex creatures.

Rogers was pretty much outcasted from the psychology community at the time because his theory was simply to “listen and reflect” (with a few conditions). His feelings had to match his actions with his client (congruence), he had to have unconditional positive regard for his client, and he had to have tremendous empathy. That trilogy of factors create the conditions for self actualization according to Rogers.

As you can see in this video of a therapy session back in the 1960s. A nervous client is uncomfortable at first. After only a few minutes, she is completely calm. Note how Rogers beautifully and deeply listens and reflects her feelings. He wonderfully demonstrates the effectiveness of his theory here.

Another thing about this session is that the client (Gloria) desperately wants Rogers to give her a hard sure fire “answer.” He just reflects back to her that she needs to accept herself in her natural state. That ultimately is the “answer” although unsatisfactory to the client who isn’t ready to hear that truth yet.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the teachings or Ramana Maharshi who had a very similar technique. Maharshi barely said anything to his devotees. I would simply gaze at them and somehow their dilemmas of self concept would evaporate. His gaze was full of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence between his inner feelings and outward appearance.

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Both are examples of transmitting shakti. Shakti is not definable in words, but it can be described. There is a electrical quality about it, but a soft electrical quality unlike the property of true electricity. It is subtler and more refined. Some translate it as “magic” but that has a gimmicky and subtly “Western” bent to the definition that brings up thoughts of “good and bad.” Shakti is said to have a primarily “feminine” component, but is only at full potency when it corresponds with the “masculine” component. One beautiful definition of hathayoga from Srivatsa Ramaswami, one of Krishnamacharya’s students, is the merging with the Shiva (masculine) with the Shakti (feminine). To fully understand the concept, don’t look at the definition, but look at the result.

One of Maharshi’s students, Poonjaji (Papaji), is seen here transmitting shakti to a disciple in a brief transaction.  If you look through Papaji’s videos, you see this many times. He is talking directly to the disciple and appears to be uttering nonsense, then suddenly the disciple makes a dramatic shift in emotion and breaks down with a combination of laughter and tears. There is always a tremendous sense of relief on their faces. Scholar David Godman has a brief piece about his teachings here.

This realization has tremendous healing and self actualizing power. I often refer back to Bill W. (Co-author of Alcoholics Anonymous) who describes an experience of powerful shakti that not only cured his alcoholism, but showed the blueprint to help all others in stopping drinking. He had the realization when he was locked up in a hospital after a major drinking spell:

My depression deepened unbearably and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the bottom of the pit …. All at once I found myself crying out, “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!”

Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, “So this is the God the preachers!” A great peace stole over me and I thought, “No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still all right. Things are all right with God and His world.”

Bill W. never drank again…

 

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Farewell T.K.V. Desikachar

TKV Desikachar, the son of legendary T. Krishnamacharya, died today at the age of 78. He is one of the last students from the direct Krishanmacharya lineage, nephew of B.K.S. Iyengar, and founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India.

One of his seminal books, The Heart of Yoga, is found in many teacher training programs. One of the best quotes from that book is “The success of Yoga does not lie in our ability to perform postures, but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”

Desikachar had been suffering from dementia for the past few years and his condition has been largely kept silent by his family. One of Desikachar’s students, Leslie Kaminoff wrote a statement about his condition two years ago in Elephant Journal:

“I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.”

The yoga world has had yet another loss today from a long time teacher of another era who has devoted his life to teaching. Many blessings to TKV Desikachar and his surviving family.