narcissus flower

Flowers for my teacher

I am subbing for my teachers more frequently. They are regularly traveling to China to do yoga teacher trainings, and are now doing their own teacher training in La Mesa, Calif. When they travel, I try to help them out as much I can. This nice thing about the Iyengar community at my studio is that we all “grew up together” since the studio began the mid 2000s. Many of us recognize each other on the street on a first name basis. So when I sub, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel about who I am and what I’m doing there.

On a night last week, one of the Intermediate students brought a large bunch of Narcisssus flowers to my teacher for Chinese New Year’s which is a big deal in Hawai’i. I suppose he didn’t get the memo that she was traveling. He looked sad and said that the flowers would surely die if not attended to properly. He said they are finicky and the water needs to be changed daily. And they prefer cold water.

When one subs, one has to take on all the studio’s responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. So I did what any other good sub would do and take the flowers home to take care of them until my teacher for whom they were attended returns. I also recruited my mother-in-law help me. She had a stroke back in her 50s, but loves flowers. And these are beautiful from the daffodil family, they seem to brighten her day a bit. They also have a delicate and fresh fragrance.

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So hopefully I don’t destroy these flowers before she gets back week. Yoga subbing is the labor of love…

 

 

black hole

The concept of “absorption” in Yoga

oḿ ity ekākṣaraḿ brahma
vyāharan mām anusmaran
yaḥ prayāti tyajan dehaḿ
sa yāti paramāḿ gatim (Bhagavad Gita 8.13)

I have a student who is a retired chemistry professor. He also knows a great deal about science in general. One day after class he told me that when you look at the night sky, the stars you see are the light emitted tens of thousands of years ago, and the nanosecond the light hits your eye, it “absorbs” into you. The light becomes you.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I do a great deal of counseling in my profession. I talk to people who have severe depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems. Often times, I am the last person they want to talk to and treat me accordingly. I often hear angry words directed at me. I absorb their angry words.

In recorded talks from Prashant Iyengar, he outlines the basic foundations of Laya and Nada yogas, or the yoga of absorption and the yoga of sound. He relays a major tenet in Vedantic thought, that the universe began with OM, and that the universe will dissolve in OM.

In the talks he says that feelings and emotions can be absorbed in mind, then the mind can be absorbed in Prana, and Prana can be absorbed in Laya. In Nada Yoga, mantras are used to create a vibrational field around the seer which will eventually dissolve in OM.

He talks about the chakras, or energy centers of the body. He says the animalistic tendencies can be absorbed in the Muladhara (root chakra). The ego can be absorbed in the Svadisthana (sacral chakra). The passions and fires of lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride can be absorbed in the Manipuraka (gastric chakra). The sorrows can be absorbed in the Anahata (heart chakra). The bad thoughts and speech and be absorbed in the Vishudda (Throat chakra). And finally, the Ajna (third eye) absorbs OM and dissolves the mind.

As I am maturing in my practice, I am starting to see the value in this concept of absorption. Yoga gives us an opportunity to filter out all the unpleasantries of daily life through our practice. We absorb them, and then dissolve them.

How does this apply to the lay practitioner who only does asanas? My feeling lately is that Yoga is sneaky. While you think you are only doing Asanas, all the other systems are getting worked as well outside of your consciousness.

For example, Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) has a large influence around the Vishudda chakra. The throat region. How are we to know that in addition to the physical benefits of the pose, all of our bad thoughts are getting filtered out through this chakra? The same thing can be said about animalistic tendencies being filtered through standing poses.

Think about how you feel after back bends. You feel charged and sorrowless. Ustrasana, or camel pose expands and lifts your Anahata, or heart region…the region which filters out the sorrows.

And lastly, Savasana, which is said to correspond with akasha or space, makes one feel restored and fresh. It comes at the end our asana practice and absorbs all the practice.

As BKS Iyengar taught, all of the yogic philosophy can be transmitted through asana practice. It is our job as practitioners to be aware of it.

Translation of the above verse:

After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality and quits his body, he will certainly reach the highest spiritual plane.

 

Slack-line

Why I don’t attend Wanderlust

Every February, The Wanderlust Festival comes to O’ahu. I get loads of ads for this event on my Facebook feed, with all the annoying commentary like “Last year was AMAZING!!! (emoji, emoji, emoji).” Some people even write me on my blog asking which events I will be attending at the festival, and are shocked when I tell them I wouldn’t be caught dead at ANY of this event.

To me, Wanderlust is very much like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Coachella) of modern music. When Coachella first started, it was a cool idea. All the unknown indie bands were given proper stage time and it brought about a burgeoning hip early 2000s music scene. Once commercial interests got involved it all went to pot. This year’s headliner: Guns n’ Roses. Far from Indie or original or hip.

In very much the same way, the early yoga festivals were more a venue for “indie” yoga teachers to show their craft. In 2000, Shandor Remete who was one of Iyengar’s students and subsequently designed his own style called “Shadow Yoga” was at the Southwest Yoga Conference. One blogger wrote then:

People tend to have a strong reaction to the unconventional teaching style of Shandor Remete. Take last year’s Southwest Yoga Conference. Some of his devotees signed up for every single one of his classes. Many who hadn’t registered tried to sneak in, causing the organizers to post a guard outside his door.

Others took one class with Shandor-who’s been known to have students stand on their tiptoes for as long as 30 minutes in order to cultivate Uddiyana Bandha-and didn’t come back.

Modern festivals lack this sort of essence now. All we see are Yoga groupies who are more into the trappings of the “yoga scene” instead of the actual yoga. It’s all about the selfies from O’ahu’s famous North Shore. The sponsors and promoters are like the “big tobacco” of the Yoga world: Yoga Alliance, Yoga Journal, DoTerra, Lululemon and Wanderlust peddling endless 200 hour teacher trainings to those who have been doing yoga for a month.

With events like “The One, One Arm Handstands and Mono Limb Acrobatics,” I reflect that this has now become circus training, and not so much Yoga. Patanjali is nowhere in the “lineup.” “Kirtronics” is the closest thing to a good old fashioned Kirtan. And of course there are plenty of DJs and rock bands to ensure that no Pratyahara will be had by anyone.

On another note, my hometown of Kailua is where many of these attendees stay in illegally operated bed and breakfasts. Many have little regard for the community and clog the roadways in the beaches. Every time I see a selfie in front of the Mokalua Islands off Kailua Beach, or from the Pillboxes atop Lanikai, I get viscerally ill. Most Lanikai residents can’t get out of their neighborhood because of traffic congestion from these folks.

There was a recent episode of South Park where Kenny’s hometown gets gentrified and rebranded as Sodosopa where annoying out of towners overtake his neighborhood and put up a Whole Foods. That exact phenomenon is happening in Kailua, and with the rest of the Yoga World. So no, I will not be going to Wanderlust!

 

 

 

Patanjali

Starting the new year under the weather, and with Patanjali

Some of my greatest years have started under less than ideal conditions. 2016 is set to be stellar as I am stuck in bed with a Z-Pack (antibiotics) from a lingering cough that turned into an infection. That being said, I am grateful for all that Yoga has to offer that isn’t asana or pranyama related.

I am able to catch up on some of my readings in the Sutras and other Iyengar works. I also received my quarterly issue of Yoga Rahasya from India. It is a beautiful edition that features Patanjali and the Sutras.

Many times in my practice I have reflected on the Sutras. At first, it seemed like they had nothing to do with my actual asana practice. Now the more I read them and the more I read how Iyengar used them, the more it seems that there is nothing outside my life that isn’t somehow connected to them.

They are considered Yoga Shastra, or a fundamental yoga teaching. They are in many ways a theorem of truth that has been proved and tempered by time. They are estimated to have been written around 400 CE, which is slightly younger than the New Testament. However, they are a compilation of practices that go several millenia before.

There are many different translations in English. It is interesting to see the differences between actual yoga practitioners and scholars. Iyengar’s translation has a “bhakti” feel to them as he was quite devoted. “Rub yourself with each word through work and practice. Rubbing means to experience,” Iyengar writes.

This is an interesting side by side comparison of the Sutras I have found online. This does not include Iyengar’s translation, but does have other “heavy hitters” of the Yoga Sutras like Satchidanada and Edwin Bryant.

I am hardly a Sanskrit scholar, and I am not adept at what the Sutras ask of me to still my mind. But the main thing is that I practice every day. Even if I can’t do Asana or Pranayama because I have a cold, I can at least have a text to read which fills me with ideas on how to proceed in my practice in daily life.

Many blessings!

 

sri yantra

My wish for Yoga in 2016

It has certainly been an interesting year in the yoga world. We have seen an unprecedented rise in the selfie craze, commercialized yoga websites, and disturbing trends of mixing alcohol with yoga practice.

In all this craziness, some good has come out of it. There are more people than ever practicing some form of yoga and the practice has been absorbed into mainstream Western culture. And there is more access to yoga information now than in any other time in history. You can simply find and read the main yogic texts online from where you are sitting without paying a dime.

That is both good and bad. Because information is now so readily available, we tend to assign less value to it. There used to be a time when knowledge and information was something you had to work hard to get. The trick was that when the information was obtained, the actual information did not matter as much as the process to get it. It is one thing to gloss over the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, but another to commit them to memory in Sanskrit.

One of the authors I “grew up” with in my spiritual path was Carlos Casteneda. He has since drawn much criticism about being a sham. However, in my opinion his writings reflect the true hardships of what is needed to attain spiritual knowledge. He says:

A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it.
Read more at http://www.quoteoasis.com/authors/c/carlos_castaneda_quotes_2.html#5QdDoVc6cbGrXrAC.99
and..
Nothing in this world is a gift. Whatever must be learned must be learned the hard way.
Read more at http://www.quoteoasis.com/authors/c/carlos_castaneda_quotes_2.html#5QdDoVc6cbGrXrAC.99
We are now in an era where one can be a yoga teacher less than a year after walking into a studio with no experience. Old teachings are being devalued in this information age. “Learning the hard way” is now becoming outdated in this time where everyone gets a medal for participating, and people are quick to take offense. There is even a movement to devalue yoga as “modern and postural” from people who don’t even practice.
So my wish for Yoga in 2016 is for people to simplify their practice. Go back to the old texts and re-read them. Study with teachers with over 10 years of experience. Relearn the poses in the front of the book, and don’t be in too much a rush to do the fancy ones.  Don’t get caught up into the social-mediaization of yoga. And most importantly, remember Yoga is a deeply internal practice…a practice designed to destroy the ego, not bolster it.
Many blessings in 2016!

Thank you for your readership in 2015

May you have a happy new year. Looking forward to posting more in 2016!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 94,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Google Iyengar

Google to recognize Iyengar on his 97th birthday

I ran across this on my feed today. Google made a special “doodle” to honor Guruji who would have turned 97 tomorrow. Google is asking for those who knew him to comment on Youtube.

This is a special time of year for the Iyengar community, with Geeta Iyengar finishing up the second Yoganushasanam which began on her birthday, and just finishing the event right before Guruji’s birthday. The Iyengar community still has much to celebrate as the teachings continue to thrive and take thousands of practitioners worldwide deeper into their true selves through this uncompromising practice. Although Guruji has passed, his teaching remain alive through his family, certified teachers, and his writings.

Happy birthday Guruji, may your vision be realized!