Friday, June 26, 2009


The body and mind were pulled out of their lethargic slump on Tuesday.

During Mysore class I noticed something new on top of the stereo: a homemade-looking CD with "Amy and the Ananda Bliss Tribe" scrawled on it in marker.

After class, the body felt too tired to practice. The mind was dull. The spirit was buried somewhere below.

So I lingered outside with the students.

Finally I went into the studio.

I put on the CD.

And suddenly the body and mind were charged.

As kirtan wallah Amy and her group sang, it was like all of the debris and exhaustion were cleared away.

The spirit soared.

The spine tingled.

Going thru the sun salutations and listening to Amy, et. al sing about Lord Shiva, Jai Ma and Govinda, I felt like a nine-year-old (only much happier),

Amy is a bhakti yogi, and all the love and devotion she put into the CD come out when you listen to it.

I can't wait til it's finally released.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Brown Dog Lady and I visited the local Krishna temple on Sunday.

First, we put on saris at my house. Well, BDL did the wrapping. She really knows what she's doing.

It was my first time at the temple apart from some trips in the late 1980s to Govinda's, their now-shuttered restaurant.

The minute we walked in, we could hear the chanting.

BDL knew the ropes. After dropping off our shoes, the first stop was the store - where I became enchanted with the conch shells. I've been wanting one for eons. The clerk told me there's a trick to blowing it. I couldn't figure it out, but decided to buy one anyway. But the charge wouldn't go through. "Another time," I said, handing the conch back to her.

Then we went into the temple, which is large and airy, and was once a Masonic Hall.

The only other temple I've spent much time at is at the Ramakrishna ashram in Mysore. There, the women sit on the left and the men on the right in quiet contemplation. You can hear a pin drop there, even though it's in India. The Ramakrishna ashram feels like home to me.

At the Krishna temple, the men are on the right and the women are on the left. No one is sitting. Everyone is clapping and singing to Lord Krishna and dancing. The air is filled with their happy devotional songs.

I was exhausted from one of the biggest teaching (19 classes) and social (many engagements) weeks in recent memory, so it was like a torture for me. Plus I'm an introvert. Sitting and going within feels natural. Singing and clapping requires a lot of energy.

Bhakti yoga tends to attract the more emotional personalities. Since I've been advised to channel my desires into chanting, I thought it would be good try the thing that is more difficult.

I tried.

The body and mind were sooooooooo tired.

But as the Gita says, What is poison in the beginning becomes nectar in the end. That is the definition of sattva.

I think this applies when one is fully awake.

After the singing ended, there was a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita. I enjoyed sitting still and looking at the colorful deities on the altar while I listened.

Later there was sattvic (no onions, garlic or heavy spices) food.

Little Miss Pitta Dosha loved that, too.

While eating I asked Shiva if he knew how to blow a conch. Of course he does.

So before we left he helped me choose one - and showed me how to use it.

It feels AWESOME to blow it.

(Not sure if the neighbors agree).

And BDL and I will be at the temple again next week, for another festival.

Well-rested of course.

Monday, June 22, 2009


On Friday we experienced one of the biggest, longest, most dramatic series of thunderstorms in recent memory.

It began at 3:30AM, came and went for most of the day, and ended after nightfall.

There was so much water coming out of the sky that it was like driving in a whiteout. Traffic on the expressways slowed to a crawl (except for the invincible few, usually in SUV's, who kept driving fast anyway).

Plus there was thunder and lightening. Lots of it. And very closeby.

Pets hid in closets and under beds.

Streets and basements flooded.

Traffic signals stopped working.

There were power outages.

During one of the final thunderstorms, around 7:30PM, there was so much wind the trees seemed to be bent horizontal. it looked like a hurricane was hitting us.

And the trees took it the hardest.

* * *

The next day it was 90 degrees and sunny. Soon, the air was thick with cloying, energy-sucking humidity.

Debris and downed trees were everywhere.

But everything smelled nice and clean.

Apparently summer is finally here.

(You know it is when you see the corner grocery store-cum-juice bar setting up to sell coconut water and fresh sugar cane juice right out on the street).

Friday, June 19, 2009


Last night Shiva and I drove down to Millennium Park to see Faiz Ali Faiz play a free concert at the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion.

It was 72 and sunny.

And it was Shiva's first time at Millennium Park.

The Pavilion is stunning to see, and acoustically perfect. It makes both the eyes and ears feel happy. (Not that we are here to indulge the senses).

We found second row center seats, where we were joined by Student M.

The concert was amazing, and again caused the crown of the head to vibrate. Shiva spent some of his formative years in Pakistan, when he would go to hear qawwali singers, and gave Faiz high marks. He told me how fans would throw so much money on the stage when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan played that when he stood up at the end it was like he was standing in the middle of a mountain of money.

Within two minutes, the man in front of us got up during a gap in a song, and threw a wad of money onto the stage.

Soon, everyone was doing it.

We were all transported by the music (Faiz and party were wearing shinier, more over-the-top outfits than Sunday night but played just as well).

Again they got a standing ovation after the song posted above.

We stuck around after they finished, and eventually the singers came out. I got to shake Faiz Ali Faiz's hand and tell him "Bodachai" (excellent) and "Sucria" (thank you... in Hindi).

Shiva says there probably won't be an informal meet-and-greet the next time Faiz comes to town; he's going to be big, big, big.

I asked him if he could find out how old the angelic young tablas player was (according to Bindi, you're not allowed to perform onstage until you've been playing for 12 years, and on Sunday we'd decided the boy was 16 and had started when he was four). Turns out he's 25. Then Shiva found how long he'd been playing; 15 years. He too is going to be a huge star.

Finally, the party left the stage and we went to use the loo. When we came out, we saw 3/8 of them (including the young prince of tablas) smoking cigarettes.

Next we visited The Bean, the giant reflective bean that's actually a piece of art by Anish Kapoor called Cloud Gate.

Then it was time to go wading and see the video installations that spew water. Delighted children splashed about here, there and everywhere. An Indian(?) family asked me to take my picture with them, since I was in full Indian dress (including bindi).

I wanted to show Shiva The Bridge to Nowhere, a ribbonlike stainless steel 925-foot Frank Gehry-designed pedestrian bridge that looks cool but doesn't seem to serve a functional purpose. The last time I'd been on it was in the winter of '05, after ice skating.

We ended up on the wrong pedestrian bridge. At the end was a stunning crystal-colored boxlike building that seemed to be made of glass.

It positively glowed, and seemed unreal - like something out of a futuristic fairy tale penned by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

After awhile. we realized it was the brand-new modern wing of the Art Institute.

And there were people inside!

I assumed it was some private party.

Nevertheless, we followed the bridge to its logical end, and kept going.

We went inside.

We had no idea where we were going.

We walked past the security guards. I kept waiting for them to stop us. They didn't.

We felt like we were getting away with something.

Somehow, we ended up in the ancient Indian and Persian art section.

The first thing we saw were ancient sculptures of Vishnu and his consort.

Then we saw Lord Shiva with a very small Parvati on his lap - a version I'd just read about in the Yoga Yajnavalkya.

We saw an ancient scroll, depicting different forms of Vishnu.

We also saw some Jain saints.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Afterwords we went to a garden area that Student M knew about, and put our feet in a long, narrow wading pool-cum-man-made creek. We made wishes and threw in some pennies. No one told us to stop, or asked us for money. It was like being in a parallel universe. Prakriti (the material world) felt like Purusha (God, bliss).

It was still 72 degrees, but dark and clear. The bandshell was lit up in a thousand colors. People were playing on the lawn. The air smelled of trees, flowers, cut grass and other fabulous things.

We swung our feet and talked about yoga, yoga, yoga, and grooved on the bliss caused by the concert.

And it was wonderful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Read an account of last Sunday's NYC Memorial for SKPJ here.

The writer missed one thing - that Dharma Mittra was also there (which is a huge comfort to me). According to Catesy, Dharma sat down with everyone else.... until Eddie Stern got him and led him to the VIP section.


Thanks to Catesy - whose head appears in the linked post's top photo - for the head's-up.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Bindi, The Colonel and I went to see qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz and his party tonight at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

It was the best show of the year.

And they're playing again Thursday at 6:30 at the famous Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. For free!

Faiz Ali Faiz and his party -- two harmonium players, two tablas players and three backup singers-cum-clappers -- were mesmerizing and mind-blowing. The music made the crown chakra tingle.

The last is because qawwali is Sufi devotional vocal music, wherein the singers go into a tracelike state as they sing the praises of God (anyone remember Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? The first time heard him I was, like, what IS this, and ran out to get it). Sufism is a mystical movement within Islam that seeks to find divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. Often listeners, and even artists themselves, are transported to a state of wajad, a trance-like state where they feel at one with God, generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism, and the ultimate goal of the practice. So the concert was like a type of bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) - which has the same goal.

The vocal range is not to be believed, and they get so engrossed it seems like they'll lose control. The harmonium and tablas players are some of the best in the world, and flew along right with them. If you've not seen someone jam out on a harmonium, you've been missing out.

It is so rare and wonderful to see so many world-class musicians making pure devotional music - and to see so many men (with great hair) literally singing their hearts out.

The audience couldn't help but get swept up in it too, clapping and singing along and raising one hand just before each chorus.

There were a couple of standing ovations, too.

For the record, Faiz is a seventh generation sufi singer from Pakistan, and this was his first trip to the US.

Thursday's free concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a rare opportunity to see him and his party in one of the most impressive and acoustically perfect outdoor music venues in the country.

And it's free. Free. FREE!

See you there!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


It is effing cold in Chicago.

It goes up to 70 at the most during the day.

Usually it only gets to the 60s, if that.

More often than not it's in the 50s when you wake up.

It goes down into the 40s at night.

It rains, like, all the time.

People are wearing layers.

The clever ones are calling it "June-uary."

They are saying things like, "It's not global warming, it's global weirding."

As someone who suffers in the heat - and whose car AC gave out last year, and who travels to India during monsoon in order to avoid the heat - I kind of like it.

Actually, I love it.

For now anyway.


Photo of paleta-wallah snapped out my window on a recent school day. It was 80 degrees. Muy calinete. By nightfall the temperature had dropped to 40. Pinche frio. No wonder the people here don't age well.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Last Thursday there was a free yoga teacher preview of the documentary Enlighten Up!, about a filmmaker named Kate Churchill who chooses a candidate - a charming but skeptical journalist Nick Rosen who's never done yoga - to take classes with a variety of yoga teachers until he becomes enlightened....or not.

They start with New York City teachers, including Cyndi Lee, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Alan Finger and of course Dharma Mittra - who says "God is everywhere," is incredibly attentive, and teaches him headstand.

Next they go to LA for Regular Guy Yoga, where the dristi (gaze) is on the "T&A" in the class.

After that they go to Hawaii to see Norman Allen, the first American to practice with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore back in the 1970s. Allen stayed for months, living with Guruji and his family, and got to know the practice inside and out. He's been teaching yoga in a remote area of Hawaii for eons, and doesn't tour or spend time promoting himself. He's there if you look for him, and comes across as the real thing. He also has the most subversive line in the film, telling young Nick to "Go f*ck yourself," which alone is worth the price of admission; I think it is his way of telling him to "Go within." (Read Guy Donahaye's riveting 1999 interview with Allen about the olden days in Mysore here).

Finally it's off to India, where they go to Mysore and see Pattabhi Jois, who talks about the four external limbs and four internal limbs of yoga, as well as practice, practice practice. Seeing him brought tears to the eyes. I still can't believe he has left his body.

Then they go north to Pune to see Mr. Iyengar, who said he did postures for over two decades before finding the spirituality in the practice. Finally they interview bhakti yogi Guru Saran Ananda in Brindavan.

As Cody writes in his wonderful review, "Nick’s conversation with the Guru is - pardon the pun – enlightening. The emotional and spiritual center of the movie is revealed in one simple quote:

"'It’s not what you do, it’s why you do.'

"Talk about killing the Buddha! A dedicated yoga practitioner goes out to make a film that proves that yoga works and instead she discovers that yoga doesn’t really matter at all! True enlightenment (or perhaps, true contentment) can be found merely by living selflessly – by rooting individual actions in pure intentions. Sure, yoga techniques can be wonderful tools for gaining self awareness and stripping away the dross that obscures our true selves, but yoga is certainly not the only path to enlightenment. For some people, it actually might not be a path to enlightenment at all."

Highly recommended for anyone interested in yoga and/or spirituality.

It opens Friday, June 12 at the Landmark Century cinema. Filmmaker Kate Churchill - who used to be with Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre - will appear at screenings on Friday and Saturday nights. Details here.

* * *

After the weekend from Hell, SportMarty and I went to the airportplex cinema on Western to see Up! in 3-D.

It was just the thing to cure the troubled psyche.

The story was wonderful.

The 3-D was subtle, not distracting and in-your-face.

The best moment came when the curmudgeon-y old man stopped clinging to the past and gave up all of his worldly possessions in order to help someone else.

Suddenly, the whole world opened up to him.


In some ways, it was more about yoga than the other film.

Highly, highly recommended - especially for those whose hearts or minds need a little healing.

* * *

An added bonus: We parked on Logan Boulevard, and on the walk to the theater saw a wonderful sight; there's now a skateboard park under the expressway. It's an amazing use of a dead space, and it was hoppin.'

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Things on the homefront are at a new low, so not much posting right now.

Suffice to say the LL came over at 9:15PM Friday and pounded on the door - just five minutes after I got home - demanding to be let in "to see the new windows."

Suffice to say I learned yesterday that the electricians appear to have ruined not just the Sony boombox I use everyday (replacement cost $200) but also the cable box, DVD player, VCR, CD player, cassette deck, stereo receiver and DVD/TV converter.

It's just stuff, but still......

Many sanskaras are coming to the fore.

If anyone knows of a cheap, safe, quiet, warm, sattvic rental apartment in Chicago, NYC or Raleigh please contact me immediately.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


.....are wonderful, and can be seen here.

I like to view them while listening to this:

The photo of Guruji is (c) Barry Silver 2009; if you look at the slideshow, you'll see that the garlanded portrait is much, much larger than real life (much like Guruji). For those keeping score, I found this link at the Elephantbeans blog.