Friday, December 31, 2010

Inspiring New Year's Message

from Dharma Mittra

Here's an excerpt from Sri Dharma Mittra's 2011 New Year's Discourse:

The students must learn that their compassion must extend beyond their pets -- it should reach all living beings. Some students immediately understand this and become vegetarians. After all, all living beings love life. They are like us -- they want to be happy and have a family. They fear violence and tremble before death. Students must come to understand that eating animals as food is a great sin and is "out of date." If compassion is fully developed, amazing psychic powers are acquired, such as the ability to know the why and how of everything....

Although I have practiced and taught Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Psychic Development and Meditation for many years, the main focus of my practice was and remains Karma Yoga (selfless service) and Svadyaya (study of scripture). Anyone can practice these two forms of Yoga, as they require no basic level of physical or mental aptitude, special equipment or intensive preparation, just a great thirst for knowledge of the Real Self and a heartfelt desire to help and love everyone. Karma yoga is selfless work offered without any strings attached and with no expectation of enjoying the fruits of one's labor. Acting in this way, one gradually loses all selfishness and notions such as: "I am the doer." Thus comes total surrender of the ego. (Egoism is the second cause of pain and suffering.) Why do selfless service? Because without it, there will be no "Union", "absorption" or Self-realization....

...One should start the New Year thinking on Him alone, concerned/absorbed constantly with Self-realization. Also, be ever kind and reverent to all living beings. Share spiritual knowledge with those that are fit to receive it. Start the New Year with love, and it may end up with love. Be ever engaged in constant practice and, surely, success will be the result! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Candlelight Yoga with Cara this Thursday at Pipal Tree!

This calming class will incorporate slow and mindful movements to help energize and renew the body and bring about a sense of inner peace. It will include deep relaxation and restorative poses as well as some gentle sun salutations.

This class will be done by candlelight, and will include a ritual to let go of the past and invite change into our lives.

All levels are welcome. Regular class rates apply. December 30th 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm at Pipal Tree Yoga, 4141 N. Lincoln Ave.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Apparently Not Everyone Ditches Chicago

Robert Feder recently tweeted a link to Frank Sennett's looong profile of the Groupon guy, so I took the bait. After all, I had two deadlines to meet.

While scanning the piece, the name Steve Albini popped out at me. His band Big Black was one the best, most intense live rock bands I've ever seen (and they used a drum machine named Roland!). Albini went on to found Rapeman and Shellac and become a world-renowned analog record producer. Apparently the Groupon guy had once worked at Albini's Belmont Avenue recording studio.

I immediately abandoned the Groupon guy and did a search on Albini.

Having been out of the hipster loop for some time, I assumed that Albini had fled Chicago, like just about everyone else who achieves a certain degree of success (including Oprah, who plans to get out as soon as she can).

I was surprised and pleased to see he's still here.

And his studio is gorgeous.

In fact, it's exactly how I'd want my fantasy yoga studio to look (except, you know, without all that icky equipment. And there's no word on whether it has radiant floor heat, which is a key component of my fantasy).

I also love the website. The bios are clever (imagine a testosterone-dominated institution that includes bios for their dear departed feline friends!) And the glyphs are to die for (the noose, to designate an owner, is particularly dear).

The forums are brilliant, too.

It's all rather inspiring.

Check it out here.

And check out Big Black during their heyday, here:

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Look closely and you'll see that I'm stading in the middle of a snowy "Om" - which is very bad form (I was still making the "Om" when Dreyfus snapped this shot).

Photo by Dreyfus (c) 2010.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

From CK and Kirby (Kali Om and Hari Om)

Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Best Western Since Deadwood

The quote above is one of the first lines in the new movie "True Grit," which I saw last night with SportMarty at the Davis for just $5.50.

The line, spoken by the film's 14-year-old heroine, Mattie Ross, immediately made me think of Sri Dharma Mittra, who ends every class by saying, "Be receptive to the grace of God."

Of course I loved the movie.

(I also loved the old John Wayne version, which I first saw when I was a little girl. Rarely are little girls main characters in westerns).

They say that the new version of True Grit is truer to the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, which is told from the heroine's point of view.

I love the new version, even though it was made by the Cohen Brothers - whom I've found to be just a little bit too smirking and clever for my taste, ever since Fargo.

But this film was unironic.

It had a great story and performances and wonderful writing that made me love language again; the characters spoke like they were straight out of Deadwood.

But the real draw was the tough heroine, who would not take no for an answer - who was tenacious and resourceful and had to follow her dharma and avenge her father's death at any cost.

(SPOLER ALERT). Of course there was a cost; she winds up in a pit of snakes and loses her arm and her beloved horse. The last is the only thing that unsettles her.

I thought it dealt with dharma, karma, redemption and feminism (although the heroine ends up a rather prim old maid who didn't have time for marriage....not that there's anything wrong with that).

And I loved the Biblical references - such as Mattie telling her mother not to worry, because "The Author of all things watches over me."

As this website points out,

When a mortician asks her whether she'd like to kiss her father's dead face, she says, "Thank you, his spirit is flown." In town without money, she's forced to sleep in a coffin at the mortuary, telling someone later that she "felt like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones."

A dying criminal makes Rooster promise to tell his brother, a Methodist pastor, of his fate, adding, "I will meet him later, walking the streets of glory."

Well worth seeing.

* * *

We saw the film at the run-down, privately-owned Davis Theater in beautiful Lincoln Square. That part of town just gets cuter and cuter; it felt like Bedford Falls last night, and almost made one forget about the recession/depression and two wars we're fighting.

* * *

This morning I awakened at 4pm despite the late call for morning Mysore class.

There was one thought in my mind, and I could not rest until I wrote it down and got it out of my head:

If I ever have access to land or money, I will open an ashram and horse rescue center.

with God's grace, of course.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Staying Focused this Holiday Season and Beyond

Yesterday I baked cookies for the family.

Make that organic, vegan, whole wheat holiday cookies - which means that they are usually as tasty and appealing as cardboard.

This year I found a new recipe, and the cookies turned out moist and delicious; soft on the inside, crispy on the outside.

So I thought, "I should make more."

Plans were made to run to the store and pick up ingredients and make dough before teaching, and to clear off the Thursday schedule. I felt alive - and anxious.

And then Vijnanamaya Kosha (the higher mind) stepped in and said, "Oh no you don't. You need to stop all this running and do your practice. And then you can take your time wrapping presents and finishing your 2010 projects.

Manamaya Kosha
(the lower mind) resisted the idea. It wanted to make cookies!

An argument ensued.

In the end, the higher mind prevailed.

So I put away the snow boots and sat down.

I still felt alive. And calm.

A short time later I came across this Thought for the Day from Swami Sivananda:


In all man’s struggles and attempts at achieving any desired object, there is in reality no necessity at all for him to go in quest of external forces to aid him. Man contains within himself vast resources and inherent powers lying untapped or else only partially made use of.

It is because he has allowed his faculties to get scattered on a hundred different things, he fails to achieve anything great despite his inherent potentialities. If he intelligently regulates and applies them, quick and concrete results will accrue.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lead Us from Darkness into Light
And see the Red Moon!

Tuesday is the shortest day of the year - the Winter Solstice.

(Or do you call it the longest night of the year?)

Tuesday is also a full moon day.

And there is a lunar eclipse.

It's the first time in some 400 years that these three things have fallen on the same day.

They say you can see the moon glow a deep coppery red if you look at the right time; starting Monday night at 2:41a.m. East Coast Time, 1:41a.m. Central Time.

This is also the perfect time to go within.

So do some mantra.

Light some candles.

And do your (sitting) practice.

* * *

For those with a more outgoing temperament, the lovely Aurora Danai will host a Solstice event Tuesday night from 9-11p.m. at YogaNow ($5 donation). Details here.

* * *

Here's an excerpt from Richard Cohen's incredibly informative New York Times op-ed piece about the Winter Solstice and its related rituals:

The novelist Alan Furst has one of his characters nicely observe, “the day the sun is said to pause. ... Pleasing, that idea. ... As though the universe stopped for a moment to reflect, took a day off from work. One could sense it, time slowing down.”

Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment. The Welsh word for solstice translates as “the point of roughness,” while the Talmud calls it “Tekufat Tevet,” first day of “the stripping time.” For the Chinese, winter’s beginning is “dongzhi,” when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook. According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him.

In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility, can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.

Street processions are another common feature. In Japan, young men known as “sun devils,” their faces daubed to represent their imagined solar ancestry, still go among the farms to ensure the earth’s fertility (and their own stocking-up with alcohol). In Ireland, people called wren-boys take to the roads, wearing masks or straw suits. The practice used to involve the killing of a wren, and singing songs while carrying the corpse from house to house.

Sacrifice is a common thread. In areas of northern Pakistan, men have cold water poured over their heads in purification, and are forbidden to sit on any chair till the evening, when their heads will be sprinkled with goats’ blood. (Unhappy goats.) Purification is also the main object for the Zuni and Hopi tribes of North America, their attempt to recall the sun from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another turning of their “wheel of the year,” and kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are opened to mark the season.

Read the rest here. And practice asteya (non-stealing) - get a subscription!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Final Chapter: Peripheral Images

This statue of a Mayan yogi is in front of the Otam Shala.

The Happy Buddha is also there

The fountain below is located in a major intersection in Playa del Carmen. Although it's supposed to be Mayan, it always made me think of a Shiva Linga, with the pool as the Yoni.

On the way to catch the bus to the jungle, we passed by this hand-painted sign - irrefutable proof that Mexico is not India:

There were many interesting things to see on Fifth Avenue, Playa's main tourist strip

At dinnertime, groups of children carrying branches and pictures of the Virgen de Guadalupe would go from table to table, singing offkey songs until the managers shooed them away. (The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was celebrated on December 12). But we didn't see much evidence of the beloved patroness of the Americas on Fifth Avenue - apart from the children and this image in a bar:

It was easy to find our hotel each night - because it was next door to the biggest, brightest, reddest, most ambitious and innovative hotel/night club/restaurant/library/parking garage in the Americas, La Reina Roja (The Red Queen):

And, sadly, it was also the emptiest.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A great take on the sad reality of my old career

from this website

Thanks to my journalism mentor, Rob Feder, for the head's-up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Day

Today Dharma spoke at length about Samyama. Samayma is a combination of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (absorption into the object of meditation).

When you do Samyama on the guru for 30 minutes, you can feel what he feels and know everything he knows. "But you have to surrender."

He also shared some healing techniques.

Then Dharma read from the Yoga Sutras, and discussed some of the benefits of intense concentration. He said that it's best to get a translation of the Yoga Sutras that have no commentary. . He said to concentrate and reflect on it when the mind is calm. "Then you will be able to get the meaning of it." [EDITOR'S NOTE: Beginners who have little experience with asana and the other limbs may be better off with commentary].

Then we did the exercises.

Afterwords, Maru and Torsten (with the help of JenWik) laid out a wonderful vegetarian feast, complete with home-made bread, guacamole, bowls of jicama and brown rice, squeezed-to-order orange juice, raw almonds, many types of sprouts, and much, much more.

Beforehand, Dharma led one of the most poignant prayers of gratitude I've ever heard. Then we ate.

Next we returned to the large shala for the final program

As we entered, Maru and Torsten (pictured, above), handed each of us a small white box tied with a red string. It had some holes in the side, and a top.

"Don't shake it, and keep it upright," we were told.

We all took seats near Dharma. I got a spot near his feet.

Across from me, a woman's box began shaking and clicking.

"Hmmm... Mexican jumping beans?" the mind couldn't help but wondering.

Next, we were asked to remove the string.

"Now, whisper a wish into the box," said Maru.

I brought the box up to my face, and whispered into the small holes cut into the side.

Then we were asked to remove the lid.

Fifty butterflies of every color flew out of fifty boxes.

The mind could hardly comprehend the beauty of it.

Some went right out the door.

Others stayed around for awhile.

But eventually they all left....

Carrying our wishes with them.


NOTE: The butterflies were not in the boxes for longer than 30 minutes, and came from a friend who breeds them. In other words, no butterflies were harmed. Ahimsa in action.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jumping Jacks and Lemony Oranges

On Thursday morning, Dharma discussed the eight limbs of yoga.

Then it was time for the physical practice - or what Dharma calls "the exercises."

I had the privilege of assisting Dharma with the class, which meant I didn't have to do the warm-ups.

In other words, I got out of doing the dreaded kapalbhati jumping jacks.

Instead, I got to assist and adjust, which was wonderful - and something I will always remember (and be grateful for).

* * *

That afternoon, instead of going back to the hotel, I stayed in the jungle - where it began to rain. I abandoned the hammock and took cover in the small palapa. There, I stayed in the digestion pose for 20 minutes after eating, as Dharma suggests (and which one rarely has time for). Then I rested, followed by asana, breathing and meditation. It was wonderful to sit still as the rain fell, the tiki torches were lit, and the sun went down.

That night we did no asana. Instead, Dharma discussed the three gates to hell (wrath, lust and greed) and the kleshas, among other things. He also told many wonderful stories to illustrate the points he was making. I heard things that were completely new to me, and again was floored by his knowledge and generosity.

As he was leaving that afternoon, I handed him a peeled orange. He wanted to know where I got it.

"Right here," I said, pointing to the table near the door.

"The orange you gave me yesterday tasted like lemons," he said.

Somehow, it made me love him even more.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

And teaching today in the snowy snow

On Friday night I found myself dining on a sandwich made of the cactus and the local spinach with a group of American, Mexican and Guatemalan Dharma students (the Americans were sleepy, while the rest of the group was as animated as could be).

On Saturday night, I found myself ordering in Spanish at Pockets on the snowy drive home from the airport.

And today I am teaching.

And it is snowing. All day.

The temperature is falling....

Making conditions perfect for yoga,

perfect for contemplating Dharma's teachings,

and perfect for creating more Mexico posts.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Today we did various breathings.

We did many rounds of Oms.

Dharma discussed the Koshas and karma and reincarnation.

And many other things, including rebirth and initiation and the two reasons to marry (to reproduce or to have help on the spiritual path).

Oh, and we did some poses, too -

including the hands-free headstand.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Scorpion Pose

Tuesday was our first full day with Sri Dharma - ie; a morning and evening session in the beautiful, handmade (ie; no machines were used), super-shanti jungle shala called Otam.

I woke up with super-shiny eyes that morning, after basking in the presence of the guru. Then I made the short walk with the others to the bus.

Dharma spoke a lot at the beginning of class. He spoke of the three things are needed on the path:
-knowledge of the Supreme Self
-compassion for all
-surrender of the ego

He said that we are all like 100-watt bulbs, but some shine more brightly than others.

Then we did asana.

When you look up in, say, Parivritta Parsvakonasana, this is what you see:

During "the exercises," when it was time for forearm stand, I did my stiff-back version of Scorpion Pose.

Later, Dharma explained that that stiffness can be caused by anger. And by not trying to get the head to the floor in downward dog and not working hard in Kapyasana.

We learned this while trying Viparita Dandasana.

Thankfully, he showed a variation for people with tight upper backs - simply coming onto the toes in Backbend when the forearms are down, and then lifting the pelvis, getting the head off the floor (no small feat), and moving the chest away from the feet.

The savasana was amazing.

Afterwords, a scorpion skittered across my mat.

Dharma saw it, and reacted calmly as usual; the Supreme Self is the same in all.

He and some students scooped it up and set it free outside.

Ahimsa in action.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


On Monday night, the eyes teared up right after the first "Om," when Dharma quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita:

And the Lord said,
'Fix your mind on Me alone
Rest your thoughts on me alone.
And in me alone you will live hereafter.
Of this there is no doubt.'

He spoke a lot about ahimsa (non-harming, the first Yama), and giving up meat, and seeing the Self in all. All of the other virtues stem from compassion.

How I love, adore and revere him and his infinite generosity and patience.
How lucky I am to be in his presence.
How blessed I am to be a part of his family.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Vamos a la Playa-a-a-a-a

Is there anything better than awakening to the smell and sensation of warm, humid sea-air and the sound of screeching tropical birds?

Add to that the fact that the usual day-after-travel migraine has not appeared.

Add to that the knowledge that one has nothing better to do all day than practice and enjoy a complimentary breakfast and go to the beach and sit on the balcony and write - all at an unspecified time - and one realizes that yes! I am on vacation.

(Actually there is something better - knowing that you will see the Teacher very soon! Then, all the migraines and vacation constipation in the world fall away).

This is the view of the balcony, from Prasarita Padottanasana (notice the beautiful green coconut palm, just like India):

During practice I realized that the tight, painful, about-to-be-pulled right hamstring that appeared two weeks ago was completely healed by the lack of mental tension and warm, humid air.

After practice I headed down to a complimentary breakfast.

Everything had been put away, even though there was a half-hour remaining.

Armando pointed to the clock: "Son las once." (It's 11:00).


Turns out I was still on Central time.

Armando was so sweet, and made me a massive, wonderful salad and a basket of wheat bread.

It was wonderful.

And, unlike India, I wasn't afraid to eat it.

And, unlike, India, I ate it while listening to a recording of "Arthur's Theme" by Christoper Cross - played on the pan flute.

* * *

Later, J and I headed to the beach.

On the way we saw this:

And this:

Go Bulls!

And this:

Jai Gautama!

This is the view from our chairs:

Looking up:

Looking right:

Looking left:

Straight on:

The water was warm, salty and welcoming. I actually went in, and made sure that I put my head under. Being immersed in the water felt renewing, like a re-birth.

On the way back we came upon a U.N. Bird Convention:

And other things:

This one reminded me of India.

And then we reached the goal:

This is Jorge, who is a whiz with a machete and incredibly patient with my attempts to have a conversation in Spanish. ¡Así se corta!

* * *

Later we kept running into other members of the Dharma family (the workshop starts tomorrow) and marveled at the Indian influence here.