Tuesday, September 28, 2010

November 6-7

I'm holding a yoga and meditation retreat from November 6-7 at the Portuincula Center for Prayer in Frankfort, Illinois - about 36 miles southwest of Chicago.

This is a super-shanti (peaceful) place, located in the middle of St. Francis Woods.

This retreat will focus on the eight limbs of yoga, including the ethical roots, scriptural study, pranayama (breathing), concentration, and direction towards the true goal of yoga - which is settle the mind into silence so that we can discover our true, peaceful nature. It will include Dharma Mittra's special Psychic Development practice, which will put power behind your thoughts. We will also chant and do plenty of postures!

Saturday evening’s session will end with Yoga Nidra, or deep relaxation – which Sri Dharma Mittra calls the greatest antidote to impurities. And then we'll sleep an extra hour, because this is the weekend that we turn back the clocks! On Sunday we will do a special Maha Sadhana - the one great eternal yoga practice - followed by a gourmet vegetarian lunch.

Suitable for all levels, this retreat starts Saturday at 9AM and ends Sunday at 1PM . It is perfect for those who wish to deepen their yoga practice and heal the body, mind and spirit.

In addition to the yoga practices, you can walk a sacred labyrinth in this magical, meditative setting (a labyrinth is an ancient meditation tool that can induce a receptive state of consciousness).

The 50-acre campus also includes peaceful sitting areas, grassy knolls, fountains, a creek, and hiking trails.

Cost for the one-night retreat (including lodging, vegetarian meals and instruction) is $175 for a private, single room. All rooms use a shared bath. After October 1, the price is $225.

Click here for more.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Indian Students From the Early Days

The book contains only a few.

Here's - yes! - one more:

This is from my 2009 interview with Dr. R. Chandrasekhara, who practiced with Guruji in the 1960s and later moved to the Chicago suburbs:

“I started learning yoga in 1960 after a friend of mine introduced me to my guru, Shree Pattabhi Jois. I started on a Vijaya Dashami [Dasara Festival] day and spent seven years before I had to come to USA. “I started studying with him at the Sanskrit College (1960) then continued from ‘63 to ‘67 at his house in Lakshmipuram. He treated me as his son, and I became extended family.

“We had to practice on a bare floor because the Sanskrit College did not provide any carpet. We used one towel. Later, we all contributed for the prison inmates to weave a coconut coir carpet.

“His hands-on teaching was exemplary. He taught from 5 a.m. till 9 a.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. tirelessly. He shaped the student’s body to perfection. He taught me well, and I mastered in three years. We gave one demonstration first of a kind in my home town (Holenarasipur) during Ganesha festival. We did not have any camera to take pictures. After he retired, he moved to Lakshmipuram location.

“Steadily the number of students increased, both local and from abroad. He taught me free because I was a student without any income, and I was one of the family. Adjectives fail to describe his magnanimity--always smiling and had profound knowledge of Patanjali’s system. His wife had the same name as my mother (Savitramma) and always made very good coffee for me. It was a devastating blow for him when she suddenly passed away....I happened to visit him to invite him my son’s wedding around the time his wife passed away. I attended his wife’s death ceremony, and he was very gracious to attend my son’s wedding.

“He paid a visit in Illinois when he made his first trip to USA [in 1975]. After much persuasion, he wrote Yoga Mala. We all helped in publishing. Even though I pushed him to write intermediate and advanced asanas, and Patanjali’s book, plus the Tibetan medicine he learnt from his guru Shree Krishnamacharya at Manas Sarovar, he did not complete.

“He has left a legacy of students to carry on his mission. May his soul ultimately merge in the universal soul.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just in Time for Autumn

Tonight (Tuesday 9/21) at 6pm, the great tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain kick off the annual World Music Festival with a free concert at the city's finest outdoor venue - Millennium Park. It is not to be missed.

The concert also kicks off a three-day festival-within-a-festival called India Calling! which includes concerts and of opportunities to purchase Indian handicrafts at an exhibition-cum-sale.

The Merchants of Bollywood music-and-dance extravaganza comes to the beautiful, Louis Sullivan-designed Auditorium Theatre October 1 and 2. The show features 50 performers, 500 costumes, and "3000 pieces of glittering jewelry." I dare you not to be dazzled (see a sample, above).

The first-ever Chicago South Asian Film Festival hits town October 1-3 with 16 films you probably haven't seen before, including the Chicago premiere of Deepti Naval's "Two Paise for Sunshine, Four Aanas For Rain," starring Manisha Koirala, Rajit Kapoor and Sanaj Naval - who are slated to appear in person. But I'm far more interested in Chicago native Ajay Naidu's directorial debut "Ashes."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Life and Yoga in the Big, Bad City

A student sent me this story today:

I got to my car this morning for my drive to work and saw that someone had broken into it. The entire front passenger side window was smashed with shattered glass everywhere. One of my neighbors saw the guy do it and said he ran off with a big bag. I don't leave anything of value in my car since I have to park on the street, so I couldn't think of what it possibly could have been.

And then I realized.... the robber took off with my yoga bag and now has a 3-year-old Manduka mat that he's lugging around the city! Clearly, he needs it more than I do. Maybe it will help him to find some inner peace!

Cost to fix window = $91.

Cost to fix his soul= priceless.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Students often approach me and ask my advice about various *teacher training* programs. They are usually overwhelmed by the range of options.

Sometimes, the student does not have a strong yoga practice / does not attend classes regularly.

At that point I say,

"Why do you want to take a yoga teacher training program?"

Sometimes, it's for deeper studies.

Other times, it's because they want to teach yoga.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But there have been more inquiries ever since the Chicago Tribune published an article saying the average yoga teacher here earns over $50,000 a year. That's one of the best jokes I've ever read.

More important than money is to have a passion for it, as Lino says.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Chandra Om, one of the truest yogis I've ever met:

“Teaching yoga is not part-time, it’s not a profession, it’s not a business and it’s not logos.

“You cannot teach what you have not personally experienced. You cannot teach spiritual knowledge unless you have some yourself. You cannot straighten out another until you have straightened yourself, so you really have something to say. Teaching is information passing through you--that’s why it’s not about you, or your personality. You’re transmitting your personal environment. Once you’ve cleaned up your own self, you give up your personality and ego and who you think you are, so God can pass through you and use you, so your lower self does not get in the way.”

I would add that one should also have mastered the basic postures.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ahimsa (non-harming) also applies to the insects

Dharma says the Indweller or Atman is the same in all living beings - even the insects.

He often quotes the Buddha, who said that all beings love life.

Dharma says they are just like us, and want to be left alone to raise a family.

(Hopefully, not in your kitchen).

Now, we have actual proof - from this "News Sparker" in Thursday's Star of Mysore newspaper:


Washington: Scientists from from University of Debrecen have revealed that bugs may all look alike to human eyes, but they have their own, unique personalities. Some individual bugs, like humans, turn out to be shy, while others are very forceful. Boldness, activeness, and aggressiveness are the main personality traits that were measured as these bugs connect to each other and appear together.

Think about that the next time you decide to kill one....

If you're a real yogi, you'll realize you'd only be killing yourSelf.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


From CK, QE and Princess Sanbooty

Mushikavaahana modaka hastha,
Chaamara karna vilambitha sutra,
Vaamana rupa maheshwara putra,
Vighna vinaayaka paada namasthe

"O Lord Vinayaka! the remover of all obstacles, the son of Lord Shiva, with a form which is very short, with mouse as Thy vehicle, with sweet pudding in hand, with wide ears and long hanging trunk, I prostrate at Thy lotus-like Feet!"

Click here to learn how Ganesh (Vinayaka) got his elephant head.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pattabhi, Ganesh and Swami Vivekananda

We all know that Saturday is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I was at Pattabhi Jois's workshop at NYC's Chelsea Piers that morning. Here's an excerpt from my Chicago Reader article about being stuck in the orange zone between 14th Street and Houston, with nothing coming in except acrid white smoke:

Last night the roommate brought the day's paper from The Other Side, which was a treat. It was the Daily News but the whole thing was about the WTC and I couldn't put it down.

Got up at five to try to make it to yoga, which was supposed to be in SoHo at the Puck Building today. It's still closed, so it's being held at Eddie Stern's studio. Before I left I watched some Channel Two of course. People are now bringing in the toothbrushes and hairbrushes of missing loved ones for identification purposes. The anchors had changed places again. During the walk the city was quiet, quiet, quiet, except for Sixth Ave, which had a lot of what seemed to be nonemergency vehicles. Somehow everyone had managed to hose the dog urine off the sidewalks, which were still wet. Instead of the WTC there was a white glow telling me which way was south.

Houston was still barricaded. I took Crosby over and walked right up to one of the police officers (by the way, they tend to be thin here). I explained that I was trying to go to a yoga workshop, and it worked! After a bit of hesitation he let me go. Maybe he was tired. Behind me I heard, "We're in!" from someone also carrying a yoga mat. She was wearing a dust mask and walked in the street "because of the rats." Garbage hasn't been picked up in a while and is piling up everywhere. At least the wind has changed direction; maybe we can open the windows today.

There were about 40 people at yoga; I didn't see anyone else from Chicago. Most seemed to be from the area (including Willem and Gwynneth, natch). The woman checking people in was on the phone, telling the person on the other end that she couldn't help them get across Houston. No one talked before class, which was unusual. During practice Guruji didn't make a single joke; he was businesslike and class went quickly. I was distracted, weak, and stiff and had no balance. We heard more sirens than usual. Before savasana, we were told to call after 11:30 to find out if/​where we will practice on Thursday. Only about 15 people had shown up for the 7:30 class when I left at 7:40. One of the students was telling someone, "If it were just the bad smell, that would be one thing...."

Read the rest here.

Saturday is also the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles and represents prosperity and good fortune. Families install clay symbols of Ganesh at home or in temporary structures, and pujas are performed. On Day 11, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied by singing and dancing. Then it is immersed in a river or the sea, symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards His abode in Kailash (where His father, Lord Shiva lives). It is said that He takes with Him the misfortunes of His devotees.

The festival is being celebrated all week at Eddie Stern's NYC shala. His shala is where we practiced right after 9/11, and is now a full-fledged Ganesh Temple. On Friday at 6:30, Srivatsa Ramaswami will join the pujas and give a lecture on the meaning and use of mantra and ritual. Click here for the complete schedule.

September 11 is also the anniversary of the day yoga arrived in America, when Swami Vivekananda made his famous speech at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

His rousing speech is the foundation of Jitish Kallat's new installation, "Public Notice 3" at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Swami Vivekananda, who stunned and enthralled the audience of 7,000 with an address that opened one of the first dialogues between Eastern and Western traditions and, importantly, argued passionately for universalism and religious tolerance. Exactly 108 years before the attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, Swami Vivekananda called for an end to all "bigotry and fanaticism" and pleaded for brotherhood across all faiths, a speech that was met with a standing ovation and was heralded by journalists as one of the pivotal moments of the Exposition. (Even today, the stretch of Michigan Avenue in front of the Art Institute is the honorary "Swami Vivekananda Way.")

Kallat has converted the complete text of Vivekananda's inspiring speech into LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the museum's Woman's Board Grand Staircase, which is itself adjacent to what is now Fullerton Hall, where Vivekananda made his original presentation. Drawing attention to the great chasm between this plea for tolerance of 1893 and the very different events of September 11, 2001, the text of the speech will be displayed in the five colors of the United States' Department of Homeland Security alert system--red, orange, yellow, blue, and green.

This historical coincidence--and the fact that the speech was delivered at the earliest attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths--heightens the potency of Vivekananda's persuasive words. The resulting work, Public Notice 3, creates a trenchant commentary on the evolution, or devolution, of religious tolerance across the 20th and 21st centuries. The installation will serve not as a passive commemorative act but rather as an actively contemplative space.

This is Bombay-born Kallat's first major American exhibit, and will be on display through January 2. Click here for more.

Here's an excerpt from Swami Vivekananda's opening speech - which was greeted with thunderous applause:

I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me."

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

But their time is come. And I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Read the rest here. Or hear the original recording of Swami Vivekananda - who possessed a lovely, cultured voice and usually spoke off-the-cuff - here. Hearing him brings tears to the eyes.

Monday, September 06, 2010


My 2006 article about the late Swami Bua was recently reprinted by All Things Healing.

An excerpt:

Afterwards he had me sit in a chair in front of him and asked me if I had any problems. Unable to narrow it down to just one or two, I shrugged, smiled and said, “Not really.” Besides, it felt like enough just to be in his presence. He gave me a tour of some of the pictures of him. He said he could stop his pulse, which I wholeheartedly believe. He’s also supposed to be able to swallow his tongue--a kriya [cleansing] technique.

At one point, he looked at me and said, “You are a good girl. You are a good person.” That’s never a bad thing to hear from anyone--especially a yogi with that much wisdom.

But I already felt an intense sense of well-being even before he said that.

Read the rest here.

On the day I took that afternoon class with Swami Bua, I did primary series in the morning with Pattabhi Jois (details here). That same evening, I went with Catesey to see The New York Dolls play their last gig at CBGB (details here).

Now that was livin'....

until the next day, when I became quite ill indeed.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Well, for some of us it is

Sri Dharma Mittra
in London last month. Can you figure out which is the real rebel? (HINT: It's probably not the ones searching for the Atman).

Sri Dharma in NYC, circa 1984 (from his famous poster)

CK in Minneapolis, circa 1986 (from her famous rebellion)


-Photo of Sri Dharma in London by Hugh Herrera (c) 2010
-Photo of Sri Dharma in NYC by Dharma Mittra (c) 1984. (This photo reminds me of the Greek medical symbol -- and the nadis of course).
-Photo of CK (c) 1986 by Tony Retkowski, from Tusitala magazine

Thursday, September 02, 2010


In April, senior ashtanga teacher Lino Miele told us that in the ashtanga vinyasa yoga system, Jalandhara Bandha (the chin-lock) is not used during the asana (posture) portion of practice. He said that it is only used for pranayama (breathing). “There are a few things that Guruji [Sri K. Pattabhi Jois] was very particular to teach,” he said. “This is how I know if it came from him or somewhere else.

“Once the guru dies, everyone goes like this,” he said, spreading out his arms. “I don't want to go like this.”

In August, David Williams (the first American to study with Pattabhi Jois) took me aside before his workshop, and told me that he liked my article about Lino, but that it was wrong when it came to Jalandhara Bandha. He said that the chin-lock is done in every pose. He had a text by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (the guru of Pattabhi Jois) to back him up. It said, "When I explain the rules of yogasana [yoga postures], if the position of the head has not been specified, then keep the head in jalandhara bandha."

I said to DW that the correct response would be to write a letter to the editor. DW said he did not want to pursue it. I said that ashtanga is interesting that way; in April, Lino Miele said that Mula Bandha (the root lock) means to pull up the anus. From my Yoga Chicago article:

When he was writing the books with Guruji (they also completed a book on advanced A and B series, which has not yet been published), Lino said he brought in some other yoga books, and told Guruji he was confused about mula bandha. “Gurji threw away the books. He said, ‘I am the book. You and I are writing the book, and you go to other books?'

“OK, Guruji--but where is mula bandha?”

“‘The anus.'”

I told DW that a month later, Tim Miller (the first American certified to teach the ashtanga system) came to town and told us that Mula Bandha does not mean to pull up the anus. From my article in the September/October Yoga Chicago, which is not yet online:

Tim began “The Mysterious and Elusive Bandhas” by explaining, “mula bandha [root lock] doesn’t mean to contract your anus.” Instead, the action involves lifting the tailbone towards the pubic bone.

I told DW that I found the differences rather amusing.

As for the chin-lock, I recalled that the old pictures of Pattabhi Jois show him doing something like it in the seated forward bends (one year, David Roche, who is a certified teacher *and* a big-time mixer, came to town and had us do all the poses old-school like that. It felt good on the back, and it was easier to catch the bottom two locks. But it did not feel right).

I figured that at some point, it shifted to from chin-to-chest to chin-to-shin in the seated forward bends, with eyes towards the feet.

What I didn't say was that at some point these debates are a bit like the war over which side to open the hard-boiled egg on in the Lilliput section of Gulliver's Travels.

After my discussion with David W, I attended his led primary series workshop at his invitation. He had the students do Jalandhara Bandha in each and every pose.

The following week, the regular Mysore students were still practicing that way, and we had a discussion. I said that the reason for many differences is that Guruji's teachings evolved over the years. (What I did not say is that many differences are due to younger / newer / careless instructors teaching incorrectly, which is a whole 'nother post). I said that I tend to go with my own 12 months of experience with Guruji and what Lino says, since he spent so much time with Guruji trying to get everything straight. After all, how can you look at your foot (the correct dristi, or gaze, in most seated forward bends) if your chin is at your chest? I suggested they find some sort of middle way: neck neutral, eyes towards feet, forehead relaxed. But when I practice, I do chin-to-shin.

On Tuesday, I found Jason Stein's notes from a July 28, 2004 conference with Guruji and Sharath in Mysore:

"Jalandhara bandha is only to be engaged during pranayama, not during asana practice."

Straight from the Guru. To Jason. To you.

Although Jason adds a caveat:

"Take as gospel at your own risk."