Saturday, July 31, 2010

HOLD POSES LONGER.....?







“For teenagers, they should only focus on Asana and do them quickly, one after another, so they don’t get bored.”

“Adults can focus on both Asana and Pranayama when young, mostly Pranayama and Dhyana as they reach middle age, and just Dhyana in old age.”

-Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, quoted in “Health, Healing and Beyond: Yoga and the Living Tradition of Krishnamacharya” by T.K.V. Desikachar with R.H. Cravens.






"If you're not making progress in a pose, perhaps you're not holding it long enough."

-Sri Dharma Mittra, heard in class.






"Well, for us it was fun to see my father doing yoga, putting himself in all these postures. It was really amazing. He used to pick a posture sometimes and he would like to stay in that posture for a long time. That's how he used to practice. And that's how he started teaching us. There's no need to do millions of postures, just try to master one at a time. Then you can go to the next one."


-Manju Pattabhi Jois, quoted in the new book "Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of his Students." (If you are at all serious about ashtanga, you should read this wonderful, painstakingly-researched book. The link will take you to some excerpts).






I love it when they agree.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

JAZZ HANDS



Finally! The mystery of why some students do Warrior One with their hands apart and fingers spread wide is solved.

Read Sunday's New York Times article about John Friend and Anusara Yoga here.

Read about the fallout here.

Better yet - ignore the articles and do your practice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SUNDAY, PART II



On Sunday night, U and I headed to Millennium Park, which was hosting a concert tribute to Frédéric Chopin.



The Frank Geary-designed bandshell is awesome.






The lawn was full of picnicking people. They know that Millennium Park is by far the best place to see a concert these days. (And not just because it's free).






Plus there are all the other attractions - such as The Bean by Anish Kapoor.






There's something very reassuring about seeing everyone interact with it.









No one is immune.








We also visited the video-installation fountain, which the kids love.







And saw the little stream that runs through the park and leads to the new modern wing of the Art Institute.





We did not walk (or urinate) on the BP Bridge.





We did, however, see the Guru Purnima full moon.






And the lit-up the bandshell.









As Catesey likes to say, "There's nothing [else] like it in New York."

It really is one of the best things about the Windy City.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

SUNDAY IN CHICAGO








U and I got on bikes early this morning and made it to Lake Michigan in time for the sunrise (and Guru Purnima).







It was COLD at the beach.






And super-windy.






But the light show was spectacular.










































Later we met up with Maybelline and headed to Devon Avenue for the Jagannath Rath Yatra - where I met a favorite reader of this blog.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

GURU PURNIMA




Sunday is Guru Purnima - the full moon in the Hindu month of Ashad, and the day to give thanks to the Guru.

It would have been Pattabhi Jois's 95th birthday.


The mother is the first Guru, of course.


In yoga, the Guru is the one who dispels darkness on the path to Self-Realization.

"It is great fortune to find the Guru in this lifetime, to be blessed with the spiritual knowledge and be fully charged with the aura and grace of a preceptor," says Chandra Om.

Says Swami Sivananda, "The spiritual path is beset with many obstacles. The Guru who has already trodden the path will guide the aspirants safely and remove all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. A personal Guru is therefore necessary.

"There is no more powerful way of overcoming the vicious nature and old Samskaras in the aspirants than personal contact with and service to the Guru. Guru’s Grace will, in a mysterious manner, enable the disciples to perceive the spiritual power within, though it is impossible for the Guru to point out God or Brahman to be this or that.
Initiation Transforms the Mind

"Initiation (Diksha) is not a mere change in outward forms. Real change of mind and clear vision and understanding come to the aspirant after the initiation by a Brahmavidya Guru. Many students, according to their own fancy, select their own method of Sadhana without considering the consequences. Improper diet, wrong Sadhana without a proper guide, hard and foolish austerities on a weak body, torturing the body in the name of Tapasya, have entirely ruined many aspirants. Therefore a personal Guru is necessary to give timely instructions according to the change of seasons, circumstances and progress.

"The grace of a Guru is necessary. That does not mean that the disciple should sit idle. A Guru can clear the doubts, show the spiritual path best fitted to the aspirants and inspire them. The rest of the work will have to be done by the aspirants themselves. It is foolish to think that one can have all Siddhis (psychic powers) and Mukti from a drop of water from the Kamandalu of a Mahatma or a Yogi. There is no magic pill for attaining Samadhi. It is mere delusion to think so."


I've had the good fortune to be in the company of (or sit in the audience and hear) several great Gurus:

Sri Dharma Mittra
Chandra Om
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Swami Bua
The Dalai Lama
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma, the hugging saint)
Mother Meera
Thich Nhat Hanh
Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji
Kali Ray
Carol Ann Marticke


But you can commit to only one.*


Here are some of my favorite books about the search for the Guru, and the Guru-disciple relationship (all of which are available at the library):

Ramakrishna and his Disciples by Christopher Isherwood
My Guru and His Disciple by Christopher Isherwood
A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton
Radha: Diary of a Women's Search by Swami Sivananda Radha
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda
Dharma Mittra: A friend to All by Chandra Om





So.... what should you do to honor the Guru?


From Swami Sivananda:


"Wake up at Brahmamuhurta (at 4 a.m.) on this most holy day. Meditate on the lotus feet of your Guru. Mentally pray to him for his Grace, through which alone you can attain Self-realisation. Do vigorous Japa and meditate in the early morning hours.

"After bath, worship the lotus feet of your Guru, or his image or picture with flowers, fruits, incense and camphor. Fast or take only milk and fruits the whole day. In the afternoon, sit with other devotees of your Guru and discuss with them the glories and teachings of your Guru.

"Alternatively, you may observe the vow of silence and study the books or writings of your Guru, or mentally reflect upon his teachings. Take fresh resolves on this holy day, to tread the spiritual path in accordance with the precepts of your Guru.

"At night, assemble again with other devotees, and sing the Names of the Lord and the glories of your Guru.

"The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow his teachings, to shine as the very embodiment of his teachings, and to propagate his glory and his message."



From Sri Dharma:

"If you have a Guru, the most important thing is to copy them. Mimic their posture, move your head and your body the way they do. One day a long time ago, Yogi Gupta noticed that I was copying his body language, and he said, 'That's the secret.' That's how you learn."






You may also chant this simple mantra:


Guru Brahma Gurur Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwaraha
Guru Saakshat Para Brahma
Tasmai Sree Gurave Namaha


(Guru is verily the representative of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He creates, sustains knowledge and destroys the weeds of ignorance. I salute such a Guru).


More Guru Slokas here.





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*NOTE: If you want a Guru, pray for a Guru. Then, you should watch the person you have chosen for some time before taking initiation, because initiation means total obedience to the Guru and a relationship that spans lifetimes. It is a bond more sacred than marriage, and it is the aspirant that must do the work; the Guru just leads the way. And remember: A real Guru will usually deny it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

REST IN PEACE, SWAMI BUA





Swami Bua passed early this morning in India.


The NYC-based yogi was approximately 120 years old.

He came to the U.S. in the 1970s with the help of the Shah of Iran after Swami Bua had cured him of an illness, and he had been teaching in NYC's Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood ever since.

He is a household name to Windy City yogis who started practicing in the seventies, since he used to come to the international yoga congresses in Chicago that were arranged by Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute (that was back when Swami Bua was in his 80s).

Unlike most of today’s yoga teachers, Swami Bua--the founder of the Indo-American Yoga-Vedanta Society in New York-- never asked a fee for classes and ate “only what is offered, fasting if nothing comes.” He never went on the record about his age.

A 2005 Men’s Health article asked him --“The world’s oldest man”--about various things, including:

-Karma (it’s real)

-The most painful way to die (suicide), and

-Why every single woman on Earth loves the movie Grease (“A man and woman must have companions. If you don’t have companions, it is a sin.”)

Swami Bua was a great friend of Sri Dharma Mittra and a true yogi. Dharma liked to quote him: "When you eat the animals, the stomach becomes a graveyard." He was also a teacher of Chandra Om, and the one who sent her to Sri Dharma.



During his long life, he met Swami Sivananada (in 1930), Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranatha Tagore, Theosophist Annie Besant and Subramuniyaswami's guru, Siva Yogaswami of Jaffna, Sri Lanka.


"No special practice is necessary for God Realization," he told us. I see God everywhere. If God is not there, how do so many things happen?" "My contention is that sickness is sin," Swami went on. "Don't kill other animals, don't make the belly as a burial ground. I teach hatha yoga, but I don't subscribe to the idea that hatha yoga is a physical gymnastic exercise. 'Restraint of the modifications of the mind' [according to Patanjali] is yoga. Altogether there are eight limbs. Yama, moral restraints, is a step. When are you going to perfect your Yama? How many lives is it going to take? When are you going to perfect your Niyama, spiritual observances? When are you going to perfect your Pratyahara, drawing in the forces of the mind? It takes time. And so has Swami been direct and outspoken throughout his life, and well deserved to be named "Hindu of the Year" in 1998.


I had the good fortune to take a class with him in 2006. Read about it here.


Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

We Meditate on the Three-eyed reality
Which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance.
May we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality,
Even as the cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper.



Hear the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra here.








--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Legendary Chicago jazz deejay Dick Buckley – the resplendent voice of jazz in Chicago from the 1950s until 2008 – also passed this morning, at age 85. He had the best. voice. ever. (And I got to meet him, too - while on an informal tour of the then-new WBEZ Navy Pier Studios with then-buddy Ira Glass. He was there to do his show and was in the hallway trying to use the then-new copy machine, and talking to it in that deep, rich voice of his). More on Dick here and here.

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

Saturday, July 17, 2010

NEW YORK IN JULY: EVERYWHERE A SIGN



Last weekend I made a stealthy visit to NYC.

In fact, I was taking Dharma's Maha Sadhana one week ago at this very moment.

The plan was to take as many classes with Dharma as possible, and co-teach a workshop on Yoga For Depression and Anxiety with Little E on Long Island.

I arrived a half hour early on Friday - Early! from ORD to LGA, this is unheard of - and spent some quiet time in the park before heading to Andrei Ram's noon master class. I'd taught five classes the day before, and needed to sit still.




It was hot in NYC, and I sweated buckets in class. But I did not fall out of the poses early - which was the goal.

Andrei taught us an easy prep for Ganda Bherundasana - which I've been trying to figure out for awhile. Even my sad stiff back could do his variation.

After having a coconut at the health food store, I made my way south to Angelica Kitchen for the traditional Wee Dragon Bargain meal. There, I ran into T and her husband.

This sign was in front:




Afterwords I headed to Catesey's in Williamsburg - where it seemed to be even hotter and more humid than Manhattan. He was out of town, and there seemed to be no reason to stay.

In fact, it was so hot in his wee white artist's railroad flat that I placed a call to Little E, asking if I could come out a day early to Long Island. I could. And I did - taking two subways to Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad.

You have not experienced full-on rajas until you have stood in Penn Station during Friday evening rush hour, standing with the crowd in the heat watching the tote board and waiting to find out which track your train will be on. The number doesn't come up until the very last moment. As soon as it does, everyone rushes downstairs to the proper track and tries to get a seat before the train leaves. It's like being in India - only hotter. And less organized.

* * *

Saturday's Maha Sadhana with Dharma was amazing of course. It was not overcrowded, probably due to the fact that it was the middle of summer (and some 80 or more teacher trainees graduated after the previous month's Maha Sadhana). (I bet you can't guess which certified ashtanga teacher was taking classes with Dharma all week!). It was wonderful to see Dharma-ji of course. The tears started the moment I laid eyes on him.




* * *

After our workshop on Sunday, Little E and I spent a few minutes taking the air at the waterfront. I put my feet in and in no time they were covered with seaweed.






Then we headed to the Reflexology/massage place. O.M.G. it was amazing. Amazing. Usually I'm zonked after giving a workshop, but that hour made everything better.

Later, after watching the final few moments of the the World Cup, we headed to the Indo-Pak buffet for our traditional Sunday night meal. The place we go to has the best Indian food I've had anywhere - including India.


* * *

We gassed up the car the next morning, before heading to Manhattan. Gas appears to be much cheaper out east. Plus they pump it for you.





During the drive in, we saw this truck:




When we pulled up next to it, we pumped our arms up and down like schoolchildren, and the driver honked his horn for us.

The Noon master class was amazing of course. Again it was incredibly hot. And again the goal was to hold the poses until Dharma told us to release them. I think I counted off 40 breaths in Parvritta Parsvakonasana. The other goal was to try the poses that were "scary," even if I "knew" I couldn't do them. When it came time for Ganda B, I first did the Andrei Ram version (fingers pointing back). Then I asked Little E to help me into the "real" version. She got my legs up, but they were nowhere near my head. The pose take tons of strength on top of flexibility. And balance. At the end of class, Dharma spoke about karma and suffering.

After coconuts I checked into the hotel, took a shower, and sat quietly. Then it was time for Dharma's evening class - which seemed almost as challenging as the two-hour Noon master class (I counted 45 breaths in Parvritta Parsvokonasana). It was so intense that later on I got some Epsom salt and soaked in the community bathtub at the hotel. (I figured the salt would kill whatever germs were there).

After class, U and I sat outside in the East Village, eating vegan pizza and watching the people... followed by consuming vegan ice cream and more of the same. Wonderful.

Tuesday's master class was another warm, sweaty, intense two hours of fun. Afterwords, Dharma spoke about how our happiness is derived from temporary things, such as our job and our yoga practice and our iPod (he always mentions the iPod) and so on. He said that even he will one day have to stop practicing and teaching yoga. Then what? He will still have his back-up light - the fruits of his yoga sadhana (spiritual practice). That is what we'll have left when we're "old and poor and all our friends are dead and nobody loves us." It never goes to waste.

Before class, I'd learned that my flight had been canceled and I'd been rebooked on a later flight. During lunch, I learned that the flight was delayed. And delayed again.

So I got some food-for-travel here:



Then I headed to Union Square to look for some cotton yoga tops (I finally decided that the high-tech stuff is way too hot in the summer). It was raining, and the pavement was beautiful.






Catesey, just in from upstate, joined me for a bite at Whole Foods. There we waited in line for eons to pay for his overpriced sandwich. There is an elaborate, high-tech system for getting the lines to move. It doesn't really work. But it is rather impressive.





(You can't see them, but there are, like, 50 people waiting in lines below the sign. Not one of them was smiling).

Afterwords I headed to the airport. On the way, I learned that my flight was delayed. And then it was delayed again. But I didn't care. I had my backup light. And a book to read. And some vegan sushi to eat. The last two things were temporary. But not the first one.

Plus I saw this on the cab-ride to the airport:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

THIS FRIDAY!
YOGA BEYOND ASANA: BREATHING, MEDITATION AND RELAXATION

with Cara Jepsen





Friday, July 16, 7:30-9:30PM
YogaNow Gold Coast, 742 N. Lasalle in Chicago
312-280-9642
$25 Prepay / $30 Door

The goal of yoga is to settle the mind into silence so that we can discover our true, peaceful nature. In this session we will explore a variety of classical yoga breathing, concentration and meditation techniques designed to quiet the mind. We will conclude with deep relaxation - which Sri Dharma Mittra calls the greatest antidote to impurities. This workshop will include some light asana (postures), and is suitable for all levels of student - particularly those who wish to develop a home sitting practice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

SOMETHING'S IN THE AIR








The past few weeks have been torture for many people.

Last week a student described it thus:

I'm exhausted.

I'm angry.

And I'm extremely sad.


I would add "anxious and frustrated" to the mix.

And "lost all interest in the thing I used to love."

The mood was so bad in fact that one needed to keep away from other people, so as not to infect them.

But it's about to end.

Apparently a partial lunar eclipse on June 23 threw everything out of whack. Or... perhaps it was when the planets lined up on June 13. Anyway, it has been a difficult few weeks.



Bill Street, who runs the Astrology for the Soul web site has this to say about the meaning and effect of the 2010 planetary alignment and total solar eclipse:

“Given historical precedence and the archetypal dynamics involved, The Saturn, Pluto, and Uranus T-Square of 2010 should coincide with a period of socio-political upheaval and destabilization, if not crisis. This alignment is arguably one of the most important astrological signatures of the first half of this century, certainly of the first three decades.



This T-Square symbolically represents a turning point in which economic, cultural, and political difficulties of the last decades come to a head and demand resolution.




Things are supposed to improve sometime tomorrow.

But I think the mood started to lift tonight.

And not just because I took not one but two classes with the Guru today.

(He says the next three or four years will be difficult - and then things will become harmonious).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

THE GREAT VEGETARIAN CAT FOOD DEBATE OF 2010: THE AFTERMATH







On the way out to Wondertucky on Sunday, I stopped by Bo's to pick some of Kirby's special kidney-friendly kibble. I'd decided not to force the vegetarian stuff on him, since he didn't seem to want it.

Bo was gone for the day, and had left the bag of prescription kibble in a bin outside her front door.

I picked it up, and left behind a bagful of goodies, including a package of maamoul cookies and wet and dry versions of the vegetarian cat food that Kirby didn't like. I figured her cats might give it a try.

The next day I got a voicemail from Bo:

"Thanks for the cookies and the can of vegetarian cat food.

"But we got home really late, and the raccoons chewed all the way through the plastic container and devoured whatever was in it - so we didn't get to eat it. It must have been good. There wasn't anything left"

Apparently, cats don't love vegetarian cat food.

Raccoons do.


I wonder if they washed it first.




Monday, July 05, 2010

INDEPENDENCE DAY




Usually, I avoid Independence Day. One of my favorite celebrations involved inviting people over, ordering pizza, and sitting in front of the AC watching Lolita and Sweet Sweetback's Baaaaadass Song. Partway through, we heard the tinkling of the bell of the paleta-wallah, and ran down the stairs to catch him and buy ice cream.

Last year I spent the day at the Yorktown Mall with Amma, the hugging saint.

Once, during the Reagan years, The Big Ex and I spent the Independence Day weekend with friends in Door County. On the way home, we burned an American flag in a parking lot (That would have been the year Edwin Meese and his ilk wanted to outlaw flag-burning. We were of the mind that it would be a first step towards de facto fascism).

Until yesterday, the most "American" thing I've done on the Fourth was to attend an outdoor John Cougar concert in Indianapolis. It was not my idea. Everyone in the audience stood up the whole time and had blond hair... except for me.

But yesterday may have matched it.

Bindi, the Colonel and I headed to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Cincinnati Reds.

Thanks to LVH we had great, free season tickets - right along the third base line. In the front row. In the sun. We could spit on the field, but chose not to.










We were also within spitting distance of left fielder Alfonso Soriano (but chose not to). The kids in our section kept shouting at him to throw us a ball. "He won't do it," Bindi told me. "He only throws to that section," to our left. Sure enough, he always gave it to them - which caused the kids to yell, "You suck, Soriano!" It seemed a bit much, but perhaps the heat was getting to them, too.





The Colonel paid attention to the game. Bindi did both; watched the game and chatted with me. We all complained about the heat and marveled that it now costs $6.75 for a beer. Bindi noticed that the players were wearing white hats for Independence Day (instead of the usual Cubs blue).


I kept getting distracted by things like Billy Williams' retired jersey, flying above. He was my favorite player growing up, when I used to while away the time watching Cubs games in bars (which is a whole 'nother story). I loved the number 26 - and the fact that his name was William Williams. Who would name their kid that?





So I kept getting distracted and missing the exciting bits - which was tough luck for me. Wrigley Field is a beautiful, historic ballpark with no Jumbotron, which means you have to actually watch the game. There are no instant replays. Just a guy in the most manual, analog scoreboard there is - keeping track of the stats by hand. You can actually see him change the score (only not in this picture). I like to tell people that he lives in there.




I also kept watching the relief pitchers warm up, since they were so close to us. But apparently they did not warm up enough.






The game had been going at a good clip - until the top of the Seventh Inning. We were sweating bullets and waiting for the inning to end, so we could sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with the rest of the crowd, and make our exit. Sitting in the direct midday sun for three hours can be hell for pitta dosha.


But the inning went on and on, as the Reds continued to score and score and score - into the double digits.

Finally, we just gave up and left.




Bindi said she heard that people booed all the way through the song. We never did find out who led it.

Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.

Thank you, LVH!






* * *



INDEPENDENCE DAY, PART DEUX



Later I drove out to my nephew's BBQ in Wondertucky, where I parked behind a car with this bumper sticker:







Turns out the driver belonged to another BBQ.

But there's that censorship thing again....

I guess some things never change.