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Bikram responds to assault allegations

April 2, 2015
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Bikram Choudhury has responded publicly to the allegations of rape and sexual assault from six of his students.

Here’s a link to the CNN report (which is of course a video). It’s an exclusive, and the first time he has talked about it.

The Daily Mail gives you the summary:

Speaking out for the first time since six women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of unwanted sexual advances, 69-year-old Bikram Choudhury strongly denied the accusations.

‘I never assaulted them,’ he said as he spoke to CNN. ‘The answer is I feel sorry for them… They’re entranced by somebody – lawyers.’

[snip]

Choudhury told CNN that his success means he would never need to assault anyone.

‘Women likes me. Women loves me,’ he said. ‘So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.’

When asked how his wife of more than 30 years, fellow yoga instructor Rajashree Choudhury, had responded to the accusations, Choudhury became emotional.

‘My wife never look at me anymore,’ he said.

‘Twenty-four hours a day, I work harder than any human being in this Earth… and this is my reward? I’m a rapist? Shame [on] your Western culture.’

No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s post.

Posted by Steve

Jai Hanuman

April 1, 2015
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We of course have to share Tim Miller’s retelling of Hanuman’s birth:

Anjana’s pregnancy went smoothly, and, at sunrise on the full moon day of Chaitra (April), Hanuman was born. Anjana’s form immediately began to change. Realizing that she had only a few precious moments with her son, Anjana took Hanuman in her arms and said, “Little Anjaneya, you are an avatar of Shiva and have come to this world as a saviour. It breaks my heart to say that I can never be a true mother to you, but your father, Vayu, will attend to all your needs.” Hanuman looked at his mother’s vanishing form with tears in his eyes and asked, “Who will show me the ways of the world, who will be my mother?”

Yeah, I picked the poignant part. Tim will be celebrating Hanuman Jayanti on Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m. When will you be celebrating?

Somewhere I have a nice picture of a rare image — Hanuman and Anjana, from a temple in Varanasi. I’ll try to find it for Friday.

Posted by Steve

‘Yoga has helped me open my mind to the possibilities of good health and life’

April 1, 2015
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It’s always good to see a new post from Robbie Norris at Richmond Private Yoga. Maybe you get tired of his good news stories, but I don’t. His latest:

As the packed room of 20 men rested at the end of the Richmond City Justice Center (Richmond City Jail) yoga class, I realized I wanted to know more about this young man who looks like a track and field star, and whose quiet nature has an element of somberness that often suggests internal struggle.

“Thank you — this is a powerful statement,” I told him.  “If you’d like to share this, so that someone else who can relate to your situation might see it, and be prompted to explore the benefits of yoga, then I can put it on the internet.”  Marcelius brightened, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “I want you to, that’s why I signed it.”

I told him the statement is excellent —  except that it offers no clue of his circumstances or where he learned yoga, and that he might consider giving it some context.  The following class, Monday, March 26, he gave me another letter and said, “This goes before the other one.”

You’ll have to click the link to see the letters — and to get the opportunity to encourage Marcelius to keep at the yoga.

Posted by Steve

The breath and Ashtanga

March 31, 2015
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I know lots of people are reading and sharing Nancy Gilgoff’s quick set of thoughts we linked to this weekend. One thing, as I’ve been reflecting on it, particularly strikes me:

The perfect pose is without bad pain and without stress… only breath. The correct method is finding that in our own practice, and our role as “teacher” is to help others to find it. Once one finds it then how quickly or slowly we learn primary and intermediate will have little relevance. Keep practising, always coming back to the breath… and enjoy. This is Guruji’s system of yoga, I think.

Sound familiar? One of the revolving pieces on the Yoga Workshop home page says this:

INHALE, EXHALE, (REPEAT).

If you’re new to yoga, that’s all you need to know how to do.

In both cases, it is breath that is fundamental. Everything else, as the saying goes, is just circus tricks.

Sort of a nice reminder.

Posted by Steve

Delving into the ‘dark side of enlightenment’

March 30, 2015

This NPR interview Sunday morning caught my ear from the moment it touched on what sounds like India Syndrome:

Back in 2006, he was leading a program for American students in India. They learned about Buddhism, practiced meditation, and one day, they undertook a particularly dark exercise: It involved imagining themselves as decaying corpses.

Afterwards, one of his brightest students told him it was the most profound experience of her life. That night, she described herself in her journal as a “bodhisattva,” just before jumping to her death from the roof of the retreat center. “And this, to me, was this horrifying experience,” Carney says. “How could something that is so wonderful, how could go so terribly wrong? I spent the next six years collecting journals of other people who’d had similar experiences. And then when I found out about Ian Thorson’s death in 2012, I knew that I wanted to tell the story of spiritual sickness through his eyes.”

NPR touts this as the “dark side of enlightenment,” which is as good a way to sum it up as I can think of. I’ve heard similar stories, including ones seemingly resulting from untethered pranayama.

The interview, of course, is tied to a book, and the author Scott Carney makes one particularly valuable point:

And I believe that very intensive meditation might be able to accentuate some of these underlying proclivities in us, and push us over the edge. It’s a problem that we know about in the traditions and yet you don’t really talk about it in the community at large, because I think a lot of people feel that if you mention that there’s this dark side to meditation, that you’re undercutting the very credibility of the techniques in the first place. But I don’t understand why we can’t have both, right? Why can’t we say, these things can be wonderfully good for you, but maybe like a drug, it’s better thought of as powerful, and used in a way that is responsible.

That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff on why ‘didn’t I “change” with the updates’

March 29, 2015
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It’s relatively rare when Nancy Gilgoff puts something out there online, so her response to some comments in a post at the Ashtanga Brighton blog are worth a look:

Another thing to make mention of… While we were shown the primary and intermediate one after the other, Guruji told us that in our daily practice we should take primary one day and intermediate the next. We were not to continue practising both series in one go. The folks I see today are not following this method. They are doing all of both series almost daily and then they even add some third on to that too. So I’m not surprised they experience “burnout”.

In Mysore that is fine to do, but at home when we have “life” happening (jobs, families, school, etc.), we should take one series at a time or split them in the prescribed method. This comes directly from Guruji.

I don’t think there’s anything strikingly new there — no surprise, as she’s reiterating her rationale about teaching how Guruji taught her — but she does discuss what the “perfect” pose is in a terrifically succinct way.

Posted by Steve

Surprising yourself with an unexpected asana success might be great for you

March 29, 2015
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A very intriguing bit of scientific news, courtesy the New York Times. Boiled down: Experience a sense of “awe” can be really good for you. From the story:

Far less is known, however, about the health benefits of specific upbeat moods — whether contentment, say, might promote good health more robustly than joy or pride does. A new study singles out one surprising emotion as a potent medicine: awe. And happily, awe seems to be much easier to come by than many might expect, even for the busy and stressed-out.

[snip]

The students then supplied saliva samples, which were analyzed for interleukin-6, a molecule known to promote inflammation throughout the body. Because inflammation is tied to poor health, researchers figured that low levels of IL-6 might signal good health.

[snip]

While happy moods were collectively still associated with low IL-6 levels, the strongest correlation was with awe. The more frequently someone reported having felt awe-struck, the lower the IL-6.

“There seems to be something about awe,” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology and the senior author of the study, who is also the faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. (He has studied laughter, empathy and blushing, too.) “It seems to have a pronounced impact on markers related to inflammation.”

I’m intrigued because I actually took a class on the topic of awe (and the sublime) in grad school — as it relates to English literature and art, specifically. You can find it in all types of art, from a Michelangelo sculpture (and the Sistine Chapel, for sure) to a Rothko, and a bunch of stuff in between.

But I also think there’s the sense of awe we can find — I’ve at least found — during an Ashtanga practice when we do something we didn’t think we could manage: handstand, maybe, or some other arm balance or an especially tough back bend. Or any of those wacky Third Series poses I’ve been seeing Bobbie attempt.

So maybe add that to all the other health benefits from asana practice. I’d be curious if it is more true for “tougher” practices than some of the more restorative or Kundalini types.

Posted by Steve