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Practicing when the world seems to be going to hell

July 24, 2014
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During our Yatra, we had about a six-day stretch where we were fully off the grid. No wifi or Internet access. No email. No news. Nothing beyond the peaks of the Himalayas surrounding us.

When we came back down (literally and figuratively), the news was filled with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and, seemingly out of nowhere (but not really), the fighting going on in Gaza.

It felt like the world had taken a turn or two for the worse while we were tucked away in the safe embrace of the Ganges.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a fair amount of social media posting from teachers, and some Ashtanga practitioners, who are struggling to practice in the face of all the fighting, death and other unbelievable tragedy. Some write they found relief in the practice — often in the consistency of the breath. Others seem to question the efficacy of the practice in such moments.

It brought to mind one of the many attributed to Pattabhi Jois sayings: “You take care of your anus. The universe will take care of itself.”

I can’t find a credible source for the quote, but it is one I’ve heard more than a few times. (I did find some interesting health sites while doing that search.) It does fit with other quotes from Guruji, and with Ashtanga’s focus on the agni of our digestive system.

I wonder, though, how it sits with those teachers and practitioners who can’t shake off the images we are seeing from both areas (and others — it isn’t as though all the fighting going on today is limited to those two places). Is it a helpful reminder to take care of yourself? After all, it is hard to take responsibility for anyone else. Or does it suggest an abdication of responsibility that isn’t acceptable? I suppose there is a certain Vedic perspective inherent in it that may form a disconnect. Things will happen as they are meant to happen (and perhaps as they have happened incalculable times already).

That can be hard to accept, though.

Posted by Steve

If the Kali Yuga ends this weekend, we don’t have to go to Bhakti Fest

July 23, 2014

There is a pair of items from Tim Miller to share with you today.

The first is his weekly blog post, which returns to all things celestial this week. And big things are happening there:

On Saturday July 26th at 3:42pm PDT, the Sun and Moon will be conjunct at 10 degrees Cancer in Pushya Nakshatra.  This promises to be one of the most powerful new moons of this year, or any year. The Moon in Cancer is in the sign that it rules, its natural home.  Pushya means “to nourish”–it is symbolized by the udder of a cow and provides the quality called “Brahmavarchasa Shakti”, the power to create spiritual energy.  The presiding deity of Pushya is Brihaspati (Jupiter), the guru of the gods.  As mentioned previously, Jupiter is also occupying Pushya, and is particularly strong here in its natural abode, offering support to the Moon.  The Sun, Moon, and Jupiter are considered to be friends and having them all together in Pushya is thought to be particularly auspicious.

Tim goes on to note just how auspicious this conjunction is:

In fact, the Srimad Bhagavatam says that the conjunction of the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter in Pushya heralds the advent of the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu, Kalki. The appearance of Kalki signals the end of the Kali Yuga and the beginning of the Golden Age.  Some people are actually suggesting that this will happen this weekend!

He does dismiss the possibility, noting that during the hundreds of years since the Srimad Bhagavatam was written, there have been numerous such heavenly alignments. Which is too bad, because it means that the second item from Tim — via email, so you may have received it — will still happen.

That event: That Tim will be out at Bhakti Fest in early September.

Wait, you’re saying — probably at varying degrees of outrage and volume. Why is it too bad that Bhakti Fest will be happening?

First off, let me remind you to stay in the bhav.

Secondly, it’s too bad because one of “aha” moments from our Yatra — not one of the major ones, admittedly — was recognizing that Bhakti Yoga is of a firmly dualistic nature: You’re serving, singing to, being devoted to God as a separate being from yourself.

We’re of the firmly non-dualistic bent, however. (Potentially even more radically so than your Advaita Vedanta way of understanding the world; that’s the subject for another blog.) So there is a natural hesitation or disconnect there.

But, yes, yes, there isn’t exactly a hard and fast wall between them. (Well, for some there is.) Devotion, singing, kirtan, etc. can be a way of expressing one’s non-dualistic knowledge of the world. Albeit it is different from the Bhakti path — one perhaps best associated with Krishna. And Tim, we know, encourages devotion to make sure we remain “juicy” given all the heat and tapas of the Ashtanga practice. But the devotion he shows — or at least as we experience his showing it — is part and parcel of the practice, and so still within a non-dualistic way of experiencing the world. As far as we’re concerned, anyway.

I could go on. Let me just conclude with: This is a complicated subject that hasn’t had a solid answer for centuries.

And it is a long way of saying: If you were thinking of going to Bhakti Fest, there’s another good reason to do so: You can catch an asana class with Timji. (Although the exact schedule doesn’t seem to be finished yet.)

Posted by Steve

The fastest Third Series practice you’ll see today

July 22, 2014

I suspect this is the fastest Third Series practice you’re likely to see:

It went online this week. I mostly appreciate how much you can see his breathing during the Sun Salutes as well as some of the other poses.

Bobbie had plenty to say about the role or place of an asana practice in her first post-Yatra post on Monday. Perhaps not strangely, I had similar thoughts about the practice — but we didn’t talk about what we were thinking, and we came to some conclusions all on our own.

I’m hoping to put those to virtual paper tomorrow, but work is what one would expect work to be after nearly a month away.

Posted by Steve


Ashtanga and the Role of Pilgrimage

July 21, 2014

Steve and I have returned from our journey to the north of India. We’ve been all over that country now, spent a lot of time studying its philosophy, getting to know its people, and visiting its holy places. Now, we’re home.

One of the best things about coming home after a long journey is the sudden and unexpected enjoyment found in the small, familiar things around you when you return. Certainly, there are the niceties of daily comfort–like familiar food, and your own bed–but there are also all the things you didn’t take notice of at all: Sounds and smells, the convenience of choice and freedom of movement that comes with the well-worn places in our lives.

That also goes for the daily practice of Ashtanga. It should be no surprise to you that Steve and I learned quite a lot about Ashtanga while we were in India (and no, we did not go to Mysore). We were assisted in this by the quiet grace of Kate O’Donnell‘s wise teaching (as well as Rich Ray’s support). What was most impressive about their teaching was found in their restraint, really. Both took care not to get in the way of the essential purpose of the journey: A contemplative and worshipful experience of India on its own terms. I was never distracted by my practice. I kept it in the context of the place.

When we were in Haridwar, for instance: Haridwar is an historic gateway to the Himalayas, and we would soon be on

The practice view in Haridwar.

The practice view in Haridwar.

our way north, up the Ganges. Our practice room was also a meditation space, with stairs that led into the river itself. Families had come down the ghat across the river to bathe, and to worship. Over the sound of the river–resonating more loudly than it had in Kashi–you could hear the voices of the myna birds and ring-necked parakeets. Steve’s photos display the variety we encountered, so we were never able to be too comfortable, jostled just enough by the view (or the monkey, or the chipmunk!) to stay alert. There was never stillness, never silence, no matter where we were practicing.

So stirred out of comfort, you have the opportunity to put asana practice where it need to be, and you are reminded regularly that we practice to still the mind, and to be healthy enough to pursue greater understanding. Going to a temple or a festival after morning practice changes things. The practice becomes like the matrix rock that contains a vein of gold. It’s the mental and physical structure that allows us to find a form for our selves.

I hope this is making sense. Going to India has allowed me to see my self. I’ve been a scholar all my life, but it wasn’t until I began the intensity of the physical practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga that I found a use for that scholarly knowledge, beyond the closed and stifling system of the academic.

Toward the end of our trip, we attended a talk by Dr. Sharada Raghav, who gave us a kind of primer on Aryuveda which included some very practical advice. In her talk, she said we should always strive to “reduce the gap between knowledge and behavior.” I think I went to India this time to learn that lesson, to be reminded of things I already knew, but had forgotten to use, if you understand me.

Ashtanga is a practice that involves faith on many levels–faith in our teachers, in the system that has come down to us, faith in the body that performs it, and in the mind that wills it. But it also involves faith in its ultimate purpose: To still the mind, so that the world that is too much with us will no longer keep us from seeing what is Real.

Posted by Bobbie

The luck of our Yatra

July 20, 2014

I’m sure we’ll get to regular postings — Tim Miller’s last blog post, for instance, deserved to be highlighted — but here’s one more Yatra-related piece. And it demonstrates how lucky we were.

Necessary background: We came down from Gangotri on Sunday and from Uttarkashi on Tuesday. Which means we barely made it out:

As heavy rains lashed Uttarakhand forcing a halt to the Char Dham yatra and with more rains forecast, the authorities have decided not to allow tourists and pilgrims to Gaurikund, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri. As a precautionary measure, two heavy-duty Mi-17 helicopters will be stationed in Dharchula and Gauchar till July 25.

These were among the decisions which were taken on Thursday at a meeting, chaired by cabinet secretary Ajith Seth, on preparedness for any crisis in the hill state.

Namarupa’s Robert Moses sent that around on Friday. And then I found this:

UTTARKASHI, Uttarakhand: Thirteen Russian nationals were killed on Tuesday as the bus ferrying them to Gangotri fell off the road and plunged into Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi district.

That happened a few weeks before we went through. And that’s not to mention that many of us flew near the route of the Malaysian airline that was shot down the same day we were traveling.

Jai Siva, Jai Ganesha, Jai Narasimha, Jai Hanuman.

But… wow. Scary.

Posted by Steve

The source of the Ganges and, if you missed it, Sharath in the U.S.

July 19, 2014

While we were on our Yatra, we heard about the two weeks that Sharath will be teaching in the U.S. The first out in Los Angeles, the latter in New York City.

Details — notably at this point that there are single classes available for those who can’t commit to a full week — are here. (You may have to move around the dates to find them all.) Sharath also will be leading a pranayama series of classes at the Broome Street Temple and in LA. One does have to register for the full series of Intermediate classes and have completed the Intermediate series with him.

No word on whether having bathed at the source of the Ganges, about 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas at Gomukh, gets you dispensation. If it does, most of our fellow Yatris and us can say, “Yeah, we’ve done that,” and sign up with impunity. Here are some photo pieces of evidence:

Bobbie after bathing int he Ganges.

Bobbie in the back after bathing in the Ganges.

The glacier from which flows the Ganges.

The glacier from which flows the Ganges.

Closer up on the glacier.

Closer up on the glacier. 

The water was so cold, you pretty much didn’t notice it after the first dunk. I think I mildly blacked out during my second and third immersion.

Posted by Steve 

Yatra Dispatch: Mysore spaces in Haridwar and Uttarkashi

July 18, 2014

So …. we’re actually home, and, we think, most everyone else is, too. A few people were staying on from a day to two full weeks — but the Yatra’s over. And, like last time, we are trying to process it all and get our brains and hearts around what we experienced and what it will continue to mean.

Here are the final two practice spaces. First, in Haridwar:

IMG_0335That’s the Ganges a few steps down, and a pretty calm and nice Siva watched over us. I think everyone at least put their feet in the Ganga after practice. (A sad truth: It isn’t very clean there.)

And then here is the space at the ashram we stayed at in Uttarkashi. It is under the auspices of a lineage related to Sivananda, but not the Sivanada Yoga Center with which you may be familiar (and which Robert Moses’ guru, Swami Vishnudevananda, set up):

IMG_0420We just did some pranayama when we were at about 12,000 feet on our way to Gomukh. We did make it all the way. Pictures to come.

Posted by Steve and Bobbie