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The Internet + auto-rickshaws = Uber India, more or less

July 27, 2014

Interesting story from the New York Times:

In a country clogged with congestion, a handful of start-ups are using technology to more easily connect auto-rickshaw drivers with customers — an Indian twist to Uber and Lyft, the ride-hailing apps.

Mr. Dusane’s employer, Autowale, uses a program to map out potential routes and maximize pickups. AutoRaja has a dial-an-auto service in Chennai. In Bangalore, mGaadi offers rickshaw bookings via its website and app.

The three-wheeled, often black and yellow auto-rickshaws are ubiquitous in India, where public buses are rather abysmal, subways are limited and taxis are few and expensive. People can hail auto-rickshaws off the streets, but getting one depends on a combination of negotiating skill and luck. Most drivers tend to charge a flat, inflated rate, instead of going by the meter, and often turn down prospective customers if the distance is too short or to an area from which they might not get a fare back.

Autowale is trying to make the process easier by offering rickshaws on demand. Customers can request a rickshaw through the company’s app or website, as well as through the more old-fashioned method, its call center. Passengers pay a convenience fee of about 33 cents per ride.

Although Uber came to India last September, the service is expensive and doesn’t compete in the same space. As in the United States, Uber, which operates in six Indian cities including New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, focuses on the taxi market.

We all have an auto-rickshaw tale or two, right? Here’s a not great picture from Puri:

Auto-rickshaw in Puri.

Auto-rickshaw in Puri.

Posted by Steve

 

What’s it like to go to Mysore?

July 26, 2014

That question got answered on Thursday at “Quora,” which apparently is “your best source for knowledge,” except for the fact I’d never heard of it before this post appeared in my daily Google alert:

Like many things, what it’s like depends on who is doing the experiencing. It really depends on whom you ask, as well as when the respondent was last there.

[snip]

Even in the nineties, there were always complaints about the pool-side social “scene” and clique-y-ness that develops when young travelers spend a few months together, or the brunch time complaints about “the next pose” or the competitive atmosphere and more-yogic-than-thou bullshit that developed in the 2000′s and on up today.

That’s part of the answer from Joseph Goodman. You can check the post out and see if it all aligns with your thought — although whether it aligns may depend on when you go and read it, if you get my point.

I also feel compelled to point you toward this story from the Lafayette Journal & Courier about a subject that hasn’t come up in a while: Christian alternatives to yoga. A few key passages:

After a set of warm-up exercises, the Christian yoga alternative began. They stretched in postures instead of yoga poses. Gone was downward-facing dog and in its stead, women glided gracefully into tent pose. They still focused on breathing, adhering to constant reminders from Douglas to inhale and exhale.

However, the mood was intentionally religious in nature as Douglas read corresponding scriptures while the women lingered in their postures. By the end, as they lay supine in a refuge posture instead of the traditional yoga corpse pose, Douglas’ assistants laid warmed cloths soaked in lavender essential oil over the faces of the women to aid relaxation.

“Stay focused on God and your breath,” Douglas said. “Listen to that still, small voice.”

[snip]

“Yoga is a mystic and ascetic Hindu discipline for achieving union with supreme spirits through works, meaning salvation through works,” Douglas wrote in an email. “As Christians we cannot receive salvation through works but by accepting Jesus Christ. And yes, some of the postures look the same, (but) the body can only bend in so many ways. PraiseMoves is a redemptive work of the Lord.”

Reece agreed and said yoga shouldn’t be taught in Christian churches. “The Bible calls us to be a peculiar people and we should be that,” he said. “We shouldn’t blend in with the world.”

[snip]

Although the movement in PraiseMoves resembles yoga, Douglas argues that the philosophies are different.

“I don’t believe that yoga is just an exercise,” she said. “Yoga asks you to find what you need from within and they say that everything you need can be found from within. I’m nothing without God. Everything that I need comes from him.”

The postures have different names such as “The Cross,” “Peter’s Boat,” and “David’s Harp.” Each posture done in PraiseMoves has a scripture associated with it. Practitioners listen to the instructor recite scripture while they execute postures.

Kris Bowers of Romney said she prefers PraiseMoves to the traditional asana practice.

“I like yoga but I didn’t realize what it meant,” she said. “Each pose for yoga is a pose to worship a different god. PraiseMoves changes their moves to worship the one true God.”

I really like that just by changing the names of the poses, everything seems to be alright.

Bringing up PraiseMoves does allow me to broach a subject from our Yatra, an issue about which I think I disagreed with most of my fellow travelers.

There was a fair amount of discussion about just how religious, spiritual or steeped in faith India is — especially in comparison to the U.S. I did not, do not, find that to be true. If you compared a small, Midwestern city to a small, rural town in India, I think you’d find a lot of similarities between the roles of religion and temple/church. The people in that Midwestern town pray to and think about God, I wager, as much as the people in India. Religion is similarly central to both.

My sense — and I suppose I’ve found this within the broader yoga community — is that there is a dismissal of Christianity as truly religious or Christians as being truly religious and full of faith. So even if a person or family goes to church and lives by a set of Christian tenants, it’s all suspect.

I understand why that it is — we see and are familiar with the inconsistencies of Christianity that have made many people question it. If you have questioned and even moved away from Christianity, chances are you see its faults rather than its positives. I suspect if one got as familiar with those Indians in that town, there’d be a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions. Unfortunately, from my experience (and others), the priests in Hindu temples can leave a bad impression, for instance.

But all that is human nature. We’re flawed, fallen or living Maya — take your pick.

I’d just be careful when making broad statements about this facet of U.S. life, especially if you live on the coasts where, perhaps, life isn’t quite as full of faith and it is easy to forget about the flyover states. (Let’s blame Hollywood for our lack of faith, shall we? I also should point out that previous sentence was, in fact, written by someone who loves making broad, sweeping statements about people and things, as regular readers know. I also hate being consistent. [Goggle Oscar Wilde, consistent and dullard to find out why.])

I’ll now admit, for those still reading, all of this was an excuse to highlight this final passage from the Journal & Courier story:

She also teaches Mira!, a Christian alternative to Zumba.

“The Zumba classes I attended were very vulgar,” Douglas said. “There’s a lot of hip-shaking.”

The Mira! classes incorporate dance moves and are set to Christian music that typically has a Latin or rhythmic beat.

“But we just aren’t exaggerating the hip area,” Douglas said.

Yes, there is a Christian alternative to Zumba. That makes my weekend.

Posted by Steve

The Ashtanga practice as a model for living, but not as life itself

July 25, 2014

It should come as no surprise that during our Yatra in Northern India, there were lots of discussions about all things Ashtanga. (Maybe that should be our new blog site: allthingsashtanga.com.) Bobbie touched on some of it in her last post. I want to highlight one paragraph:

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.

Definitely one of the things the trip reinforced for me is the proper role of Ashtanga in our lives. Tim Miller (no surprise I’d default to the guru) has taught a workshop he calls “The Heroic Practice.” As I understood it, first off, it’s heroic to dedicate yourself to Ashtanga. After all, it’s hard, and it challenges you on a whole gamut of levels.

More so, though, the practice is a metaphor or microcosm for life. You face challenges and hardships — pick your personal pose to conquer — and learn to handle those tough moments with a degree of mental equilibrium, patient breath and relatively controlled reactions.

Of similar importance (although I think this gets seriously short shrift when people talk about Ashtanga — perhaps something to think more about, as a result, but I’ll save it for another post) is learning to handle triumphs with the same mental calmness, controlled breath and reserved reactions. After all, the next challenge or true adversity is just a vinyasa away — or, put another way: Done celebrating that drop back? Let us introduce you to kapotasana.

I also think we shouldn’t under-emphasize the value of the confidence that the practice can create: Knowing you can do some pretty crazy things — especially while really incorporating breath, bandha and dristi — can be a reservoir of strength when life’s tougher moments come calling. (Even if it is just the hardship of an 18K hike at 13,000 feet.)

Trying to capture a little of the difficulty of hiking to Gomukh.

Trying to capture a little of the difficulty of hiking to Gomukh.

After all, the hero has to have confidence in himself or herself. (Think of Arjuna at the beginning of the Gita.)

The Ashtanga practice teaches these lessons. And, if we can learn them, we should be better equipped to handle our lives with some success. (Think Arjuna and which side wins the war.)

A problem comes when the practice goes from being a metaphor for life and seems to become life, itself. Everything revolves around the practice: When you eat, when you get to bed, whether you see friends and family, maybe even what your job is.

I suppose this is OK if you’re going the renunciation path and have found a cave in the Himalayas in which to practice — but otherwise, that’s nothing like the balance and play of opposites that Ashtanga teaches. And judging from some of the conversations I had, getting out of balance is fairly prevalent out there. (Meaning: There were lots of stories and discussions around this idea, not that I felt surrounded by wacked-out Ashtangis. Well, maybe a few — and you know who you are!)

I suppose it is sort of a meta-hurdle. The practice, which is meant to teach us to calm our mind and live a life less battered by the storms the come along, becomes a hurricane that tosses you back and forth. And likely you don’t realize it because, after all, you’re doing all this Ashtanga — so you must be on the right path.

Now, those last three paragraphs are not meant to say you shouldn’t think about when (and what) you eat and make sure that the practice is a priority. For instance, often on the Yatra, the big meal of the day would come at 3 or 4 p.m. And that would be it (along with maybe an 8 or 9 p.m. bed time). Was practice the next morning a bit lighter than what’s typical of our usual routine? Yes. (Albeit that’s clouded by all things India.) So I understand the desire to prep things as much as possible for a good practice. (Obviously, it isn’t just about eating; it’s just an easy illustration.)

Again, though, it’s an issue of balance and the harnessing of opposing forces — and not letting any one direction spirit you away.

That sounds a bit like the Middle Way. Which actually fits, because a few other discussions I had on our trip have me checking Buddhist meditation out. Because the learning never ends.

Much like the Ashtanga practice itself.

Posted by Steve

Practicing when the world seems to be going to hell

July 24, 2014
tags: , ,

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
tags:

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