What we’ve been watching lately: ‘The Story of India’

We may — emphasis still on “may” — have a trip to India looming on the horizon.

Perhaps in partial response, we’ve been making our way through the two-year old “The Story of India” series from PBS.

A link to it is here. It seems to be a pretty good resource, especially the “Ask Michael Wood” section.

Young Shiva devotee, via 'The Story of India'

The show — and we’re halfway through on this, our second watch — is pretty wide-ranging and broadly inclusive, which seems to be the most contemporary way of understanding India’s history. As a stop along both the silk and spice routes, it was a confluence of sorts from time far past. Buddhism spread out, Islam spread in — and a lot more happened well before either of those religions got going.

There is, of course, always the outsider-looking-in perspective from Englishman Michael Wood. But I don’t get the sense that there is any imperialist guilt or reductive take on India. He seems genuinely fascinated and in love with the country. (In a sense, it reminds me of how T.E. Lawrence fell in love with Arabia.)

Along with the book “The Hindus,” which we’ve mentioned before, the program demonstrates that Indian — and Hindu — history and culture aren’t simple or easy to classify.

You know, kind of how everything does once you really look at it closely enough.

Posted by Steve

The meanings of Ganesha

During one of his discussions of Patanjali’s sutras, Tim Miller observed that one’s ishta devata–the aspect of the divine chosen for contemplation–should be “a role model.” Since we’re in the midst of Ganesha Chaturthi (which Tim blogs about this week), I thought I’d ponder my own ishta devata, Ganesha.

Vyasa dictating to Ganesha on a wall in Angkor Wat, via Wikipedia

The ishta devata is the access point for the seeker, the face or facet of the unfathomable that allows us a way in, so to speak. The “in” is into ourselves and our universal nature, with the goal to see the eternal in yourself: “Thou art that,” you are the deity and the deity is you. Because I have something of a scholarly past, and because I’m a teacher, the aspect of Ganesha I most adore is Ekadanta–“single tusk.”

Here’s the story I love the most: The great sage Vyasa was preparing to compose The Mahabharata. Realizing the enormity of the task, he asked Ganesha to be his scribe. Ganesha readily agreed, provided it be done all at one sitting. It quickly became clear that an ordinary pen would not work, so rather than interrupt the poet’s stream of thought, Ganesha broke off his tusk and used it as his pen.

There are, of course, a ton of stories about how Ganesha broke his tusk, but this is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it presents such a different point of view of the poet than what I grew up with and studied. In that tradition, the poet is “possessed by the Muse,” sometimes even in a narcotic haze, a vehicle for the external. Here, God sits at the poet’s side, blank pages before Him, tusk in hand, waiting to hear the words of a human (albeit enlightened) sage.

So you find images of Ganesha, head cocked as if listening to Vyasa, broken tusk at the ready to copy down all that he hears with his great ears. Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! Jai, Ganesha!

Posted by Bobbie

Mercury day poetry: Soul and Body

Andrew Marvell. Image via luminarium.org

OK, don’t stop reading.

But, yes, we’re going back a ways in the English poetry lineage. All the way to Andrew Marvell, who maybe ought to rank No. 2 on the list of best Metaphysical Poets.

Metaphysical Poets. Sound a bit familiar? Yes, once again we’re reaching into your high school English class for something that might make you think, “yoga.”

I’ll bet your teacher didn’t bring up yoga when last you read Marvell, best known for “To his Coy Mistress.”

Maybe your asana practice will give you insight into this poem.

‘A Dialogus between the Soul and the Body’


O who shall, from this dungeon, raise
A soul enslav’d so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fetter’d stands
In feet, and manacled in hands;
Here blinded with an eye, and there
Deaf with the drumming of an ear;
A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins;
Tortur’d, besides each other part,
In a vain head, and double heart.
O who shall me deliver whole
From bonds of this tyrannic soul?
Which, stretch’d upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go;
And warms and moves this needless frame,
(A fever could but do the same)
And, wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die.
A body that could never rest,
Since this ill spirit it possest.
What magic could me thus confine
Within another’s grief to pine?
Where whatsoever it complain,
I feel, that cannot feel, the pain;
And all my care itself employs;
That to preserve which me destroys;
Constrain’d not only to endure
Diseases, but, what’s worse, the cure;
And ready oft the port to gain,
Am shipwreck’d into health again.
But physic yet could never reach
The maladies thou me dost teach;
Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
And then the palsy shakes of fear;
The pestilence of love does heat,
Or hatred’s hidden ulcer eat;
Joy’s cheerful madness does perplex,
Or sorrow’s other madness vex;
Which knowledge forces me to know,
And memory will not forego.
What but a soul could have the wit
To build me up for sin so fit?
So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.

Yoga fuel: green, green energy that’s clean

I didn’t think it was possible for a mainstay of our diet to get any better/worse.

But it has.

For the past couple of years or so, the go-to food — especially after practice — has been a veggie-heavy smoothie. Lots of spinach, some purple kale, a bit of green energy stuff (take your pick which one) and some frozen fruit added up to a nice way to cool down and get something like six servings of veggies in one glass. And it was pretty tasty.

Green juice, via choosingraw.com

Oh, did I mention? It included soy milk as the base.

Yeah, I hear you. But I didn’t really realize just how much until a few weeks ago.

That’s when the soy milk got tossed aside for plain old filtered water. And the frozen fruit was dumped, too. In its place? More herbs such as dandelion, mint, dill and fennel.

Oh, I’m not saying these “smoothies” — probably they are more like juices, only with all that pulp that is left behind when you “juice” — are yummy. But they are … well, something, in a weird, healthy way that is similar to how wheat grass tastes. Only you’re drinking 16 ounces or so.

But what’s better is there’s no heavy feeling after — it’s all quick-acting energy. Perhaps not cup of coffee boost, but a strong, steady lift. And there’s still the six or maybe eight servings of vegetables in that morning glass. With enough ice, it even helps cool you down after practice.

These juices and smoothies are just part of the mostly raw diet we are on; certainly, one thing I find is there is a lot less soreness post-practice when I’ve stayed raw and haven’t “fallen off the wagon” a little. (Got to stay on the Middle Path, right?) And if you mix things up, the food can be pretty satisfying.

Especially if you think of it as just another step along the Shaucha path.

If you’ve got a favorite green energy drink, by all means, share the recipe in the comments. Because Bobbie’s more the raw food expert than I am.

Posted by Steve

Mercury day poetry: Two Divine Images

And now for something completely different.

'The Divine Image,' Songs of Innocence

William Blake’s most accessible work — I say that with a healthy irony, as “most accessible” doesn’t mean much when one considers “Jerusalem” or “The Four Zoas” — is his collection of shorter poems, “Songs of Innocence and Experience.” You probably know “The Tyger” from your high school English class, although maybe not fondly.

Well, despite what your horrible high school English teacher suggested, it’s great stuff. And there’s no way I can do it justice or provide all the context I’d like. (For instance, they all are engraved / art work, so just the words are but part of the whole.)  Suffice it to say the two perspectives — innocence and experience — give you one filter through which to read the poems.

Here’s a taste. The two “The Divine Image” poems. You can decide if they are meant as a pair. First the Innocence one and then the Experienced.

The Divine Image

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

All pray in their distress;

And to these virtues of delight

Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is God, our father dear,

And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity a human face,

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,

That prays in his distress,

Prays to the human form divine,

Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,

In heathen, turk, or jew;

Where Mercy, Love, & Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.

The Divine Image

Cruelty has a Human Heart,

And Jealousy a Human Face;

Terror the Human Form Divine,

And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,

The Human Form a fiery Forge,

The Human Face a Furnace seal’d,

The Human Heart is hungry Gorge.

A different kind of confluence

As you may or may not know (I didn’t), September is “National Yoga Month.” Studios all over the U.S. will be offering a free week of yoga. As it happens, the first annual day of “Thank You, Mother India” will be September 17. It’s sponsored by Yoga Gives Back, an organization founded by Kayoko Mitsumatsu (Q&A to come), dedicated to supporting women in India by building awareness here in the States, and beyond.

Namaste, indeed. Via yogagivesback.org

Now, it seems interesting to me that these two things are happening in the same month. One is designed to expand the ever-expanding yoga culture in the U.S. The other is designed to show gratitude, a reminder that India is the source of the practice, and, ultimately, responsible for its benefits.

Leslie Hendry has a wonderful article over at The Huffington Post about the organization and the event; she also talks about her own sense of gratitude, and the role of our teacher, Jörgen Christiansson. She makes this excellent point about the difference between a yoga practice, and her old life working out in a gym:

I knew no one and spoke to no one. This is how I rolled for years. I still know no one from the gyms I frequented, and I’ve never reminisced about padding the mechanical stairs. I certainly didn’t help launch a non-profit to give back to a culture that brought weigh training into my life. But that’s what I did after I hit the yoga path.

Now, here’s what I propose. Certainly, those of us who have been practicing for years (15 total now, for me) don’t need to be given a free week of yoga. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got friends who are teaching for free in September, and it’s a great idea. But, instead of taking a free week, why not give the equivalent of a week to Yoga Gives Back?

As Leslie and the Yoga Gives Back website point out, “For the cost of one yoga class, you can change a life.” What would the cost of a week of yoga mean? My fellow Ashtangis, the dollar equivalent of a six-day practice is a nice bit of cash and would do a lot of good.

Come find out more. See you Sept. 17.

Posted by Bobbie

You come next time!

Just last night, I told a student in my Sunday Intro to Ashtanga class, “You should come to the Confluence. And check soon–I’ve heard spaces are going fast.”

Checking the Confluence website this morning, I see that “registration is full.” So if you were planning on coming, but did a little procrastinating…

I suppose you can camp outside the resort and hope for a miracle. It’s a really beautiful beach! If you have your spot, I look forward to meeting you in March!

Posted by Bobbie