Special Namarupa hits the virtual shelves

Not too long after a big “regular” issue, Namarupa has released a special issue focused on Vaishnavism. Link to the issue is right here. The cost is $14, and it runs 48 pages.

Here’s a little from the description:


A little reminder of some of our posts on George Harrison to get you in the mood.

Posted by Steve

Integrating Study and Practice

I’m what you might call a semi-academic. Years ago, I deliberately walked away from a tenure-track job in my field (British Romanticism), profoundly unhappy and unfulfilled by academic scholarship. I went back to poetry writing. I took some time off, wrote some poems, worked some retail. Which meant, essentially, that I burned the bridge back to my academic career. With some distance in time, I realize it was the disconnect between academic study and academic teaching that made me so disgusted with the whole thing—-the disconnect between study and practice. 

It’s possible that, initially, it was the extreme physicality of Ashtanga that drew me to it. It was as far away from study as I thought I could get. It was all body. Or so I thought.

The study, or sadhana, aspect of Ashtanga is sneaky, though. You want to learn the pose. Nobody is really telling you how to do the pose. What’s a former academic to do? Buy a book, of course. Thank you, David Swenson. Still, it’s not technically a book; it’s a “practice manual.” Right?

But that was just the beginning; it was years ago, some teacher trainings with the great reader, Tim Miller, and lots of books later when along came Eddie Stern, and Robert Moses, and their sadhana yatra (which we are going on again in a few months). Along came many more books to prepare, and a much broader understanding of yoga, with deeper context. Somewhere in all of this, we learned of the existence of Namarupa, Robert and Eddie’s journal.

“Name and form.” That’s what the name of their journal means. Subtitled, “categories of Indian thought.”

When Steve and I went on the last pilgrimage, we took along volumes and volumes of Namarupa on our iPad, and tried to catch up with years of amazing articles, photos, and art. The new issue is out (catch it here), and it dedicates a number of its articles to. . .asana!

Why do I say it like this, you ask, as if I’m shocked? If you look at the covers of the slender offerings (pun intended) of American yoga journals, without doubt asana is the focus—the physical practice takes a front seat, with the thought in the back. Even meditative practices are almost always linked to physical benefits. In Namarupa, thought’s in the front seat, and “practice” means something totally different. Asana is for the most part absent. The focus is on Indian thought.

Most recent cover. All Hanuman, no asana.
Most recent cover. All Hanuman, no asana.

After we  got over the bitter taste academia left in our mouths, Steve and I were hungry for this. (I include Steve here because it’s a well-kept secret that he’s also a reformed academic–he has two Masters degrees, and had even finished his Ph.D. coursework in English when he decided to become a journalist.) (I guess it’s now a poorly-kept secret.)

For those of us who roll out the mat every day, though, there’s always the question of how to integrate study into practice in a healthy way.

This issue, for instance, has an article written by Eddie Stern, and illustrated with photos by Sharath. You would think you’d get a sense there, from two of the world’s leading Ashtanga teachers, and pioneers in the field.

It’s a beautiful article. But it, too, is about pilgrimage—you will have to wait to the end to get an insight from Eddie on integration of pilgrimage into practice (and you’ll also have to read it yourself–“Pilgrimage to Srigeri” by Eddie Stern with a photo essay by R. Sharath Jois).

But hold on. There’s more: An extended meditation on a single pose, and, for me, the hardest pose of all:  “Shavasana: the Corpse Pose” by Jan Schmidt-Garre. There’s also a story-telling description of the asanas influenced by Hanuman—with advice on how to put yourself in Hanuman’s mental place as you practice them (“Hanuman’s Influence on Yoga Asanas” by Mayanak Dhingra). Many of these Tim Miller teaches as research poses for the practice, and it was right up Steve’s alley. Be Hanuman!

For me, though, the article with the most resonance is the “Teachings of Professor Krishnamacharya” by Claude Marechal. Marechal is a long-time student of TKV Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son.

At his workshop with Robert Moses in New York, Eddie Stern pointed out that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was lured away from Krishnamacharya by an academic job, to teach yoga at the Sanskrit college in Mysore.

What’s the first thing you need, Eddie asked, when you get hired to teach a college class?

It was like he was asking me personally. “A syllabus!” I said. If you’re going to teach a class, you have to have lesson plans. A syllabus is expected of you. You can’t just walk in and improvise a bunch of stuff. The syllabus is your contract with the student. It outlines what you’re promising to teach the student, as well as policies and practices, what’s expected from the student. So Guruji took what he learned from Krishnamacharya, and framed a course.

Marechal’s article is an extended analysis and summary of the elements that Guruji drew upon as a young teacher, formulating what would become Ashtanga yoga–although Marchal doesn’t mention Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at all. As his title suggests, Marechal considers these things first and foremost the teachings of a professor of yoga. Because the nature of academic research is to advance the field, he also outlines the innovations that belong to Krishnamacharya. The practitioner of Ashtanga can clearly see these in the article; among them is teaching to women, something that allowed Guruji to welcome Nancy Gilgoff into his school, and the many women who followed.

The article also outlines the strong integration of practice and study, at the same time recognizing that there are different emphases in the practice at different times in our lives. It also outlines the correct attitude of the teacher toward the student, and the student toward the teacher. The role of mental attitude in our daily lives is why we practice, and practice is why we study: “Dhyana is asana,” Marechal writes,

The state of concentration arising from the practice of asana and pranayama is presented by Professor Krishnamacharya as a unifying movement between the body, the breath, the senses and the mind (kaya prana indriya citta samgati). This idea of junction, of connection, is an essential aspect of the teaching of the master.

And, arguably, of his student, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Pick it up, and all the many other Namarupa gold mines, here.

Posted by Bobbie

10 facts about India’s holiest river

Saw this slideshow at the Times of India about the Ganga, titled “10 little known facts about Ganga.” Here’s a link and a bit from one of the cutlines:

It is difficult to ascertain the sheer size of Ganga just with a glance at a piece of paper. Ganges river system is a very complicated, especially in the delta region. Its complex tributaries and bifurcations in Bengal make it very difficult to determine its exact length. However, it is believed to be slightly over 2,500 km in length. The Ganges Delta formed mainly by sediment-laden flows from Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers is the world’s largest delta. It covers an area of about 59,000 km2. Only the Amazon and Congo rivers have a greater average water discharge than the combined outflow of Ganges-Brahmaputra river system.

Reminder: This summer’s Namarupa Yatra Divine includes a few opportunities to bathe in the Ganga.

Posted by Steve

New Namarupa includes article by Eddie Stern and Sharath

We got a sneak peak at the latest Namarupa magazine — again a whopper, at 96 pages — and we can assure you it is worth you time. (We again helped with the proofreading.)

You can browse and buy it right here.

I assume a highlight will be the piece by Eddie Stern and Sharath on their pilgrimage to Sringeri. But there is much more: a look at the Yoga Sutras, a piece on Krishnamacharya, art of Krishna and much more.

We’ll have more to say about some of the specific articles in the coming days. But we didn’t want to slow down your getting to it.

And, if you missed that link: Buy it here.

Posted by Steve

If you go on this trip to India, your life will change forever

Bear with me as we talk once again about our summer Yatra via Namarupa.

This one, Yatra Divine 2104, will focus on northern India and up into the Himalayas. (Oh, and quick pause: The headline is my effort at an Upworthy-like one. I give myself a B+.) Bobbie and I pretty much knew we’d be going once we heard that.

From Namarupa.org

I’d skimmed through the itinerary — as always, presented with the caveat that this is India, after all, and anything can happen or change — but not given it a really deep look.

I did this week, and my jaw dropped. The map above, which presents it in a lovely way, also doesn’t do it justice.

And so, I want to present you a few highlights on the off chance you might be thinking about going, or even just on the chance that seeing some of the highlights will get you to consider it. As I wrote: “Your life will change forever.” (And despite the hyperbole, I do mean it.)

One last note before diving into the details: Another reason to go is the other travelers, who in our experience are terrific. And the leaders, Robert Moses and Radhakunda Dasji, could not be better. Robert lived in India for many years, and returns annually — and there’s the whole Sivananda Yoga experience and knowledge he has. Radhakun brings laughter and enthusiasm and protection to the travels. He’s awesome. Honestly, about 1/3 of the reasons I’m going back is to spend more time with him.

This is real travel, in real India. Plus Kate O’Donnell leading Ashtanga practice.

On to the highlights:

  • Sunday June 29 ~ Puri – Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra Witness the largest chariot festival in all of India. Lord Jagannath, his brother Lord Baladeva and their sister Goddess Subhadra are seated on massive colorful chariots that thunder along the street pulled by thousands of devotees. 
  • Thursday July 3 ~ Varanasi We will perform the Panchatirthi Pilgrimage. Beginning at the southern end where Asi River meets the Ganga before dawn we will walk all along the Ganga Ghats to the northernmost end where Varana River flows into the Ganga and then enter the heart of the city for darshan of Lord Vishvanath, Annapurna Devi and Sakshi Vinayaka. We will perform sankalpa and worship at Five Tirthas.
  • Friday July 4 ~ Varanasi Morning class. Free day to rest and explore and shop the many alleys and bazaars of Varanasi . Optional visit to Sankat Mochan – Lord Hanuman.
  • Saturday July 5 ~ New Delhi – Train to Haridwar We will travel by the afternoon Janshatabdi Express train to Haridwar and check into our hotel right on the Ganga and in the heart of the bazaar. Bathe in the swiftly flowing cool Ganga to wash off lifetimes of sins as well as the dust of travel up until now. Free time.
  • Sunday July 6 ~ Haridwar Morning class. Visit Manasa Devi temple by cable car. Bus ride to Kankhal to meditate at Anananda Mayi Ma’s samadhi shrine and darshan at Daksha Temple. We will be back in Haridwar in time for Ganga Arati. And more evening shopping in the bazaar.
  • Monday July 7 ~ via Rishikesh to Uttarkashi Morning class. Travel by bus to through Rishikesh stopping at The Divine Life Society to meditate at the samadhi shrine of H.H. Sri Swami Sivananda and to take his permission for safe travels to the holy places of the higher Himalayas. This is where the mountains begin. Proceed to Uttarkashi visiting a number of Goddess shrines en route. Night halt in Uttarkashi.
  • Saturday July 12 ~ Ravada Village + Guru Purnima Guru Purnima is celebrated on the Full Moon of July. We will join the Swamijis in Uttarkashi to celebrate and also host a sadhu bandhara (feast for sadhus)

Honestly, I’m not sure what the absolute highlight is. The optional visit to Sankat Mochan, maybe? The washing off of a lifetime of sins? And I’ve not included above the karma yoga part of the trip, just because that feels like something all of its own. Nor have I mentioned the promised “hot springs.”

I simply can’t wait for late July to roll around; this will be a test of my very limited patience.

Think about joining, how about? We all could use for some life change.

Posted by Steve

Why I finally did full Primary last night

It’s been full-on sick time in our house for the better part of a month. Coughing. Sniffling. Sneezing. You know the drill. The best part was my having to fly for work and my ears/sinuses not clearing for a week. (Yes, Neti pot used.)


And so practice has been a little more hit and miss than normal. I’ve been practicing after work and often half-primary or even less. Half-primary, really, has been a good day.

“You better start doing more of Primary,” Bobbie told me last night, right before slipping into our home practice room.


Because on Wednesday we tied up all our loose ends — meaning plane tickets, hotel — and are officially, can’t turn back now, going to Eddie Stern and Robert Moses’ MLK weekend retreat at Ashtanga Yoga New York.

Yes, we’ve written about it before. How could we not? As a reminder, Robert led our Yatra to India a year ago, and he and Eddie co-publish Namarupa.

For those who missed it, here’s the general plan for the weekend:

6-9 pm Puja
Freedom (moksha) as the essential aim of all actions.
7-11 am Mysore Practice
12-12:45 pm Meditation
12:45 – 2 pm Meditation, Chanting & Yoga Sutras Study
2-4 pm Break for lunch
4-6 Talk: Spiritual Landscape of India
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am -1pm Break for lunch
1- 3 pm Talk: Essentials of Vedanta
3-4 pm Tea break
4-6 pm Talk: Yoga: Traditions & Lineages
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am-2 pm Ganesha Temple Yatra – Flushing, Queens

I mention it again because I checked in with Eddie and Robert today and there are still some spots available; they expect them to disappear though, so you are probably better off not waiting.

And if we can travel across the country, I figure anyone from about Washington D.C. to Boston can make the trip.

Not to pressure you.

So that’s my motivation to stop slogging along, semi-mopey from this cold/flu/cough nastiness. In a month, I’m going to have to be back in game shape. Although I do plan to use the three-hour time difference as as much of an excuse as I can for my many “bad man” behaviors.

Posted by Steve

Is yoga religious? Not in Iran, although maybe in the U.S. and India

The BBC has what may be the best look at the “is yoga religious” question. Our friend, and Namarupa founder and yatra leader, Robert Moses, sent this on to me, so hat tip his way. (Also, if you haven’t, check out the video at the “Reunion” blog post from a few days back.)

Two forms of prayer? Via the BBC

What I think really sets this report apart is its focus on Iran, where yoga is popular. I’ll be the first to say it: Who knew? Here’s the link and some choice parts:

One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.

Last month, a pro-yoga group petitioned the court to make it a compulsory part of the school syllabus on health grounds – but state schools in India are avowedly secular. The court said it was uncomfortable with the idea, and will gather the views of minority groups in the coming weeks.


But other classes may make no overt reference to spirituality at all.

That’s the way things are in Iran, where yoga is very popular. It has managed to flourish in a country with Sharia law and an Islamist political system, by divesting itself of anything that could be construed as blasphemy. Yoga teachers are careful to always refer to “the sport of yoga” and are accredited by the Yoga Federation, which operates in the same way as a tennis or football organisation.

Classes tend to be slower than in the West with much discussion about the physical benefits of each position. As with other sports, yoga competitions are held, judged by specially invited international yoga teachers.

The piece then focuses on our favorite yoga controversy: the Encinitas yoga-in-schools program, funded by the Sonima Foundation. The Broyles in the following is the NCLP’s Dean Broyles, lead lawyer on the suit against the Encinitas program:
The reason many people in the West think yoga is non-religious, Broyles says, is that it falls into a theological blind-spot. “Whereas Protestant Christianity focuses on words and beliefs, ashtanga yoga’s focus is practice and experience,” he says. Religious intentions may not be there to begin with but practising yoga might lead them to develop.
To an extent, this point of view is endorsed by Hindus themselves. The Hindu American Foundation recently ran a campaign called “Take Back Yoga”. Sheetal Shah, from the organisation, says someone raised in an “exclusivist” tradition like Islam or Christianity who becomes very interested in yoga may eventually experience some conflict with their religious beliefs.So, for American Christians who don’t like the idea of yoga, there are alternatives, including PraiseMoves.This exercise regime combines Christian worship with stretching exercises. As the class adopts a posture, they recite a verse from the Bible. In this way, bhujangasana or the cobra pose becomes the vine posture, with a corresponding verse from John 15:5. “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The piece also checks in with Jewish practitioners and has a great graphic of a few yoga poses — and their various names in a yoga, Encinitas school and Christian setting.

Posted by Steve