Ready to be a pilgrim in South India?

You all know that this fall Namarupa is running a full month’s Yatra through the north part of India, with a week that includes an Ashtanga program with Sharath.

It’s full, and has been for a while. But all is not lost. This week, Robert Moses — co-founder of Namarupa along with Eddie Stern — announced the next Yatra:

Your yatra guides will be Robert Moses, co-publisher of Namarupa and Radha-kunda das of Sacred Journeys India. Christine Hoar of Ashtanga Yoga Montauk will teach daily Ashtanga Yoga classes.

The magnificently constructed temples of South India, planned according to strict rules of vastu (laws governing spatial awareness), are often dominated by huge towering gateways called gopurams. Daily, vast numbers of Hindu yatris (pilgrims) pass through the gopurams to have darshan of their favorite gods or goddesses, enshrined in the murtis (images) in the temples’ inner sanctums. Darshan is both seeing and being seen by the deity. The intention of the Tamil Temple Yatra will be to go as much as possible as pilgrims to the sacred temples and, where permitted, to have darshan of the gods and goddesses. This will not be tourism. We will travel simply, lodge in very comfortable Indian-style accommodations, eat vegetarian meals and dress and behave appropriately according to local custom. At some places we will have ample time for the usual sightseeing, shopping and exploring that travellers enjoy. The pace will be relaxed, but this being India, one can expect the unexpected.

Ho-oh, Robert! Don’t get me started on the unexpected. But that’s a good part of the fun.

It runs from January 6 to 21, 2016. It might make a nice holiday present to yourself.

For our posts about our south India Yatra with Namarupa a few years ago, click here. (I think that captures them all; you might need to scroll back a page past our more recent Yatra posts.) We loved the south. The people were warm and inviting, the darshan was incredible, the temples stunning. If you want to really experience India, this is the way to go. We often were the only Westerners in crowds of hundreds, even thousands.

Posted by Steve

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Get on the Namarupa Yatra waiting list

We let you know when Sharath was added to the middle part of the next Namarupa Yatra — going on throughout October — and now we can let you know: You missed your chance.

Well, most likely. Because the Yatra — you can find info on it right here — is fully booked. A waiting list is up:

At this time all options are fully booked. We are taking names for a waiting list in case of cancellations. To get on the waiting list please fill in and submit the form here but no not send a deposit. Thank you.

Here’s the link to that form. (And the full info via brochure is right here.)

And, for those folks who have asked: We won’t be making it for a third Yatra in a row. The timing proved impossible for both of us. I have heard from several folks who I can say, without really knowing, will be great traveling companions. I’m sorry we won’t be joining them. (And, as always, not getting to see Radhakunda Dasji.)

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga and the Role of Pilgrimage

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

Yatra Dispatch: Mysore spaces in Haridwar and Uttarkashi

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:
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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

 

Yatra Dispatch: Puri Mysore space and the ways to Moksha

We can attest: This room has gotten hot. If we only had a Bikram teacher along, we would be all set.

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Practice this time has been very dedicated, with much tapas. It’s a sweat fest, in other words. People don’t seem to be holding back on the asana.

We have just all finished a satsang, during which Robert Moses pointed out that yoga is one of the ways to help us achieve Moksha. Devotion or Bhakti is another. We saw plenty of that during the Rath:

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And there is also study, which we got tonight. Another is the devotion or act of creation: poetry, songs, painting about the divine or ideas that help calm and quiet the mind. Even, maybe, blogging about them.

One of the beautiful things of the Namarupa Yatra is it offers many different threads one can pick up and explore.

Posted by Steve

The purpose of pilgrimage

Among the best books on our reading list for next month’s Namarupa Yatra is Diane L. Eck’s Banaras: City of Light. (Another of her works, Darshan, was probably the best of our first Yatra readings.

Probably the most succinct review is: It really has made us want to travel to Banaras / Varanasi — now.

Early on in the book, Eck describes seeing the city through Hindu eyes — what the city means and implies in their faith — and she delves, just for a few paragraphs, on pilgrimage and how they are not out for sight seeing but “sacred sight-seeing.” Darshan, in other words. And she writes the following, which has become one of my guide posts as I prep for our journey:

Those who travel as pilgrims follow the path of the “holy men” (sadhus) or “renouncers” (sannyasins), those perpetual seekers and pilgrims who have given up on the settled life of home to live out the spiritual truth that all people, finally, are travelers and pilgrims on earth. Very few people become sannyasins or sadhus, but in going on a pilgrimage, ordinary householders become, for a short time, renouncers of sorts. Leaving home, they take only those few things they can carry, and their life is the simple life of the road. Their destinations are spiritual ones, and they are often difficult to reach. Going on foot to a distant place becomes for these pilgrims a kind of asceticism in which the journey itself is as purifying as the sacred destinations.

It’s on pages 20-21 of the latest edition of the book.

On our trip this time, Robert Moses has emphasized we need to stick within a 33-pound limit, due to our internal air travel. So we can only a few things. Our lives will follow the simplicity of the road (and train, and bus, and airplane). All our destinations are spiritual ones, even spiritual ones within spiritual ones. We will hike in the Himalayas and walk along the Ganga in Banaras.

Our journey will be purifying.

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