Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Walt Whitman was a yoga teacher?!? 

"To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breath-
ing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, to touch any one, to rest
my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck
for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it, as in
a sea."

Monday, June 01, 2009


Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshath Parambrahma Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha

Guru is creator Brahma; Guru is preserver Vishnu; Guru is also the destroyer Siva and he is the source of the Absolute. The Guru that is nearby,
the Guru that is beyond all form. I offer all my salutations to the Guru.
-From Adi Shankara.

The word guru is derived from the Sanskrit root "gru" literally meaning heavy, weighty. Jokes about rotundity later in life aside (and Guruji loved chocolate until very late in life!), it is understood that the guru is heavy with experience, knowledge and wisdom that he or she imparts on the dedicated student as they see fit.

My favorite interpretation however is that the guru is not light like a feather, swayed this way and that by the winds of change. He is not bound by the citta vrttis (fluctuations of the mindstuff) that we are so prone to: "the weather was great this morning but now it's kind of crummy... I received praise from so and so and felt great but then so and so criticized me and I felt bad... I looove this pose but haaate that other one..." and on and on, the peaks and valleys the mind latches on to, up and down, constantly swinging back and forth. The guru is more like a rock than a feather; relentless in faith in the teachings, compassion for the seeker, good cheer for all.

Another etymology claimed in Hindu scriptures is that of a dispeller of darkness; 'gu' meaning darkness, and 'ru' meaning "dispeller." It is commonly understood that your teacher will illuminate the darkness of ignorance with the strength of knowledge. Thus, by extension, your guru can be any being in your life who helps to shed some light into those dark corners, or as I say at the end of my class, "We give thanks to the beings of light in our lives, who walk the path a little ahead of us and help shine our way."

A couple of things I learned from Guruji:

Be loving:
What I am learning, cultivating, hoping for, is to posess the kind of love and generosity he had for all. From the first-time drop-in to the decades-long practitioner, he was so present in that moment, his warmth and love exploding over cultural or language barriers until it manifested in pure love. Even when he was in dragon mode, bellowing across the room and fierce as lightning, if you looked closely there was a twinkle of a smile in his eye. He saw the god, and the good, in all his students.

Be courageous:
The concept of limitations does not exist in the guru's world. He knows better than I think I know what I am capable of. "Why fearing?!? You TRY!!", he would proclaim, and proceed to wrap me into shapes previously impossible. "When you come to Mysore?", he asked in '03. Something in me responded without rational thought- 'Next year, Guruji'. I made it happen- quit the cushy dayjob and made the five month pilgrimage to study at his feet, to trust that the universe would catch me at some point on the way down as I took the leap. "Why fearing?!? You DO!!". And I did.

Be grateful:
After class or conference, there was always a sea of eager students queing up to say thanks. We would touch his feet and sometimes give a hug. Say thank you. There was never the rote "you're welcome" from him. It was always a variation on the Elvis-like response- "Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you". I never gave much thought to it until his passing, attributing it to his shaky command of the English language perhaps? I think I get it now. Without a student, there can be no teacher. Without a seeker, there can be no practice. So, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

NYC memorial for Guruji 

From the AYNY website:

He lived the life of Ambush
And went the way of Dusk
And now against his subtle name
There stands an Asterisk

As confident of him as we—
Impregnable we are—
The whole of Immortality
Intrenched within a star—

--Emily Dickinson

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who was a crown jewel among teachers. Unsurpassable in knowledge, kindness, humor and compassion, we will miss him dearly.

A public prayer service and evening of remembrance will be held on June 14th at 6 pm. Location to be announced.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Not ending, only beginning..." 

Everything is feeling fragmented, as I try to piece together a mosaic of the bits and pieces of Guruji stories I've amassed since I first met him in 2001. There is no cohesion, only snapshots right now, and that smile, kind and mischievous and boundless, and those feet, strong and hard-worked and ever-present right when you needed most.

The first lesson I learned from him was that he knows better than I think I do what I am capable of. On and off the mat. And that kind of faith (shradha, also his great-granddaughter's name) gave me the wings to manifest the impossible, with perseverance and a smile.

2002: "what do you like most about New York? "The people... the people who study, very good people... they work very hard all the time, good people."

Mysore, 2004:
First impression of the main shala was that it was one big heart-cracking open factory. He was there for the backbending more than anything else, busting open hearts and receiving us on the other side as we emerged, often shaken, always grateful.

Caught up in one of my personal dramas, after class: Guruji, I feel sad today. "Why sad?!? You think only of god, then not sad."

On shavasana: "30 minutes! [is a good amount of time]"

Humbleasana: One week at conference (the weekly satsang wherein all the yoga students congregate in their Sunday finest to sit at his feet and hear him speak or respond to questions). I am in my usual front row and center.

Addressing one of his long-time students: "What are Primary Series asanas?". Kevin embarks on the postures that comprise the series in question, gets stuck towards the end. My brain and ego are screaming oooh, I know this one, how can he miss it, he ought to know better, I can easily- my thoughts are interrupted by a booming "YOU! What are Primary Series asanas?".

For some reason, the sixty or so students assembled (including a large handful of high profile longtime practitioners and teachers) are quiet. I glance around. They look at me, the newbie, expectantly. I look up to see him, blazing eyes on me. Unnnh, "Surya Namaskar A, Surya Namaskar B, ... ?" "...?" And I'll be damned if the very first asana evades me. I have done it a few thousand times. Where is it? His face is stern but his eyes are twinkling. "Paaaa...?." "...?!?". I try again. "Paaaa... daaaa...?" He is losing patience, I see him start to glance around the room, looking for his next victim. But wait! I am the yoga geek! I breathe the practice!! "Paaadaaaa aaangusht...?" I can see he's about to summon someone else, as he challenges me. I am mortified, but determined. "padangushtasanapadahastasanautthittatrikonasanaA,B,utthittaparshvakonasanaA,B, prasarita...." I'm off, and I don't pause to take a breath in until "Utth plutthi, take rest". He is smiling. I am absolved.

He demands Intermediate Series from a certified teacher, who stumbles just once, and so it went. That week, most afternoons, you'd catch the yoga students cramming, reciting the names of the poses we dance or wrestle with, every day like a mantra, in terror of being called on, next week's conference.

He didn't talk about asana, that next week. None of us will forget the names of the shapes, anytime soon.

NYC, 2005: Last night saw the climax of Guruji and family's visit to America. The workshop completely wrung me out and spat me out and fueled and frazzled and taught and touched in ways exquisite and unexpected. It was wonder-full, from the first pink-skyed morning to the last tear-dropped evening. Friends and familiars from the Americas and beyond came to our little town for the chance to practice under the guru's eagle eye and warm smile. Did what I could, when I could, to help make folks feel warm and welcome. So glad and grateful I got to see the man I've said goodbye to in my head every time, every year, for the last four years. And for the next several many.

NYC 2006: "Special" puja anounced at the school for a Monday evening. The usual few- plus a couple more. Guruji, with his daughter and grandson, surprise us with their presence. They pray with us, receive blessings with us, sit with us. Seated near him, I receive the verbal summons: "You! Permanent here?" I scurry over, request clarification, verify that indeed, family all there [Greece]. As I've been slowly, confirming I am here. "Permanent".

He was not perfect nor infallible, and his being human, sometimes cranky or cantankerous or tough or silly or forgetful somehow made it ok to not be this perfect being, more than ok- made it a good thing.

Another thing I am still learning from him:
April 2006:
Our Guruji was here last week, teaching with his daughter and grandson, at a new window-framed light- and love-filled space. What I am learning, cultivating, hoping for, is to posess the kind of love and generosity he has for all; from the first-time drop-in to the decades-long practitioner, he is just so there for you and present in that moment, his warmth and love exploding over cultural or language barriers until it's just pure light.

So good to see so many I cross paths with, over the last five years that I've been lucky enough to have this practice, these teachings, this community, in my life. So many from all over I will keep seeing and sharing that abundance of love and gratitude for this practice, this life.

We are so very blessed.

May 18, 2009:
From David Swenson: Guruji would want us to be laughing. After all, Jois is just one letter from Joys.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Soon coming 

It's been forever since I've blogged about practice- for the longest time, my response to the question "how's your practice?" has been, "it is". and sometimes, it hasn't been- my ashtanga practice, that is. After a break from teacher & shala, then a break from Mysore in general (hello, Dharma Mittra and Jivamukti!), I came back home to AYNY and the rigors of an (almost) daily practice this fall. My heart, my home, this practice, these teachings, this teacher. Contended with a shoulder-thing that for several weeks precluded chatturanga dandasana and rediscovered the practice with, as I explained to the man, "all the fun bits stripped away"- no jumpings, jumpbacks, jumpthroughs, working very carefully with backbending... took me to a quieter more meticulous place where the asana themselves were held for 8, 10, 12 breaths and the transitions glossed over. Deep, sweet, soft.

Now, free from the physical fatigue borne by restaurant work, practice has emerged at the forefront of my existence, for the first time in a long while. And the tangible marks of "progress" in the primary series are also manifesting, much as I opt to downplay my reliance on just such signs. Hands to the floor in prasarita C. floatier less clunky jumpthroughs. wrist-binds in the marichis, one breath to get into D. shake-free navasana. clumsy, but proper exit out of bhujapidasana. handbind in supta kurma (with help), and slowly working on exit with legs crossed before tittibasana-ing out of it. hands to ears in garba pindasana. chin and chest to floor in badhakonasana. ditto for upavishta konasana. this week, hands crept in to heels in backbending, 5 days running now. dropbacks so sweet, hover, linger, breathe, fingertips touch, inhale up, last one manage no duck-feet. all with steady, strong breath. good stuff. The sense of ennui with practice has dissipated, as asana previously horrible feel nice, enjoying the entire series where I used to have strong preferences and dislikes. It's all good, now. For now.

A new nemesis lurks, however. last month, E told me he's been waiting for the shoulder to be rehabilitated and saw no reason why we shouldn't start me on intermediate in the new year; mari D looking good, ditto badhakona, supta kurmasana is what it is, standing up from backbends... didn't really hold him to it, but kinda did.

Last year, a different teacher had expressed interest in giving me intermediate, and I realized I didn't feel like it would be legitimate or count unless it came from E. Looks like things might be legitimized, and soon! After more than 7 years with this. Never realized that I wanted it as much as I do, until faced with the (however vague) promise that in fact I *am* Intermediate series-worthy! Yay! Never one to ask for a pose or push in practice, I nonetheless rejoiced at the mere prospect of not being "stuck' doing just primary for a lifetime of practice as I often allowed myself to think- and I do have a lifetime to dedicate to this practice, that much I know.

After a glooorious practice yesterday, and an unassisted primary today, teach announced, "Monday, pashasana", after another nice hands to heels urdhva D. I gave a mock frown. "new nemesis". And then, knowing full well it's not, "is monday a moonday?". As in you are messing with me, right? anywhoo. the mere prospect of that awful squat-twist thing appalls and excites me- once I am free from the gatekeeper/Cerberus to the 2nd series, I can't wait for all that's to come since my heart (pun intended) lies with the backbends. Funny from a girl who's dedicated a few thousand hours to a series so focused on forward bends. Definitely not counting on Monday being the day, but soon. Soon. Soon coming.

In other news: over the last year I: quit the restaurant gig, taught led ashtanga, "auditioned" for yoga classes, became more tolerant, assisted a Mysore room, went to Greece (twice!), fell in love, visited London for the first time since college, got my groove on, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, freaked out about money, spent a fortune on a dress, rocked stiletto heels, went on a blind date, committed to an old love, taught teachers-in-training, sang, watched the sun dance on the lake at the ashram and the moon rise over the mountains in chios, became more social, went dancing, spent Thanksgiving in New England and New Year's in Athens, taught prenatal and subbed baby + parent yoga, was happy, then freaked out, went to the dentist, meditated, laughed, cried, picked up classes, lost classes, considered the future, dwelled on the present.

It's been a full year, it seems. More, soon coming. Soon.

All is coming.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Light it up, 8/7/08! 


Do you, like me, care about freedom and want to have a say about it?

Please unite with more than 100,000,000 people in the Biggest Light Protest on Earth for a Free Tibet.

Light a candle on August 7th at 9:00 p.m. (At your home, or in public)
Join and enjoy special light actions on the same night.
Drive with your car's headlights on during August 8 2008.
Watch "Sad Smoky Mountains" teams paint the sky with red smoke.
Watch those attending the opening ceremony in Beijing light candles, flashlights, cell phones and lighters. All for a FREE TIBET.

Please join us

Candle for Tibet

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Doing the best I can 

The blog is not dead. It’s just that every time I’ve been online has required taking care of things rather than reflecting on them. I am still here. Balancing practice and rest, the restaurant and sharing the teachings, sometimes soaring, at others crawling- into spring and new starts.

In my heart, I now know my time in Mysore would have been very much bitter sweet. A challenge to be at the shala without Guruji sharing his wisdom, grace and presence with those of us lucky enough to be spending time by his side. The teachings were here for me, this year. My heart sings and the flickers of faith and courage become steady flames at the memory of my moments with Guruji, his teachings, his ability to be so completely present in his every encounter, his fierceness, his kindness. His love, inspiring me to try to keep my heart as big as I can, every day.

A good friend recently observed that my life has been completely transformed, in these last several weeks. My mom's dear friend moved to a nicer place, after three long months in the hospital, to rest and be taken care of like she deserves to. She is very much back to her old self, with the fighting spirit firmly in place and her dog by her side. I am free to dedicate time and effort to other things, once again, with the memory of those dark December days keeping me from flying too high. Just as the memory of winter grounds us on manic summer days, so the memory of summer’s light keeps us buoyant in the heart of winter.

Speaking of pets, a new cat adopted me! Her name is Kira and she is an ashram cat who came to me after spending six months locked in a basement with two other cats. This little one settled into my home and life with the kind of grace and ease I dream of. She spends her days giving me joy and companionship and reminding me to always make time for play and rest.

I am back to spending sweet time at the ashram, after a three month hiatus. That place, those grounds, those people, are very much a part of my heart, just as Eddie’s is. I have my little yoga class there, and this month am so thrilled to be part of the teaching staff for the inaugural Ananda Ashram 200 hour Teacher Training. Those women, who are spending the month onsite, are so very blessed to have this experience, this amazing environment and these amazing teachers at their disposal. One of them is a student of mine, and it makes me equally proud and a little freaked out to hear some of my little quirks and intonations in her teaching voice. She even busted someone for not being in synch with the rest of the class, popping into upward facing dog too soon, as I’ve been known to do once in a while- and Guruji has done endless times in countless led classes. A reminder to be present, to not rush. Don’t hurry!

After these last couple of years of doing exactly as I pleased, when I pleased, the tightening of the reigns on my schedule, as I pick up more classes and keep waiting tables and keep some semblance of a regular practice and a social life has stretched me pretty thin. Suddenly a major source of strain has been the concept of not-enough-time. Find myself constantly checking my watch or the clock. It just slips away and the hours turn into days and weeks and I don’t know where it goes! I do realize most of humanity lives this way, with more than just one major thing to do on a given day, but boy is it an adjustment for me! Really positive though- my friends see these changes in my demeanor and ability to cope well and be kind and smiling on a daily basis. I am happy. A little scared, sometimes, but willing to be brave and put myself out there and take steps forward and make changes and keep on learning like I need and want to.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cheap date 

Anyone else get a buzz from this stuff?

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