Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

How Do You Climb A Mountain? August 22, 2011

I climbed  Mt. Fuji in 1992- coming up 20 years now. I remember how hot it was at the beginning station during the day- upwards of 30 degrees Celsius and we waited patiently for the sun to go down. Ideally you climb Mt.Fuji in the chill of the night so you can be at the top to watch the sun rise over the land. As we started our ascent on the slippery volcanic rock I just kept thinking, ” One foot after the other- one step at a time. Don’t go so fast you burn out from the elevation, don’t go so slow you get cold and cramp up- one step at a time.” So step by step we climbed the mountain.  Most climbers had wooden walking sticks with us that had a Japanese flag and some small chimes attached.  The rhythmic sound of bells accompanied all the climbers steps echoing brightly in the utter darkness. I chatted occasionally with those in our group but mostly I just listened and felt- we were walking up the greatest geographical icon in Japan. A mountain whose mere glimpse will often bring tears to Japanese eyes. Yet the path wasn’t particularly scenic it’s mostly black volcanic scree and it was also the middle of the night. I sometimes would look up the mountain to see little lights ahead of us- small headlamps attached to helmets or hats-  like fireflies dancing to the sound of the bells.

I would get tired on some parts or slide and slip on others but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to find a rhythm in the mountain- something I could follow. I wasn’t a yogi in those days- I was a 22 year old straight out of university following my dream. Living in Japan, climbing Mt. Fuji- all these radical new experiences that I was trying to absorb. It was like trying to do your dance to some music you had never heard- clumsy, awkward, and naive. Somewhere about half way up something changed and it was like the mountain and I were suddenly in relationship. The rhythm came and the effort softened and suddenly the dark wasn’t quite so intimidating.

We reached the top at 3:30 am and had to wait until 5 for the sun to rise. It was -3 Celsius at the top. I could barely make out a torii gate as we shoved cans of hot coffee into our pockets to keep warm. At 5 am the sun rose on Fuji, a line of orange to start and then breaking into reds and yellows- so bright it was almost blinding. The torii gate became illuminated in the morning colours and we looked out over the lakes and mountain below us. We had made it- one step at a time.

I thought about this climb a lot lately because I have often thought of the certification process as climbing a mountain. We often start out with a group of friends, a guide and high energy. As the journey continues some friends take different paths, others give up. Our guide stays with us for a certain amount of time and then they too leave us- they have taught us all they can and they point to the path ahead which you now follow on your own. You get tired, you want to quit. At that point you and the mountain have to come into relationship. It’s just the two of you now. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other….and suddenly….without quite believing it’s true- you are at the top.  The sun has risen and you have “upeksha”, the wide sweeping vision like that of an eagle, and what you realize is that the mountain was you all along. You were literally climbing through the layers of yourself. As soon as you realize that, the mountain dissolves and you are left with a new path in front of you….that leads to another mountain. One foot in front of the other…. beyond certification.

On the day that Anusara turned 14 years young, I reached the top of the mountain and passed my certification video. To my friends who started this climb with me- I love you all. To my teacher, Christina Sell, who encouraged me to climb the mountain- thank you for your belief in me. To my teacher, Robin Golt, who let me radio in to home base when the climb got tough- thank you for your wisdom. To my husband and children who put up with this long climb of 6 years- I could never have attempted this without your support. There are no words for all the love I have for you. To my teacher, John Friend, who gave me the best damn map to get up that mountain- thank you and deepest gratitude. You made sure I saw all the highlights and beauty along the way. To my father who’s work ethic never allowed me to give up- I miss you- I know you wouldn’t get this yoga thing but it’s a big deal. To all of you who I have met along the way- thank you for your encouragement . You know who you are.

Love and light~

” It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”~ Sir Edmund Hillary

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Anusara Harmonic Recalibration Retreat in Maui/ May 2011 June 7, 2011

I purposely did not take my computer to this retreat…. so it could be a retreat. I have to say I felt a little guilty as I usually blog from every training but I really wanted time every night to just relax and absorb the teachings. What this makes for on another level then is a more reflective blog. So rather than from my usual ” in the trenches” mode of writing, this will have a little more of a sense of impressions…shadows and themes of the week as what was most potent hopefully rises to the surface.

First of all this was a crazy event to have happen. I had planned out my year to spend May 21st in Christchurch with the Merry Band for my birthday- first ever trip to New Zealand. I was sacrificing my yearly Japan training to do it but I have roots in NZ and thought why not. Well, we all know the terrible crisis that rocked through Christchurch; and the trip was cancelled. I thought about trying to make it for Japan training when tragically the Tohoku area of Japan was devastated. It seemed John’s tour was not going to go as planned this year. Suddenly Maui was revealed as a new venue for a training ; the shakti provided a beautiful alternate- on days I could travel!

The days were divided into morning talk and meditation, a breakfast break, morning practice, long lunch break, and afternoon talk- 7am to 7pm for 5 days. I have to say it was one of my favorite schedules. We did not get in the usual two asana practices a day as we do during most trainings, but the practices we did do were full on.

Day one started with an introduction to the theme of the week: Harmonic Recalibration. I laugh as I write this because I am not honestly sure if it was calibration or recalibration but really- you get the point. Everything in the world is vibrating- Yantras and sacred geometry are forms of this greater vibration. Mantra is sound as vibration. We started with the most familiar sound to us- the invocation. John explained that OM as the form A*U*M represents the “A” as the first sound of most languages- the first sound in Sanskrit and “U” is the 16th and final sound in Sanskrit. The alphabet itself contains vowels and consonants. The vowels are refined- they can be likened to Shiva and the consonants represent the outer form- Shakti. The “AU” is sung together as “O” and the “M” actually has a dot over it called an anuswara ( not to be confused with Anusara) which gives it a reflection of the previous sound- so “M’ sounds like “ng” and goes up through the palette to vibrate in your head. You do not actually close your mouth to make the “M” sound. Try it sometime…

He went on to say that the God you hold in your heart- no matter the name it is given, vibrates at OM- and so do we. Even the universe has a sound- the sound of radiation- a background hum to the universe. ( you can check out this link I found to John G Cramer– prof of physics at U of W.. Can you hear the OM in that?)

The Maha-mantra “Om namah shivaya” – has been chanted now for 1800 years- its vibration has been expanded by  the length of time it has been chanted. It takes form in the akashic space- “namah” we bow out of awe- we are uplifted not subordinated. “Shivaya” goodness, auspicious, sacred- that which is at the essence of all that awes you is benevolent. Every time we chant we expand the global mind and collective consciousness through it’s vibration. Part of our practice is to get so sensitive we can attune to that harmonic vibration- to the vibration of spirit. ” If you can attune to spirit it’s all there”- John Friend

John then introduced our first drawing lesson. The dot and the circle- the circle represents the absolute realm- no form, time, sound, or space. In Buddhism, they refer to the circle as the void- shunyata– but in Shiva/ Shakti tantra we see the void as purna– full- full of yet unstruck potential. The bindhu– the dot- then becomes the way in which the unmanifest becomes manifest- it is manifestation that comes out of the attributes of the circle; the attributes of the Absolute: Sat Chit Ananda Svatantrya Shri Purna Spanda.

SAT: “IS”ness , truth

CHIT: conciousness, awareness, self knowing, light that is self reflective

ANANDA: our soul is bliss, love, joy

SHRI: Goodness, only goodness, no concept of evil

SVATANTRYA: ultimately unbounded freedom

PURNA: fullness of creative potential

SPANDA: how the one becomes the many, pulsation and vibration as waves

Manifestation then follows a deep order and organization ( krama)  from this seemly empty place- because really it is not empty. “ In what appears to be empty is spirit- not a vacuum or a void. There is nothing that is no thing”- John Friend

The week, John explained, was about cultivating direct knowing through practice- the direct truth of experience. For us to understand the absolute we have to understand from the relative- because that is where we are. The absolute is beyond words- but words are all we have. We use numbers to express something that is infinite, we use sequence to describe what is not linear and time to describe that which is beyond time. In my words,  we are being described a strawberry without actually ever having tasted one. This week was about having a taste- an indescribable taste.

To get that first taste we have to go to the first principle: sensitivity. This is the first practice of attuning to spirit. Our sensitivity is directly related to one’s clarity. John likened it to rust on an antenna. I would go as far to say that our yoga practice then become the mechanism which cleans some of the rust off our antennas. This image of the antenna seemed to stay with me as John talked about the “highest opportunity to see the dancing delight of the universe”. We receive this clarity and then there is a transformation and finally a transmission back out. We start to create clarity in others. Everything during the week was in a process of relationship: receiving and transmitting in a relation to the energy of spirit.

The body than becomes a yantra- a condensation of spirit in form- made of vibration that all starts from that one bindu in the circle. The practice that day then became of one of co-participating with nature- seeing the patterns in our hands and feet that are slower, grosser vibrations of  the Absolute. We started with just the hand and seeing the order of the finger pads, the meta carpels, the 4 corners laying them out in krama ( deep order) while staying sensitive to the bigger energy. The flavour was much different then “do this in order because it is the order” it was do this as a way to be receptive to the bigger energy- to create the body into a pattern that contains the vibration of the highest consciousness. Dance with the divine in you- make sacred art. It was a very powerful and beautiful practice.

After our break- which I spent swimming far off into the ocean- we gathered for our afternoon session which I like to call art class- sacred geometry simplified. I wish I could produce nice drawings on my blog but all I have is my notebook which I copied for you to see. (Please don’t laugh at my spelling or poor drawing.) We drew two over lapping circles horizontally  which represents Shiva/Shakti. The part of the two circles that overlaps becomes an oval that can represent the yoni (shakti) or the lingham (shiva). By putting a bindu in the middle of both circles you can make a triangle in the top part of the oval. We then took the upward facing triangle ( shiva) and downward facing triangle ( shakti) . In the absolute realm shiva is still and shakti is active- as the two pass through the magical mirror of maya they become reversed and the upward facing triangle of shiva becomes action ( yang- masculine- fire) and the downward facing triangle of shakti becomes reflection ( yin- feminine- water). This was our introduction to the shri yantra which John would expound on through the rest of the week.

Day one notes

Day 2 started with John asking about our sankalpa– our intention. Our intention is based on the degree of our will ( iccha). One of the interesting things he brought up was that before intention comes our darshan– our viewpoint. For one of the first times,  John started to more heavily draw out the Buddhist philosophies and how they align with Shiva/Shakti tantra. He said that “ even though the Buddha had everything there was still a hole. That hole is God given- we do not feel full” this longing to feel full is what spurs us into action. In the Buddhist philosophy, they say ” sarvam dukam” – everything is suffering. John flipped this around to say in Anusara we say ” sarvam sukham” everything is flowing. These two terms “ sukha” and “dukha” we have come to know as ease and suffering but they actually come from the description of a wheel.  When a wheel turns true and causes no friction or wobbling  that wheel is said to be “sukha“.  “Dukha” is the wheel that is off. If the wheel wobbles and it bothers you that is suffering. The wobbly wheel will create heat from friction. So we chose our view- to see suffering or to see flow. Your view becomes your philosphy of life- the way you look at things is also your shradda ( faith).

Your view is important because it determines how you direct your mind- how you imprint the akashic field. Wherever you have directed the mind the most becomes like the deepest hole you have dug in the field of the akasha. This is where you will go during under stress. We can dig out so to speak- we can chose to change our view if it has not served us. You really are what you think. So this becomes your darshan. In Anusara, our darshan then becomes the first line of the invocation “ Om Namah shivaya” I see the good. What is your darshan? It’s a great consideration. I ended up teaching a whole class on “is your glass half empty or half full?- how do you see the world?”. The responses I received from students were interesting and brought out a lot of deep questions and stories after class.

During the practice John talked more about the invocation and specifically about the meaning of words in the lines.  For example,  “satchidananda murtaye“: “murtaye” is from the root ” murti” meaning form. (Some of you may be familiar with statues of Hindu gods being called “murtis”). Therefore  Truth, Consciousness and Bliss take form. The form is an imprint of the formlessness, an imprint of the Absolute. Because we also contain these qualities,  we can take the form of the bliss of consciousness.

At the level of the Absolute there is no relationship. Relationship has the connotation of the relative world- the world where we live our lives. The  word “ratio” is a term we use to describe the relationship between two numbers or measures. Form is constructed in nature through ratios. For example the ratio between your hand and your forearm is  1.618- this is known as the Golden Ratio. So the line ” nishprapanchaya” – is saying that all 5 elements ( pancha) are held together in relationship. The form can arrange itself in relationship there is intelligence to the manifestation of form. “Niralambaya” , John said, was relationship held in partnership but it doesn’t need the support to exist but chooses relationship to enjoy life more. “Tejase“, the light or luminosity, then allows us to see that all relationship has deep order- we become “enlightened”.

We traced our hands and then drew the five elements with their glyphs down on paper.

Thumb= space – it is represent by a dot- a bindu

Index=  air- represented by a circle

Middle= fire- represented by an upward facing triangle

Ring= water- represented by a downward triangle

pinky= earth- represented by a square

The foot works exactly in the same way. You can have fun playing with your feet and hands in poses and seeing which part lifts up – which part fidgets- how it feels if you change an ” element”. The body is a fractal or hologram for the whole web and the hands and feet, even the ear, then are microcosm of the whole. This is one of the reasons why acupuncture or reflexology in a foot or ear can affect some deeper part of the body.


We had a beautiful evening concert that second night and suddenly my girlfriend Jean bumped me and pointed up- there in the dark night around  the luminous moon was a circle. We had the circle and the bindu…just like John had been teaching. It was one of those crazy things that happens around trainings – you literally start seeing exactly what you have been learning- everywhere!

Day three started with a clarification of the Shiva/ Shakti tantra that informs Anusara yoga. John explained he used the tantric system because it really had the best explanation to the questions of life: ie. If God is good why do bad things happen? If the Absolute is completely free why would it chose to bind itself? The energy is so free that s can choose to create an energetic appearance of being limited. It can bind part of itself but does it without ever reducing or taking away from itself. It is never reduced or disturbed as it creates a world of limitation. Out of freedom and delight it can play a game with itself: it can express itself artistically. Why do children play? It is not for outcome or conditions- it is for the fun of it. The absolute does the same and we call that play lila. The Supreme literally plays hide and seek with itself.

When we have the relationship of hide and seek, love and loss, we have revelations about ourselves. Accomplishing what you thought you could not do- that is revelation as well. The Supreme cloaks itself like a magician to create abuta– astonishment and wonder- the child that squeals with delight as you pull your hands away to reveal again what they thought was gone. The very dark times in our life can often hold the most revelation- look back at your experiences and I am sure you will find one like that.

One of the coolest things John talked about was the story of the caterpillar. There is an actual stage in the chrysalis where the caterpillar complete liquefies and reforms to the butterfly. I had to go look this up because it so captured my imagination ( here is great link). He explained that there is a point in the cycle where we can become something else- we can recreate ourselves. Concealment and revelation are happening in unison, sometimes it takes a while to see that. There is always a cycle of creation, highest refinement and dissolving happening- in our own bodies, in nature, in our experiences.

In Anusara, we use the three Goddesses: Saraswati, Lakshimi and Kali to explain this cycle. Saraswati is the beginning of the cycle and is represented by the colour white. Lakshimi is the height of the cycle and is represented by the colour red and Kali is the end of the cycle- the dissolving- and is represented by the colour black. Saraswati’s name has the root “sara” in it- to flow ( as in Anu”sara”) and her color of white represents purity and you will often see her holding a stringed instrument called a vina. She represents the beginning of the wave pattern a climb that brings with it the beginning of language and fundamental music. There is an innocence and purity at the beginning of the cycle. Lakshimi represents the fullness of the cycle- fullness of power, fertility, creativity. She takes the developments of the first cycle- ie. the alphabet and basic music- into greater complexity and refinement- the highest artistic beauty at the crest of the wave. Kali is the downward pulsation of the wave- the devourer of time- that which takes back in all the creative power to wait to start to create again. Within each of these cycles is smaller cycles- all parts of the cycle have a purpose and can be an entry point into the center- into the bindu.

That afternoon was a wonderful potpourri of information which I think I was too absorbed in to write proper notes or it could have been distraction as it was the day that my friend fell out of a tree in the mango grove right before lecture and dislocated his shoulder. It was a bit of a crazy start to the afternoon- I think John would agree. One of the notes I did make at the beginning that really sat with me was “We live this life to wake up“. I talked with my husband about his at some length after I returned and mused how much simpler life was in some ways “before I woke up”. Now I am not saying life was better, in fact I think it is supremely better now, but there is a level of responsibility that happens when you wake up- we don’t get to stick our head under the covers anymore and cry ignorance. It can be rather upsetting when you look around your life and the light of consciousness shines on some things you would rather not deal with- and now you HAVE to deal with them. I will leave it at that for this blog but I may go a little deeper in that vein on a future date.

John spoke of shri and defined it as the sacred, divine, auspicious- the highest goodness; that which we consider to be sacred. He explained that is why when we see something beautiful we immediately become reverent- the highest level of beauty reminds us we are all divine. We also touched on a touchy subject for some- beauty or auspiciousness that has been stolen by that which is malevolent. Specifically we spoke of the swastika. That yantra which is so auspicious in India that people draw it on their door steps to ward off evil and bring in luck , and yet,  when we see it,  we feel revulsion and sorrow for the hate it contained for only a few short years. Just think- a symbol that represented good for 1000’s of years was completely corrupted in 12 years. Can it ever be recovered or is the samskara so deep in the akashic field that it is beyond reclamation?

From there we talked about the fact that we wake up in relationship. At the relative level the highest purpose of relationship is love. Love ( prema) then is the relative slow vibratory form of bliss (ananda). So relationships are mixing of energy fields. We spoke a little on what then are the key elements for your highest relationship- your highest beloved. The first element is trust-similar vision- how you see the world. The second element was compatibility of mind- ability to communicate- emotionally and intellectually. The third was polar energy- yin and yang. All of us have both energies in us- it is not male and female in gender but in energy.

Day four morning was a meditation on the bij sounds of the chakras. We started out by talking about the view of maya in Tantra vs Vendanta. You will often hear maya refered to as “illusion” but in Tantra we call it the “magical mirror” where the absolute reverses itself as it passes through. You can use this idea to think that as the universe breathes out we take our first breath; and as we expel our last exhale the universe inhales and takes us home. As above so below- the universe is breathing and therefore we breathe. Tantra also looks at incarnation as a gift- it’s not like you screwed up and now you are back. John recommended we become a connoisseur of life~ we get better and better and then we come back and we enjoy it even more: this is the Tantric perspective.  This perspective is our darshan– we keep it fresh, we question, we experience. We then made the chanting of the bij sounds of the chakras like a science experiment inside each of us; letting the auspiciousness of the vibration open us up. We would receive the divine in the form of the inhale to manifest it into that particular chakra and let it vibrate. We went up the chakras 2 or 3 times- focusing on the elements and color of the chakra as we did it. I liked the idea of bringing the divine in through the form of the breath- it gave a meditation I had done previously a whole new perspective.

Practice that day was amazing- back bending heaven I seem to recall. The talk was fascinating to me as we covered so much material and some really new stuff. John said basically he was getting ready to set the foundation for his tour next year  including Egypt and a broadcast from the Mayan pyramids. John will be in Tulum when the Mayan calendar ends. I am not going to get into what that means or the significance but just to let you know in case you want to join the merry band. John talked numbers and base systems to start with. For example the number 108 which is an auspicious number is made up of 12- the number of the universal and also the guru- and the number 9- the number of the individual and also the top number in our base 10 numbering system. The number 12 is actually from the base 60 system- 60 minutes in an hour, 360 degrees, 12 hours in a day. The base 12 system was used by the Egyptians and Babalonians. The Mayans used a base 20 system- and it is this system that the Mayan pyramids were built on. I am sure there will be more interesting lectures on this as the year goes by. Might be worth some self research if you are going to study with John this year.

John also discussed the periodic table as being a chart of sound or vibration. The columns of the table just are more refined vibrations as they move down the chart. It’s incredible that I never even thought of that approach to the chart…makes me think I could have been a much better science student if John Friend was my teacher! So even though they discover new elements- the chart dosen’t get more columns.  The size of the atom decreases from left to right, and increases from top to bottom: and atoms are vibrations. If this is confusing think of the Tantra tattva chart and it might become a little clearer. The conversation veered into GMO’s and modification of food and what that does to the vibration and what it does to us as we ingest it- makes you think a little more about having a fake sugar in your coffee. Your body recognizes the vibration of sugar from a plant…might not be great for you but at least it is natural. Messing with our food is literally messing us up- from the inside out. Another thing that we can’t hide under the covers from ….

The last chart we copied down before practice was the astrological chart. I read my horoscope occasionally but I have no deep knowledge of the astrological calendar. The chart of years moves in reverse order to the monthly one we follow for people’s birth month. Each age last 720 years. We are currently in the Age of Pisces (though at some level this is heavily debated) and moving into the Age of Aquarius. The two previous ages were Aries and Taurus. If you look at the glyphs for these ages there is some interesting notes for the history buff. The Age of Taurus, with its bull glyph,  is known to be an age where the worship of bulls was common in Assryia, Egypt and Crete.  Aries, represented by the ram, was a time in history where various gods rose with the name contain that sound: Rama, Bhrama , Ra, Abraham etc. and the sacrifice of sheep replaced that of bulls. The Age of Pisces marks the rise of Christianity and the glyph of the fish- still seen on countless bumper stickers across North America. The Age of Aquarius  is marked by a glyph of two waves- which may represent not just water but is speculated to represent vibration, electronics,( wifi?) etc. Perhaps the age of Aquarius being harkened in as an age of awakening, is that we will be able to use technology to create freedom. Though I do have to say I feel like a slave to my computer a little too often….

The afternoon in the mango grove was calmer that day and John spoke of many of the teachers such as Babamuktananda and Maharaji and their shakti and some crazy stories of things they could do. He said that pictures of your teachers then are yantras that are passing the shakti of that person. The form then holds the vibration- holds the shakti. There is a great little picture we have of Maharji with his hand held up and we have always found it mesmerizing. It’s like it contains some special message that we have not yet figured out- a yantra we have not yet deciphered. John talked about never showing the souls of your feet towards your guru. We all started nervously tucking our feet under ourselves and John laughed and said God is everywhere- so don’t worry about your feet around him.  He said that spirit and blessings are also in the feet. He told the story of Muktananda getting completely recalibrated one night walking home with the gift of his guru’s shawl-wrapped sandals on his head. One mile with his guru’s shakti sandals changed his life!

Anywhere we create a place to worship , prana will accumulate in that area. If we worship at certain hours, then prana will circulate more in that specific time- we create a momentum so to speak- a swirling around a bindu. This harnessing of energy can be used as a practice. John suggested we journal our mind for the last hour at night. By using mantra to anchor ourselves we can be in a beautiful space even in intensity. We can then cultivate what we think as we dissolve this cycle of the day. The energy of that last cycle is what we carry into the next. If we carry momentum and our anchored in our darshan, we are less likely to get knocked off balance. Something to consider if you watch TV before falling asleep every night.

Shri yantra and sacred geometry notes

We spent that afternoon learning to draw the shri yantra– really- it was hilarious.  We were breaking into fits of laughter as we tried in desperation to follow John’s drawing- some of our renditions were so bad! I was sitting right up front and I still messed up. I have since bought myself a yantra colouring book- maybe that will help…. The book that John was using to draw from I also bought and recommend for further study Yantra: The cosmic Symbol of Tantric Unity by Madhu Khanna. The shri yantra itself is a pictographic vibratory diagram of the tattva chart- it represents how shiva/shakti bring everything into creation. The upward and downward triangles represent these two energies. I am still reading right now and have a very raw understanding of it so I will not continue but I find the book very useful.

Day 5 started as guru vs guru principle. For the guru principle is present at anytime and any place- we can learn to access it wherever and whenever through skilled means. John explained that serendipity is not raw luck. It is the revelatory power of the shakti at work. I see this more and more in my own life and I can see that really nothing is random- it is all the actions of the shakti. My favorite phrase when things go a little haywire is ” the shakti is messing with me” and rather than freak out I look to see what it is I am supposed to be awake to in that moment. It is a much calmer way to react to life’s obstacles.

Shakti has a frequency that is infinite. It can be felt as low energy or high energy in a space that we can get recalibrated to: it can change our mood. I am sure you have had experiences like that. When we hear the truth, when we see beauty we are momentarily shifted by that vibration- we have an experience beyond mind- it is intuitive. It may only be a second or two but that’s all you need for a revelation. Our practice is about learning to be skillful in holding that resonance- extending it. So through the dharma- in alignment with Grace- the guru principle reveals you. That which opens the curtains and brings in the light- a person, an object, an experience can be the guru. Once we have had moments of the curtains opening, and become more skilled at holding the vibration, then everyday becomes a moment of shri. We become shifted at some level. Everyone is different. We could all be watching the same sunset, but one person will have an unbelievable experience. We often look outside ourselves to seek these moments, but it is always there inside of us and there are practices to connect you with that guru principle.

For example, John spoke of the fact that the shakti is not air but in the air. So when we do ujayi pranayama we set up a resonance with the shakti. We try to hold that resonance we find and use it to ride the waves of doubt and fear,anger and sadness. The waves are all from the same source. You can literally ride the wave of anger straight back to the bindu of love. This is a very Tantric way of thinking- anything can be a gateway. Anything can be a gateway because the shakti is in everything: and shakti is always full of Grace.

We then did pranayama and traced the breath back to the bindu and waited and served the shakti in the air. You don’t grab or push- you just open to it and it comes in. We worked with a few pranayamas including nadi shodana. John explained that there are 5 nadis in each nostril, which relates to the five elements, and one can actually get good enough to affect and manipulate the different elements thorough their pranayama practice. The energy in us changes every 2- 2.5 hours so you can use this understanding to align and calibrate yourself with what time it is. We can garner energy or slow ourselves down as long as we know the bigger energy. Day 5 was the top of the cycle- the accumulation of 5 days of shakti- the purnahuti. There was extra magic available that day- a high resonance we could calibrate with. You could chose to shift right there- I like to think of it as “make a wish day”….. what is your highest desire?

Someone asked a question about people in dreams and John discussed how people are doorways to the energy- the shakti. So if you dream of someone it may not be that person specifically that you are engaging with but the energy that form takes. The forms will change but the shakti comes to us at our level of understanding- even in our subconscious. May be interesting to journal who comes up on your dreams and what the energy of that person means to you. I dream of my dad a lot when I have questions- his energy was one of love and stability- he calms me down, makes me feel brave. I feel empowered after I dream of him. Ram Dass often speaks of his teacher, Maharaji ( Neem Karoli Baba) being a gateway so I understood this from my talks with him. Don’t get lost in the form- get lost in the energy behind the form.

Day 5 practice was in relationship to the guru principle. There is a leader and a follower- a dancing couple. But the dance does not begin with the leader; it begins with the follower- the student. The student has to ask the question first. Both the student and the teacher contain the guru principle- there is nothing subordinate in the relationship- both have Grace. We call these terms ” chalikripa” the Grace of the student and  “Gurukripa” the Grace of the teacher. The teacher will only help you once you ask- this is dharmic. The teacher will not answer what has not been asked. The guru appears when the student is ready- when the students adikara( studentship) is high enough to have the ability to hear and see the guru. The student must always stay open and questioning for the path is not straight- it is a dance. We form a question and then we are just open and we listen- we wait for the shakti to dance with us.

All of us can dance with the divine- we just need to practice coming back into ourselves- realize the preciousness of the moment. We humble ourselves without putting ourselves down and we look to our strengths and our shadows. We all have talents and tendencies- we all have a heritage of blood and DNA. All these things come together to makes us our unique selves- to make our dance unique. The shakti wants to dance with all of us because of that uniqueness. To stay dancing with the shakti we keep going to our strengths and stop feeding the shadows- sounds simple but it is a lifetime of practice. Every moment of every day is a choice- every moment is a gateway to the heart- can we truly learn to live that way? You can if that is your vision.

Day 5 ended with a guest- Dr. Jacob Liberman. He is an optometrist who now researches light and how it affects us. His story is that during a meditation he had a profound experience of seeing the air between things and a sparkling of something in the space between things. When he came out of meditation his eyesight- which had needed corrective lenses- was vastly improved. He could read things see things he hadn’t before without glasses. The crazy thing his when he hooked himself up to the machine in his office it said his eyesight was unchanged!It led him to question what is it to see and what is seeing?

The eye doesn’t move- it only responds. For example we say ” it caught my eye”. The eye responds to light but no one has ever seen light. It is formless, it has no attributes and no mass. It is the biggest mystery of science. In religion though we have phrases such as ” God is light” – so what is it about light? Why is it so important?

We absorb 2%  of light through our skin and 98% through our eyes. 75% of that light goes from the retina to the hypothalamus and then to the pineal gland which is our biological clock so to speak. Before artificial light we were all entrained ( guru principle ?) with nature by light. Think about rising with the sun and going to bed with it- what a novel idea in our current times.  We all need a certain amount of light to be healthy- in fact studies have shown that populations in northern countries with less sunlight have a higher incidence of multiple sclerosis. Light is necessary for our body to work in harmony with nature.

We also need the dark. Dr. Liberman spoke of how light at night during the time we sleep can affect us by affecting the pineal gland which affects melatonin. Things such as “light pollution” in big cities, night lights or bathroom lights left on at night in our home- can actual affect our patterns of sleep. The pineal is the regulator of all the rest of the regulators of the body- the endocrine system. He took us through an interesting mediation he called the train journey. Seeing which color stations( by the chakra color) we felt like we wanted to get off and visit and which color station we just wanted to go past.  ( I just wanted to hang out in the green station all day)It is based on chromotherapy which is use of color to determine how to better balance your energy. Color is determined by light and the vibration of that light- we don’t see the colours but visualize them and yet there is a perception inside of us interacting with that vibration.

He went on to say that life is looking for us- it is calling to us and we actually have to work to NOT hear it. His experience with light and his sight opened him up to a whole new revelation in thinking. Though a doctor and a student of science, he is also a mystic. Taking time to see that little simple things are really so profound.  “Consider that every instance is a miracle” – Jacob Liberman . Interacting with awareness is a qualitative different experience than thinking. We stop using our thinking and then we see- we see that life has been looking for us, inspiring us, breathing us. Imagine meditating not just once a day but through every minute of every day. What would that be like? I have to say he was a very cool guy. ” There is nothing like direct experience- we confuse the menu for the food”- Jacob Liberman

It was a beautiful way to end a five-day retreat. Five days of exploration, study, practice, absorption- all used in a way that created a deep resonance inside all of us. What we carried away in each of us that week was more than just knowledge- we carried at the cellular level a shift in who we are and how we are in the world. We didn’t just read the menu- we ate the food- and it was delicious. But don’t take my word for it- practice and taste it for yourself…... om

 

Book Review: Yoga Body- The Origins of the Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton May 23, 2011

Yoga Body was first introduced to me last summer by one of my philosophy teachers,  Carlos Pomeda. He suggested Mark Singleton had some interesting things to say on the development of the physical yoga practice ( asana) as we see it today. For many us we seem to think that yoga has been around forever (what was it on the Lululemon bag- 7000 years??)  but really asana, as we know it, is a modern invention. So modern in fact, as Mark brings up in his book- it really is a hybrid of European gymnastics, body building, and military calisthenics interpreted through the lens of an Indian people who were trying to assert their own cultural significance during an occupation by another country.

The beginning of the book is very dry- I believe the author wrote this as his PHD thesis and it is very scholarly in format and sets up his, slightly controversial, argument in the beginning chapters. If you can slog through this foundation he sets up then the last half of the book is well worth it. For those of you without that fortitude, you can start at Chapter 3 and still not lose too much of the background.

The book is divided into chapters that take us from the roots of  colonialism in India and the cultural bias to the often bizarre practices of the yogins, through India’s growing wonderment and participation with the  international physical culture movement. The growth of the body building movement and harmonial gymnastics weaves it’s way from Europe and North America to become influential in the asana development. ( Just a note here that Bikram’s teacher came out of this particular body building lineage in India).  The section on the proliferation of the physical movement through the medium of photographs further brings to light how books, like Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar,  literally became , in my words, our yoga bibles. The final chapter focuses mainly on T. Krishnamacharya and the Mysore Asana revival- very familiar to many that practice yoga in North America and Europe today.

I offer up that for many yogi’s this book may just be downright disturbing. Towards the end of the book he follows the Krishnamacharya lineage and rather than focusing on all of the descendants of that lineage ( Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, Iyengar, Desikachar etc) he turns his attention more to Pattabhi Jois and the power yoga and Vinyasa yoga cultures that came out of that particular practice. I have heard, and participated in,  many discussions of the Vinyasa method vs the long holds of the Iyengar method.  Mark Singleton brings up a very interesting hypothesis about the speed of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois. He discusses that the practice in the shala was much slower and postures held much longer than the Ashtanga method that was developed by Pattabhi Jois.  He also goes as far as to postulate that the yoga demonstrations held all over south India under the auspices of the Maharaja ( Krishnamacharya’s sponsor) showcasing the talent of the shala, of which Pattabhi was a key member, were the reason there is a discrepancy between what students recall being taught in the shala versus what became known as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.

“The need for a coordinated, high-speed showcase might also explain why, in Jois’s system, postures are usually held only for five ( but up to a maximum of eight) audible “ujjayi” breaths: this would not only allow the models to perfectly synchronize their entry and exit from the pose but would also provide enough time for Krishnamacharya to explain the significance of a posture without taxing the attention of the audience.” ( Singleton, Yoga Body p.195)

While I found this an intriguing argument, I feel that we as the reader are left out of balance slightly because there is no real discussion of the other students that came out of that lineage and who also had significant impact on how we practice yoga today such as B.K.S Iyengar and T.K.V.Desikachar. Why is Iyengar’s yoga  different than Ashtanga? Is Iyengar’s yoga more true to the actual method in the shala at that time? These questions are left unanswered and I feel unsatisfied that equal time and insight were not given to these other students of Krishnamacharya.

The photographs in the book are a marvelous way for the author to back up his arguments- you can see direct correspondence between the European practices at the time and what we now know as yoga postures. I have to admit part of me was a little disappointed to have the mythology ripped away so to speak, but if “yoga” to you means more than the postures on the mat there is a long history to back up the practices of meditation, pranayama and mantra.

Mark’s closing reflections gives us back in some ways, the real power of the posture practice: that physicality can become spiritualized and that spirituality can come into the physical practice. His remarks bring me back to my own yoga practice, which is Anusara yoga, and that Anusara practice always begins with Attitude. If your attitude is that this is a spiritual practice for you than the postural practice will become that- no matter it’s origins.

Though cumbersome to read at times and slightly incomplete and not as fleshed out as I would like it to be as a true historical retracing , I recommend Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body to any serious student of yoga.

 

Am I a serious yoga teacher? April 24, 2011

The benefits of my job- Cherry Blossom Viewing Japan 2011

“Yeah- I am quitting my job to become a serious yoga teacher”.

This is a phrase I overheard that sent the anava-mala landing with a resounding thud over my heart. Serious? I still have another job. So what am I.. yoga teacher “lite”? I feel suddenly small and inept next to the yogi that has given everything up to pursue their full-time yoga teacher dream.

Thankfully the veiling is short-lived as my pitta heats up my vata mind and I think from a clearer place, “Good for you- hope it makes you happy.” I mean really, they could have been miserable at their “job”. And what do I have to be insecure about? Looking at my hundreds of training hours, weeks spent away from my children and thousands of dollars I have spent- I am pretty darn serious about yoga. So why do I feel I am suddenly less ” serious” than the other teacher?

So why don’t I quit my other job and do nothing but teach yoga? Well quite frankly it is not fear- it is actually the opposite- love! I love my job. Just as much as teaching I love to fly to Japan every week where I can pray and meditate at a temple, or do a rockin’ yoga practice for three hours without distractions. I have used my layovers to visit yoga classes in other cities, sneak in a yoga workshop, read yoga books, write about yoga, or just sit a beautiful museum, art gallery or garden and contemplate my yoga teachings.

On a practical level, flying pays for all that yoga training and gets me, at a discount rate, to yoga trainings around the world. It also pays for the karate lessons, gymnastics, and water polo lessons of two young children- which may be much more difficult on a “yoga-only” income.  Also  there is no better practical application for yoga than being sealed in a metal tube with 300 people for 11 hours. If you want to practice patience and loving kindness , try it 37,000 feet in the air. Really – you have no idea how many hugs I get as people get off my flights.

As my yoga career grows and I delve deeper into the world of yoga therapy, moving slowly closer to Anusara certification, I am getting asked more and more if I will quit flying- like one precludes the other. How do I answer this?

Yes, it would be nice to focus just on yoga and be home on a weekend for a change. That said,  flying actually brings a balance right now. It gives me perspective outside the yoga world and allows me to apply the teachings in creative ways off the mat…it can also make for some great themes!

I believe that we need to make room for all that serves us and when it doesn’t serve us anymore it just naturally falls away- no regrets or sadness- just the natural transition of life. Maybe one day that will happen with flying but until then it serves me- why change it?

So, am I a serious yoga teacher? Yes, I am ….and a serious wife , mother and flight attendant. But who wants to be serious anyways? My teaching style is actually known for a great deal of laughter.  I think I prefer the term sincere…….sincere yoga teacher…….  anava-mala  be gone!

 

Tears of The Bodhisattva: My Beloved Japan March 13, 2011

Filed under: yoga — shibuiyoga @ 6:47 am
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I cry for my second home “namida ga afuremasu….” I really can’t believe it. The earthquake is devastating enough but the tsunami and now possibly the power plants is beyond comprehension. I was in Maui when I heard the news…as the tsunami struck Sendai, tsunami warnings started going off across the Pacific- including Maui. I thought of the fact that on any normal week I would be in Japan and I felt the fear of all of those who I love on those suddenly vulnerable islands so far away. I am blessed to know my friends and yoga kula are all safe but there are so many who are lost that it is a quiet celebration.

As we watched the news clips on the laptop the young girls in the home where I am staying asked ” Is God mad at Japan?” As I watched the clips I thought that nature does not pick a country or a person- the earth decides to shake and the water is pushed into movement and where it chooses to go is just nature- it does not pick and choose. I told the girls that what God wants us to know out of this act of nature is that we need to care about each other, take care of each other… love each other. As the world shrinks from technology it should never desensitize us to the fact that we are all here together- manifested forms of one consciousness that needs reminding that we are all connected.

I thought of the beautiful story of the Kannon, or Guan Yin. The Kannon struggled so hard to see all those that were suffering that her head split in half. The Amidha Buddha blessed her with eight heads to see better those she wanted to help. Out of her expanded vision she reached her two arms with compassion to end suffering and they split into two. Once again the Amida buddha took pity on her and grew her a thousand arms to better offer compassion.

I feel my head want to split- I feel my arms want to grow. There is so much suffering. I only have one head- I only have two hands…but with my one head and two hands I can write to a thousand of you..and we can become the Kannon. Reach out your arms with compassion for we are all one…. namu amidha butsu

Thousand Armed Kannon

Thousand Armed Kannon

 

Turning Point:Tenki March 11, 2011

Filed under: Anusara,teaching yoga,yoga,yoga therapy — shibuiyoga @ 6:58 am
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My friend Eiko kept saying to me that she could feel a change this year, “tenki” in Japanese,…a turning point. She is so very wise and so very right. There has been a change this year in my teaching, my home life, my deep vision of life. I can’t tell what did it or when it was exactly; but it happened. I now sit in a much deeper seat of sorts and I watch the play of the divine energy of life, the shakti, in a whole new way.

My lack of writing comes from a new offering of my time to yoga therapy. I am in the physio clinic once a week but a whole new group of privates has sprung from that seed and writing has become a luxury. Today I write to you all from- surprise!- Maui. Yes back again to observe and assist an Immersion 3 with Sundari and Skeeter. I hope that by watching these two brilliant souls approach the material I will gain an insight into how I might one day teach an Immersion. The certification process is still on going for me, but I feel I am growing and going deeper in all the right ways.

In the last few months I have spent time with my mentor teacher Robin Golt and her level of wisdom is so deeply humbling. I look to her , and some other teachers I admire very much, and i noticed that many of them are students of  Dr.Paul Muller Ortega’s and so, come fall, I will meet and study with Paul. I had put off this type of deepening of the nonphysical parts of practice until certification was over but really…what am I waiting for? We all seem to need signs…I figure signs are there for those of us too thick  headed to hear Shakti calling us….”huh? me? oh ME???”  Yes- it sometimes takes me a while to get the message.

So I am getting better at listening and in that there is an unfolding, a profound deep wisdom that unfurls in your heart- a flower waiting for the light of consciousness to shine on it. I AM THAT…..whoa..can I please go back to ignorance ?This whole new thing has such a weight of responsibility to it that you cannot ignore it…you can’t go back. You have hit a turning point and everything has shifted…are you ready for it?

The practice of yoga can make us ready….. if we practice from the heart. There will be more turning points in my life , in all of our lives, because an upward spiral needs to turn to continue it’s climb. Like kundalini, the energy of shakti rising through us, we flow through the turns and move and dance our way back home…to our deepest, best selves.

 

Be Here Now 40th Anniversary- Part Two October 18, 2010

” I am loving awareness” – Ram Dass

Day Two of the weekend workshop started with John Friend talking about the significance of numbers, rhythm, patterns and how they are all connected. I was scribbling down notes as fast as I could but to be honest as I try to read them back they are hard to decipher. You see my linguistic tendencies also came out of a need to avoid all algebra and stats classes….Japanese no problem…numbers……hmmm not so good….

I will try to find the highlights that were new to me and that don’t need deep mathematical understanding…

Today was 10/10/ 10. John took the number ten and explained as two 5’s. The flower of Shakti or the goddess’ is the red hibiscus..it has 5 petals. In the vibratory world, the highest vibration is white ( Shiva) and the slowest is red ( Shakti). I have no idea what flower is Shiva’s! So basically the number 5 is the number of life.

The idea was first there is 2, for example Sun and Moon. The energy between these contrary compliments is 3. The number 4 represents the stability that holds them in relation and 5 is the spiral….is the activation of the expansion and contraction of the relationship.

The number 10 is a 1 and 0. It is the creation of the binary rhythm of all life. There was something in there about the binary system creating wave patterns and that things like crystal and silica can resonate these wave patterns and that is why they are used in computers. The 0 also represents in Sanskrit “shunyata” – the void. But that which appears to be empty is completely full. The 1 then represents the sperm and the 0 the egg and from that all creation is born. Something to look up and research yourself when you are surfing the net.

We had a super juicy hip opener practice in which my leg was behind my head and I rolled down and back up but was too scared to stand up- that was pretty far for me already!  That may have been one of the deepest I have ever been in that pose. It also helps we warmed up for an hour towards it!

Ram Dass came back in the afternoon for satsang. Today he told the story of the Hanuman murti ( holy statue) that is currently housed in Taos, New Mexico. Maharaji’s devotee’s would build temples for him all over India. So Ram dass decided as a devotee that they should build a temple in America. The temple would need a murti so he went to Jaipur to the families that been making murtis for generations and found the family that specialized in Hanuman. Now usually Hanuman murtis are with Hanuman kneeling or Hanuman standing.  Ram Dass, recalling the story of Hanuman flying across the ocean to Lanka in the Ramayana carrying Ram’s ring to Sita, decided, since America was across the ocean, the murti should be of a flying Hanuman. Well, the family just looked at Ram Dass in astonishment. No one had ever made a flying Hanuman- how would he stay up? No, they didn’t want to do it.

I am not sure how Ram Dass persuaded them but somehow they agreed to make a marble Hanuman and created a large cape for him to hide the post which supports him in his flying pose. Hanuman then travelled from India to San Francisco where the devotees debated where he should be housed. One of the devotee’s had a farm near Taos so that is where Hanuman came to rest. That location, over the next few years, developed into what is today the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico.

One of the funny asides that Ram Dass told us is that to bless the murti- to breathe life into it- there must be a ceremony. He laughed as he told us their were two factions: one that  wanted Brahmans and a proper Hindu ceremony and the the others that were stoned and just wanted to climb naked into the crate with Hanuman. I never did find out which faction won out…..

Ram Dass then gave us all a great insight to his personal practice- his “sadana”. He explained he was a Bhakti yogi-a yogi who finds oneness through the path of devotion- and he said ” sadana, in my game- is who you think you are..and who you think you are is mostly based on fear- identifying with the individual “I”.”

He explained this further by saying he thought he was Dr. Richard Albert, he was a Harvard prof, he was a Freudian, he was a ..etc etc…all the titles and labels the individual “I” wants to hold on to. He said the real “I”  is not in the mind but in the heart and in the heart you are awareness.  ” I am loving awareness” – he whispered.” I am loving awareness”.

“You will never find your awareness”, he said,  “you ARE awareness”. “You stay there in your heart”, he explained, “and you stop identifying with all the thoughts.”

“I am loving awareness” is a thought but it is a thought that takes you to a subject not an object. You can’t focus on it because it is no thing, nothing…..it’s cool”.

” Everything I am aware of I love”, Ram Dass said. He talked about loving the wall, loving the room – it was quite funny. He then told a story about how one of his friends called him on it. It went something like this.

“So are you telling me, Ram Dass, that you love everything?”

” Yes”

“You love me?”

“Yes”

“You love that rug?”

“Yes- I love the rug”

“Hmm…”

His friend used to phone him and say, “This is your rug calling….” I just about rolled over laughing!

Ram Dass told us when he is looking at the world from his soul he finds the world beautiful and lovable. When you love the whole world, including yourself, you merge into a sea of love. There is no action, he explained, love isn’t action, it’s just merging. You don’t have to act. He then took a moment and looked around the room and smiled, ” this room is full of love”.

He then went back to the previous days talk of “being” and “doing”. He explained the difference between the Atman and the Jiva-atman- the One and the embodied soul. Maharaji was the Atman, on that plane, and Ram Dass was the jiva-atman. Seeing Oneness and being Oneness is a difference of spiritual planes of existence, he explained, and it takes Grace to get over that hump. He said that was interesting because people say they feel so loved when I am with him but he didn’t do anything. Wow- he thought- Grace is here- I got some of that. You get pure enough, he said, and then you wait for Grace.

John had a beautiful offering when he said that Ramakrishna had a saying about preparing your boat the best you can and then waiting for the winds of Grace. ” The waves will take you to the shore” John said quoting Rumi.

Feeling small, Ram Dass said, is a thought. Insecurity is a thought. Atman is so big- I am so small. The ego tells you that you cannot be him ( Maharaji). It’s still a thought- it’s who you think you are. You gotta be somebody before you’re nobody……

We seem, to me, that we have to shed the layers all over again to get back to that one original Atman…and  that is a part of the game- the sadana as Ram Dass put it- that we all have.

We then had a Q and A session with some interesting stuff coming up. We had the typical psychedelic questions- every time I am with Ram Dass this comes up- and he was good natured about it. He really nailed it when someone asked about getting to that plane of the Atman through drugs and Ram Dass said- ” it get’s you into the room but you can’t stay. All those guys [that took psychedelics] were nothing like Maharaji. He could stay in the room.” I then asked about Maharaji’s lineage as many teachers came from lineages ( ie. Nityananda, Baba Muktananda, Gurumai…) Apparently Maharaji was from a village near Agra but his beginnings are not well known. He was actually married with three children which I found surprising. According to his children he was a very good father- made all the marriage arrangements for his daughters etc. Then we had the most shocking thing occur- John started asking Ram Dass about his family. Family?? I thought….

Well,  apparently a man in his 50’s contacted Ram Dass because he looked so much like him and guess what…it was Ram Dass’ biological son! They just found each other this spring and this man has children so Ram Dass is actually a grandfather. When John said “How wonderful!” Ram Dass looked at him and said ” Why is it wonderful?” It really was one of the first times I saw John kind of at a loss for a moment. Ram Dass was really just making a point that love goes beyond blood and genealogy and that in the heart it doesn’t really change anything. I think he does secretly find it wonderful though! Wow-  I really didn’t see my question going in that direction. Quite the unexpected revelation!

John asked Ram Dass if he wanted to leave the young teachers with a message and this is what he responded:

” God is within you. We have to go inside rather than outside…what you want is what you already have.”