Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Tokyo TT 2010- Day 3 Gratitude April 12, 2010

I left Japan on the most beautiful, sunny day. I had such an emotional morning with John and the kula that I couldn’t even write until I got home. I sat on the train to the airport watching the cherry trees whisk by and sat in contemplation of my training and life in general. 

I sat right in front of John on the last morning. It was quite funny actually because he was asking where Leanne was and the whole class laughed as I waved from right in front of him. I usually have been moving along the back of the room for most of the trainings and I think I surprised him. He asked me what I learned in the last week and I answered, “ That we understand the universal through relationship in the relative world.”  If you look back through my last blogs you can see that steady thread of relationship come up through all the teachings. 

The third morning we covered the subject of  Shiva-Shakti Tantra – this is now the way that Anusara is defined rather than the more general term of Tantric philosophy and how it differs from Classical and Vendanta philosophy. This is really key to understanding Anusara yoga and it’s life affirming teachings. All three forms are all looking for the same result- freedom ( moksha) but the approach about how to get there differs. Classical yoga, for example, uses kaivalya ( separation) to reach it’s goal. By separating yourself from everything that is inferior ( prakriti) – that is not Spirit- you get freedom. Vendanta yoga sees the problem as misindentification- “neti neti” not this and not that- the prakritic world is seen as maya or an illusion. These two paths then are seen as paths of the negative. 

Shiva-Shakti Tantra in comparison uses a marga of the positive or inclusive. It sees prakriti- the material world- as just a stepped down vibration of the universal. Body , mind, and emotions, seen as inferior or an illusion in other systems, are seen as just another form of ” rockin’ blissful conciousness”.  This philosophy sees the light of conciousness as expanding and as it manifests it actually goes into greater complexity and there is evolution. Things die and fade away but overall there is an energetic expansion. Have you ever met someone in their later years of life, stooped and wrinkled, but there is an inner power that seems to belay the exterior? I mean I know it fits the arche-type of the wise elder, but really, don’t we all want to grow and be wiser by the end? 

Part of a good evolution is that you make more beauty and love. Shri- often thought of as beauty- is about relationship as well. It is how the parts relate to each other that makes beauty. Beauty is kind of a funny thing to think of as science but it does often work that way. I believe I saw a program on discover once and they took pictures of people and altered them mathematically to make them “more beautiful”. Guess what the mathematical ratio was ..1.618. The ratio between lips and mouth , eyes and nose etc. Lenardo Davinici’s Vitruvian Man is also drawn in ratios of 1.618. What is interesting is that what we call symmetry is not “even”, it is not “equal” it is actually slightly…odd? All I know is that I like flowers in odd groupings of 3, 5, 7 rather than 4, 6, 8…it just someone how looks better to me. So what am I saying… I guess that relationship doesn’t always mean 50-50, balance doesn’t always mean 50-50. The back leg in a standing pose and a front leg in a standing pose don’t do 50-50…they create symmetry and beauty by the back leg doing more and the front leg doing less. This is shri… 

Live, love , laugh- my good friends Lauren’s life motto- was the next subject. Live fully– keep expanding your potential. Everytime you reach the edge your capacity goes up and your ability to hold the light is getting bigger so now your dharma is to live that new potential. Love much– this is about purna– fullness- and shradda– trust.  The deeper you can trust the deeper you can love. if you don’t have trust you can’t fully love. If you don’t trust the strength of your back leg your front leg can’t decend fully… Laugh often– how do you see things? What is your darshan  ( general view)? ( I think of this as the cup half full/ half empty view)  Can you see the wonder in the unexpected? Make your humour uplifting and expanding- never put anybody down. John said when you start your practice everyday to really think about how to live more fully and with more joy- the ripple effect will continue after your practice even if you are by yourself. If we are beings of energy how can this not be true? You know of places that have energy you can feel- good and bad. Imagine shifting energy just through your practice. It has been done. This one phrase that John said that morning really stuck out to me, “Expand the light and the dark will dissolve. It is better than attacking the dark.”  Whoa- I know a whole lot of people that attack the dark; “Life is hard- you gotta be a warrior” type people.  It may get the same end result but I wonder of the consequences along that particular path…. 

This talk on Shri went into the subject of hands on adjustments- SSA : Sensitive, Stability, Adjustment. So don’t be an ASS!….Oh, yes, I know that was a groaner but it will help you remember! I have to say that hands on adjustments are something I want to work on further because I have had some horrible ones in the past and some really amazing ones. The amazing ones where when the teacher actually barely touched me- or so it felt like that. There is nothing worse than getting “cranked” into a pose. I am sure many of you can relate. 

The last part of the morning talk I have no notes for…you see I was crying through most of it. John said he had been thinking about his dad the night before. Many of you have heard John talk about his mother but not as much about his Dad. What I didn’t realize is the similarities between John’s dad and mine. John shared his father’s story with us about being a blue-collar guy who never missed a day of work. His Dad never understood John’s crazy passion about Asia and yoga but bought him whatever books he needed and helped support his son’s love. John’s father, Clifford, lost his job after almost 30 years and was never able to find another because of his age. John kept saying, ” He was a good man”. I knew exactly what he meant. 

My father was a blue-collar guy who built concrete buildings and bridges. He started working when he was 16 in the mines of Northern Ontario and fate, thank God, brought him to the West Coast and the construction industry. He never missed a day of work. He was the first guy there and the last to leave. If something wasn’t perfect he would rip it out and start again until it was the best he could possibly do. He never gave you less than his A game. 

He raised four daughters. This great big man, with a mind of an engineer and a grade 6 education, had four girls. Rather than building things with him, we pestered him for money for clothes or movies etc.  I was the youngest. I didn’t pester him for clothes so much but he knew I had a dream of going to Japan. The farthest he had ever travelled was Hawaii- and that wasn’t until he was in his 40’s. We were never  spoiled in our house- but we got what we needed- not necessarily what we wanted. In 1985, my parents sent me to Japan- further away than anyone in my family had ever gone. I remember coming home and telling the stories of my adventure and I could see the light of adventure in my father’s eyes. What he could somehow never justify doing for himself he did for me. Like John’s Dad, he supported a dream within his child. 

My dad died 10 years ago and after receiving money from his estate that I put on my kids RESP’s and my mortgage , I kept a small nest egg aside. I held onto that money for a few years. I wanted to do something special with it- I didn’t know what- but I knew that it would reveal itself in time.  Shortly after my dad’s passing I discovered yoga. I dabbled in it but after becoming very sick with asthma, I decided to more fully immerse myself. I ended up using my nest egg for private yoga lessons and workshops. My poor dad would have been scratching his head and saying, “Yoga???”.  But I figure he was doing that with my little obsession over Japan so it couldn’t have been that surprising. 

What he never realized is that yoga makes me always think of him. His work ethic and sense of pride inspires me. I think of him after every hard practice and before every 10th backbend. I don’t give up. That would be dishonouring him. 

My father was a very quiet man. He had very few close friends- our family was his friends. He was a simple man- he didn’t have any crazy passions expect for being out camping in his motorhome. My father’s gentle soul could be seen on his daily walks as every dog and cat around would come out to greet him. In the campsites, wild chipmunks would even come up to talk to him and sit in his hand for a peanut. To me, that was just my dad, but I realize now that was a rare gift. 

Under all that gentleness though there was also a fierce protectiveness and a love of adventure. He had an Indian motorcycle in the 1950’s- he talked about how many times he almost died on it- but you could see the twinkle in his eye. My mom made him sell it as he was getting too many speeding tickets. He chose family safety over adventure. 

Every time I see something amazing on my travels I think, “ Hey Dad, look at that!” and I know he is with me. What he couldn’t do in life he now does in death- his energy vicariously travels the world with me – supporting me. 

When my dad died we could have written anything in the obituary. Between 4 girls and my mom we are never at a loss for words- no wonder my dad was quiet! But rather than writing a big long passage I looked at my sisters and said, “He was a good man”. They all nodded and my mom wrote it down. That was all we put.

I cried that last morning, not of of sadness, but out of love and deepest gratitude. I trusted my father very much and therefore I loved him very much. He was not perfect- none of us are. I learned lessons from him about how to live life and how not to live life. My circumstances are not his and may I have the ability to live even more fully- to have no regrets. Expand the light to diminish the dark…

So I knew exactly what John was talking about when he spoke of his dad. I knew a good man too.

Donald E. Weston- my dad

Advertisements
 

Tokyo Immersion 2010- Day 3 April 5, 2010

The Tokyo Puja

Why do we sit close at the beginning of an Anusara class? This is the question that John opened the day with. We sit close, he explained, because it builds unity and strength-  it is a principle in physics called entrainment. If you put a large clock with a pendulum in a room with a bunch of smaller clocks, with pendulums all swinging at different rates, then eventually they will all swing in time with the large one- the heavy one- the Guru.

John explained how our field, our pulsation ,gets stronger through yoga – our shakti carries a weight to it. However shakti is just power- not necessarily good power or bad power- it is charisma, and we chose how we use it. This is why when you start to accumulate shakti the dharma, or responsibility,  is also raised. Greater shakti equals greater dharma.

Misato, me, Toshi and Masa- 3 years together!

To go fast- like we do in Japan- is easier than anywhere else because the students are more open to the teachers shakti and each others shakti- we sync faster here. The invocation this morning was like one voice- one breath- I could feel us like one huge creature breathing and singing in complete synchronicity. It was not so much the sound- it was the feeling behind the sound this morning that blew my mind. How appropriate as this years tour is called Melt Your Heart and Blow Your Mind!

One of the reason we do an invocation is part of this idea of entrainment- right from the beginning we try to sync together and hook up with the shakti- we are much more powerful this way.

John kept the overarching theme of relationships again today, but we went into the types of relationships we have in our lives. Relationships can be divided into four types. In all four types the heart is good but they are defined by their words and actions. We treat each one differently- we treat each one with a different type of love.

1. Teacher- love/respect  ( maitri)

2. Student – compassion ( karuna)

3. Friend- happiness, friendliness ( mudita)

4. Enemy- peace, equnimity ( upeksha)

No one comes into your life by chance and sometimes the roles change: teachers become friends, friends become enemies etc. It is not a fixed thing. Someone will often come into your life to help you clear something in your own heart. The guru is the one that takes you from the dark (GU) into the light( RU)- so anything that takes you back into the light can be part of the guru principle- even an enemy. 

The teacher is someone you learn from, they are walking the path in front of you- showing you the way. The student is someone who needs your help- they walk on the path behind you- you clear the way for them. The friend holds your hand and walks beside you on the path. The enemy tries to block your way on the path, tries to stop you from reaching the end.

What I really got from the mornings lecture and practice was that when we talk about “skillfull action” we are really talking about learning how to apply the different levels of love. Skillful action is not a mind thing-it is really a heart thing. The morning had lots of long timed holds and I really felt clear at the end…and very,very sweaty…..

Tokyo Studio Yoggy

Adikara

The afternoon talk was on the concept of time. I have written a few posts on this subject from trainings and how John relates it to the students but every time it is just a little different- a slight nuance- a different emphasis. This immersion John spoke more of the wheel and spoke and hub idea. That time is a wheel- think wagon wheel- and the top is the beginning, the bottom the peak or pinnacle, and the last third is the dissolving phase. He explained that the hub is the heart- the center of the wheel- and from anywhere on the wheel we can go there. You have to know where YOU are on the wheel, John said, you have to know what time it is. So many people at the end look back and have regrets, wishing they had done this or that.The wheel of time

Most of us live our lives thinking about the past, worrying about the future and forgetting to live in the present. Some new age philosophies tell us to forget our past, but John says it is better to: honour and feel gratitude for the past, have enthusiasm for the future and have generosity for the present. As John said, our past had somehow led us to be sitting in this room right now listening to him lecture. I know I felt gratitude for that!

In any part of the cycle, John explained, you want to make it Shri. Divine Beauty and fullness- this is Shri. You have to live the potential in any moment- you have to live your creative power. Whatever you have in the moment you do it fully and with excellence and then when you are down you look back and you have no regrets. You think “yes- that was the best I can do”.

Potential is a boundary and every time you go to the boundary the potential increases. John explained that is why he expects more from the students that have been with him longer and he gets hard on them if they are not fulfilling their potential- that is not full, not Shri or for that matter not even dharmic.

One of the students asked a great question: Is Grace Shri? Shri can lead to Grace, John explained, but it is not Grace. The energy that comes from seeing beauty is Grace. You see something beautiful and you remember Spirit- that energy that open the curtains and cleans the mirror of your heart- that is Grace.

What a beautiful way to end an immersion…..

 

Tokyo Immersion 2010- Day 2 April 3, 2010

Stone Jizos holding the jewel of light to lead us from the darkness....

Today , as Skeeter said, was a really good day.  John’s overarching theme of the day was relationship- a carry over from yesterday and how do we have a relationship with Spirit, how do we have a relationship with others, how do we have a relationship with ourselves.

How do you know your yoga practice is working? This was John’s question he put to us. He explained that you know because you come into better relationship with everyone and with life. You experience harmony- peace, love, happiness….why is that? Because when your yoga is working you align with Spirit- you experience it- it makes you feel amazing.  Many times we will say ” Oh,  it’s that teacher- they did it” but the teacher knows that they aligned with Spirit and then they aligned with the Spirit in you so you could see who you truly are. The teacher is the mirror- they show you who you are inside. You have the power of Grace inside you to help you reveal your heart- the teacher just shows you  how.

John proceeded to take the top 5 tattvas :Shiva, Shakti, Iccha, Jnana, Kriya and talk about how they relate to studentship.   He lined the tattvas up with the Mahabhutas or 5 elements- which we went over a bit yesterday. I will go over the attributes to each one in a little detail:

1. Shiva- sky- open, sensitive, humble

2. Shakti- earth- commitment, loyalty , trust, long term, steady

3. Iccha- water- always goes back to it’s source, goes down- humble, reflects, feels, adapts

4. Jnana- fire- burning to make a positive change, fire is greater than our fear

5. Kriya- Air- intelligence, quick, you see from all angles- even from outside the box

John took the five through the sensory organs in the tattva chart as well:

1. Space- hearing ( Shiva)

2. Earth – smell ( Shakti)

3. Water- taste ( Iccha)

4. Fire- sight ( Jnana)

5. Air – feeling/touch ( Kriya)

Studentship is about discipline. Discipline comes from th same root as disciple. I remember once John saying discipline is where you chose to place your heart. What are you a disciple to? Where do you place your heart?

Besides the 5 elements, there are things we as students should be doing. One of them is to have a deep meaning in your practice. Even when you don’t feel great or you don’t want to practice, you treat the studio as a temple, your mat as sacred space and you invoke meaning into your practice- you want to cultivate a relationship with Spirit so much that it holds a very deep meaning. Never get complacent, don’t lose the reason why we do the practice.

Also at the end of practice you should ask yourself what did I learn? What did I gain? You answers should tie back to Shiva/Shakti , Chit/Ananda. Did you gain awareness for example- that would be chit. Did you gain a virtue- courage, peace? – that would be Ananda. You may experience both but maybe just one. For example you didn’t gain knowledge but you had fun- you feel happier inside- that is Ananda.

In the afternoon we went over the Yamas and Niyamas and tieing them to the elements and the top 5 tattvas. Wow- it was cool. I am going to out myself here by saying that I have never been big on the Yoga Sutras- Classical Yoga imposition is how I have always thought about it. It has never really related to my experience of Anusara yoga or how I relate to my practice in general. It seems to be a text that has become prevalent through the default of early translation and dissemination. Ok- enough ranting- I am tired.

Ok. The Tattvas are sequential and cumulative just like the 5 Universal principles. You start from the first one- ie Open to Grace- and then you proceed to the next, never losing the first one, etc etc. John proposed that the Yamas and Niyamas are the same. ( For those of you not familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas they are yoga ethics with the Yamas being external observances and the Niyamas being internal observances…)

This is how he described the Ethics of Anusara Yoga:

1. Ahimsa- sky- seeing Shiva/Shakti in each other- if you see god in everyone would you act unethically in the first place? Would you cause harm?

2. Satya- earth- truthfulness, deep trust, integrity, honesty

3. Asteya- water- water doesn’t grab, it flows around. It doesn’t take. Don’t take create for others ideas etc.

4. Bramacharya- fire- proper sensual/sexual relations- a balance in relationship, one sees clearly the Spirit in another

5. Aparigraha- air- simplicity of living, a lightness that is unburdened, don’t take so much another suffers or the earth suffers

____________________

1. Saucha- sky- purity , clarity- a sky with no clouds, purification of the heart and mind

2. Santosha- earth- contentment, your are satisfied, you are still at the deepest core but not complacent

3. Tapas- fire- burning aspiration for connection with the divine

4. Svadhaya- air- study of yourself, study of texts, intelligence that sees all sides

5. Ishvara pranidhara- water- from you heart you flow your offerings out to God.

Ok here is the kicker- just like UPA’s if you do Open to Grace and Organic Energy you basically get it done- you remember your source and you offer out- Well if you do the first Yama and last Niyama you get it all done too. If you see shiva-shakti in everyone ( Ahimsa) and you make your efforts an offering to Spirit from your heart ( Ishvara pranidhana) you encompass everything.  As John summarized- you see it and then you do it. Talk about synthesis! The Yamas and Niyamas never looked so good in my tantric eyes….

 

Tokyo Immersion 2010 – Day One April 2, 2010

Today started too early for me as my body naturally woke up at 4;30…and didn’t go back to sleep. My little hotel room is very cute and clean and very new looking. I had enough room to meditate; yoga was kind of out of the question. My hotel serves the best small breakfast. I was so happy to see salad for breakfast. At home, salad may seem strange at such an early hour but really it is one of my favorite things in the morning. I happily downed toast and Japanese scrambled eggs ( think very, very wet…almost uncooked…) coffee and a huge plate of salad. Manzoku- very satisfied.

On a travel note, I would like to say that I really enjoy the Japanese Inn Group  for Japanese B&B style hotels( being a traditional Japanese room with futon, japanese bath etc.) but ,for $30 dollars more, the Comfort Hotel has laundry, a great breakfast, private bathroom with decent tub, and internet. In todays age of computers it really is nice to sit here and write than to drag myself to an internet cafe every night. Rakuten lists many types of hotels so check that out if you are coming to Japan and other places in Asia. If you are not lugging the computer and want to experience something special check out Japanese Inn Group- especially in Kyoto.

Day one of the Immersion was very special as it was the first class ever taught in the new Studio Yoggy location in Hibiya. It is the most open and light filled of any of the studios I have been to in Japan. It is in a perfect location and Sawako- the owner- is so pleased to final have what she calls the flagship location. John made a beautiful introduction that morning to the idea that the  place we do yoga is scared space dedicated to the freedom of everyone- a place to awaken. The flagship is the hub, the hub is the heart- the place of spirit. The invocation was so beautiful I had this wild image of the voices as spirit running like curls of leaves and vines through everything in the studio- the floor, the mats, the bolsters, the walls- we were making sacred space. One of the visiting teachers said it was the first time he had ever cried during the invocation- it was that powerful.

One of the Japanese teachers- Misato-san- who I met the first time in Japan 3 years ago suffered the loss of her mother recently. John was so very sweet when he said ” we cry when someone passes because there is so much love”. He asked us to consider of at the end of our days what do we want. If there is peace, love and happiness then we have aligned with spirit. Sprit wants us to be happy, it wants to align with us- it is our true nature.

But we forget. We don’t feel happy or peaceful or feel love. We long and desire for that feeling again. We want to be free. It is the classic story of those with great material wealth being unhappy and those with very little being completely content. Which one is truly free? This is such a hard thing for us to grasp in Western culture. It really frustrates the heck out of me. I find as I have been practicing yoga I need less and less- or I want less and less. As long as the basics are covered- food, clothing, etc. I am perfectly satisfied. It is so freeing. I wish for the people I love to be free like that.

John’s morning practice was one of sensitivity and commitment. These are the two key principles of how you align with spirit. It is the two principles for any good relationship I think. It was a fairly simple practice but very deep. I was getting a little frustrated though as the mats are brand new and my trikonasana was turning into hanumanasana and I feel on my head in one leg wheel ( ekahasta dhanurasana).  I clawed so hard my fingers are still sore as I type!

The afternoon was a discussion of the philosphy of Anusara Yoga. The philosophy should answer the deepest questions of life: Why are we here? What is my purpose? What is the purpose of life?

The questions can all be answered by yoga, John explained. There is an inate intelligence inside all of us- it comes from the intelligence of spirit. Things grow in a deep orderly manner- on the outside we may all look different, but our cellular level all started the exact same way. How did it know how to do that? John went over the Golden Ratio ( 1.618) and I always find that fascinating. If you make a fist and turn your hand to the side so it has the curl of your fingers right side up the distance from the top of your index finger to where it curls in will be a ratio of one and and from the curl down to your wrist a ratio of 1.618. From you middle finger to your wrist a ratio of 1 and from your wrist to your elbow 1.618. Wild isn’t it?

Frm here we talked about the aspects of the Universal ( shiva-shakti, no form, no limit, completely free, sat/chit ananda/, spanda and purna) which went into the introduction of the tattvas ( principles of existence).  The top 5 tattvas- those that are in the universal realm- actually contain all the other 36 tattvas but there are at the highest vibration. Everything in existence is just stepped down vibrations of the 5 top ones. As I wrote in Kyoto, the problem with describing this higher tattvas is that they belong to the universal which is really something beyond words. As soon as we name it we have made it relative- subject to our understanding in this realm. I mean this is really heady stuff and as a teacher of this method it can get really challenging when you chose to go into that place.

One of the graphs John showed us today was one I don’t think I have seen before where you line the top tattvas along side the elements and the principles. For the teachers out there you might like this:

Shiva=Open to Grace= Space

Shakti= Muscular Enery=Earth

Iccha= Inner Spiral= Water

Jnana= Outter Spiral= Fire

Kriya= Organic Energy= Air

Putting Shiva/Shakti in the mix was interesting to think about because then you get Earth and Sky- the two things  we did in the morning: sensitivity and commitment- voila!

We spent the afternoon going over the rest of the Universal principles : Open to Grace, Muscular Energy etc. and dove into the spirals. We had a great question about where inner and outter spiral start and stop and the group was getting a little stuck so I thought about how I teach with the ribbons and John graciously allowed Yasushi-san and I to tie him up with white and purple straps. I think it was effective…hilarious for sure. I  hope someone got a picture!

John’s afternoon practice was so simple- all the basics. Three parts of muscular energy, three parts of organic- each principle in order and culminating, the focal points. Good basic stuff. We did some very yummy hip and supine stuff and it made such a great end to the day. We even got to surprise Yasushi-san with a cake and a round of happy birthday right after meditation! The meditation bell went signalling the end and then all these little fire crackers went off full of ribbons. So much fun!

We ended the day with a sharing session. One of the questions we had to answer was ” What is Grace”? I will leave that for you to contemplate and you can share your answers in the comments if you like.

Oyasumi….

 

Kyoto Day Two: The Bhagavad Gita April 1, 2010

While it was day two of training in Kyoto, it was actually day one for me as I am a day late. For those that followed the last post- yes I did make it.

I arrived to the dark side streets of Kyoto to my friend Mark’s home which he graciously lent me while he was away. His beautiful home brought back so many memories of the years I spent living in Japan. I realized the only thing I did not miss was lack of central heating. It is so cold in Kyoto that it snowed a few days ago- unbelieveable!

I started the morning off early- welcome to the time change- and went on a mission for toast and coffee. I never eat white bread at home but in Japan it just calls to me.  As I wandered with a with map in hand and very little idea of where I was going, I noticed that I always seem to be “unlost” in Japan. I have always managed to find my way around here and that is not easy in a country with little old streets and not a ton of signage.

In my wandering I found no coffee at first but a wonderful assortment of temples and shrines. In Kyoto every neighbourhood seems to have an amazing shrine and it is such a treat. My first temple I stumbled upon was Shakuzoji Temple just off Senbondori. The amount of colour in the temple was so lively with bright red lanterns hung tightly together and the jizo statues all adorned with little bibs.  For such a small temple it had a really deep visual impact and I loved it!

The next shrine was closer to the venue and was called Daishogun Hachijinja. More sedate in colour, the large old trees on the property took you right off the modern street and straight back 300 years. I swear it was so quiet there you forgot you were 50 feet off a main street.

After more wandering I finally found a perfect little coffee shop with not too much smoke, and settle in to a delicious cup of coffee brewed the turkish way with fat toast oozing with butter and a boiled egg. Feeling renewed I thought I would wander towards the venue of Ryuhonji temple and wouldn’t you know it one of the larger shrines in Kyoto was right in front of me – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Talk about the shakti guiding you!

This temple is famous for plum blossoms (ume) and there was one tree in perfect fullness. The colour is deeper pink than the sakura ( cherry) and fuller in the amount of petals. The man hall of the temple has the traditional offering box and gong but there was a plum shaped mirror up above the gong. I realized that if you went to ring the gong you could see yourself in the mirror. There was even another mirror further into the recess of the prayer hall that was reflecting images back. I am not sure what the history was behind it but it was certainly a rare and curious thing. I will have to follow up with more research.

I looked at my watch and realized I had actually very little time left to get to the venue so my wandering ended and in 10 minutes I was at the venue. A wonderful traditional temple, Ryuhonji is not open to the public for touring. The hall we used was surrounded by gardens and a small covered walkway to another hall. The grounds were full of weeping cherries and one of the girls snapped a shot of me in the cherry blossom shower- so delicate. The weather in Kyoto was unusually cold and the hall was unheated so though ” hot or cold should not affect the yogi”  it was challenging.

I was interested to see how John would present the material because, really, the Gita in a day??? He started  the day with a question from one of the students which was ” om namah shivaya guruve” , the Shivaya part- how do I really describe that? I understand but I have no adequate words.  John explained that we are trying to describe something beyond words. We are trying to use words from the relative world to describe something that is beyond the relative. Yes- it can feel inadequate. He gave an example how when one says ” good” to describe shiva that our mind thinks “good and bad” we think difference, opposites, contrast- but in the absolute it is beyond opposites and duality.

John managed to flow this entry point into an introduction of the Gita. He explained that Krishna is having the same problem with Arjuna and is trying to get him to have an experience of Shiva but that words are not adequate for Arjuna’s understanding. ( This is why you get the shock and awe of Chapter 11…) In the Gita, the characters represent parts of all of us: Krishna is shiva- the teacher within, Arjuna is the individual soul “jiva”, the chariot is the body, the horses are the senses, the reins are the mind, and finally the battlefield is the relative world.

John went on to say that you need three things to understand this key scripture.

1) a deep desire to awaken to your own goodness. You need to read many different translations, study and meditate on the text.

2) a teacher. The book is small but the text is very deep- condensed knowledge- and a teacher will help you unfold the layers and reveal the deeper teachings.

3) Grace. Spirit will allow you to understand this text. You must have blessings. In this way the understanding comes from the inside not from your intellect.

From here we journeyed to the setting of the Gita, the story of the Mahabarata, and we learned the three paths or “marga” of the Gita. Each path is like an upward spiral or circle. The first 6 chapters focus on Karma yoga, the following 6 on Jnana yoga and the last 6 on Bhakti yoga. John went on to say that we can live the book as a synthesis of all three paths- it doesn’t just have to be one.

From here we delved into one of the main teachings of the Gita which is Dharma. In a way, I think the Japanese get this better than westerners. Dharma and swadharma ( individual dharma) are still more active in Japan. John explained you have an individual dharma because of your own karma and you need to act a certain way in your life. You were born into this life for a reason. He emphasised that when he says ” do fully” , you do fully for you– you don’t do it like someone else. Everyone has a talent. “What is your talent?” he asked us- that will help you find your swadharma.

We came back in the afternoon to discuss the difference in viewpoints between classical yoga- from which the Gita is written- and the Tantric viewpoint. The classical viewpoint sees the world as two separate things: purusha( spirit) and prakriti ( matter- which also includes emotions and imagination, mind stuff). Classical yoga’s goal was to separate the two so that spirit could reunite with itself after being entangled and misidentified with matter which was considered inferior to spirit. ( ie body bad, ego bad, got to get out of that to get to spirit) This is called a dualistic perspective. In the Gita, specifically chapter 13,  this is called the “knower” ( purusha) and the “field” (prakriti).

 In Tantra, prakriti is just seen has a heavier, slower vibration of spirit. It is not inferior; it is all one energy. This is called a non-dual perspective.

I realized why John went over this when we got to the discussion of the gunas. The gunas: Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, are seen very differently in the Gita’s classical perspective than in the Tantric philosophy that informs Anusara Yoga. In classical yoga Sattva is good, Rajas is bad and Tamas..well is just plain awful.

 In Tantra, sattva is the place of the middle- the middle vibrations, rajas is more active- a higher vibration and tamas is dense- the slowest of the vibrations. You need all three:  for example rajas is great in the morning when you have to get things done. You want energy and movement. Tamas is wonderful at night when you want it dark and quiet , heavy so the body can rest. We actually did a practice felling the gunas in the body: back leg in the standing poses tends to be more tamasic so you need to make it more active more rajas ( inner spiral and muscular energy) to bring sattva ( balanced action). I really liked how smoothly John weaved that and how much sense it made in the body. John said even the master gets out of balance but we don’t see it because the know how the balance the gunas more skillfully.

We ended the day finding our talents- going back to the discussion of the morning. I really have trouble with this. I always ask myself, “why am I here?” ” Am I doing the right thing?” I am good at a lot of things but not brilliant at any of them..my talent is being a jack of all trades I think! As I sat with this a little longer I looked at my small list and something else popped out. My talent- I think- is sharing. That is why I love to write, that is why I love to teach, that is why I love to travel. I want everyone to share my experience- to see what I have seen, to taste what I have tasted. Even my flying is sharing- I am constantly chatting with the passengers and asking them to share their experiences, giving them helpful information for their travels. This was a big revelation for me. For those that know me maybe you can comment on this- do you think we got it right?

I ended the night with a tofu dinner at the local mom and pop place and a soak in the local onsen ( hot spring)  around the corner from Mark’s home. It was a full day of discovery on so many levels. Off to Tokyo tomorrow- wonder what else will be revealed……

 

Kobe Craziness August 21, 2008

Yes I know it has been a bit since I have wrote ( as Pamela was reminding me) but my last workshop was so crazy that it took me a little while to write about it.

I taught my first official workshop in Kobe Japan two weeks ago. I was invited by my friend Tomoko to teach at a new studio belonging to a friend of hers called koBEYOGA. We set a date way back in June and I just thought I would teach during my layover as the workshops in Japan are only 1 and 1/2 hours. I could work an Osaka flight on a weekend and then just catch the train to Kobe, teach and get back to to the hotel in time for a nap before flying out again. Well- how does the phrase go?…”if you want God to laugh tell him your plans…” or something like that. Yes- something like that- something exactly like that.

You see, I gambled on the fact I could hold an Osaka flight- and two weeks before the workshop the worst happened…I did not get that flight. I was outbid by senior flight attendants and wound up on a Narita flight. Ok – breath- maybe one of the three flight attendants on Osaka would switch? Surely one of them would? No- not a chance. I was in a canoe and no paddle- and going downstream fast!

Now most of you would say- “Oh – so I guess you called and cancelled the workshop.” No – I did not. I made a very difficult, crazy  and expensive decision. I would fly to Osaka (southern Japan) on my Narita layover (Central Japan) and teach the workshop. I have done some pretty crazy spontaneous things in my life but I have to say this ranked up there at the top. For those of you that know about canoeing, I had no paddle so what do you do? You gunnel hop. You put on foot on either side of the edges of the canoe and you start hopping: I gunnel hopped my way across Japan. Nuts.

In Japan when you make a promise you keep it. I could have called and said ” Oh – I am so sorry but I am not coming.” and they would have said ” Oh – that’s too bad- maybe some other time.” And they would have never asked me again. Reputation in Japan is everything and not losing face is part of that. I made a promise and I must keep it. That simple.

I spent about 10 hours on the computer doing research and making a time line and checking prices and finally came up with a plan that just might work- just– if one plane was late or one bus was late I would not make it back to work the Narita flight home. I spent more than I would make on the workshop on bus and plane tickets and prayed that Grace would take pity on me. ( and I promised her I would never do something like this again!) I put my canoe into the river of Grace and just kept hopping.

I packed my bag as light as possible and figured the clothing changes I would need on route ( uniform, yoga clothes, street clothes) and headed off to my flight. My two girlfriends on the flight knew what I was up too incase anything went wrong or they needed to find me. I got off my working flight in Narita and waited an hour and a half to catch a flight to Osaka Itami Airport- just under an hour and a half. I then took a bus to Osaka and stayed in my fellow flight attendants room in Osaka- she was at a friend’s house for her birthday which is why she could not switch her flight with me. I finally feel asleep late at night and then woke up early to practice and look over my notes. I then met my friend Tomoko at the train station and took a train for 35 minutes to Kobe.

We walked about 10 minutes to the studio. It was in the lower level of a building and was beautifully cool after the 38 degree weather outside and smelled of new wood. Lovely. The owner Nobu-san enthusiastically greeted me and I felt immediately at home. My workshop was called Learning to fly- Realizing your Unlimited Potential and it was an arm balancing wokshop. I wanted to get the students to try something new and challanging but attainable. I found arm balancing very empowering for myself and for my students over the last few years and I really wanted to give the Japanese students a taste of what Anusara could offer. I wanted them to work hard but feel good and if possible…laugh. If you think that dosen’t sound too hard you haven’t been in a room of serious Japanese yogis. Laughing is not a naturally occuring thing….

It started off serious and quiet but by the end of it we were all laughing and arm balancing away. The Japanese students are amazingly quick learners. In an hour and half we did – bakasana, parsva bakasana, eka pada koundinyasa, eka pada bhujasana, astravrakasana. They did them all- some just getting a toe up and others rocking it out – and many had never arm balanced before! My Japanese was a mess as I stumbled through a world of unfamiliar vocabulary but I seemed to get my message across. After the workshop the  students told me they could “truly feel my heart”. I was so happy and deeply satisfied with what little I had to offer- it still made an impact.

After class I tore into my suitcase and dressed back in my uniform- (ugh- nylons in 38 degrees plus humidity)  and hopped a taxi to the train station. From there I took a bus for 40 minutes to the Itami Airport in Osaka. I then flew for over an hour to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. From there I took a bus for 70 minutes to Narita Airport. I met my crew 40 minutes later and flew home. Yup- Crazy!

After all of it was over my husband asked me,”Was it really worth it?” and I would say yes, it was. The greatest gift of teaching is not the money you make or getting a recognized name- it is the look on a student’s face when you see them do something for the first time. They realize that they always had the key- you just showed them how to turn the lock. What a gift.

No more canoes for a while.

 

The Culmination of Your Efforts June 30, 2008

Day Three of Immersion

This last day was one of those crazy days. As John starts to settle in to talk, in walks Carlos Pomeda. I have only seen Carlos on DVD so it had that little bit of “rock star” quality when I first saw him. John and Carlos began to give one of the most amazing talks- it was almost what I would call the Anusara pep rally.

John talked on the culmination of all our efforts. He said that nothing that has come before is ever wasted- no effort is ever forgotten. Every time you fall out of a pose you learn something-you gain something, ad then one day that pose suddenly comes. Why is that? It’s because all your previous efforts count. They are collected into the sky of the mind and one day when your right effort aligns you in harmony with Grace- there you are- in the pose. The smallness you felt when you fell out of the pose dozens of times before, all the time you doubted yourself- falls away and the light is revealed. This is the power of Grace.

Carlos had the most elgant way to explain Grace. He said, ” It is not a theory but something you can apply in your life. Grace is available. Grace is difficult to explain but unmistakable when you experience it. It is the power you feel when you are inspired and your heart opens up. The power of your experience of who you are expands.”

John added, ” When Grace descends and and fills us we feel expanded- we feel freedom. There is a revelation of what already is– we do not create something new- the light simply reveals what is already there.”

Carlos went on to say that some people think Grace will be easy, or perhaps should be easy, but it is a play of sun and shadow. It doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, but you will grow fuller and freer. Whether the path is easy or not is another question. But the result is guaranteed. Grace is always there.

The whole morning talk was so rich and so meaningful. They both talked on a few other subjects but if I start getting into them here I will be writing a book! I really could have listened to them both all day and never been bored for a second. I am really looking forward to Carlos coming to Vancouver next Spring.

We took on a rocking practice that day of backbends and arm balancing and just about anything that was challenging and fun. We walked on our hands to each other in urdva dhanurasana and collapsed into laughter. We celebrated each others accomplishments in poses and cheered and clapped. We supported each other in uttita hasta and then all put our legs around our heads. John gave me a helping hand in yogi dandasana- which actually felt amazingly good- I really wish I had a picture of that one! It really is a crazy pose.

It was a culmination of all our previous efforts. All the poses , whether we did them fully or not, counted towards a growing experience of ourselves. We filled that room full of light and everyone’s beauty was revealed. What joy to behold such an experience- the kula in it’s full glory!

John and Carlos summarized the day in one of the last teachings that morning: choice. We alone are responsible for our state. So let’s choose light and align with Grace- this is Anusara.

Powerful and simple. What a way to end!