Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Maui Therapy Training Oct/2010 Day 5 October 10, 2010

” The heart is in every cell of the body” – John Friend

This morning started by John asking us to condense all the information of the week and come up with some key principles. These are a few the group came up with:

– Go from the Highest- universal perspective

– Listen and Open – let go of some of the paradigms, be open to shifting

– Curve then length ( form then action)

– Polarity vs Duality

– The cure is in the poison when applied in the right amount

– Stability leads to opening ( stabilize the periphery move from the core)

– the governor of the back is the legs

– intentionality is fundamental to change

– Good alignment is good therapy

and my own that I never said out loud, therapy is establishing a new dominant pulsation in the body.

So Ivy came back today. Yesterday she sat with us after she told us her story and she stayed on stage with John as we all prayed and chanted and guess what….. she came back feeling better today and JOHN HADN’T EVEN TOUCHED HER!! By just listening to her story and making her comfortable and giving her hope, she had already started to feel better.

John said that the krama ( order) of therapy -after first principle- is to go from the ground up. John did a lot of root work on the pelvis to make the energy go down ( apana vayu) because after any trauma the body will naturally pull up energetically.

After grounding her a bit then John went through the following~

1) diagnostic

2) Manual shoulder loop- keeping an eye on the chin level

3) side body long from the back- pulling shoulders onto the back

4) felt the fascia of the head diagnostic

5) neck therapy by one hand on occiput and one on forehead to create a vector by squeezing the two towards each other as she relaxed tongue and jaw and she did shoulder loop for herself

6) diagnostic

7) kidney loop manual adjustment ( she did shoulder loop and John observed the energy in the head and neck

8 ) Standing forward bend with wide stance. ( Better to repeat than hold) John noticed a slight torque. stabilized her coming up to keep the rooting.

9) Laying supine. Tell them you are going to touch them before you do. John rooted her hips straight down and told us to be aware of when you are over top of someone to be slightly off their midline as being on the midline is too invasive.( *this was a really great point)

10) worked her feet a little to get the energy once again to move down

11) aligned all the body: feet up- femurs rooted and inner spiral, kidney loop, shoulder loop

One of things I noticed that I had not addressed in my own thinking was the trauma and what it did to her energetically. The rooting of the energy downwards in the pelvis  and in the feet was really a key point.

We then put everything on the board that we hadn’t yet covered that people had questions about. We grouped them and the started with the most gross ones ( structural things) to the subtle ( auto-immune).

It got a little crazy so I have only a few points on some varied topics. Obviously there are more in depth things you can do but some of these the basic thing to look at.

TMJ- usually flat neck 9 out of 10 times. Balance shoulders and build neck muscles. Don’t be surprised if their mouth  guard doesn’t fit.

Sciatica– Rubbing the piriformis dosen’t really work as it is a receptor of tightness in another area. A diagnostic is putting them on their belly and watching to see if the butt lifts up when you fold back the leg. Get the quads stretched out and the psoas flowing downward. Check spine after if no relief because it could be a disc issue. If after all that still pain send for follow up with MD.

Osteoporosis– get the alignment and then the circulation will flow better and the minerals will be in better dynamisim. Moving is better than not moving.

Knee/ACL– “drawer test” as diagnostic. Sitting  on the floor get the client to put foot on your foot and keeping the base often tibia back, track foot in a line as you move the leg up and down. Will also help reduce swelling in the knee. If you are getting ACL surgery tell them not to tighten it so much and then work the principles like crazy as the surgeons will tend to over-stabilize after injury.

Migraines- usually related to levator scapula and the rhomboids. Tends to be that the migraine presents more on one side. Often migraines have to do with environmental triggers etc which are out of our control but we can help mitigate with good alignment. Viparita karanai ( legs up the wall) may be used as treatment but it will initially INCREASE the severity of the migraine. After 10 minutes bring them up to sit supported at the wall and as the blood drains down it will often take the migraine down significantly.

Colitis/ Crones- usually have a flat thoracic. get the curves back in the spine and work on getting the energy to flow downward as it is usually stuck or flowing upwards.

MS– Most MS clients have a steady raised heart rate all the time. Use a heart rate monitor for accuracy and do variation exercises to get the pulse up and then go into a deep relaxation and when heart rate goes down for a bit go back to high heart rate activity and repeat. Short burst of activity and relaxation will help reprogram the pulsation of the body.

My mind is now feeling very full. What John has learned over 30 years he passed down in 5 days- it was incredible.  I was thinking if I could condense all 5 days of therapy training into one sentence what would it be……

“Honor the Spirit and align the outer form – from that all freedom will flow”

om namah shivaya


Book Review: Paths To God- Living the Bhagavad Gita by Ram Dass October 7, 2009

When I signed on for the Maui Intensive on the Gita with John Friend and Ram Dass this book was listed on the recommended reading. I had never heard of it before but, being the keener I am, I picked it up on one of my many trips to Banyan Books. I didn’t realize at the time what an influential little book it would become.

Ram Dass

Ram Dass

First of all I thought it was a study guide to the Gita- how wrong I was! It is a study guide to life– your inner spiritual life- your sadhana. Which when you come full circle, is really what the Gita is : a study guide for life. In Ram Dass’ words, “This really isn’t a book “about” the Bhagavad Gita. It isn’t an analysis of the Gita, or a commentary on the Gita, or anything like that. Rather, it’s a series of reflections about the major themes of the Gita- themes that touch on the various yogas, or paths for coming into union with God, that the Gita investigates. It’s an attempt to look at how those yogas might be relevant to our own lives, in this day and age.” p.1

 For those of you who have never had the blessing to meet Ram Dass there is one thing I want to stress about him- his sense of humour. Yes-he is brilliant, articulate, wise and filled with a deep inner light , but he is also so of this world as well. When I first met Ram Dass a few years ago on Maui, I was struck by his ability to teach the deepest wisdom on such a human level. He is like a beautiful,  intricate bridge that allows us to walk from this world to the Divine.

Paths to God  is based on a course that Ram Dass taught at Naropa Institute ( now Naropa University) in Colorado in 1974. The course was called “The Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita”.Ram Dass’ guru- Neem Karoli Baba (affectionately known as Maharaji) – would only hand out two books to his students: The Ramayana and The Bhagavad Gita. Keeping this in mind, Ram Dass decided to further his own understanding of the Gita by teaching this course. As a teacher myself, I know how teaching can bring greater understanding to even the teacher- sometimes even a different understanding!

Ram Dass sets a context for the teachings by giving an outline of the Gita in his first chapter that he calls: Context and Conflict. He continues with the following chapters:

2.  Karma and Incarnation

A discussion on what Karma actually is and our belief ( or non-belief) of incarnation. Ram Dass,  being born Jewish and having studied various religions, brings an interesting inter-faith perspective to the idea of incarnation. He quotes parts of the bible that actually show a belief in incarnation in the Judeo-Christian faith. Reincarnation seemed to be common belief at the time of Christ but the Church hotly debated it and as Ram Dass puts it, “they realized that reincarnation wasn’t such a functional philosophy for maintaining the church’s control.”p.38   He goes on to explain differing views of reincarnation and karma from both the  Buddhist and Hindu perspectives. This theme plays heavy in the Gita as Krishna urges Arjuna to fight because the body will perish but that which is not the body, I will use the word essence, continues.

 2.18  ” The body is mortal, but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Therefore Arjuna, fight in this battle.”- Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita


3.  Karma Yoga

Ram Dass gets into a great discussion of dharma and what it means to act. All of our actions- including thought- have an outcome. Even non-action has a result. He brings up a memorable example ” It’s like when you have met someone who has “”Given up smoking!”- and that’s totally who they are. ” who are you?” I am someone who hasn’t smoked for 2 weeks , four hours, and thirty two minutes. ” In their thought forms they are smoking at least a pack an hour!” p.56   He calls it phony holy. Really, can’t you relate to that? For all of us that have gone on a diet,  suddenly food becomes an obession! Is that really serving you? When we operate in the place of spirit rather than striving- we are operating in the place of true dharma and no longer creating karma. “When we first set out to do our work as spiritual practice, we’re still acting from inside the world attachments and desires, because the desire to get free is still a desire.But as the upaya, the method, begins to work, it leads us to a deeper understanding of the reason and wisdom that underlie the whole system.” p.72

 3.6 ” Those who abstain from action while allowing the mind to swell on sensual pleasure cannot be called sincere spiritual aspirants.”- -E.E.’s translation of the Gita


4. Jnana Yoga

Jnana is the yoga of wisdom or knowledge but Ram Dass explains “whenever we think about our practices or talk about our practices, the thinking and talking are forms of jnana yoga.When I describe to you the practice of karma yoga or the practice of bhakti yoga, the description is a jnana yoga technique. To understand devotional yoga, to understand why we meditate, to understand why we do mantra, we have to develop the kind of discriminating wisdom that can differentiate the real from the unreal, and the path of developing that discrimination is jnana yoga.”p.73 This chapter focuses on techniques to turn the mind in on itself so to speak. Ram Dass explains the levels of mind(ahamkara,  manas, buddhi, atman) and how each relates to the sense of who we are and our actions- how they function on a daily basis. He then introduces methods in which the mind becomes the tool which extricates us from the mind and then we see it all as one. “It is all just God dancing with God.”p.93 I love that quote….

4.33 “The offering of wisdom is better than any material offering, Arjuna; for the goal of all work is spiritual wisdom.”       -E.E’s translation of the Gita


5.  Brahman

“But where is the “there” we are trying to get to?”p.94 This chapter focuses on what is known as the formless, the One, Spirit…the list  of  names is endless in all forms of metaphysics. Ram Dass uses many other texts , including the Tao Te Ching, to show how they explain the immeasurable and indefinable. This is a really deep chapter for we spend pages trying to explain and understand that which in a large part is unexplainable. i think Ram Dass introduces enough anecdotes and thoughts from other spiritualists to create a picture at least from where we can start.  Ultimately though, Brahman must be experienced to be understood and so Ram Dass says-“ But “painted cakes do not satisfy hunger,”and finally we have to do the work that allows us to enter the state for ourselves.”p.103

13.17 ” Dwelling in every heart, it is beyond darkness. It is called the light of light, the object and the goal of knowledge,and knowledge itself.”- Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita


6.  Sacrifice and Mantra

I call this the weight loss chapter. Ram Dass spends a good part of the chapter showing us how to work with desire and how mindfullness of our desire can become a sacrifice. He uses the one desire most of us have in common: food.  Most of us are completely unconscious about the process of eating…or maybe overly obsessive- neither is good. He describes a funny incident at a retreat where Ram Dass had a huge meal prepared for the last day and he would talk about it a lot and everyone would get excited and their desire would build and then when they finally sat down for this beautiful meal together he would give a long, long  blessing while the food got cold and then he would read a Buddhist passage on the repulsiveness of food and how it moves through our body- very descriptive, non-enticing stuff. If that wasn’t enough he would then explain how slowly and mindfully they were all going to eat and ” by then the banquet would be ruined.”p.116 He would then explain to the group that we can surrender some of the pleasure of eating and make it more mindful. What Ram Dass is getting at is that anything to which we have a desire attached to can be used to get us to progress further down the path- ” part of our sadhana involves experimenting with each aspect of our lives for its potential as part of our awakening.“p116

His section on mantra I found especially good. I do not know of any other book that has explained mantra practice in such a step by step form and made it seem very approachable for the beginning student. This part of the chapter is something I will use as a teaching and study resource for many years to come. ” That is , what mantra does is to concentrate already-existing stuff in you. It just brings it into focus. It’s like a magnifying glass with the sun: The magnifying glass doesn’t have any heat in and of itself, but it takes the sunlight and focuses it;makes it one pointed. The mantra becomes like that magnifying glass for your consciousness.”.p.121

4.24 “The process of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman. Brahman offers the sacrifice into the fire of Brahman. Brahman is attained by those who see Brahman in every action”-Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita


7. Renunciation and Purification

I looked at this chapter with fear in my heart as purification and renunciation just don’t seem to go down very well with my dharma. I have tried before people- it wasn’t good.  I like to think all I have to remember is that I am Divine- I am part of that greater pulsation already but as Ram Dass kindly reminds us, these acts are ” to get rid of whatever in us prevents us from knowing who we are at this moment…..(they) are designed to get around the roadblock between our knowing and our believing.”p.128. Hmm. I guess he has a point. Ram Dass also says there is a time that is appropriate for these things and I am feeling that more now. I am starting care less and less about what brand name I wear or how much stuff I have. In fact ” stuff” starts to make me feel a little claustrophobic these days. Maybe I am just kidding myself and I am trading Coach bags for yoga books, bamboo cutlery and Lululemon? Phony Holy…

As Ram Dass points out, advertising today is meant to make “us feel more and more dissatisfied, making us think we want more and more things.”p.134 It is so sad and so true. The process cannot be forced, however, and renunciation and purification cannot be done fully because the mind is wanting us to be “good”- that doesn’t really work.  Carlos Pomeda once said in a lecture, “renunciates are usually people who are very unhappy with the world”. Can you be a happy renunciate?? I think Ram Dass gives us a chance to explore that idea. “Whatever you do make it an offering to me- the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering. In this way you will be freed from the bondage of karma and from its results both pleasant and painful.Then, firm in renunciation and yoga, with your heart free, you will come to me.” – Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita


8.  Devotion and the Guru

This chapter could easily be retitled the path of love for love is the main theme. Ram Dass, being the devotee of a Guru, gives great insight into what is actually happening in the relationship; how the Guru is just as Ram Dass explains, ” a doorpost”  to the real thing.  He explained this in Maui during our Gita intensive by saying  that devotion cannot be done by intellect. It is done by the heart. A devotee is one whose heart has been opened. He explained that he loved Maharaji and was his devotee but what he really loved was the God within Maharaji. You cannot fall in love with the God in you, your atman, but you can fall in love with the God in someone else. That love  over time allows the door to open and then that is when we realize that the object of our love was the “doorpost”- the gateway- but not the subject. “The guru is a being who awakens incredible love in us, and who then uses our love to awaken us out of the illusion of duality”. p.170

He also brings up the discussion around those who think their hearts are closed. I mean, have you been to those yoga gatherings that are the big love fest ( Ok, Maybe it’s an Anusara thing…) and everybody is a bhakti and life is good but then there are those that are NOT that? ( I happen to live with one…)  Ram Dass sees those that are feeling nothing- in despair- as having the most potential for heart opening.”It’s only when our despair reaches rock bottom that the opportunity occurs for the heart to open. So if someone says to me, ” I feel nothing; I feel dead inside,”- that, to me, is a critical moment. It’s the moment when there is the possibility of the heart opening. “p.166 This is really what happens to Arjuna in the Gita, he is despondent, he has given up, and now Krishna has an opportunity, through Arjuna’s love of him, to reveal that which is beyond the doorpost so to speak.

1.47 ” Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words. And casting away his bow and arrows, he sat down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield.” Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita


9.  Social Aspects of Sadhana

This chapters deal more on the psychology of  how we see ourselves; how we differentiate ourselves from others- all of our baggage that comes along when we use our perspective. We need discrimination- that is a given- but can we go the other way around and rather than looking for the differences see the “sameness”. Ram Dass calls this a soul looking at a soul and besides some great stories about his drug trips- he really makes us examine our individuality- or rather our illusion of individuality. He gets into a great discussion of judging and wanting to change people- I mean come on we are all a little bit like that..” I wish he would be more …yadayadayada…” you get the picture. “If we go out into the woods and we look at all the trees, we don’t say, “I wish that oak tree were an elm.” Somehow, we can allow trees to be what they are; we can grant that each tree is perfect just the way it is. But when it comes to people, if everybody isn’t the way we think they ought to be, all hell breaks loose! We sit around judging and judging, having opinions about everybody.”p.200

18.20 “Sattvic knowledge sees the one indestructible Being in all beings, the unity underlying the multiplicity of creation”.  -Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita




10.  Dying

This chapter is a collection of stories that show Ram Dass’ own evolution on thoughts related to death and dying. Ram Dass’ mother’s death played into his meeting Maharaji, John Friends mother’s death played into his spiritual journey and my own father’s death brought me to yoga. Death can have such a profound sense of rocking us to the core of who we are- or more accurately who we thought we were- and it plays the shell game with what we thought was important. (Under that one? No. Ok- That one! No that either…. ) What happens after death? Where do we go? Why can I still feel so connected?  That for me was the key- I knew he was still with me- I could FEEL it- so was that my imagination or was that a realization that we are all part of something that is unchanging? 

Reading this chapter, I often thought of my friend and fellow Anusara yogi, Carol Wray. Carol sits with people as they die. During the middle of the night , when family members cannot be present or individuals do not have family, people like Carol make dying a sacred act. She is the first to acknowledge that those who are leaving their body are not always attractive- even ugly- but that after a few moments she sees beyond all that and she is a soul sitting with another soul to help them make a transition.  I was hospitalized many years ago and in the middle of the night  I could hear the last breaths of an elderly woman a few beds down from me. I had seen her family visit her earlier in the day and I knew that she was loved, but now at 3am in a strange room,  she was dying alone. I am not sure what possessed me, as I was supposed to be bed ridden, but I managed to shuffle over to the chair beside her bed and I then plopped myself down beside this seemingly unconscious woman. “Hi- my name is Leanne”, I said, “and you don’t know me, but I figured you wouldn’t want to be alone. I wouldn’t want to be alone.” And there I sat- occasionally wiping her dry mouth with moist q-tips as I had seen her family do and just lightly keeping my hand on hers. I saw in her all those I loved…and I saw me. I wondered if I was doing this for her or if I was doing it for me? I guess it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things…… “ For someone on a spiritual path, death is a doorway, an opportunity, and all our practices are done to prepare us for that moment.”p.225




One of the greatest gems is at the end of the book : the course syllabus from Naropa. In detail, it teaches you how to create a sadhana for yourself; how to journal, how to set up a puja, how to start a meditation practice,  how to use a japamala and many other things. From the perspective of a teacher of asana, I feel that these practices should not be left outside our realm for “other yogis”. These are practices, that along with the physical asana practice , bring us into alignment with our hearts’ intention- it helps us get free.  I know that a real hard core physical yogi can get broken open during kirtan, I know that writing can in a journal ( or a blog!) can give you clarity in your sadhana,  and I know that having a place set aside for prayer and contemplation can be a haven and reminder for that which is truly important. These practices are all important if we see our yoga as a path of spirit.

I know that in any future teacher trainings or immersion I do, this book will be mandatory reading.  I have wrapped up my own copy,  beautifully signed by Ram Dass, in a piece of silk to honor Ram Dass and his teachers.  If I can understand and just do even a little of what Ram Dass has put into this book,  it will be invaluable on my own path. I hope this book will become part of your path too.


“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.”

-(2.40 of The Bhagavad Gita)


Maui Weekend Workshop- The Three Goddesses September 28, 2009

Well I am writing two blog posts in one night which is unheard of but I am up so here we go. I am going to summarize the weekend in one go.

Day One Morning

John opened with a talk on Navaratri. It is the 9 sacred nights of the Goddesses- three Goddesses in three incarnations.  He talked about the deep orderliness of the universe. The krama or order of life. You plant a seed in the dark and the roots go down and the stalk goes up and the stalk bears branches and the branches leaves, then fruit and the fruit ripens and falls and goes back into the earth and the cycle starts again. The dark is not necessarily bad or empty- in actually it is one big blank slate full of potential. It is full of anything you want to dream.

We started out our practice with Kali. Kali is raw- she comes from dark where you plant a seed of intention. She is the muscle energy of the pose. We hugged in tight and did really strong poses that need stability. It was a morning of long standing poses and things like press handstand and half lotus handstand- which I had never even thought of let alone tried! It rocked pretty good though and we came out to see the Laulima Farms gang and others from Kipahulu and a truck full of coconuts! For the screaming deal of $3 we had Jayanti open a coconut for us and after drinking the milk he would make us a bowl of the nut and even a little spoon to scoop it with. Oh so good……

We took off during the long break  ( 10am to 4pm) and hit the south side of the island going to Makena and big beach. We had our first swim at the beach in front of the Maui Prince but the lifeguards came by and showed us a portuguese man of war which were in the water. The sting is apparently excruciating so it kind of put a damper on the swim time. We had lunch from the Jaws Taco truck in the Big Beach parking lot and then sat and watched the waves at Big Beach. There is finally a lifeguard tower there which is a longtime coming. The have 90 spinal injuries every year at that beach due to the high shore break which dashes people head first into the sand. I had a bad toss there once and it scared me very badly and I am not a weak swimmer.

We finished the south side with a drive further down the road but the clouds were rolling in from the north- which we had come South to avoid!- so we headed back to prep for afternoon practice.

Day One Afternoon

We started the afternoon with questions and one of them group asked why we ( the Anusara community?) chant so softly. I know why we do, but it was interesting to hear John phrase it. He said it related to integrity in relationship of all of the parts. Can you hear yourself but also hear across the room? Can you blend rather than stand out? I have to say the group took it to heart because day two’s afternoon chant was one of the sweetest I have ever heard- it just rode the flow of the island itself. So good…..

John also talked more about the Turiya state ( see my blog on the Dancing Shiva) as being the “ground of being”, the undifferentiated universal place from which the Goddesses arise. I don’t think I have ever thought about it in that way- like this primordial soup of all potential but it makes sense in the thinking of Spanda or Divine pulsation and where that comes from.

One of the other questions was on why a teacher made the Australians role to the left after savasana. Apparently it really threw the practitioners. John gave an explanation of why we roll to the right. It is not about anything anatomical- as some teachers may say- but it is following what is called “pradakshina”. Pradakshina literally means right in Sanskrit and it is in line with moving clockwise which is considered the movement of nature. In temples in India one always keeps the diety on the right side of the body as the circle the diety in prayer. Pradakshina therefore can also mean circumambulation. If you therefore chose to roll left you should know why. That’s what I love about this method- know what the origins are and why we do something and then choose. Being the southern hemisphere, I guess that teacher thought it more in line with nature to go left.

We had a totally fun practice of being spacious and listening and Ty Burhoe  ,who is one of the foremost tabla players in the world, came in and joined the group. I met Ty in Japan a few years ago and I was pretty stoked when he set up his tabla right in front of Sjanie and I . We had randomly picked a new area in the room and plop- there Ty sat playing right in front of us during our practice. We really had a practice of Sarasvati, for she is the first sound and she is really the goddess of all sound “nada”. John and Ty both explained that we recognize sound from not the sound itself but from the space in between the sounds. I know- ponder that one for a while…..

The physical practice was  full of very deep hip openers, half standing lotus, deep pigeon, yogidandasana, and for the garnish we did firefly which- thank god- Sjanie had introduced to me about a year ago. I got in from the standing entry but John also taught getting in from yogidandasana. I opted out and went for the known but Sjanie decided to rock it out with the new entry and had success. Cool.

Day Two Morning

Day two ended on the last day of Navaratri and we had a very “juicy” practice.  We talked about the higher octaves of the middle three elements: air, fire and water. The higher octave of air is prana- it is charged by sunlight and has the ability to move. Fire’s higher vibration is Tejas- a luminosity. It is the flash of light at the beginning of conception. The higher vibration of water is Ojas- the juicy power of life itself, the nectar of our life force.

John took the juiciness into a curvy spiraling practice of backbended forms of trikonasana and pincha mayurasana and of course the matrix backbend. It was all about keeping all the goddesses in our form: Kali in our strength, Sarasvati in our awareness and then letting Lakshmi pour her delight into the vessel of the body. This is really important to note because you can have all these curved fluid forms without muscle energy and then the juiciness just drains because you have not first created a strong vessel to hold it. Sjanie and I both have found we need a little more play in our practice- we are both strong enough that the rigid forms take away our juice. It can dry you out if you move too quickly and too rigidly. You have to build strength first- that is essential – but then you have to have some flow and play in there once that is established.

We did handstand with our legs revolving around in both directions- thank you Chris Chavez for introducing that to me- and dropbacks with one hand on the collarbone assists. We then finished the practice with a pose I have never ever attempted- mandalasana. It was so juicy by that time it actually seemed easy. I realized that pose would be impossible if you tried to stay rigid or muscle your way through it. It had to be this playful delight that just kept running your feet around your head. We finished the morning in seated meditation and was surprised to have a little voice whisper in my ear,” Breathe deeply” and was delighted by a sudden hit of fresh gardenia under my nose. It seemed super powerful after the morning practice. Tiff, Kelly and a few others softly made their way around the room with scents of the island for all of us to delight in with our eyes closed and hearts open. Sjaine and I were grinning like idiots at the end of practice and we kept it juicy with breakfast at Colleen’s in Haiku. Hawaiian spiced bread french toast seemed oh so appropriate.

We hit the beach for the afternoon in the most amazing weather and managed to finally “be one with nature” during the trip. The wind and water were perfect and the sun felt exquiste…everywhere!

Day Two Afternoon

The afternoon purnahuti ( final celebration) was a deep talk by John on how to really live your life . It was about the four cornerstones of how to live: arta/kama/moksha/dharma. How to keep the juicy delight but have resources to support yourself and be in line with nature and have a sense of pleasure about what you are doing. Many of us get stuck in careers or relationships that literally drain us. You can’t necessarily just run away for that may be adharmic ( against dharma)  if you have a family to care for or responsibilities to others. The key is to find ways to increase  the others to find balance.

We had a practice of discharging excess vata in the body. Vata is usually the first dosha to go out of wack and it’s home in our body is the lower region which regulates elimination in the body. If energy is not moving down naturally ( apanavayu) then it can create discomfort and illness in the body. By releasing vata and getting this to move more naturally the ojas goes up and we get that juicyness back again. 

Getting you thigh bones back helps calm vata and we did lots of poses with that intention. We also did headstand and shoulderstand. Now that might not sound like much to you but John hardly ever teaches those two poses. It was actually really great to get the King and Queen poses ( Headstand/shoulderstand) taught by him because, done well , they can be super healing poses. The whole system responds so well to shoulder stand and it can energize you if you are down or slow you down when you are feeling anxious. It has amazing recuperative effects on the body. I love it for flying because it just feels so good to get upside down when you are in another time zone. Those two poses, handstand and a good walk, makes life pretty good on the other side of the planet.

It was a full and fulfilling workshop. John was really in sync with the island and all of us were really there with him. It seems so funny to look back three years ago to Maui where I first met John and see how far I have come, not just as a student or a teacher, but as a human being. John commented on my luster and I said “I feel so good, I feel so right. I just keep my vessel strong and let the shakti fill me up.” Life is good~

mana mahalo~ thank you spirit of the islands


The Road to Paradise…. September 23, 2009

Maui flora

Maui flora

Well I am back in Maui for the John Friend/Ram Dass workshop on the Bhagavad Gita with my yoga sister  Sjanie McInnis.  We arrived after a long day/night/day to our little cottage in Haiku and spent the afternoon exploring the wonders of Mana foods in Paia and having an evening swim at a local beach as we watched the sun go down. Not bad for day one. Day two started off with the most amazing oatmeal-coconut porridge from Sjanie- inspired by this months Yoga Journal (Oct/09) and taken to a new level of scrumptious by adding cardamom and fresh young ginger.

The deal is Sjanie cooks and I drive- which if you know us is the wisest split of duties you can get. Today I got off light though as Sjanie still cooked but Geordie Milne drove- another friend and yoga teacher from Vancouver. He has been here two weeks already and was desperate to show us all his discoverys on the South-east side of Maui aka the road to Hana.

We began our journey by driving up to Kula and then followed the road- sometimes lack of it- all the way to Hana. I knew some people drove that way but I thought the road had been damaged during the earthquake a few years ago but it was actually in pretty good shape. I recommend a sturdy vehicle and a driver with a sense of mountain driving though. It is not for the faint of heart. Flatlanders be warned!

Our guide and driver Geordie

Our guide and driver Geordie

Laulima Farm om the South-East side of Maui near Hana

Laulima Farm om the South-East side of Maui near Hana

Our first stop was the Laulima Farms. this place was incredible. For all of you that are interested in sustainable farming and organic  food this will be an inspiration. We were cheerily greeted by Beth and quickly ordered fresh coffee with coconut milk. The coffee beans are grown and roasted right there along with the coconut milk. It was delicious!! Sjanie bought a key lime popsicle ( $2) which was raw, creamy from coconut milk and to die for. Geordie’s banana bread was pretty darn good too. We wandered through the farm a little but if you meet at the fruit stand at 2pm on Saturdays you can take a guided tour of the kitchen and upper gardens. We stopped to talk to Jenn who worked in the kitchen and she told us about the community lunch she was preparing and it sounded heavenly. It is a kabutz of sorts and everyone there seemed pretty happy to be there. It was inspiring to say the least.

Beth serving us inside the Laulima Farm Fruit stand- awesome food

Beth serving us inside the Laulima Farm Fruit stand- awesome food

Sjanie and her raw key lime popsicle~yum

Sjanie and her raw key lime popsicle~yum












It was hot on the hill and we needed a little moisture so our next stop was the O’heo Gulch waterfall pools- known more commonly as the 7 sacred pools. Sjanie and I were in the water so fast. So many people came to see them but we were some of the only ones in the water. Of course the scenery begged for some yoga poses on rocks etc so I have a few here and the ones of Sjanie you will have to look for on her blog.

O'heo Gulch aka 7 sacred pools

O'heo Gulch aka 7 sacred pools

Wild thing at the 7 sacred pools

Wild thing at the 7 sacred pools

Geordie rockin' Mayurasana

Geordie rockin' Mayurasana

Sjanie and I cooling off- 7 sacred pools

Sjanie and I cooling off- 7 sacred pools

From there we drove a little further down the road and hiked into the Venus pool. Now that was really crazy~ it was salty and buoyant and had a little island in the center.  The rock was so hot I burnt my feet and I couldn’t get into the water fast enough. I could spend the whole day there floating around. Some guys were jumping off cliffs but frankly I am not that brave …or stupid. Great when you are 20 not so great at 40……

The Venus Pool~ amazing swimming area

The Venus Pool~ amazing swimming area

We had our lunch at the Hana Hotel but missed actual lunch and had pupu’s- snacks and stuff. Expensive but tasty. Sjanie had a great wheat beer with lilikoi in it and I think we may have to go search it out. We drove the rest of the windy road back with a stop in a bamboo forest that reminded me of Crouching Tiger and then set foot right back to our little cottage on the beginning of the Hana Highway. We started at 8:30 that morning and got back at 5:30 so it was a full day but not rushed.

It was so great to see this part of Maui that we had never ventured to. Now that my kids are a little older they can maybe handle the drive and there are some spots that are really unique and worth the effort so I plan to get out there again~ especially for the Laulima Farm coffee and popsicles!


The House of Yoga and Zen March 17, 2008


Snuggled in a tomato farm on a twisting Maui road lies a yoga shala. Completely unassuming and rugged, this little building holds one of the biggest hearts in Ashtanga yoga- Nancy Gilgoff. The shala is like Nancy herself- natural, simple and real.

I am an Anusara teacher and I mostly align myself with that method but with children and husband’s needs it was just easier to study ashtanga with my husband, Chris, than it was to try to juggle two styles and two studios and two parts of the island. I had a major break with the Ashtanga system a few years ago and I am very wary of who I study with. I had met Nancy on a previous trip so I had a sense of who she was as a teacher and I felt I could trust her.

Nancy Gilgoff is thought to be the first American woman to travel to India to study Ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois. Certainly she’s one of a trio- including Doug Swenson and David Williams- credited with bringing Ashtanga to America in the 1970s.  She  has dedicated herself to teaching the tradition for close to 30 years- having only stopped teaching for a few years to raise her daughter.

Day one with Nancy was brutal as her and her assistant Casie kept on us about our “Iyengar” habits. By day two, I had sorted out what she did not want me to do and like a good student I followed. My hamstring was still acting up so she asked me to bend my knee in the standing poses…except for prasaritta. She got me to really work the quads and come very forward into my feet… and my head was to be on the floor. She also asked me not to roll my thighs out for seated- she said it could aggravate sciatica and the hamstring. Rather than argue about methods or secretly do my own thing, I honoured the teacher and her experience in this method and did exactly as I was told for the whole two weeks. I figured my hamstring couldn’t be much worse and maybe it would help so I would do and observe. Maybe I would learn something.

Nancy’s focus on the ashtanga practice was not one of perfecting the postures. Unlike other teachers I studied with, I was not constantly stopped at Marichyasana D because I could not bind. To her the practice is of breath and bandhas- it is an energy practice. You move and you move fast- there is a definite rhythm that underlies the pace of the practice. You do not fiddle or fight to get into a posture- one shot- five breaths and you are out- whether or not you bind that day is of no matter. Maintain the breath, maintain the bhandas and keep moving. I noticed that Nancy would often time herself to be right in front of a student at that key moment of going into a bind and just move them there with little effort and maintaining the rhythm. After a few days of practice she knew exactly which poses you could do and which ones you were struggling with. I have to say that Nancy and her assistants Casie and Keiko were amazing- I never once felt in pain or that I was being pushed beyond my boundaries- which unfortunately has happened to me in the past. A bad adjustment in ashtanga can create a deep seated fear  in the posture for years- I know first hand. I literally cringe when a teacher walks up to me in prasaritta C. I noticed that none of them adjusted me in that posture. They obviously realized that my shoulders are just not open enough for my hands to touch the floor….

There was a lightness and a continual flow to the practice at Nancy’s that made it seem so connected. It was more physically centered than heart centered but I could see a connection to something bigger. The idea of just being happy with where you are at that day- not grasping and fighting yourself. Which- I have to say- is how I have often found my ashtanga practice.

I looked around the shala every morning to see practitioners of all ages and abilities: Big, small, short, tall- primary series, second series and third series. What was noticeably absent was egos. No judging , no competition- just people all getting together to share their practice with this incredibly open and accessible teacher. Nancy believes that EVERYONE regardless of age or size can practice ashtanga.

The last day on Maui I told Nancy why I had stopped practicing Ashtanga- I was told I was basically too fat- and that is why I could not bind in Marichyasana D. Nancy was astounded. First she asked if I hit him…which made me laugh. She said that this was becoming a problem with Ashtanga- teachers with too big egos and too little heart. I could see the disappointment on her face. I could never imagine Nancy ever telling a student something like that.

Chris and I had a discussion about Mysore when we left and we wondered why would we go there other than to say we had been there. The classes are so large in Mysore that you are never adjusted and if you are first series you are basically learning from those around you. If one wanted to truly learn and grow under the guidance of a teacher- then practicing with Nancy was a much better experience. I have to say that in many ways Nancy helped me to rekindle my past love of Ashtanga- maybe if she had been my teacher all along I would have never left the method. 

For all of you interested in a yoga vacation, I highly recommend Maui. The island itself just seems to be conducive to yoga. Early morning practice followed by salt water and sun makes for a very happy body. If you are looking for accommodation to study with Nancy  family check out our friend’s cottages- Haiku Makai. They have a great fruit orchard that you can pick from and lots of Aloha spirit.