Posts Tagged With: Vegetarian

A journey to India.

Not all journeys require a plane ticket. Some journeys are taken in the soul of a person. They never have to leave their current life to have this journey. It happens inside the life they are already living. This is my story with regards to India. I have never been and I don’t know if I’m going to get there. There is this feeling that I am missing out and that I am not as respected inside the yoga community, because I haven’t been to India. I’m not blaming anyone for these feelings, they are more than likely self implied feelings of inadequacy. But none the less, they are my feelings.

Many of the Ashtanga yogi’s I know have traveled to India, some even more than once. Most made the trek there to study with the late Pattabhi Jois, of Mysore.  I have always wanted to go, but have had numerous reasons not to. Some of those reasons are that I am quite fearful of flying, I have never had enough time and money to go for the prerequisite 1-3 month implied time frame, and I am incredibly sensitive to seeing the suffering of animals. Everything I have read and seen of India shows stray dogs and cats running in the streets with their ribs showing. Even some of the cows I have seen photos of seem to be suffering of starvation, even though cows are considered sacred in India. I don’t think I have the strength to see these things and not be broken to pieces by them. I became vegetarian instantaneously, here in the states, by seeing one semi-tractor trailer of chickens being transported for slaughter. My home currently has 3 cats, two dogs and two parrots living in it. And every evening I take care of 3 feral cats in my neighborhood, and this is America. If I go to India, who knows how many animals or children I would want to bring home. Because of these things, I have not journeyed to India but I have been taking a different kind of journey;  the journey of what to do with my feelings of inadequacy.

There seems to be a bit of a divide in the Ashtanga community; there are those that received Pattabhi Jois’s blessing to teach the system, and there are those that didn’t get that blessing before he passed. Just because I didn’t make the many trips necessary to receive this blessing does this make me any less dedicated or deserving than those that have? Am I missing out on some sort of spiritual epiphany? Do we have to leave our lives to find ourselves, or to gain permission? It seems that my dharma is to study here in the states, with my teacher, Tim Miller. Since I practice yoga I have had many spiritual epiphanies without having to go to India. Could India create more or different epiphanies? I’m sure it could, but life really is what we make it. I am taking a journey to India, it just looks different than most people’s. I’m making it a journey inward to the place inside myself where the desire to go to India exists.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

How am I taking this journey? Well I am studying first and foremost with Tim Miller. He has taken over 18 treks to India, and he was given Pattabhi’s blessing. I have been reading about India and yoga for years now. I am seeking out the wisdom of others and I am doing the most important thing of any journey, which is the study of the self – svadhyaya.

I’m still struggling with that feeling I get when trying to find my place in the Ashtanga community. There is a sort of chronological order to things which I think should be considered, such as Pattabhi studied and taught for 80 years, Tim has studied and taught for over 33 years and I have studied and taught for over 13 years. Though I never experienced India first hand, I have tried to experience it through reading many wonderful books about India. For years now I have been listening to Tim tell stories of India and Pattabhi Jois. I continue to honor Ashtanga yoga as it has been taught from teacher to student; Pattabhi to Tim, and from Tim to me. That’s as direct a path I figured I could get without going straight to the source. It has been what has worked for me. I am proud of my dedication. I am proud of my unwavering belief that Ashtanga yoga is a great way to make my life better.

Through the years of studying the sutra’s I have learned a few things. A great bit of advice from the sutra’s comes from the niyama’s. The niyama’s are about how do I interact with myself. One of the ways to better understand that is self-study, svadhyaya. Svadhyaya has helped me look more closely at why I have felt inadeqaute. What this self-study has made me realize is that we all take different paths and there are many different mountains for us to climb. A very dear friend of mine has climbed Mount Everest. He speaks of the Northeast Ridge being one the harder climbs to the top. There are many faces of a mountain that you can climb to get to the top. I think staring down my own feelings of inadequacy has been like climbing that Northeast ridge. I have had to make peace with myself time and time again about feeling like I am looked down upon by other yogi’s for not making the journey to India.

I have also had to confront my feelings of jealousy to those that have found a way to make the trek to India. There is a sutra that reminds me how best to embrace others. If I do this, then I am at peace. Sutra 33, chapter 1 Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatah citta prasadanam – The mind becomes serene when it cultivates friendliness in the presence of happiness, compassion in the presence of unhappiness, joy in the presence of virtue, and equanimity in the presence of error. If my fellow ashtanga yogi’s are also letting the sutras guide them in life then it should be abundantly clear that they would not judge me based on whether or not I have been to India, and that they should really not judge me at all. So if they are not judging me, then how do I escape the feelings of “You’re not good enough”?

I escape these feelings by doing another practice. The times I have wanted to walk away because the road was getting rough are too numerous to count. But what tells me I am deserving of respect with or without a stamp on my passport, is that I haven’t walked away. That I haven’t given up, instead I have given in. I believe there is a big difference between giving up and giving in. Giving in means softening, to become more malleable, to adapt, to adopt new patterns and philosophies, to keep going inward a.k.a. svadhyaya! But giving up means you walk away. “When the road gets rough, the going get tough” and every practice I do when I’m tempted to walk away makes me tough, resilient and deserving of respect. The only real respect I need is self-respect. I respect myself greatly and I’ve gained most of that respect from not quitting. I know that I am authentic, honest and that I live yoga instead of just doing yoga. My yoga filters into everything I do and I didn’t need to go to India to get to this place. This place was already inside me. I just needed to journey inward. Every time I stand on mat and chant the invocation, I invoke Krishnamacahrya, Pattabhi, Tim, India and my own inner guru. I’m accumulating a little more dust on my lotus feet. The feet are the symbolism of the journey and so far I’d say that my journey has been pretty great right here in my own back yard.

Years ago when I was thinking about moving I asked my teacher Tim “Where should I go.” I said “I want to move somewhere where Ashtanga yoga is popular and booming.” and he said “Why don’t you go somewhere it’s not and bring it to life.” That’s what I have been trying to do for 8 years now in Charleston, SC. It has been a long, slow process, but right now I think we have a pretty darn great community, even if it is small. I appreciate each and every person that loves the practice as much as I do here in my small town some 7,000 miles away from India. The story goes that Krishamacharya daksha (payment) to his teacher was that he had to go out into the world and be a householder and teach yoga. I felt like Krishnamacharya when Tim said why don’t you take the road less traveled and bring Ashtanga yoga to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s what I’ll be doing today, tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s not easy, but if Krishnamacharya didn’t quit, Pattabhi didn’t quit, and Tim hasn’t quit, then neither will I. Even when it’s hard and I am feeling inadequate I just do what they have all done before me. Practice, Practice, Practice. As my teacher says “the only thing that removes doubt is experience.” I have that, 13 years strong. Today will be no different. “Ommmmmmm. Vande gurunam charanaravinde….

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s remind each other.

I have had a hard time sitting down this week to write. I want my blog to be positive and I haven’t been in a positive frame of mind due to a recent tragedy in our community. It’s a sad story: A young lady that practiced yoga where I teach went missing. It seems from the information so far that she was murdered by her fiancé who has since committed suicide. I went to the candle light vigil for her, which I find interesting, as I never thought I’d be the candle light vigil type. But I felt the need to take a stand on the side of non-violence. To me, taking a stand is an interesting thing because it shows me what I believe in, with conviction. What are you willing to stand up for?

I think things that I can not come to understand are what build the fire of my convictions. I can not wrap my head around violence. Because of that, I have been vegetarian for 16 years. It’s not so much that we eat animals, it’s how we treat them up until that point. Why is treating other living beings decently a fading rule of thumb? Supposedly, we have all these golden rules to live by like: “do unto others as you would have done to you”, or  “love thy neighbor, as thyself”. In Ashtanga yoga we chant the Mangala mantra at the end of very practice “Svasti praja bhyah pari pala yantam nyayena margena mahim mahishaha go brahmanebhyaha shubham astu nityam lokha samastah sukhino bhavantu”,- May the well-being of all people be protected. By the powerful and mighty leaders be with law and justice. May all things that are sacred be protected, and may all beings everywhere be happy and  free. (There are many different translations of this chant.) And there is Patanjali’s sutra 1.33 “Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha dukha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.” - By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness. If churches are being filled every Sunday and yoga studio’s every day of the week, then why is violence plaguing all nations, all religions, all communities?

The idea of violence as a way to resolve conflict seems exacerbating. How can the side that violence is committed against ever be free of the emotions of anger and sorrow? Violence just breeds more violence. It seems that violence can be a learned behavior. Which would then lead me to believe the opposite: that non-violence (Ahimsa) can be a learned behavior. I’m hoping that is the case. To use the only direct behavior that I can personally relate to, I’ll go back to my vegetarian life style as an example. I have known my fare share of vegetarians over the years and they are passionate people. Though sometimes, even they let their passion misguide them to the very behavior they despise, violence. They attack the other side with words and hostility. I find that people don’t realize that language can be where violence begins. I have always tried to take the path that actions speak louder then words. But, I try and remind myself that words can be as sharp as a knife. Words are a different weapon, but they can have the same result.

I live what I believe, and I don’t feel the need to defend it with attacks on those that disagree. I am being the change I wish to see in the world. I am doing my part. I am trying, in as many ways possible to stay as far removed as I can from violent acts to other beings. Being vegetarian is just one of those ways. Other ways I try is reading positive books, listening to positive music, treating my own body and mind with kindness and respect  and welcoming as many people as I can into the yoga community, where there is a belief in a respect for life.

There is great story from Indian mythology that should be an inspiring representation of what we should all be doing. In the story called the Ramayana, there is a battle of good vs. evil. One of the characters is a monkey, named Hanuman, who devotes himself to Lord Rama. All of Hanuman’s actions are of service. Hanuman is humble, and wise. Hanuman is capable of many great things, however he can not access these powers until someone reminds him of his abilities. It is through these reminders that Hanuman is able to fulfill his Dharma, his path in life. Shouldn’t we all be reminding each other of all that we are capable of? Pointing out each others strength’s and talent’s, instead of the opposite? We should be each other’s cheerleaders!

Hanuman is usually depicted as a representation of devoted love. Art work show’s him ripping his chest wide open to show that inside his heart he keeps Sita and Rama. What do you keep inside your heart that you would stand up for? His service is to the divine masculine and feminine qualities of life. Hanuman is considered to be the messenger of the unconscious to the conscious. He symbolizes the waking up process of consciousness. Once you have expanded your awareness, it is not easy to contract it. You won’t be able to turn the other cheek as easily against the darkness once you have dispelled light on a situation. Awareness is our greatest asset.

Yoga is the practice of listening. If we were all better listeners, we would be able to hear other people’s points of view with our hearts open. It would give us a chance to work on our ability to discern what their message is. Good discernment is a skill.  We should be helping one another along, with kind words, and kind actions. And if you can’t be kind, then be silent.  Besides we can only listen, if we are not speaking. Yoga gives us a place to practice being kind, first and foremost to ourselves. As the change you wish to see in the world must start with you. Cheering one another on is like putting a log on each other’s fire. Stoking the flames, that will help each of us dispel the dark side of life.

There used to be this comic strip that had two super hero’s called the “Wonder Twins”. They were a brother and sister (masculine & feminine). When they would say “wonder twin powers activate”, and touch each other, they were able to change shape, and then fight crime. But they only had access to their powers if they were connected. It’s such a great idea: That there has to be union in order for something to have great strength against evil.  Didn’t Batman have Robin and The Lone Ranger have Tonto? There are so many great examples in mythology and in history that it is better to be united.

The word “Yoga” means union, to come together. How are we coming together? Who is in your community? If we are a community of people that think alike, then if something bad happens against a member of our community, we will take a stand! The more of us who stand up against violence, the louder our voice will become. And the clearer the message. I am against violence. I live the way I wish the world to become. I can do this alone but I feel better when we are doing it together. Let’s remind each other…of all that we can do that will change the world. Let’s be a community that is against violence. Let’s be cheerleader’s for love, knowledge, and service. Let’s remember to always remind each other that we are united! That we are better as a whole, then we are apart.

In honor of a young lady, murdered at age 30 by the man she had wanted to marry.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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