Archive for January, 2013


Celebrate MLK day with yoga and Elizabeth!

Yes, there is class on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr Day. An appropriate way to commemorate the great man.

AND Elizabeth will be back!

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A Last Reflection from India

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Everyday is a CELEBRATION at Maher! We remember this with poignant reflection as we hold the fullness of our time here, nearing our departure.

Once during our days at Maher, Sister Lucy went to Mumbai to meet with the Governor of Maharashtra, the state in which Maher is located, to invite him to Maher’s 16th anniversary celebration in February.  She also made some practical requests regarding licensing, and in true form, found a way to advocate for women and children as well.  Each morning the community gathers for prayers, and in addition to the daily ritual, special prayers are offered for trips such as this, for a competition a student may be attending, for birthdays and goodbyes and for WELCOMING. 

We were continually welcomed by the children and staff of Maher; this community is a living example of what Sobonfu Some describes in her Dagara rituals involving healing and preparation of the mind, body, spirit and soul to receive the spirituality that is all around us. “It is always challenging to bring the spiritual into the material world, but it is one of the only ways we can put people back in touch with the earth and their inner values.” We lived this moment-by-moment in the daily heartbeat of Maher.

And now, on the brink of departure from South Goa, and India, celebrating Brel’s 28th birthday at Ordo Sounsar, which translates to “another world,” we continue in this tradition of heart and spirit infused living.  In the morning, the young men working here hang red balloons surreptitiously on our beach hut porch before Brel awakens. The guests wish him happy birthday.  We take a boat out with Captain LUCKY to catch crab for a birthday feast that we will share with whomever is in our midst…and of course, Lucky himself…no invitations, no formality, just welcoming the moment and welling up with gratitude for the grace of our journey. 

We arise in the morning and walk to the north end of the beach where the river meets the sea to offer prayers, awaiting our return to the Nooksack, the river of change that daily reminds us of this one and only constant.  We will soon reunite with you, our home community, and look forward to welcoming each of you with the same expansive love we received time and again at Maher.  We will carry in our hearts, bodies and souls the living example of daily celebration and generosity that nourished us so fully in south India.

We began our journey just before the North American winter solstice.  Yesterday, January 14, was the equivalent of the solstice here, Makar Sankranti, a time when the sun ascends to the northern hemisphere and the light returns. God receives prayers in many forms, including thousands of kites that fly overhead.  We found a fire on the beach, after witnessing the nightly fireworks display, into which we threw our written hopes for transformation. This poetic bookending of our journey, with nature in her fullest moments of light as we arrive and as we depart, becomes a poetic blessing we had not anticipated. We end with “Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya,” may you go higher and higher to more light, and send our love always,

Elizabeth, Brel and Jillian

 

happy welcome 

Thoughts about Bellur

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Now on vacation in India, in South Goa, I continue to have limited Internet, available only for the occasional email from my phone. Stirring within has been the desire to convey something of my experience of yoga in international community in Bellur, birthplace of Guruji Iyengar.  Ordinarily I have referred to the Yoga Master of my lineage as BKS Iyengar; but when I had the experience in Colorado in 2005 of direct teaching from this master of yoga, what surprised me most were the tidal emotions of love and gratitude that seemed atmospheric as we witnessed and experienced his radiance and knew the bhakti element of our form, which had sometimes in my  “second generation experience,” been eclipsed by precision and brilliant methodology, the heart obscured by the technique. But in that moment, the experience of my “first generation teachers” all of whom studied for many years arduously and with devotion, in repeated immersions in India with the master himself, became in essence SOMETHING more of my own, and the love and devotion now palpable to me, reflected itself in an authentically uttered “Guruji,” a more clearly reverential and devotional naming of Mr. Iyengar.

 

In Bellur I touch this experience again in my heart, and remember in my body, and in my soul, the naming that suits the true inner feeling of blessedness to have been given this path towards liberation that carries me most deeply and persistently in my spiritual pursuits. I overflow with gratitude to make pilgrimage to this birth place of the master Guruji, and to see the flowering of a village from abject poverty into a thriving village graced with a small hospital, water facilities, a high school and college, a temple for Patanjali, as well as restored heritage temples for Vedic Celestials, Hanuman, Shiva, and Vishnu.  Just four years ago, I visited Bellur for Guruji’s 90th birthday celebration, and the transformation of his birth village continues with alacrity, now turning towards completion of a yoga school on the campus above the little village where the temples exist. BKS Iyengar and family, as well as his students, have generated the resources for this transformed village. Some of you may have seen the images I posted of the village children chanting the Invocation to Patanjali, and the asana demonstration with which we were graced as part of our visit.

 

Teachers for the 2013 Bellur Retreat were “first generation Senior teachers” Patricia Walden, an American teacher from Boston,  and Rita Keller, a German teacher from Cologne, for asana and pranayama.  Paul Sherbow from New York, and Georgie Grutter, originally from Germany taught the philosophy section of the retreat, while Jarvis Chen from Massachusetts assisted in the asana classes. We arrived as an international sangha at our retreat site on December 31st, ushering in the new year with a puja (sacred ceremony) at the Patanjali shrine.

It felt truly auspicious to step into the new year at this place, with sacred ritual and chanting, gathered together with people from all over the world.

 

Our daily schedule included a 7 am pranayama class, followed by tea and a light breakfast, and then chanting of the 108 names of Patanjali , the Invocation, Aum for lengths of time, the Gayatri Mantra, and other less familiar chants as part of puja; asana class followed, for 1 hour to 3 depending on special events, and then an afternoon lunch and tea, followed by philosophy class; then asana class once again, usually with inversions. asana, pranayama and philosophy classes were taught by the various teachers, but in sync with one another, and with a weaving among them, which added to their excellence. Again in the evening we chanted and had puja, followed by dinner and the return to our rooms. Lodging on the campus where I stayed was sparse; I was housed with two German women, our three cots in one room with a shared bathroom. We thoroughly enjoyed one another, and I had the chance to practice the small bit of German I know! Our days were brimful of practice, with truly hardly a moment of leisure. Our meals were delicious South Indian cuisine, and thoroughly enjoyed, from curry to curd to mango pickles!

In the daily immersion in all aspects of integrated practice, I experienced a fulfillment entirely unique in my 25 years of Iyengar yoga practice. Hindu priests led the puja, and the sense of inclusion in sacred rite that is difficult to know in visiting temples on one’s own in India, lent a feeling of acceptance to me as a Western practitioner; the priests in Bellur of course know the international nature of Guruji’s following, and have no apparent ambivalence about sharing the rituals with Westerners. The manager of the retreat, whom we called Mr. Govinda Sir, also knows English well, and was able to help us to understand the rituals  in which we partook. Just as one example, at the culmination of the puja ceremony, there is a passing before each person present, of a tray with a lit fire for purification. Each person sweeps his or her hand near the fire and brings its warmth and light into him or herself.  Then one receives water into one’s hands that has been infused with tulsi plant and cardamom, and drinks for internal purifying. And lastly a red powder is offered to each person to place a tika mark on the forehead. What has seemed an Indian cultural “marking” little understood held new meaning as Mr. Govinda described it as a signifier to oneself of the intention around meditation of concentrating one’s attention inwardly, with single pointed focus, or dharana from the eight limbs of yoga.

 

I am uncertain how this deeper experience of my own tradition will translate into my own practice and teaching at home, though I imagine it filtering through like a time release capsule, slowly more fully understood and integrated. 

 

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Before these children, who attend the high school built by the Iyengar family, along with international yoga student donations, did their yoga presentation, they chanted the Invocation to Patanjali. It is the same chant as we do before every class, though the melody and rhythm they use is somewhat different. Elizabeth made a very sweet video of the children doing the chant. To see it and hear what must be perfect pronunciation, go here.

Asana Demonstration by Children in Bellur

On the last day of the retreat in Bellur, the students attending the high school built by the Iyengar family, along with international yoga student donations, performed classical dance and demonstrated beautiful asanas in an artistic group display. Here is a small sample! I am presently in Goa with scant Internet, hoping to find eventually a spot for sharing more.

 

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Winter Quarter Starts Monday!

For the first two weeks of the quarter, as Elizabeth soaks up life in India, we will get to experience class with Iyengar teacher Maria Bacher. 

For full info on the quarter, click on the flyer image below to get pdf:

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