I often wonder about the purpose of my life.
How will I know if I am fulfilling my purpose? How will I know if I have a purpose? What might that purpose be?
I ask myself a simple question: "What do I think needs to be different?"
From there things become simpler and clearer. I take the steps required to bring about change, usually by offering something new or ceasing to do something I have been doing mindlessly.
This is a straightforward way to honor ourselves and our unique visions, and to slowly change the world.
Living in India for a month was a life-changing experience. The act of living in another place, immersed in another culture for more than a few days cannot fail to change a person. It would have changed me equally to live in Ethiopia, China, Russia, Chile or even England.
The most profound of changes occurred because I am a yogi, and I had many preconceived notions of India, the birthplace of yoga. I had my own ideas of what India might be like, how the people might act and live, what it must be like to spend time there. Of course, I was wrong about all of it.
I thought that India would be a sacred, holy place, full of humble, spiritual people so much closer to God than me or any of us materialistic westerners. What I found was a place similar to my home for the simple reason that it is populated with humans. We are linked by our humanity: our need to survive, care for our family, and find purpose in this life. These human needs link the richest king and the poorest beggar, the sublime holy man and the criminal.
I thought that everyone in India would practice yoga or at least know what yoga is. This also turned out to be false. Their lack of physical health rivals that of the US. Poor posture, poor breathing, poor nutrition, poor hygiene. I thought they would all be spiritual and holy, unburdened by earthly want. Instead I saw eyes riveted to television 24 hours a day, and daily religious offerings punctuated by the smashing of a chair over another man's head.
Three times I felt afraid for my own safety and that of my loved ones; I was a foreigner whose white skin was offensive and provoking, whose wife's bare shoulders were an outrage.
I thought that poverty was the worst of all fates. How can one live without work and money? How can one be proud without possessions? But I met a man - he served our meals for the entire month we were there - who slept outdoors on a concrete slab, legs draped over his childhood friend who slept close by. This man had the widest, brightest and most transcendent smile I have ever seen. To see him smile and hear him chuckle is to understand the simplicity of joy.
After all, I see the humanity in all of us more clearly. We are so closely related. And I see that the divinity I seek is within myself. I thought it might be in a temple, on a mountain, in a teacher, or in a distant holy land. But it is not in any of those places. It is within.
I am humbled. I am empowered. I am connected.
COUNTING THE YEARS
Today, I complete another cycle around the sun. It is 59 and counting. I have faced many challenges in my life time, they pale to the wonders and benefits yoga has given me. I am sadden by the unrest the world is facing right now. I do believe in what Zarathustra once said; "good thoughts, good words and good deeds", will lead to balance and harmony in the world. Celebrate my birthday by thinking good thoughts about yourself first and let the rest fall into place. May health, peace, love and fortune be yours.
From Tony Sanchez.
I came to this yoga at a great time. It was five years ago, amidst all of the controversy about copyright. Bikram (Choudhury) was suing many studios to prevent them from offering his brand of yoga. He claimed that he owned the series of 26 postures known as "Bikram Yoga" and no one else could teach it without his permission and control.
The studio that I practiced at is a "Hot Yoga" studio. It offers the 26 postures in a heated room, just like Bikram teaches. But there is no mention of Bikram. Quite the contrary. They don't say the name Bikram and pretend that he doesn't exist. This has turned out to be a huge blessing for me. I got all the benefits of the yoga - the postures, the discipline, the sequencing, the therapy, the will-power - without the cultish worship of the man who it came from.
HELL-BENT & TONY SANCHEZ
With the publishing of Benjamin Lorr's Hell-Bent in 2012, Tony Sanchez entered into the popular consciousness. Sanchez was a student of Bikram in the 70s, long before the Bikram Yoga empire became what it is today. Sanchez is now about 60 years old and maintains a daily practice. He offers training in Ghosh Lineage Yoga including all of the postures and exercises that Bikram excludes. He also teaches from an opposing viewpoint to Bikram's - non-possessive, patient, compassionate and peaceful. And un-heated. Ghosh yoga suddenly has two senior teachers instead of one.
Now, as the intensity of sexual assault lawsuits against Bikram grows, many yogis are breaking ranks. They are taking his name off of their studios and even making changes in the yoga itself.
USA Yoga, a newish organization trying to nurture yoga competition, has its eyes on getting yoga into the olympics. Founded by Bikram's wife Rajashree, it started as an extension of Bikram Yoga but is steadily moving away. USA Yoga is still firmly rooted in the Ghosh tradition, using mainly the postures taught by Ghosh, but it is trying to open the participation to yogis of other traditions.
In June of this year, we will be publishing the lost manuscript of Buddha Bose, one of Ghosh's star pupils in the 30s, long before Bikram came along. Bose's presentation of the yoga is enlightening in both its similarities and its differences to Bikram's yoga.
Slowly but surely, the tentacles of Ghosh's yoga are spreading. More senior teachers and more historical references are available. Bikram's monopoly on the yoga is crumbling, making way for more individuality, exploration and development in the tradition. This is a great time for Ghosh Yoga.
With the Regional Competition behind me and the National Competition about two months away, I consider the pros and cons of competing at yoga or asana or whatever it is that we are demonstrating when we get up on stage in a competition.
Yoga itself is not about competition; it's not about being the best. Yoga is not even about perfection, whatever that may mean. It is also not really about the postures, the asana. In those ways, yoga competition goes against the essence of the practice: spiritual awakening and connection.
What is the competition about, if it's not about yoga? Confidence, courage, self-improvement, refinement, attention to detail, to name a few.
Preparing for competition has made me assess my practice objectively. What am I capable of at this moment in time? What can I do well and consistently? In addition, what can I improve sufficiently in a relatively short amount of time? This has changed the focus of my practice. Usually I play the long game, practicing what feels right for the day, striving for slow, balanced progress. With the pressure of competition, I have also started "pushing" a small handful of postures, deepening and refining them more than usual. This focus has improved my postures and honed my attention to detail in my practice.
The most surprising element of competing thus far has been the sheer terror of getting up in front of judges and an audience and demonstrating my practice. What if I fall? What will they think? Am I deep enough? Am I still enough? Some postures can be challenging enough even when no one is watching. Add a room full of strangers and judges critiquing your every breath... you get the picture.
So, to put it lightly, I was nervous when I got up on stage. I knew I would be. The challenge for me was not to remove or even diminish the nerves. The challenge was to get on stage and do my best anyway. Stand, fall, tight, sweaty, terrified - no matter what I was going to give it a shot.
I don't deny that there are confusing and negative aspects to yoga competition. I try to focus on the positives and the benefits and not get wrapped up in the weirdness and negativity. I try to avoid letting it turn into a ego contest or an "I win, you lose" situation. I stay focused on the improvement to myself and my practice, and the tackling of my fears.
Yogi Gregor Maehle recently wrote this blog post called What is Authentic Yoga? It is a brilliant discussion of the diverse and often misunderstood practice of yoga, the ultimate goals of the practice, where Asana and the other limbs fit in, religion versus spirituality, and the perversion of Asana as "physical exercise" and still calling it Yoga. It is definitely worth reading in its entirety. I am copying some of my favorite parts below.
"...there are actually two different yogas out there. The authentic one that mainly deals with spirituality (and has health arising from harmony and wholeness as a side effect) and a new exercise regime that is only called yoga for namesake. This new so-called yoga has been castrated to such an extent that it can now be introduced pretty much anywhere because all ‘offensive’ aspects have been removed."
"There is an eternal, sacred core to each being and once this core has been seen, the individual can place itself in the service of humanity and the whole. It is to the search for this core, its cultivation and then the placing itself in the service of all beings that historical, true and authentic yoga was dedicated to."
"...And this is exactly what true yoga is about. It is not what a particular religion says about the experience but having the experience yourself, and the way and methods to get there."
"...Then Ramakrishna developed his teaching (as it was the teaching of the mystics of all ages) that THERE IS ONE UNDERLYING TRUTH AND ESSENCE IN ALL SACRED TRADITIONS OF HUMANITY. It is to this one underlying truth and essence that our practice must be dedicated. While there may be cultural differences in metaphor, these are only at the surface and once the mystic enters the mystical state, they all vanish."
Maehle's website is here. He is among the most advanced and authentic yogis I have come across.
From my teacher Tony Sanchez:
TRAITS OF A YOGI
Creativity, humility and generosity
May you be endowed with these characteristics during the holidays and beyond. The world needs people like you. Merry Christmas and happy new year.
If we are weak, yoga makes us strong.
If we are rigid, yoga makes us fluid.
If we are shy, yoga makes us confident.
If we are too bold, yoga makes us humble.
If we are selfish, yoga connects us.
If we are altruistic, yoga connects us to the self.
If we are quiet, yoga shows us our voice.
If we are loud, yoga shows us silence.
If we are of the ether, yoga brings us into our body.
If we are of the earth, yoga shows us the universe.
Who do you look to for information and advice to advance your yoga practice?
Do you have a favorite teacher or advisor?
Do you like to go to classes taught by many different teachers?
Do you have questions that don't get answered in a normal yoga class?
Where do you look for the answers?
Do you read books or search online?
Do you observe the practices and advice of more advanced yogis than yourself?
Are you ever your own teacher?
It is becoming clearer to me that each person's yogic journey is unique. I must be true to my curiosity and motivation just as you must be true to yours.
As the ancient texts say: many paths that lead to the same goal - unity, oneness. Peace and happiness. Love and compassion.
Yoga teachers are nice, especially at the beginning of the journey, but we must make sure that we are nurturing our own identities, strengths and curiosities.
When we know who we are and what we want, a teacher's guidance grows tenfold in meaning.
To me yoga is about one thing: happiness.
We walk the path toward happiness
Through health, strength, resilience, humility, compassion and inner peace.
The path of yoga is different for everyone.
It is the goal of the yogi to find his/her own path
And then to walk it.
It is the goal of the teacher to aid the yogi in finding that path.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga