News & Thoughts on Yoga in DC

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Be Like the Tortoise

In Essay, Religion on April 24, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Maryland Tortoise in deep prayer

As luck would have it, I came across a tortoise out walking this morning. It had pulled in its limbs to the extent Lola, my dog, seeing me crouched over, and unaware the tortoise was a living being, flopped down on top of it.

My meditation and prayer room has a beautiful view of  fields. It also shares space with my desk and computer, and as I have a somewhat scattered mind, every time the iMac pings to notify me of a new deposit in my e-mail inbox, I want to jump up to read my mail.

Sea Tortoise, Flying Pig Pottery

My mind is like a tiger on the prowl. Its ears perk at anything new, and it pounces first right and then left, forgetting the path it was taking.

My mind prefers a Webpage with juicy links promising new information — the bliss of eternal distraction never having to follow one thing through — to a cloth and paper book with type running into the future like endless train tracks.

The Bhagavad Gita offers some advice to the spiritual seeker:

Even as the tortoise draws in its limbs, the wise can draw in their senses at will. Aspirants abstain from sense pleasures, but they still crave for them. These carvings all disappear when they see the highest goal. Even of those who tread the path, the stormy senses can sweep off the mind. They live in wisdom who subdue their senses and keep their minds ever absorbed in me [Krishna].

Like a tiger, my mind feels alive and important in action. But like the tortoise, it finds life in prayer.

American Yogi — Last Chance to Vote

In Essay, News, Yoga on April 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Lizzie Watson, family photo

Who best represents American yoga?

A man balancing on the crown of his head,  a 100-year-old woman who practices chair yoga in sky-blue socks or Lizzie Watson, a former ballerina in a stunning black and white snapped by her husband? They are all top vote-getters in the Yoga Journal 2012 Talent Search.

April 17 is your last chance to choose (up to five times) Ms/Mr Yoga Journal 2012. Judges for Yoga Journal, which has been around for 35 years and has a million and a half readers, will select the winner of their October cover contest from the top five viewer favorites and voting ends today.

Yoga Journal, the Good Housekeeping of yoga, has its pick of 1553 middle-class, mostly female, almost entirely white Americans. Strikingly, the rest of yoga in America is absent. Rachel Omolewu is one of a very few African-American woman. Missing  are the convicts of the Prison Yoga Project or the homeless and street kids supported by Yoga Activist and Street Yoga.

Troll through the shots to get a picture of  yoga in America, where you’ll see people practicing in their underwear, 9-months pregnant, on the beach, between the living room couches and with their cats and dogs. Vote early and often: Yoga lifts up everyone. And next year, send in photos from the streets, community centers and jail houses, too. Because yoga is a rising tide.

Master of Meditation

In Religion on April 12, 2012 at 7:16 AM

Dhanurdhara Swami by Luke Hoverman

I meditate and pray each morning —  I look to the practice with both anxiety and desire. I feel anxious because I have not come up with a meditation regime that works consistently and many mornings I quit in despair after 15 minutes. I also feel anticipation when I wake in the morning because I know sometimes I do get it right and the reward is spiritual sweetness: a honeyed hum in my brain that lifts me skyward and a sense of God’s love that envelops my body.

American-born Hindu monk Srila Dhanurdhara Swami (don’t you love the Currier and Ives -style scarf wrapped about his head?) offers Five Qualities of Effective Mantra Meditation.

  1. Be Attentive
  2. Be Introspective
  3. Be Sincere
  4. Be Sweet
  5. Have Longing

His description of each quality is  beautiful — and effective. You don’t have to be a Bhakti Hindu to find the advice useful. Dhanurdhara Swami chants and meditates upon the traditional Hare Krishna mantra. He says,

Pay attention to the mantra itself. I have found it most effective to treat each syllable of the mantra as something important – and focus my attention on hearing that I am correctly enunciating each syllable each time I repeat the mantra.

His wisdom can be applied as well to Christian or Jewish mantra. I recite the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. But one might as well chant St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

or even the St. Francis Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

Most important, says Dhanurdhara Swami, is to turn your attention to the divine:

I now try to experience the mantra not only as Krishna but also as prayer to Krishna. So, I now turn my ear towards the sound of sincerity within the mantra I am pronouncing…. The sincerity in my chanting leads me to want to serve and please the object of the mantra: Radha-Krishna. Naturally, then, my next step is to shift the focus from my experience of the chant to Krishna’s experience of it.

Many of us Christians are accustomed to prayer as a time to petition God, or lay before him our unhappiness. Dhanurdahara instead, like a true devotional Bhakti, enters prayer with a heart full of gratitude, love and longing. St. Francis did the same.

Yogis Seek Shelter from the Tax Man

In News on April 11, 2012 at 12:36 PM

GETTY/WSJ

Should the “yacht tax” be applied to yoga studios?

Mayor Bloomberg may want wellness for all New Yorkers, but not as much as he wants to increase the tax on yoga studios — and possibly put  studios out of business — says the Wall Street Journal. The city is reclassifying studios as “fitness centers” which are taxed at a higher rate.

Seventy NY yogis met to discuss possible repercussions and alternatives. Will these yogis rise up, asks the WSJ? How do a “peace-loving people” enter into the fray?

The real question may be, is yoga a fitness exercise or a spiritual one? What do you think?
See the WSJ on the “Yoga Crisis.”

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