News & Thoughts on Yoga in DC

Archive for the ‘Essays & Scattered Observations’ Category

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.

Oprah Editor’s Second Life

In Essay, Essays & Scattered Observations on January 14, 2012 at 12:35 PM

We start out in life intending to change the world. At 25 we hold ourselves responsible for being different and more successful than our parents and peers.

Amy Gross, Mindfulness Meditation NY

Thirty  years pass — children, houses, husbands, and jobs, at which we perhaps succeed brilliantly but don’t in fact change the world in any significant way. The contract we signed with society — the covenant by which we raise educated, healthy children and support our shared American economy, in return for status and paved highways — is fulfilled. And now, at age 50 or 55, the second journey begins.

Amy Gross left Oprah Magazine, where she was editor in chief, to become a teacher and meditator, she reports in The Daily Beast.

In Hindu philosophy they say that you leave off being a “householder” to become a “forest dweller,” seeking God away from the rapid beat of the city. You become who you are.

The key shift is in turning toward pain, when all your life you’ve turned away from it, Gross writes of meditation. You give it your full attention—you yield to it—and, paradoxically, its hold on you diminishes. 

She began studying and teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Designed in 1979 by molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, Gross says, “MBSR is an eight-week course that delivers the benefits of mindfulness meditation to people who may have no interest in Buddhism. ” She asked her students how they had changed, and received stories of reduced pain and increased patience and joy in daily lives.

Listening to them go around, I thought: I never teared up like this at a magazine award, Gross writes.

Jesus said something about that, too: Give and it shall be given to you (Luke 6:38).

It’s a funny thing that happens when we turn from the world to the spirit, that it enters into us and we give back to the world. We are no longer fulfilling a contract — the script has run out, with a big #30 marking the last child’s departure for college or marking an anticipated career promotion. We are forced to entertain nothingness. And if, as we enter the void, we are brave enough to listen to our own panic, a sense of who we are, and what God wishes for us, begins to form.

Amy Gross appears to have had the mighty courage to face the void and to let the work of the spirit settle in her.


Equinox Yoga Video

In Essays & Scattered Observations on January 12, 2012 at 7:02 PM

If you practice yoga in black panties and bra, is it still yoga? How about if you perform several vinyasas in front of a camera, just avoiding a full-on crotch shot, and they post it on the corporate site for Equinox fitness gyms? Is that yoga?

Briohny Smith, Equinox

It’s not yoga, says Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu America Foundation to the Washington Post, whose Lisa Miller asks rather grandly, Who Owns Yoga? 

I would suggest, writes Miller, that this tension in the West between “corrupt” and “pure” religion is perennial, going back at least to the era before Jesus, when Jewish sects were at war over who, exactly, was sufficiently holy to perform the sacred duties at God’s Temple in Jerusalem.

So that’s why they put Jesus in a loincloth?

I would suggest that it’s simpler than that: sex sells gym memberships. Just the way a link to the Equinox video at the head of Miller’s article sells readers. But don’t confuse body envy and endorphin high with religious yearning.

Eddie Stern, (fr.Tibet House Auction, Luxist)

“It’s hard to whitewash an entire genre of yoga,” New York City yoga teacher Eddie Stern tells Miller. “The people who are going to a gym yoga class are going because they hear the word ‘yoga.’ They’re not going to spinning, or aerobics.” In other words, they’re looking for something. “And what we have is really, really good, and powerful and deep. Really, really deep.”

It’s part of what almost 20 years ago Robert Bellah in Habits of the Heart called “Sheila-ism” from a woman, Sheila, who made up her own religion with little pieces of whatever came her way. French sociologist Danielle Hervieu-Leger calls it bricolage, French for “do-it-yourself.

Sometimes beautiful bodies, and the desire to have one, turn out to be merely the lamb chop in the window of religious experience.

Line Dead

In Essays & Scattered Observations on October 26, 2011 at 5:37 PM

Today started badly. I couldn’t sleep last night and woke late and tired. Driving into town I called my boyfriend on my cell but he was working and didn’t want to talk. I wrote an apology on my iPad later for being crabby but he didn’t answer. Maybe he was still working. He’s old fashioned that way – he is one of the few people left who doesn’t multi-task. He doesn’t a use cell phone or TV, but there are stacks of books like little skyscrapers measuring his tables.

I went into noon Eucharist at my seminary on Massachusetts Avenue and asked God to help me out of my blue mood, but the line was dead. I felt cranky and hateful.

Usually taking Eucharist is like the deepest yoga classes. The four or five of us Episcopalians at Wesley who gather Wednesdays at noon build a space in which God seems to rest. I leave afterward calm and connected in fellowship. Not today. The sky was bleak, the sidewalks gray and wet. I did errands with a Whole Foods bag over my head to keep off the rain (what ugly, practical items they are).

I missed my appointment at the Apple store in Bethesda. I’m trying to synch my iPad and two Mac computers on The Cloud — Apple’s newest high wire venture for allowing us all to stay connected to our electronic data.

I rescheduled myself and came back to talk to a young techie at the “Genius” desk. I wish I were an ethnographer — the Bethesda Apple store is like an African waterhole on the Savannah. Human beasts of every kind gather around the tables playing iPads and MacBooks. Some like me stand before the Genius desk desperate for help with their electronics. We are pissed to have to be there and push thin dimes into parking meters and walk through the rain. A be-speckled red-haired man, bushy-bearded and fierce, looking like a photo of a young Trotsky, was angry and urgent. No one had bothered to properly repair his computer. The people at the Genius desk winced at his outpouring and looked away. One of the young Geniuses tried over and over to be helpful but the man continued to rail against Apple incompetence. He wanted someone to understand him, but he didn’t know how to connect. His anger was a one way street. Then a young woman in pink, flipping her long brown hair, came up to ask for help with her iPad. The young Genius flirted with her genially, the young Trotsky, perhaps catching the ugliness of his anger, apologized for his short temper. Everyone relaxed.

I walked to the Post Office. Stacked on a shelf by the clerk was a copy of Keith Richard’s autobiography.
“What do you think of it?” I asked the clerk.

“1968 to 1972 were the Stones years of real genius,” he said. “But I am reading it pretty slowly. I only have less than an hour at lunch, so I only get a couple of pages a day.”

“I gave the book to a friend of mine last Christmas,” I said. “So I’m glad to know you like it.”

“What’s your name?” said the Post Office clerk, sticking out his hand to shake mine over the desk. “I am Joe.”

Only Connect, E.M. Forester wrote in the epigraph to Howard’s End. Whether it’s on a cell phone, in line at the Post Office or the Genius Bar . . . Or to God, who is perhaps there in all those places and people. It is what we human animals crave.

Just Breathe

In Essays & Scattered Observations on August 6, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Photograph by James Kegley for The Washingtonian

There were 18 of us who traveled to Yogaville, where our leader Gopi attempted to twist every drop of unconsciousness out of us. There was Yuuki, a young business man who arrived late and sought truth and Ralli, my teenager, who learned to breathe on her own. Read our story in The Washingtonian.

Washingtonian Magazine Article

In Essays & Scattered Observations on July 25, 2011 at 7:26 AM

Dear Washingtonians and Yogis:

Did you catch the article about me and my daughter in Washingtonian Magazine?  We’ve got our fingers crossed you will  like it!

If you did like it, please  help me write for more people by:

  • Subscribing to DC Yoga Insider.
  • Forwarding DC Yoga Insider to everyone you know. [Ditto your copy of the Washingtonian.]
  • E-mailing me to let me know what you think of yoga in DC, and what you would like to read about, either on DC Yoga Insider or in future magazine articles. Use the form below.

Thank you,

Diana

Full House for Krishna Das

In Essays & Scattered Observations, News on July 11, 2011 at 4:37 PM

Kirtan player Krishna Das played to  a sold-out audience at the 6th and I Streets historic synagogue Sunday evening. Krishna Das, 64, appeared with spiritual writer Sharon Salzberg as part of Kalachakra for World Peace Empowerment, a 10-day visit and tribute by the Dahli Lama. Sitting in the front rows of enthusiastic listeners was a tan Richard Gere and a number of Tibetian monks.

Krishna Das and Sharon Salzberg at 6th and I synagogue.

Krishna Das grew up in Long Island as Jeffrey Kagel. Last night he and Saltzberg chanted and kibitzed. The front pews of the synagogue were packed with middle-age women moving back and forth to the chants. Younger couples, many with infants and children, also swayed to the Hare Krishna chant, filling the synagogue to the rafters.

Salzberg, a New York Times best selling author who writes about spirituality for the Huffington Post, chatted on stage with Krishna Das about the good old days they shared in Rishekesh, India — which sounded a bit like summer camp in the Catskills.

Krishna Das has a deep resonate voice (sitting in the synagogue one could imagine him as a mesmerizing cantor) and the chanting was beautiful. As a “Jewish white kid,”  KD, as he is known, in fact hoped to become a rock musician, according to his Website.

Richard Gere with two kirtan fans at Ram Das concert.

He and friends at Stony Brook University started a band called the Soft White Underbelly that later evolved into Blue Oyster Cult. KD dropped out of college and met spiritual writer Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now. As a student of Ram Das, KD traveled to India to meet Hindu guru Mahraji-ji, known also as Neem Karoli Baba. KD became a disciple of Mahraji-ji.

“My guru was completely unusual,” KD recounted to Saltzberg. “He didn’t teach, he didn’t lecture, he didn’t write books. He hung around, so that’s what you did.” 

After two years in India KD returned to the U.S. It wasn’t until 20 years later, in 1994, however, that KD began playing kirtan for yoga students at Jivamukti Yoga Center. Since then he has recorded 10 albums, including last year’s Heart as Wide as the World.

Utta Barth

In Essays & Scattered Observations on July 7, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Utta Barth, AIC

Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.

 – Zen, via Robert Irwin

I went to visit my son in Chicago where we wandered through the Art Institute of Chicago, coming to Barth’s curtains. Her exhibition is titled and to draw a bright white line with light and is an homage to installation artist Robert Irwin. Barth, a Los Angles photographer, is interested in how we “see.”

 

As someone who practices yoga, I’d translate the Zen line to:

Being is forgetting the name of the thing one is.

Where’s Your Imagination?

In Essays & Scattered Observations on June 1, 2011 at 8:28 AM

We forge manacles with our minds. We stick our hands out and say, “What are you waiting for?”

The manacles, or handcuffs, aren’t made of steel, and they aren’t the kind you see hanging from a policeman’s belt. They are formed by society’s rules and expectations.

The 18th century mystical poet and engraver, William Blake, charted the enslaving power of our minds 100 years before Freud:

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

William Blake, 1790, Proverbs of Hell

We are handcuffed by many things: By the beige office pod that locks us to a computer screen eight hours a day, by a job that is about dotting our bosses every “i” and crossing her every “t.” We are handcuffed by a way of seeing the world that doesn’t allow for the individual imagination, that robs us of individual fulfillment.

This week as part of my training at Wesley Theological Seminary near Ward Circle, we are readubg three visionary poets: the 18th century mystical poet, William Blake; the 19th century Amherst, Massachusetts poet, Emily Dickinson, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, a  Jesuit poet writing in England in the late 19th century. Each has something important to say about the social norms that keep us chained to mind-numbing jobs and certain ways of viewing the world.

You may know Blake from his most famous poem, Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Blake’s Tyger is powerful and primal, but it is also beautifully made, with a fearful symmetry. It is imagination and desire uncontained.

Blake was reacting to the 18th century Enlightenment, or Age of Reason. The Age of Reason was a wonderful thing: it brought us science, and a view into the unseen world of atoms and space. It taught us to think critically of traditional institutions, customs and morals. Religion, too, can be a powerful, positive force in our lives: it brings us together with other believers, and gives us order, ritual and sacrament by which we may reach God.

But both Reason and Religion can suck the juice out of us, too. They can pen us in with circumscribing order, wring us dry with rote learning.

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained,” Blake says in The Proverbs of Hell. “And the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling

Blake would open us up to the wild, creative force of the imagination. We don’t know what we don’t know:

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five.

A Memorable Fancy, 1790

Blake wouldn’t condemn science and religion altogether. They give order: an organized means of creating, building and understanding our world, work and lives.

But he would have us free the Imagination: to take part in the creation of our worlds. He would have us plumb our inner selves, to find the Divine Spirit within and to relish the divine in our work and in our daily lives.

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