Astanga Yoga London

8th April 2020
08th April 2020

Today was a super moon, and beautifully pink too. I camped out in the garden last night. Which was lovely to be under the stars. However I got very little sleep. Funny how with all the best camping gear and much experience I still couldn’t get much sleep. No matter.

Yesterday we met Subhadra and her story continues. One day she is at home in the Palace of Indra-prastha when in ran Gaya a Gandharva (sort of like an angel with attitude). ‘Help me please’ he said. Gaya had been flying around and accidentally spat on Krishna. And now Krishna was mad and chasing him ready to kill him. ‘What is wrong?’ asked Subhadra. ‘I’m being chased by a fierce warrior who has sworn to kill me’. ‘Don’t worry my husband will protect you’ replied Subhadra.  And so our scene is set with Gaya hiding behind Subhadra and Arjuna spinning his deadly  chakra (disc) ready to kill him and Arjuna is ready to kill Krishna. ‘I have sworn to kill him’ says Krishna. ‘And I have sworn to protect him’ says Arjuna. What will Subhadra do, on one side her brother on the other her husband. But you forget Subhadra is a Goddess, and with that comes some special powers.

She turns to Krishna and says ‘ok kill him’. Gaya’s head flies off with one throw of Krishna’s chakra, and before Arjuna can release his arrows Subhadra catches Gaya’s head and reattaches it and brings him back to life with a blink of her eyes. And that is how Subhadra saves the world. If Krishna or Arjuna had died that would have been the end of the world as we know it. Subhadra is the Goddess of good fortune. Not too dissimilar to our current chancellor Rishi Sunak, which means sage of fortunate times.

Gaya provides Arjuna with two quivers of inexhaustible arrows. Two you ask?  You will find out.

One day Arjuna and Subhadra are walking next to the river and he says ‘If Rama was such a great archer why did he build a bridge of stones to get to Lanka to save Sita?’ A monkey over heard his question and said ‘So do you think a bridge of arrows could support monkeys?’ ‘Easy’ said Arjuna letting fly a hundred arrows to build a bridge. The monkey puts his foot on the bridge and it collapses. Subhadra smiles and takes Arjuna’s arrows and writes Rama on each one. ‘Shoot them again’ And this time the bridge holds. ‘You see’ said the monkey ‘it’s not the arrows or the stones that make the bridge its Rama’s name’.

Who was the talking monkey? Of course,  Hanuman. He does seem to pop up in all sorts of places.

The telling of the Ramayana is also part of the Mahabharata (but in a short form).

And two quivers of inexhaustible arrows, well Arjuna is ambidextrous of course.

Did Arjuna and Subhadra have any kids? Well, yes Abhimanyu and you need to remember him.

I think tomorrow we need to have a who’s who again. Plenty of people have come into our story, some are minor characters and they have fulfilled their roll others have a big part in the story. But every single one of them is just as important as another.

7th April 2020
07th April 2020

This is our beautiful garden, all thanks to farmer Wise. The buddha in the corner was given to us by John Scott, it weighs about 20kg. Not the easiest thing to transport in a backpack. The flamingos, well obviously they are plastic. Ordered from Amazon a couple years ago. And one early morning before I left for work, so about 4am. I quietly opened the back door and stuck them in the lawn. Fingers crossed. Fortunately Anna (farmer Wise) and Talia loved them. I thought it would make a nice surprise on a cold morning.

I’ve been practicing for about 34 years now. I can still count the days I’ve missed practice on my hands. A few for sickness, a few for long haul flights (remember them) and of course the birth of Talia.

Now we left the Mahabharata with an ecological disaster caused by the burning of the forest. Of the surviving two that escaped Maya the Rakshasa begged not to be killed and promised them he could build the most beautiful city in the world. This he did and the Pandavas new home was called Indra-prastha. Remember Arjuna’s biological father is Indra. But he does have an odd relationship with him. Because it was Arjuna that stopped Indra’s rain from putting out the fire.

Anyway one day when the Pandavas have been living in their palace a cowherd called Arjuna for help, someone had stollen his cattle. Arjuna rushes to fetch his bow. In his search he disturbs Draupadi and Yudhishthira in bed. The rules are that Arjuna must now leave for a year. So Arjuna decided to go on a pilgrimage. But Arjuna’s idea of a pilgrimage is slightly different from the normal, it was more of an extended stag night. He ends up ‘falling in love’ (copping off) not once but three times. Yes he did pop his head into a few shrines and temples and chatted with a couple of rishis. He even meets a nine headed monster made from nine different animals but he’s not shaken one bit because he can see one paw holds a lotus flower and Arjuna knows it’s really his best friend, Krishna, playing a trick on him. Gods ehh.

The main part of his story revolves around Arjuna falling in to a river and a water Nymph, Ulupi catching him, they have a son called Iravan. At first Arjuna was trying to be faithful to Draupadi but Ulupi said ‘you mustn’t shun a woman who offers you her bed.’ (Well that was Arjuna’s excuse). Next on his travels he meets Chitrangada, a warrior princess. This time Arjuna is totally besotted. But he can only wed her if he can match her skill with a bow and arrow. Fortunately Chitrangada lets Arjuna win and yet another son is born, Babruvahana. Eventually Arjuna arrives at Dwaraka, home of Krishna, his older brother Balarama and their sister Subhadra.  Subhadra had been promised to Duryodhana, but she has other plans. She grabs Arjuna jumps on a cart and off they flee. Balarama is furious, ‘but look’ says Krishna ‘she has found love’ and Balarama reluctantly agrees that it is better that way. Old ways change to new ways. Subhadra is a very cool woman. For in our next instalment she saves the world…

 

6th April 2020
06th April 2020

Talia cut my hair today, not a bad job I must say. Anyway I’ve been thinking about mountains recently and there is always the quote, many paths one mountain. I’d like to change that to one path many mountains. We all have a path, even if we feel we are skipping from one path to another, that is still our one path. And of course there are many mountains for us to climb, get some great views and then roll on down to the bottom again. The great thing about the bottom of a mountain is the only way is up.

I’ve climbed a few mountains in my time, got lost and obviously found my way home. There is lots of research on how people get lost and what they do wrong. But no research on people who get lost and then find their way home. From a spiritual point of view getting lost is part of the plan and finding your way home is sometimes difficult. Sometimes, just like in real life, sitting still helps.

Do you know there is a mouse that lives on top of a mountain, not just any old mountain but one that is nearly 7000m high in South America. At the top it’s average temperature is -15c. There is only 50% oxygen up there and nothing grows. No one knows how the mouse survives. But it does. Nature is amazing.

Anyway, mouse tales in the Mahabharata. Krishna and the gopis. Once when all the Gopis were bathing in the river, Krishna stole their clothes. At first the gopis were embarrassed but when they could see no lust in his eyes they came out, Krishna loved them all equally. Eventually Kansa found Krishna and challenged him to a wrestling match. Of course Krishna threw him easily to the ground and broke him in two. But Kansa’s father in-law, Jarasandha was furious and attacked the city of Mathura again and again. Eventually to save all the people Krishna and Balarama secretly moved everyone over night to the island of Dwaraka.

Back with the Pandavas with their new wife Draupadi. Krishna advices them to go back to Hastinapura and claim their part of the land. When they arrive back in Hastinapura everyone is amazed and joyful to see they had survived the fire and made strong friends with Drupada, Draupadi’s father. Everyone except Duryodhana, who was already plotting his revenge. Dhritarashtra gave them an area of land called the Khandava forest. Totally uninhabitable. But the Pandavas were determined not just to make somewhere to live but the most beautiful palace and happiest populace around. But there was one problem. The forest. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it we’ll have to go through it.

The God Agni appeared to them and said ‘you must burn the forest down’. ‘But what about all the animals and plants’ Said Arjuna. There is no way that I can find that really legitimises the burning of the forest. Not only do they burn the forest but Arjuna kills all the animals as they try to escape. The only  two to escape are Vasuki the king of the Nagas and the Rakshasa Maya. Even Indra tries to protect the forest with rain, but Arjuna shoots so many arrows to create a covering over the forest.

Vasuki eventually gets his revenge as we saw at the beginning of our story. We’ll follow Mayas part of the story tomorrow. It’s interesting that the Pandava were born in a forest, Bhima had a forest Rakshasa as a wife and yet they still burn it down. Some say it’s because to create something you have to break something. (Eggs and omelet). By supporting Agni it suggests the importance of fire and fire rituals, beyond anything else. If you feel they have committed some terrible eco disaster you are not wrong. Dharma will prevail.

5th April 2020
05th April 2020

Today’s conference was good, it gave me reassurance that this sort of thing is possible, though no where nice as the real thing. It was great that people from all over the world could join in too. So good to see you all. Lots of good questions. Mainly around anxiety and staying well. There is a lot of scientific evidence to show that exercise is great for anxiety and keeping our immune system in good form. They are related because being anxious lowers your immunity. This is because your sympathetic nervous system sets off a cascade of hormones. Which is fine in the short term, but anxiety on a long term basis, this then goes on to stop some of your immune system working. The immune system as far as I understand is incredibly complicated. Part of the system is inflammatory and this can have its problems because either the immune cells can start damaging healthy cells and/or causing some waist products that can then cause more damage, and the lymphatic system not draining them a way. Anyway suffice to say the best way to clear all this up, the anxiety and improving your immunity is through regular breathing. In hale, exhale the same length. There is also quite a lot of evidence for cold water immersion. And while the ponds are closed you can do what I have been doing for years, cold shower. Now the weather is warm it’s easier, your body gets used to it. You can start hot but then turn to cold. BREATHE SLOW.

The finishing sequence you should also take your time. These are good for your immune system and reduction of anxiety, well as long as you don’t fall over.

Yesterday we left Krishna just hopping up and down waiting to come in to our story. But what’s his background. Well we have to go back to Mathura, the city where Kunti was from. Her brother, Vasudeva was married to Devaki. But Devaki had an evil brother by the name of Kansa. Kansa had taken over the kingdom of Mathura from its original council or sanga. Kansa had help from his father in law the powerful Jarasandha. It had been for-told that the eighth child of Devaki would end the life of Kansa and return Mathura to it’s people. Kansa imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki and every child she had he killed. But the seventh was magically moved from one womb to another and Balarama was born. (This is Krishna’s brother although some say he was yet another incarnation of Vishnu). Anyway Devaki gets pregnant for the eighth time (contraception was not a thing in them days). But this time Krishna is born, there is an almighty  storm and all the fires are blown out, their prison door is blown open and Vasudeva sneaks out with baby Krishna and takes him to his brother across the Yamanna river, did the waters part? Possibly they did. Vasudeva’s brother Nanda, lived in Gokul. Nanda’s wife Yashoda had had a baby girl at the same time as Krishna was born, she was called Subhadra. They swapped the babies around and when Kansa turned up to kill the eighth child he was surprised to find a girl, but no matter he grabbed the baby. But the baby turned into a goddess and proclaimed that the eighth child was still alive and Kansa would meet his end.

Krishna, the lover and thief of butter grows up amongst the cowherds of Gokul. Or as my friend Richard said as I teased him about living in redneck land ‘yeah Krishna was a  cowboy too’. And he certainly was mischievous. But Kansa desperately tried to find a way to get rid of Krishna. Demon after demon he sent. One to poison him one to blow him away and another to crush him but each time Krishna got back up with his beautiful smile. Even when Indra got involved and sent down torrential rain, Krishna just picked up a near by hill and used it as an umbrella to protect the village and the fields.

And every evening as the sun set and the parakeets would return to their trees Krishna could be heard playing his enchanting flute. Everyone loved Krishna they felt secure and comforted when ever he was around, and non more so than the 108 gopis, the cowgirls of Vrindhavan…

THANKS
05th April 2020

Thanks to all of you who managed to join conference. I’m really sorry we maxed out so quickly at 100. We will look into the tech, well Anna will, as I’m of the Ludd tribe. So yes we will host another conference. It was great we all figured to be quiet when someone asked a question. Simple really. Massive love to you all.

Here is a link to my current favourite version of the  Mahabharata:

4th April 2020
04th April 2020

One of the best things about astanga is the community. That you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and there will be astanga. I have met so many yogis over the years. Mostly in Mysore, and now I have lots and lots of friends. People tell me it is not the same for other yoga styles and are always amazed that we have friends all over the world. I don’t know why this is but it’s the shared thing I guess.

I get regularly asked about food and diet. Generally I’m pretty reticent to give answers. I’m not a scientist and although I have read a fair amount about food and diet I also know there are a whole bunch of emotions tied up there too. My only advice is turmeric and beetroots. Works for me. But what works for one may not work for another. One persons poison is another elixir.

Now back to the fun bit. The Mahabharata. We ended yesterday with the three children of Drupada. Shikandini, born a girl dressed as a boy. Gets confused runs off to the forest, meets forest deity swaps  gender, becomes Shikandi, still twiddling his thumbs in the forest. (check out march 24th). The other two are born as adults from the fire Dhrishtadyumna and his sister Draupadi. And it is with Draupadi that our story continues. Her father Drupada, wants her to get married so arranges a Swayamvara. A contest to see who is the best person for Draupadi to marry. Secretly she had wanted Arjuna but along with everyone else she thought he’d died in the flammable house. (What is the difference between flammable and inflammable?) Anyway Drupada set up a contest. It was to string a bow, shoot an arrow at a revolving target while only looking at its reflection. Needless to say none of the warriors  could do it. The Pandavas had gone in disguise as brahmins. When no one had been able to hit the target Drupada asked if there was anyone else who wanted to try. So of course Arjuna gets up saunters over strings the bow, looks at the reflection of the moving target and shoots the target clean off. The crowd erupts and Draupadi smiles. When the Pandavas walk back with Draupadi to their little cottage in the woods, Arjuna call out ‘hey Mum look what I just won’.(He hadn’t really got the fine nuances of female equality just yet). His mum replies ‘what ever it is share it with your brothers’. How can this be, one wife five husbands? Just then another man walks into their home, tall dark and handsome, with a flowered garland around his neck. It was Kunti’s cousin. He said, as long as each Pandava loved and respected Draupadi equally it would work. Draupadi would only be with one of the Pandavas for one year at a time and if one of the other brothers disturbed them then he would be banished for a year. Why did it happen? Because when she was younger Draupadi had prayed ‘give me a husband, give me a husband, give me … 5 times. So careful what you pray for. But Draupadi was more than happy.

And who was the tall dark flower bedecked cousin of Kunti? Non other than KRISHNA…

3rd April 2020
03rd April 2020

I’ve been having an email chat with a few friends about where the Bhagavad Gita comes in the Mahabharata. (We’re not there yet). I’d said ‘it’s pretty much central’. ‘But’ they replied ‘It’s in the sixth chapter and there are eighteen chapters’. I already knew this , and they are right, but because I have a lot of time on my hands I looked in to it some more. Although there are eighteen chapters there are 100 sub-chapters and then 2130 sub sub chapters. Anyway I haven’t got round to counting each verse or word, yet. But the Bhagavad Gita is still around the middle, and definitely central. (Sub chapter 63, sub sub chapter 935).

I walked into a lamppost today, not purposefully obviously but I was not looking where I was going but rather at the church up the road from us and seeing how it was all spread out in different buildings and the beautiful flowers all around it. Anyway, broke my frames of my glasses and now somehow, I need to get some new frames. Fortunately I have some old glasses from India. Should be fun. I don’t practice with my glasses or lens. I only do when I’m out camping, as the sky is so far away.  Practising doing short sighted is a  blessing as it reduces distractions.

Back to our story and the poor brahmin who is about to drive a cart full of food to be eaten by Baka the demon. Bhima said he would go in the brahmin’s place. The Brahmin at first refused as he said ‘but you’re our guests’. But eventually reason got the better off him. So Bhima and the cart fall of food goes off to meet Baka. At the pre-arranged meeting place, Bhima stops and starts eating all the food. Baka comes out and is incredibly angry and rushes towards Bhima. Bhima pins Baka to the ground with one hand and continues eating with the other hand (right hand). Only when he has finished does he allow him to fight. Of course it is not long before Baka lies dead on the  floor. The whole village is over joyed and thankful. The Pandavas move on and settle in a small clearing in the woods. No sooner had they lay down than another Rakshasa rushes out, this is Hidimba, Baka’s brother. But a similar fait awaits him, torn in two on the floor. But from behind a tree Hidimba’s sister has been watching and instead of being angry she takes a shine to Bhima’s immense strength. Using her magical powers she disguises her self as a beautiful woman. Stepping out from behind the tree she flirts with Bhima and the two fall in love. (Obviously beautiful women just like wandering around the forest). Of course you no what happens, the forest is a fertile place and they have a baby called Ghatakotcha. When the Pandavas eventually move on, the Rakshasas remain in the forrest. Ghatakotcha says to Bhima. ‘when need me just call my name’. I don’t think Bruce Springsteen ever gave Ghatokotcha a mention.

Now do you remember Drupada the king who had been a childhood friend of Drona but then ignored him until Drona’s students, the Pandavas, captured him and only let him free when Drupada gave half his kingdom to Drona. Well him, Drupada was till seething with anger all these years. He had been praying to Shiva the destroyer to give him three children. A boy to kill Bhishma, another boy to kill Drona and a girl to split their houses apart. As we know you don’t mess with God and anger gets you no where. But three children he did get. The first was a girl, Amba reincarnated as Shikandini (go back to the 24th March). But because Drupada wanted a boy to kill Bhishma Shikandini was dressed as a boy. The next two children were twins Drishtadyumna, a boy and Draupadi, a girl. Actually because Drupada had been praying to shiva all his three children were born from the fire as adults. Which saves us a lot of time waiting for them to grow up and join in on our adventure. But sad for Drupada to miss out on children growing up, he probably didn’t know how to change a nappy anyway.

2nd April 2020
02nd April 2020

Yesterday I mentioned Derek who was my first astanga teacher. I have so many great stories about him. Hopefully I will be ablate remember them all. But I was reminded of him today as I was cleaning the house. Times have got so desperate I have started cleaning the bits in-between the banisters, or the base rail between the spindles to be precise. (The big post on the end is called a newel, good for hanging your coat on to annoy your wife). Anyway all this cleaning reminded me how fastidious Derek was when I worked for him in Crete. Each week we’d completely dismantle the kitchen and clean everything. He’d come round with a pin to check we’d cleaned each part of the seal of the fridge door. Anyway I now know what clean is.

Many years ago Derek and I were in what was Yugoslavia on the Island of Brac. Yoga workshop, pretty basic living.  Derek and Radha would teach and cook everything. I’m sure they were both drained afterwards. We got our water from a well, with a bucket on a rope, old school. That is until some bright spark dropped bucket and rope down the well. So what to do? Derek grabs me by my ankles hangs me upside down and dangles me down the well. I got the bucket, I think this was pre-water-boarding. But I was happy!

So we left the Pandavas about to move into their new house, build of inflatable material that Duryodhana had arranged to be built for them. Vidura talks to Yudhishthira in what was called Mleccha language, this may have been a secret language or a low class language or just a language from far away. Anyway only Vidura and Yudhishthira understood it. ‘There are weapons that are not sharp and the consumer of wood can be avoided by a being a jackal in a hole to the forest, folowls your stars.’ What he was say was your house will be burned down but there is a hole that leads to the forest. Yudhishthira was born in scorpio, he was to follow that sign. So they moved into the house, they held a big party for everyone including the builders. The builders got drunk and fell asleep on the floor. So when the party was over the Pandavas sneaked out with their mother down the hole to the forest. The Kauravas burnt the house down and sure enough six bodies were found and everyone thought the Pandavas were dead. Except of course Vidura who knew they had escaped. The Pandavas lived in the forest, never stopping more than one day at any one place. They came to a village called Ekachakra (one wheel, says it all) and stayed at a poor brahmin family home. The village was cursed by a demon, a rakshasa called Baka who demanded a cart of food every two weeks, he usually ate the cart driver too. The cart driver was always drawn by lot and it had fallen to the poor brahmin. What was he to do….

 

1st April 2020
01st April 2020

Traditionally Aprils fools day, and Ruth and I would race to see who could pinch punch the other first. Which takes me back to when Derek was my teacher and I was the student getting pinched and punched, and he was a big man. Being a student for me has always been more important than being a teacher. There is always so much to learn. I resisted being a teacher for many years, but I’m extremely glad I finally followed why dharam. I still remember my first class and coming out feeling like I could fly. And it still brings a smile to my face.

There are many ways to practice, quick, slow, strong, light. Focus here, focus there, try this try that. Everyone has a different idea and every teacher has a different way and set of tricks and magic up their sleeve. But it is your practice, your path. Just follow it.

Onwards with my favourite story: Bhima the super strong. (Not to be confused with Bhishma, who was like a grandfather to everyone). Bhima loved to eat and so the Kauravas led by Duryodhana arranged a picnic and sure enough Bhima turned up and started scoffing all the food. Of course it was a trick, the food was poisoned and Bhima fell asleep. The Kauravas rolled him up and tied him with ropes and dropped him into the river. Under normal circumstances this would be the end of the story for Bhima, but where there are snakes there is hope. Because snakes have magic, the magic of birth and rebirth, and the snakes in the river are Devine serpents, called Nagas. They rescue Bhima give him a magical elixir that makes him as strong as 100 elephants. Of course there is some love interest and Bhima falls in love with a Naga princess Ahilawati. Some say she gave birth to Barbareek, but for now just keep his name in mind. He will pop up later.

Anyway Bhima hangs out under the water for a couple of weeks with Ahilawati and the Nagas. His brothers and the Kauravas think he’s dead so start preparing a funeral. There is a huge feast. But just as they are about to sit down, Bhima pops out of the water rushes towards the food and gobbles it all up. There is almost a riot. ‘hey guys, what did I do wrong’ smiles Bhima. The Pandavas are so happy to see him back, but not so the Kauravas. They are already plotting their next trick to get rid of not just one, but all of the Pandavas.

Even though all the people of Hastinapura love the Pandavas. The honest Yudhishthira, the strong Bhima, the skilled Arjuna, the  beautiful Nakula and the wise Sahadeva (the 5 qualities of a good man). And even Dhritarashtra had come round to the idea of Yudhishthira being the next king. It was clear to everyone that the Pandavas could no longer live with the Kauravas and so Dhritarashtra asked his son Duryodhana to arrange for a new home to be built for the Pandavas. Nothing could have given Duryodhana more joy. Because now he could full fill his dreams and get on with his  cunning plan.

He arranged for a new house to be built made of lacquered wood. Highly flammable. But fortunately one of the builders is a good friend of Vidura (remember him Dhritarashtra and Pandu’s half brother). And so Vidura get to find out about this house and Duryodhana dastardly plans. And an even more cunning plot is hatched to help the Pandavas escape…

Online conference with Hamish Sunday 5th April 2020

Hamish will be holding an online conference this Sunday 5th April at 11.30am. Email Hamish for Zoom link.

Read Hamish’s daily blog here.