Astanga Yoga London

31st of May 2020
31st May 2020

I’m interested to see what we will miss what regrets we will have when we exit lockdown. Already I miss the very quiet roads. I still find the 2 meter thing really difficult. Silvia one of our lovely students who’s been with us for sometime sent me this link:

How to Survive a Pandemic: Fear, Vulnerability and Resilience

I first came across what was to become aids in 1982. At the time it seems of little importance. We lost a few friends but I’m happy some are still with us. It’s so easy to forget how much suffering others have.

Again our story is back in the forest. The forest represents nature obviously but also the untamed mind. To create Sanskrit meaning perfected from prakrit meaning raw nature change has to happen, and as they say to make pancakes you gotta break eggs. The forest also represents the student time. Rama is our soul and so the Ramayana is the souls journey.

Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshman make their way to Mithila a place close to the Nepal. It’s also called Videha. The word videha appears in the yoga sutras 1.19. And means beyond body consciousness. The king of Mithila is King Janiki who features in the Bhagavad Gita as the ideal philosopher king. One day someone brings a baby to King Janaki. The baby was found in a furrow in a field and so she is called Sita, which means furrow. When Rama gets to Mithila he has to string the bow of Shiva. Contest with bows seem to come up a lot in myths. They represent finding direction. Rama represents the sun and our soul and Sita represents the moon and the mind. Of course they are always together. As Vishnu, all pervading and Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth. Gods and Goddesses always go together. One supports the other.

30th of May 2020
30th May 2020

Another sunny day. When I lived in Greece we had summer from April to October. Everyday I’d be on the beach. By September I was praying for rain. Are we ever content with what we have. It is not an easy path to be on. This is because of time. We  have to plan for the future but that gives us a sense of ‘not having’. Where as being comfortable with what you have works best when you’re focused on being here and now. So it’s finding that balance between being present and conscious of the future. Being anxious when we wish to be present rather than thinking of the future makes things worse. Our minds find it easier to be focused on now when our senses are taking it a lot. Like watching a film or reading a book. More difficult is staying present when your senses are not enticed. This is part of the yoga practice. Yoga practice changes the way your mind  works, so that it doesn’t get constantly pulled by the senses. It becomes an automatic thing. Practice good breathing and your mind will become more controllable.

The Ramayana continues, the four boys grow up. Rama and Lakshman become close and Bharata and Shatrughna also. One day Vishvamitra a famous sage turns up at Ayodhya. He says ‘there are two Rakshasas upsetting my puja. Please can you help?’ ‘  ‘Of course’ replies Dasharatha. And so Rama and Lakshman even though they’re still teenager follow Vishvamitra into the forest. Vishvamitra means friend to all and Vishvamitrasana is the first asana in advance A series. Vishvamitra also appeared in the Mahabharata as the sage who fathered Shakuntala. But what he is most famous for is coming up with the Gayatri mantra. It said the Ramayana is an explanation of the Gayatri.

Anyway Vishvamitra asks Rama ‘which way would you like to go,  the quick path or the longer path’ Rama replies ‘the longer path for I will learn more’. Rama is asked first to kill a female Rakshasa. At first he refuses as Dharma prevents him from harming a woman. But Vishvamitra points out that crimes are committed by both genders. Later Rama is asked to touch a statue of a woman (Ahilya), who has been turned to stone for being unfaithful. Again Rama refuses until Vishvamitra says forgiveness is more important. How did Ahilya come to be turned to stone? Well she was married to a sage called Gautama who spent most of his time doing sagely things without spending much time  if any with Ahilya. So Ahilya became lonely. Indra seeing this from heaven disguised himself as Gautama and they spend one afternoon happy together until the real Gautama turns up. And turns his wife to stone. Now that Ahilya is free Rama learns about emotions. Ahilya represents the planet Venus and love. She instructs Rama to find contentment and grow from your own failings.

29th of May 2020
29th May 2020

Living with a teenager is fun, in that it reminds me of me, secluded in a dark room with music playing and monosyllabic answers. Guess I turned out ok

Someone recently asked me about the ego and so here is the reply.

Regarding the ego and yoga. So European understanding of the ego and Indian understanding are similar but with a few differences. The ego is regarded as a filter through which our senses take things through. So that everything is then rated on how much you like it or don’t. So naturally we shy away from things  we don’t like and are attracted to thing we do. When we practice yoga asana and more importantly pranayama that filter drops. At first this is short lived, a few minutes at most but after time that state becomes easier to access.

The Ramayana starts with Dasharatha the king of Ayodhya. Dasharatha means 10 chariots, which refers to his power in battle. However Ayodhya means without without fighting. This really means that it’s a place of peace. Dasharatha has three wives Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. Kaushalya means skilful and we find the word in the Bhagavad Gita 2.50 Yoga is skill in action. Kaikeyi is named after her place  of birth and Sumitra means good friend. Dasharatha doesn’t have any children and so does a puja to have children. Rama is born first to Kaushalya, Bharata to Kaikeyi  and Sumitra has twins Lakshman and Shatrughna. So again we have twins as we did  in the Mahabharata. And Shatrughna becomes ‘the spare’. He doesn’t get much action in our story. Rama of course is our focus. Rama means ‘one who brings joy’ and yana means journey. We can take this to mean physical journey and a spiritual journey. But  it’s really our journey because Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu. Rama was part of the Solar Dynasty and Krishna was part of the lunar Dynasty. Why is this relevant? Well the two stories are said to balance each other out. And Balance is alway good. Not only do we have to be kind to each other we must be kind to ourselves.

28th of May 2020
28th May 2020

I love Thursdays. I’m usually at my tiredest but that is mostly a mental thing and it stops me getting distracted. My body is also at its most open, and most  importantly it’s primary tomorrow,  so winding down already. Obviously it’s  easy to put your feet up and take it easy. However we should balance being kind to our selves and accepting our selves with being lazy asses.

I live near a large estate and nearly every day there is police helicopter hovering over.

My future worry is we will find it difficult to get back to real life and off our virtual world.

So we finished the Mahabharata yesterday. The other great story is the Ramayana. First the pronunciation. English speakers like to split the word and put the stress on the penultimate A. So Rama- yAna. But the correct way is for it to be said as one word and the second A to be lengthened. So Ramaayana. The yana part is said without any stress on the A.

The Ramayana takes place before the Mahabharata in what is called the Treta yuga, that is the second Yuga. Satya yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara yuga and our own Kali yuga. The Mahabharata was in the Dvapara yuga and ends at the beginning of the Kali yuga. The Ramayana is set in the Treta and ends at the beginning of the Dvapara yuga. Some of the characters in the Ramayana some how manage to last out all the way to reappear in the Mahabharata. Not bad considering the Treta yuga was 1,296,000 years  long. However the Mahabharata was written before the Ramayana, in fact a shortened version of the Ramayana is found in the Mahabharata called the Ramopakhyana. Rama the main character is another avatar of Vishnu, like Krishna. Rama comes before Krishna in the line of avatars, however surely God can be at more than one place and time.

The Ramayana is a much simpler story than the Mahabharata, not as many characters of twists and knots. The author of the Mahabharata was Vyasa and Ganesha was the scribe. For the Ramayana we have Valmiki to thank. He is known as the first poet. His own story is worth telling. He was born a Brahmin with the  name Agni Sharma but the land he lived in experience a drought and so to feed his family he started robbing people. Until one day he tried to rob Narada the sage. Who said are you ok with all the karma you are going to accrue from robbing. Agni Sharma hung his head and admitted it wasn’t great. ‘And how about your family will they take your karma too just as they take the money you steel’. At this Agni Sharma fell down crying. ‘what can I do, God has not be kind to us’. And so Narada says ‘simple just chant the word Mara, again and again’. MaraMaraMaramaramaRamaRamaRama. And so Agni Sharma sat and meditated chanting Rama’s name until the ants built a home around him and hence his name Valmiki which means Anthill. The whole of the Ramayana is written in Sloka meter which is the first time it gets used. Two lines each with 16 syllables. (often it gets written or chanted in four lines).The first line of  of the Ramayana has the word Krounca which means love bird, the second asana in intermediate.

And tomorrow we will start with Valmiki’s  lovely story…

27th of May 2020
27th May 2020

It looks like we’re going to be in lockdown a while longer. Some of the questions that came up for conference related to the role of a teacher/guru. You learn best when you discover it for your self. In some ways the practice really becomes your teacher. It shows you were you need to work. Not on opening your back or hips but also on your attachments, your anger etc. How many times have your started your practice with a head full of thoughts and then you get to the end and hey-presto empty mind.

And so it is with the Mahabharata. I’d hoped that I could time it to end with lock down but looks like I’ll be retelling the Ramayana too. Aren’t we lucky.

Anyway the Pandavas and Draupadi are now old, they’ve ruled  Hastinapur for many years and so they go off to climb Mount Mandara, where at the top they could enter heaven. But on the way, one by one they fall off the Mountain until only Yudhishthira is left. Draupadi fell   because she had been preferential to Arjuna, Sahadeva was too smug, Nakula was vain, Bhima greedy and Arjuna was envious/insecure. On the way up a dog joins their path. So when Yudhishthira gets to heavens gates (In Indian thought there are several levels of heaven) the devas say sure come in but leave the dog. Yudhishthira refuses saying ‘this dog has been faithful, how can I abandon it now’. Of course it’s a test and Yudhishthira goes through the gates (with dog who was really a God in disguise), usual thing, red carpet, showered by flowers and music playing, yummy food, no sign of virgins. But there is sign that all the Kauravas are here. Yudhishthira asks the Devas ‘where are my brothers’, he’s only slightly furious that the Kauravas made it to heaven, may be his brothers are in a higher heaven. So the devas take him to hell ‘here are your brothers and wife’. Yudhishthira can’t believe his eyes. ‘Why’? ‘They will spend only a short time here and then move to heaven where as the Kauravas will spend a short time in heaven and a long time in hell’. As for Yudhishthira he is still attached and so spends a day in hell before they all move on up. Swarga is regular heaven where you have all your desires fulfilled. Vaikuntha is where you have no desire.

The Mahabharata starts with a snake sacrifice. Or it’s about to happen with all the snakes being killed. And it ends with Janamejaya, Arjuna’s great grandson after hearing the story of the Mahabharata that life is not about winning this or gaining that it’s about experiencing the  knowledge that releases you from the circles of life. Of overcoming our fears and desires. Astika the Naga who had asked Janamejaya to stop the killing is happy as a snake can be. Astika in Sanskrit means ‘there is’ And is usually used in reference to ‘There is God, there is soul, there you are. ♥

OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI

26th of May 2020
26th May 2020

Before yoga I spent a fair amount of time working in hostels for homeless people. I remember arriving the first day at Bondway night shelter and being pretty frightened, I was only 18. My fear was that how easy it seemed for someone to become homeless, a simple mistake could lead to a cascade of problems and before you know it you’re  on the street. I really grew to loving working at the night shelter. The camaraderie was exceptional. And all types of people. I learnt so much about friendliness and frailty. There were old guys there who’d lived there for 30 years, fought in the war.

At the End of the year the horse comes back and a huge puja is organised to celebrate Yudhishthira becoming king. The horse sacrifice is called Ashvamedha in Sanskrit and at the end of the year the horse is killed and offered to the Gods. Generally you don’t really hear about that bit. And much less the part where the kings wife has to have sex with the dead horse. I’m not sure how to say WTF in Sanskrit. Anyway it’s well documented in the Yajur veda. And you’d think it was some old thing, last one happened in1741.

Anyway more important than the horse fucking is the little story of the Golden Mongoose. So while the puja is happening a mongoose wanders into the hall and starts rolling around in the dust and ashes from the puja and looks really disappointed. It’s then the priests notice the mongoose is half gold. So they ask the mongoose, what he’s doing and why he’s half gold, as you do. The mongoose blessed obviously with human speech replies that ‘sometime ago I’d been at a home of some poor people who’d given their last food to a stranger. I rolled in the ashes of their fire and turned half gold, so I thought rolling in the ashes of Yudhishthira’s puja I might become totally gold’

It was then realised that this was the start of Kali yuga. When there would half as much virtue as there was before. Yudhishthira’s puja was more about gaining power than giving to charity. Selfishness had overtaken kindness. At the end of each yuga Vishnu’s avatar comes to and end. And so it is with Krishna, we say good bye to him as he sleeps under a tree and a hunter mistakes his foot for a deer (should have gone to specs savers). Hari Om

25th of May 2020
25th May 2020

If anyone is feeling they’re missing Glastonbury just head over to Crouch End/Ali pali. There’s parties, music, food being served, pubs are doing take out and a general smokey experience. Police, nada. I can’t remember how much The Glastonbury Festival costs these days probably in the hundreds. First time I went it was 12 quid to get in. Curtis Mayfield,  Ub40, Aswad, The beat and Alexis Sayle (he’s still going). It pissed with rain the first day and then we had sunshine. Funnily I don’t remember much else.

Some of the questions at conference revolved around money and commercialisation of yoga. What were my thoughts. To be honest it’s hard to be objective as that is how I make a living. But I assume it’s the feeling people have that someone is making shit loads of money and it’s just not fair. Of course you are allowed to stamp your feet. I’m sure everyones Mum at some point said ‘life’s not fair’ Which at the time did nothing for calming the waters. There will always be  some one who finds a way of monetizing something you thought should be monetized. Money can cause stress, well if you don’t have enough or you’re uncomfortable with inequality. When you have money, inequality becomes an issue, when you don’t have money, getting food, paying your rent is the issue. There are many emotions attached to money and different cultures have a different view over money. As far as I know yoga centres do not make shit loads of money, and after C19 even less. The big money comes from three places. Beginners course, because there are so many people who think they’re beginners. The retention rate is usually 10% which is pretty crap. Then comes celebrity teachers who ask for a big wodge, and are usually from a different country. This is more about our belief in celebrity and their version of wisdom. Follow your heart. And the final thing is teacher trainings, enough said. Is there a better way of doing things. Possibly but there are lots that would have to change. Yoga should be available to all. With that in mind we have to make compromises in they way it is taught, where and by who. Hopefully our new Fair Exchange system of payment will go someway to help. It is very difficult to remove ourselves from the commercialisation of yoga just on a personal level. Should you have expensive leggings? Do they help you emotionally have a good practice? Then yes.

The dharma of money is difficult. Some things it is good to charge for as it gives value, other things are best given freely, that adds another value.

We are part way through the wandering of the horse and Arjuna and Nakula. They come to Manipura, the City of jewels, also happens to be the name of the third chakra. The horse would have wandered freely except it was met by Arjuna’s son Babruvahana. Arjuna said ‘as a warrior at least challenge me’ And so Babruvahana raises his bow and after they fire a bunch of arrows at each other one by chance hits Arjuna through the heart. Babruvahana was beside himself with sadness. Killing his own father.

All is not lots Babruvahana lives with his step  mother the Naga princess Ulupi who posses the magical jewel, Nagamani which restores life. AKA the resurrection stone in the Deathly Hallows. And so up pops Arjuna.

Ulupi is an interesting character. A powerful Naga princess she had married  Arjuna but it was always her instigation. Her son Iravan is sacrificed for Kali so the Pandavas can win the war. And she brings Arjuna back to life. But at no point does she get the recognition she deserves except when anyone needs to cross the Ganges and her blessing is always sort for safe passage.

24th of May 2020
25th May 2020

It was lovely to see so many of you on the zoom conference. But it was also sad because I really wanted to have one to one conversations with so many of you. Just to say ‘hi how are you, let’s have a cuppa soon’. You’re all so beautiful.

I hope I managed to answer as many of your questions as possible and to your satisfaction. Some questions were particularly difficult to answer and probably need more thought and a deeper response. The first set of questions that requires that is/was about dharma. Dharma is probably the hardest word to translate from Sanskrit. Usually it translates as ‘that which supports’. But can mean path, law, responsibility and philosophy. As I mentioned the Mahabharata and other texts say that trying to understand dharma is very difficult, it is too subtle. There is world dharma, group dharma and ones own dharma. They may not always meet or agree and that is where you have a dilemma. When the Gods, the Demons and the Humans as Brahman what is Dharma he replies ‘Da’. The gods understood it to mean Damyata self control because they can have/do anything. The humans understood it to mean Datta meaning generosity because we are naturally greedy. The Demons heard Dayadhvam another word for compassion. So there we have three forms of Dharma in action self control, generosity and compassion.

I hope the small amount of asana teaching was useful too.

Although Yudhishthira is now king everyone is still sad with so much death around. That is until Arjuna’s dead son’s wife Uttara gives birth to Parikshit. If you have long memories you might remember he opened our story,  locked away in his tower, self isolating because of a curse that he’d die from a snake bite. Anyway this is that same Parikshit (with the unfortunate name), just been born. And so the palace rejoices at new life. Yudhishthira and his brothers decide to do a horse sacrifice. This is where a horse is set free and followed by an army. Where ever the horse roams that land belongs to the king. Unless someone captures the horse, hence the following army to back things up. So a horse is found and Arjuna and Nakula were the army.

Eventually the horse gets to Nari-pura the city of women, Nakula can understand the birds and translates for Arjuna. Anyone or animal that enters here turns female. They may only leave when they marry. The horse has gone in (now a mare) and is being held captive by Pramila the queen. What to do? Pramila says she’ll only return the horse if Arjuna agrees to marry her. So yet again Arjuna gets the girl (5th marriage). But he has some way to catch up with Krishna who has 16000.

Tomorrow the unthinkable happens but of course there is a twist…

23rd of May 2020
23rd May 2020

Pushpam, means flower in Sanskrit. It’s the name of our magazine. Originally my thought was for something quite small, 12 pages or so.  I asked Genny, Matt and Emma to join in and suddenly it grew. I know it takes a long time for each edition to come out. And as a team we go up and down as the process happens. For me it’s important not to have too much control. Just to let wonderful people create something. To let the writers tell their story how they want and to be paid for it. And most importantly to have happy readers.

We are always looking for success. But of course with that comes failure. Of course we pick our selves back up. So is it possible to not strive for success? How much trying is required? How much effort should I put in? Should I get out of bed? It’s not what you do or how you do it that matters but the attitude you do it in that matters. So you can have in your mind. ‘I’m doing this because it needs to be done, it’s the right thing to do, I’m doing it for…. (add name, deity, concept),  I’m doing it without expecting anything (honest gov), I’m just doing’ Any or all of or something similar that works for you.

So finally the war has ended. Bhishma is lying on his bed of arrows, waiting for the right time to die. This section of the Mahabharata is known as the Anushasana parva. The book of discipline. The yoga sutras starts with the words atha yogānushasanam. Now the discipline of yoga. It is strange that this section of the Mahabharata hasn’t become as big as the Bhagavad Gita. Within it there are many lessons that Bhishma gives to Yudhishthira. So here are just a few of them.

Not to get angry, not to lie, to give equally, to be able to forgive, to have children if possible, to be pure minded, to be friendly, to be simple and support those who need help.

Yudhishthira asks Bhishma what is the highest Dharma. And this is his answer. Ahimsa paramo dharma. Non violence is the highest dharma. Which doesn’t need much explaining. However what often gets missed out is  the next line dharma himsa tathaiva ca. For protecting dharma himsa is needed. What does that mean?  What dharma, who’s dharma? Is Bhishma saying religious war is ok? My understanding is that we should always aim for  ahimsa. But that in extreme situations violence may be a necessity.

I’m only going to do this once. Paramo means ultimate, similar to our word paramount. Well there is a company called Paramo who  make the ultimate rain coats. After you have looked them up and possibly shuddered at the price if you’re  still interested I’ll tell you why they are the best.

Don’t forget tomorrow conference 11.30am UK time

22nd of May 2020
22nd May 2020

I felt really excited today, catching up with Emma and Matt. They are the design team behind Pushpam and my new book. Well it’s more of a booklet. So they showed me their design, a mock up. It looks really great so fingers crossed we can get it out soon.

Today I’ll be quick as it’s a moon day. Yesterday I finished with the five remaining Kauravas. Ashwatthama wants to cause as much devastation as possible and so snuck into the Pandava camp and beheaded what he believed were the five Pandavas. When he got back to Duryodhana he showed him the heads and Duryodhana said ‘what have you done, you have killed the children of Draupadi’ And so Duryodhana dies. When the Pandavas awake and realise what has happened scouts are sent out to capture  Ashwatthama. Even as he is caught he releases a terrible magical weapon. But Krishna blokes it from killing all the unborn children. And Krishna curses  Ashwatthama to live 3000 years always sick and never allowed contact with others. Mmm and we thought we had it bad.

So who broke the rules who did what to who? Who started it all? The last question is impossible to answer some say it was destined that the unrighteous kings should die. Others that it was Duryodhana’s greed or Dhritarashtra’s blindness. Or just Yudhishthira’s addiction to gambling. The Pandavas broke many rules, they asked women to fight, the fought after sunset, they killed animals and they killed those who lay down their weapons. The Kauravas mean while broke the rule of many attacking one, they also fought after sunset, killed children and those who were sleeping.

When all the widows enter Kuru-kshetre, the  battle field the Pandavas see their Mum, looking around. ‘We are here safe’ But she replies ‘I’m looking for Karna for he was my first born’.

And so things change as we get new Knowledge. What we held dear before now is something else. How strongly should we hold on to our ideas? We should always be ready to say ‘I got it wrong’