Astanga Yoga London

30th of June 2020
30th June 2020

Why do we practice? It’s that age old ‘to be or not to be’ sort of question. And there is certainly a passing resemblance between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Bhagavad Gita.  But I want to through something completely different in the pot. Karma. Yes of course we practice because of our past karma. But more importantly yoga burns karma up.

One of my lock-down luxuries has been watching more tv than normal. My latest pleasure has been on more 4. Amazing places. I love small spaces and I wonder if building a home is some instinctive thing. Not that I could ever be an architect.

Going back to our animals in Indian philosophy. Indian stories are full of animals from worms and ants to snakes and a 5 trunked elephant. Too many to count. So here are a few and their stories.

Matsya, the fish. When Shiva was explaining yoga to Parvati, Matsya was listening in. Matsya often gets depicted with a horn, for pulling Manu’s boat along during the great flood. The flood story is repeated in many cultures. And of course Matsya is Vishnu’s first avatar. Matsya is the constellation that we call the plough or great bear. What’s interesting is that we know that the two last stars point to the north pole star. But few know that the inner two stars point to what was the north star 5000 years ago it’s called Thuban or Dhruva in Sanskrit. How did the pole star change? You’ll have to look up precession.

Frogs represent the rising sun, I suppose like we have cockerels to wake us, in India it’s frogs. Elephants and turtles don’t normally go together but in Indian mythology the world is supported on four elephants standing on a turtle. Now that takes a lot of imagination or soma. And of course Terry Pratchett used the concept for his Disc world series. Indra rides on Airavata the elephant with five trunks and ten tusks. And most obviously we have Ganesh. Who rides on a mouse called Mushika and Ganesh is very protective of Mushika and Mushika reminds Ganesh not to eat too much (he’s not very successful).

The different Gods ride on different animals Shiva has his bull Nandi and Vishnu has Garuda his eagle, Saraswathi has a swan and Yama the god of death has a donkey.

We’ve already talked lots about Hanuman the monkey/vanara and we’ve covered a lot about snakes/nagas.

So our final story is Narasimha. Nara means man, simha means lion. So he’s usually depicted as half lion half man. There are many stories of half animal half human and just like in school plays no one wants to play the donkeys arse. The human bit is always the head end. That is apart from Ganesh, who’s original human head wasn’t up to much.

Narasimha is an avatar of Vishnu. There is this demon called Hiranyakashipu which means clothed in gold. Which signifies too much wealth and power. He has been granted a boon that he can’t be killed by man or animal, in the day or at night, inside or outside. So pretty tough demon. He also has a son called Prahlada who worships Vishnu, much to Hiranyakashipu’s chagrin. One day he asks his son ‘So you say your god is everywhere’ pointing to the front doorpost. ‘Yes he is in everything’ Prahlada replies and with that Hiranyakashipu smashes the doorpost. But hiding in the doorpost is Narasimha, neither man nor animal, the doorpost is neither inside or outside, and you guessed it’s twilight. And so Hiranyakashipu gets his arse truly kicked.

There are many more Indian stories to tell. But I think it would be good to look at the yoga sutras. Tomorrow…

29th of June 2020
29th June 2020

Sorry today is going to be rather short. Had quite a busy day with mental health first aid course and then trawling through government guidelines on close contact places of work, really don’t think they know anything about yoga. Anyway we will have more info on our website about the sort of things we are doing to keep you all safe (complying with ‘elf and safety) shortly. When we know when we can open it will be front page news on our website and as many people as possible we will email/text/message, sorry no snail mail. When I first opened people used to write letters asking to join class.

I think the main difference will be that obviously we will have to restrict numbers. As we are unsure how many will want to come in, the first week will be a bit of a test. I hope we don’t have to do appointments as getting through London is hard enough. And probably better you don’t all turn up at once. Of course we will be clean clean clean. A couple of things you can do to help will be put all your clothes in a bag and don’t use the shala mats. We’ll leave more cleaning stuff in the toilet so feel free to spray to your hearts content. I’m hoping to swap to paper towel.

If we need to open longer we will do and we will probably have classes on Saturday too.

I promised you animals today, and I’ll do more tomorrow but today has to be the first and most sacred of animals in India. The cow. I guess the life giving milk is a big thing and the dung for fires and shala floors. Only 30% of Indians are vegetarian so why the cow? Party it represents mother earth but also there is the story of Kamadhenu. The wish fulfilling cow. In some stories she appears from the churning of the oceans story. But always there is someone trying to steal her. I never understood why stealing cows was called cattle rustling, surely it should be done quietly, without any rustling. In Scotland there’s a famous glen called the hidden glen, high up near Fort William, where my ancestors did their rustling. And of course we also have Nandi, Shiva’s bull who’s main job apart from transportation is to stop Shiva getting angry when someone breaks his mediation.

The important thing that a cow represents is that crossover between human culture and raw nature. Of course India was the first place to domesticate cows, water buffalo and aurochs and they were the first domesticated animals in India.

28th of June 2020
28th June 2020

I know I have been doing yoga for over 34 years but I’m still surprised by it. I wake stiff and tired and somehow a perfect practice comes out of that. And how come I never get bored of it? It’s not like I’m immune to boredom, that has been tested quite a lot recently. For me what makes a good practice is one where I’m less distracted than normal. Getting up that little bit earlier than you’d like helps with this.

So we’re coming to the end of the Ramayana. Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman fly back to Ayodhya on Ravana’s flying machine and the paths and road are lit up with oil lamps to welcome their return. The return of Rama and Sita is still celebrated in India it’s Diwali. I remember my first trip to Mysore was over Diwali. It was a beautiful introduction to India, not sure if I got much sleep. Along with oil lamps on everyones doorsteps boxes of fireworks are lit at street junction.

In some tellings of the Ramayana the story ends here. But in others there is a final twist. Rama still doesn’t trust Sita so she goes through the whole fire shit again. But this time, being a little more pissed off she goes to live the forest. But she’s pregnant and gives birth to Luv and Kush. They grow up learning the story of Rama from a sage who lives near by, non other than Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana. One day they eventually get to meet Rama and retell his story. Only then does he accept Sita back, but too late as she stands before him smiling the earth opens up and she walks into it. It’s a rather confusing ending. Sita came from the earth (her name means furrow) and she returns to it. So I feel it was always a temporary relationship. Rama as purusha, soul and Sita as prakriti, nature. Come together as almost a story or a play to show a spiritual path. But where did Valmiki learn the story from, from a crow. So tomorrow we will look at the myriad of animals that feature in Indian stories.

 

27th of June 2020
27th June 2020

Summer rain, I’m reminded of a poem that someone once placed in my muesli bowl 34 years ago.

A seed.                                                                                                                                                  Some rain                                                                                                                                               Some sun                                                                                                                                                Some night                                                                                                                                                   Someday

My Mum’s a poet and I’ve struggled to understand poetry, not as an art form, I think it’s great. I love the simplicity of some them and yet others I find just too short. I suppose I also feel they should have lots of ‘meaning of life’, but then why should they, they could be

Anyway today we had an amazing zoom workshop for all the staff, organised by Lauren. It was anti-racism and Charlene Brown and Janet Durrant did a fantastic job. I hope we can do more to help and I’m looking at ways to always improve. Talia has become my woke consultant as any teenager should. I’m hoping we can do some social action promotion. Simple things like shop local.

So Ravana is dead, his brother Vibhishana, who went over to Rama, is given Lanka to rule. And Sita  comes out to meet Rama. At first the both have tears in their eyes and then Rama does something that many have struggled to understand. He rejects her. He says I have done my duty but I don’t know if you have done yours. He’s questioning if she had been faithful. There is a great emphasis on women being faithful in Indian stories but the rules for men are different. No surprise there. But Sita is not a fool she instructs Hanuman to build a fire and she walks into it. Saying ‘let Agni (fire God) be my judge’ And of course she comes out burn free. So is this the original trial by fire? The phrase we’re familiar with is supposed to have come from the Salem witch trails, where ‘God wouldn’t allow a pure soul to burn’. Of course this hideous practice was taken a step further in Britain with the trail by water where if you could swim you were a witch. Fortunately we have moved a little forward. Sita on the other hand although Rama accepts her back the trust has been broken. And trust is the glue of society. But remember Sita is also a Goddess and goddesses need their freedom.

Yoga sometimes feels like a trail by fire, though fortunately not of the witch variety. And what is wrong with witches anyway, they’ve just swapped their black cloaks and cats to lab coats and test tubes.

26th of June 2020
26th June 2020

One of the questions that comes up all the time is ‘how much should I push myself’. There is no answer. You can’t measure either how stiff or in pain you are. On a scale of 1-10… is pretty ambiguous. Nor how much effort you put in. It goes with out saying that if you feel good, work hard. But it’s more when you don’t feel your best. So this is what I do. We all know how to do less. So if we start with that just add on a few extra bits. Work on one asana for longer. Do head stand for longer. Do more chants, meditate. That way you don’t feel bad for taking it easy.

The Aditya Hridayam is like the Bhagavad Gita of the Ramayana. Only it’s not a teaching of what to do in a difficult situation. It’s more in the line of bhakti yoga with a good bit of tantra chucked in there. So at first it reads like a poem of praise to the sun god and some mantras to say. Then when you realise that the sun is really our prana and the yoking of the sun’s chariot is pranayama and controlling our senses does it begin to really make sense. It finishes with Rama sipping water as a final blessing. This still happens today. Many times when we have been in India and been invited to a puja the priest at the end comes round with a vessel of water and you are given a sip spooned into your hand. And in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna reminds us that simply a sip of water is enough for a show of devotion. But Agastya finishes by saying, ‘make haste’. Stop dithering, you’ve said the prayer three times as required. Fire your arrow, kill your ego.

And so the arrow is fired it pierces Ravana. Usually its in the navel but some translations have it just beneath the sternum. And some say it was the heart. Anyway he dies and his body is given to his brother Vibhishana. Lakshman wants to celebrate his death. But Rama says that Ravana was a great warrior and full of wisdom. So he should be given full honours.

Of course just like many other famous people, myths surround Ravana and in 2018 they found his body in a cave surrounded by snakes…

25th of June 2020
25th June 2020

Scout our dog keeps finding the coolest places to rest, usually some tiles in the bathroom. Of course dogs don’t sweat so fans are of no use. Louise and I started the Mental health first aid course. And as with most things learning the language, the right words is the first step. Just like we learn asana names. One of the things that caught my attention was ‘stress signature’. The idea that we all have a signature response to stress, a bit like the idea of your signature date night recipe. It may be rubbing your ears or squeezing your thumb or taking a deep breath. Something you often do when you feel stressed, may be it’s a bit unconscious. Anyway I liked the idea and I’m off to fold some origami.

Back to our Ramayana. I say our because it’s an analogy of our spiritual journey. Rama is in the process of killing Ravana using the Aditya Hridayam. We started on it yesterday so will continue today. It is of course important that Rama gets mentioned in the Aditya Hridayam more than Ravana, and so occasionally his name is repeated. Why not, he is the bringer of joy, you can’t have too much Rama. One of the words used early gives us clues to its deeper meaning. Arin, at first it looks like enemies but it has another meaning of wheel or disc and then we can see how it gets to Chakra. So the Aditya Hridayam is the path to control of the chakras (yes it should be cakra, but just keeping things more complicated for you). Then we come to the word samara which would normally mean battle. Which is in context with our story and also our spiritual path is sometimes a bit of a battle. But the hidden meaning is that ‘with the Gods help’. So it can be read. You will conquer your enemies on the battlefield or your will control your chakras with gods help. The next verse contains the word śatru yet another word for enemy. But the specific enemy it means is anger. So anger is our ultimate enemy. Where does anger come from? Well back in the Mahabharata there is a section of creation. How Brahma created six sons with Daksha (which means gift). There are enumerable creations stories from India. But we’re interested in this particular one. It just happens to be recounted by our friend Agastya. Brahma also makes/becomes time in the form of Kali and it is Kali who creates anger. So we now have time and anger to conquer as one…

 

 

24th of June 2020
24th June 2020

Louise and I have just enrolled on a mental health first aid course. I figure we’ll all be needing a bit of that.

When I lived in Crete the weather was like we have today, for weeks on end. It was fine as we had the sea and at night everyone slept on their balconies or roofs, awesome star gazing. And although we do see stars in London, it’s nothing compared to when there is little light pollution. It’s amazing that we are still blown away by sunset and sunrise, the moon and the stars and a rainbow or two. Doesn’t matter how often you watch them they still have magic.

So Rama is about to shot his arrow at Ravana. Ravana knows he is about to die, in fact he is rather happy to being killed by Rama himself. But time stands still. Ravana is our ego, all the other demons have come out first, our desires and self pities our fears and anger. And now the final battle with the ego. Rama chants the Aditya hridayam. Valmiki the author of the Ramayana says that the Aditya hridayam is older than the Ramayana. Aditya is another word for the sun god Surya. Hridayam means heart. It is 31 verses long. It follows the usual format for Sanskrit prayers. First there is the intro of Agastya meeting Rama, then Agastya telling Rama how awesome the Aditya Hridayam is destroyer of all sins and anxiety. Then it likens Aditya (surya) to all the gods and sustainer of all life and prana. Then in the middle section is the mantra section. I salute the sun god who rises and sets in the east. Then it finishes with all the results and the way to chant the Aditya Hridayam.

Of course there is a hidden meaning to each verse each word. Unfortunately you just don’t find that on the internet. So it opens with Rama completely exhausted but steady in thought, facing Ravana. So when we have reached the end, we feel exhausted we have no where to go, our mind is focused because of all the yoga practice we have done and yet we no face our own self, our ego. And Agastya turns up. Agastya means many things Canupus star, Daturra flower (drug) and  ‘the piercer’ As he pierces our heart. Ultimately it is the outer guru who turn our vision to our inner guru and this is what Agstya does. We’ll explore more tomorrow. But check out the sunset and sun rise.

23rd of June 2020
23rd June 2020

Sorry, we were hoping to open on the 4th July. But it looks like we will still have to hold our mula bandha a bit longer. Obviously the Government never mention yoga shalas so we’ve gone with gyms but would certainly be happy to be included in social clubs or religious places. Fortunately Talia can go back to work at the record shop she works at. (cool teenage job)

Practice always brings up thoughts, I know, I should be flowing thoughtlessly through a cloud of samadhi. So one of my thought patterns this morning is yama. Normally we’d say yamas. But if we’re talking proper Sanskrit it should be yamāh (there should be a dot under the h too). This makes yama plural subject. It’s also a bit confusing as the God of death is also called Yama. Anyway, we know what they are. Non-violence, truthfulness, non stealing, sexual continence, non greed. I think we can all understand the non greed, though we may fail occasionally. And the sexual continence is always glossed over and there’s never anything written about brahmacharya for women. There is also quite a bit written about ways around this rule. Like it’s ok to have sex on certain days when your left nostril is open. As if I’m checking. But I’m a married guy and TBH if I have loads of sex I’m shagged out and practice is more difficult. And that is probably all you want to  know.

Stealing, well pretty obvious too. The first two Ahimsa and Satya. Non violence and truthfulness  again we can understand them for our actions in relation to others. My thought process was more centred around how we can think about ahimsa and satya in regards to ourselves. So first off is non violence to ourselves. We do our best not to hurt our bodies. But do we do enough to not hurt or minds. As I’m sure you’re aware our minds are vulnerable. So we need to protect them (sometimes from them selves). Not getting attached to dark thoughts is my easiest recommendation. Our minds do like to go around in circles of either joy or sadness. If dark thoughts are like people we know, then you don’t have to move in with your in-laws.

Truthfulness, well who does that, I’m sure we have all been ‘economical with the truth’. Father Christmas being a good example. But being truthful to your self is bloody hard. How often to be suppress our feelings, how often to we think we are someone we’re not, or someone we’d rather be. Once you start accepting all of you life will be easier.

And now we come to the final fight in the Ramayana. Rama is up against Ravana. And as soon as he cuts off one head another pops up. If you’d studied Greek myths you’d remember Heracles and the multi headed Hydra with similar cranial regrowth properties. You could of course ask is it one body with ten heads or ten heads that share one body. Anyway lots of fighting and no victory, that is until Agastya the sage turns up. Agastya was once asked by the Gods to help them find all the rakshasas, they’d been hiding under the sea. And so Agastya drank all the oceans. But when it was time to put the water back he couldn’t just spit it out, he pissed it back. So just remember when you’re next swimming in the sea, it all sage piss. Anyway Agastya teaches Rama a sacred mantra that he must use when he next shoots an arrow at Ravana and point it at his navel. And the mantra is Aditaya Hridayam, we’ll look at that  tomorrow.

22nd of June 2020
22nd June 2020

I’m back. Just finished the 3 day first aid intensive, it got a bit condensed because of covid 19, less people, no bandaging each other etc. The instructor was great, someone who’d been doing it for 30 years and used the stuff. We’ve all run our hands under the tap from picking up something hot in the kitchen, stuck our finger in some kitchen paper while we hunt around for a plater. Wondered which way to put your head when you have a nose bleed.(Down). Picked out bits of road when you grazed your knee and slapped your kid on the back when they put a quid coin down their gob. And if you haven’t already read it, read ‘this is going to hurt’ by Adam Kay. Laugh and cry.

Anyway the instructor got my number when she knowing looked at me (with smile) and said no putting dislocated joints back in place. I decided it wasn’t worth bringing up the removal of shot gun pellets with a Swiss army knife.

Yesterday was fathers day, hurray for dads, 20 min of hard/pleasurable work and 9 months later your sense of smell miraculously disappears. ‘what nappy, I can’t smell it?’ (No honest I did my share). And the best thing in the world is born. Talia had asked what I’d like for fathers day and TBH I said just to have tea at a cafe together would be amazing. Obvs that’s not happening but I did get some lovely rice and dhal. And of course a great card. She does great cards, sort of works of art. This one was a menu. So she’d written Breakfast, muesli with water, disgusting, best fluffy pancakes, Tea, like dishwater with added sheep shit and chucking random food together that comes out awesome. Thanks for raising me to be so fabulous.

Ravana has a huge brother called Kumbhakarna, who sleeps for six months and then is awake for six months. And when awake is a non stop eater. Currently he’s asleep but Ravana forces him awake. So now he’s hangry (hungry and angry) and he goes on the rampage killing thousands of vanara. Actually Kumbhakarna is a good rakshasa because he really tried to persuade Ravana to let Sita free and only fought on Ravana’s side because of brotherly love. Anyway Rama cuts him down to size. And not just figuratively, bit by bit Rama chops of parts of Kumbhakarna’s body. Ravana is furious at the death of his brother and rushes out to confront Rama. But is given a beating by Hanuman. The battle carries on with many vanara and rakshasa dyeing on both sides. The war goes on for 14 days. It started on a full moon and ends on new moon. And the last day Ravana comes out one more time…

Le Weekend
19th June 2020

Don’t forget today: https://johnbultman.com/schedule    2.30pm

I’m on an intensive 3 day first aid course  so probably won’t get to post until Monday. And Sunday of course is new moon and the longest day. Be happy be kind .