Astanga Yoga London

23rd March 2020
23rd March 2020

Even though it’s Monday it felt like a Sunday and I think we’re in for a month or three of Sundays. For most of us we are stuck at home. Haven’t we all felt at some point we needed a holiday or to go on a retreat. So even though everyone seems be running, doing DIY anything to fill time I’m enjoying not doing too much. I was sharpening our knives to chop carrots for carrot and lemon soup and I was reminded of a quote from the Tao Ching.

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

It is funny how we always want more and yet we all know we need less. Contentment is not only hard won but really hard to hold on to. Just like samadhi, soon as you think you’ve got it it flits away like a flutter-by.

We have good news, Lousie is working on getting Zoom up and running for a led class over the weekend. Keep an eye on our website. Once we have had some practice we will get a conference up and running.

We return to the Mahabharata with the return of Goddess Ganga and King Shantanu’s child now a man called Devavrata, he was a perfect prince. His father, Shantanu not one to learn quickly had fallen in love again, this time with Satyavati the daughter of the fisher king. When Shantanu asked him for his daughters hand in marriage, the fisher king replied that only if his grand children ascended the throne and not Devavrata or his children could Shantanu marry Satyvati. Now Shantanu felt broken because he loved Devavrata. But when Devavrata heard of his fathers problems he vowed to remain celibate so that his father could be happy. Remember this was a massive thing in India where one needs children to do the rituals at ones death. It was such a great vow that the Gods blessed him with being able to choose the time of his death. For this he took the name Bhishma.

Satyavati is an interesting character. She was an Apsara, a devine river nymph. But she had become lost as a child and was adopted by the fisher king, all the work with fish had given her a rather unpleasant smell. So sadly she ferried travellers across a river, never finding a husband. Until Parashara a sage boarded her boat. Parashara was the Grandson of  Vasishtha and Arundhati, remember those two stars in the plough (skies are clear and the plough is easy to spot). Anyway Parashara was not offended by Satyavati’s smell and so he created a mist and the two made love in the boat. As a powerful sage he returned her virginity and changed her smell to one that people would find irresistible. Their child was non other than Vyasa. Who not only tells the Mahabharata but also appears in and has a big effect in how the story unfolds. You can certainly see how the Mahabharata tops any soap opera of box set drama for sexual intrigue. And one could easily be mistaken for thinking sex was everything. But Bhisma is believed to be along with Hanuman to be the worlds greatest yogi. Hanuman plays an interesting part in the Mahabharata, we will come back to him. Satyavati had two more sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Satyavati still concerned about her bloodline inheriting the throne was desperate for her sons to get married and have children. Unfortunately Chitrangada was arrogant and thought he could take on a Gandharva (Devine musician) in a fight and guess who lost, yep don’t mess with a God. Vichitravirya was said to be ‘unable to find a wife’ which in a society ruled by men was a polite way of saying he was gay. So how was Satyavati going get grandchildren?

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22nd March 2020
22nd March 2020

We are so lucky we have so much. Spring, friends, music, books and a lovely practice. I know the shala has been taken away from us temporally and we all miss those yellow walls. We got the shala fifteen years ago. And Dave the builder started immediately. I remember this because Anna was in hospital giving birth to Talia (she didn’t have a name for a few days and was just called the squeaky beetroot) and Dave would phone up asking what colour we wanted or where we wanted the changing cubicles etc. I really hope I have provided a home for all of you in times of joy and need.

One thing that has kept Anna, Talia and myself sane over the last few days is staying present. Try not to think too much into the future. We also have years spent in India just trying to get one thing done without loosing it.

The Mahabharata was witnessed and told and participated in by Vyasa. Vyasa’s great grand parents were Vasishtha and Arundhati. Vasishtha was one of the original rishis (sages) born from Brahma. They are also represented in the stars. If you look at the plough and the second star along the handle is Vasishtha, actually if you look really carefully you will see it’s a double star, Vasishtha and Arundhati. Well, Vyasa asked Ganesh to write down everything he said and for that we have the Mahabharata.

Our story continues where King Shantanu has fallen in love with Ganga, the river Goddess. When Shantanu asked Ganga to be his wife she agreed under one condition. ‘Never question my actions’. (Now don’t you wish you’d thought of that before you met your boyfriend/husband). Obviously Shantanu’s lust got the better of good judgement and he agreed. They went on to have eight children. And on being born each baby was drowned by Ganga, the river of life. Eventually on the birth of the eighth child unable to hold back Shantanu asked ‘why are you doing this terrible thing?’ Ganga smiled and said ‘Before I leave with our child I will tell you why the previous babies died. Previously they had been the Gods of the elements and they had been cursed to be born as humans before returning to heaven. I was just making their life on earth short so that they return to heaven quickly. The eighth I will take to heaven and return him to you as a man of immense beauty and wisdom.’

This part of the Mahabharata is always sad. Life flows from sadness to happiness and round and round. I like to think of this episode when someone looses a child or baby. They were in their previous lives Gods and Goddess and just here on earth to bring a moment or two of joy before returning to heaven where they can look after us. To all mothers, every day is mothers day.

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21 march 2020
21st March 2020

Sunshine always helps, unless of course you are a vampire. I went for a nice long run today along with what seemed like half of London. Lots of smiling people. Smiles always help.

It seems we are all going to be doing a lot of being at home. So one thing that helps is routine. Astanga is of course the ultimate routine, and I feel sorry for all those who don’t have that. What else can you do? Well there are 700 verses in the Bhagavad Gita. So ten a day should get you to the end of all this. That’s five in the morning and five before you go to bed. Read them in your native language if possible. Any translation will do. And if you are fortunate to have many translations find one that appeals to your heart. If you feel like stepping this up then read it in Sanskrit too. The first chapter is a bit boring but persevere there is more than you think in there.

Last blog I started on the Mahabharata. Which of course brought up some question. What is dharma? Is anger ever ok? Why did Arjuna burn down a whole forest? All questions will be answered at the right time. But it’s all about to get really wacky for little.

Manu the first human had two sons (sounds familiar). One started the Solar dynasty the other the Lunar dynasty. The Solar dynasty is retold in the Ramayana, the other great Indian epic which is about Rama. It’s set in the second yuga (world epoch) and brings about the beginning of the third yuga. The Mahabharata on the other hand is set at the end of the third yuga and brings about our current age, Kali yuga. It is the tale of the Lunar dynasty. And where better to start than the Moon, our loving companion at night. All good yogis know when the next full/new moon is (Tuesday). Tara the Goddess of the stars had an affair with the Moon God Chandra and the child was born with ultimate wisdom so was called Buddhi, but was cursed to be neither man or woman. As Buddhi grew older they cried so much’who will marry me?’ But fate (there is always someone for you) led Buddhi to Ila who was man half of the moon cycle and woman the other half. And some how they went on to have many children and Grand children. One of whom was King Dushyanta. Out in the forest one day he met Shakuntala who was half human, half Apsara (water nymph) and of course very beautiful. One thing led to another (euphemism for a fumble in the jungle) and Shakuntala became pregnant. Dushyanta not being a particularly good man left Shakuntala but he  did give her a ring. Shakuntala gave birth to Bharata, which is how India is called. The ring? Misplaced and somehow swallowed by a fish. Bharata grew up in the forest with just animals for friends, from whom he learned so much. Nature being the best teacher.  When he asked who his father was Shakuntala took him to the royal palace and said to Dushanta this is your son, Bharata. Dushyanta still hadn’t learnt from past mistakes and asked for the ring as proof. Sadly no ring? But as luck would have it a fisherman caught a fish that day with that  ring inside and it was brought to the palace of Dushyanta. There and then Dushyanta got down on  his knees and begged for forgiveness for all the hurt he had caused. Shakuntala being half Devine forgave him, anger and revenge were never needed. Bharata became a great king, but was unable to have children. It’s said everything is in the Mahabharata and certainly we have covered a fair amount of human relationships and sexuality. Bharata adopted an abandoned homeless boy who then went onto become king himself. And in true story telling fashion many generations later Shantanu had become the Lunar king and he had fallen in love with the River Goddess Ganga and what happens next is heart breaking…


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Thur 19th March
19th March 2020

Firstly I’d like to thank all the students who made it to the shala in last few days and weeks for all your support. Hopefully Louise, Anna, Tom and Lauren will be able to join in with these blogs. For those who have promised to keep us supported financially, we have a little reserve to keep paying our staff. (Previously called Talia’s university fund). We will be back. Thanks to all the teachers and assistants for your hard work and just turning up day after day. Thank you to all the cleaners, it felt really sad saying goodbye to Magda as we cleaned together for the last time.

This morning it was good to get an extra three hours sleep and not have to watch the clock, to take my time over practice. I know it can be difficult to practice at home. It took me about five years before I could hold a steady practice. So be content with what you can do, set yourself realistic goals and remember all practice is good practice.

My favourite story is the Mahabharata. It is a timeless classic and being timeless also means there are many places to start. With all good stories there are questions of why did that happen and what were the consequences of that.

Arjuna’s Grandson, Parikshit (unfortunate name) had self isolated in a tower he had been cursed to die of a snake bite within seven days. Without modern technology he relied on his servants to bring his food. But on the seventh day hit bit into an apple (apples seem to get a bit of a bad rap, as do snakes). Inside the apple was a mini snake which immediately sank his fangs into Parikshit, who promptly died (No NHS in them days). His son Janamejaya was overcome with anger and set up a puja to rid the world os snakes. The snakes came and fell into the puja fire. Until someone called out ‘stop!’ It was Astika, half man half snake. ‘Stop all this blood shed you will just cause revenge and more anger’ ‘But didn’t my Great grandfather fight to revenge all the wrong done by the Kauravas, and why does my father have to die from a snake bite’ asked Parikshit. ‘In the past Arjuna destroyed the Khandava forest killing many snakes, this was their revenge. But the war fought on Kuru-ksetre was not about revenge but rather about dharma everyone went to heaven. And your Great grandfather Arjuna learnt all about dharma from God himself.’ ‘Tell me more’ asked Parikshit. Well that will have to wait for another day…

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Small yoga
23rd December 2014

Yoga is such a lovely sounding word and it’s small. Just two syllables. Separately they can mean coming together and going apart. The word yoga has been translated into many meanings. Patanjali says that yoga is stopping the turnings of the mind. But he starts his sutras with a seed mantra, Atha, which means now. If only we could really understand Atha we wouldn’t need the rest. Mantra means something which protects the mind. The difference between yoga and all other philosophy is yoga is discipline. Discipline is tapas, svadyaya isvara pranidhana. Self control, self study and self surrender.In the Bhagavad Gita we find Arjuna, the most disciplined warrior. But he is faced with the hardest decision in his life. Many times we are thrown into a storm, what to do? Yoga helps us do the right thing at the right time. This is Dharma, that which supports.
The first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is called the yoga of sorrow. It’s like we have to go through turmoil to see the sun. My way of summing up the Gita is find what you are good at, do it well and do it with love.Throughout the Gita Krishna gives advice to Arjuna: it’s not what you do but the way you do it. The Gita is described as Brahma vidya and yoga shastra. Ultimate knowledge and the path of skilful action. What is this ultimate knowledge? As it says in the Mandukya Upanishad. Ayam atma brahma, this soul is the ultimate. The ultimate can also simply be said as OM. When Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad asks Death about understanding the ultimate, Death eventually instructs him that control of the senses is yoga, but that it comes and goes. Again we are drawn back to discipline. In the story Ramayana, Rama represents soul. He shows not only great sadness but also great discipline when Sita his wife is abducted by Ravana. Sita represents mind, and Hanuman prana. When mind is lost to all-powerful ego, represented by Ravana, only Prana can help Rama recover Sita. That and the use of the mantra, used at the time of greatest need – the Aditya hriyam, the heart of the sun. Surya namaska.

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