Astanga Yoga London

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. ♥


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’

21st May 2020
21st May 2020

My Mum sent me some of my old notes books, things from when I was a kid. More stuff to clutter up our house. I do love getting rid of stuff. Marie Kondo was a Goddess send. Anyway, flicking through one of the note books when I was probably 12 I saw I’d written out different alphabets/scripts from different languages. Including Sanskrit, I remember being amazed that each sign represented a consonant and  a vowel. Learning Sanskrit has been an on going passion, not that I’m particularly good. One of the hardest things to get used to is words running into other words. Sometimes this gives rise to confusion. An example would be where one word ends in A and the next word begins in A you’d only have a single long ā. This is fine except an A can make a word negative. So himsāhimsa ca. Violence and non violence. Himsa is the word for violence, Ahimsa for non violence. And Ca means ‘and’ and is usually added at the end.

Anyway most of the violence has stopped in the Mahabharata. The war is over. Give peas a chance. Arjuna is waiting for Krishna to get down from their chariot. Traditionally the driver gets down first. Eventually Arjuna jumps off and then Krishna  gets down, no sooner had he alighted then the chariot burst into flames. Arjuna realises that Krishna has been protecting him all along. The soldiers in the Pandava  army were debating who was best Arjuna or Bhima? Krishna said why don’t you ask Barbareek. Barbareek was possibly the son of Bhima or his grandson. Anyway he had arrived at the war with an arrow that could kill everyone. He’d also taken the vow to stand with whoever was loosing. Krishna pointed out that as soon as he started fighting he’d be on the wining side. So Barbareek sat and watched. When the soldiers asked him who was better Bhima or Arjuna. He replied he only saw Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra wizzing though the air cutting off the heads of the unrighteous kings. Those who have just taken without giving.

We’re reminded obviously of Krishna’s awesome power but also that he is only here to sort out adharma, as have his previous incarnations and those to come. To rebalance the world.

Even though the war has ended and there are only five Kauravas left. Bhishma who’s lying on a bed of arrows waiting for the right time to die. Duryodhana who is on his way out, bleeding to death, and three others. Ashwatthama, Drona’s son, Kripa and Kritavarma. Ashwatthama is furious that his father was killed by step Pandavas braking rules and swears revenge. And so a terrible night time attack is planned…

Tomorrow we’ll take a quick look at who did what to who. Who cheated/broke the rules of war.

20th May 2020
20th May 2020

As you may be aware Tuesdays (which I know was yesterday) we don’t give new asana. (Or get your hair cut). Of course there is some made up reasons. In Vedic astrology certain days are either beneficial or not. Each day relates to a certain God and colour. So Monday is Chandra (the moon) and Parvati and the colour white. Tuesday one should wear red and pray to Ganesh as Tuesday is a very inauspicious day. Wednesday is a day for green and Vishnu. Thursday is very auspicious, Guru day, Indra and Brahma are in charge and yellow is the sacred colour. Friday, any mixed colours and Kamadeva, the goddess of love. Saturday  is Yama’s day, God of death and obviously black is the colour, not a good day. Sunday is a red day, partly good and bad. Shiva and Agni are the related Gods to this day. And if that wasn’t enough. Days are all part of the moon cycle too. So the first day is either full or new moon and then the following days after that are considered inauspicious the 4th, 9th and if there is a 14th (usually its the next Moon day).

Anyway that is enough to get you all in a twist and find an excuse why something didn’t go as hoped/planned.

The final day of battle in the Mahabharata. Just so you know when the war is over the story hasn’t finished. So now Shalya is given command of the Kaurava forces. Shalya is interesting as not only is he the uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva he is a king in his own right. So becoming Karna’s chariot driver was a big step down. Duryodhana had some serious status issues. Shalya also has a weird thing going on. Every time someone gets angry with him he doubles his strength. So on the last day of battle Krishna instructs Yudhishthira to be the only person to face Shalya. Yudhishthira goes to him with open arms, full of love. So instead of gaining strength his strength leaves him until finally Yudhishthira can stick him one (with love of course). Finally Bhima goes round killing as many of the Kaurava brothers as he can find. Remember there were 100. Only three get really mentioned in the Mahabharata. Duryodhana obviously, the eldest. Dusshasana the second eldest and was the one who dragged Draupadi in the game of dice. Bhima drinks his blood.

So the Pandavas search everywhere looking for Duryodhana and eventually find him hiding in a lake. The war is nearly over and Bhima and Duryodhana go head to head fighting with maces. Eventually Krishna slaps his thigh and Bhima crushes Duryodhana’s thighs, which was against the rules. Why? Well Krishna said ‘if you live by matsya nyaya you die by matsya nyaya.’ Matsya nyaya translates as the rules of the fish, where big fish always eat small fish until a bigger fish comes along and eats them, we call it law of the jungle. Not only that Duryodhana was almost indestructible. During the battle he asked his mum, Gandhari, for her blessing. Remember she has worn a blind fold nearly all her life as she is married to a blind king. So she says come to me naked and when I lift my blind fold my eyesight will protect all your body. As Duryodhana is preparing for this Krishna slips in and says, shame on you at least cover your genitals. And so he does and that is why his thigh is the only vulnerable part. Not too dissimilar to Achilles and his vulnerable heel.

19th May 2020

Next conference in Sunday the 24th at 11.30am. Email me for the zoom link.

Thanks H

19th of May 2020
19th May 2020

When I was younger I moved around a lot. It’s taken me a long time to feel somewhere as home. I spent quite a few months living in a squat. There were about 20 of us, some permeant some temporary. It was two houses that we’d knocked a couple of passages between. Built a few new walls and generally upgraded the rather dilapidated houses. My room was in the attic, complete with balcony and on-suite, but to access it you had to climb up the book case and through a hatch. Someone had a hidden room through a wardrobe aka Narnia. I was always Hamish but others had a range of nicknames. Duke, Ruff, JonO and PieZ were a few I remember. I lost contact with them over the years. A few of us practiced in the back garage that we’d converted to a yoga room.

Karna had made a vow to his mother that there would always be five Pandavas. remember Karna is actually the eldest brother but the five Pandava brothers don’t know this. And now he has become to leader of the Kaurava army. This is the 17th day of the battle. Shalya is Karna’s Charioteer. Shalya is Nakula and Sahadeva’s uncle, tricked into fighting for the Kauravas. But when Karna and he ride out every time Karna loosens and arrow Shalya says something like ‘hu, not your best shot’ Constantly undermining him. Even so Karna managed to overwhelm Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva but set them all free. Finally he comes face to face with Arjuna. Every time Karna started to push forward Krishna applauded. ‘Why are you applauding him’ asked Arjuna. ‘Well look on his chariot are just two men while on yours stands Nara, Narayana and Hanuman’ (on top of the flag pole). Karna shoots an arrow with a snake attached but Krishna places his foot on the axel and the chariot sinks a little so that the arrow misses and just knocks off Arjuna’s crown. That snake was ment to be revenge for all the snakes killed when the Pandavas  built Indra-prastha. Finally Karna’s chariot wheel got stuck in the mud. He tried to remember the magical spell that would help it become free. But as his Guru had cursed him that in his hour of need he’d forget the lessons he’d learnt. He had no option but to get down and free it himself.

Weaponless and with his back turned, Krishna persuades Arjuna to kill Karna. On his death their mother cries silently and Karna’s father the Sun God sets early. This is not the only time someone is shot in the back. Karna is of the Solar lineage and in the Ramayana Vali is shot in the back and he is of the Lunar linage.

Karna is interesting as he is a good and kind man but just joined the wrong side.