Monday, May 5, 2008

Karma, Samskara, and the Fourth Toe

Had a fabulous weekend in Denver, at a workshop with John Friend, the illustrious, sparklingly awake, and wacky founder of Anusara Yoga, whom my mom called the Yoga Preacher. Here is a rather charming picture of him that Google images helped me to find, dancing a little jig in Scotland. This photo does not seem uncharacteristic, as John could have been a stand up comedian-- of the goofball variety, no dry wit to be found. This is a huge change for me, as I have studied diligently with Kofi Busia for 12 years or more, who does indeed have a sense of humor, but it absolutely arid, and often shrouded in such obscure references that it can't penetrate my yoga trance. Kofi is immensely thorough, sagacious, and scholarly. In fact, if you want to know a bit about BKS Iyengar, and wonder how Kofi would tell the tale, go to his website, and you'll find an amazingly detailed biography of him. Kofi is an amazing melange of a human: poetic, phenomenally erudite, deeply personal, and remarkably intuitive. With awe-inspiring ease, he simultaneously gives deft adjustments and regales his students with tales from the Vedas and teachings from the sutras, with an incredible knack for speaking about precisely what one needs to hear, and drawing one (well, me, at least) into deeper and deeper reflection upon the nature of karma and samkara, and how they are playing out in one's little life. Kofi can offer a little comedic relief, too- but with kind of a dry and slightly cynical edge, perchance absorbed from his fellow students at Oxford, where he studied for many years. John Friend, on the other hand, switches with great facility between his southern California voice and his frat boy voice and his Indian Guru voice, making a parody of all, as well as of himself. I found myself contented simply absorbing some of his silly glee, and not too worried about the details of my own life. So perhaps this is one of the great gifts of this particular Guru- he possesses the power to distract. Still, he is hugely inspiring, and particularly emphasizes the Tantric approach of using all challenges to grow stronger, fuller, and brighter within. The strongest trees, he reminded us, are the ones that have some obstacle in their way; the ones who have to work to survive. Yoga is the tool, the technology, that gives us the power to see through and beyond samskaras, our habituated tendencies, and grow into more skillful, powerful, and honest humans - for yoga gives us access to, or awareness of, grace, and an understanding of our true nature: Svatantrya, or infinite freedom.
In the midst of the inexhaustible stream of uplifting banter, John gives immensely precise alignment instructions. I am used to the loops and spirals by now, so I was somewhat more interested in his philosophical rants, but there were a few details about poses that I really liked– such as his extra-enthusiastic emphasis on the 4th toe. He insists that the spreading of the fourth toe is the key to Eka Pada Koundinyasana 2. Um, okay. I knew something was getting in my way. I myself have long been obsessed with the big toe, and particularly the big toe ball, as many of my students are well aware. This is Kofi's influence. Kofi convinced me that the big toe ball is the portal unto infinite freedoms, the passageway to the resolution of all our wordly troubles - the key to enlightenment, even. I have developed a special fondness for the baby toe, too... but the 4th toe had yet to really make it onto my A-list. Until now... Also, on the topic of toes and how to best enjoy them, John asked us to sit with our legs extended out in front, feet up so that legs were about at 45 degrees from the ground. And he asked us to point our big toes and flex our baby toes. Try this at home. This, he proclaimed cheekily, ought to keep you busy. He also stated unequivocally that this is the secret to bakasana. Many arm balances and backbends and 48 hours later, my quads, hamstrings and traps aching, I crawled out of the building, feeling an inner lightness which I'm sure was not obvious from my odd gait.
I'll be with him again in July, in San Diego– I look forward to another infusion of giddy grace! Meanwhile, I'm here in the Bay Area- preparing for the Mother's Day Benefit this weekend. Read on, below- we still have some space!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mother's Day Benefit for the Women and Water Conference

Mother's Day Benefit with Samantha Shakti-Brown and Kelly Blaser
May 11, 08 at the Shakti Yoga Shala in the Santa Cruz Mountains
All proceeds to benefit the Women's Earth Alliance. The Women's Earth Alliance supports Women in a variety of Programs, including: Women and Water, Women and Environmental Justice, Women and Sustainable Agriculture, and Women and Climate Change.
Proceeds from our event will directly support The Women and Water Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Summer '08.

Samantha Shakti-Brown and Kelly Blaser will offer yoga and meditation courses in the morning and afternoon. We will be served fabulous Ayurvedic Fare at lunchtime, and after lunch we'll delight in the gorgeous voices of the a capella trio of Heather Houston, Molly Hartwell, and Samantha Keller. The songstresses will also offer an hour of musical inspiration where we'll learn songs from around the world.

Join us for a magical day practicing, taking in the blessings of song, eating together, and relaxing on the mountain. In addition to all of the above listed offerings, you have the option of taking time to enjoy the land, to hike, journal, rest, etc.

To Register for this event, you may either register on line:
Or email Sam:
or call Linda:

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Gam Zu L'Tova" and the grokking of the unseen world... Easier at 3??

"Gam Zu L'Tova" and the grokking of the unseen world... Easier at 3??
One of my students recently recounted a story to me about her nephew, who, for his 3 years on the planet, has a suprisingly enlightened reaction to spilling milk. When things go awry - like thomas the tank engine gets smashed by his sister, or his sucker falls in the dirt, her responds with the refrain: Gam Zu L'Tova. It's a Hebrew saying, meaning, "This is also for the good." As a therapist, I spend a lot of time hearing about the wounds of the world. In most cases it is not particularly helpful for me to remind people to look on the bright side, for fresh pain only needs commiseration and empathy. Yet, personally, I am getting a lot of mileage out of my newly aquired phrase. Reminds me of the infinite wisdom of Rumi, the Sufi mystic poet, who eternally reminds us to be awake to the unseen realms. He writes:
Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it.
Whoever has polished it more sees more - more unseen forms become manifest to him.
(As quoted in The Sufi Path of Love : The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi (1983) by William C. Chittick, p. 162)
Rumi is from Afghanistan, and was the #1 best selling poet in the US a few years back. The paradox of that is, I'm sure, obvious, while we are seemingly unable to get along with Rumi's present day countrymen. Anyhow, I take the 3 year old as the messiah of the day - as evidence of the fact that despite the fact that sometimes things appear to be going to hell in a handbasket the world over, there is a spirit in the little creatures that could be powerful enough to balance out all of the recklessness. It's contrary to reason, but reason is conditioned and constructed. The conditioned mind finds itself quite clever, but is really a very shaky guide. All it seeks is defense, impunity, and an easier world, a quest which leads to ruin. The heart, more ambiguous at times, is much more reliable. We have no idea what is coming. Unshield, let down the armor, allow befuddlement. Gam Zu L'Tova.
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.