practice

Heart Beats Complete: The Greatest Gift

“A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.” Bhagavad Gita 17:20

I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly “heart-centered” individual. Quite often I have questioned if was even capable of love. “What does that even mean anyway?” Living in a selfie-centered society that breeds fixation and co-dependency, I never understood what it meant to truly love without condition, without some weight of debt or to surrender to dharma- Not until my teacher died.

Jonathan, meditating.

Jonathan, meditating.

It’s been just a year now and I remember the striking effect the news of his passing had on my heart. It felt raw. I was confused. Prior to this point my yoga practice tended to be intellectual and practical. The thought of Bhakti made me nervous and I was skeptical of blissed-out hippies (still sort of am). But something magical happened on the day of Jonathan’s death. When I asked his wife, Angela, “what do you need?” and she replied, “I need you to come back to San Diego and teach all of (his) classes,” a strength and confidence emerged from within me that I can only describe as unconditional love. It was a bravery I had never before experienced. For the first time in my life I felt an absolute sense of duty.

The maneuvering which was required to leave San Francisco on such short notice, to face trying to rebuild my life once again in San Diego was massive. But somehow I wasn’t afraid. The deep respect and admiration I have for Jonathan, and the desire to be there for his family, for his students was the fuel to forge ahead with no questions asked.

Since this transition, life has begun to blossom in ways I could have never imagined. It seems that all aspects of my being have grown, evolved, matured. I’ve resigned a part of my own identity to play the instrumental role of carrying out Jonathan’s work with the Bheemashakti Yoga School and it feels great. This devotion to serving my teacher connects me the essence of God that threads through the entirety of existence. Surrendering to this is absolute freedom.

Jonathan assisting Troy

Jonathan assisting Troy

The discussions Jonathan and I had over the years really shaped the way I saw yoga, spirituality and life. He never told me what to think or believe, but instead pointed me in the direction of the answers I was looking for. He truly felt that a student should have their own experiences in order to gain insight and develop wisdom. This is a concept that has been proven valuable in my experience. And in looking back at how much has changed since the day I received the call, I realize that my heart was due for a major tune-up.

The greatest gift my teacher ever gave me was the spark of devotion. Now I understand what it means to be selfless and to serve with love. And through this concentrated energy emerging from my heart, the world around me continues to transform. No path of yoga is complete without knowledge, service, self-control and divine love.

-Troy

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Yoga in Amsterdam – What Else?

In continuation of Troy’s last post I can tell you this much – he eventually made it to Germany and we had a lovely time visiting with family and friends. To make his return trip as smooth as possible, we had booked his ticket from Amsterdam, with high chances of making it on a flight for the U.S. We embarked on an eight hour train ride across Germany to reach the capital of the Netherlands. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, which would give us some time to explore the city before our departure on Thursday morning.

Since I was busy working, I had asked Troy to do some research on what to do, where to stay, and of course, where to practice yoga. He found a very nice Airbnb accommodation for us with a couple that was also practicing and teaching yoga. The Nataraja statue in the pictures on their site quickly convinced us that it was our kinda place. And of course the hosts were very pleasant and made us feel right at home with freshly made smoothies.

After our train ride we were ready for a yoga class. Among the many offerings, Troy had picked out Svaha Yoga in Jordaan for us to visit – mainly because their schedule announced the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa on Tuesday evening after practice. I love the Chalisa and frequently chant it, and usually carry a pendant of Hanuman and Neem Karoli Baba around my neck.

2015 04 Svaha Yoga

When we arrived, I noticed the sign on the door to remove shoes – as usual in yoga studios – and decided to take of my shoes before entering from the street. It was to the utter surprise of Patrick, the director of the studio, who immediately asked if we had been to India since nobody ever actually removed their shoes until after they had entered. At the front desk we received the most friendly welcome I have ever received at a yoga studio. I noticed all the familiar images of saints and deities I like to hang out with around the studio. Class started, and Patrick led us through a sweet, yet no less invigorating practice. While we were resting in Shavasana he walked around and gave some of us a little adjustment. He noticed my necklace and after ending the class pointed out to me that he was wearing the same one. Hanuman – in the form of Troy – had once again led me just to the right place.

After chanting the Hanuman Chalisa with Patrick, Gösta and a small group of practitioners, we managed to convince the two directors of Svaha Yoga to pose for a picture with us. It was a lovely experience and we will be sure to visit again when back in Amsterdam. Or maybe at their new retreat center in Suriname, South America…

2015 04 Svaha Yoga 2

Upon Patrick’s invitation we returned for a practice the following morning and then made our way to the van Gogh museum to marvel at this tormented genius’s art. Our visit came to a close with a delicious home made vegetarian soup from our Airbnb host Bastian.

Bye voor nu!

Uta

Road Block (Part 1)

March 27, 2015

As I write this I am sitting at the JFK airport working on hour 36 of trying to catch a standby flight to Europe. The first few hours were smooth, but as time passes the difficulty of sitting and waiting grows. In situations like this the images and ideas of who am I and how I react to situations is challenged. Severely.

For someone who maintains a rigorous daily yoga practice and teaches several groups of students a week this should be easy, right? So much of what I teach my students and learn from my own practice is to cultivate a quiet gentleness in tight situations- “Don’t take it too seriously. It will pass in 5 breaths (300-100 in the Bheemashakti world).” So why is it so difficult to practice this when I’m away from the studio, sitting in a crowded airport?

The truth is that yoga is tough. Forget about binding Marichyasana D. What about keeping cool when all you want is to cash in a friend’s airline benefit and squeeze on an already crowded flight to meet up with your soul mate so you celebrate your 30th birthday in your favorite country (to date), but every single flight is oversold? How many breaths have passed in this last 36 hours? Guaranteed, some of them are going to be shallow, laborious, or even missing. And when my default reaction to life is to run away for a few hours and wiggle my way through some asana, there seems nowhere to run when I’m on the road. Sure I could roll out my mat and take a few Surya Namaskara, but I have a feeling that this isn’t the solution. Especially when I face a 7 hour flight packed in a tight middle row.

When I told Uta I was popping a Xanax yesterday she said, “what about some pranayama and meditation?” Ah yes, of course! But did it happen? No. I tried. Not that hard. But I could barely hear over all of the noisy, chattering thoughts in my head. At this point my adrenals are taxed from the rise and fall of anticipation every time the gate agents are ready to clear standby passengers.

Well last night I made it to New York from San Diego. I believe I am halfway to Germany. In lieu of fighting to wiggle on a flight to London and purchasing a $300 ticket to Frankfurt I decided to spend the night in a cheap New York city hotel and try again today. I certainly felt defeated at first but after some sleep and a nice day in the city I feel quite hopeful. In the time it took me to be beaten down by this whole experience and realize I AM NOT IN CONTROL, I have taken to reading “Loving Ganesh” (how I came across it is another story). In this text about all things related to the full figured elephant deity I felt it was time to abandon my own desires and put it all in His hands.

You see Ganesh resides in the Muladhara (root) chakra, home of all basic wants and desires. As I have learned from many yogic texts, podcasts, lectures, and my time at Vipassana, if we live in our desires, following the ebb and flow of craving and aversion we are taking a surefire route to suffering. After hour 18, suffering seems like a nice word. But is that where I am? Not being able to accept and sit in peace where I am at this very moment? So hey if there’s nothing else I can do but sit and wait, at least I can try to give Ganesh a call and see if He can pull any strings on my behalf.

As the remover of obstacles, Ganesh can also create obstacles to steer a devotee on the right path. So if jumping into a pool of sharks is what you want, Ganesh may crush your dreams and steer you toward a much safer option. And because we do not always understand the looming danger or karmic stirring on the other side of our desires, we can feel absolutely crushed when we are denied or restricted. I’m tired of feeling crushed and beaten. I just want to enjoy this trip so I’m leaving it up Him.

A benefit of spending the night in New York was that I was able to take a field trip to the Jivamukti Yoga School. I decided to take class, have some delicious food and wait until the next flight. After I paid and made may way into the classroom, behold!

Ganesh Ganesh

This could be coincidence but with all the contact I’ve tried to make with my new friend, I feel like I’ve been heard- loud and clear. More interesting was that the class itself was small- 3 students including myself. At first I thought, “wow this teacher must be new or not very good” but as the practice kicked in I realized this is exactly what I needed after being surrounded by cranky irritable people like myself- a refuge and a sanctuary away from all the craziness. And sequence of asana was exactly what I needed to decompress my spine, soften the shoulders and remember how to breathe.

At this point I still don’t know if I will make it onto this flight, but I’ve given Ganesh the keys and asked him to drive. Whatever happens I know that at least I am safe, have access to food, water, and a bathroom. And with a little faith and determination I look to the One-Tusked Wonder to pave a golden path to wherever it is that I am headed.

Steady Rhythm, Deep Roots

Along the path of yoga there comes a time for many of us when it seems like life’s patterning just doesn’t fit our practice. There are many excuses we can make about why we can’t sit in meditation, why we can’t fit in an hour of asana, how there just isn’t enough time in the day, especially through The Holidays and New Year. With so many distractions happening in daily life and so many desires we wish to fulfill, it is not a surprise that the yoga practice can suffer.

Fortunately, this not a modern dilemma. The ancient sages knew that the Yoga Road was rocky and mapped it out for us. Patanjali’s yoga sutras outlines nine distinct distractions that become obstacles as one journeys further down the path of yoga:

1.30 Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained. (Swami J)
(vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah)”

Fortunately there is a solution that has been prescribed by Patanjali to overcome these obstacles and it, in essence, is quite simple:

1.32 To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object. (Swami J.)
(tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah)”

Although the solution to overcoming these obstacles is simple, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. As we know, the mind is quite strong in its resistance to becoming still but the path of yoga is equipped with many tools that enable us to work through this even if just for a few breaths. In fact many spiritual and religious practices work in just this way- japa mala, rosary prayer, sigils, meditation, vision boards, etc- The key to all of this being the repeated attention to a single point. This is perhaps why so many of these traditions have renunciates (monks, nuns, sadhus, and so forth), spiritual aspirants who give up the motions of the mundane world to pursue their spiritual awakening.

So how can I practice this repeated single pointed attention to firmly establish a strong yoga practice as a house holder, someone who is fully immersed in the throes of the modern world? One option is Renunciation in the form of a retreat.

By taking an extended period of time away from home, beyond the scope of daily ritual we have an opportunity to replace our habits and excuses with disciplined practice. Think about it, with 24 hours in a day, away from the distractions of work, home responsibilities, socializing, there turns out to be plenty of time to dedicate to practice. And under the correct guidance, the retreat can be a great opportunity to feel the effects of a rooted yoga practice develop. That doesn’t necessarily mean that by the end of the week we will have developed great universal knowledge. But if for just a moment you feel what it is to step into a rhythm of Sadhana, the roots of sustained practice begin to grow.

Bheemashakti Yoga Kauai 2015 retreat.

Bheemashakti Yoga Kauai 2015 retreat.

At the Bheemashakti Yoga 2015 Kauai Retreat we will take 8 days and 7 nights to focus on twice daily practice as taught by my teacher Jonathan Patriarca. The morning will be marked by one hour of Ashtanga Pranayama and meditation followed by two hours of Dimensional Practice. After a plant based macrobiotic breakfast there will be time for contemplation, relaxation and exploration. The afternoon will begin our second session of Pranayama and Meditation accented by Asana Practice. Another plant based dinner will conclude the activities for the day. This sequence of practice has been designed to prepare the student to develop a deeper understanding of their yoga practice through repetition. As Jonathan would say “you can have an experience,” which he believed to be the strongest form of wisdom.

Through this spring time ritual you can plant seeds of inspired consistency to firmly ground your practice. Develop a deep rooted ceremony for yourself and grow strong in your pursuits of Self discovery.

Check out the details here: www.bheemashakti.org

See you there, Troy