Tag Archive: India Pilgrimage with Douglas Brooks

Brrr. Looking Forward to “Indian Summer”

I’ve been working at home all day instead of at the office because of the icy, wet, and dank stuff that was coming out of the sky this morning.  I am really looking forward to the warmth of “Indian summer” next week, though less so to the 30 hours plus or minus  of travel it will take to get there.

Current long range forecast for Chennai (and we’ll be heading south from there) is for highs in the low 80s F, lows in the high 60s. Salwar, sari, and dhoti weather.

outside the temple


Devotion (Bhakti)

Much is said about devotion in yoga, and there is a great privileging by many of the path of devotion — bhakti.  With no clear answers, I contemplate often what it means to practice bhakti, to be devoted in a religious or spiritual sense.  Witnessing those on pilgrimage when I was in India (it was “pilgrimage season”), I was flooded with memories and ideas for contemplation about what it means to be devoted and how people express devotion.

Among the thoughts and memories were having observed the operaphiles in their expensive clothes swoon and gasp and applaud at the Vienna Opera House on the opera level where I had paid a dollar for standing room; having been literally swept off of my feet in the press of the crowds heading to the tube at Wembley Stadium after seeing the Rolling Stones in concert; watching the people do the standing wave thing at ball games while hollering for their team as if their whole view of the world was dependent on who wins; having taken, standing room only, the third class train from Florence to Rome during Easter week (a different pilgrimage season), on asking who is that woman on the billboards, discovering that India, too, has a habit of electing movie stars to political office.


“Far Too Many Words”

Professor Douglas Brooks on language and the India pilgrimage.  I have just finished leading the group house practice and need to meditate before going to bed, so I do not have time to write more, but I wanted to draw your attention to this blog for your own contemplations about language and practice.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to join in part of the conversation and look forward to going ever deeper.


After the Exhileration, Work

We all (or at least most of those who would be reading this blog) have heard the Buddhist-inspired saying:  before enlightenment, the laundry.  After enlightenment, the laundry.  The question is whether after the moments of enlightenment can we infuse doing the laundry with more joy, acceptance, and peace.  A young adult acquaintance asked me the other day whether I was readjusting ok.  I did not know to what he was referring, and he had to explain that he was asking how I was doing on my return from my India trip.  “It was just a vacation–albeit an extraordinary one,” I replied.  “Life continues.”

“The good experiences just slip away like dry sand through my fingers,” he made a motion of letting something slip away.

“When you practice and when you get older, it will be easier to bring the temporary, good experiences into your life without feeling they are lost when you have moved onto the next thing,” I said with hope that would  actually be true for him, he seemed so bereft.

The yoga teaches us neither to be out searching for the highs nor actively avoiding the lows; the dance of grasping and avoiding is what makes us suffer.  That does not mean that the highs, the times of wild abandoned joy, the experiences of utter fulfillment, of exquisite understanding are of no value.  What brings joy is a thing of wonder and an opportunity to deepen our ability to love and be generous.  They are only a problem if we ruin our time by vainly clinging to or trying to repeat the sensation.  As our practice (and our understanding of a life well-lived and loved) matures, we understand that there is no readjusting in the return to the day to day.  We welcome what we have had, try to remember what we have learned, including how much joy and delight we are able to drink in, and approach each day as another opportunity to seek and share connection.


Happy New Year–Breaking Open (web version of e-newsletter)

Dear Friends,

Midnight of the new year found me sitting in a hotel room near the Chidambaram temple at festival time engaged in intense conversation while listening to wild music and chanting and the cracks and explosions of fire crackers.  Quite a change from my long-standing practice of making a healthy meal, doing a long yoga practice, taking a hot bubble bath by candlelight and going to sleep well before midnight so that I can start the year rested and refreshed (an excellent way to spend New Year’s Eve if you haven’t tried it).  Though I did not start this new year well rested, I wouldn’t have traded the experience I had for the world.  Sometimes we need to radically break out of our old patterns to discover how much we can expand.

One of the practices at the temples we visited on the India Pilgrimage with Douglas Brooks is to take a coconut and break it open.  The coconut symbolizes your head and all the preconceived notions and rules we set for ourselves that bind us into our old habits.  The symbolic act of breaking open the coconut is to remind us that we sometimes need to break ourselves open in order to get at the true meat of our existence and to drink the sweet nectar of life.

Many times during the trip I thought about my first experiences attending “Advanced Intensives” with John Friend.  I, like many others I know, showed up at my first Advanced Intensive wondering how I got there, asking myself whether I was worthy, and worrying that I was in way over my head and would get injured.  Though I have now been to a number, each time I still have had to practice with both an absolute willingness to be open to the possibility of expansion while being impeccably mindful of my own limits.  It is a subtle dance of consciousness, and part of the learning is finding the exact balance point where we can both break out of our preconceived limitations and still honor that we in fact have some.

I approached going to India with much trepidation.  A friend whom I met in Peru and who I later visited in South Africa, having seen my emotional reactions to the deep poverty of developing nations had warned me off of India.  As one who likes things to be quiet and clean and thrives on healthy meals and regular sleep, I knew India would be physically and emotionally challenging.  But I wanted the visions.  I wanted to see and experience its very “otherness,” its beauty, and the source of the yoga teachings.  I packed my bags with emergency supplies, some of which I turned out to need, some of which served others on the trip, most of which I ended up donating to a village that the trip helps to support.  I had to ask people to help me (one of my hardest practices) by being close when we were in dense crowds.  I confess that I wore earplugs when it got really loud in the temples, which it does.  And having prepared and taken care, I was exhilerated.  I experienced radically more with my heart getting fuller and fuller in a short time than I thought ever possible for me.  Like discovering one can do a wild yoga pose that one thought totally out of reach and then sensibly stopping before blowing past physical limits, I broke myself open and was able to drink deeply of the nectar.  And yes, I did actually hurl a coconut to the ground to break it.  And yes, it took two tries.

I was lucky.  This time, I got to choose when and where to break open the coconut.  Sometimes life does it for us and then we have the choice either to despair or to rise to the occasion.  This year, I invite you to the yoga to find where you can break open and find ever more sweetness, nourishment, and delight than you ever dreamed possible.  For me this includes not just the exhileration of advancing the intensity of poses, but the deepness of meditation, the precise use of alignment for therapeutics to better experience life, and the emotional depth of a long restorative practice.

Come join me as regular classes continue at William Penn House on Tuesdays, invitation group house practice for charity on Wednesdays, and gentle/therapeutics at Willow Street on Saturdays at noon in Takoma Park.  All info on the classes page of the web site.  Mark your calendars, too, for:

Finding the Warmth Inside: Relax Into Optimal Alignment with Anusara Restoratives, Saturday, February 25 2012, 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park Studio, $35.00, click to Register Online or download a paper form to bring to Willow Street in person.  After a little gentle stretching and self-massage to bring awareness to the breath and body, we will enjoy the exquisite application of Anusara’s Universal Principles of Alignment to restful and supported restorative postures to release old patterns and invite in the new to find greater ease of body and mind. A great workshop and practice for all levels.

I have been sharing photos and experiences of India on the blog (if you have missed them, do check them out and enjoy).  Some of you have asked how you can subscribe to the blog in addition to the newsletter.  Please just click here and follow the instructions to get the blog posts by email.

I look forward to seeing you through the new year and sign off expressing my ever growing love, appreciation, and gratitude for all of you and the deepening and expanding connection through the yoga, neighborhood, and all that life here in DC and in the greater yoga community brings us.

Peace and light,





Expanding to Receive the Beauty, Opening to Grace, and the Isha Upanishad

In Anusara yoga, one of the ways the first principle of “opening to grace” can be experienced and practiced  is as a radical expansion of the capacity to receive and appreciate the very wonder of being.  During my visit to India with Professor Douglas Brooks, I found myself repeatedly thinking of the concept of radical expansion and also the preamble to the Isha Upanishad (long a favorite of mine; Shantala on their first CD, Love Window, have done an exquisite rendition), which can be roughly translated as saying that adding fullness to fullness is itself fullness (fullness can also be translated here as perfection).

What I believe this is saying that being itself is infinitely full; thus, we cannot make it more infinite by adding to it.  Human consciousness of the infinitude of being, though, is limited by the filters of space and time.   One of the key reasons to practice yoga (including meditation) is to expand both our capacity to appreciate the fullness and to receive its full wonder by uniting our own consciousness with the infinitude.  When we can appreciate ever more the wonder of our being, we will naturally be more joyous, and I believe, led to be more compassionate and generous with ourselves and others.

Day after day on the India pilgrimage, just when I thought my heart and mind were already full to bursting, there were yet more experiences of the beauty and extraordinariness of life and creativity and nature.  I found myself chanting the Isha Upanishadpurnamadah, purnamidam, puranata purnamudatacyate.  Fullness and fullness is fullness.  “Let me expand still more to appreciate to its utmost yet more beauty,” I thought to myself again and again.  Though I already thought I’d developed a fairly full understanding of the concept through study and practice, I thought, “this is what John Friend means when he is talking about radical expansion.” I look forward to studying and practicing to experience and share ever more beauty.