Driving

 

I have not been writing a lot lately. Sometimes as change takes place it’s hard to put things into words. However I am trying to share little moments of time as they feel relevant. This is an essential one.

Mangalraj is one of the ashram drivers. We have known each other for many years, and so I think of him as a friend. He has driven me to and from the airport, to temples, to go out to eat, to the beauty parlour (yes, it’s true!) to and from the hospital when I was clutching a bucket and vomiting the whole way.

Mangalraj does not speak English fluently, but he does get his point across in his own unique way. He is also one of the most observant people I know. He notices everything and he remembers everything. It’s both comforting and unsettling at times. It reminds me that however I may view my trips to India, moving into and out of space and time, my mind swirling with preparation and plans, that I have become a part of the community here, and part of the lives of many people here. For that I feely deeply honoured.

Thank you for all of the memorable drives.

Pranams,

jjz

 

 

Inside

 

This is nine seconds at the base of Thiruparankundram Hill in Tamil Nadu, shot today on my phone. Sometimes I don’t really have words for things that I experience in India. Sometimes I have too many words and I couldn’t possibly get them out fast enough before the next moment overtakes, and so these things remain inside me.

Pranams,

jjz

Seeing

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Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything.

-Leonardo Da Vinci

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From a book called “Useful Data”

In order to see, you have to stop being in the middle of things.

-Sri Aurobindo

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Spiritual realization is to look through the third eye while keeping your other two eyes open on the world.

-Amma

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What you are looking for is what is looking.

-St. Frances of Assisi

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Mom, 1964

 

We do not see reality as it is, we see it as we are.

-Anonymous (often attributed to The Talmud or Anais Nin)

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To understand your fear is the beginning of really seeing.

-Bruce Lee

Force of Nature

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Lumbar Puncture, 2016

Some of you may know that for a while now, I have been deep in a healing place with a serious injury. There has been so much to say, but never the right moment to communicate. Each time I begin to write, my understanding of my injury shifts, often very rapidly. I gain and lose confidence again in my ability to tell my story.

The ease with which my physical form navigates the world, normally taken for granted is missing. Space and depth and height hold different meanings for me now. It has been a tremendous opportunity to grow in experience and understanding. Stretched in this new way, my awareness can no longer shrink back. Simply put, we’re fragile and vulnerable, all of us. And yet, if we can accept this about ourselves, we are powerful beyond measure.

I feel I have been lucky to occupy this healing space in life a few times now. It has always been a moment of deep transition. A jumping off point. A ripe pause. In fact, taking pause signals an openness to what is to come. Becoming comfortable with not really knowing what comes next, and letting go of the urge to push through somehow. Doing so might mean missing the story.

You do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.

-Lucinda Williams, “Compassion”

A curious thing that I am experiencing is that while I don’t outwardly appear injured (well, not much), the injury impacts everything I do, and everything I love. I walk with a cane. It signals the world to be gentle with me, and reminds me to be gentle with myself. My injury has forced me to navigate the world, and to experience connection with other people differently. To make novel decisions and to see new possibilities for myself. And, although I badly want to heal, I like the person that I see. A friend described me as a “force of nature” and I thought, yes, that will do.

Another curious thing is that no doctor really knows how to help me. They are doing what they can do, but that is not much. They have admitted to me that they have never seen an injury quite like mine. They’ve told me that it’s my job to become an expert in this. And so I read and I study. I try, and sometimes fail to strengthen myself. I learn to “work around” like athletes do, making other parts do the work of the one(s) which can’t. All the elegant connections of the body are now more apparent to me.

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I’ve Got to Teach My Friends How to Focus a Samsung, 2016

For now, these words of Sherri Rose-Walker perfectly sum it up…

The Wisdom of Brokenness

Among The People, it is said

broken vessels are holy.

Lightning cracks mended,

bound with twine

to hold the integrity of their shapes,

they are blessed, given grain

and sacred stones to hold.

The wounds of such vessels

see, breath, allow

inner eyes to see out,

outer eyes to see within.

Cracks, fissures,

gaping mouths of broken doorways

are passages for mothering air

to bestow her luminous light,

stir new breath,

alter the alchemy of time.

Make of my wounds gateways,

breathing and seeing;

bind up my broken shape,

fill me with still music.

-Sherri Rose-Walker

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Puja, 2016 – Photo by Ramon Chamadoira

Pranams,

jjz

Unconventional Methods

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This is a story straight from Swami Sivananda, about his sometimes unconventional methods of teaching. As the story goes…

Once when a disciple staying with Swamiji in Swarg Ashram adopted an attitude of rebellion and refused to copy an article to be sent to a journal. Swamiji silently slipped out of the disciple’s kutir. Then, after a day or two when the young man had obviously cooled down a bit, Swamiji approached him again. After telling him a significant Tamil proverb which says: “However much a pregnant woman may cry, she alone will have to deliver the baby”, he narrated the following story of a kowpeen both to humour him and to instruct him:

Once a kowpeen (underwear) became disgusted with the duty allotted to it, and so flew away from the clothesline. It fell at some distance, and was greeted by a man who was then in need of some underwear. He promptly put it on and went away. Thus the underwear realized that there was no way out but to do one’s duty in a spirit of cheerful surrender.

Without a word, this disciple took the article and made a copy.

Pranams,

jjz

Long Live the King!

Yoga Teacher Ivan Stanley in his 61-minute World Record Headstand

Yoga Teacher Ivan Stanley in his 61-minute World Record Headstand

There has been a lot of talk of late about the practice of headstand and shoulderstand here in the west. The reason for this discussion seemed to initiate with a yoga studio here in Canada that began to ask students NOT to practice either of these asanas within their studio, either in class or outside of class. Most of that discussion, I believe can be summarized in the following article:

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/king-and-queen-no-more

The article raises some important points about receiving careful instruction in how to practice these asanas carefully and correctly, and reasons for which a person may not wish to, or safely practice them. In my opinion there is something missing, however. (Generally, I do find something missing in most discussions!) Aside from finding the article overly academic, which often is a liability for a true understanding of yoga, I was left wondering, “Has the author ever been to India?” “Has he ever had an Indian teacher?”

This may sound like a funny thing to say. I am not suggesting that you must visit India in order to understand yoga, however such a visit, and experience of Indian culture adds much to understanding the framework of yoga. I learned yoga in India and took teacher training there. However the greatest gift that India has given me will sound very strange indeed. It can be roughly summarized as, “What makes me so special?” That is, my life is about as important as the next guy, and that is not so very much! And this has helped me tremendously in my practice, and in life. It has helped me to face cancer in my lifetime, which is in some ways like facing your own mortality. Understanding that life doesn’t owe me anything has helped a great deal to let go of fear and clinging to life, and therefore live more completely.

And this is EXACTLY what the headstand is all about. I am not suggesting that if you fall from the headstand that you will face loss of life, or even injury. But that to practice the headstand you will have to face your fears. These fears always manifest at some level in the body energetically. The humbling act of placing your head down on the mat and lifting up to rest on it does much to cultivate confidence and a more concentrated, peaceful mind.

And this is why I will always teach the headstand in class. Yes, teaching ‘from scratch’, slowly and mindfully, in a course situation, and not in a drop-in basis. If a student does not want to practice or has an injury or condition that makes it unwise or unsafe, it can be skipped, or we will find other alternatives. I would be doing a great disservice to the students and to the practice however if I didn’t encourage it and emphasize it. This is one of the most transformational practices that we have in yoga. I want experience of that for myself, and for my students.

The practice of headstand highlights more than any other, how the practice of yoga asanas is ultimately a mental one. It is never only about stretching. Neither is it about pushing too much, grasping or straining. But it is about examining what our patterns of mind are and working to change them. The asanas themselves are patterns which open us up to new possibilities in our minds and in our lives.

In my experience the attitude towards the practice is remarkably different in the west than it is in India. I have found Indian teachers to generally be more positive, more encouraging and more likely to engender confidence in the students to challenge themselves. And I wonder how much of that can be attributed to a different cultural outlook. My own teacher frequently says, “Nothing breaks!”, to which everyone laughs, but we do try and, in his presence challenges are made to feel easy.

I also feel that posting a sign asking students to refrain from practicing headstand and shoulderstand adds to the climate of fear that yoga seeks to liberate us from. It makes these asanas somehow dangerous and unsafe. Making these sorts of choices as teachers, where will the practice end up after 50 years or so? What will we have lost?

With these thoughts in mind, I recently visited the Sivananda Ashram in Quebec. There I ran into Ivan Stanley, a fellow yoga teacher who recently set a world record on the International Day of Yoga, June 21, 2015 in Dubai for a 61-minute headstand. I had seen it online. He had practiced the headstand to mark the day, and also as a tribute to his teachers and to the Prime Minister of India for creating International Yoga Day and the Rulers of UAE for declaring 2015 as a year of innovation. Here it is:

http://newsivity.com/news/ivan-stanley-maintains-sirsasana-yoga-pose-for-61-minutes-in-dubai

ivan stanley

I mentioned to Ivan this ongoing discussion about the practice of headstand and shoulderstand here in Canada and elsewhere and pulled up some articles for him to see online. He said, “Janaki, you must write about it”, and so I have. He later sent me an email titled, “Long Live the King”, which is exactly what I had planned to title this post. Well, it is an obvious title!

Pranams,

jjz

Flying

Dad photographing himself in the hubcap of his Porsche, c. 1965

Dad photographing himself in the hubcap of his Porsche, c. 1965

I recently had a conversation with my father about life. It stuck with me and surprised me, when very little truly does. He told me, in his words, that he had once flown very high.

My father was a fighter pilot; “Top Gun” in his squadron and accomplished at aerial stunts. He also raced Porsches in Europe. He lived a fairly exciting life. We Stocks seem to have going fast in our blood. I have it too but seldom admit it because I’ve chosen different things for myself. We like to feel wind blowing in our hair, and we’re not much afraid of falling, of failing. As a result Indian roads and airplane turbulence don’t trouble me too much!

CF Snowbirds in formation (skiesmag.com)

CF Snowbirds in formation (skiesmag.com)

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fears however. I would guess this may be quite common among those that ‘fly’. Like the elephant afraid of the mouse.

What strikes me is that unless we take time in life to cultivate our inner world, we may in fact feel a great sense of loss, or failure, or lack of confidence in those moments where we aren’t moving fast and the wind is not blowing in our hair. I wonder whether we can feel as if we are flying very high, while never venturing outside of the “temple of the heart”. Of course, everything I study says ‘yes’. My own small experience and perceptions suggest that yes, we may fly faster and higher inside.

The world is large, but in us it is deep as the sea.

-R.M. Rilke

 

My first flight; an incredible feeling of freedom

My first flight; an incredible feeling of freedom

So why was I surprised by the conversation? I suppose it was the feeling of loss or regret implied, the sense of past tense. Accepting that flight was no longer possible, without looking deeper. The situations of life may conspire to limit our ability to ‘fly’ literally, with the body, but that is such a small part of the picture. There also seems to be an issue of identity wrapped up in it; as in “I am the one who flies. Who am I now if I am grounded?”

Today, on the occasion of the first International Day of Yoga  I am thinking about how I am finding other ways to ‘fly’ and am so very grateful for the very open, less conditioned, less attached mind that I have gained through so many years of practice and introspection. I have a long way to go, for certain, however I am so grateful to be on this path.

I’ve never spoken of this before, but I remember a specific moment in time, many years ago now, where there was a perfect alignment of the energetic, the mind and the physical in my practice. For a few glorious moments I felt my wings. That is, I felt where the cartilage  connected to the bone. I felt how they grew out of my back and extended beyond my physical body. Energy made flesh. And in that moment I knew that the wings were with me always, and that flight was possible, and within me. They were real. And so I practice to learn more, and to remember. And, over time that practice changes, in my experience always for the better.

I hope that you begin the practice, continue the sadhana, allow for change and to experience flight always, in whatever way that flight manifests.

Pranams,

jjz