Archive for the 'Event' Category

Letter from the Kumbha Mela

Published on Yoga City NYC, February 2013. The Kumbha Mela explained.

Thousands and thousands of people crossing makeshift pontoon bridges over the Ganges river became a familiar sight during my 10 day visit to Allahabad, India

The men carried walking sticks or pushed bicycles, while many women, dressed in dazzling saris, lead small children or elderly relatives. They walked in silence with a steady, quiet focus, their belongings bundled on their heads and backs because they were headed to the Kumbha Mela.

While there are small Melas every year throughout India, the one near Allahabad, where the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers meet, is the most important and the most auspicious. This grand gathering happens only once every 12 years, with a Maha—or great— Kumbha Mela every 144 years (the last one was 2001).

Kumbha Mela

And of course, it is the largest. When I arrived, staying on the campus of theHimalayan Institute about a mile downstream from the main site, a million people had already taken up residence.

More problematic, it’s also the loudest, with countless PA systems blasting mantras, lectures, and “swa-has” for miles around, at all hours of the day and night. I got used to falling asleep to two or three of them chanting at top volume and completely at cross-purposes.

The incessant din added a very real challenge to my daily meditation practice. The banks of the Ganges were very noisy. Numbers swelled again on the auspicious bathing day of February 10th, that coincided with the new moon, a time of new beginnings.

In one day, 10 million people flooded the grounds. Over the month or so of the Mela, 100 million people were expected to visit, living in the makeshift tentcamps, or curled up at the side of the dusty dirt tracks, running shops, serving food to wandering sadhus, and policing the 8 square kilometer area.

For such an enormous “pop-up city” it was impressively peaceful. Saints, families, villagers poor and rich mingled. We never felt in danger, even in such huge throngs. In fact, our biggest hassle was Indian pilgrims taking photos of us Westerners, and even that was done in a very friendly way.

I had come to experience the energies of the crowds and the practices of the sages. But as I reckoned with my jet lag, the noise of the fair, and the exhaustingly huge gathering of people, I wondered what everyone was really coming for, and what it means to be a pilgrim.

Kumbha means “pot” and “mela” means fair: the story is that the demi gods, running out of the elixir of happiness, or amrit, joined with their enemies, the water demons, to churn the ocean and produce more of the heavenly nectar.

But when the nectar at last rose from the sea, the gods stole the amrit for themselves alone. A battle ensued until Vishnu intervened, whisking the valuable pot of nectar away. It took 12 days for Vishnu to escape—hence the 12 year lapse betweenMelas—hotly pursued by both angry parties.

The pilgrims crossing into the Kumbha Mela grounds were not concerned to hear the myth again—they already knew it. They might seek out a sage or take in a dance performance; but their main purpose was to bathe in the Ganges and be purified by her inexhaustible living waters.

And not just anywhere, but as close as possible to the Sangam—the confluence of three holy rivers, where auspicious energy is most concentrated at this time.

The Ganges, the mother and spiritual source, could not only wash away transgressions and karmic impediments, but also replenish the divine grace in our lives. The Yamuna river, representing worldly prosperity, helps to keep our home, work, and social lives to progress harmoniously.

Lastly, the mythical Saraswati river, important in Vedic times, but since disappeared underground, represents the  fortification of intuition and inner knowledge.

In other words, to bathe at the Sangam was like getting an extremely powerful recharge.

For Westerners, the massive number of people was undeniably exciting. Some in our group braved the highly toxic E. coli levels and dipped themselves in theSangam. Others just dipped their mala beads or sprinkled some of the holy water over their heads.

But the moment of highest spiritual buzz for me came outside of the official Melagrounds. On February 10th, the auspicious bathing day, senior teachers at the Himalayan Institute conducted a fire ceremony on campus, repeating a Durgamantra to help mitigate the fear and anger in ourselves—and in the world.

As we offered the samagri—the offering—to the sacred fire we chanted together in common purpose,  propitiating the forces of transformation and new growth, planting seeds of change. It was not an empty ritual; I could feel the energy we were creating.

One important element of meditation or spiritual practice is trustful surrender to the mysterious forces at work in our world. And feeling that palpably around me was worth all the effort of getting to India, the disturbance of the loud nights, the hot, dusty and exhausting Mela, and my initial bewilderment over what it meant to be a pilgrim. I felt fortified, and that, I believe, was the whole point.

Sign of the Times? OM Yoga to Close After 15 Years

On Sunday, yoga doyenne (and former Cyndi Lauper choreographer) Cyndi Lee gave the closing remarks at last weekend’s Yoga Journal 3rd conference in New York.

By Monday—the day after the conference—she announced, via email to long-time students, that the studio had lost its lease and would be closing by the end of June.(Read the announcement on the studio’s Web site.)

Lee, who established OM in 1997 on 14th street, said the landlord at 826 Broadway, OM’s home above The Strand bookstore for about 7 years, didn’t give her an option to renew. According to an interview on Well+Good:

She gave us 90 days notice and rented it to someone else. She just didn’t want a yoga studio there anymore.

According to some long-time NYC yogis, OM had begun to lose its fire a little while ago. Once-loyal students had already moved on to other studios or classes that seemed eager to move with the changing trends of yoga.

Still, the pioneer studio had nurtured beloved NYC teachers such as Margi Young, Christy Clark, Lippy Orem, Joe Miller, and Brian Liem, and gave others such as Brooklyn maverick Jonathan FitzGordon his start.

It also was one of the first to explicitly bring yoga asana practice and Buddhist meditation techniques together. Lee frequently hosted her Tibetan teacher, and held workshops by David Nichtern, music producer and senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage (and Lee’s husband), and her step-son, Ethan Nicthern, author of One City: A Declaration of Interdependence and founder of the popular Interdependence Project.

Teachers and students recite the dedication of merit at the end of (most!) classes, offering their work to the greater good of all beings.

OM's "Earth" studio

OM is not completely going away—it’s transforming its teachings and services into more of a “homeless” or online-based studio. Lee and her senior teachers will continue to give workshops and trainings, although there are speculations that some may branch off altogether.

For now, enjoy the last 2 months of this breezy and popular studio that trained a lot of eager new teachers, brought teachers as diverse as Judith Lasater and Meredith Monk to students, and gave a very chill American spin to a practice that can be be altogether too many things to too many people.

RIP Jack the Cat

Maybe it’s pre-11.11.11 vibes—you know, on Friday we shift into the long-awaited Acquarian age, according to Yogi Bhajan. Oct 28 marked the long-awaited end of one big cycle of the Mayan calendar.

Or maybe it’s just me—I’ve  spontaneously stopped eating much meat or drinking much alcohol lately, and it’s making me sensitive to, you know, broccoli, kale, and stories about animals.

Jack in good health

This story about Jack the Cat really got to me today.

Jack the Cat escaped his carrying case before being loaded onto and American Airlines flight bound for California on August 25, where his owner, Karen, was moving.

Lost in the airport for 61 days, he fell through the ceiling at JFK customs on October 25 and was rushed to pet hospital in Manhattan.

American Airlines flew Karen back to New York to attend to her cat. But he was too weak from malnutrition and dehydration to continue on. On Sunday, after Karen had flown back home, Jack was put to sleep, surrounded by Karen’s friends and supporters.

Despite measures like a feeding tube, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and one operation, veterinarians finally recommended euthanasia.

“Forty to 60 percent of his body area was affected by devitalized tissue, tissue without blood flow,” Dr. Daly said.

A Facebook page devoted to Jack, Jack the Cat Is Lost in AA Baggage at J.F.K., had more than 24,400 “likes” as of Monday morning. On Sunday, a post entitled “RIP Jack — Full Info” reported that Jack had “gone over the rainbow bridge.”

Rest in peace, furry friend.

Sniff.

Protest or Party? Yoga as Political Theater or Giant Concert, your choice

According to the New York Times today, agitators in India are using hunger strikes—and yoga—to protest corruption in their government. While some people, such as Mr Anna Hazare, of the DMK political party are fasting to affect change, others such as  yoga guru Swami Ramdev, are planning mass yoga sessions.

Swami Ramdev, a yoga guru with political aspirations and hundreds of thousands of followers, has created another front of protest. Tents have been prepared at a campsite in New Delhi for a mass yoga session on Saturday followed by a hunger strike. Mr. Sibal and other top ministers met Swami Ramdev at New Delhi’s airport on Wednesday and spent nearly two hours trying in vain to persuade him not to protest. –NYTimes

photo c/o New York Times/ B.Mathur/Reuters

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, where we have not a thing to protest, and only joy in our hearts, yogis and music lovers are preparing for the second attempt at a ginormous public yoga class in the city. As you might remember—maybe you were there—last year’s Flavorpill event was rained out. This year, the Wanderlust team has taken over, and will be offering instruction by Anusara’s golden child, Elena Brower, Breakti’s creator Anya Porter, and Kula Yoga/Wanderlust director, Schuyler Grant at Pier 63 near 24th Street and the Westside Highway on June 7th. Music will be provided by New York’s favorite in-class musician, Garth Stevenson, and Earthrise Soundsystem.

Wanderlust at the Standard in Miami, 2011

From political theater to giant concert, appropriate use of yoga has once again proven to be hard to establish. But a lot of people do seem to think it’s more fun when attached to another agenda, and when practiced with a lot of other people. Maybe.

The Blue Tape

2011 Yoga Journal Conference, NYC
Part Deux

One of my favorite passages from Neal Pollack’s hilarious book Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude involves him going to a Yoga Journal conference in San Francisco. He describes it thus:

Lurching through the doors of the Hyatt, I entered a sea of crazy old ladies seeking their next kundalini high, as well as a decent number of smokin’ hot babes in tight lululemon pants. A few men floated about carefully, like Triassic-era furry mammals looking for eggs to gnaw not wanting to disturb the dominant species. Everyone seemed excited and awake. I was a midnight guy in the Valley of the Morning People.”

Pretty accurate.

He goes on to describe the sub-basement room his workshop takes place in, and the blue masking tape that marked “even rectangular spaces each large enough for a yoga mat and some miscellaneous props.”

I was in the middle of a mind-boggling lecture on Tantra when I remembered Pollack’s line about the tape. And as I looked around me, I realized—I was surrounded.

Blue tape at the YJ Conference keeps everyone in line

The blue tape was everywhere, in every lecture room and practice space. Fronts of rooms were taped, backs of rooms, even spaces that it was unlikely anyone would ever practice, such as beside the stage or right near the door. The only places that weren’t taped were the marketplace and the lecture hall (which did, however, look like a powder-blue tea cup).

Clearly, the blue tape is a pragmatic solution to human tendency towards chaos. And I admit it made me feel somehow safer from the throngs of people: I had space to put my shoes, my bag, my notebook, and pen. It gave me some private property, and acted as a psychological barrier in a radically impersonal space full of strangers.

Still, it did have an elementary school feel to it, like it was meant to help us to color more neatly between the lines. And it could not protect us from our thoughts, like, “that’s an unfortunate hair style” or “wish I had started yoga in the womb so I wouldn’t feel so behind now.”

Nor could the ubiquitous blue tape protect us from weird vibes or aromas, like my neighbor’s unbrushed-teeth smell that he blew on me as we did an excruciating IT band release in Bo Forbes’s “Mind-Body Flow: Crafting a Therapeutic Practice.”

more blue tape

Since Pollack had pointed out the tape—and it had lodged in my memory—it did add some levity to my endeavors at the conference. There I was, one of a thousand women and a hundred men flip-flopping around the Hilton Hotel, loaded with yoga mats, blankets, bags, water bottles and swag, like perky Spandex-clad pack-horses. We were searching for yoga knowledge—or just yoga fun—to be delivered in neat packages that appealed to our upper-middle class sensibilities (with a dash of the hippie dippie).

Who were we kidding? Were we for real?

Most of us were earnestly excited, but our questing also seemed a bit silly.

So maybe we do need help coloring between the lines, playing nice, and staying on point. “Hi, that’s MY Prana mat bag, don’t touch it,” or “Keep your eco-friendly, hand-dyed shoes on YOUR side of the blue tape, please.”

Now, now, kiddies.

Round 2: Yoga on the Great Lawn pushed til 2011

Above: a few minutes of yoga on the Great Lawn before yogis fled for shelter

In June, nature and the NYC Park’s Department were more powerful than 13,000 people doing sun salutations on NYC’s Central Park: we got rained out. (More reason for mind training, folks! Were you really thinking about the sun??!?!? Or were you eyeing your cute neighbor? Or drooling over that tasty treat in your goodie bag?)

Flavorpill promised to try Y@GL again in September. But as of last week, they’ve moved Attempt #2 to 2011, promising not just a better experience then (lines fewer than 20 blocks long), but more tie-ins to charities, a national edition of these gi-normous “yoga experiences,” and a weekly health and wellness mailer.

It makes a lot more sense for an event that size to generate something more useful than an entry in the Guinness World Records. After all, most yogis want to make a difference.

In case you’ve forgotten—or couldn’t make it in June—you can watch Flavorpill’s videos and catch up. (They must have been shot from the helicopter that hovered over us making it impossible to hear.) And they really do provide a better view than we got from the lawn itself.

So even if you can’t do your downdogs in a throng of thousands, on a nubby lawn, with a new slippery mat (c/o Jet Blue) this September, you can still attend Flavorpill’s smaller yoga events (at places like MoMA) during the year. And of course, you’ll start getting the wellness mailer next month. Just think: there’s a whole year of them to warm you up for Y@GL 2011.

And if you’re among those who find the so-what factor fairly high, then you’ve got an entire month free of cheek-chewing. No more massive public gatherings in the name of yoga…. for at least September.

Need a Spot? Yoga on the Great Lawn, June 22

Be one of the 10,000 people moving your asana on Central Park’s Great Lawn next Tuesday (1 week folks!) June 22 for a HUGE group yoga class.

Flavorpill sponsors Elena Brower (who’ s done previous events at MoMA and The Standard Hotel) plus 20 live acts including musicians to lead an evening of yoga and New York City sweaty fun.

Be one of the first 5 people to leave a comment on this post (or DM me on Twitter: “@Yoga Nation”) and I’ll guarantee you a spot! (be sure to leave me your email address)

To take your chances in the open lottery (remember, they expect to overflow 10,000), register here and invite your friends.

See you there!

No Plans Yet? Hit Yogi Fest Today

Sometimes it’s just too much to make Memorial Day plans ahead of time.

If you leave now, you’ll still have time to catch most of Yogi Fest 2010 in New Windsor, NY. Swing by for a yoga class, some yummy food, entertainment in the children’s tent and an amazing kirtan with various Bhakti Collective folk, including Shyamdas this evening. Here are the deets:

Directions to Yogi Fest 2010

2010: Yogi Fest  March 29th

MAIN HALL
11:30 AM-12:45 PM – Yoga and Pranayam with Amy Pearce-Hayden (The Yogascape Carmel, NY) (All levels)

1:15-2:30 PM – Yoga with Bryn  (Laughing Lotus) (All levels)

3:00-4:15 PM – Energizing Your Spine: The Science of Twisting with Raghunath  and Bridget Cappo

4:30-5:00 PM – The Yoga of Gratitude with Dhanurdhara Swami and Raghunath

5:00-5:30 PM – Arati (traditional puja with ghee lamps with kirtan.)
Kirtan by Prema Hara

5:30-7:00 PM – Prasadam (feast) official end of our program. You’re invited to stay as more and more Indian families come for kirtan and talks with two distinguished guests:

7:00 PM -?  Krishna Kirtan and Katha with Shyam Das and Dhanurdhara Swami

KIRTAN TENT

11:30 AM-12:20PM – Kirtan  with Keli Lalita  ( Karuna Shakti Yoga)

12:30-1:30 PM – How to Play Kartalas (Indian hand cymbals) with Balaram Chandra (Kripalu Yoga)

1:40-2:20 PM – Transcendental Poetry with Mark Oppenheimer

230-310 PM – Yoga for Depression: Q&A with Mark Oppenheimer and Raghunath

3:15-420 PM – Chanting with Keli

CHILDREN’S TENT
11:00 AM-4:15 PM – kids yoga, Crafts and games, stories,

2:30 PM – Special Event: Pyari the Magician

REJUVENATION CENTER: COMPLIMENTARY BODY WORK:

  • Mark Terza of Metta Massage @ The YogaScape
  • Balarama Chandra Thai Massage
  • Tammi Price of Sacred Traditions: Acupuncture
  • Melinda & TJ Macchiaroli Thai and chair massage from Bodhi Spa Hudson NY

Costa Rica Yoga Bliss…. part 2

Part 2: Some Impressions from our Costa Rica Yoga Retreat, Feb 26 – March 5.

Here in the jungle, we’re constantly adjusting to the temperature, the abundance of oxygen, to being in yet another yoga class. With a class at 6:30 am and another at 4 pm, muscles are lengthening, joints lubricating, breath coming more an more easily.

Pre total relaxation

When we arrived, people’s faces were tight and drawn, tired from travel but also tired from the responsibilities of work and daily life.

After a few days people’s faces begin to look relaxed and then something magical starts to happen. Their faces start to glow, they start to look younger, more open, and more enthusiastic about the smallest things–a delicious taste, a warm breeze, an interesting thought.

To me, this is evidence of prana, the life force that gives vitality, rising and flourishing, bringing clarity to the skin, friendliness to dispositions and peace to people’s minds.

Chill-axing

As the stress of city life washes off it’s easy to see the toll it takes—bad sleep, rough digestion, low energy and poor mental functioning.

In the jungle, we’re just a short walk from balmy tropical waters. We lounge in a luxurious lodge built from local materials and staffed by local characters, some of whom have been walking this jungle their whole lives.

Slowed down, with relaxation a part of our daily routine, we begin to feel the spark of life pulsing again, that unexstinguished flame flare up more brightly.

And at the same time, immersed in teeming wilderness, we see ourselves in the context of all life, the constant movement and change of all natural forms.

Our hikes in the jungle show us snakes, spiders, monkeys, pixotes (a racoon-like animal wiht a long tail), pecaries (stinky wild pigs), and huge gloriously blue morpho butterflies.

Life is all around whether or not we check our email, return phone calls, ride subways, acquire or lose status or money, no matter who we know or are related to.

This is a visceral yoga lesson. Prana has many expressions—animal, vegetable, mineral, cognating, non-cognating—and a fierce intelligence. Nature, the material world, is more than just how much we weigh, how we style our hair, how we look in our yoga pants, how flexible we are, what we do, what we own.

Consciousness is sometimes valued higher than nature, but here it’s impossible to ignore nature’s power. Aside from the annoyance of bug bites (mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ums etc) this nature is marvelous:  fecund, generous, majestic, strong, eye-opening.

It makes us revel in our own nature. And as Mr. Iyengar says, we notice, attend to, and love the body, as we would care for a child. It is a vehicle to all knowledge.

At the end of morning yoga practice, we have a sweet final relaxation serenaded by the tide going out, cooing mourning doves, seeds dropping on the clear roof over the deck, the low rumbling of nearby howler monkeys.

Back at the lodge, we breakfast on eggs, pancakes, fruit sauce, fresh juices (mango, sour-sop, tamarind, orange, pineapple etc), tortillas, tomato slices with fresh cheese, and of course lots of fruit.

Then it’s time to decide on the rest of the morning’s activities—a quick sweaty hike up to a platform that overlooks our cove? A cooling swim? Both? A tour of the botanical garden a short kayak away? A knowledgeable guide will take us and tell us more and more and more interesting things about this incredible place we have landed in.

We can also just take an hour or two on the seaside lounge chair under the almond tree chatting with whoever happens to be there–hanging out can also feel like a real indulgence.

We’re here for a week. No electricity, no phone, no money, no shops, no roads, nothing but yoga, the lodge, the jungle, the sea and the elements, the staff and each other. The rhythm of our days is simple and sweet, a luxury we all need.

This is what I wish I could give all my students–not to mention friends and family. Life pared down to extremely simple is what we’re dying for.  Beauty mixed with simplicity–and relaxation mixed with asana, meditation, and breathing–helps connect us to ourselves, see us in context of the greater life. It helps us remember who we truly are, and what it is that really matters.

Costa Rica Yoga Bliss….mmmmm….part 1

Back in late February, during the last terrible snow storm, I ran off to Costa Rica with Stephanie (my cohort in yoga teaching) and 7 yoga students to luxuriate and practice yoga in the tropics. It seems like a while ago now though I still have the tan-lines to prove it.

It’s easy to forget what was so worthwhile about being away. Especially in New York, where the vibe is “life is less-than incredible elsewhere.” But a retreat deep in the Costa Rican lushness is pretty incredible.

This year, I wrote some impressions to help me remember the sweetness of going on retreat. Below is part one and later this week, part two. Here goes…

Most mornings, around 6am when we stumble from our cabins into the lodge, we can see the scarlet macaws dancing and squawking in the almond tree 100 meters down at the beach.

We listen to a flock of toucans call. Just waking up, I have a sense of the jungle as a great big force with dizzying power, constantly growing, changing, demanding, expressing itself and requiring our full presence. Pay attention! It seems to say.

On moonlit nights the banana palms leaves and dewy paths are bright and silvery–and seem to quiver with life. It feels magical.

In the lodge, we lean over the balcony, or sit on the polished floor as we sip steaming tea and coffee, nibble a piece of ripe banana,  pineapple or papaya, trying to wake up.

From the nearby kitchen, comes the low sound of a radio and rhythmic chopping of the cook prepping the day’s food. A shy woman with her glistening hair pulled neatly back, in tidy cut offs and a grey T-shirt finishes mopping the almond-wood floors.

Yoga is at 630 down at the yoga deck near the beach. At 625 we gather our rolled up sticky mats and walk down through the reedy marsh over a wooden planked walkway (turtles, tadpoles, and toads underneath) over the lagoon with small red-winged black birds swooping by. The sky is flawless.

Everything is damp–from the planks on the yoga deck, damp from heavy afternoon rains, to the straps and blocks, kept in big plastic tubs, to the thriving jungle. Here in the south west of Costa Rica on the Pacific near Panama the humidity feels like it’s about 7000%.

Our clothes are never dry nor our hair. Long hair is always wet. Fine hair curls. Paper musts. Passports peel open like blooming laminated flowers. At night, the sheets begin damp and only get steamier with body heat, tossing under the draped canopy of mosquito netting.

But this is good news in class. For yoga this means that we don’t need to do many sun salutations to warm up. We can begin  with a quarter the number of lunges and warrior ones and twos before our bodies build the necessary heat to move on to variations.

Within a few minutes, the night’s stiffness–from active sleep, from yesterday’s hike to the waterfall or kayak trip to the snorkeling spot down the gulf–soon begins to shift and change, and even in these cool morning hours people sweat.

Costa Rica Bliss, Part 2 coming on Wednesday… stay tuned…