Friday, November 21, 2014

Nurturing or True Nature

Traveling a lot lends itself to being exposed to non-stop consumer culture, artificial light, continuous human chatter, not to mention hours upon hours of hip flexion in small spaces from which reprieve comes when its broken up by standing in front of someone whose main job is to discern whether or not you are a threat to the safety, freedom or economy of the country you are entering. The more I travel the more I find the same airport designs of the same shops selling the same clothes, creams, devices that you will use maybe once (if you are lucky), the endless bottles of liquor and the countless boxes of cigarettes making its way into each city.

As I walk down the street the shops repeat, the style and fashions are almost identical and it seems in many places that the natural progression is toward an ever increasing homogenous shopping complex where we are encouraged to move from sale to duty free to entertainment and back to another sale.

Even yoga is not safe from the gravitational pull of the heavy, dense, sedentary body of a culture based on immediate results with minimal action and maximum fanfare and acknowledgment from others. I go from place to place trying to teach what I know and have experienced about the ancient teachings of yoga and sometimes I cannot help but wonder have I become another product in market that sells what you want only to keep you from what you need.

     When I fall into this feeling there is only one thing that helps bring me out of it and remember that my true desire to create a shift in myself so that my happiness is not based solely on material possession or exploitation of others - including the earth; by physically placing myself in a setting not entirely human made. To find places that are ancient and silent, to explore areas off the beaten path to see the manifestation unfold and to interact in ways that are beyond my intellectual understanding, these opportunities communicate to me a way of being in the world that I have lost touch with yet yearn for. I want to be an ally, friend and even champion of these special enclaves. I want to be immersed in the peace that is found in the simple act of sitting silently with the trees or walking over rocks that have been shaped by the great forces of time and environmental change.
Most recently I went to the Blue Mountains about 2 hours north of Sydney. An area that has been preserved since the time when Australia was still connected to Antartica and New Zealand. I went with a dear student and friend Sandeep, in fact it was her idea. We spent most of the time in silence using our mantra and mala while walking through the rainforest. As we did a whole new world opened up with sounds unheard of in an airport or in most major cities. A sound of nature that only comes with the diversity of species and a wide array of micro environments and climates. The whole thing revived me and reminded me of the importance of what I do.

I use yoga as a tool to expand my own consciousness, to bring a greater sense of intelligence to my understanding of the interconnection of life and of our human impact upon the world around us. It is from that place that I teach. So many people live in cities and most often people with the most influence to effect change spend most of their time within the environment of the metropolis. It is here that yoga can be of enormous benefit. If we can together create a shift in what our values are, what we choose to support with our money perhaps a change is possible. If we can see how our food choices are diminishing the worlds resources and our desires for recognition through sense gratification is blinding us to the beauty inherent in nature there may be a chance to be an ally of nature. Going alone can bring about a deeper feeling of commuion but going with others has benefits as well. Walking with other that know the surrounding and the wildlife that lives there can help guide our interaction. Sometimes we want to be of service and end of causing more harm than good. 

The Day after the blue moutains I went ot Wattamolla Falls and was about to through out my food scraps when one of my friends who also work on keeping native species thriving in the Australian Bush told me creating soil that was too rich would encourage weeds that would then kill of the diversity of the bush. I needed some help to be a better ally. Go out, with friends and alone. Just spending time with another allows for the ability to nurture to arise. Let nature remind you how to nurture...and maybe a friend too!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Practice, Prepare, Teach

Practice, Prepare, Teach

I am writing this from a coffee shop in Beijing, China. It is November 2nd. Some mark it as the 2nd day of the month but due to my study habits I mark it as the second day of the focus of the month. Each month Jivamukti, usually via our teacher Padmaji (Sharon Gannon) releases a “Focus of the Month” (FotM). The overall effect is that if you are a practitioner of Jivamukti and go to an Open level class you will have an experience of a single theme through the multitude of personalities, experiences and knowledge of the individual teachers that make up the Jivamukti Lineage. 

I cannot express how immensely important the FotM is for me both a s teacher and a student. However I would like to share how I use it and how it guides my practice and teaching using this months focus as an example. 

The FotM is titled Soul Power and has a corresponding selection from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali chapter 4 verse 28: 
hanam esham kleshavad uktam"The greatest obstacle to the practice is one’s own prejudices based on one’s own preferences.

The translation is Padmaji’s own and is very similar to that of Shri Brahmananda Saraswati’s translation. I would highly recommend reading the whole 4th chapter in at least two different translations putting the verse and the translation into context. 

The first thing I do is read over the whole of the FotM and the teaching tips. I then highlight the sections of the focus that really resonant with me. As with all teachings I may not be ready to accept or feel comfortable teaching each and every aspect of what is presented. I have faith in my teacher that we must look deeply into what we are being told and to uncover the truth for ourselves. If I am not sure about a certain point in the focus I leave it and come back to it later. The sentence that I am choosing to use in tonights class at Le Yoga in Beijing is the following: 

“Our culture of materialism, exploitation and utter disregard for the well-being of other animals, all of nature and the Earth herself is inching us ever closer to a breaking point, while at the same time we are undergoing a huge shift in consciousness.” 

This is something that I truly believe and feel comfortable sharing and discussing with students who I do not know in a land that I am only superficially familiar. I do know that all beings can relate to feeling exploited for the temporary enjoyment or financial use of another. We can look around and see the pollution and the correlating ills in the external and internal environment. Each day, if we are willing we can discover our own ignorance, expose our prejudices to the light of inquiry thereby shifting our consciousness.

We will begin tonights class (a three hour inversion workshop) with these ideas. Most people are afraid of what it means to turn the world upside down as it will necessarily mean looking at the world in a new way. Confronting fear of our normal way of being as well as the instinct to “play it safe” even though the short term gains are minuscule in comparison to the long term detriment. 

If we can look at ourselves in a new light perhaps there is hope to alleviate the suffering of others as well. Peace, Love and Vegetables. 

Friday, October 4, 2013


The moon waxes and wanes, shines and hides. In either case it is not by its own doing. Meaning it produces neither light nor dark. Instead it is the ability to reflect the light around it that allows the moon to shine. With movement it slips out of the suns path and seems to disappear. This dance of the moon can serve as a reminder of our own inner dance. When we shine, it is our ability to reflect the light around us that enables the radiance. When we find ourselves in a darker place it is due to our own choice of movement and our karmic orbit, which we have created. A good goal can be to remember our capacity to radiate is intricately linked to our ability to find the light in this world, invite it towards us and like the moon, reflect that light onwards, sharing it with all who wish to see.

Peace, Love and Vegetables

Friday, September 20, 2013


Greetings from sunny Tokyo. What a trip this has been... Coming to Japan is always a highlight of my teaching travels. The Jivamukti Satsang that is here is very dear to me. I have been coming to Japan since the end of 2007. Many of the students who come to my class have been coming for the past 6 years. I am both honored and humbled by the dedication and long term commitment that I experience every time I am here.

Day one was spent at Be Yoga with the incredible Kumiko Mack. Two early morning Pranayama classes and afternoon Open and Basic classes. I took a picture with Kumiko but I had lost some weight!!!!

Walking around I came across a panda eating a power bar....

This is Lili an amazing Jivamukti Teacher in Tokyo with an interesting eye mask...upside down.

 The next class happened at Nirvana Yoga Studio. The class was not only sold out but some people opted to practice in the hallway outside of class.

That evening we went out for dinner and this is a picture of three Japanese people taking a picture of the Indian food we were about to eat. I am always amused by that.

Train to Yokohama

The following day we did a video shoot for Yoga Log on Jivamukti assists, veganism and the focus of the month. Why we have one and why it is sooooo practical. Its like we get a little cup  full of the ocean every month which we can slowly taste and examine. 

 This bottle is in the bathroom of the place that I am staying. Hilarious and practical...vigorous activity!!!!

Lili and I walking around Harajuku

A great teacher and friend Govinda Kai. He and co lead a Kirtan with Mahiro 

One of my favorite parts of visiting Japan is being able to take Jivamukti classes in Japanese. I was lucky enough to practice with the one and only Padmini at a great yoga studio call UTL. If you have not noticed I am wearing the same shirt almost everyday. Best to keep it simple

The lovely Lili in the newest Tokyo fashion. Always good to travel with a professional stylist. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A journey to India with Sharonji part 2

We flew out of JFK and there was a pigeon in the airport and of course we spent the first 10 minutes feeding the birds. Sharonji always has her seeds with her.

I always try to do at least a small practice when I fly. I was doing a headstand in the back of the plane and the flight attendant asked if he could take a picture of me and I said only if he would take one with my phone as well...

We arrived to Delhi on the 23rd of January. It was the first time either of us had been this airport in 17 years  and for me it was my first time back. 

Sharonji was taken aback by the modernity of it. Of course her remembrance of it was different than what she was now seeing.She was very into the huge mudras on the wall above the imiigration counters.

We took a car to Braj. It took 4 hours and on the way we got a flat tire. Our driver changed the tire by himself pretty quickly but did not even pull off the road.

Braj is an area in Uttar Predesh that is the home of many of the Krishna Lilas and it was home to Shyamdasji for over 40 years. We did not make it to India in time to be there for the cremation and that may have been a blessing. I was not excited to see the trauma from the accident and preferred to remember the Shyamdas that was in my mind. We did make it in time for the first of many ceremonies that took place at different locations in Braj. The first was a fire ceremony by the side of Surabhi Kund. It is famous in the lore of Krishna as the place where Indra asked for forgiveness from Krishna via Surabhi. (An interesting story if you care to look it up). Shyamdasji's son David, Vallabhdas, Adam, Govind and myself shaved our heads and bathed before the ceremony. Below is Govind getting his head shaved and the beginning of the fire ceremony.

The lady in the black hat on the right is Shyamdasji's mother Gloria Schaffer who was once the Secretary of State for Connecticut. In the picture below Sharonji and Radhanath Swami offering prayers during the ceremony. And below that is a larger picture of the Kund (lake) but I could not get a shot of the whole thing, but you can see the ceremony happening in the background.
The 2nd day took place at another Kund called Soron Har Ganga. It is honored and respected as the Ganga although there did not seem to be any inflow from the actual river. It was a 2 hour drive from where were staying. On the way we stopped for tea and I made some friends. After that I looked around a bit and was saddened by what I saw. Much of the country side including where we were staying had been very polluted by plastic and in some cases raw sewage. 

The ceremony took place on the steps and this is where some of the ashes from Shyamdasji's cremation were placed.

Each person touched another by the shoulder or arm so that each of us was in contact with those who leading the ceremony and with each other. It was very powerful.

The last image is a verse from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verse 13. 

Just as in the physical body of the embodied being is the process of childhood, youth, old age; similarly in the transmigration from one body to another the wise are never deluded.

Yogis strive to see the process for what it is...a process and that the essence of a being is beyond that.

Chapter 2 Verse 17

But know that by whom the entire physical body is pervaded is indestructible. No one is able to cause the destruction of the imperishable soul.

This was a powerful day and afterwards we went to Vrindavan and ate at the ISKON temple there. 

Day 3 needs its own blog.... 

A journey to India with Shyamdasji Part 1

People often assume that since I am a yoga teacher that I am a fan of India as a place. This is not true. Or at least it has not been true for a long time. My first experience in India was when I was 13. I asked my teacher and Uncle... David Life, if I could join him on a trip. Long story short, he said yes. Being in India is a bit of a blur. I remember going to Ashtanga every morning for two months and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois keeping me on baddhakonasa for many weeks and him standing, one dry heavy foot on each thigh, on top of me saying breath... I was 13 from from the Lower East Side of NYC, I was not really into it.

Afterwards we made our way north, with a few stops we arrived in Gokul. Birthplace of Krishna and home to Shyamdas. This was a highlight for me. Spending time by the Yamuna, Mohan (Shyamdas's friend, assistant, right hand) taught me how to cook different thing including bread in a cow dung fire. Tasted pretty good!!!! Once you get over the part about it being cooked in poo. Cow dung has played an essential role in India providing everything from fire for cooking to plaster for walls. Shyamdas would take David and I out to the river for long walks or through the town's bazaars.

Any way, 3 months  total and when I came back to New York and I swore off yoga. I thought it was terrible. Vegetarianism as well. It was for the birds and I was not really a bird person either. On one of our trips in Mysore we went to a aviary where a huge pelican type bird pooped all over me as soon as I walked in.

It was a while before I came back to yoga, a few years of not really speaking with Sharon and David. They knew about India and they let me go anyway. I was bitter.

Fast forward 17 years later and I am teaching yoga, vegan but still not wanting to go back to India. I also started speaking with Sharonji and Davidji again...notice the ji's...

Shyamdas had stayed a friend the whole time and a very dear teacher. We would always talk about me going to visit him in India or him coming with me on a trip to Japan. We would email each other every so often trying to make it work. But inside I did not really want to go back to India. I said to Davidji once that the only way I am going back to India is if Shyamdas promises to host me and look after me otherwise I have no desire.

I was open to the idea of traveling with Shyamdas because I knew something about him tha you might not pick up on right away. He was in touch. He was in touch in so many ways it would be impossible to really give a fair descrption. However two things always played in my mind to allow me to even contemplate a trip back. Shyamdas was in touch with the deep and esoteric teachings of Braj. He was part of a lineage that very few westerners get a glimpse of. He was the only westerner that I met that was translating the teaching of Shri Vallabhacharya. He spoke Hindi, Sanskrit and Braj Basi. After living in India for the better part of 40 years he was in touch with the people and the teachings but also the fruit the teachings talk about.

Every time someone came back from a trip with him they would always exclaim how amazing it was that everyone knew Shyamdas, the sadhus, the saints, the people in the shops, the priest at the temples. He was in touch with the teachings and the land to the extent that they were almost non-different. He was at ease everywhere because of it.

Shyamdasji left his body on Jan 20th. I received an email from Sharonji the night (NYC time) after it happened (Goa).

"Do you want to come with me to India Jules?" Sharon asked me the next day. Without a second thought I said yes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The one who is generous and protects

Aparigraha and Veganism
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah (PYS II.39)
When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born. 

     Every November for many years Jivamukti has some kind of focus of the month that reflects an ethical vegetarian diet. For some of us who may not live in the U.S. or Canada this may seem a bit strange or abstract. In the States and Canada we have a holiday that is called Thanksgiving (Japan actually has a national holiday on Nov 23rd that was adopted during the American occupation also called Labor Thanksgiving Day...prior to that it was called Niiname-sai and celebrated the harvest). Many stories abound on when, why and how this holiday started in the states. In school I was taught that it was due to a good harvest that was only possible with the help of the "Native Americans" in the region of Plymouth, Massachusetts, perhaps the  Wampanoag but it has been a long time since I had a class on the first thanksgiving. However what I do know is that many of the original settlers were dying. Their crops ha been failing and it was the native people of the regions who helped them to survive and taught them the ways in which they could farm. Also having a Thanksgiving feast was not an uncommon practice in Europe. On occasions when there was a good harvest or some special occasion a feast would be held that celebrated the gifts that God had bestowed upon the people. There were also days of fasting when people thought a penance needed to be made because of something bad happening like a draught.
     In either case whether feast or famine human beings have always recognized the central importance of food. That is why you find feast and food wherever there are sacred festivals. The word festival comes from the same word as feast and often was used in conjunction with a church holiday or you could say a religious celebration. When one ate a sacred thing, when one was very aware that what was on their plate was a divine gift and gave them some form on communion with the world and the spiriti or one might say the divine spirit around them.
    Now more often than not when we eat, unless it is some special occasion many people do not have this same feeling about having a feast or festival. The rituals still exist but in many cases they have become devoid of their original meaning. We no longer see eating as the most intimate connection we have with this divine creation we call earth; a connection through which we actually embody the plants and animals of this earth and bring them into us and they become the cells of this body and become the energy that allows us to walk and talk, sing and dance, listen and speak.
     The act of eating is the act of transforming energy. We all know this on some level, no one has to tell us to eat or that it is important. We all have the desire, we all know that if we do not eat we will be ill and eventually die. The two times that we universally come together in most, if not all cultures, to stop and pause and take in the great mystery, is at death with funerals and at meals with prayers and grace. We all know that eating is a profoundly meaningful action.
     Traveling around the world I realized many of these things and recently, a few years ago, another idea came to my mind. I was having a discussion in San Francisco over dinner. A person who was eating with me made the comment "I could never be vegetarian. I grew up poor and all I could afford was vegetables. Now I live in America, I have a good job and I am going to eat meat." Eating vegetables he associated with being poor. Meaning that vegetables are more easily raised and sold at an affordable rate as they use less resources and that those who could exploit because of their position in society and the amount of money they had set themselves apart by eating meat. In effect eating meat was a sign of being wealthy. The fact that the further you go back in time, no matter the culture the more vegetarian food we find in the diet. In Europe, Asia, Africa many of the people ate what came from the earth more so then they did meat. As cultures "advanced" we find the consolidation of resources into the hands of a few, the wealthy landlords, kings and rulers that used the labor of the poor for agriculture to create a farming and herding culture.
     The word capital comes from the Greek word capita which meant a head of cattle (probably sheep or goats). The more capita or cattle you had, the more wealthy. No one can argue that it takes more resources to raise animals for food then it does to raise vegetables for food. We have terms like peasant bread on one side and a rich diet on the other. Most forms of cancer or physical disease that are caused by diet in our modern world are linked to rich diets. Of course we have places in the world where people are dying because they do not have enough food or are malnutrition and we also have some people who get sick from a vegetarian diet as they are no well informed on how to eat. With both of these exceptions if we look closely we can see they are linked to raising animals for food to a certain extent.
     John Robbins in his book A Diet for a New America he says that producing one pound of beef takes 15 pounds of grain and that if America cut its beef consumption by 10 percent it would be enough to save 16 million pounds of grain." That is roughly the same amount of grain to feed the population expected to die of starvation in the world. Would America even sell it at a price that other much poorer nations could afford is another issue. The fact remains that the planet produces more food than all the humans can eat. We have a shortage of food in many places because of the unequal distribution of resources and how we produce food, not that we cannot produce enough.
     Since we have this complex that meat is for the wealthy, we see many countries that try to mimic what we do in the west suffering as we. Diabetes has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a major cause of death with 347 million people suffering worldwide and over 3 million people dying every year from high blood sugar. Many causes are suggested but it is interesting to note that meat and dairy are insulin inhibitors. Adopting a vegetarian diet has been proven to reverse type 2 diabetes and in one very interesting study affect even type 1. Heart disease and many other forms of physical illness are easily reversed by adopting a vegetarian diet and having a healthy active lifestyle.
     The word aparigraha can be broken down to get a better understanding of the implications of the word. Pari means "all around" and graha is "grab" so parigraha is to grab all around. To grab at things and hold them to us for whatever reason, fear, desire, fashion or spirituality. Adding a short a is a negative meaning not. So aparigraha means not to be grabbing all around. Janma is "ones birth", Kathamtha is "purpose" and Sambodhah is knowledge. The verse is saying that when one stops taking more than one needs they gain the knowledge of the purpose of this life. To get a better understanding I had to contemplate the opposite. How would taking more than one needs cause confusion and block knowledge. Well when we are only concerned about what we can get we block out the needs of others or at the very least the needs of others takes a back seat. We create a division and see the others needs as less then ours. When that happens we think it is ok to hurt them, we minimize their existence we diminish their purpose. I believe that anytime we diminish the life's purpose of another we diminish our own. When we hurt another we have to harden ourselves and in so doing shut down a feeling part of our being that is essential in understanding of our own purpose.
     Many being grab at things around them to get an understanding of where they are and this is natural. We are seeking purpose and understanding. However we can very easily become burned by the things we hold onto, weighed down by that which we grab onto. This happens when we have a meat based diet...literally. Our life becomes about short sighted gains based on taste, fashion and societal acceptance all of which fade easily. All of the great saints and sages were not remembered for what they did for themselves but what they did for others. The became light and shining beings by letting go of those things that did not serve them or those around them. I am not saying everyone should be vegan or vegetarian nor that to be happy or understand your life you have to stop eating meat. I am saying that it may be easier for us. I am saying that it would be easier on the resources of the world and the very fragile environments that we see being crippled all around us. Give it some thought...