Saturday, January 14, 2017

Moving toward stillness

If joy and the pursuit of knowledge is the solitary goal of your yoga, spiritual, religious or scientific practice, then this is not for you. If you practice inside to be more mindful and feel good only to go outside without paying attention to how and what you eat, what you buy and how your spending affects others, then this is not for you. This is for those who understand that real growth comes with growing pains, sacrifice and ceaseless examination of self and others. This is for those whose motivating force is the desire and belief that through their actions, even if in some seemingly small way, the world can and will change. 

"We are usually thinking all the time, aren't we? Not that we live in order to think, but the opposite isn't true, either – that we think in order to live. I believe, contrary to Descartes, that we sometimes think in order not to be. Staring into space might be unintentionally actually have the opposite effect" 
-Haruki Murakami from a short story entitled Where I'm Likely To Find It. 

After 21 days of silence and meditation, I have been asked numerous times how it was and if I have any insights or experiences worth sharing. For the record, 21 days really isn't that long to be in silence and strict meditation. That said, it is certainly long enough to drive some people crazy. To borrow from Dickens, "it was the best of times it was the worst of times." I had moments of wanting to scream and run away and moments which showed me things about myself and the world that are both beautiful and beyond language. 

One main thing that I was able to take from the 3 weeks at the temple is a renewed sense of purpose in being alive at this precarious moment in time. This purpose includes an array of responsibilities and a huge amount of love and respect for parents, teachers, friends and family.

I'm not going to share the parents, friends and family part as it’s personal. However, at the risk of sounding cliché, if there is an unresolved issue with your family or friends, now may be a good time to get over yourself and address it. Otherwise, deep work on the spiritual path will be greatly hindered. If your loved ones are no longer living, there are still many ways to send loving kindness to them.

As for my teachers category, I also include the sangha and the community that supports the teachings via the teachers. 

I am incredibly grateful to Sharon Gannon and David Life for all they have done. I am incredibly grateful for those who find the teachings of Jivamukti meaningful in such a way that they choose to live by the teachings and lead by example.

As information becomes more and more available, it’s easy to find instruction which helps us to become more aware of how our actions affect the whole of creation on both subtle and gross levels. It’s equally as easy to become overwhelmed and distracted. I understand that the Jivamukti Method is not the only way to practice spiritually. My reaffirmation of faith in Jivamukti is not in disparagement of other ways of being, it is in fact the opposite. The Jivamukti Method forces me to investigate as many ways of being in this world as possible. Sharon and David have never once discouraged me from following the Dharma wherever I felt it leading me. True, for those with an immature world view and concerned with differences, this can be a dangerous path and has at times caused in me confusion. 

This last round of looking into another practice has been revolutionary in the true sense of the meaning. There has been a revolution in me, or you could say I have come full circle. I am back to where I began, with Jivamukti Yoga. 

It's not like I took this opportunity thinking I would go off on my own and create JulesYoga™ or become a Buddhist, or anything of the sort. It is true that the beings most important to us and with us everyday somehow become invisible. They are not just taken for granted, but dismissed outright as commonplace. The beings most important to us are extraordinary. Our respect imbues these beings with significance and keeps them close to our heart so they continue to inspire. 

All of this to say that if your spiritual practice, religious practice, scientific practice... whatever category you place the moving of your life into, if those ways of being, individually and collectively, do not question cultural norms, bring about investigation into problems of the world and in so doing, bring about solutions, ingenuity and a growing sense of solidarity, then you most likely need to fundamentally question what you are doing. Especially for those who consider themselves on a spiritual or religious path, I implore to ask if the world is not a better place because of your practice what is the point? For those of us who are constantly looking for the balance between knowledge, faith, confidence, energy, mindfulness and spiritual activism, I thank you and humbly bow to you. I bow to my teachers and to the sangha. 

Thank you Steve Sager for the fantastic edits to this post.

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.