Desikachar Interview from 1995

Mark Whitwell receiving a blessing from his teacher TKV Desikachar

Mark Whitwell receiving a blessing from his teacher TKV Desikachar

I recently found a box of old Yoga Journal magazines left outside one of the studios I teach at, and I couldn't help but bring most of them home. It's interesting to see how the magazine and the yoga world has changed since the 80s and 90s — and how much has stayed the same.

I was delighted to find an interview with TKV Desikachar written by my teacher Mark Whitwell in an issue from October 1995, featuring Ram Dass on the cover ("Be Old Now"!). It's a wonderful interview where Desikachar speaks at length about what it was like living and learning with his father, the legendary "teacher of the teachers" T. Krishnamacharya.

I've scanned the article and posted it here for those of you that might be interested. 

Enjoy!
Brian

Happy New Year!

Like every year, 2016 had it's ups and downs but it feels like the fluctuations of life are even more heightened these days. Life is a roller coaster and sometimes we just want it to stop! So what can we do? Thankfully, Hatha Yoga offers us a sane response to these crazy times by helping us stay connected to our center, which has a grounding and stabilizing effect on every aspect of our life.

Engage in a daily breath and movement practice to develop physical strength and stability, cultivate mental calm and clear focus, and open your heart to a greater sense of connection and purpose by participating in the union of opposites: inhale/exhale, strength/receptivity, earth/sky, inner/outer. When you participate in the play of opposites your unchanging, immovable, deepest Self is revealed as the witness to it all, and you begin to relax into your natural state of peace, calm and equanimity.

Upcoming classes: musicmovementmedicine.com/calendar

Wishing you all peace and prosperity in the New Year. 
OM Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!

<3 Brian James

Here Comes The Sun

(L-R) TKV Desikachar, his wife Menaka, students Sonia Nelson, Kate Holcombe, Chase Bossart

(L-R) TKV Desikachar, his wife Menaka, students Sonia Nelson, Kate Holcombe, Chase Bossart

 

“Everyone loves the sun. It is a very good focus for meditation because it brings warmth, light, clarity and is like a good friend who is always there even when you can’t see them.”
— TKV Desikachar

 

Today is the day after the Winter Solstice, a time to honour the teachings of the darkness and celebrate a returning of the light. Earlier this year I travelled to Ojai California to spend time with Sonia Nelson, a longtime student of TKV Desikachar, and she taught me a mantra practice that feels appropriate to share as it invites the qualities of Gayatri, the sun as supreme creator, into our hearts.

I learned this mantra with accompanying hand gestures, called nyasa, where we extend our hands to the rising or setting sun (or with eyes closed to a visual of the sun) and as we chant the mantras we draw our hands to our heart, inviting the qualities of Gayatri to enter us. I also like to practice this with a beeswax candle, which produces a warm glow that evokes the quality of the sun's light.

OM ojosi (you, the one who glows) |
OM sahosi (you, the one who is so patient) |
OM balamasi (you, the one who is strong) |
OM gayatri mavahayami (Gayatri, come into me!) ||
 

Enjoy!

— Brian

Breathe & Relax

In my work as a yoga teacher, I meet a lot of people who are chronically stressed out and exhausted.

The symptoms include things like increased irritability, inability to focus, weight-gain and insomnia which almost always has a negative affect on their relationship with family and co-workers.

The cause of this chronic stress has a lot to do with our increased exposure to pain and suffering via the internet and social media. Our “news-feed” feeds us a constant diet of war, disaster, terrorism, violence and other traumas, and we take it all in. It’s just too much for us to digest. How could it not have an effect on our wellbeing?

“It's very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” 
— Thich Nhat Hanh

There are two very simple things we can do to alleviate some of this unnecessary suffering. Taking a cue from the Classical Yoga practice of tapas, which traditionally would involve fasting and moderating your diet, we can engage in regular “media fasting” — shutting down our smartphones and computers for a period of time every day, and even take a whole day off every now and again.

Another thing we can do to proactively reduce the stress in our lives is learn how to self-regulate our nervous system through some very simple breathing practices. Watch the video below and take 2-minutes to breathe and relax periodically throughout your day! The practice starts at 1:48.

Cultivating calm in the storm: The Breath

hathabreath.jpg

In the previous blog post, I offered some suggestions from the Classical Yoga tradition on how to cultivate a calm, serene mind when engaging with different types of people. This week, I offer another Yoga Sutra that gives us a practice to try... 

Patanjali offers us a suggestion on how to cultivate a calm, peaceful mental-emotional state (citta prasadanam) in Yoga Sutra 1.34:

प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणस्य
pracchardana vidharanabhyam va pranasya
[a peaceful, serene mind results by paying special attention] to the exhalation and the retention of the breath.

Here, Patanjali offers a clear technique of lengthening the exhalation and retaining the inhalation — known in Sanskrit as rechaka (long, slow exhalation from the belly) and kumbhaka (gently holding the breath after inhalation) — a fundamental technique of Hatha Yoga, and integral to the vinyasa method of T. Krishnamacharya, which combines yoga postures and breath work in a way that might be described as “moving meditation”.

A recent New York Times article on the benefits of controlled breathing (aka pranayama) begins with the same practice:

“Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times. Congratulations. You’ve just calmed your nervous system.”

“Studies have found [...] that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.”

Once again, modern science proves what yogis have known for centuries! 

Try this simple 2-minute breath and movement exercise to experience the calming effect of long, smooth exhaling and gentle breath retention for yourself:

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Read the full NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/learning/breathing-and-stress.html?_r=0

Cultivating calm in the storm: Patanjali's 4 Keys to Happiness

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai c. 1830

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States one week ago today has affected the people I've been interacting with in and outside of my yoga classes profoundly. Bring up Trump or Hillary Clinton and you'll likely be met with reactions of disgust, disappointment, disillusionment and depression — all the "d" emotions that are symptoms of, or lead to, dis-ease. People are making themselves sick and their anger is leading to more division and even violence.

So, what are we to do in times like these? What's the appropriate response to the hate and intolerance that Trump and his supporters are spewing?

Patanjali offers us some advice that I think is helpful not only in this particular situation, but in many of our daily interactions. In Yoga Sutra 1.33, sometimes known as the "4 Keys to Happiness," he says,

मैत्रीकरुणामुदितोपेक्षणां सुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातश्चित्तप्रसादनम्

maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

A peaceful mind results from a mental attitude of friendship (maitri) towards those who are happy, compassion (karuna) towards those who are suffering, joy (mudita) towards virtuous people and equanimity (upeksa) toward those who act poorly.

If we're being honest, I'm sure many of us will admit that we often have the opposite reaction to what Patanjali is suggesting.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling resentment or envy when others are happy, because we're not happy ourselves. But that resentment just makes us more miserable and can distance us from people who are happy, which only leads to further suffering.

When we hear of other people's suffering sometimes the response is one of indifference or disgust rather than empathy and compassion. This might be because we can't relate to the people who are suffering, or in the case of family members or friends who seem to be constantly depressed or upset, it can be frustrating to deal with them if we're unable to empathize with their suffering.

Sometimes when we see people doing good work in the world, we might cynically refer to them as "white knights", "social justice warriors" or "do-gooders" — perhaps reflecting our own shame around feelings that we're not doing enough good in the world or feeling that we lack the same kind of purpose and drive.

And often when we see someone acting dishonestly or indecently — like Donald Trump — our reaction tends to be one of anger and hatred. It seems to be a natural response, but is it helpful? Not if we want to cultivate more peace and tolerance in the world. Adding hatred to hatred is a recipe for more hatred, which inevitably boils over into violence. Instead, can we remain calm and centered, even when faced with a difficult and challenging character like Trump?

It becomes a deep practice to work on cultivating feelings of friendship, compassion, joy and equanimity — noticing our initial "natural" (conditioned) response and reflecting on how it may, or may not be leading us toward the kind of life that we want to live and the kind of relationships we want to have.

Can we gain enough distance from our "natural reaction" to see that people like Donald Trump or his supporters are acting poorly because of their own suffering? Or that supporting those that are doing good in the world helps create the kind of world we want and makes us happier in return?

In the coming weeks I'll be offering some suggestions from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra on how to cultivate more mental clarity and steadiness through regular practice so that we can experience more space between cause and effect and remain anchored in our heart. The only hope for this world is for us to remain calm in the storm so that we can respond with the compassion, kindness and positive action that is so needed in the world right now. Because if we don't, then I'm afraid we're all sunk, and personally, I'm not ready to go down with the ship quite yet.

<3 Brian

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Be your own authority

“Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.”

— Bruce Lee

I shared this quote from my first guru Bruce Lee in class the other day because his words relate just as much to your yoga practice as they do to developing yourself as a martial artist. It suggests that the ultimate authority is your own direct experience, something that is also suggested by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra 1.7 which reads:

प्रत्यक्षानुमानाअगमाः प्रमाणानि 
pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni
Insight arises from direct perception, conclusions, or learning that are based on reliable sources.

My advice? Listen to the suggestions of your teachers and the scriptures but try it out for yourself for a period of time and observe the results to decide for yourself whether it's something you want to keep on practicing. Ultimately it might not be the thing you need, but maybe it's something that could benefit one of your students some day, or yourself down the road.

Stay ever curious and be open to the possibility of innovation, to the things that you discover in your practice. For Yoga to remain a living, breathing tradition, it needs sincere practitioners who are exploring for themselves the application of practice in the context of their modern circumstance.

Peace,
Brian

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