Wisdom from the Motherland, India
This morning after my beach walk and meditation the fishermen called me over to help them pull their net out of the sea. They tug and heave this seemingly endless rope (far heavier than I expected) to the rhythms of devotional chanting. Though I couldn’t understand the words as my hands gripped the rough wet rope and I gazed down its long line into the sea, my heart swelled with so much love for this big blue life force and gratitude for life itself. Every day I am humbled and inspired by the devotional spirit of this country and it’s people and embrace the deeper meaning of a yoga lifestyle.
So far I’ve spent my time in India with two very different masters. First with the hugging Amma, perhaps the most powerful woman I’ve had the chance to be around in my life. A true master of Bahkti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, her endurance for giving seems endless and quite honestly beyond my comprehension.
Over the week I spent at her ashram I watched her give Darshan four times, which means she hugged all day long the thousands of people who came from all over India and the world to be in her presence and receive her blessing.
And when I say all day long I mean ALL day! The Darshans started at 11am and she literally sat on stage hugging, talking to, laughing with and consoling people until 1am with one or two breaks if that. I stayed up until the end both my first night and last floored by her laughing and smiling face even in the wee hours of the morning after giving to “her children” for over 13 hours.
I have to admit I was initially freaked out by the cultish vibe if the ashram and actually ran away on day two after I got my hug, only to make the taxi turn around and return and hour later overwhelmed by an inexplicable and powerful feeling that if I ran away now it would be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
I need to dedicate a whole blog to that story and Amma (stay tuned), but suffice it to say for now she showed me through example the tremendous power of love and selfless giving, two of the foundational principles of a yoga lifestyle. And also that leading by example will effect potent action in others.
She not only gave hugs, but lead chanting, meditations and Q and A sessions. On New Year’s Eve she didn’t just sit there and give orders, but got her hands dirty with the other helpers furiously filling cups with pisam, the sweet offering of Prasad she gave to the over three thousand people in attendance. And this then mobilized the crowded to help by passing the pisam around and washing and reusing cups until each and every person there received a cup. It was astounding and after all that (as well as giving hugs all day) she got up on stage and started dancing in celebration to the musicians and getting the Indian party started.
The ripple out effect of her giving is that she inspires others to do their own selfless giving and this has resulted in both local and global initiatives for women’s rights, environmental stewardship, educating and feeding impoverished communities and children and so much more. Through living and breathing Bhakti she inspires others to do the same.
Shortly before leaving on this trip I had a great conversation with meditation teacher and behind the scenes guru of our studio Nicky about what makes a great teacher. She said a true teacher both inspires and holds us to expectations.
I’m finding this true both with the big gurus I’m meeting like Amma, as well as the day to day gurus like the fisherman expecting me to join them if I was going to enter and take pictures of their world and the Indian school girls who made me promise to find a home for the abandond street puppy I stopped to cuddle.
This was exactly the point made last night by the other, and dramatically different, master I’ve just spent some time with here. Lino Miele, an intense and funny Italian man in his 60s who studied with the great guru and founder of the ashtanga method Pattabhi Joyce since the 80s and authored a book under his guidance about the method.
“Do it and all is coming, that is what Joyce told us,” he exclaimed in a thick Italian accent with hands flying. “We don’t exactly know what is coming, but the point is, do it! Don’t just think, act. Get out of mind. Breathe. Act. This is the yoga of action. Karma yoga. We create our own karma through our actions.”
This 63 year old has a tremendous amount of endurance, vitality and passion for giving to his students. Six days a week students arrive to practice with him starting at 4:30am and stream in for the rest of the morning with the last ones leaving around 11:30am. I’ve been assigned to the last wave of students as a new arrival and have stayed long enough many mornings to see him roll out his mat for practice after teaching and assisting for six to seven hours. Needles to say: inspired.
Throughout those hours of students practicing at their own pace the ashtanga sequence you’ll often hear, “No. Do again. Like this.” You feel Lino along with his team of assistants watching attentively the packed room of students and quickly stepping in to correct, teach or adjust. This is the ashtanga method, and while the watchful gaze does create a little pressure, it also makes me feel really cared for.
This element of expectation and accountability is actually one of he most profound aspects of this method. You’re expected to learn and remember the sequence and do the practice yourself in time with your own breath.
There is no escaping or hiding what’s really happening inside. Distractions, forgetfulness, frustration, ego, comparison, laziness or fatigue quickly come to the surface. Each time it’s a reminder to come back to the present. To focus the mind inward. To be in the now and listen to the inner teacher, take responsibility for each of your actions, one breath at a time.
To do. To take action. To creat your karma by leaving each breath consciously.
This isn’t a one time realization, this is a practice for a lifetime. This is why we do asana and meditation every day, the practice itself holds us accountable and becomes our greatest teacher.
In this motherland of yoga I’m reminded that practicing Yoga isn’t about perfect handstands or even being fit and healthy, but about cultivating deeper connections, first to yourself and then to all the beings around you. Yoga after all is often translated to mean union.
It takes daily practice, action and dedication and inevitably it opens our hearts. With our hearts open we’re inspired to care for others selflessly. With our hearts open we somehow can tap into an endless source of energy like Amma. So practice practice and trust that all is coming.
Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free.
Join me in an essential part of yoga practice: purification. Each year I lead a New Year’s yoga detox that focuses not only on detoxing body and diet but also on mind, heart, space and so much more so that we are open to living in deeper connection to ourselves and others.
New Years Yoga Detox starts Jan 31, every Sunday at 7pm for three weeks. Location: Qi Yoga in Freshwater.
For the last part of my India journey I’ll be doing intensive study at the Kerala Ayurveda Academy and will be filled full of more wisdom to share in the upcoming detox and in class. Can’t wait!
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