Fly Your Prayers

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Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, the list goes on. So much darkness all around. There is too much loss, one too many people displaced, everywhere there is suffering. And from practically everywhere, too, at least a week ago, after the attack on Paris, prayers were launched via hashtags towards the darkest places on the planet at that moment. A week on and social media is now abuzz with the backlash from all sides: criticism and fear-mongering.

What to do now? Where do we all go from here? Incredibly big questions for incredibly complex problems, which have a whole lot of history that needs, first, understanding, and then careful and steady undoing. What happens now to all these prayers?

Over the months here in San Francisco, I have had the great opportunity to explore the ashtanga practice and intention-making as medicine with some amazing teachers. There is a great healing energy that comes with declaring one’s clear and simple prayer. It is personal, our prayers are our own but they are also universal. Your prayer for peace and happiness and love–guess what, everyone wants that too! We forget that, ultimately, we want and deserve the same things, yet we continue to build walls of separation–personal and physical and political boundaries.

When we come to our mats and we practice, we open with a mantra. In the western yoga community, there’s a lot of sensitivity about what that is. For me, it’s a prayer. The essence of this prayer honors the great process of being led from darkness to light. We sound this out and then we practice. We plant this sound, this seed, into our body and then we nourish it with our breath, our movement and our attention. And whoever has been really practicing knows that this prayer becomes alive, it grows in the body and blooms in one’s life.

When we practice, we fly our prayer. It grows wings and it soars.

It’s really good to see people express their prayers, their hopes, even their admonishments during these difficult times because it shows that we as a community of human beings acknowledge that the world should not be like this. But how do we now live in these prayers, how do we breathe life into them, and walk into them with grace, how do we take these hashtags and sounds and ideas and bring them into a living practice that can support substantial change?

I feel personally challenged by this, how can I be this prayer, for myself as much as for everyone else.  I know it will look different for me in my life as it will for someone else. But I hope that we all start to do so, to really live in these prayers.

I want to close with a poem from Rumi that a friend sent a couple of days ago just as I was starting to write this blog. These questions are very old and perhaps we should defer to wisdom of the Sufi poet:

What will our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hurts wanting to play, the way wings should?

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered the strength from the planets that all man and woman need to balance the wonderful charms of the earth?

So that her power and beauty does not make us forget our own.

I know all about the ways of the heart-how it wants to be alive.

Love so needs to love that it will endure almost anything, even abuse, just to flicker for a moment. But the sky’s mouth is kind, its song will never hurt you, for I sing those words.

What will the children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?

Another World: Mysore SF

There are no signs here. No glitzy window dressings or clear glass where one might peek through and see yoga bodies. There is no merchandising. There is a door with a push-button code. Ok, the building, a dance annex, isn’t exactly non-descript, but the eye-catching yet abstract design that swirls and flows on the edifice mysteriously pulls one in—just like the practice that is going on upstairs in the early hours of the morning. This is Mysore SF.

Many Mysore spaces that I’ve visited has that in common. It’s low key. Usually not affiliated with a mainstream yoga corporation. It doesn’t dress up the practice. oys got its own energy, attitude. There is usually a great deal of condensation on the windows. The feeling of shanti or peace is not accomplished by burning incense or the sweet tones of new aged devotional chanting; it happens through consistent daily practice, a lot of patience, hard work, and on occasion a healthy dose of struggle just to remind you that you are alive and still well up for fighting the good fight. It is a room where people breathe and move. And if you stick with it, it’s a place where a kind of alchemy starts to happen.

I am always impressed and in awe of how practice evolves and translates in different countries, in different cities and spaces, and in the hands of different teachers–who, especially when they are teaching authentically, are all pretty unique. How distinct it feels and yet how it remains constant and true to the essence of Ashtanga yoga. So it is here, the same as everywhere, and yet also different. 

Like the fog here in San Francisco, students surely but quietly roll in, unfurling their mats like wings, breathing and moving, fogging up the windows, then rolling up their mats, returning the next morning to repeat the process. There is a steadiness to it, it’s substantial but also light. Like the morning fog rolling into the city, you can count on it. For me, coming into work these days is like watching the day break, seeing the world waking.


For more information, visit: http://www.mysoresf.com.

Turning Wheels

Things go round and round. It is a constant, this wheel of life, constantly, surprisingly changing. And yet, there is a cycle to it all. Some motif that repeats, a reminder or a landmark, which often gives us a certain context: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we are going.

In many ways, practice is like a wheel in movement. It is the constant in a changing self-scape. It is also the vehicle physically moving us from one shape to another, but also moving us from one state to another.

There seems to be innumerable “wheels” and such out there, tools for transport, for self-exploration, for greater understanding. San Francisco, where I have landed–or, rather, where I am still landing at–feels like that kind of place for me. I arrived here at the age of 10 as a young immigrant with my family. I returned as a university student at Berkeley. Some years ago, I arrived quite lost, an accidental tourist with the sole intention of securing a ten-year visa to India to study yoga, which at that time was all I could think of. And now, here I am again. This time, to do what I love, which is sharing from the rich yoga tradition that has both changed me in so many countless ways and has made me more tuned into who I really am.

It is a sight. When we see these wheels turning. That is a great part of the joy of teaching for me: to see glimpses of other people’s wheels in action through their practice. But to see it one’s life, to observe it, to feel driven by it, and to eventually also take the wheel…

A great part of this new turning is me coming to teach with Magnolia Zuniga at Mysore SF. For more information: http://www.mysoresf.com

Menu du Jour: Love

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The best practice days aren’t necessarily the ones where you are flying or when you’re so limber that tying yourself into a knot is as easy as tying your shoelace–though I suspect those days are pretty darn good too.

For me, the best days are the days that are just plain loving. It’s the day you love yourself enough to be kind to your–at times poor, tired, beaten up–body or spirit. They are the days that you look around loving the people you practice with, how they awe and inspire you with the gracefulness and graciousness. They are the days you get to bow and be grateful to your teacher, as he/she watches carefully, choosing just the right moment to guide you. They are the days you realize that you are simply in love with your practice–not attached, but truly in love, and really, really grateful. 

No matter what it looks like, no matter what it feels like, if it’s full of love, it is full of that integrating light of yoga.

PHOTO: I am feeling full of love and gratitude to the practice and to the path as I get ready to fly from Manila to San Francisco, where I will be teaching starting May.

Being Builders

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A good question: what are we building today?

The Ashtanga practice teaches us how to be builders, how to build strength, stamina, how to build our focus and a steady foundation on which to stand, on which to live.

Sometimes this building comes with a fair amount of destruction, retrofitting. It is necessary to pull things down in other to build up properly.

But the essence of the work is the making of ourselves, our growing, externally, yes, but mostly a deep kind of construction. How do we expand our breath, our minds, our spirit? How to we grow beyond our perceived limits?

PHOTO: Children really know where it’s at. A lunch with Manila friends and their children in Shangrila-la Edsa led me to this Lego store. We are surely born to build things.

Living Color

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The vibrancy of life here is catchy.
The spontaneity of vehicles,
conversational honking, traffic
softly swerving around tumeric-colored
cows that seem to own the street,
jangling bells of sadus, slapping
of laundry–all fireworks of day to day living.

My appetite for color grows in India.
Everyday I choose to wear more color,
and each day more colors on top of each other.
My eyes do not grow tired of it, just as
my stomach is everyday adjusting to
an assault of spices. India is
that perfect balance of hard and gentle.
It is always too much and never too much.
A perfect place for yoga to happen.

PHOTO: No prose–for that matter, no poem–could possibly verbalize the month that I’ve spent here already. I can only say it continues to unfold beautifully, colorfully, mysteriously, with a lot of joy and also struggle. It is a blessing to be here as a student, to humbly bow to my teacher each morning after class, to use this time to heal my travel weary body and rebuild my personal practice.

 

 

The Wonder

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We seek out these moments, where we stand before these massive monuments of wonder. And we stand with awe, speechless, feeling the thing that appears greater than the self.

We want to be shaken. We want to stir that something deep within the self. We want awakening.

In the beginning, our yoga journey is filled with such a-ha! moments. But later, over time, as practice steadies, they come with less frequency. And we long, oh how we long for such moments, for such great openings.

What if we looked upon the everyday with as much wonder? What if we celebrated each and every seemingly insignificant moment? What if we felt the wonder of the act of waking up each morning, felt the reverence of standing before our mats with the sun shining in, the sanctity of simply moving, of simply breathing, of simply being, of simply living, glorifying the wonder of everyday things?

PHOTO: Dashoor’s Bent Pryamid. My visit there last week reminded me of the power and mystery of life, but also reminded me that I should look at my life, in all of it’s greatness and ordinariness, with a similar awe–how amazing it is to be alive, to simply be. Looking forward to a month of weekly classes at The Shala here at Maadi in Cairo starting tomorrow till the end of October.