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Alex: Tracing the Source

We are all students of life and Yoga puts us in contact with who we truly are - beyond our wildest imagination, expectations and fears - and hopefully instils an integration of something that is uncluttered by our conditioning, something that is real at all times. But we live in a world of ups and downs, time and space, name and form so any definition we give to Yoga will naturally be coloured by our environment, exposure and context. I feel grateful to Pure Yoga for the invitation to join their Teaching Faculty. But I'm first and foremost a student of Yoga who lives nine months of the year in Mysore, India where I study Sanskrit and Yoga, and where the legendary T. Krisnamacharya began to teach Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi etc.

All of these blogs may be personal reflections, wild ramblings and fancy, but they will also give an account of interviews with other Yoga teachers, as well as common practitioners and seekers of Yoga. Yoga displays a great diversity all over the world, but hopefully in our shared efforts to articulate it, maybe we can all become a little wiser to what the great heritage of Yoga truly has to offer us?

For Alex's bio, please click here

11.07.06 in the Shala Celebrations
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois completed 91 years today. This day is not just any day, but the one day in India where spiritual teachers are honored. Guru Purnima, The Full Moon Day in the month of Guru (which normally falls on the month of July according to the Indian calendar) also happens to be Pattabhi Jois' birthday! So for anybody who studies with him, or honor him, it was an excellent opportunity to go and show ones appreciation.
Last year his birthday celebrations was celebrated on a grand scale with people visiting from all over the world as well as all the four corners of India. A special function hall was rented for the two-day celebrations and it was estimated that between 7-800 people came for his 90 years Celebration.

This year it was in his own house, in the main Yoga shala where he teaches every day. At least 300 people were present and only the lucky few who came early was lucky to get a seat on the floor. Most people had to stand along the wall or simply outside in the hallway.

The festivities begun early in the morning with a Ganapati Homa, Navagraha Homa and Ayusha Homa. Pattabhi Jois was taught the Vedas from an early age and he is well familiarized with the ritual procedures of the Indian tradition. These fire sacrifices, where certain materials are offered into the fire while accompanied by elaborate chants are performed by professional priest who have dedicated years to learning the Vedas by heart as well as the sophisticated rituals that accompany all these sacred mantras. It is an elaborate procedure with endless details to learn for proper execution and many people who come to experience it are touch by the providing sanctity that prevails once the rituals are over. Today Lord Ganapati was first honored, for removing of all obstacles, then the Nava Graha Homa was performed for removal of inauspicious influence of the Nine planets and the final ritual was Ayusha Homa, for long life and prosperity. One of the Vedic priests afterwards stood up and explained one of the concluding mantras. In short it was about long life, health and well being, and seeking the favor from the God so Pattabhi Jois would live 100 years.

After the rituals was completed, and our sins was diminished by the sanctifying fire and holy water that was passed around, we all sat in silence waiting for what would happen next.
Sharath stood up with a smile on his face and asked to make way for some dancers that would perform a Bollywood song. On the cleared space on the floor, with people squashed to the sides ten dancers stepped on for a hilarious number. Four guys and six women, all western Yoga students, danced their heart outs with roaring feedback from the astonished crowd. It was thoroughly amusing, very light hearted, performed with professional ease and another reminder of the joyful celebrations of life itself.

Afterwards people lined up to see Guruji. For more than two hours he sat quietly in his chair, receiving the long line of visitors who wanted to see him. His patience is immense and never did he deny anybody to have his or her picture taken. Nor did he complain about the rush of people pushing forward wanting to touch his feet. For the whole time he just sat there and smiled, gave generous time to greet everybody who stepped forward and as they got up he looked them in the eye with a radiant smile on his face said: 'Thank you. Thank you very much!'

Each person felt special as they left, whether somebody who had came there for the first time or a senior student who has been coming for more than ten years. Guruji's smiling presence is truly heartfelt and may he live to a hundred years to bless more people with his steady presence.

No Indian festivity or function is complete without the serving of food. And so after the dance performance we were ushered down in the car-park where Guruji had a team of twenty people who had cooked for us. Tables and chairs were spread out and we were served traditional Indian thalis on banana leaves.
The food was really yummy and of course completed with traditional sweets. My friend next to me had some difficulties eating with his right hand, but seeing the way he was licking his hands after every mouthful he must have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once our meal was completed, we washed our hands and went back up again to stand in line to meet Guruji. We had to wait for quite some time since many more people had come, but the room was filled with chirping laughter due to the festivities and it was a joy just standing there and feeling the celebrations. When we finally reached the feet of the 91-year-old legend there were only smiles, sweet smiles, so we bowed down and offered them. But it didn't end there, we are still smiling, from ear to ear, and the experience seems to be sweeter, in tremendous awe and gratitude towards a man who has dedicated his life to the teachings of Yoga. May he live to be 100 years!
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10.07.06 At Anu's Cafe Interview with Amy Yip
Here follows and interview with Amy Yip, born and raised in Hong Kong, but she is now living in Singapore. Amy was an investment banker for more than ten years, but has now slowed down a little - at least so she claims - and is now running her own global business in health supplements based out of Singapore. She is a mother of two and has brought her 17-year-old son to Mysore to come and practice Yoga for a month. She practices on a regular basis with Pure Yoga in Singapore.

Why did you come here to practice?

I have always wanted to come here and see and experience Mysore for myself ever since I started Ashtanga 2 yrs ago. I wanted to pay respect to Guruji who have helped spread this beautiful practice worldwide. I did not have any other expectations coming here.

What has been your experience so far?

I have only been here for a week by now, but so far so good - new unique experiences every day. I'm also very happy where I live, since I am living in a home-stay environment (renting a room in a house of a retired couple).

Have there been any new discoveries to your practice while you've been here?

It has been a very smooth and flowing practice. Great to have drop-back assistance everyday (although no other adjustment) and I feel that my back is really opening here! Funny that my initial soreness and shoulder pain was gone by the 5th day! No wonder someone said that practice may be your best way of letting go of stress and tension, practicing here is even better than any form massage I have had.

Why do you think so many people keep coming here?

I guess gratitude over this method and to have the opportunity to practice under the living legend Guruji.

Has it been worth your time?

Yes definitely.

Will you ever come back?

Yes and I hope to be longer than a month next time

What is your experience of India in general?

I can't say in general for India. Purely based on my 1-week in Mysore, it is quite primitive living here with very cheap costs of living, I guess you could say it is a new experience to me, but I like it.

Has this journey made an impact on your life?

Definitely it has reinforced my interest to pursue deeper into Ashtanga Yoga. I am particularly impressed by the everyday actions by the 91-yr old Guruji who is one of the best living examples of what Yoga does to you. Just seeing him walk around and feeling his aura is worth the whole trip! I will certainly try to embrace that sweetness more even in my own life from now on.

Where do you go from here?

Back home to Singapore on August 1st, to be with my family and look after my business.
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09.07.06 At home Conference
Every Sunday afternoon here at the Shala Guruji and Sharath holds what they call 'Conference'. All students are invited and people may ask whatever questions they have on Yoga. Some questions are really inquisitive others a little mundane, but whatever the question Guruji tries to answer in his broken English the best way he can. He sits there quietly in his chair and embodies a tremendous sense of gravity. His language his sometimes unclear and difficult to understand, but the energy and presence he embodies is seem to be what everybody is touched by. At times there may be long durations of silence, some students may twist and turn with agitation and discomfort, but whiteout fail, Pattabhi Jois always remains steady in his own special way of embodying Yoga.

Today many questions were asked and Guruji loves to quote from the Sanskrit tradition. Most of the texts on Classical Yoga have a steady presence on the tip of his tongue and he may quote or recite long passages from the Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita or Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The only problem is that due to his poor English he never really translates properly from Sanskrit into English, so no matter how brilliant his rhetoric may be, when he afterwards asks us: 'You understand'? Some people are left confused and bewildered and others become determined to learn Sanskrit a little better.

But all in all there is a tangible sweetness in the room and when he finally says: 'Thank you very much', most people stand up in line, ready to bow down and touch his feet. All along while the long procession step forward in order to bow down to him, he simply sits quietly and says: 'thank you very much, thank you very much' with a genuine smile on his face.
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08.07.06 At home Rest Day
Ah thank God for the Sabbath. This practice can be so intense and without time to rest and reflect we would all probably wear out in no time. Some people here get weary on a day off, nothing to do! But the intense early morning practice at the Shala takes a break every Saturday. People simply need to rest, recover, drop, sink in and do a little bit of nothing to gather strength for the week to come.

So had a nice lie-in this morning, enjoyed the lazy life, have decided to just lay lo today and do some fixing around the house. A friend is coming from Hong Kong on Monday and he deserves royal treatment. So as I get on with the washing, cleaning and fixing of the endless small details with this house, here are some notes from my diary and some reflective thoughts of arriving in India. It was dated June 1st 2006.

'Hey you need taxi, want car, rickshaw? Where are you going? Come here my friend I will take care of you'! Phew, landing in India is always the same. The moment you step out of the airport there are always dozens of people trying to surpass each other with their services. Whatever it may be, there are plenty of services at hand, but exiting the airport here, with its sounds, smell, pollution and all the crowds of people looking at me, there is always that peculiar feeling of being bereft of the numb comfort of the modern world and jolted into something that is changing every moment.

I feel a little uncertain and weary this time around because I'm supposed to be here for a nine month stretch altogether. Plan to be a full time student again and will enroll in a Vedanta degree at the Sanskrit College in Mysore. The moment I step off the plane and out into the chaotic sea of people that is India I ask myself: 'What the heck am I really up to?' Giving up a secure job and a steady income to live in a place still considered by many to be a third - world country. But the truth is India is happening fast and I cannot think of a more exciting place to be right now. This ancient civilization where certain things have remained the same for millenniums are now spurned into a whole new era due to the recent technology and boom in the IT sector. The Moguls, Dutch, Portuguese French and English may have exploited the Indian people, but now a nation is on the rise eager to take its place in the international community. In recent years the elite of the Indian graduates and other geniuses among the work force have been head hunted and bought over by leading companies around the world. But more and more people are now returning back to their motherland eager to be part of this new phase India is entering into. Soon we may have a new super power with its own financial, military and technological back-up that will no longer take the back seat in international negotiations of the state of the world. Watch out for India in the years to come!

Ok, but I'm a neither social scientist nor a predictor of the future here in India, but rather a simple student of Yoga and the Sanskrit language. India may be going through some revolutionary changes and challenges, but to me the greatest thing ever coming out of this country is the Sanskrit language and all the thoughts, ideas, philosophical systems and diversity of believes it has given rise to. Yoga is equally the most paramount thing I know, but in order to understand it a little better, I can think of nothing better than to come here to the Motherland and hopefully allow the tradition - whatever is left of it - to facilitate its own wisdom and sink in a little clearer. The highest truth - on a spiritual plane - is universal, eternal and all pervading, according to the sacred texts this ancient tradition embody. But to experience this clearly, with integration and understanding, primarily we are dependent on teachers who can embody some of this ancient wisdom that are passed down to us. If it was mere book learning we could all do it on a correspondence course but the very problem with yoga is that it is a lot more subtle than we think, and sometimes all our wild thinking has to come to an end before we may start to have glances of what Yoga truly is. But in order to have any understanding of it here and now, we must first see where we are standing, then we can better understand where we are coming from and hopefully eventually get a clearer perspective of where we are heading. Whatever our articulation of yoga may be, let's face it, it will always be contingent on the circumstances, cultural conditioning and immediate environment that we live and operate within. However for me personally, if I'm ever to understand the timeless truths mentioned in the various texts of ancient India, I can think of nothing better than being present here in India and inquire into the living traditions of what is here. To some it may appear foolish and naïve, but never the less it is worth trying, because whatever experience I've had of Yoga so far it is truly beautiful. The source of it is of course situated within our own being, but sometimes the grasp and understanding of it may take a different perspective in its place of origin.
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30.05.06 India The Source
Ok so I have landed in Mysore. It took me about two weeks to find my feet, but now I'm settled. India is always full of surprises, unexpected circumstances always occur, things take their own time. You can have an idea, plan strategy of how you want to do things, but Mother India comes in a pace of her own.

Jetting out of Hong Kong, the efficiency capital of the world, I was on a roll and wanted to do a number of things before I started College in the end of June. But planes, busses, trains, rickshaws, bullock-carts do not necessarily leave on time here and the fascination of India can be all the time you spend in-between waiting for what you are suppose to be doing. To explore that can be really interesting or highly frustrating, but more on that later.

For the first two weeks of June I went to see the old lion of Pune. www.bksiyengar.com Have the greatest respect for this old genius and wanted to spend some time with him before I came to Mysore. He was in his usual mood of roaring intensity and sweet compassion. Had the privilege of practicing with him for a few days and it was very illuminating. He gave me some good pointers to my practice and it was delivered with Beatings, Kicks and Shouting. Once we were joking and I asked him what 'BKS' Iyengar stands for, 'did it have anything to do with what I had experienced'? But he just laughed and told me it stands for 'Best Knowledge Supreme'. Ah, I think he is great, but maybe it will take me a while to figure that out. His son, Prashant Iyengar who is now the Director of the institute has a very different approach to his father. His classes are not so asana based with meticulous focus on alignment and search for perfection. To him the Yoga postures that we do are rather done for the sake of awakening the inner seer. That is his focus and methodology and he delivers his classes with a profound debt, clarity of diction and endless metaphors from the treasure house of the Indian literature. I look forward to go back and visit them again when time allows.

After Pune I stopped by in Bangalore for a few days to meet Sri Sri Ravishankar. www.artofliving.org, www.srisriravishankar.org, www.silverjubilee.org Sri Sri is a remarkable man who was heir to the TM movement set up by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But 25 years ago he turned his back on the TM movement and started his own spiritual practice called 'The Art of Living' Six months ago 2,5 million people came together close to his ashram here in Bangalore to celebrate his twenty five years of teaching. Among the guests the president of India and equal leaders from many other countries were present. Please see the last link if you can, it's really impressive! Have not really tried many of their practices, but Sri Sri is a brilliant speaker and embodies something genuinely sweet. Seeing the effect he has on all his followers I can only conclude he is doing something truly remarkable.

Ok then I finally arrived in Mysore and threw myself straight into college and full-on Yoga practice at the www.ayri.org School and practice started the day after I arrived and had no time to get settled. However I crashed with a friend first, then gradually found my own house, but the truth was that the study program at the college was so overwhelming that I was flat out with exhaustion after one week. The Maharaja's Sanskrit College used to be a college for only young Brahmacarins with paramount discipline and seeking the profoundest knowledge of the Sanskrit tradition. After many years of learning the Vedas one could come here, for a minimum of five years and immerse oneself in any of the shastras (Indian Sciences). Now things are a little more laid back at the school and they have even opened up to women and the occasional foreigner who is stubborn and patient enough to learn the Sanskrit language. However right now, I first and foremost try to get settled in my own home, because if my house and where I lie my head every night is not in order, how the heck can my life be in order. I'm no wandering Sanyasi that can just follow the path God blows. I need some material comfort of support if I'm going to last here.

But ok, the main reason I'm here is to learn Yoga, or at least try to get a little deeper under the surface of the so-called Ashtanga Yoga practice I've now done for many years. All of us who have a steady Yoga practice know the importance of personal practice. Without that we run dry, loose our edge and may way too easy turn to wild fancy instead of testing things out in the dept of our core. Personally Yoga is the most beautiful thing that I know so I can think of no better place to be right now, than being here at the source of where the teachings of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya originated. Styles, patterns and formulas certainly change over the years, but the essence of Yoga will remain the same; A profound inner awakening to our immortal nature.

I wish you clarity and peace, wherever you are, and ample time to explore your own Yoga practice. It is truly beautiful, but take time to breath and explore, what we find out may not always be what we expected, but never the less it is all beautiful.
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