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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

04.09.08 Oslo Finding the Source
Tracing the source and the various reflections on this blog is coming to a close. I'm back in the city I grew up and catching up with friends and relatives who I've kept sporadic contact with since I left as a teenager. Some old friends are still struggling with life, others have become "successful", but in the greater scheme of things they are all the same trying to figure things out and make greater sense of this thing called life. Unfortunately some escape it with drugs, others are just busy making money and a few genuine individuals are trying their best to be a better human being. They don't' necessarily do much yoga, but they care for the people around them, their environment and the very imprint they leave on the society. How they can stand up for what is good, right and just and avoid the destructive patterns that cause further misery, pain and growing frustration. The real giants are of course the ones that dear to love, are sensitive enough to care, tactile enough to treat the needs of other people in par with their own and strong enough to let other people see us for what we are rather than we want to be.

So what have I found out in these last years of searching for yoga? Certainly that it is complex and most definitely that it is very hard to define it, but as we approach things slowly and steadily, one step at the time, something awakens within us. If it is real it is neither intoxicating nor full of vivid visions, more like an enchanted scent that leaves a feeling of elevation as you comes closer to it and can embody it a little better. From that greater clarity arises and improved focus on what really matters.

As far as my own tradition goes it is very hard to trace a source of an obscure past and find clarity with what is real when things are always changing according to humans interacting with it. As in everything in life, some are genuine, some are not, some use yoga for their own personal material benefits, others interact with yoga to transform themselves and awaken to something that is real at all times. We all go about things according to our own capability and understanding, but in our improved sensitivity to embrace what is true, greater our insight and greater our freedom to embrace life as it is rather than how we want it to be. From that come greater healing and an increased sense of harmony on all levels. The only thing that really matters in the end is that we remain sensitive and choose to act for what is good. Stand up for what is good, embrace the good and continue to act out our duties whatever responsibilities we are given. These acts are our doorway to greater clarity on all levels. In life as well as yoga, our actions refine us. So honorable friends and colleagues; Spread the good and do the good and goodness will prevail.

I'm off for some weeks to walk in the Norwegian mountains and try to do a bit of good work. After that I plan to come back to Hong Kong. To make it my home, live a simple life, cut back on all the travels and most important at all; dear to love and be loved. But my engagement with Pure is over for now. So for all of you I had the privilege to meet: "Thank You"

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25.08.08 Stockholm Thank You
A long silence indeed. Partly to do with the loss of my Mac, partly to do with being lazy! But a neglect of duties always leaves me with a strong feeling of annoyance. Most definitely towards myself, for backing out and not embracing the many great opportunities to portray the many miraculous moments of life I had the great occasion to do for these last two years. Last month has certainly been full of them, but due to personal reasons my contract with Pure is coming to an end in September. It has been great working for Pure and I've certainly learnt a whole lot, but other responsibilities are calling and its time to move on. But before this transition happens I've many people to thank:

First of all Colin and Paveena for keeping this huge machinery of Pure Yoga afloat with their various visions, then all the people in the head office who work so hard behind the scenes to execute all the operations. Then all the cleaners and receptionists who look after the daily running of the studios, and finally - all the teachers who present this thing called yoga to all the members at the various studios. Many of you've I've never even met, but regardless, to all of you a big Thank You. It has certainly been exciting being part of this whole Pure industry. The last word is definitely not meant as a pun, but for all of you who criticize Pure Yoga and say their success have come too easily, think again! It comes from hard work, strong ethics and the pure intentions. Ok there is certainly a business element to all yoga centers these days, but as long as Pure is run with the best motives, it will certainly continue to be one of the most successful yoga centers in the world.

As far as my work with them goes I hope it can continue in some form or the other. At present I'm in Sweden and wrapping up a course here next week. Then I'm finally off to the home grounds of Norway for some quiet time in the mountains with some good friends to focus on some other work. If I can still find access to this blog I'll certainly continue to post a few comments now and then, at least for another few weeks, if my previous employers will let me.

Thank you for your time,

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02.08.08 Manila The destruction of a mind
Rage is never worth hanging on to. Way too easily it consumes us like and insatiable fire and before long our mind is in a miserable state where we loose our direction and focus, due to the mood swings that soon has us escalating like an yoyo. In theory we all know this and loosing our calm always backfires, but ah when it comes to the practicality of things how easily we slip, or at least I do.

Last weekend I went for a little trip outside of Manila, when I came back my lap top and other things were stolen from the room I'm staying in. The complexity of the situation is that it is almost impossible that it could have been an outsider's job and all the evidence point to a resident of the house having committed the crime. So naturally I'm furious for being violated in an environment where you trust somebody.

The real tragedy is of course that not have I've lost my computer, with my whole life in it and three months of hard work without back-up. That I can live with, but to be violated in your private room from people you trusted is shattering. So in a flare of anger I started my own little private investigation, but that unfortunately only made matter worse. Now the residents of this grand mansion are treating each other with suspicion and keep wondering: "Who did this vile act? Who would stoop down to such a base level and deliberately steal what is not theirs?"

Questions keep spinning in my own mind and I reflect on having a few brushes with the law as a teenager doing some stupid stuff. That was because I didn't know any better and due to the arrogance, the people in our gang thought we were above the law. So we did whatever we wanted and naturally left a lot of harm and destruction in our path. But as I reflect on it some decades later we were the ones that really suffered in the long run. For the main simple reason that we became so heroically ignorant to what really matter and lost all sense of dignity, integrity and greater perceptivity to the subtle aspects of life and our being. So naturally many years of misery followed, not lacking anything materially, but being so helplessly lost and being caught up in a dark pit of ignorance, the state of our own minds was so troubled that there was no concept of steadiness of being, centeredness from within, and hence we kept seeking outside of ourselves for some 'kicks' and 'highs' that would make our lives a little more stimulating and exciting. For the very simple reason that having to deal with our own issues of coming to terms with our frustration and anger, feeling lost and being overwhelmed with stupidity was simply overwhelming, so it was easier to be shocking and rebellious.

Unfortunately many of my friends from that time escalated out of control. Many of them died from drug overdoses, some got shot or stabbed, killed themselves or were subject to various accidents. Those that are still alive goes in and out of jail like being part of a recreation club where they can come and calm down a little from the many frustrations they encounter in trying to live a 'normal' life.

So what happened to this little person called "I", why did I not meet a similar fate? Well there is probably a lot of luck involved and due to very fortunate reasons I soon became confronted with whether I wanted to be an active contributor to good or an active contributor to my further misery. Although I didn't know the full extent of my own misery at the time, my fortunate circumstances quickly taught me that when we live cunningly our own mind becomes ruined, but when we do our best to find our place in the greater harmony of things, by following certain principles of proper moral conduct, great is our reward, because we come to realize we are part of a greater whole, that sustains us and support us like a caring Mother when we abide by it's principles of universal rigtheousness. When we go against it we cause our own ruin and our mind becomes spoiled to perceive what really matters; the laws of karma and universality of truth.
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20.07.08 Pune Mr. Iyengar speaks
Gurupūrnima is the day when teachers and particularly spiritual teachers all around India are being honored. Traditionally this full-moon day that falls in the month of Guru was supposedly the birthday of Veda Vyāsa, and since his name is associated as the great redactor of much of the spiritual tradition of India he is being celebrated on this day every year because he is known as the Guru of all the gurus. But for more contemporary gurus it is a day often associated with satsang and coming together with their students to articulate and share the message of their teachings. At the Iyengar Yoga institute in Pune it is quite a special day because there are three in-house gurus namely BKS Iyengar, his son Prashant and his daughter Gīta. All three of them are honored, but it is naturally the grand old man who gets the prime focus and attention every year.

This year he was seated on the platform as usual and talked to a jam-packed hall where people were squashed against the walls. At first he excused himself on the occasion and said he found the whole situation a little embarrassing, however he would do his best, but complained that the ocean of his brain had dried up so he had nothing more to express but repetitions. Being the eloquent speaker that he is, once he got started there were no stopping him and the 90-year-young man sat cross-legged on his cushion for two hours without a break. May I just also add that this morning I watched him practice and the intensity and fervor he goes about his practice would make most teenagers jealous. But ok, the main message of his talk was Sādhana and the various stages people go through in their search for greater clarity in their studies, and may I add, "all of us are students" he says, "some of us are just a little more raw than others."

BKS Iyengar
BKS Iyengar
BKS Iyengar loves quoting the Yoga Sūtras and he does it like a musician improvising on a theme and picks up a sūtra here and there in his unorthodox and ulinear fashion to give further weight to his arguments. He's full of anecdotes and loves to defend the teaching of his own 'I'yengar method. His evening speech opens with the sūtra on krīya yoga, the active measures a sādhaka (seeker of truth) needs to take in order to become more receptive to the purity of yoga (YS 2.1). Iyengar argues that the main vehicles to improve our many blemishes are our body, speech and mind. As these become gradually more purified and restrained, the essence of the self may shine through more clearly and the inherent intelligence within us all may be further released. This is of course something that takes time, but Mr. Iyengar encourages us to built strength and steadiness in our practice and articulates to us the four important stages a Sādhaka may go through:

1. Building a new strength and steadiness with a practice that will build you up and help you overcome the various imbalances of the body.

2. Coming to know the various imbalances of the body and mind such as, desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride, avarice, depression, etc. and using the intelligence of the practice to heal these defects and build a greater sense of purity from within.

3. When the conditioning and imbalances of the mind eventually stop and the inherent intelligence from within is supported by its own wisdom it will shine forth unobstructedly. This is a more permanent state of mind when the vacillations stop and the brain, as he says, "is more centered in the intelligence of the heart.

4. The final stage is when the seeker realizes that there is no division between the essence of your own microcosm and the universal macrocosm.

This is the essence of Mr. Iyengar's teaching; to guide the seeker into the zenit of his own self. Alignment, her argue further is of superior importance to awaken this dormant intelligent and allow it to flow forth through all the nerve patterns within the body and mind. Thus the performance of āsanas he claims, is like a mathematician performing complex calculations of symmetrical precision. Once they are done properly the equations will match and he refers to Patanali's final sūtra on āsanas when he says: (when āsanas are performed properly) "all sense of duality cease" (YS 2.48).

After this he invites a medical doctor on the stage and says: " When the intelligence moves evenly in each and every part of the body. Then the individual becomes the universal and he forgets himself!" Unfortunately for the other person on the platform there is still a strong sense of duality because Mr. Iyengar is pointing out to the audience all of the imbalances he observes in his body. But never the less, his penetrating eyes don't' miss a thing and before long he has the other person on the podium awakening his inner intelligence in a way he's never experienced before, at least that's what he tells us.

He then goes on to speak on the topic of Prānāyama and urges us to give up the traditional practice of mantras during practice. Traditionally Prānāyāma is divided into sabīja and nirbīja practice, with or without support of a mantra, but Mr Iyengar encourages us to pay more attention to the breath and listen more carefully to it during practice rather then let our mind be fixed on a mantra. This is quite a remarkable statement to make, considering much of the spiritual tradition of India uses the very practice of various mantras to still the mind and create a new support from within, and to be absorbed in a mantra during retention of breath is considered one of the highest teachings. Iyengar considers this of minor important and argues that the mind will not be absorbed in the great subtleties of breath, but will merely be focused on the mantra and hence miss out on the greater awakening that may come from Prānāyaama practice.

Before he concludes, once again he returns to the topic of āsanas and argues they are better done with the help of support i.e. props, for the awakening of the intelligence from within. He argues further that if a person is missing one arm should he not be allowed to do yoga if he feels great benefit from it? Naturally support is needed he says, but he never really address the issue for how long and under what circumstances one should continue using the props. He merely concludes that props are there to develop the channel of the intelligence within the body so they can be distributed evenly throughout. He finally claims that it is possible to reach immortality through āsanas and the audience laugh, some bow in awe and others clap, but they all probably wonder with great astonishment how long this wizard of āsanas will keep on going. He certainly shows no sign of slowing down although he's completing 90 years now in December. The practice of yoga is his life and let's hope that as long as his practice is healthy his mind and body will remain healthy. Once asked by a person how longed he planned to go on with this āsana practice his reply was:

Even if God comes and tells me, "Leave the āsanas behind," I will say, "No! I will not leave it."

So rest assured, Iyengars many original and creative comments on yoga will remain for hopefully many years to come.
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16.07.08 Pune Learning
So I'm back for some encounters with the lion of Pune. It's always a peculiar feeling coming here. Supposedly they are not really my teachers here, because I've been told it's better to follow one method properly than jump between various schools. But the truth is that every time I'm here, there are always so many gems and insights to be collected that I cannot but help to pick up a few treasures here and there while I'm observing, flirting and practicing a little Iyengar Yoga.

During the class with Prashant yesterday we only did about 4-5 postures over the duration of two hours and from a physical point of view it was pretty lame. The greatness of Prashant however is that although the postures are rarely challenging, he has a way of awakening a new receptivity from within with his great eloquent speech and sophisticated philosophy. It is never really about the postures, they are always secondary: "You always keep on doing the body mechanics of the āsanas" he says, "but where is the element of Yoga in the midst of everything you are doing? For an element of yoga to come forth you need to develop your pensive reflective nature so greater mindfulness may come about, then perhaps you can experience a little yoga".

In all honesty although I sometimes ask myself, "what the heck is going on here" as I look around the room and must acknowledge that the majority of the people look seriously out of shape and have great difficulty in doing any posture properly unless they have a belt, bolster, blanket, block, rope or some other support mechanism to help them in the posture. "Can any improved health come from all of this?" I seriously ask myself, as I normally think a healthy vibrant body is the first requirement to perceive the greater debts of yoga. But as I continue to look around and see the many people of different ages, shapes, body types and various personalities they've all come for the same purpose as I, to do some yoga and what would make my intention any different than theirs just because I can stretch a little further in the posture?

Prashant continues his salient speech while he has us in the pose : "You all come here and just want to be doing, but are you ready for learning? Are you able to develop the efficacy of learning and expand your body, breath and mind until some yoga settles in the midst of it? You go on repeating the same body mechanics again and again and you try so hard to 'improve' your various postures, but where is the unification in the midst of what you are doing?"

Some people really make an effort to get it right and they frown their eyebrows, clinch their jaw and make a weird looking seat of themselves. A few others seem more relaxed and seem to understand a little better when he's saying: "I'm not teaching you what you are doing, but what you should be doing!"

Prashant wants us to evolve the matter of the body, breath and mind. Instead of treating them as separate identities the āsana is a locus where we can experience the unification of them all. Thus by learning to be more absorbed in the mindfulness of breath the body and mind will be sanctified and be able to transform its limited patterns into a greater unified whole.

For this very purpose we practice and Prashant wants us to evolve our matter and eventually transform it rather than keep on being stuck in our patterns and projections and just go on repeating the various āsanas with a performance based attitude hoping that something will improve one day, rather than using it as the marvelous tool of introspection that it is. So whenever I'm here in Prashant's class, there is not necessarily a lot of stretching going on, but there is great expansion of the mind, integration of breath and a sanctified space that is being created to better perceive yoga. That is not necessarily so easy to find these days, but with Prashant you can be certain that something will drop, surrender and transform if we can only get a better perspective of what we are actually learning rather than so busy doing.
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11.07.08 Manila Who would imagine?
So the conference came and went and did we actually get to awaken any consciousness in the process? Well, in between shopping, catching up with friends, networking and running between classes? Possibly. The faculty certainly presented us with many gems on how to become a little more aware of the many fluctuations of the body and mind, but in short it was a big yoga party and at good parties there are always something for every liking, it's just a matter of how we can appreciate the great variety on offer. Let's hope next year will be equally interesting, because yoga is on the surge here in Hong Kong and I'm pretty sure we've only seen the surface of a monster or a healing enterprise that will bring a new bounce into this city. Time will tell and let's hope it will make us more conscious and conscientious rather than conspicuous and cunning. Yoga is certainly fascinating and we're all part of the making and breaking of it.

Have met up with my son in Manila who due to the great favor of a friend who runs Pulse Yoga here has offered him a job for the summer! They were short with staff and needed somebody to teach some general classes. He thought his first class today and we're all just getting over the shock. Him and I actually went to our first yoga class together, but let's just say I've been a little more regular with the practice than he's been, but back in January when our friend proposed the offer the only requirement she kept was that he would keep a steady practice for at least 3-4 times a week. I just laughed and said forget about it, but when he came a couple of days ago he was more vibrant than ever and had a cheekier smile than I've seen in a long time. "What you've been up to I asked", asked him. "You know me", he said, "a bit of this and that, just hanging out". My mind immediately started spinning and I kept wondering what kind of mischief he'd gotten into, but then his focus was so clear and his gaze steadier than ever so whatever he'd done I figured it was good. So we left it with that, but the cheeky smile still lingered and when he finally came to class yesterday I realized why. He actually did keep up the practice and prepared himself for the summer job and today when he taught a class he was simply amazing. Although a little nervous and shaky at first, he exposed himself completely and whatever shortcomings was there didn't really matter, cause we were all drawn into his light hearted attitude about "Hey I don't really know what I'm doing, but I know a few moves and I'll share it with ya all? And so he did and that was really all there was to it. He seemed to have a little experience, it seemed genuine and I guess it comes from keeping steady in his practice. Or possibly from just being a cocky teenager, regardless I'm thoroughly impressed!
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02.07.08 Hong Kong Awakening...What?
Tomorrow the greatest Yoga Conference in Asia is opening for it's 2nd year. Evolution was a great success last year with a few thousand participants and this year and equal number of people is expected with a faculty of close to forty people. The theme for this year is "Awakening Consciousness" and let it be know from the beginning that the problem of Consciousness has baffled the minds of scientists and philosophers alike for the last centuries so let us not be too ambitious thinking that we will be able to solve any great mysteries here. It is rather an event to celebrate the great diversity of Yoga. So all honor to the organizers that has struggled and toiled over the last year to make all of this happen. Let's hope it becomes the great celebration of yoga it was intended to. If our consciousness will awaken a little in the process as well, great indeed will be our benediction.

To be conscious is defined as being aware and respond to ones surroundings. The more conscious a person is, the more switched on he/she is so to speak hopefully the more awaken and alert one will be to all the operations of the mind. As we all know, the mind can be quite an unruly machine and we may ask the question "Is the mind controlling us or are we controlled by the operations of the mind?" We are all the sum total of our previous experiences and impressions and whenever we try to define Pure Consciousness we will naturally first have to resolve much of our own conditioning to become clear on the matter.

Modern science seeks to explain natural phenomenon and involves the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. In short it tries to be as clear and precise about that which we can see and verify, but the purity of consciousness does not necessarily lend itself to observation, but is rather quantifiable and measurable through that which it operates. When science therefore tries to explain the phenomenon of consciousness they have to verify it through the operations of the mind and then measure the activity within the smallest measurable particles of the mind. The Scientific view of Consciousness is thus normally explained as an emergent property of complex activities in the neural networks of the brain that appears as a whole, i.e. an inner being experiencing the operations of the body and mind and thinks itself to be in control over it. For most scientists it's a purely physical phenomenon and the three classical views of modern science related to consciousness are that:

1. Patterns of neural network activity correlate with mental states.
2. Synchronous network fluctuations in the thalamus and cerebral cortex temporarily bind information.
3. Consciousness emerges as a novel property of computational (computer like) complexity among neurons.

However they fail to explain:

• The nature of subjective experience, "The inner life".
• Binding spatially diverse information and activities into unitary vision.
• Transition from pre-consciousness - consciousness - meditated consciousness.
• The non-compatibility of it, because in involves an immeasurable factor that is neither random, nor algorithmic and that cannot be externally stimulated. It is either there or not there.
• States of clear consciousness within people who have proven to be clinically dead.
• Free will and the experience of subjective time flow.

Modern physics has further been able to explain everything that we can see and measure. They have explained the beginning, end and what drives the very universe, but still they fail to explain thoroughly why we are conscious beings and what is the nature of thinking. For most scientists "thinking" is a physical phenomenon that is equally to be observed and measured, but the problem of why consciousness exists or how it originated remains still a mystery.

We may ask when in the course of evolution did Consciousness appear? Are living beings conscious by nature or did it emerge more recently with tool-making, language etc. Or did consciousness appear somewhere in between?

These questions are impossible to answer but the schools of Saṅkhya and Yoga verified Consciousness to be something different to the fabrications of the mind and rather the very essence that illuminates it. On a fundamental level they divided the Universe into two primal building blocks of Puruṣa and Prakṛti (Spirit and Matter), Consciousness and the very container in which consciousness is being reflected. They operate together in unison, but where as the earlier is constant the later is constantly changing. The goal of the school was to identify the indestructible principle of the universe and this they defined to be Puruṣa, spirit.

A fundamental problem of both Saṇkya and Yoga is that they do not give any clear explanation or account of the origin of the universe, but merely states that the symbiosis of souls and matter is of eternal existence and will continue to exist within the eternal cycle of creation and destruction of the universe. The escape root from this eternal cycle of creation however is when a conscious individual no longer is bound by patterns of creation, but eventually comes to realize their true nature of Spirit, which is of a different substance than the various manifestations and fluctuations of matter.

Yoga is the practical tool to distinguish this fundamental dualism of matter and spirit. It may be portrayed in a number of ways but the underlying goal should always be to reach the oneness of being, the unification of spirit. When we reach that we may experience that pure consciousness is something far greater then what we are able to define with our limited mind. So if we are a little confused on the matter that is completely ok, but as we awaken and hopefully create some more space to a more genuine state of being rather than projected conditioning, great will be our wonder and great will be our experience.

Whether the conference will be able to deliver this you have to go and figure out, but you can be certain that you will receive great teachings from various teachers around the world that are in great demand for their various interpretations of yoga. May it be a grand celebration and may we all awaken a little more to a genuine state consciousness in the process.

Or maybe we want? It is certainly a complex matter. Regardless this is what Derek Partif has to say, a British philosopher who specializes in personal identity, rationality and ethics, and the very relationship between them:

We are not what we think ourselves to be. Actions and experiences are interconnected but ownerless, there is no core, no self, no creator or dream weaver, this mystery of consciousness is simply unexplainable.

The complexity of thought is indeed a mindboggling matter. But for students of yoga it is all about the practical experience and the awakening to our inmost nature. Whether we succeed or not will probably take a long time to determine, but with what quality we live our very lives may be a good indicator of it. If it awakens an inert state of joy and harmony for no apparent reason, you can be certain that you tracing something profoundly beautiful.
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30.06.08 Hong Kong Overgrowth?
Back in the city where Yoga is flourishing faster than people can say Uthita Hasta Padāṅguṣṭāsana. Just red the latest write up in HK Magazine about the rise of Yoga in Hong Kong and where you can read about 23 places where you can bend it like Brahma. Considering many of the big names are not even listed I guess we may assume that there are close to 40-50 yoga centers here in Hong Kong now - or at least places that offers a little hotchpotch of yoga, fitness, stress-relief and whatever else goes along with it.

Then there is Evolution Yoga Conference also coming up this week. Where we are suppose to "Awaken our Consciousness", not bad for a title, but will the conference promise what it will deliver? Go and find out for yourself and check out what this hype is all about!? Some of the more famous and renown teachers from around the globe will be there and if they can't articulate to us what yoga is then who's going to?

And then there is the rain pouring down. Supporting everything that grows. It will be interesting to see in a few years who has steady roots to remain and will not be washed away by the many storms, but will remain steady and strong on solid ground.

May we all find what we are looking and gradually awaken a greater experience of yoga. And to quote Maurice Mettler, one of the teachers at Pure who makes some comments in the latest issue of HK Magazine:

Yoga is definitely for everybody and i find that people with an open mind, as with all things have a better experience

So stay open and flexible folks, in the midst of it all, because you never know what opening is around the corner or right in front of our noses if we can only see it properly.
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