October 29, 2010
As our group gets ready to depart to North Sikkim, I am left wondering if I should have asked everyone to bring winter clothes and gear as we sit in the atypical autumn heat of Gangtok. The cars load up with all our stuff, and we head north to move up the mountain ridges. We have heard the roads are still not completely repaired from this year's late and long monsoons, and they are still being repaired from the multiple landslides.
Solitude rings in the far regions of Sikkim, and the further one travels off the beaten track, the thicker the silence and more breathtaking the natural beauty. Within hours one can move from the subtropical heat of the lower valleys to the cold of rugged mountain slopes amassed with perpetual snow. In many ways, Sikkim is the last Shangri-La, with glimpses into a way of life in the Himalayas that may soon be only memory. A life of simplicity, hard work, and commitment to faith. Abhyasa
in the purest form--commitment to work with the greatest effort, with no attachment to the outcome. This is part of why I am dragging the group on a precarious journey up the Hims.
A few years ago, it was in Lachen, North Sikkim that I left my heart in this Himalayan range. The skeletal transport system, road construction, and annual landslides makes it difficult to get there. And even more difficult to get back! There is something in the raw adventure of it all that makes me crazy enough to make the journey.
I remember years ago when I proposed this part of the journey to India Supera, who runs Feathered Pipe Ranch, and Raj, our Indian tour operator--they both, along with everyone in their offices, tried to persuade me out of the journey. It was the one part of the trip that I could not give up, as it is a wee little window into what life really is in the "hinter Hims," a place remote enough to leave the world behind.
It's a place that lives in and on its own time. Isolated by snow and roads and lifestyle; this is really where my heart began to soften into the experience of living in the sacred mountains. I have since learned that taking people on long and arduous journeys through the highest mountain passes in the world, to arrive at guest houses with no toilets, doesn't make for happy travelers! This year may be my last foray with a group into this magical place. Sadly I acquiesce to the needs of my students, and am left with the Kanchendzonga range deeply, quietly, and forever etched into the memory of my heart mind.
As in any spiritual journey, there are moments when you think you can't quite make the last bit. Much like a particularly active or difficult practice, when that last standing pose, backbend or Chaturanga seems out of reach, yet you take the last bit of energy you have and get through it. You're then rewarded with a feeling, an energy that is spectacular and profound. Abhyasa and vairagya. Working with great effort and letting go of the outcome. The journey of a yogi. The path of Arjuna, the great Karma yogi on the battlefield. Confused, and contemplative. Asking for guidance from the Divine spirit within us all.
This year, we journey to Lachung, a remote village of 1,200 people, only 8 km from the Indo-Tibet border. Our five cars are loaded with the members of the group, propped up with sleeping bags, disposable bath towels, and yoga gear. I know our guides and host are trying to anticipate needs and requests.
Yogis on the road, looking for adventure and connection to the vanishing hill tribes of the Himalayas. Hima
means snow, and alaya
is abode, home. This is a place that exudes the Hims, remote, barren, unknown and untouched by the extravagance of "civilized" life. And my heart seeks refuge here every time.
We arrive after an arduous and exceptionally long journey. We bypass some of the sites, given the monsoon-rutted roads and slow pace we are traveling across these mountains. After another "4-14 hours" of bumpy jeep rides, we arrive in the village of Lachung-pa. It has an exceptionally strong military presence; machine-gun wielding young men watching the border for any sign of Tibetan refugees trying to cross into India for asylum. The site of so much military is disconcerting to say the least, and Modern Residency, our home for three nights, is charming, but intrinsically basic. And cold.
At least I didn't make the group lug sleeping bags, thermal liners, and a ton of fleece and goose down for no reason! We ask for a fire in the wood stove to warm our bodies and spirits. The hotel is serviced by native Lachungpa people along with various Tibetan and Nepali heritage tribes. Our eating hall becomes our practice area, and is adorned with brightly colored Tibetan furniture amidst in the 8 Auspicious Symbols and images of dragons, garudas, and lotus.
Here's a picture of Collete Hoglund swathed in mystical Himlayan light on a misty morning. As we turn our bellies to the eastern ranges of Tibet and China, a wee bit of our heart mind is left here in these remote mountain passes.
Morning brings us another "short" journey up to rhododendron forests and the remote Yumthung Valley, land of nomadic yak herders and prayer flags fluttering to ward off evil spirits and welcome abundant harvests. We are all tired, yet exhilarated at being up 12,000 feet in the mist and clouds. Even though we can't see the mountains, we know they are there.
As we practice and move to stay warm, we know we are blessed to come to these places, and enjoy a few moments of connection to ourselves and to our bodies. We do Sun Salutations and know that our hearts and spirits will be warmed by the memory of these moments, despite the difficulty of our travels. Isn't that the warmth of this yoga practice? A place of warmth, of connection, and of refuge for body, mind and spirit? Savasana is possible with the use of hot water bottles as sandbags, and memory-making images lull us into the sweet surrender of the pose.
Some in our group decide to head out to "Zero Point" the next morning. It is where the road ends, and is up at almost 17,000 feet with spectacular views of the Himalayan range. Duggan, our Blackfeet elder, is in search of a local yaktail broom; Linda, the resident photographer; Sue and Oscar, wild, adventurous hunters of local produce and medicines; and Tina, well-travelled in these ranges, head out in search of the elusive mountain views. The rest of us stay behind. We're tired, yet awake in ways that will only be processed much later at home.
The journey back is worse than anticipated. Roads are closed. One of the jeeps actually gets stuck, and WinterSong and her crew get out to push the jeep through the mountain impasse!
Eight hours later, the sight of the Norkhill hotel in Gangtok welcomes us back, like an old friend. I know the group needs rest now, and I am grateful for the comfort of a freshly laundered bed, and a place to lay my weary body.
This is the practice of yoga. Working with great effort and nonattachment to the outcome. What did we see up there? Only mist and mystery, yet we knew that the mountains that lay beneath are physical and spiritual reminders to carry our practice forth. To listen inwardly, and find ourselves. Sometimes we just want that which we know and are comfortable with. As yogis, we push forward, and something happens. The unexpected, the unknown.
These memories will linger like a delicious fragrance after we go home. Isn't yoga the true home for us? Returning to our practice every day, getting on the mat, even when we don't want to. Especially when we don't want to!
Keep on keeping on, and "Be gentle on my curves," as the signs remind us. Inconvenience regretted, as yoga transforms!
photos courtesy of Tina Kauffmann and Cinzia Columbo
October 26, 2010
In this part of the world, all seems magical and sometimes it challenges your view and viewpoint. There is a statue of Guru Rinpoche, the second Buddha who is supposed to grow every year, so there is a hole in the top of the temple to accommodate the growth. An overflowing vessel that never stops flowing is shown once a year in a Spring ceremony, and there is a golden stupa which holds a wish fulfilling gem.
This wishfulfilling gem is quite amazing as it is contained in a room with a large golden stupa covered in precious gems of diamonds, rubies, amber and the coveted eyestones. The stupa holds the relics of the 16th Karmapa Lama and is believed to hold great power for any intentions you ask that are offered with great dedication to practice.
Much like yoga can help us to see clearly and bring our attention into the presence of breath and
movement, this magical and mystical journey of body, mind and spirit is the ultimate reminder of my practice. Sikkim is an amazing place of natural beauty, rugged adventure and spiritual tranquillity. This land of mist and mystery casts its spell, as one dreamy, hazy day floats into the next. Tradition asked all houses to face northwest, towards the benevolent face of Kanchendzonga, and reap the protective spirit of this sacred range. The grandeur of these high mountain peaks with gaping chasms and terrifying gorges, lush valleys, fast flowing rivers and glacial lakes, creates a rare and singular experience.
One of the most well known monasteries is Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, seat of the Karmapa Lama. Rumtek was placed in its location because the 16th Karmapa had a vision of a rainbow from K3 which landed at the spot of Rumtek. Perhaps this is the true pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! It houses many sacred Buddhist treasures, including the mystical black hat of the Kogyu sect (in Tibetan Buddhism), which is said to give its wearer the power to fly. How can one not love a monastery that houses this mythical and magical hat? Images of the Karmapa are recognized by his mudra of holding 2 thunderbolts, or showing him holding his hat so it doesn't fly back to the heavens!
At Rumtek, we arrive at afternoon prayers, and as we enter the main altar area, many monks are sitting in prayer chanting. I have many recordings of Tibetan monks chanting, and have always felt the power of prayer as it echoes in my practice room. But this! To be filled with the presence of so many young and old monks chanting in unison fills my heart with Mudita - appreciative gladness.
I bow the obligatory 3 1/2 times in full prostration to honor the large altar, and our Indian friend and tour guide Raj Madaan enters and bows as well. I am surprised as he is Hindu, yet he feels the significance of this room, and this place, and in respect bows to the giant Buddha. What connections we can have, how wonderful would it be if all religions could honor one another in this way. A bit of my heart swells more as I watch him. There is another Indian family visiting with their small child, and the child couldn't have been more than 3, and he too mimics his parents and bows to honor the Buddha. I am thinking to myself - how much would the world change if we taught our children to respect all faiths?
Lama Paljor, our Tibetan monk has joined us today, and risen at 4am to drive for 5 hours from Kalimpong to accompany us on this day. Paljor and I met in San Jose when he came to make a sand mandala blessing at the SJ museum this past spring. I see him and immediately go to hug him. And then realize, I am hugging a monk! Uh, is that ok? Is there some protocol when one sees a friend, and he happens to be a monk, and a sand mandala artist, and an amazing Tibetan throat singer? Was I supposed to bow down, or bring my hands to my heart in namaste? That all seemed too formal for my beautiful monk friend Paljor.
He of course makes me realize it is just my delusion, illusion as we are walking down the hill and he puts on a hairband wig thing that he finds funny!
We head out of Rumtek, and stop at another monastery Rangan on the way, and a bit of rain comes down, and as we reach the monastery, we all gasp as the skies cast a heavenly light on us, and the light streams through the rain, looking like God has indeed seen us, and is smiling.
We head out of Rumtek, and are driving a "short" ride to a waterfall and monastery, and out of the jeep in front, I see a flash of light. I ask everyone in the car - "is that lightening?", as it has rained on and off every day we have been in Sikkim. Winter Song says to me - "No Cora, that's not lightening, that's just Linda!" Our friend Linda, who is responsible for many of these images I am sharing, has been our resident paparazzi and photo editor, and given the spectacular scenery, hospitable Sikkimese people and colorful prayer flags, monasteries and wild and abundant flora and fauna, she has been snapping pics like mad. We now know her as Linda Lightening!
Another monastery, and another bumpy ride leads us to a large waterfall area, which is dedicated to Ban Jhakri Shaman and has some wild statues amidst the green tropical jungles. They remind me of South American deities, and I am momentarily confused - was there a cross culture I missed somewhere between the rainforest peoples of the Amazon and these rainy forests of the Hims? These flowers cant exist in these high mountains, can they? Are we in the rainforest, or the highest mountains in the world?!
These thick, verdant forests and lush vegetation seem out of place in these mountain places, and Sikkim has over 4,000 different species of plants, including 30 varieties of rhododendrons and 546 varieties of orchids! The setting sun paints everything with incredible hues of light and shadow, and we come to the waterfalls that are at the end of the walk. A perfect place for the first header of the trip!
We are all grateful and happy to be in this magical land, filled with the genuine, gracious and hospitable people of Sikkim. Indians, Tibetans, Sikkimese and Nepali all living together and sharing the magic of these mountains!
October 14, 2010
Our morning trip was to Enchey monastery, which is very special in this area and is considered home of the guardian spirit Kanchendzonga. Local legend has it that this spirit was tamed by Guru Padmasambhava, the deity integral to this land. Guru Padmadsambhava is one the most important images in Vajrayana Buddhism and his presence is everywhere. It is believed that he entered the earth by stepping into Gurudongmar
which is more than 17,000
feet high and hidden in the northern corner of Sikkim. It's a place I have been
dreaming of visiting.
Enchey is filled with
magical stories and is considered to be blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a
Tantric master known for his flying powers. This monastery is part of the
Nyingma order, yet all people worship and pray at Enchey - Nepali, Bhutia,
Lepcha and Tibetan are welcome here, and the energy of this place is strong.
Much like our yoga
practice, which is open to all bodies, shapes, and sizes, Enchey is a refuge
for all. This solitary monastery that sits by itself on a hillside is always a
mist-shrouded place, full of magic and mystery. This image captures the tone of
Enchey to me. As we were leaving, I turned back and caught a glimpse of this
monk looking out to the vistas of mountains shrouded behind clouds and mist,
and it seemed an apt image reflecting my feelings.
those majestic mountains are there, yet never really catching full glimpses. It
is only in the belief of presence behind a shroud of delusion, ignorance and
inattention that we can find faith. And isn't that what faith really is?
Believing when nothing is proven, trusting when nothing is confirmed? In the
traditional Chinese Buddhism of my home, the Pure Land Buddhists have few
requests - to believe there is a pure land of light, and to work this lifetime
to gain merit to join into this pure land.
magical, mist-filled landscape amazes me every time and fills my soul. The
gratitude that fills me on these trips is profound, and I feel the abundance of
life, of love and of connection to all people. This monastery, which is refuge
to all faiths, and our yoga practice, which is refuge for our spirit. My soul
comes home here, and can feel where the mind truly resides - home in the
BrahmaViharas of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Gladness and Equanimity (Metta,
Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha).
afternoon ride up washed out roads to our Tibetan friends and esteemed Thangka
painter, Thinlay Gyatso, is the next stop. There are prayer flags over glacial
waterfalls and strewn across the hillsides up the steep grade of Gangtok.
Splendid views and boundless hearts greet us as we enter a room filled with
divine blessings of traditional Thangka paintings. Manjushri, Buddha of Wisdom
slaying ignorance and delusion, Avalotikeshvara, Buddha of Compassion with 1,000 hands and
eyes to see and help all beings, and Sakyamuni Buddha overseeing all.
Thinlay Gyatso is one
of the most respected Tibetan Thangka painters living, and he is one
of the few who are still using the traditional ways. All of his paints are
ground of precious and semi-precious gemstones, and each color is ground by
hand for eight hours a day, while chanting the prayers of the images. So when
he is painting the sky for an image of Manjushri,
Buddha of Wisdom, he will chant and grind lapis lazuli eight hours a day, for
five days to get one shade of blue. When that light shade is put aside, he
returns to chant Manjushri's prayer for another five days to
get a deeper shade of blue. And finally, he will grind and chant for another
five days to get the deepest shade of lapis blue. The natural resin and
gemstone provides an otherworldly sheen to each color in his Thangkas.
grinding of the paint is part of the prayer and meditation of traditional Thangka painting. Thinlay studied with his teacher in Bhutan for many years
mastering this craft. He is a humble and happy man, filled with infinite smiles
and generous spirit. He is our friend for many years, and we are grateful for
his wisdom and light in our lives. Our group is welcomed into this house
teetering on the edge of a cliff, and the natural light from the skies outside
shed ethereal light onto these images.
I enter the
home, and go to the altar room to pay respect to Guru Rinpoche, Amitabha
Buddha, Avalotikeshvara and other deities in
the prayer room. Grandma, a nun, is turning her large prayer wheel and
counting mala beads as she sits in the room. Her calm presence permeates the
room, and the house, along with these images of enlightened beings swells my
heart in gratitude and grace.
Photos: Linda Lang
October 13, 2010
This morning we went to see Dul Drop Chen Rinpoche, the
abbot of the local monastery. It is a highly esteemed chorten, and people
travel from many countries--especially Bhutan--to pay respects and get
blessings. This monastery has 108 prayer wheels set around a large stupa, and
is considered one of the most auspicious monasteries in the land.
Rinpoche has had health issues of late, so he limited
audiences to one hour in the morning. The protocol for these visits is to bring
an offering and a Khata, a Tibetan prayer scarf, and wait in the altar room.
Once visitations begin, there is an Asian line up toward the small door leading
to his residence. An Asian line is more of a mandala rush than a singular line.
People move toward the entrance, taking turns filling in any gaps, until they
get there. It's always a bit confusing to a Western practitioners, so often the Westerners end up in the back of the line, not wanting
to push grannies and monks out of the way!
Santosha (contentment), one of the main principles of yoga, definitely eludes me at this moment. My attachment to time and the desire for a blessing overpowers the peaceful calm that permeates the residence quarters of Rinpoche. I am reminded of the great image of the Wheel of Life (Sipa-Kharlo)
in Tibetan Buddhism - the center of the wheel is an image of a rooster biting a
snake biting a pig. These images symbolize Greed, Anger, and Delusion (Dohchar,
Shaetang, and Timuk), and whenever my mind is agitated with desire and
attachment, I remind myself to return to this central image of the mandala and
use the view to reflect on my own practice. Many a meditation hour has been
spent on this contemplation, and I am still looking for guidance on how to
quell these feelings as they arise!
This morning we wait, and our Tibetan friend and Thangka
painter, Thinlay Gyatso, came to join us to translate. He was told that
Rinpoche was holding a Phowa, or a traditional prayer for releasing the spirit after a death, so we would have to wait longer. Thinlay suggested we go to the funeral prayers, and get a
blessing there. After prayers were completed, the Bhutanese family that had
driven their beloved departed one across borders, went to receive blessings.
All others were turned away.
After the family had been blessed, Rinpoche returned to
his quarters, and we were asked to go back to the waiting room. At this point,
our Western minds were agitated and worried about the rest of the group, which
was waiting for us back at the hotel to begin an arduous excursion up to North
Sikkim. Letting go of the attachment to outcome is one of the main lessons in
yoga, and yet I find myself attached to this outcome--I want
the blessings from Rinpoche. As I always say, my Tibetan friends are wandering
Bardo realms while I am consulting calendars and schedules! Finally,
Thinlay sees Rinpoche's handler, and we are let in to receive blessings and the
The difference of East and West always strikes me when I
return to countries closer to my homeland. I have lived so long in the West
that many assume I am an ABC (American Born Chinese), and yet the memories and
echoes of my childhood ring strong and clear. I often feel I am straddling two
cultures as Hanuman straddles two continents on his leap to Lanka. There is a
saying in Asia: "Same, same, different," as I wander through my multi
cult wabi sabi yogi mind, I definitely am "Same, same, different".
For example, in a class on twists, we were turning
toward the East as we twisted right, and looking toward the mountains of Tibet,
as we turned our heads to the left to deepen the twist it seemed appropriate to
connect our hearts turning toward the East as we looked back toward the West.
Perhaps this is part of the resonance of these trips - a small bit of our
hearts are left here in these mountains as our lives return to the duties of
life in the West. Our hearts turning and opening toward the East, as our bodies
and minds come home to the West.
Are we ever the same after these journeys? Do we change
because of what we see? Or do these awakenings percolate into life-changing
paths that never leave us. I know I have never been the same after my first
trip to the Himalayas, and a part of my heart remains in these mountains every
year. I hope some of you can experience these mountains some day. They are not
just spectacular and massive; they are filled with an indescribable magic, a
familiar and distant feeling that rises through the mist. Something we know is
home, even having never seen it before.
Our friends Cinzia and Daria have just joined us, coming
from Italy last night, and on this first day of their journey, we all feel the
prayers of Phowa
and Rinpoche's personal blessings. We put our strings on our necks and tie
them, knowing they will act as a reminder of this day, and this place.
Our yoga practice can also be this reminder. Every Sun
Salutation, or movement towards a difficult pose asks us to look at ourselves,
to examine parts of our bodies, of how we move, and how we think we can move.
As we begin to understand our bodies more clearly, we gain insight into
ourselves. Most of us have had this experience in yoga. We think we know
something--we think we understand how the body will move or be, and then we
learn something more, something unknown within ourselves. It isn't always what
we thought we would find, it may not always be blissful and happy, but as the
sage Mick Jagger says, "You can't always get what you want."
This is the power of practice, this gift of ourselves to ourselves. Being able to practice and sit in the blessings of this moment, every moment. Learning about our breath, our bodies, and our minds is the lesson for us all. May we develop a lifelong friendship, and be transformed by this thing we call yoga!
October 6, 2010
The first few days of being back in the Hims, and I am once again sinking into the feeling of returning home. Sikkim is filled with extraordinary sites, from lush green jungles to barren mountain plateaus, tiny orchids bursting on hillsides and colorful prayer flags scattered across the skies, and a people filled with generosity of spirit and endless smiles. The country derives its name from Sukha (happiness) and the original Lepcha people understood it as "Nye-mae-el lang"
- Abode of the Gods.
When I am here in these mountains, I can understand how the Lepcha, Bhutia, and Nepali people view this as a fertile and sacred land. I feel especially protected by Kanchendzongna or K3, the world's third highest mountain looming over Gangtok. This is a jewel of ethereal beauty, cradled deep in the splendors of snow clad Himalayas.
In morning yoga classes, we work in asana and move in our bodies to awaken the prana inside. The majestic mountain serves as an anchor for the spirit of this land. As we come to know ourselves in the yoga practice--the differences in each hip or shoulder, the way a slight movement of the foot can change an entire standing pose--this same subtle awareness and awakening of what is already inside of us is what K3 represents to me.
I have visited this land three times already and saw K3 the first morning I was here in 2007. I took it for granted -- took a quick pic and assumed we would have glorious views throughout the trip. Alas, she never appeared again, and I was always looking to the clouds and waiting for her majesty. This mountain sets her own schedule, and no one can predict her whims! On this visit, we keep looking to the horizons to catch a glimpse of these splendid views. Each day, the mist and clouds look like they might lift off the high peaks, but still she hides in the clouds.
I use it to serve as a reminder in my yoga practice: The hidden mountain peaks are a reminder of that which remains hidden, yet lends the strength and stability of a great force, whether you can see it or not. The mountain I affectionately call K3 has landed deep in my heart somehow, and I have been touched by her majesty. This sacred deity feels like a protective Mother to me and all people of this land.
And this morning, a knock came at my door at 5:00am, and Tina Kaufmann said "The mountains are out"! We quickly threw on clothes and woke up the group to run outside and catch the elusive Protector. She was glorious and radiant and glowing in the morning light. An auspicious start to this day!
October 4, 2010
The Magical Mystical gang has arrived in Delhi, India after a pre-tour in Varanasi, the city of light, whose sacred waters are the culmination of many a pilgrimage. People wait their entire lives to come bathe in these waters, and we had our own "Accidental Pilgrim" Jill Johnson, who fell into the river Ganges and completely submerged herself and her camera for a spontaneous blessing amongst a herd of water buffalo!
We gathered at the new terminal in Delhi airport, and flew Kingfisher airlines to Bagdogra in West Bengal. From there we took jeeps up the Himalayan range toward Gangtok in Sikkim. On Kingfisher, I read the airline magazine and caught up with Bollywood gossip. It is the most interesting thing to read an airline magazine that doesn't describe adventures and places to go and see, or tips for packing and traveling light. Instead we get to catch up on who is a new star, who is dating who, and what films are coming out. I often wonder, if I lived here, would I save money on the magazines I read on take off and landing? ;)
The journey up to Sikkim is always a wild ride, and a challenge for the yogic calm in all of us. The locals and trail guides all tell you that the trip is four hours. Ha! I have ridden this road several times and never
made the journey in four hours! The roads were better than expected after monsoon and the traffic not bad for high season, so the journey only took 7.5 hours. These roads are incredibly narrow and the trucks amazingly wide. These factors can jangle the nerves in the ride up the mountain!
This road traverses tea plantations and Bengalese villages, winds along the raging river Teesta and opens into wild orchid groves slithering up giant tropical trees, before making the slipping, sliding trail up the Himalayan foothills. Once you get to the border of Sikkim, there is a checkpoint where foreign tourists register and show their Sikkim visa. We always stop here for chai and some hot noodle soup while we wait for our passports to be stamped. It's a good place for a few back and shoulder stretches or wall Handstands to get energy for the rest of the journey.
As one begins to climb up into Gangtok, the Border Road Organization (BRO) has unusual road reminders to drive safely that are funny and strangely poetic. We might have stopped and laughed more, except the sheer drops and wildly decorated transport trucks careening at lightning speed straight at us raised the inner fear factor!
Just as you think you can't bear another moment of twisting, turning, intertwining Himalayan road, the lights of Gangtok shine through the darkening night. It reminds me of working with a particularly difficult asana, where it can ask a lot of you, and it may seem an elusive goal, and then you find yourself in that pose and enjoying it. And after a few more times in the pose you find ease and steadiness.
Isn't this similar to the journey that we have all experienced in this practice? Perhaps it is a reminder for us to look at a key philosophical aspect of yoga, Vairagya
translated as detachment or dispassion. It is this power of renunciation for yogis to pursue the truth over the false, and the eternal over the ephemeral.
As we enter Gangtok, the streets and people look familiar from past visits in an almost dreamlike way--sharp and out of focus at the same time. Like a familiar fragrance that you just can't place. We arrive at the Norkhill heritage hotel and are greeted with the traditional Tibetan blessing and each of us are draped with Khata, white prayer scarfs. These scarfs are auspicious symbols and give a positive note to the beginning of our journey. Sinking into bright blue damask couches, we all enjoy the tiny snip of local Sikkim sherry that greets us!
September 29, 2010
This year I am returning to the Himalayas with a group of eager yoga students for a month-long trip and yoga retreat. It's a place that I hold dear and close to my heart and mind. Several years ago, we brought a group into the deep Himalayas and the trip transformed all of us.
Some friends recently asked me, "Why do
you go to the Himalayas?" I did some self-reflection -- is it the spectacular views, the generous people, and gorgeous places, or just the adventure? -- and here's what I came up with:
Connecting with vanishing hill people, witnessing the place that gave birth to the legends that form Tantra Buddhism, exploring hidden temples and ancient sacred sites -- these are the reasons this land draws me.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to share our adventures from this sacred land. Join us this month as we embark on a Magical Mystical adventure from the Himalayas!
PS: Here's a picture I caught out of the plane last time we went. Notice how the plane and the mountain were on the same line of sight. We were flying at 30,000 ft! The magic and mystery of these sacred mountains is breathtaking.
August 26, 2010
by Stacey Rosenberg
When I told friends I was going to China it seemed most would share their own experience or inform me of what they had been told by a friend. I heard the whole spectrum of opinions from the food, to the pollution, to the people. One friend even asked if I could get arrested for teaching yoga there. Not wanting the judgment of others to color my experience, I tried to stay spacious and open. I had been to Asia before but never a developed country, and China was not really a place at the top of my list for visits. Being in Beijing was not at all like I could have ever imagined, in fact it wasn't too different from being in any other big city in the world. It felt, dare I say, pretty normal--of course with a few exceptions!
Anusara Yoga is all about making a heart connection, how could I teach an Anusara Immersion if our hearts did not have a rapport? In hindsight I can see how my teaching got very spacious in the weeks prior to leaving in preparation for this experience. From the first day, I took a seat in my heart and modeled speaking from this place. I was blessed to have an amazing translator who was enthusiastic about the teachings and mirrored my own passion. Though the students were a bit shy, they quickly caught on and began to unfold and share their hearts fully.
Day by day the immersion students were opening in their bodies, minds and hearts.
They loved the Anusara philosophy, a few even said, "This is exactly what I have been looking for." The Universal Principles of Alignment helped them to connect to their back bodies and find more stability and grounding while creating more freedom. They were grateful to find relief from injuries and balance within themselves. It was beautiful to watch the students embody the principles and each day their inner light shone through with more resplendence. They were literally transforming before my eyes! There were moments that even though I did not speak Chinese it seemed I could feel what they were saying before the translator could get the words out. My assistant Ben would joke with me that I was learning to understand Chinese quite quickly.
The forth day of the immersion was Anusara's thirteenth birthday. The students were excited to have the opportunity to celebrate their newfound practice. We opened the class to other students at the studio, and I led a class for about 50 people. It was wonderful to see the immersion students putting what they learned into practice while sharing their joy with the others. We finished the day with chocolate cake and a round of the happy birthday song in Chinese.
By the end of the training, the community that formed was unlike what any of them had experienced in the past. We all felt the camaraderie of sisters and brothers, or Kula. On the last day I asked the students what they will do with what they have received. Many talked about how they had been selfish with their family, especially their husbands or wives. They were excited to go home and share the Anusara philosophy with their families and put what they had learned into practice both on and off the mat.
As I prepared for my journey back home I felt a profound shift in myself. This experience fulfilled one of my deepest desires; which is to share the teachings of Anusara Yoga with people who don't have access to it. I feel certain that each one of us is better for our time spent together, and that the teachings will extend far beyond those who were in attendance. What a beautiful blessing! In addition my calf muscles have never been so sore as they were after climbing up The Great Wall - check out those stairs!
With love and gratitude to John Friend and all of my teachers. Namaste.Stacey Rosenberg is a Certified Anusara Yoga teacher in San Francisco and around the globe. Her classes are dynamic and playful and provide a fun, safe, and nurturing environment that invites students to move deeply into their own hearts and transform their lives.
August 19, 2010
by Stacey Rosenberg
I was honored when my friend Benjamin Finnerty who is living and teaching yoga in Shanghai, China invited me to come teach the Anusara Immersion at Fine Yoga in Beijing. I must admit a feeling of unease came over me because this would be my first time teaching to students of another language and culture and working with a translator, but I knew it was a great opportunity for me to grow as a teacher.
Over the next several months, as we made the plans the idea became more comfortable. During that time a friend said that "life begins at the edge of your comfort zone"! This is so true; it is the experiences where we have to dig deep inside our self and find the courage that expands us the most. My yoga practice and years of teaching had prepared me for this endeavor.
On my first day, though I was quite jet-lagged from the journey, I was taken on a whirlwind tour of Beijing. First we visited the Temple of Heaven, which is located behind one of the biggest and most famous parks in Beijing. Like most Chinese parks in the morning, it was full of people practicing Tai Chi, dancing, playing games, stretching and enjoying themselves.
This particular park had a section with equipment like a gym in the USA! At 9:30 on a Wednesday morning people were playing together, both men and women young and old, were getting exercise, socializing and enjoying life. It was beautiful.
Thursday was the first day of the immersion. Though I felt at ease about teaching and comfortable with the material there was still this question in my mind about how to connect to the students. We spent the whole first day on the First Principle of Anusara Yoga, which is opening to grace.
Though the students wanted to learn the alignment very much we kept our focus on cultivating sensitivity, connecting to their breath and their hearts and taking a more expansive view. In Chinese, just like Sanskrit, the word for heart and mind is the same, and both cultures are very connected to the idea of living from their hearts. There is a Taoist expression that says, "See every thing from the light of heaven," so the concept of first principle was not new. As the day went on they were beginning to soften their effort and embody it in their poses on the mat.
Though we began worlds apart, by the end of the first day each member of the group shared their experiences, and the boundaries between us dissolved with their shyness. I saw the reflection of my own trust that we would connect reflected back through them, and it was more apparent to me than ever that our hearts' know no boundary of language and culture. We connected on the most fundamental level, and I will be forever transformed.
When have you had to find courage to do something out of your norm? How are you better for the experience?Stacey Rosenberg is a Certified Anusara Yoga teacher in San Francisco and around the globe. Her classes are dynamic and playful and provide a fun, safe, and nurturing environment that invites students to move deeply into their own hearts and transform their lives. www.namastacey.com
August 19, 2010
Robin, a local therapist in Haines, Alaska invited me to her home for a private yoga session. She said she had to check the tide schedule to see when it would work. Check the tide? Yes, she lives across Mud Bay where part of the day you can walk across the mud flats, and then when the tide comes in (Haines has the third most changing tide in the world) and you have to canoe across.
There are a dozen or so families across the bay that all live by the tide, completely off the grid. I was up for the adventure, so I biked over to meet her. After loaning me a pair of extra tough rubber boots we took the 10-minute walk across the seaweed-strewn mud flats together. As we walked, I was struck by the color of the seaweed and also at the realization that this was her commute to and from her home in any weather: rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind....this is Alaska after all.
On this July day I was still wearing a hat and coat! As I stopped to examine the seaweed she told me about how she had prepared our dinner for the evening. The propane for the stove had run out that morning and her partner had tried to bring the propane tank over in the canoe earlier, but it had been too windy and he had to turn back. Needing to use the stove to boil water she got creative and cooked on the wood burning stove. When we arrived at their home, a three-story cabin perched over the bay, she gave me a tour of her prolific garden. I am continually amazed at the abundance of Alaskan gardens and what vegetables and flowers can do in a short growing season with long, long days.
We had a lovely yoga session and delicious dinner with vegetables from the garden and wood stove cooked pasta. After dinner and some greatly enjoyed conversation (Robin's partner, Dan, is writing a book on the history of the Native Alaskan people) I was informed that we had five minutes left to make it across the bay before the tide came in. We had to leave NOW!
Back into the rubber boots I went, and tromp across the bay we did as the tide quickly crept in. Robin told me she thinks about her yoga practice and the support her abdominal muscles give her as she makes the pilgrimage across the bay. She says she keeps her low belly drawn in and her spine in elongation as she confidently and gratefully makes the journey across.
I tried to do the same as I sloshed through the mud and sea weed trying not to fall, my heart pounding in my chest, wind blowing across my cheeks. I was silently hoping I would make it across before the tide came in and that I would not have to strip and wade as I did a previous year when another Mud Bay resident invited me to dinner! Actually, that was great fun as well and its all part of the adventure and life in Haines, Alaska.
How can you use your yoga practice during the day? How can you stay connected to the cycles of mother nature?
Sarana Miller lives and
teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sarana is trained in the Iyengar
and Forrest Yoga traditions and is a graduate of the Piedmont Yoga
Advanced Studies Program and the Forrest Yoga Teacher training program
and is currently studying the Sarah Powers method. She also sings and
studies kirtan with Jai Uttal.
August 13, 2010
During my visits to Haines, Alaska these past several years I have had the good fortune to attend the Southeast Alaska State Fair. It is a sweet fair organized primarily by volunteers that has a wonderful homey feel and also displays a great deal of talent and creativity. The fair has everything from a petting zoo with goats and llamas to a vegetable and pie contest. There is also a world-class puppet show (in its own log cabin) and a line up of incredible musical acts from around the country.
This year, I decided I wanted to contribute as well. I have been receiving the benefits of the hard work of the community and I decided a little seva, selfless service, on my part was in order. So, I signed up to work the Hospice of Haines Pie Booth and registered myself to teach a yoga class that included kirtan. Both turned out to be special in different ways.
At the pie booth, I got to receive and sell the dozens of pies as they came in from the woman of Haines. A freshly baked wild blueberry pie is a beautiful site. I knew the woman who made it spent hours picking berries and lovingly making that pie. I was so touched by the love and care that went into each pie, all going to raise money for Hospice. This is yoga in action.
I was a little nervous about my yoga class, it being my first time teaching at a fair. I asked my good friend, Bruce Blake, if he had any advice for me. He said, "Just pretend you are at Burning Man."
Yes, then I got it. Offering a respite from all the activity of the fair and a chance for students to connect in with their breath and their sense of center and home was all I had to do. We were fortunate to have a small dome for the class, and I opened with a short kirtan which dropped us all in.
From there, I had students connect in with their breath as I lead them through a slow supine hip opening sequence. Little by little I could feel them letting go, and the sounds of the fair (like the train that honked every 15 minutes) around us became just like little bells to remind us to connect back with our ever present friend of the breath.
As my dear friend and mentor Thomas Fortel says of the breath, " In times of challenge we breathe deeply and come into the moment. In times of joy, we also breathe deeply and come into the moment."
So there, in that little white dome, amidst the frenzy of the fair, we all joined each other in connecting with our breath and coming home into our bodies.
I give thanks for all the people that made the fair possible and to the practice of yoga, my friend and companion on this journey of life. Sarana Miller lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sarana is trained in the Iyengar and Forrest Yoga traditions and is a graduate of the Piedmont Yoga Advanced Studies Program and the Forrest Yoga Teacher training program and is currently studying the Sarah Powers method. She also sings and studies kirtan with Jai Uttal.
August 4, 2010
This is the first of a series of blogs by yoga teachers on tour. Join them as they find inspiration to practice all over the world!
Seven years ago a friend invited me to his hometown of Haines in Southeast Alaska. I had never considered visiting Alaska and didn't give it much consideration; however, he didn't give up easily and started sending me pictures of the river and mountains that persuaded me to visit the little borough of Haines (pop. 2,400) for a week.
I fell in love with Haines at first sight and have returned every summer since. The people are friendly and generous and the natural beauty unparalleled. I started teaching a yoga class or two at the local community center that also houses the public radio and theater, and now have expanded into leading a full weekend workshop and evening kirtan. An incredible family (Beth MacCready and Greg Bigsby) who practice yoga and meditation host me at their unique 15-acre waterfront property where the river meets the ocean. I stay in a yurt, pictured above.
Eagles fly overhead, seals and whales swim by, an occasional moose or bear wander in, and snow-capped mountains rise out of water as far as the eye can see. It is here, by the sea in southeast Alaska that I have precious time to recharge my battery that gets worn down from living in an urban environment the rest of the year.
My month here is a time for me to remember the practice of slowing down, the importance of rest and the healing power of mother nature. My singing, mediation and asana practice have plenty of space to unfold in this unique natural setting.
I plan my workshop with nature as a theme: trees rooting down to grow up toward the sun. We practice rooting down into the earth with our feet and drawing energy up from the earth through the spine and out the crown of the head, allowing it to open and expand from the sky. We practiced this in Tadasana and through the standing poses. I gave the students a "home play" assignment to practice this extension as they stand and walk throughout the day. I invite you to join us in this practice as well!
Where do you go to recharge your battery? And what makes you feel connected to nature?Sarana Miller is trained in the Iyengar and Forrest Yoga traditions and is currently studying the Sarah Powers style. A student of Jai Uttal, she teaches yoga and leads kirtan in San Francisco.
Liability insurance and benefits to support teachers and studios.
Learn More »
||Enter the latest Yoga Journal sweepstakes for your chance to win fabulous prizes!
Enter Now »