Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013



Merry Christmas from Detroit, y’all. It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it? I hope this letter finds you healthy and joyful and warm.

As most of you know, I moved to Detroit in February from my home of 25 years, Milwaukee. The decision was borne of a need to take the next step of walking the talk, to become a student once again. and to leave in large part my accumulations of comfort, resources, and status. I felt Detroit had something to teach me, and I have not been wrong, although many of the lessons have been friggin’ hard!

In February, I moved in as house manager for Capuchin Corps Volunteers Detroit. I lived with 3 volunteers, ranging from early 20s to mid 50s in age, who were spending a year working at local social service nonprofits. My job, in exchange for housing, was to organize the house repairs and renovation. As I became integrated into the house and community, the Cap Corps House on the east side of Detroit, increasingly became a gathering place. We hosted drum circles, neighborhood meetings, visiting poets and filmmakers, international Couchsurfers, Allied Media Conference and Detroit 2013 attenders, and returning citizens, with abundant food for all. To tell you the truth, it was a bit much at times! But it revealed how much so many of us longed for beloved community, a place of welcome, and meaningful friendship in “liberated territory.” And showed us what was possible.

Several of us in the house knew we would be moving out in August when our terms ended with Cap Corps. We all longed to continue living in community and wondered what this might mean. Detroit has no shortage of beautiful, well-built housing from the early 20thcentury. Sadly, too many are empty and dilapidated. Grace intervened, and through a series of events, 7 community members ended up moving into a turn of the century, 3-story gem down the street from the Cap Corps House.

In August, we started up New Work Field Street Collective, with the purpose of “meeting mutual needs by embracing neighborly interdependence through self-sustaining industries.”

What does this all mean? When I moved to Detroit, I became active at the Boggs Center, founded by Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, and down the block from the Cap Corps House. I joined the New Work committee, exploring the concepts of New Work/New Culture/New Economy. In a post-industrial, post-capitalist and post-socialist, post-oil, post-JOBS era, how do we survive and thrive? The jobs aren’t coming back, y’all, in case you haven’t noticed. Our house, NWFSC, is the beginning of an answer to the question. Here, we have several enterprises: New Work Leathercrafting, Homespun Hustle (sewing, knitting, quilting…), Food2Gather (meals, food preservation, carry-out), Healing House (yoga, Capoeira, meditation, massage), and more to come. In the coming year we plan to engage in developing alternative energy for our neighborhood and beyond.

What this means on the ground is that we’ve been struggling to fix up an old house, and we’ve only had heat and hot water for a few weeks! Still, no shower, and only 5 radiators installed so far in a 4000+ square foor building. Nevertheless, we’ve made amazing progress (I will spare you the gritty details!) and most days, we embrace this immense challenge.

Meanwhile, yoga, thank God, continues to sustain me on every level. Simultaneous with all this, we opened Iyengar Yoga Detroit, a regional center for comprehensive study. We began offering classes in September and we are growing daily. This week, we begin construction on our rope wall! You are most welcome to make a tax-deductible contribution to our development.

What does all this outer activity mean for my inner life? It’s been another year of recognizing privilege, and calling it out, dismantling it, leveraging, or transforming it for communal good. It’s been a year of working through complicated social dynamics as we create a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational household. In this past year, I’ve been in more uncomfortable situations than in my last 10 years in Milwaukee. My learning curve has been steep in my 50th year! And that is a good place to be. At this growth edge, I hope to stay vital, relevant, and useful for decades to come.

It seems my children (Meiko—27, Katja—25, Malachi—22) and I are all asking the same questions: what does it mean to be human in the 21st century? How do we live sustainably and harmoniously and joyfully? I am deeply blessed to be sharing housing with Meiko! We relate to each other as adult roommates, but also enjoy the mother/daughter bond. And our food! Mmmmm. She is developing her food enterprise, giving massages and helping to run a healing center, and apprenticing with me as an Iyengar Yoga teacher.

Katja is living in a treehouse in the rainforest on the Big Island of Hawaii. She is growing vegetables, making jewelry, subbing at the local Waldorf School, and taking care of a slew of cats and a dog. Malachi graduated from Occidental College this year, and living in Los Angeles. His radical social justice heart is leading him toward law school. Needless to say, my children have as much, if not more, to teach me than I have to teach them. They amaze me and I am deeply honored to know them.

May your coming year be full of the light of learning and love. May you thrive in this era of major transition and develop your own “new work.” May we remember, on this holy day, that Jesus came as a revolutionary, to liberate us all from oppression. May we all create beloved community in the coming year, wherever we are. Do not hesitate to contact me, kwisuk63@gmail.com, 313 454 1401.

So much love, from here to there.
still the Badass Yoga Nun, peggy kwisuk hong

Saturday, November 2, 2013

LETTER FROM DETROIT

Since July when I last blogged, ten of us have come together to create New Work Field Street Collective, in which we embody the principles of New Work/New Culture/New Economy. We strive to produce as much as what we need as possible under our own roof and eventually support ourselves and our communities through self-sustaining cottage industries,

That’s the plan, right? What this means in actuality is that in August, we moved into a huge, stunning turn-of-the-20th century house without water, electricity, or heat, with peeling paint and crumbling plaster. We have asbestos covered pipes, we have old lead paint, we have mold in the basement. Everything that could have been stripped from the house had been taken by plunderers during its vacancy: pipes, radiators, light fixtures and bulbs, wiring cut in every room. Even the doorknobs were stolen.

Over the course of months, we finally have electricity, running water, one working toilet, and a kitchen sink. Friends and friends of friends have donated a refrigerator (never mind that the door doesn’t quite seal), a stove (even though only one burner ignites, we can light 2 of the remaining 3 with a match), and we have raised money for a boiler and radiators to be installed soon.

In practically any other city, what I am doing would be considered outrageous. Exposed asbestos, lead paint, carrying buckets of water from the neighbor’s spigot, huddling by the space heater for warmth. But in Detroit, I have tons of company. Practically everyone I know has lived like this, if they’re not still. Some folks have chosen to live without central heat or running water. Some have absolutely no choice. I get no pity here, it’s just not that big a deal.

I have been in survival mode since August, and I have limited energy for yoga practice, Korean language study, blogging, songwriting, meditation, or any of my other self-sustaining practices. As long as I had to make appointments for bowel movements, showers, and internet, depending on the generosity of my neighbors, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I understand just a bit more what the experience of the marginalized in our society must be. At the same time I recognize that the way I am living is similar to how humans have lived for millenia, and still how much of the world lives now,

No matter. I still have wild greens growing in the alley for smoothies. We’ve discovered a slew of untended apple trees in our neighborhood, and one glorious Bartlett pear tree. We wake to the smell of apple crisp, and use the dehydrator as a heat source as it dries apple chips. We have several musicians in the house and more in the neighborhood, a living room full of musical instruments, and spontaneous drumming and jamming circles on any given day. We have poets and emcees and visual artists and chefs. We have former gang members and Black Panthers-cum-community organizers, connecting folks and groups. We have gallons of home-brewed kombucha: since our main oven doesn’t work, we use its pilot light for fermentation. We have beautful hand-craftedleather belts, soft reusable cloth menstrual pads, and our first Field Street Quilt. We have food for months, including dozens of quarts of jams, apple sauce, tomatoes, and much more.

Last night was a breakthrough: I took my first hot bath in my own house. Not because we have hot water and a tub! That would be so 20th century. No, it happened because I scrounged up a round plastic basin I found covered with basement grime, cleaned it up, and boiled up a kettle of water. Thanks to my years of yoga and supple hip flexors, I was able to squeeze myself, knees to chest, into the steaming water for the best bath ever in my entire life. Upstairs, Crystal, recovering from a death-defying car accident, lay in bed strumming ukulele. In the living room, Ty improvised on his accordion. Listening to strains of Beirut, “Let it Be” and “Here Comes the Sun,” as I scrubbed the callouses off my feet, it was once again, pure magic in the New Work House.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A 50th Birthday Poem

TURNING 50

in detroit’s unseasonably warm october rain
it’s thursday in the week of my life
hump day is over:
the transitional 40s
where I negotiated between young and old
no longer middle aged
call me elder, call me crone

whatever I’ve accomplished
it’s because I’m more than willing
to make a fool of myself
the older I get
the less I have to lose
the closer I can walk to the edge
the more willingly I embrace risk
as an essential need of my expanding soul
I ride the edge everyday
cycling to yoga in the nebulous bike lane of the boulevard

when I die
it will not be because I refuse to get mammograms
or the colonoscopy recommended for people my age
it will not be from reliance on doctors and big pharma
in my uninsured life

when I die it will be because
I am ready for the leap
into ultimate reality
when I die it will be because
I’ve completed my earthly dharma
and I yearn for a return to saturn

my children grown
everyone needs an exit strategy
some excuse to check out
I straddle eternity
one foot in the ever unfolding now
the other in the orbit of the infinite

thank god it’s holy thursday
one last rain before november snow
to wash away the chaos in my wake
all those lapses and bumbles
forgive the ways I’ve hurt you
all those moments of unconsciousness
shackled by my own shrunken self
those times I’ve forgetten
we are galaxies and dust of nebulae
when I have been unable to see
you are lightning splitting clouds open
and I am thunder rumbling through midwestern sky

turning 60 will be friday
my 70s and beyond will be the expansive
unrushed realm of saturday
so that at some point
I will slip into ether

my grip softens a bit
nothing to cling to
nothing to crave
nothing to push away
and nothing to lose

50 years old and a complete fool

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Detroit and the New American Revolution: A Sermon at Unitarian Church West, Milwaukee, WI

"We are at a stage in human history that is as monumental as changing from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society and from an agricultural society to an industrial society. Where we're headed now will be different because we have exhausted planetary space and human space for us to continue to look at things through the Cartesian measurement of material things. We need to face the way we used the world for our gains, pleasures, satisfactions. This is the way we evolve to a higher stage of humanity. And unless we want to live in terror for the rest of our lives, we need to change our view about acquiring things. We have the opportunity to take a great leap forward in these very challenging times. We need to change our institutions and ourselves. We need to seize opportunities. We need to launch our imaginations beyond the thinking of the past. We need to discern who we are and expand on our humanness and sacredness. That's how we change the world, which happens because WE will be the change."
Grace Lee Boggs, 98, a long-time Detroit political and labor activist, author, and philosopher


DETROIT: 6 WORD POSTCARDS


39 cent blueberries
spontaneous houseful sharing

monday morning email
house concert
tonight!

circling strangers
pound drums
breathe together

crystal bowl
so resonant
it shatters

dumpster dived
organic lemons
calla lillies

dumpster chocolate
passed around
holy communion

urban sheer dark
cycling pothole patches

shattered glass
every curb
ride wide

loosen grip
on handlebars
and float

new moon
broken streetlights
brighter stars


It was almost exactly a year ago when the idea of moving to Detroit swept over me. After 25 years in Milwaukee, I began entertaining the notion of a major life change. Feeling a need for a sabbatical, after years of full time yoga teaching, mentoring, writing, and community organizing, Detroit called to me as a place I could be more student than teacher, a place that had much to teach me. The vision unfolded within minutes. Almost immediately I began telling people, and the vision started to become reality. A friend lined up rent-free housing for me as house manager in an intentional community, I connected with Iyengar Yoga teachers and community organizers, and off I went, back in February of this year.

“Why Detroit?” many asked, followed by, “In the suburbs, right?” or “Downtown?” Actually I live in the heart of Detroit’s near east side, an area of grand, early 20th century houses, formerly occupied by executives and professionals, but now riddled with empty, crumbling houses and lots. Detroit is about 85% African American, and my neighborhood is almost all Black.

I love my neighborhood, where folks wave hello even through car windows, elders sit on front porches for hours watching the comings and goings, and kids set up basketball hoops in the street. We had a block party like I have never seen, complete with a DJ and a Soul Train line where grandmas danced with grandbabies.

The mainstream media embedded in racism/white supremacy would have us believe Detroit is dangerous, no place for a 50 year old Korean American lady. In fact, for months my neighbors had no idea what to make of me—that little Chinese lady, or man, or whatever, down the street. But as I got to know more and more of my neighbors, and invited them to the yoga class at my house, as well as potlucks, drum circles, and more, they started to open up. The house has become a gathering place: for neighborhood teens, the ex-offenders at the halfway house around the corner, block club meetings, artists, and organizers.

But Detroit needn’t be romanticized. Like Harambee/Riverwest where I lived in Milwaukee, I sometimes hear gunshots. My neighbor’s car was stolen. We’ve had a few things go missing from our house. Shit happens, and wherever desperation and disparities of privilege exist, so does potential for distrust, resentment, and harm. In my neighborhood, multi-generational poverty exists side by side with middle class Chrysler retirees, with a smattering of drug dealers.

So why am I here?

Like tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, I participated in the demonstrations for union rights in 2011. Our numbers grew, but those in power still managed to plow over us with their corporate agenda of privatization. We tried to effect change through the state house and senate, then through the courts, and finally staged a recall of Governor Walker, only to see him re-elected, largely due to a media co-opted by big money and a miseducated public manipulated into resignation.

At this point I began an email conversation with some organizers in Detroit, wondering what they might have to advise about resistance and social change in Wisconsin. A group of us started a study group at People’s Books Cooperative on Grace Lee Boggs’ book, NEXT AMERICAN REVOLUTION: SUSTAINABLE ACTIVISM FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.

We took to heart Grace’s recommendation of 90% pro-action, and only 10% re-action. Instead of our habit of resistance, we started to imagine a future of our own creation, not at the mercy of governments and institutions.

So what is happening in Detroit? On one hand, it’s as dire as it’s ever been. Most recently the city declared bankruptcy. The people’s vote was nullified when, against the wishes of the citizens, the governor began appointing emergency managers in just about every majority Black city in Michigan, including Detroit.

Gentrification and land grabs are not the answer, as houses and lots get purchased by investors from New York City to Singapore, long-time residents get displaced, and wealth is concentrated in fewer hands.

How do we respond? At the Boggs Center, down the street from where I live, we have a project we call New Work/New Culture/New Economy. We are building a post-capitalist, post-oil, post-industrial, post-jobs life and culture. We strive not only to make a living, but to make a life, embracing true sustainability with the earth and all its inhabitants.

Based on these principles, we are building a housing cooperative on our street. The Island View Housing Co-op embraces neighborly interdependence by meeting mutual needs through self-sustaining industries. We plan to sustain ourselves through a variety of cottage industries ranging from “Homespun Hustle”—sewing, knitting, quilting, and more, made from repurposed materials; to a leathercraft studio where we will ultimately make our own shoes from old tires; to a holistic healing center featuring yoga, massage, and meditation. We plan to meet our basic needs through our own hands, using capitalism’s cast-offs, and teaching everyone interested how to make their own. Ultimately we hope to grow and preserve our own food, use renewable energy, and use digital fabrication to manufacture things we need instead of purchasing them.

On paper, Detroit’s unemployment rate hovers around 20-25%, but word on the street is that it’s more like 50%. If you walk down my block, you will meet neighbors right and left who are home at any given hour, because they have no job to report to. Detroit is a city of survivors. They’ve survived 25 generations of chattel slavery, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, leaving Alabama and Mississippi for factory jobs, only to have those jobs, and their houses, pulled out from under them,

Detroit often feels like it’s outside the USA, and more like a non-industrialized country, which it is, after 50 years of deliberate deindustrialization. People have a different sense of time and obligation. It could take you 30 minutes to walk one block, because there are so many neighbors to check up on and chat with. Detroit is a front porch city rather than a back deck town.

The stars are brighter in Detroit because there are fewer streetlights. People are friendlier because without a job they are indebted to, they have more time on their hands. All this time and not much money means you have time to cultivate relationships, and you become more resourceful and creative. Instead of going shopping for something, you’re more likely to borrow it. Instead of buying services, you ask folks for favors. Instead of perpetuating the delusion of rugged independence, we see that we are clearly dependent on each other.

Detroiters comment that when they visit other cities, they feel like they’re in a bubble about to pop, but nobody else seems to notice or mind. Thus we go around in our cars burning disappearing fossil fuels, go grocery shopping for food packaged and shipped across nations, and go to jobs that are part of a dying economic system.

“Every victory brings a new set of contradictions,” comments Grace Lee Boggs. So the spanking new Detroit Whole Foods, while creating some jobs and providing a source of healthy food, also displaces mom and pop shops, hauls in overpackaged and overpriced food from thousands of miles away, and reinforces a caste system that undermines food justice.

Dialectical thinking is part of the Detroit ethic. That is, every negative brings a positive. Every truth is composed of contradictions. Within in the contradiction lies the helical potential for growth and change. Daily, we ask ourselves: “what contradictions are we willing to wrestle with?” And what contradictions are we no longer able to uphold? Gopal Dayaneni, a speaker at this year’s Allied Media Conference, an international gathering of activists, organizers, and visionaries held annually in Detroit, commented “Contradictions are inevitable; hypocrisy is unacceptable.” I propose that when we recognize our own hypocrisy, living that contradiction becomes unacceptable, and we find we must change.

Grace points out that we need to “grow our souls.” We need to increase our capacity for change. As you can see I’m wearing my revolution/evolution tshirt. The gist of this is that social change is based on personal evolution. In the USA we cannot create a revolution by overthrowing our government, which is far too large and entrenched in power, and held in place by multinational corporations. Instead society changes because WE change.

I recently posed a question to Grace: “How do we overcome our fear?” Fear of change, fear of survival, fear of interdependence, and whatever fears are holding us back from commiting to this next stage of human development. Grace answered, “Even greater than our fear of survival is fear of our own meaninglessness.” More than we need food and shelter, we need purpose and meaning in our lives.

Charles Eisenstein, who wrote what I consider a seminal book, SACRED ECONOMICS, points out that we each came here with a magnificent gift to share. Our task in our lifetime is to realize and manifest that magnificent gift. Yet, our society has created a growing class of people separated from their gifts, and told repeatedly that they are expendable.

Grace recently commented in light of the appalling Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, that African Americans, and especially young Black men, have been seen as outsiders. Increasingly due to high unemployment, defacto segregated schools, alienation from mainstream economics, and other variations of apartheid, young Trayvon was perceived as a threatening outsider who needed to be banished.

Grace went on to comment that as New Work proliferates, those who have been excluded from mainstream society can create greater meaning, interconnection, and security, by being able to meet their own and their community’s needs. Instead of being dependent on a job which may never materialize, or which they may acquire, but at the detriment of their souls, those who have been outsiders can place themselves at the center by becoming creators, and not consumers.

As Grace points out in the reading today, we need to admit we’ve abused the earth and its peoples. “And unless we want to live in terror for the rest of our lives [think of the fear that drove George Zimmerman], we need to change our view about acquiring things.” The antidote to consumption is creation. The antidote to violence is interconnection. The antidote to fear is community. “Beloved community,” Grace says, “is the essence of the next American revolution.”

“The jobs aren’t coming back,” is a mantra in Detroit. We are in the declining days of capitalism, when the primary source of revenue is no longer manufacturing, but debt. Even if you’re secure now, it doesn’t mean that your children and grandchildren will be. What does sustainability mean in the post-oil, post-industrial, post-jobs 21st century? Do you want to be toward the front end of the curve of revolution/evolution, or dragged along on the tail-end?

For people of color and the poor, who have always felt like outsiders, none of this is surprising or particularly upsetting. Just as the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s verdict represented just one more incident of centuries of white supremacy, many people of color and poor folks may feel like the system never served us anyway. Good riddance to the false securities sold to us. But for people who have benefited from capitalism for generations, and who enjoy the comforts and perqs, this sermon may be hard to swallow.

As I grow my soul, I have been shedding middle class privileges one by one. My car and bicycle are now shared among a group of friends and roommates. I’ve slashed my grocery budget from about $150/month to about $50/month. I may never buy organic food again, which is not to say I won’t find some in a dumpster or grow it myself. I may never pay for a hotel room again and instead surf on couches everywhere I go. I can’t remember the last time I shopped for clothes, and instead wear funky hand-me-downs or sew what I need from repurposed materials. Recently I made the promise to myself that I will never purchase sweatshop underwear again. What’s the alternative? Sew it myself from old tshirts!

The revolution is made by our own hands, from the cast-offs of capitalism. We have time to create, because we have thrown off the shackles of jobs to embrace our true human work.

No change is possible without inner evolution. I ask you to consider with me what it would take for everyone in the community, which includes the inner city, to have their basic needs of shelter, food, and safety met, and to experience a sense of interconnection and purpose. Capitalism may be based on vertical growth and stratification, but New Work requires horizontal growth and democratization. Instead of charity, solidarity. Instead of service, mutual interdependence.

Detroit writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown says we need “Joy powerful enough to provide authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness.” Joy, inspired by lifelong learning, generated by friendship and interdependence, and sustained by continual giving and receiving, is our resistance.

When we refuse to participate in structures that rely on oppression and exploitation—systems of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy—we make ourselves vulnerable. We have to ask for help. We place ourselves at the mercy of our communities and of strangers. But like the stars shining brighter in Detroit because of streetlights the city refuses to turn on, we can shine our own inner light by defying systems that oppress us, while growing stronger through interdependence. After all, this is what makes our struggle sacred. This is what it means to grow our souls.

Look within yourself to ask:
What holds you back from living your magnificent gift?
What contradictions are you no longer willing to uphold?
In what ways will you replace consumption with creation and interdependence?
How will you generate joy powerful enough to resist despair?

I’ve asked my friends Jessica Vega Gonzalez and KT Rusch to perform a song KT wrote. Let’s use this as a closing prayer and take a few minutes to listen deeply and open our hearts to the reassurance of the chorus, “Be still, and know that I am here.”

Namaste.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin, Rest In Power

tonight, rage
hurl righteous fury
stand on your front porch
under the detroit slivered moon
yell the child's name
at the top of your lungs
TRAYVON
TRAYVON
TRAYVON
until the neighbors wake up
and the tears break through the rage

tomorrow, maybe
you will pick yourself up
build
rebuild
tucking brick
harvesting kale
mending frayed elbows and knees
maybe
remembering your freedom
was never granted
from above
but always
always
from below


cry yourself to sleep
cry yourself awake
trayvon grows in power 
with each tear you shed
burns brighter 

with each act of defiance 
as he pulls you to your feet  
stand up, people
keep going
jump to your feet and fight 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Does "Community Gift" Mean?

Let’s face it: we cannot monetize what is most valuable to us. Capitalism has managed to monetize many of our material needs, like water, clean air, and land. Still, our most essential needs cannot be quantified or measured in dollars. Loving relationships, spiritual teachings, a beautiful summer day, a conversation with a friend, life itself….. all are priceless.

The practice of yoga used to consist of a sacred relationship between a teacher and student, involving not only asanas, but a whole lifestyle and philosophy. In the USA, yoga has become a fitness activity for the middle class. If you have the money and time you can go to class everyday, or hire a private teacher/personal trainer to come to your house and make you work out. If you have several thousand dollars, you can become a yoga teacher in a matter of months, or even weeks. That is, yoga has become a commodity.

Meanwhile I consciously strive to restore yoga to its sacred roots, while making it accessible to the widest possible population. After all there are no shortcuts to enlightenment and liberation, the ultimate goals of yoga.  The well yoga draws from has no bottom, and I am deeply indebted to BKS Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar, Prashant Iyengar, and the senior teachers here in the USA for their many decades of dedicated practice and teaching. What they have generously given me, I pass on to my students and my community.

I do not teach yoga as a hobby. Yoga teaching is my profession and my spiritual calling. Practicing since 1996, traveling every 2-3 years to India, and studying on a never-ending basis with the best teachers in the known universe, I feel I have something to share. For the first 12 years of my teaching path, I charged fees like other teachers in the USA. However, after the 2008 recession hit, many of my students lost the ability to keep paying for classes. I increasingly welcomed alternative forms of payment, and received quarts of soup, garden vegetables, massages, artwork, and much more.

I noticed that as we became more flexible and creative about payment, our community became stronger and more diverse. I wondered about the many friends and strangers who would come to a class given half a chance, if cost were not a factor. I thought about places of worship and spiritual centers that run strictly on donations, and wondered if a yoga school could do the same.

My move to Detroit was largely motivated by a desire to test this new model. Because my living expenses are relatively low, I can teach, practice and study, while taking on other community projects. Is it working? Yes and no. With a few classes, I earn about as much money as I did when I taught on a fee basis. Other classes may not even cover gas money for a day. (It’s a good thing I bicycle!) However, we are all on a learning curve as we wean ourselves from capitalism. I’m certainly not giving up on the Community Gift way of life.

So what does this all mean?

A Community Gift is NOT:
• A Freebie
  A hobby I am sharing with you
  A gesture of charity

A Community Gift IS:
• Beyond measurement, not quantifiable
• Meant to be passed on: having received, pass it forward in some way
• A free-will, heart donation that will be determined by you
• A creative, spiritual exchange I am making with you
• Sustaining my practice so I can continue to teach

What I want from my students:
• Dedication and some level of commitment. Even if a financial commitment is not required, make a spiritual commitment to the practice. Come to class regularly and practice a few poses on your own at home.
• Pass on the merits you have gained from the study of yoga. If yoga has given you a quiet mind, do a fovor for a stressed-out friend.
• Spread the love and tell others how yoga is benefiting you. Bring a friend to class.
• Support other Iyengar Yoga teachers in the community and go to their classes. My teachings come from a tradition with roots in India and the Iyengar family. Other Iyengar teachers share this lineage, and the profound, transformative lessons they have gained.
• Recognition that your teachers, even if they have chosen a spiritual path, also have material needs, like housing and food. Cash helps!

Learn more about gift culture and sacred economics here.

May we all learn together as we develop healing paths.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

It Is Time

 
(when asked why it's necessary to have a yoga class just for women of color....)



it is time to open up what has too long been closed

those back pages of the alternative weekly
filled with lisitings of asian call girls
release them from the sealed boxes of the classified ads

these groins we held hard
knees squeezed together to protect us
from the men we were supposed to trust

it is time to open up what has too long been closed

forced onto boats by traders or our own desperation
shackles on wrists and ankles across oceans
crowded boats of refugees unable to find safe harbor

it is time to open up what has too long been closed

lips sealed tight, ashamed of our accents
taught to be polite and submissive
sweaty armpits and hairy legs we were taught to hide
post-traumatic heart centers and tightened lungs
tawny brown, olive sallow, and deep mahogany skin
that marked us as inferior

it is time to open up what has too long been closed

our minds grown rigid from
negotiating the dissonance of our beautiful bodies
in a world that either discarded us
or put us in gilded cages like exotic birds

open the grave of sarah baartman
and bring her home to south africa
release her from the world’s fair
where she was mocked as the hottentot venus
break open the glass case in paris
where her skeleton, genitals, and brain were displayed

it is time to open up what has too long been closed

throw open the doors and windows of nail salons and dry cleaners
filled with the smog of neurotoxins
as dainty yellow hands caress yours

unlock the doors of sweatshops overseas
where brown sisters toil to feed their children and grandchildren

throw open the curtains on brothels here and everywhere
southeast asian sex tours
trafficked sisters drugged and enslaved
it is time to open up what has too long been closed

open your throat and bellow
open your mind and decolonize yourself
open your groins and shed your shame
open your heart and pour out your joy and suffering
open your belly and fill it with breath

it is time to open up what has too long been closed


1 may 2013
pkh

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 Statement of Purpose

Arriving in a new time and place, here is my updated, hope-to-be annual Statement of Purpose. I am consciously renouncing language that evokes empire, militarism, and religious oppression, so I choose to refrain from calling this a “mission statement.” I hope this statement will encourage others to contemplate and write out their own purpose statements. Please share, so that we can inspire each other, and compassionately hold each other accountable.

2013 Statement of Purpose:
I am here on the planet, and in this city, to heal myself on every level, so that I can be a healing presence for others. I am here to participate in the healing of my ancestors, my progeny, and members of my communities, as well as communities themselves. I am here to be student, teacher, and collaborator in the process of healing.

In order to fulfill this purpose, my goals are:

1.     To creatively and relentlessly resist and speak out against oppressive structures, while focusing primarily on building self-determined communities. I commit to spending 90% of my time and energy on building healthy communities free from exploitation and oppression, and 10% of my time and energy on creative resistance.

2.     To live increasingly independent of governments, societies and livelihoods based on exploitation and oppression of the earth and its people, especially people of color.

3.     To live increasingly in voluntary simplicity, reducing personal possessions and use of earthly resources, while cultivating a sense of inner abundance.

4.     To cultivate clarity of consciousness and continually increase my capacity for loving kindness through inner work including yoga, meditation, and the arts.

5.     To live cooperatively with people of color and allies committed to healing themselves and their communities, sharing resources, inspiration, and healing practices. These resources may include time, energy, space, food, vehicles, skills, information, and life experience.

6.     To strengthen cooperative communities by practicing clear, compassionate communication through deep listening and conversation, and frameworks such as Nonviolent Communication, Circle work, Clearness Committees, and more.

7.     To embrace celibacy as a spiritual path. Instead of partnership and sexual relations, I choose to channel my energy toward healing in the wider community. Meanwhile, I actively support other expressions of non-heteronormative sexuality.
 
8.     To recognize and maximize my gifts and the gifts of others, directing them toward uplifting community.  I commit to freely sharing my gifts, and to encourage others to do the same, trusting that giving and receiving are the basis of healthy community.

9.     While working for the healing of the wider community, to be the best mother I am capable of being, the best friend I am capable of being, the best neighbor, housemate, student, teacher, mentor, etc. I am capable of being. I understand that as inner work provides the foundation for outer work, my personal relationships provide the foundation for relating to the wider community.

10.  To place learning as a higher priority than teaching, and to continually be open to new lessons, and the challenge of new experiences and new perspectives. I commit to honoring the voice of truth within me, and speaking from that voice, while humbly recognizing that truth is multi-faceted. I commit to regarding everyone I encounter as my teacher.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

DETROIT SLOWDOWN

I pour down the ramp
thick as crystallized honey
collected from local hives
line up and hold steady

slow as michigan spring
slow as bureaucracy
slow as dreamless sleep

tens of thousands of cars on my ass
right foot light pulse on the gas
left foot steady on the clutch

all I can see is open road
ultimate american dream in motor city
why my parents left korea
the promise of freedom

fuck jack kerouac
and his white male privilege
he is not on the road with me
the blank canvas of road is mine and my ancestors

I slow down for my grandparents
who converted to christianity
because the american missionaries
were the only alternative
to japanese rule

for my mother’s mother
I choose to slow down
because she was not given the choice
betrothed in childhood to a stranger
bearing daughter after daughter
after daughter after daughter
after daughter
weeping after each birth
until the necessary son was born

my mother’s mother
who held me in her womb
as the ovum carrying my dna
formed inside my own mother

I slow down for my mother
capable of flying but forced to walk
behind my father per confucian custom

I slow down for my mother
who tamed her anger
by learning to love jesus
and fled early to the kingdom of heaven
unable to find it on earth

I slow down for my father
who never dared to slow down
who worked himself into an early death as well
who stifled his protest for so long
his brilliant mind atrophied
until he could no longer speak

I slow down for my adopted city of detroit
city of radical self-governance
determined to chart her own course
never mind the attempted corporate takeover
and the manufactured emergency
instead of rushing headlong into privatization
we meet outrage with outrage
turn the other cheek in first gear
with blinking hazards

I slow down for my suburban sisters and bros
pounding on my tail
because if there were no prisons
we would realize we are all in chains
because harriet tubman would’ve freed a thousand more
“if only they knew they were slaves”
I slow down for their gas guzzling sierras and expeditions

I slow down to honor vincent chin
who looked japanese enough
to be beaten to death by a white mob
for stealing american jobs
as a blonde sister leans out of her white suburban to shout
BUY AMERICAN
because I am an asian woman driving a volkswagen
her voice a blaring bullhorn on repeat
BUY AMERICAN BUY AMERICAN
BUY BUY BUY
AMERICANCANCAN

as if that would fix everything

I slow down to piss you off
if that’s what it takes to wake you up
I slow down to make time to breathe
slow soft inhale
slow soft exhale
I slow down to wonder
what is next

Saturday, March 16, 2013

DETROIT: 6 WORD POSTCARDS


39 cent blueberries
spontaneous houseful sharing

monday morning email
house concert
tonight!

circling strangers
pound drums
breathe together

crystal bowl
so resonant
it cracks

dumpster dived
calla lillies
organic lemons

dumpster chocolate
passed around
holy communion

urban sheer dark
cycling pothole patches

shattered glass
every curb
ride wide

loosen grip
on handlebars
and float

new moon
broken streetlights
brighter stars

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FROM PUNE, INDIA TO DETROIT, MICHIGAN

 

I’ve been in Detroit for a week now, and it is all it’s cracked up to be. Like India, where I was living and studying for the past month, everything is in-your-face-real. While oppression and exploitation exist all over the planet, here in the USA, we can choose to live in the delusional state of “free-est nation in the world.” We can stay in our bubbles and pretend democracy works for everyone. In both Detroit and India, poverty and devastation slam us in the solar plexus every single day. In India, every well-to-do neighborhood is surrounded by a ring of slums that provide the labor to make upper class life possible. A walk of any distance brings you into contact with children living on the street and rag collectors going through trash piles, which no doubt includes your refuse.

Here in Detroit, we are flanked by vacant houses. You get used to the burnt out buildings, shattered glass. You pull up to a CVS at midday and a security guard inside waves you off—the store is closed for no apparent reason. Everyone is doing the Detroit hustle—scrambling for a few hours of paid work, doing a little of this or that. We don’t need much to get by. Couple hundred to rent a room, another hundred for food to share in your intentional community, gas money if you have a car….

The macro task of yoga study is to discern between purusha—the eternal infinite, and prakrti—everything else. The world is so much prakrti, crumbling, burning up, decaying, so much impermanence. As our Vipassana teacher, Goenkaji, reminds us: anicha, anicha, changing, changing. If we accept our own constant state of change, no other impermanence shocks us or upsets us. Detroit reminds us of our own mortality.

But in that space of impermanence, purusha emerges. If we recognize the sacredness of all creation, human-made and otherwise, from crumbling sidewalks to 100-year-old trees, instead of seeing death, we see transformation and new forms of life. As Grace Lee Boggs points out, you can look at a vacant lot and see devastation, or you can see possibility. You choose.

One thing I love about India is that in a tropical climate, the nature forces are so strong. That is, if my apartment building in India was abondoned by humans for a month, plants, rodents, insects and other forms of life, would overtake it completely. Nature consumes, then recreates.

Many spiritual teachers acknowledge that everything is imbued with spirit, so as the Packard plant in Detroit crumbles, stone spirits are released from shattered glass and crumbling brick. Rain and snow water spirits wash over it all, and wind spirits scatter it. I think this is why humans have always been attracted to ruins. They serve as altars of sorts, shrines of human effort, once again proving to be impermanent, fleeting manifestations of prakrti, revealing what remains: infinite and eternal purusha.

If we recognize purusha at the Packard plant, we can recognize it in each other. We see the endurance of the human spirit, and tap into that as a renewable, sustainable resource. We see the endurance of the earth itself, how she endlessly renews herself. We see creativity, manifested through ways of living, making art, and relating to each other, as expressions of purusha.

Here in Detroit, knee-deep in crumbling prakrti, I am recreating myself in community, opening myself to the wisdom and brilliance of purusha.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

CLIENT, TOURIST, OR SHISYA?

 
When we come to India, having invested so much energy and expense, it’s easy to fall into our capitalist habits and expectations. That is, we want to Get Our Money’s Worth.

A spiritual practice with powerful physical effects, yoga has become commercially attractive. It’s cheaper and often more effective than physical therapy, chiropractics, or conventional medicine. It’s more thorough and enjoyable than a workout at the gym. Because many people and some medical insurance plans are willing to spend money on yoga, yoga teachers have the potential to make a living teaching and running centers. As a result, we have taken a spiritual path and imbued it with material expectations.

Not to begrudge our material needs. We all need a roof over our heads and a warm room, nourishment, and even better, community, education, and enrichment. However, we may be disserving yoga, or even abusing the art of practice, by expecting it to meet middle class standards of living. It may be that the application of yoga to our economic sphere leads to a corruption of the practice and a compromise of our soul needs. Not only that, but the relationship with our teacher can become compromised and problematic.

In the Iyengar Yoga world, we respectfully and affectionately refer to BKS Iyengar as “Guruji,” and bestow this same depth of respect to his children, Geetaji and Prashantji. A guru is a spiritual teacher, one who teaches you the art of living an integrated life on earth. “Guru” refers to the interplay between light and dark, as the guru dispels the darkness of ignorance, implying that this teacher shows us both the positive and the negative.

We see this most boldly in the teachings of Geetaji. Her standards are high and her temper is notorious, and along with her brilliant lessons, she sometimes berates her students ruthlessly. She brings out the most difficult lessons about ourselves in her classes. We can react by becoming defensive, or ignoring her feelings, or shutting ourselves down and running away, or becoming angry in return that she is wasting our time and being abusive.

But if we see Geeta as our guru, an extension of the role of BKS Iyengar, we shed our egos, allow our tamasic nature—which keeps us stuck in our old ways—to be broken down, release the urge to be defensive, and accept all that she gives us as necessary to our spiritual growth.

This is completely different from a commercial, consumeristic relationship, and is one reason I typically avoid giving private lessons. When someone pays my hourly rate as they would another highly trained professional or therapist, they often have an expectation that they will be served. Often they will seek out a private teacher as a substitute for practicing yoga on their own. They expect me to come up with the sequence, do all the set-ups, and run them through it. In this way, they become my client instead of a student. For this reason, I typically give private lessons only to students working on specific issues outside the scope of general classes who already are, or are committed to, beginning practice on their own. Even so, I usually limit the sessions to only one, with perhaps a follow-up.

Geetaji gets frustrated when she sees international students coming to RIMYI to be served, to be told what to do, to show off what they already know, and to have their egos reinforced. She wants us to take responsibility for our own learning, to not wait for her to repeat every last instruction, to meet her where she is instead of expecting her to meet us where we are, We need to come to RIMYI as sisyas—spiritual devotees, not as clients trying to get a good business deal, and not as yoga tourists.

Increasingly, I see my path as that of a yoga sadhu, a pilgrim. I have packed up my life into a stack of boxes occupying a corner of the living room in the yoga housing co-op I am moving out of. What I cannot fit into that corner will stay behind, at least for now. I am experimenting with how much I can give up, in order to more fully embody the yoga path.

I feel my particular task in the world of Iyengar Yoga is to bring the art and practice to populations who have not traditionally been given access, and offer Iyengar Yoga as a sacred art. As I journey to Detroit to join the “Urban Healing Revolution” in progress there, I wish to restore sacredness to the practice of Iyengar Yoga by teaching on a gift basis.

Let’s face it, the teachings from the Iyengars are priceless. We cannot put a dollar amount on it. By removing the teachings from the commercial realm, I hope to reinforce this art in the realm of the spiritual. I ask my community to support the Iyengars, their teachings, and my role as their student, by giving what they can to support me as a teacher. Their gifts, whether cash, time exchange, or barter of goods, will allow me to continue my study, meet my physical needs, and “pay for” the next student to receive the benefits they have received.

Let us open our hearts, minds, and bodies to the sacred gift of the teachings of the Iyengars. May we especially accept difficult lessons with grace and gratitude. May we as students support our local teachers in keeping the gift of the teachings circulating. May we teachers trust our communities to support us as we share the priceless lessons we have had the grace of receiving, for the benefit of our communities.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

HOW TO BE A YOGA STUDENT IN INDIA


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Many Iyengar Yoga students have written about the practical matters when one comes to RIMYI in Pune: how to find an apartment, how to get around, how to get cash, etc. However I would like to address the inner work of being a student at RIMYI, especially in this period in which India as a rising global power attracts travelers from all over the world.

At the end of last night’s class Raya UD gave an impassioned request to the international students: “PLEASE DO NOT COME HERE FOR VALIDATION OF WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW.” In other words, don’t come to have your ego stroked, don’t come to confirm your beliefs and practices, don’t come to validate what your Senior Teacher has taught you, don’t come as a teacher at all. Come as a student, come empty, come humble. Be ready to be vulnerable, be ready to be corrected and even reprimanded, perhaps harshly. Instead of being affirmed, be ready to be disrupted, shaken up, and confused. Out of that confusion can emerge radical new learning.

Please don’t come to India to help. Come to BE helped. Come to be transformed, not to transform India to your standards. As the Australian Aboriginal activists say, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together.”

Of course classes are crowded. Of course it’s noisy. Of course there is pollution, poverty, hawking and spitting. Of course there are mosquitoes and cockroaches. We cannot change or control these circumstances. As we practice nonjudgment and acceptance, we have more energy and space within for more learning, more transformation. We realize we don’t mind the dirt in the cracks of our feet—it all washes off.

The first time I came to Pune I witnessed a simple act that made a profound impact on me. I was staying with a woman who shared an apartment with her daughter and grandson. As we sat one morning at breakfast, a few mosquitoes hovered around the grandson’s head. After some research and discussion I had decided not to take the recommended malaria pills even though it was monsoon season. So when I noted the mosquitoes in the screen-free house, I experienced a little niggling anxiety. Usha, the grandmother, was as casual as ever, as she waved her hand around her grandson Akshay’s head. In the USA, even without the threat of malaria, we would have swatted violently at them, even if it meant striking the child. Then we would have been very proud of ourselves for decimating them. Here, the mosquitoes just were not a big deal at all.

I learned to practice this equanimity in evening Pranayama class, when at dusk, the mosquitoes would float indoors. Lying in Pranayama Savasana, I would feel a sting, but instead of reacting and scratching, I made myself lie still. What I learned is that the bite would swell up but stop itching in about 15 minutes. If I withheld the urge to scratch, by morning, the bite would be a tiny, inconsequential dot that didn’t even itch.

“When you come here, you are NOBODY,” Geetaji harshly reminds us, tired of the expectations of international students who are used to red carpet treatment. For some people this is a vacation, and the yoga is part of a range of activities which may include travel to a resort in Goa, shopping every weekend, day trips to ayurvedic spas or exotic temples, and so forth. Others may want to replicate their life in their home country and feel frustrated that they cannot find the right ingredients for their favorite dishes, or that things just are not as “good” here. Others may come here to be useful and helpful, and want to be appreciated for their service and sacrifice.

Morning practice in the hall can be intense. Mat to mat, we compete for space, props, and walls. Practitioners contort themselves into the most advanced poses that you’ve only seen in books, as well as those spending all morning propped in supine restoratives. Senior Teachers from around the world vie for Guruji’s attention, and the local teachers are on alert to anticipate and meet his requests. In that atmosphere it can be difficult to concentrate and impossible not to compare. One has to practice being fully in the present moment in that 24 x 68 inch space of one’s own mat, to listen to one’s own body and with intelligence, discern what should be practiced that day. Only here do we settle into anandamaya kosha, the bliss of the practice.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron points out, “Our ego is like a room with a closed door. Our whole life work is to open that door.” Study at RIMYI will be most rewarding if we let that door open: If we come with modesty, humility, openness, and trust, with a willingness to listen more than to be listened to, a willingness to have our ego bruised which could include getting our feelings hurt, and a willingness to feel small and empty. We learn that OUR ways are not always the best, that Western pharmaceuticals may hurt more than help, that what we believed about an asana may be delusional, and that cockroaches really can’t hurt us.

“Learning is as much an art as teaching,” BKS Iyengar observes. We come to RIMYI to shed the armor of our egos and practice the art of learning.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So Many Kinds of Privilege…..

Privilege is a conundrum. Often when we recognize someone has a particular privilege that we do not have—the ability to do something we do not have the means to do—we feel irked and resentful, especially if that privilege is unearned and the recipient does not recognize the privilege themselves, On the other hand, if we receive a certain privilege, like being upgraded to business class on a flight, we feel lucky and blessed. Rarely do we turn down a privilege offered to us. But when we accept the privilege, if we are socially/politically sensitive, we may feel pangs of guilt created by imbalance, like having hungry people watch us eat.

Here in India, so many different kinds of privilege become strikingly obvious. Here are just a few:

Food Privilege: I am noticing how international students at RIMYI apply their economic standards to India, and think nothing of spending a couple of hundred rupees on lunch or dinner ($4), or feasting on figs, or hiring a cook to make a daily meal for them. However, to most Indians, these are rare treats, if accessible at all. I am conscious of how our apartment of 4 international students produces so much compost, more than double or triple our neighbors, because we are consuming so much each day.

I noticed food privilege quite starkly when the 2 youths I have been sponsoring since 2005, Trupti (now age 19) and Tushar (age 17), invited me to their 1-room dwelling for tea. Their auntie made a strong black tea with no milk and a lot of sugar. Sugar is important to Indians because it provides cheap calories. If it’s several hours until supper and you’re hungry, what can you do?

Muscle Privilege: The level of physical activity I choose to do each day requires  quite a bit of protein, which can be challenging to acquire in a nation whose staples are rice and dal. Not only did I haul several pounds of organic nuts and seeds to India from the USA, but I need to carry around packets of cashews and groundnuts to keep my blood sugar from plummeting and to keep up my energy level for yoga practice and study. Although India’s overweight population grows, like many of the obese in the USA, the excess weight is created by inexpensive carbs.

Size Privilege: Also related to Food Privilege and Muscle privilege, It takes tremendous resources to grow large people like the Westerners here. Even someone my size feels they are taking up too much space, requiring too much energy. I feel like a Land Rover among Civics.

Yoga Privilege: Not for a minute do I forget how privileged I am to be here studying. Trupti and Tushar  have never had exposure to this practice, and cannot relate to it. Only the well-to-do in India have access to this path. Not only must they have the money and time to study, but they also need to know English, the language used in many classes.

What to do with all my unearned privilege? Is it possible to deny myself these privileges as an act of solidarity? However, this disengenuous stance wouldn’t solve the larger global problems of inequality, unfair trade, white supremacy, and exploitation. The issues of privilege here are the same we have in the USA, except more extreme. Back home, even though I have given up much of my economic privilege, and have never enjoyed white privilege, I still benefit from educational and class privilege.

I see the project of “de-privileging” myself as a decolonizing process. That is, as I become increasingly immersed in Indian culture and society, I may become less dependent on my privileges. In the USA I have layer by layer shed middle-class privileges such as retirement benefits, health insurance, my own home, etc., in order to devote myself more fully to the yoga path, Perhaps the next stage of the yoga path for me is to become more aware of my place in the world, and how I perpetuate or challenge hierarchies everywhere, not just in the USA.

Here in India, I feel literally and figuratively that hungry people always watch me eat. May I sit in that discomfort, recognize my privilege, and with full consciousness, find ways to live the yoga message of liberation for all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Iyengar Yoga, the Next Generation


When I was last at RIMYI in July 2010, Geeta Iyengar was taking a break from teaching to deal with health concerns. Everyone was quite concerned about her, as well as disappointed that our long awaited classes with our brilliant teacher were being subbed. We felt we had traveled such a long distance and sacrificed so much time, energy, and money, to come and study with her.

My generation of Iyengar Yoga practitioners who have had the honor of studying with her appreciate her unblinking keen eye, her precise language coupled with her scope of perception, and her ability to take a large varied group deeply into an asana and glimpse the eternal in that experience. For those of us who did not get to study directly with BKS Iyengar, Geetaji has provided a doorway lighting the way to his genius.

Our disappointment in 2010 was somewhat tempered by the opportunity to take classes with some of the other teachers at RIMYI, several of them with decades of experience. Now, in 2013, as Geetaji has stepped back from many of her responsibilities as the main torchbearer of her father’s teachings, the next generation of teachers at RIMYI have stepped up even more. In the last several years, many of them have traveled to Iyengar Yoga conventions on various continents, including ours, and are teaching more and more internationally.

These days, I can happily state that the classes they provide at RIMYI have fulfilled the role of Geetaji and Guruji. They are stepping into their shoes with grace, confidence, firmness, conviction, and an energetic freshness of spirit.

Abhijata Sridhar exemplifies this new generation. Only in her mid-20s in age, she has been the primary recipient of Guruji’s wisdom for the last 10 years or so, as he has tutored her intensely almost every day. He has virtually poured his knowledge into her. When she speaks, she conveys his depth of knowledge and insight. When she arrives Wednesday and Saturday mornings to teach the crowded Women’s classes that for many years were Geetaji’s signature classes, she goes directly to Guruji’s practice corner in the hall as students arrange their mats. He gives her detailed instructions on sequencing and actions. Throughout class, he communicates with her, and guides her as he is practicing and watching from Sirsasana or Dwipada Viparita Dandasana.

Although she teaches many Senior Teachers from around the world who have studied Iyengar Yoga longer than she has been alive, Abhi remains unflappable, calm, firm, and clear. She has the authority of Guruji fully behind her. Her classes are consistently superb, as she takes us from the gross to the subtle, penetrating our thick minds and resistant bodies and transporting us to a lighter, clearer, more sattvic state.

I feel I am watching history being made. As Geetaji and Guruji pass the torch of their teachings, the flame glows as bright as ever. Instead of losing our beloved teachers, we are witnessing the evolution of the teachings, through the brilliance of the next generation. We are honored to participate in this beautiful transition.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Unfolding Ourselves Each Morning

I am completely convinced that 4 hours of intelligent asana each day will cure any disease, any ailment, any condition whatsoever. Toss in a half hour of pranayama and an hour of meditation, and you're invincible. That's what I get in Pune on good days: pranayama from 5-5:30am, 5:30-6:30am meditation, 9am-12pm asana, then a 2-hour asana class in the evening. Some afternoons I go to the library from 3-4pm, before assisting with the Remedial (Medical/Therapeutics) class from 4-6pm.

But other days, I wake up too late for pranayama, or I have to be on a phone call to the USA before morning class, or I choose to nap instead of go to the library, or menstrual cramps compel me to observe class instead of take it, or.....any number of good excuses can be found here, just as at home.

My slack days do not deter the beneficial effects and karma of my good days, however. When we are so fully present in our bodies, aerating all our chakras, opening our hearts and minds, no obstacle, not allergies, not depression, not sacral instability, can deter us from becoming more and more balanced. Not that I have already cured every last thing that ails me, but I'm getting there!

RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute) is not the easiest place to study yoga, to say the least. This January is the most crowded I have ever seen. During morning practice, we are mat to mat, with no space to keep props out. During class, our mats overlap, and sometimes we have to fold them in half to fit more students. We take Shavasana with our legs folded in Swastikasana. The mats, donated by international students over the years since they're hard to come by in India, are in various states of wear and stickiness, and probably have never been washed.

Yet, when I settle on a mat in the main hall of the Institute, any mat, I am home. Sattva washes over me, rinsing away the agitation of rajas and the heaviness of tamas. I am grateful, open, aware. I decide what I will practice that day: am I feeling tight, sleepy, high energy, achy? What is my body asking for? My practice sequence unfolds differently each day, although nearly each day includes some standing poses, quite a bit of time in inversions, and some backbends and twists.

All around me, experienced practitioners from all over the world unfold their sequences as well. I've met students from France, Italy, Brazil, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, China....you name it. All around me, quietly, students are earnestly folding forwards, backwards, to the sides, jumping to and fro, leaping upside down, and in every permutation humans can imagine.

The room becomes even more hushed if we hear Guruji, BKS Iyengar, speak, from his corner by the props room. He may be instructing one of the Senior Teachers from abroad, or he may be instructing his granddaughter, Abhijata Sridhar. If he is in a teaching mood, we all stop mid-asana to gather and sit silently nearby to catch whatever wisdom he may be passing on. We sit knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder, eager to soak in what we all traveled so far to learn.

Sometimes Guruji speaks so softly I can barely hear him, or I am so far back I cannot glean the lesson. But I don't mind. Just being in that charged atmosphere in the presence of brilliance is enough to keep me practicing, learning, staying another minute in Sirsasana, attempting Parivrtta Parsvakonasana a third time or a fourth time, waking up without an alarm before the birds, opening up to the fullest potential of yoga, another day, and another day, and another day.