When I was a child, growing up in Kuwait, my grandmother, whom I called Atta, had started teaching me to write Kannada. We didn’t go far over the years, but I was familiar with some of the letters. Mangalorean Konkani is written in the Kannada script and I was very familiar with Mama receiving letters from Atta after she had retired and left Kuwait. Atta had taught me to write my name too but I’d forgotten over the years.
A few weeks ago I started learning Kannada with a teacher. My mum and uncle were pleased and sweetly excited – them being naturally fluent…. and me sharing with them fun moments of learning baby steps of alphabets and svaras and vyanjanas etc.
So, my family comes from studying in the Kannada medium before moving to an English Convent High School.
Now, if you see this image 1, that is my handwriting after 4 weeks of Kannada. I’ve written LUVENA. To an untrained eye, with English as the primary language, I have some 6 squiggles corresponding to 6 English letters that MUST read ‘Luvena’! I mean, ‘Come on!!! This is Luvena, whose mother, uncle, Atta AND teacher have taught her Kannada letters!” How cool is that?! I clearly am putting out legit content on Social Media!!! Right?
‘Luvena’ according to Mama, is correctly written as in image 2 – that’s HER handwriting. THIS overrides any BS I may insist that you believe even if I say Image 1 is correct – because it is wrong.
Now, imagine me trying to teach you to write your name in Kannada – when I clearly don’t know enough (but you don’t know that). And you definitely don’t know at all!
Tell me, do you think I’ll be causing you harm? Fraud, even? Or will you absolve me of any wrong doing thinking I was merely trying to uphold my culture and honor my roots? What would you feel? And then replace my Kannada story with Sanskrit. Would you hold me accountable or would you love me so much to allow me to continue with the misinformation because you’re my friend and worse, because I’m an Indian / Desi / SA / woman yoga teacher? Even if you’re a WP/ non native or a Kannadiga. Please post your responses below .. I need to understand my audience, my students.. and myself.
I woke up this morning thinking about sex. Er.. ok let me rephrase that.. I woke up at 4 and then after my 2 hour practice, chanting, japa, meditation, etc, I got to thinking about sex. I got to thinking about sex in a very objective way (with some subjective inputs, of course) but I started off with a few questions that I have asked myself and friends before and have very compelling answers (again, subjective input).. 🙂 but this is what I started with:
Does one have to be naked to have sex? Can fully clothed sex – yes, your underwear comes off for this question – but can fully clothed sex be equally powerful?
Have you experienced the mindblowing experience of a non penetrative orgasm? (not referring to manual or oral or any kind of mechanical stimulation)
As an anatomy educator and a yoga practitioner/teacher, I have explored this area in many ways – physically, and intellectually and also looked at the philosophical / spiritual dimensions of how this is approached.
Firstly, my answers to the questions above:
Ans 1. No, one does not have to strip completely for powerful and pleasurable sex. Some of the most intimately profound experiences can be had in most used and greyed out cotton nightgowns or sleep T-shirts
Ans 2. Yes!
So, this isn’t a post on my personal experiences (haha!) but a sharing of thoughts that arose this morning on the importance of the aspect of sex & sexuality in spirituality.
I’ll start with the second point of discussion – the non penetrative orgasm. There is a common myth that sexual stimulation needs an object as a precursor – someone we have a crush on, porn, our own long term partners/spouse, etc. to possibly even think about and then get on with the motions. The next part would be either engaging in the act with them or by yourself – regardless of foreplay…. until the goal of the activity, the big O is achieved – either simultaneously (if with partners), or at different times, or sometimes even not. (btw, an orgasm isn’t the end goal of great sex!)
The actual sensation of an orgasm is a deeply psychosomatoneurological response that cannot really be explained in words. although there are a number of physiological responses that show up.
In spiritual context, however, an orgasm is often likened very closely to the bliss and ananda of merging with the supreme consciousness, brahman – that experience of union when nothing else exists but for a sense of completion or purnatva – realised after coming out of it.
Some years ago, while exploring this idea, I had stumbled upon the practice of sexual awareness to the point of coordinating the breath of partners while making love. Interestingly, even if one partner would attempt to match their breath with the other’s, the experience was significantly more intimate and powerful. Ask me, I know. So, the coordinated breath along with all the other motions of sexual intimacy (communication, consideration, care and presence, etc) all allowed for an state of uniformity and synchronous movement of mind, body & breath – and a very closely matching state of consciousness. I didn’t keep track, but I would say the orgasm was usually deeply powerful and simultaneous and embodied a tremendously euphoric psychospiritual response.
In later years, I worked with this idea of breath with and without any objects of stimulation – with meaning a mental image or an incident or a conducive mental environment; without meaning purely focusing on my own breath directed towards my body. Guess what? It was possible to replicate the same sensation! Not just once, many times over the years. No partner required! (erm.. no hands or external devices required either!)
I’ll let you do your own further research on that science …. and I’ll circle back to the spirituality of sex that I was thinking of today.
So, an orgasm is likened very closely to the feeling of completeness as in merging with Brahman. It is also a sense of union of two bodies (let’s stick to two for the sake of simplicity for now) – bodies that have a mind and sense of spirit too. The ‘sexual act’. then, becomes a deeply spiritual one – almost an act of worship – and not just one of carnal desire. It is the union of two bodies, minds and souls – the partners being the medium for each other to experience that blissful glimpse towards a deeper spiritual pursuit. The physical bodies and their actions stimulating, nudging and encouraging each other towards that experience.
Sexual intimacy, thus, becomes a sacred act of worshipping the Divine through out bodies and not an act to be taken lightly.
Orgasmic pleasure, however, can be very ‘addictive’, for lack of a better word, because it is a momentary glimpse into the purnatva (completeness) that we seek in moksha. Anything less than a feeling of wholeness may disturb us and an orgasm gives us that momentary satisfaction. However, this desire may lead some individuals to an addiction to sexual activity that may not always be available through one partner and may lead to sexual promiscuity.
Sexual experience is often said to leave an energetic imprint on sexual partners. Multiple partners, may dissipate the energy further – especially when emotional intimacy is lacking in the act. The search for spiritual compatibility / partnership / companionship may be missing completely from the encounters leaving behind a deeper sense of desolation and incompleteness…. opening the doors for a vicious cycle of sexual addiction and multiple partners in the search for completeness.
This spiritual idea has often been presented as a moralistic and virtue signalling calling for monogamy with the spiritual pleasure of sex subsequently devolving into to a mere perfunctory act – at best to procreate, at worst to violate, dominate and control another body.
The human condition, then, is still yearning for deeper answers. (psst – yes, the answers lie beyond our genitalia!) They may not always be in sex, for the pursuit of moksha, liberation, is one that we are all in for, even if we’re unaware of it. (Think of the number of times we’ve said that we wished all this pain & suffering we gone! Yes, moksha)
Shastras understood this. The Kama Sutra is not just a compendium of sexual positions. It is a scripture on the erotic arts! A scripture expounding on the means for people to explore liberation through their sexual senses and organs – sexual stimulation being one of the strongest. Sexual partners were lovers who cared for each other so deeply that the entire courtship, foreplay, intercourse, ensuing pleasure and culminating experience of orgasm is a journey for them to explore together.
Further, think of the spiritual energy that we refer to the kundalini shakti, that we understand to be dormant in the mooladhara chakra – the point that can be stimulated easily enough in the female anatomy. The male body requires a knowledgeable approach to access the mooladhara. There is a reason why the Kama sutra gives the various positions. I believe it is a way to get the partners to help each other in raising the energy from the mooladhara through the anahata (heart chakra) and towards the sensation of a higher chakra / energetic experience (a.k.a. the Big O)
In fact, even Adi Shankara, after winning his debate with Mandana Misra, was left without answers to the quesions posed by Mandana Misra’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati, on the erotic arts and sciences! Knowing this to be an area that needed experiential response, Shankaracharya used siddhis to learn, comprehend & understand these and came back to her with answers that sealed his victory in the debate and also established the path towards spiritual knowledge, jnana, through overcoming the passion & lust. (You can Google for the complete story)
I didn’t have any objective for this post. It was just a putting out there of the thought process and multiple ideas that surfaced on the topic that usually gets a lot of eyeballs because it is the very starting point of our existence. Rational debunking of shastra at this point is not invited – simply because the study of shastras cannot be contemplated by a rational mind. It just is. The texts usually are highly poetic & symbolic with a style rich in metaphors and literal translations often lead to misinterpretation and an ignorant / unproductive debate that I will not engage in currently. I am talking about sex, which is much more interesting.
Hope you enjoyed a moment with the thoughts that go on in my head on random days. I just felt that this one needed some documentation even if it is just for me to revisit sometime in the future.
So…. let me know what you think! Open to comments, ideas, thoughts….
I’m taking a break from Instagram for work starting today for a number of reasons. I’ve had lots of fun on Instagram with my yoga & philosophy work., meeting many colleagues, peers and fellow sadhakas who learn from each other. My students are mainly from IG and it serves as a great spot for connections and for sharing. The community has been very supportive.
But it has also opened me up to other sides of the story – largely the yoga story of yogaland – which, believe me, has very little to do with the land of yoga’s origin, and more to do with self-curated & self-oriented versions of the truth disguised as the self-declared ‘real thing’.
If you’re thinking I’m referring to White Supremacy in yoga – nope, that is a bigger problem that we all (even in India) are affected by because of colonization, capitalism and cultural appropriation. All these are hot buzzwords in Yogaland especially in the ‘South Asian’ or ‘Desi’ community because of being disenfranchised to participate fully & safely in their own practices…. but that isn’t where I’m headed.
My concern is with the assumption that ALL South Asians are yoga practitioners OR even teachers… and that ALL SA yoga practitioners / teachers are legit & qualified to teach yoga AND have the authority and legit information on the cultural, traditional, philosophical background of the breadth of yoga that is required to teach it. Yoga essentially may not have certifications, but there IS a process in qualifying teachers (that is not a 200 hr YTT/TTC course!)In the process of decolonizing yoga, the efforts are all focused on selling products to largely white people with purchasing power.
In the ask & process of passing the mic on to South Asian teachers, we have influential South Asians in the West holding the mic – which, to the white folks (who want to do better because they really want to…), seems to be authentic teaching with depth and honor and grace….. because the teaching is coming from a brown skinned South Asian teacher.
But… BUT…..The problem is that not all yoga teachers come from authentic and traditional lineages that qualify them to teach yoga. That holds true EVEN in India – what are the odds that every Indian yoga teacher in the rest of the world has done the work (which means an immersion into a tradition, its lineage, the study – which never stops, btw, and has a backing from a solid foundation of all this under the guidance of a teacher…. and so much more) and not teach from the perspective of lived experience and the wisdom from those experiences. Yoga can be experienced through personal heart break, failed marriages, health conditions, etc but it CANNOT be taught through them. You can use them as examples but not indices that qualify you as a teacher!
So yes, there is a pain involved with my reason to pause from IG for a bit, which, at the moment is flying high on a wave of such nicely veiled and social media marketed ‘spiritual fraud’ at best (or worst) and while I choose to play no part in it, I recognize that the toxicity is bothering me while my students (even the most genuine ones) are lured into tapping into this in their search for authentic teachings. The love & light crafted language speaks beautifully to their pain and the assumption is that “this must be it!”
They couldn’t be further from the truth.
They’ve never heard me warn openly, though, so it is in a way my own doing, but that isn’t my style anyway. I’ll just keep it cryptic enough for people to do their homework themselves.
I’ve always suggested that people ASK questions, do the research and know that when they reach out to teachers, they don’t reach out to the hype of the ‘number of followers’- because you do know you can pay to get followers, right?
Anyway, sharing this because MAYBE you would be drawn to yoga some day – sooner or later – maybe never! Or maybe someone you know and care about might? Then remember:
1. Ask your questions… be a smart shopper/consumer if that is your preferred word.
2. Read the teacher’s bio. Does it include their teachers name? Does it include their lineage / tradition they belong to? If it does – Google the lineage name – does it make sense to you? Some vague randomness is not a lineage. Just because an Indian sounding name added with a ji or maa added to it doesn’t make it authentic or indigenous either. My domestic staff’s name is Devi – she has no idea about yoga or asana or anything apart from her rituals & practices. Yet, I can easily say Devi is my teacher and get away with it if people don’t know better and ask me. Yogic traditions exist because students share openly about their teachers. If said teachers are vague about it – chances are, well, you know what the chances are, don’t you?
3. It’s OK if they haven’t had a formal teacher but teach asana after having learnt from many other non indigenous teachers. It is OK. But, be honest and say that – don’t fake a lineage, because…
4. If you don’t belong to a lineage that teaches the wisdom in a particular sampradaya, then you do not have the authority to teach it.
5. Worse, they shouldn’t be capitalizing on it!
6. Even worse, they shouldn’t be butchering the tradition if they themselves do not know how to pronounce, practice or align with it.
7. You don’t have to dress up as an Indian to look the part. Being real shows up better than sanskaari outfits.
In all my time on social media and listening to various ‘yoga teachers’ who are lauded & applauded, I have come across only 3 teachers who are on IG & Facebook with a solid background in their study and practice and worth their salt – of these 2 are of Indian origin. I don’t think any of them have over 4/5000 followers (yet!) – I wish they did. There are many other acharyas doing the seva in teaching here in India- daily. I am currently studying with 6 such teachers (1 is on Instagram and has a few hundred followers) – but the depth of their class!!! mind blowing!
If you’re thinking that you don’t want to have all the jnana (wisdom) of yoga & just want to do some asana for flexibility & back pain – and so the above points might not apply to you, actually, they do. If you’re thinking this doesn’t affect yoga in India, it does.
When Indian teachers who maintain the true form of the teaching are not given their voice & platform & who are instead spoken for by people who do not have the qualification to teach it, a couple of things happen:
a. The culture & tradition that these teachers so want to preserve gets trampled & distorted due to incorrect translation having applied lived experience instead of the actual teaching of the sampradaya.
b. Socio-cultural currency is transferred into the hands of poorly or unqualified but appropriately brown skinned tokenized teachers.
c. We like to buy back phoren goods – we like to buy the fancy phoren yoga too. I’ve seen it, I know it. I was once asked by a local yoga teacher if I knew Kino. I didn’t at the time. They told me that her videos were popular and I should look at them etc. I failed to understand why I needed to. This, from an Indian yoga teacher.
This has not been an easy post. This also, will invite many to question my observation. This post will also invite DMs asking if I am speaking about X or Y or Z. (I’ll ask them to do their research) This post will also invite DMs saying that I am right or wrong.
Bottom line, I don’t really care about fragility at this point in time because self- reflection clearly has been a missing trait. Satya, Asteya, Aparigraha…. everything has been trampled upon. I’m staying true to dharma. Let the rest take care of itself.
And we talk about Ahimsa? Well, ahimsa has not even been considered! The harm that is caused by individuals who cash in on social media popularity is deep and I am deeply hurt by it for my students and for those who may reach out to yoga sometime. The need for integrity and authenticity in yoga is something that needs to exist – otherwise, we might as well write our own texts and teach them! No accountability expected!
If you’ve heard me out this far in my ‘yogic’ rant. Thank you for your time & patience – whether you agree with me or not.
My oldest turned 18 today. 18 years ago today a mother was born too. Today, I share, that I am reborn. Here’s what happened..
A few months ago, I observed that my swadhyaya was drawing me to different experiences. Initially, for lack of a better description, I believed it was my yoga. Turns out, yoga was just being the means to slowly clear the blur away from what was to be my path – my way forward.
Let me not make it sound more mystical than it already is.. because it is!
Over the past months, my study shifted to Vedic texts and scriptures – I was spurred by a deeper sense of inquiry. I was both curious and nudged with something inexplicable towards a newer and slowly evolving sense of faith & devotion – Bhakti?
But at the same time, there was a sense of ‘restless calm’ – does that make sense? Because this sense of calm happened all through the lockdown. So this entire period that we were in a lockdown, I welcomed wholeheartedly. I, who was always was out & about, with people, at events, at classes, lectures and sessions, welcomed the time alone with open arms.
Time withdrawal from activity gave me an opportunity to still myself and immerse fully into self reflection. Until, slowly, I started feeling myself settle more assuredly into the teachings of my lineage. This time, however, the teachings ran deeper, urging me to a better understanding.
I reached out to two people who knew me well enough to give a sense a direction and understanding.
My teacher gave me a clearer explanation of his path and journey. It helped me understand who were before me, how the path was laid, etc.
And then, I spoke to my dear friend, teacher, and whom I call my Spiritual Wikipedia, Swami Yogaratna Saraswati and just blurted out what I was experiencing. I knew, I felt, I sensed, but some things I just couldn’t put into words. Yet, she understood.
I told her how I felt like the lineage, the sampradaya and the parampara felt like a homecoming of sorts. She just smiled and nodded away – both in knowing and in excitement. All she said was, “Write to Swami Satyasangananda at Rikhia.”
It took me a month to write to Rikhia.
Not because I was lazy, no! I thought about what I would write every single day. But I couldn’t bring myself to. I felt like it was intrusive, I felt like I wasn’t worthy. I just didn’t write that email.
On the last day of the Sri Lakshmi Narayana Mahayajna, while in meditation, I ‘saw’ & ‘heard’ Swami Sivananda, “Write to Rikhia now.” I had goosebumps all over then, and I have goosebumps all over now as I think of it…. So I did just that. I wrote to Swami Satyasangananda – pouring out my story – my past, my present and what I thought I saw for myself as a future…
I recognized that for all my exuberance, I was eventually, slowly but surely stepping on to the path of renunciation. My path had appeared from within my lineage – from right where I was.
My sadhana was taking me on my path towards sannyasa.
What followed over the next few weeks is quite hard to explain in words. One day flowed into the next. My swadhyaya took on a meaning of its own – every moment was alive – even when I was angry or frustrated with the demands of motherhood, the sensation was amplified – the awareness even more profound! Yet, I was immersed in spiritual activity almost every moment! I had my sadhana time, I had my swadhyaya, I had my teaching time and I had loads of learning opportunities.
And right in the middle of all that nurturing and energy, I was initiated by Swami Satyasangananda. Was it overwhelming? Not exactly… Was it exciting? Not quite so either… The whole experience is something I am actually at a loss to ‘explain’, but it gives me joy, it uplifts me and at the same time it gives me the awareness of a sense of responsibilty and accountability, because..
Swami Satyasangananda also gave me my spiritual name – a name that is on the lips of every disciple on the path of the self, a ‘word’ that has generated controversy over its inappropriate usage and a word that represents everything and nothing at the same time.
My spiritual name is Om.
I have spent the last 48 hours absorbing this – embracing this. Again, the feeling cannot be explained. It is an amalgamation of joy and overwhelm, deep respect, humility, a unshakeable sense of responsibility and accountability of action and everything… But I didn’t know how to really start embodying my name.
Here’s where Swami Yogaratna’s words came to the rescue.
“Just start using it!”, she said after sending me a screenshot of her phone contacts where she has already renamed my entry!
It helps, you see, having someone who’s on the path share their life with you. Swami Yogaratna is a wonderful resource & friend. I can be me and still get perspective especially when it comes to so many common experiences that it almost feels like she’s replying to questions I’m still processing in my head!
I’ll leave you this time, with this nugget from Swamiji to spur me on!
“I was given it when I got mantra diksha, around 2 weeks after entering the ashram. I took karma sannyas a few months later and poorna sannyas less then a year later, keeping the same name. I didn’t like the name coz it didn’t have ‘Ananda’ at the end like everyone else’s and coz it sounded hard to me, harsh sound . They used to call me yogarat and swamiji warned them that if they called me that, I’d become that so they stopped. Then I felt it’s a difficult name to live up to and only recently I’m beginning to realise it’s power and benefit.”
Swami Yogaratna Saraswati
So, this is my first step in owning my path. Here is where I share with you all that I am slowly embracing the significance of my name as if I’m wearing a new coat and buttoning it up with a sense of purpose. Measuring myself for walking the path and showing up in the truest sense of who I can possibly become with the grace.
To close, as Swamiji says, “It is such a fun & short name!” My mum said, “It is a spiritual name. I like it!” As my friend Shobhit said, “It will be remembered every time someone or even when I chant it. And as my other friend, Savira, said, “It has benefits for anyone who says Om!”
I just spent the past week, like many other disciples, sadhakas, in the lineage, in remembrance of the Master teachers of my tradition. The period between the 8th & 12th of September is celebrated annually with the Sri Lakshmi-Narayana Mahayajna at the Sannyasa Peeth in Munger. This year, due to the pandemic, the sadhana and aradhana were livestreamed and aspirants were able to participate remotely. The celebration itself commences & ends between two significant dates for those in the lineage – the 8th of September being the birthday of Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati and the 12th of September is the sannyasa day (initiation into sannyasa) of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
It was a personal practice – it felt deep, personal, powerful and significant. I am not going to share those emotions here; they’re too personal. However, I will share about one aspect that Swami Niranjanananda presented on the third day’s satsang after the Mahayajna.
He spoke of gurus.
He also didn’t just speak of gurus, he spoke with an intensity that really called out for responsibility and a sense of introspection on who we really were posing to be!
I felt a deep sense of hurt in myself as I listened to the carefully chosen words from Swamiji – words that were meant to be direct, precise and relevant.
If you’re in the Western world, desi or non desi, you would be familiar with a lot of controversy around yoga or spiritual Gurus. India, too, has a abundance of gurus. Let me rephrase that, an abundance of self-proclaimed gurus with a huge following of ‘devotees’ many of them blind devotees too! Yet, in a land of existential esoterism, such unflinching faith often is synonymous with the very essence.
Still, we come back to ‘Guru’ and all the hype and wrath that the word draws – especially in the West. Unfortunately, in the digital age, a lot of that expressed fury is also reabsorbed by the native people – either through capitalism or the sensationalism of media – in both ways, a reconditioning of thought & understanding to align it with a western centric understanding of a principle that in every sense of the word cannot be naturally understood by a western mind.
For one, because it is a not a rational principle. It is not a ‘ touch & feel’ / ‘show & tell’ principle. It is not a, “This is my Guru, who is yours?’ principle.
So who is a Guru, then?
I cringe at my own question…. because I may actually want to ask, “So, what is a Guru, then?” But I’m blogging in English, aren’t I? So the personified Guru should answer to ‘Who?” shouldn’t it?
Actually, to the rational mind, regardless of geographical location, esoteric concepts may sometimes seem like an Orientalised and exotic system. Honestly, these concepts are difficult to understand by many Indians and South Asians too.
It is because the path of discipleship is not undertaken by all. The spiritual path is not lucrative and has no perks (unless the idea is to market & benefit from it, that’s another story). But the spiritual path is a conscious choice to step into a lot of inner mess.
The path of discipleship is not something that every Indian has to take. In some communities, certain rites of passage may form an illusion that a sacrament initiates the child into the path of discipleship. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is similar to the sacraments in various religious rituals and sacraments. It is a societal tradition, but not necessarily one where the child is entrusted to a rishi in a gurukul to promote the ancient guru shishya parampara.
Oh and while we cannot deny the social tendency to uphold a patriarchal representation of the guru shishya relationship, it is important to clarify that in the tradition children were sent by their parents to be raised with life and moral values by rishis and rishi patnis (the rishis’ wives) as their parents. To this day, many spiritual teachers in many lineages are women.
The Guru is a different principle altogether.
As I pause in frustration at this blog post, I realise that I am trying too hard. Trying too hard to explain something that cannot be explained in words. It has to be felt. It is like me trying to explain that honey is sweet but not being able to explain to you what sweetness is if you’ve never ever tasted anything sweet before. Sweetness is not honey. Sweetness is the principle and honey (or chocolate or candy or ice-cream is the conduit)
So an individual may be a teacher and for a moment might be the conduit for the wisdom of the principle of the Guru, the Guru tattva, conveyed through the lineage, the tradition, scriptures, (workshops & classes…??). And after their passing from this mortal world, their life and work may be referred to as deeper, powerful, potent works of wisdom. They may be gurus, even…. but that recognition is in their legacy.
However, our penchant for labelling persons, the conduits as the Guru is both misleading and damaging to the whole system – let alone to the ego of the individual. The pressure to conform to the perceived (or marketed) image is immense and the backlash of falling from grace when they err is harsh.
Gurus, today, are centered and platformed as the principle. The tattva is personified to make sense to a population or a group of people who essentially are not able to grasp the concept of the principle. This over simplification leads to all sorts of problems – least of which is connecting the principle to a very mortal, menial, frail human existence of the individual – who for the reasons I just mentioned, has to live up to the ideal of being called a ‘Guru’.
In the process, the gap between the truth of the Guru tattva and the misinformation / mispresentation of what a Guru is (because of how certain people, who either call themselves Gurus or are called a Guru by their followers, behave or behaved) is ever widening.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if we were to posthumously recognise the gift of certain personalities as great teachers, master teachers of the wisdom, in all aspects, while they live they remain human. They goodness is a conscious cultivation, their acts of generosity and a choice they make, their careful compassionate speech and deeds are a means to stay on their path…. And just like that, their flaws are human, the abuse some of them perpetrated is human, any oppression caused is human, all their faults are human. Because they are human.
Call out the abuse, the crimes, the trauma, etc. and call out their actions. If they are alive, they need to be tried in a human court of law for their crimes….
Because they are just human beings – they may have had the opportunity to study and share some wisdom to some people. But that doesn’t stop them from being human and from succumbing to human frailty.
The assumption that any teacher – yoga, spirituality, traditional art & culture, or others from a guru parampara is automatically cleared for ethics is flawed. The assumption that the self proclaimed gurus with mass followings are beyond reproach is blind faith and ignorance.
What do people know of the Guru before they embark oo being wary anyway?
The assumption that teachers are infallible is where the principle of the guru, the guru tattva, is defiled and shamed.
The guru tattva is not a guru – not your guru or mine. The guru tattva is the principle, the essence that is available for all humanity.
The guru is eternal and is an intimate non-personal experience. The teacher is just the channel – maybe momentarily, in many moments, channeling the tattva even, so deserving of gratitude. The wisdom is always through the parampara – from one teacher to the student teacher to the next student teacher….
It is not personified. It cannot be personified.
It cannot always be explained either! To some extent, I feel even this blog post has not completely succeeded in conveying the depth of that feeling because some feelings cannot be expressed in vocabulary (that is limited anyway!)
I close with a lot of gratitude to my teachers who constantly teach and learn themselves staying true to the teachings of the tradition as well as remaining observant to our own shortcomings.
This blog post dedicated to
Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati, Pradeep Sattwamaya, Swami Yogaratna Saraswati and Swami Dharmakeerti Saraswati for their teachings, mentoring and grace for which I am very grateful.
I’ve changed.In more ways that I even imagined.. because I didn’t really expect or plan for those changes.
Yet, I changed.
One thing remained constant, but in it’s constancy, it deepened.
Not asana – no, there have been days (leading to weeks, sometimes) when I couldn’t get moving on the outside, but there was a lot moving on the inside.
Do I make sense? I’m guessing to some of you I do make sense.
Truth is, I changed.
And through me, my yoga, or, my experience of yoga changed.
What is yoga if not to change us?
To break us and to re-create us?
What is yoga if it doesn’t crush us to powder only to lovingly mould us again to a better form that before?
What is my yoga if I were to still hold on to old ideas, thoughts and battles?What is my yoga when I seek liberation but constantly trap myself painful mis-truths? When we are in the battle of righteousness, we need all our tools – mental, emotional, spiritual to get us through.
But once we are at pause, what good is it to hold on to those tools?
A boat is necessary until one gets to the other side of the river, but when a man once crosses the stream, the boat is no longer necessary for his purpose.
Uttara Gita 1.18
How long will be keep scratching open our wounds?I don’t know… it gets tiring, doesn’t it?
I’m different now.
I’ve evolved, I guess… whichever direction I have stepped up or down or side ways.
My mom has been sending me pics from my childhood & youth over the past many days. As I looked at myself in picture after picture, I wondered why and how I had such terribly poor body image back then! Not surprisingly though, I was often overcome with fresh waves of discomfort – largely sadness, at how I spent so many years not truly loving the one person I had to love fully & wholly – ME! Instead , I bought into the ideas of perfection from everyone else, what I should like, how I should dress, what to show & what not to & just ended up feeling not good enough – for anyone or for myself!
When I returned home from University, I had lost a lot of weight. A male friend who knew me from pre-Uni days, admiringly & suggestively objectified me by saying, “I wouldn’t mind coming over to the pool to see you swim now! It would be worth a sight!” I brushed off the sexist remark as a joke (Hah! I know! I actually brushed it off!)… but what he didn’t know was that I wore a one piece swimsuit with extended legs to cover the scald scar on my thigh! What he also wouldn’t know was that it would take me forever to get into the pool and I would wait forever more on the sunbeds until the crowd cleared so I could quickly get into the pool before anyone ‘saw’ me. I’m not kidding!
I think of it now & I hurt for that young woman who had such a terrible time growing into herself and was able to dress up & come across as someone who really had it sorted! I am still just so amazed at how that happened! Best part was how absolutely unaware she was at the time of some really hot gym instructors & members chatting her up while she waited to get into the pool because all she could think of was, “When will they leave?” [I speak more about this in another blog coming up next week.]
A year later, my boyfriend at the time suggested that I needed to lose weight before he took me to meet his family. As I look back, that relationship, which lasted for a quite a long while, and was one of my most significant relationships, was toxic af! It had elements of control, of gaslighting & withdrawal… and everything else that would have red flags about what we know today to be balanced & healthy relationships. Yet, to everyone around, we were the ideal couple… who checked all the boxes! I hid my weight from him. He once asked me to stand on the weighing scale and I refused, heart pounding…. guess how that date ended! Another time, I was hungry and he refused to buy me a sandwich.. lol.. It is funny now, to think that I, Luvena, this Luvena, went through that. But I did.. I think I should title this post “FFS”
Anyway, while admiring attention still came easily by, the background chatter always muttered things like, “You’re not good enough!”, “Thunder thighs”, “Does that cute bra come in a larger size, I wonder?”, “Argh! These jeans don’t fit!” And… the admiration just didn’t register! I couldn’t, wouldn’t & didn’t see myself as anything but lacking!
And now, in 2020, I look back and wonder what I was thinking back then? Why?? Why did I ever have to believe in the crap that I was told about my body? To eventually believe it so much that I ended up being all those things AND loving myself.
Am I done with the work already? Heck no! I still have a few bad days – but mostly, somewhere along the way, over the years, the self loathing had dropped. A few months ago at a YTT graduation ceremony a student told me that I looked beautiful. Since I was wearing a sari, I turned around & raised a surprised & amused eyebrow at Shobhit, my dear friend & fellow yoga teacher and said, “Oh! So this limited effort qualifies for me being beautiful!”
He shrugged & straightfacedly replied, “Of course you’re beautiful!” I was taken aback. He said it less like a compliment more like a fact – our friendship is unique: blunt enough to say it like it is, and compassionate enough to keep it safe, real & caring. Not to mention, we laugh a lot & have great Facebook Lives, but…… he went on to tell me 3 things, according to him, that made a woman beautiful in his eyes:
Resilience (to experience pregnancy and menstruation)
Devotion (motherhood and other roles)
Emotional Intelligence (in all areas of life)
Which is interesting because another male friend & I had a deeply philosophical conversation once – which touched upon our sense of self & confidence – even when we are unaware of it. He said, “A woman who is totally unaware of her attractiveness and yet exudes it with complete confidence alongside holding an intelligent conversation is beautiful and sexy!”
My friend, Jo-Ann, told me this yesterday: “This applies to both sexes and/or all genders. I find women equally sexy when they can converse. I’m not interested in a romantic way but definitely think a sexy woman is one whose mastered the art of good convo. I think it makes any human so attractive.
It gives me pause to think what I feel about how anyone defines beauty. It isn’t about the beauty of anything after all! Resilience, yes, strength perhaps, eventually, the intelligence to have depth of conversation & thought. It is a primal attraction to grounded strength with which we exude every bit of ourselves – all our bodies in unison.
But also makes me doubly certain why we need to be more vocal in our appreciation and acknowledgement of body image issues and the fact that body positivity needs to be reinforced in our children & youth. Fatphobia is real and its talons dig deep and pierce the heart.
The ability to truly own and love and accept ourselves fully, unapologetically and unabashedly is something we don’t need permission for from anyone but ourselves.
May we give ourselves to be whole, loved, loveable, gloriously sexual, generously available to ourselves in every shape, size and limitation and still be totally true to ourselves – and do so with ease, grace & comfort – because the work isn’t easy.
The unlearning is not easy….but it is wholesome & nurturing & has all the ‘Oh So Good’ feels!!!!
Do you want to understand how the #BlackLivesMatter movement affects us in India today? And why it does? And why it is not someone else’s problem?
First, you’ll have to accept to open your mind. If your bigotry is going to argue that your prejudice is well placed and that the movement is blowing things out of proportion, I’m call you a Grade 1 as*hole right now and you need to unfriend me – straight away. And while we remain unfriended, go get an education on history & on compassion… and on social media etiquette.
Just because you have lived in the US or in Europe and haven’t experienced a racial / racist slur DOES NOT mean anything. It means, largely that your blindness to your privilege has made you indifferent to the daily truth of everyone else. The privilege of being of an ‘upper caste’ in the India is what largely carries you to remain in favor of the ‘white man’s goodness’ – a remnant of the supremacy of our colonizers.
For all your NRIs who think that by living in the US/UK for a ‘decade’ of the ‘4-5 decades’ of your life and to never have seen racism there – it sickens me to my guts at your lack of education and your reluctance to learn because, you are THERE because of Black lives lost to give you the opportunity to go there. And, your 4-5 decades is peanuts because the history of black oppression is way before your dada pardada’s time… 400- FOUR HUNDRED EFFING YEARS! Also, after going there, your brown skin AND your ‘Indian black skin is better than African black skin’ hierarchy is again what gives you the privilege to be a MODEL MINORITY there. Make no mistake, you’re not necessarily favored because of you – but because conditioning is such that you are a better minority to befriend that the Black community who do not even get the benefit of decent education. But wait, why would you effing care, right?? You do the same thing with Dalit rights, muslim rights,minority rights, etc right here in India? You are USED to using your privilege because you were RAISED to be blind to others pain.
For our UK desis – your blinkers need a special strengths of cleansing solution altogether! Do you know how many Indian lives were killed during the British Raj & even before? Remember Jallianwala Bagh? How many Indians were starved due to rationing that meant that Indian bellies were not entitled to be fed? It is easier to welcome you with open arms and say, “You are one of us” instead of making reparations or even apologizing.. And for the blinded UK desis, hahah… the jokes on you! When the sahib has hugged & taken you under their wing, of course, racism doesn’t exist, right? RIGHT?? Right!
Let’s talk about privilege again.. because your easy access to potentially everything here in India – education, jobs, cinema tickets, medical facilities, hotels, food, news, etc etc… is all because you are favored because of your caste – you may not carry it as an ID card, but you sure do carry it in your names as identifiers! And if you think your skin is not an indicator, ha-ha-the-effing-HA because you bloody well DO! You know how you look different from someone who is lesser privileged than you. If I know how I look different how come you don’t? No one can say, “We don’t see color! Of course we see color!” We need to see color and check our privilege. Do you? Here’s a quiz question, “Chor kaise dikhta hai?” Do you see a fair, robust, healthy looking chor? Exactly! Check your privilege! And also check your family name and the names of those who agree with you – yes, your family names identify your STATUS and your place in the food chain. If that is not an eye opener, then I don’t know what is!
Now let’s come to ALLYSHIP. Standing up against racism does not mean that all your white friends are racist. If your feed has ALL your white friends making snide remarks against the #BLM movement, then, sorry, but you’re in quite a lot of sick company. Thankfully, my list has almost all my white & white passing friends & acquaintances who are aware of their privilege – have known 100% that their brown & black friends do experience racist slurs, exclusions and passive aggressions on a daily basis. Why them? Everytime I enter the US – having all my papers in place, spending tons of my hard earned money to their economy, etc – I feel a sense of tension until I clear passport control. The bias is obvious – and I am a tall, fair Indian with light eyes… still makes me feel second class. Imagine what third class feels like?
White Supremacy – heard of it? No? Don’t believe in it? This is where your miseducation comes into strong effect. White supremacy is what led us to be colonized and to set the tone for everyone to come under the tone of skin that is superior – a.k.a. White Skin. It is where we have our penchant for all this white and fair and … in a videsi roop, it tells us that the White guys are superior. It is what the Middle East does when they look for US/UK/AUS/NZ Native workers who may be HighSchool grads or even flunked out of school but hey, if they have the right accent, they get the salary – but the brown skinned desi gets the grunge labor and zero promotion. So when our desis of privilege (yes, our fair skinned compatriots) get treated like equals, it is easy to think you are one of the white people and join hands to point fingers at the Black guys who are ‘thugs’, ‘thieves’, ‘looters’, ‘criminals’, ‘uneducated’… what else? Help me out here.. yeah.. you know all the words you use otherwise. Add them in the comments, go ahead!
Some of you haven’t heard of slurs against your desi brown skin? Or your accent? Wait, let me some of my desi bhai behen who have lived there longer than you and born there too – so way before you or your parents were there… let them tell you what they have experienced every day of their lives… and then let me call my black brothers & sisters to share their stories… It didn’t happen to you because you came in with loads of money, have big businesses and perhaps are so blinded by the love of your prejudice that seeing it in your idols makes you both .. EQUALS. Ugh!!!
And finally, because I just cannot find it in me to type through my tears of anger & fury at some of you who I called friends (note CALLED), George Floyd is not ONE death. The deaths and murders happened systemically & systematically for hundreds of years… just as they happen in India to SO MANY… but for 100s of years, we had no camera, we had no internet and we were just too polite to get you’re a*s dragged for making little of such a humiliating and painful end. Like a friend said, recently, this needs just one word, “ENOUGH” – if you do not understand the pain behind it, you just need to get a real close look a mirror and ask yourself the eternal question that many of us, yogis and non yogis, ask once in a lifetime…. “Who am I?”
Footnotes: not reading back for typos right now… too angry.
Present times are quite unnerving. Yoga teachers are not lesser immune to these changes. The stress is real, and the so-called ‘solutions’ can also be quite daunting to many us for whom life and work has taken a turn into this colloquial, ‘new normal’. The truth is that not many yoga teachers are ready for this abrupt change and burnout, in yoga, may sneak up on us just as easily as we go about teaching our students to navigate change and calm through life’s ups & downs.
Burnout is real.
The sudden change in routine has done to us has thrown many yoga teachers is a whirlwind of activity especially around work and the generation of income. While some yoga teachers may be associated with local studios or fitness chains, many (if not most) traditional yoga teachers serve the community through private classes (individual or group).
The employment contract may cover earnings during this period of social distancing for their contracted staff & employees. But for yoga teachers who work for themselves, the pressure of generating income as well as shifting to a new medium of instruction online may prove to be downright stressful.
Even if businesses may be supported, the perception of competition in an online jungle or even the logistics of getting online to create programs or teach can take a toll.
And then, we have the influence of the coronavirus news, extended proximity with familiar faces, the pressure to stay calm, political squabbles and civic disruptions all adding to our woes. I, personally, wasn’t too bothered with the change form offline to online, but the constant drive to create new things, figure out messaging tools, newsletters, classes, what to teach, when to teach, marketing material … and raising kids & dogs, cooking, cleaning, attending zoom calls, etc…
In this whirlwind of activity, a couple of things suffered terrible – my practice, my self study & any semblance of self care.
I was giving too much.
I was doing too much.
I was sitting too much.
I was not listening to my body.
I was unable to make time for my practice or my self-study.
My routine was all over the place.
There was too much screen time.
It felt like I was ON at all times.
I was not slowing down.
I could hear my body tell me to make all these changes, but I didn’t pause to listen and heed the advice. Until the body did the only thing it could to get my attention.
It slowed me down.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a total burnout, but it was close enough. My body couldn’t really take a lot of the pressure, so it showed up in my weakest spot – my back. I had no choice but to listen – and apologize to my back for the lack of attention and promise to do better.
And I did. I’ll write another post later this week with my insights from the recovery process. But I did take it easy. I stayed in bed. It took me a whole week to get back to my feet! A whole week and lots of ice! I also took the time to read, make very late crochet Easter eggs, play Uno with the kids, supervise my 13yo (from my bed) as she explored the kitchen & cooked our meals. I meditated, taught my morning meditation from my bed (I told my students & kept my video switched off). I explored my essentials oils, I reflected, I creatively expressed, I rested… and I healed.
I recognize that I am susceptible to this.
We all are – it is a fault in our human-ness to succumb to a lack of attentiveness to ourselves. Self care is important. How else would we expect ourselves to be of service and fulfill our purpose?
Here are some pointers for yoga teachers:
Schedule it.Your practice may falter, so schedule some time in for it – even if it is just 15 minutes.
Online calls & meetings get us to sit for longer than we are used to. Incorporate movement & stretching throughout the day. 10-15 minutes mini stretches.
Stay hydrated – can’t say this enough. A well hydrated body reduces the accumulation of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.
Eat well. Eat on time & have a balanced diet. Too many dry foods may increase your vata causing more imbalance, especially if you are not moving much.
Establish a routine. Creating a sense of predictability allows for a more measured and conscious approach to staying in control.
Get your Zzzs. Sleep well, on time.
Let go of perfection. You may not have that perfectly edited video for your classes, but rest assured, your students are there because of what you offer.
Find your sangha. Social isolation is not emotional isolation. Stay connected with other yoga teachers and business owners. You may have more in common to share – the good times as well as the challenges. This is a time to stay connected.
Do non yoga things. This is a too-much-of-a-good-thing point. Take a break – get off your yoga mat and experience the joy of art, craft, color, a movie, a book, journaling, decluttering, anything that takes your mind off things but still remains joyfully creative.
Tap into nature’s goodness. Essential oils worked wonders for me in my self care routine! Sandalwood & jasmine are a wonderful oil for all doshas. You may have your favorite blend. Go for it! Herbs & essential oils have deep wisdom!
And finally, take frequents moments to just do nothing at all! Doing nothing is an art – one that is deeply healing & immensely nurturing. No rules, no regulations – just.do.nothing.
I bought a beautiful, gorgeous bunch of fresh methi (fenugreek greens) two days ago – a miracle during the coronavirus lockdown. It wilted today despite doing everything everyone suggests to preserve fresh greens. So, yeah, it wilted.
With all the hardy grit I could muster in the spirit of covid19, I diligently set out to pick what I could from the bunch that was quickly turning soggy. I managed a handful that survived the crisis.
Enough to go well with 2 small potatoes (aloo = potato).
That would do – the kids might sleep in, I could have a small, quiet lunch.
Wrong again – they woke up in time to say that whatever I cooked ‘smelled heavenly’ – just aloo methi guys!
But those two aloos and handful of methi leaves left us with a lunch that was supremely delicious. Humble meal to the core, I made just 5 parathas ; the aloo methi carefully divided onto three plates.
Lunch was served!
What followed was a silent meal, the three of us fully focused on our food and quickly declaring that the lunch had left them feeling happily full & satisfied.
Which made me think of a couple of things (in addition to the kids saying that I make awesome food and that we don’t need a cook anymore, post the lockdown because I make so many different things & they’re super delicious, yeah… yeah #ALittleSelfAcknowledgement)… but, it got me thinking…
This very simple, very humble (I run the risk of overusing that word, but it is what it is!) dish had all the elements of Ayurvedic satiety. The recipe was simple, yet nourishing. Easy to make, yet flavorful to the core. It included all the six tastes, which allowed us to eat till we were full & felt satisfied.
Here’s the six tastes breakdown:
Sweet – potato / wheat
Sour – tomato
Salty – salt
Bitter – methi (fenugreek)
Pungent – chilli / garlic
Astringent – garlic / turmeric
All in all – super yum, deliciously simple & ultra healthy.