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A blog that highlights my own interests in the subjects of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda

Updated: 2014-10-03T17:54:18.697+10:00


Navaratri and the goddess extraordenaire


" Oh my god I have legs and feet" I proclaimed as I tightly gripped the foam block between my thighs, while teaching about the power of the pelvic floor in Tadasana in class. I had been putting that block between my legs for about 8 years as part of the starting days of learning Tadasana in the Teachers Training, but had never really felt its effect. No wonder this exercise goes down so well, its incredible how much energy surges through the legs and feet when you really focus on them. Of course I had felt this before, but the brain has a way of going on automatic and forgetting what things feel like when you first did them. It makes an assumption based on past experiences and then projects that into the future as reality. In yoga this notion of past reflection and future projection is called the wheel of Dharma. When we live in a reality based in what we know and remember we are caught like a hamster on a wheel. but if we can learn to embrace each moment as a complete adventure then we can get off the wheel and play in the dance of our own making.Last week I decided to dance. Not dance in the literal sense, but rather as a way to find out more about myself as a woman and how to be more true to myself. I used the beautiful Navaratri ritual as my framework and discovered many wonderful and new things about myself and the women I share my world with. Navaratri is a celebration of the Goddess in the form of Durga. It marks the occasion of her defeat of the great Buffalo demon and as such represents the triumph of good over evil. Durga is also the great mother and can also be worshiped as Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati to name a few. Navaratri is celebrated over 10 days and 9 nights and usually starts around the new moon in September/October. For me this celebration was especially significant as I had just recently done an amazing workshop called " The path of love" which had helped me to release a great deal of shock around my mothers early death and also enabled me to establish strong boundaries around myself. I had been using Durga as my personalized deity ( Ishta devata) since completing the workshop, so was excited to honor her during my own Navaratri celebration. But I didn't actually know it was Navaratri until I began my practice on the new moon. I had my period that day and had welcomed it with a short practice which included offerings of flowers, some simple mantras and more relaxed asanas, but something in me went a bit overboard and I found myself doing things I would only do if I was in a more ritualistic frame of mind. I had a sense that something was up and so mid practice Google'd " Hindu holidays" and there it was first on the list, Navaratri starts today. I had to chuckle to myself about woman's intuition and came up with an idea for a nine day ritual at that exact moment. Each day I would pick flowers for the goddess and then place a photo on the altar adorned with prayers and mantras. It sounds simple in its inception but ultimately it led me to discover some simple yet profound truths about myself.The first day I welcomed Durga in the form of the great goddess, I honored her blood, her sex, her beauty and her wild tigress. I danced and howled and sat with the image of a red flower in my heart. I felt her slicing away the demons that had kept me from loving myself. I also saw her as the great mother conquering all the pain of the world. Durga was a solo woman and had all the power of the shining ones within her. It is said that what enabled her to slay her opponent was, not the piercing blade of her sword, but the shakti in her foot. Apparently as she touched the demon with her foot he was so overwhelmed by her shakti that he dropped his guard and was defeated.During Navaratri Durga is worshiped for the first 3 days. On the 2nd day I went for a morning walk and discovered that all the new leaves on the trees are red before they turn green. Everywhere I looked I saw Mother nature in her red garments. My altar that day was splashed with every red flower imaginable and my words and prayers were " I know[...]

Yoga as a Path of Love


If I had known 7 years ago what yoga was really about I probably would have packed up my yoga mat and headed for the hills. But like anything in life no one can tell you what your in for, no one can prepare you for the ride of your life and no one can really explain what the true meaning of Yoga is. I had heard in lectures that Yoga meant union. Union of body, mind and spirit. And I understood that breath was the link from one to the other. What I didn't know at that time was that Yoga is a multifaceted jewel which carries within it the seeds to true freedom. There was no perfect way to get there, no set path and there was a great deal of trial and error along the way. I had always sat happily at the feet of my teachers, drinking in their words and letting it inspire my practice. My teachers often told me to practice self inquiry, the practice of Jnana Yoga. I was encouraged to hear their words but then to let those words formulate and emerge as a truth I had discovered for myself. I had thought I was pretty good at that and prided myself in only speaking from my own experiences, but actually on reflection it was easier to take their word as gospel. Why take risks when they had tread the path so carefully before me and anyway I was way too busy teaching Yoga to take the time to look deeply within.But then I hit a wall in my practice, my nervous system began to fail me and I began to question what Yoga really was. Instead of feeling open and liberated by my practice I flat lined. In recent studies on athletes they found that when they over trained without adequate rest their performance plateaued, and then began to decline. Fatigue set in and with it poor performance levels and a decreased ability to recover. If the athlete continued to over train, the result was total mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. At that point the athletes lost their desire to play their sport, their self esteem lowered and they isolated themselves emotionally, while experiencing heightened anxiety and mood swings. I was also the victim of this syndrome. After nearly 15 years of daily practice my body, mind and spirit needed a rest.It was with great reluctance that I stopped my strong daily pranayama, meditation and asana practice. When ever I tried even the simplest of yogic practices bells and whistles went off in the nerves in my spine and I felt like a frightened rabbit. Luckily I had a strong, stable and patient partner to anchor me down, A wonderful yoga teacher to share with me the tools and techniques to get grounded and a child to remind me that it was important to stay positive and to play. The other thing I had was my teaching. I found that by teaching Yoga, I was able to practice Karma yoga, the yoga of selfless service. It was pretty weird teaching without physically practicing it myself, but it helped me to stay connected to the essence of yoga as I had to draw from my own more challenging experiences and find a way to share that Yoga is a practice of learning about the self. Sometimes the body burns out, but as long as we are questing to meet our selves, its Yoga.It was at this point that I really began to read a lot of Yoga books. I became fascinated with Tantra and its facets of ritual, mantra, mudra and devotion. I read about a complex ritual called the Prana Pratistha. In this ritual you bring power and divine energy to a symbol through a ritualized sequence with breath, mantra, mudra and meditation. To me that meant that any inanimate object could be empowered to represent the divine. I was excited about the idea of honoring the beauty and magic in everything around me. I knew I had to find a way to learn this practice and somehow make it my own.It wasn't long after discovering that there were more practices and methods to Yoga then asana, pranayama and meditation that I moved from New York City back to my hometown of Byron Bay, Australia. Byron Bay is a beautiful place , a beach town surrounded by a picturesque hinterland. I was in the perfect environment to find my way back to balance.[...]



Because I teach ISHTA yoga and the word ISHTA means individual I have been looking at my personal practice over the last few months and really asking on a very deep level “what do I need as an individual?” This month I have been developing more softness in my practice with a sequence that cools me down and quiets my mind. The sun salutations have taken a backseat to hip openers and forward bends and my meditation is also very relaxed. I have been physically bowing down and imagining myself at the lotus feet of an energy beyond my comprehension. Today after my practice I found myself contemplating the nature of the witness and also reflecting on some writings by Swami Nisreyasananda from his book ‘Supermarket of Ideas.’ I just finished reading a chapter where he talks about the yogic philosophies of Samkhya (dualism) and Vedanta (non-dualism) in relationship to who is watching whom, where do we focus our energy and attention in every day life, and the nature of surrender.In my understanding we are patchwork quilt of our experiences; karma, dharma, life force, Mother Nature, ego, mind, intellect and wisdom. Our mind, as an aspect of that complexity, engages us with the intensity of the outer world or through focused practices enables us to withdraw deeply into ourselves. Once we turn inwards a force, which we cannot name, witnesses the mind. In Samkhya this witness is called, Purusha. In Samkhya they say our individual spirits are different. To me this makes sense because how I experience myself witnessing myself has individual attributes and qualities. But then something must also observe my individual consciousness watching itself. In Tantra this higher witness is called ‘Shiva’. Shiva is not just watching me, ‘it’ is watching everyone. Just as a muscle sheath contains thousands of small fibres, with each fibre controlling a different micro movement, so Shiva as consciousness envelops and watches the individual spirits. We can bow down to this force through pure devotion and say, “you are the witness of everyone, you hold the big picture, I surrender my individual consciousness to you and you lead me.” Perhaps the Ishta Devata (individualised deity) then is the vibration of that individualised spirit. It is the quality of each individual consciousness. If my Ishta for example is Ganesh then perhaps my spirit comes from the perspective of removing obstacles, and everything is seen through that lens. When chanting Ganesh’s mantra I vibrate at the same frequency as my spirit and am pulled like a magnet towards greater consciousness (Shiva), Shiva being the pseudo father of Ganesh and the father of all deities and energies.From this philosophical viewpoint then being an individual is extremely important and the development of your individuality through creativity, sensuality, enjoyment, and struggle, suffering, emotional, physical and mental challenges creates an interesting vibration that contributes to the whole. This is the anthesis of spiritual philosophies that ask us to remove ourselves from our attachments and our struggles to achieve enlightenment.The beauty of honouring individuality means that even the approach to resolving tension is a very personal one. For example: You can witness yourself in any given situation and remain detached or you can ‘rage against the machine’ or even practice active surrender to Ishvara, which in the Sutras is called ‘Ishvara pranidhana’. Ishvara is said to be the teacher of teachers living in a timeless realm. Swami Nisreyasananda describes Ishvara as “a total fund of perfection, of power, wisdom and glory, not increased by disciplines in time nor decreased by failure to discipline in time. Time doesn’t act on it at all. Such a perfect existence being there any teacher can tune himself to it and get at his place a manifestation of glory.”It is in this seed of perfection that we can find ourselves in spite of our craziness, our fears and our STUFF, a seed waiting to be watered by the pure ac[...]

Bhakti: The Yoga of the Heart


This week’s blog is inspired by my own evolving yoga practice. I have been in a very devotional space of late, surrendering more to my vulnerability and allowing art, music and nature to remind me that everything is LOVE.The yoga of devotion and love is called Bhakti and is defined by George Feuerstein in his Shambala Encyclopaedia of Yoga as “Loving attachment or devotion” and the practice of Bhakti as “A spiritual practice by which the aspirant seeks to acknowledge his or her dependence on a higher power”. The words “loving attachment” bring to mind the image of a newborn suckling the mother’s breast. Perhaps our constant craving for experiences and things to comfort us is really the longing for that familiar feeling of being held by our mother as a baby. Therefore showing feelings and emotion are a large part of Bhakti. We can’t really know what love is unless we experience it as a feeling in our hearts. Simple things like bringing flowers into the home and lighting candles, surrounding ourselves with objects and images of beauty, taking time to listen to music, to dance and play, are all ways to connect with our feelings.“Acknowledging dependence on a higher power” brings to mind the last of the Niyamas; Isvara pranidhana, from the eight limbs of Pantanjali’s Ashtanga yoga. In a commentary on the sutras by Swami Venkatesananda he defines Isvara as “Isa, What is.” Whatever is unchanging and everlasting is our definition of a higher power. Pranidhana means dynamic surrender. When we can completely let go and trust that we are that higher power then we can surrender in an active way. In other words rather then giving up and saying “ God” will take care of it – God being the guy on a cloud up there who calls the shots. We say “I am a part of everything and therefore when I surrender I trust that the higher aspect of me guides me.” In yoga terms that means surrendering the jiva atman (individualised self) to the Paramatman (greater self).Bhakti allows for the expression of love and devotion to a symbol or person who has qualities that we know are there but cannot see or touch. In other words it’s easier to love a child, or our lover, then a concept of what they are. By acknowledging the natural world around us we acknowledge the Shakti (energy or vibration) that animates this world. A flower, a shell and a flame are all physical forms of Shakti. Every morning I gather flowers from my garden. As I gather the flowers I take in the vibrancy of their colours and their heady scents. Then I enjoy arranging them on the various altars strewn throughout my house. In the living room is the family altar. Here we have a few chosen deities, shells we have been collecting on the beach, and beautiful cards from friends. The flowers are placed amongst the trinkets to be enjoyed as we hang out as a family. I practice asana and meditation in my bedroom, so the altar here has many objects and photos that represent the love my partner and I share and also the joy of practice. I spend a few moments once flowers are arranged listening to some devotional music and lighting incense. Our bedroom is very open to nature and so all around me are the birds, the trees and the open sky. My practice itself is an act of devotion. By lovingly reminding myself to breathe and move I am acknowledging the flow of Shakti through every cell of me. My practice also becomes a prayer for the world. As I open myself up to love I pray that that love radiates out to everyone and everything. Another aspect of Bhakti is singing the names of the divine in Bhajans (chanting in unison) and Kirtans (call and response). In Hinduism there are as many deities as there are aspects to the self. Bhakti adopts the names of these deities and says that each deity has a seed vibration or Bija mantra, If you chant a mantra to Ganesh ( the remover of obstacles) you become Ganesh and that which removes obstacles. Kirtan and Bhajan by their very nature create a[...]

Yoga and the Brain


What I love about Yoga is that it is a Science. Science is all about experimentation, testing and retesting theories and working with models. When I practice, my yoga mat becomes a laboratory and my mind and body the experiment. This week I am fascinated by the inner workings of the mind and more specifically the brain. I have read several articles this week that state quite convincingly that the brain is the source of all our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual experiences. These articles propose that because everything is in our brain, an outside ‘God’ might not exist. However in my opinion if everything is in our brain and everything we experience comes from there, then how lucky and magnificent are we as humans to have such a palette of creative colour at our disposal. We create the very stars we wish upon in the night sky. To me this is the essence of Tantra, which says that everything we experience is divine. We are one with everything right now and right here; it’s just that we have forgotten this, or are unable to see the whole picture.My teacher Alan Finger shares in his classes that in daily life we operate from a limited perspective. If we view life from this limited perspective our experiences will be limited. If we learn to look at life from the big picture then everything is radiantly alive and full of joy and possibility. Yogic Science gives us methods and models for seeing the big picture while giving us practical tools to help us to expand our limited view. What’s really cool is that modern Science is discovering what the yogis have been telling us all along – that the mystery of us is not so mysterious after all. The answer is in our brains if we care to look.One fascinating article entitled ‘Tracing the Synapses of Spirituality’ By Shankar Vedantam, a Washington Post Staff Writer, asks; “What creates that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe? It could be the decreased activity in the brain's parietal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation, research suggests. How does religion prompt divine feelings of love and compassion? Possibly because of changes in the frontal lobe, caused by heightened concentration during meditation. Why do many people have a profound sense that religion has changed their lives? Perhaps because spiritual practices activate the temporal lobe, which weights experiences with personal significance.”This prompts me to reflect on my understanding of yoga philosophy and the theory that everything is Brahman – Divine intelligence. Out of that intelligence there is a split, which we call Shiva and Shakti (Shiva being consciousness and Shakti being energy). Science suggests that we have Brahman in the brain and that our left and right brains gives us the sense of duality. What we don't know is how we go from the experience of being one to the experience of being two.In yoga we say that Maya (illusion) enables us to experience the one as two. The word Maya literally means ‘to measure out’. We create a sense of distance between things so that we can see ourselves as separate from them. Out of this sense of separation comes the illusion of time and space which leads to the need for memory so we can see things as having a past, present and future. This then gives us the sense that we are born and that we die. But why does all this happen in the first place? What drives the split?In yoga we call it Iccha Shakti (pure desire). As human beings, desire moves us to change and grow and learn. Desire is manifested in our inherent nature. As babies we desire the nipple for sustenance, and our desire grows to include desire for relationships, creative expression, love, truth and the longing to know who we are. This journey of desire manifests in an individual and is determined by the specific make up of their brain. Our DNA is uniquely encoded and influenced by the brains of others. Science and Yoga suggests that our[...]

Present poem


(image) I am nobody
I have no story
No history
When you speak to me I am the moment
Interesting as itself
My present is your present
And the practice is that
The teacher is that
It does not matter
What has happened
What I thought
Who I thought I was
What I thought happened
All gone
Wiped out by now
Right now

The waves of now
An ocean of nothing

Its is only a small
cake of desire
that forces me to tell
some story of what has happened

the desire that shaped the world
the desire that flings me like a stone from some
past picture to some future hope
and misses the now
which waits so patiently
to be embraced

by me

Photo by A. Andrew Gonzalez at

The Sadhana of Pain and Bliss


They say that to live yoga one combines knowledge and experience, which ultimately leads to higher wisdom. In yoga higher wisdom is called Buddhi. Buddhi is like a light that always shines down on us. It is filled with insight and a deep sense of peace. When we are clear and truly connected to Buddhi then life just flows. When we are stuck in our heads, trying hard to work something out then it is impossible for us to tune to our Buddhi. For me, higher wisdom and truth aren't neccesarily always love and 'ducks and geese', as my teacher Alan Finger puts it. Sometimes we're being shown through a deep life experience how much life hurts and how hard it is to let go of a fixed viewpoint.For me tapping into states of pain and anger has freed me to understand myself and others more deeply. Today a friend called to talk to me about her anger she was having trouble accepting that she was flying off the handle at little unimportant things. I shared with her that I had been angry all my life and actually enjoyed my anger because it gave me a sense of power. When I am angry its often because I feel out of control and so I act out of control to get control. Makes perfect sense until one starts to have a consistent meditation practice. In meditation we learn to watch our breath and then our thoughts, and then draw deeper to our source through mantra and focused concentration practices. In this state of watching it becomes obvious that when anger begins to arise it is just an emotion or rather a small spark that has not yet wielded its full potential. From the perspective of wisdom the greatest power comes from dousing the flame before it can become a raging fire. But this is the challenge and in the west especially we are asked to beat pillows, cry and scream, and live it out so it is released. Have you ever noticed how expressing anger never seems to release it? When you power up anger it's just like plugging into an electric socket, it just runs 24/7 if you let it.After nearly a month of living in both anger and pain and expressing it as much as I can, I have come to the end of my rope. All I have to show for all this expression is an exhausted mind and body that longs to rest. The only insight I have had is that it's never ending and that my best course of action has been to turn to the practice I know so well: Observing my emotions as they arise and watching how they fall away just as quickly.Until recently I really thought I was an expert at self observation but then through a deeply shocking experience I have had to feel things I have been surpressing for most of my adult life, and in that I have discovered incredible states of bliss and freedom. I have realised I can handle a lot more pain in my heart then I thought possible and that I am much stronger and braver then I thought. Now when someone shares a deeply painful experience, I feel that I have true compassion for the situation.It reminds me of the time that I was pregnant and teaching yoga . I kept sharing with the students how it would feel to give birth and how they could use their practice and their breathing to work through the pain. Then I actually gave birth and felt embarassed at all the things I had said to my students. There is no way you can be prepared for birth, there is no way you can prepare for a sudden shocking loss... noone can prepare you for any experiences you may have as all experiences are so deeply personal. The beautiful thing is that once you do have an experience you can grow from it and it leads you towards wisdom.In yoga we can get very involved in our meditation experiences. We can see lights and colors and feel energy and see deities and think we have reached some perfect state of union. The reality is that often these states are merely just side effects of practice. True experience occurs when we move to a state of nothingness. Often we cannot share or explain these experiences a[...]

The Gunas


We are made up of energy. A magnetic web of currents that spiral and spin, in every moment our brain and body are communicating and in every moment our subtle body is also expanding and contracting. We are a mystery in motion.Yoga is a science and every science involves experiments to understand the nature of reality. So in Yoga practice the brain is the scientist and the body is the experiment.In order to understand the nature of our body yogic science asks us to believe that we are infinite and concentrated. That we are everything and nothing and that from this state we radiate like rays of the sun touching and sparking everything so that the universe and the stars and the planets and we as nature are manifest.As this happens both in the macrocosm and the microcosm energy passes through specific phases and states. We move from a void space- like being in the womb as a baby- to a state of growth and activity- as the developing and growing child- to a balanced state of wisdom and intelligence in the mature adult.These three moving states in Yoga are called the GUNAS, which can be defined as “spiralling vortices of vibrating energy fields” or inherent qualities in nature. They move from a neutral phase ; Sattva ( balance and purity) to a positive phase :Rajas (creative activity) to a negative phase :Tamas( inertia and the point where spirit crystallises into pure matter) When someone dies the body decomposes and returns to the earth and the spirit is set free. In this way Tamas is both the densest form of energy and that, which can free the spirit from the body returning it to its pure sattvic state.Imagine it like this; The positive pole Rajas and the negative pole Tamas spin around a neutral centre Sattva. In normal life when we are active and creative we are rajasic. Our negative pole Tamas can act like a stabilising force creating a polarity for the excitability of Rajas. The inhale is rajasic it takes us up and out and the exhale is tamasic drawing us down and in…In yoga practice we can learn to cultivate sattva, a neutral space which allows for our activity and for our passivity, to promote a state of active balance.TamasTamas is solidity, the literal definition being inertia. When we are overly heavy in mind, body and attitudes we are said to be Tamasic. Yogananda shares that the three Gunas can be envisioned as a wave. The wave closest to the centre of the ocean is Sattva, the crest is Rajas and the part that hits the shore is Tamas. What’s ironic is that as soon as the wave hits the shore it is drawn back again to the deepest part of the ocean… In other words everything solid is Tamasic yet the solidity is a temporary illusion because life can transform to the subtlest in an instant.An apple is real…When we eat the fruit it converts to energy in our system which creates activity as digestion (rajas), it nourishes us so that we feel more balanced (sattvic) and we eliminate what we don’t need through excretion, through the elements of earth and water (tamasic). What seemed solid when we began eating transforms into earth and water in a matter of hours. This is called the principle of continuity.The gunas tend to appear stable for a period of time but then transform into each other through the passage of time or through circumstance. Tamas is represented as the night….but night turns to morning, as Rajas, to daylight as Sattva and at sunset to Rajas and then back into the night as Tamas.This is mirrored in our bodies in the fact that we sleep and are inactive at night and more active during the day. What’s beautiful about purifying and balancing our systems through yoga practice is that we can cultivate an awareness of our natural rhythms; resting when we are naturally tired and being active without draining our selves.RajasThe moment you think you encounter Rajas. Rajas means” to glow “When we think a [...]

Sacred Sound- The Power of Mantra Shakti


I love to trawl through the internet sometimes just to look up a Sanskrit word or to follow up something I am teaching in my classes . I have just found a website that has two major works by Arthur Avalon the first western scholar to demystify Tantra. Arthur Avalon's real name was Sir John Woodruff and he was an English lawyer who served as chief justice on the high court in Calcutta . He also led a double life as a Sanskrit scholar and Hindu philosopher specifically exploring the mysteries of Tantra. Even though Sir John Woodruff interpreted tantric texts it is believed that his knowledge of Sanskrit was limited and he relied heavily on friends to support him in his work. In his first book Shakta and Shakti he admits that his pen name Arthur Avalon is really a collaboration between himself and the friends that supported him.In spite of the fact that the works may be flawed or contradictory there are some incredible gems in his books. To read them you need patience and a highlighter but in my opinion if you are fascinated with Tantra and know a little bit about Yoga philosophy it can show you worlds within worlds.So as not to totally overwhelm myself I picked the chapter in Shakta and Shakti on "Shakti as Mantra". This is a subject very dear to me at the moment as my husband and I have just produced an award winning CD of devotional chants and songs " Sita Ram" which are based on the mantras taught to me by my teacher Alan Finger. Not only have the mantras I learned helped to open my heart and heal me they have also inspired a deep inner transformation, which is still unfolding within me.What follows are a few of my understandings based on what I read:According to Arthur Avalon, the word Mantra comes from two words , man from "manana" which means thinking and tra from the root "trana" which means freedom from the world of samsara. In earlier chapters he shares that " tra" means to save... In other words Mantra employs the thinking mind and directs the thoughts in a way that both saves and liberates the soul.Imagine if you were given an object and you had no idea what it was or how it worked. Mantra is like that, when you don't know how it works or what it's for it has no meaning. The yogis however understood the structure and evolution of our universe as a map of sacred vibration and so handed down age old instructions which are still used today to transform and expand our consciousness.There were many different scriptures deseminated in ancient times and all these scriptures were said to work together like the parts of a body. One was not more highly regarded then another. It is interesting to note that the scriptures on Mantra represent the crown chakra and the connection to universal consciousness (Paramatman) whereas the Vedas related more to the individualised self (Jiva atman) which resides in the heart chakra, the Darshanas related to the 5 senses, the Puranas to the body and the Smritis to the limbs. This suggests that mantra is the thing that draws us back to the source of who we are whereas study of scripture and codes of behaviour give us tools for living in the world. Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying " Mantra Works" if you can read the instructions in the manual.In Tantra sound is called Shabda, but Shabda isn't audible sound, it's the sound we can't hear. In order to hear sound in physical reality two things must strike together. When we talk, air strikes our vocal chords, a violin is played when the bow vibrates against the string. and the sound of water in a stream flows in around rocks and against itself. To hear sound we need a receiver, a giver and the space between the two. Its amazing now how two people can talk over huge distances without any wires.In yoga audible sound, is said to be part of our physical body, as we internalise the sound it moves to ou[...]

Who was Swami Nisreyasananda


I have been hot on the trail of finding out more about the gurus that have inspired this beautiful ISHTA lineage. So far I have found books by Venkatesananda, books by Bharati and writings by Mani Finger, but the latest treasure has come to me in a most magical and inspiring way and for me the circle of welcoming these teachers into my own heart is complete.After repreated internet searches without much result I happened upon a Vedanta site in Atlanta which had one book inspired by Swami Nisreyasananda. I decided to write to the head Swami there and ask if he knew of a way for me to find out more about Swami Nisreyasananda. He wrote back straight away with an address of a woman in South Africa who had been a long time student of the Swami and had many of his writings. I sent off a handwritten letter about 6 weeks ago and until last week had decided that my letter must have been lost.Then just a few days ago I received a booklet in the mail entitled " Arise- Awake, The Clarion Call" It was a written tribute to the Swami on the 100th anniversary of his birth. In it there were many many tributes written by his students and collegues plus letters written by the Swami himself.The next day I went to teach in the ISHTA system teachers training and the entire room was covered with flowers and paintings of flowers. ( The students practice bhakti yoga in the form of bringing beauty to our practice space each day) It was incredible because the night before I had read a prayer written by the Swami entitled "Showers of flowers". It was an honour to share with the students a direct quote from the booklet in our morning yoga class." Swamiji used to talk about making a handkerchief and painting or embroidering in the four corners peace, truth, free, full. The way one can use these words is to take them one at a time. For example 'peace'- and in the profoundest depth of our being understand that we are peace and feel it intensely and vividly. We then move on to 'love' and know ourselves as love; to 'free' and know ourselves as utterly unfettered and the principle of freedom; and then 'Full' we are the principle of abundance and fullness. Used in this way these words are a powerful source of comfort and release. "Courtesy of Shirley Roeloffze ( Germiston)And the story continues because that night I received a letter from Mara Sapere who had sent me the booklet."Dear Rachel,A lady phoned me about 3 weeks ago, saying that someone put a letter in her PO Box by mistake. This was your letter. I discontinued that box number six years ago. She was so kind as to look up my address and telephone number in the telephone directory and phoned me. Not only that, she actually brought the letter to me, she had to drive quite some distance in her car. How wonderful God is! She could as well have replaced it in the right box number. All of which reinforces my belief in the infinite intelligence, the unknown knower, who knows what to do and does it at the right time as the right people."You can imagine I was moved deeply by her letter and the rightness of the events that day. I would like to share now Swami Nisreyasnandas biography as written by the late Wendy Taylor, a devoted student and the Swami himself."Swami Nisreyasananda was born on the 14th of september 1899 in a house next to the Kali temple in Tichur, Kerala. He became very ill at an early age and it was expected that he would not live long.He was put on a diet of buttermilk and rocksalt. This and a very high mental attitude saw him outlive every member of his family. He passed gracefully on the 23rd of November 1991 at the ripe age of 92 years.He matriculated at the age of of 15 and was held back for a year before being allowed to enter college. During this time he was the head of debating class and head of the football team where he learnt to[...]

The evolution of Love


(image) When the heart is open
Love is a poem
A poem struck like a bell
You feel it and hear it ringing for miles
But what is love
The connection
Between two things
And what is "in love"
If we are love
How can we be in love
Its a paradox
Yet the chemicals within us are so strong that as our hearts break free from the cage of our little self we absolutely believe that when we look at another that they are the object of our love - that we are separate to them and are "in" love with them.
But time is on our side... we age and grow "in" love we evolve "in" love until we find we were love all along.

"The formula for evolution is to take the word LIVE, reverse the spelling which gives EVIL. Now take that which causes evil, the letter "I", representing egotism, replace it with the letter "O", so that instead of LIVE you have LOVE. And LOVE spelt backwards is the beginning of is the first half of evolution" Mani Finger

In the process of practicing yoga , especially after a long time I have discovered that the ordinary moments are much more exciting then the special ones, that love is a moving sculpture that is moulded by my own heart, and that love is wide open for interpretation...

A friend recently asked me if I believed in destiny...I answered , " yes " of course I do. But on reflecting on the question I actually believe that our destiny is to know that we are love. Life presents us with a moment by moment drama for us to GET this one true inescapable fact. The drama may be beautiful, it may be painful... but in the end...its just pure LOVE...

The Soul is a compass


(image) In the last week I have discovered some beautiful writings by Kavi Yogi Maharishi Shuddhananda Bharati who was one of the teachers who inspired the ISHTA System. Bharati was a spiritual advisor to Ghandi and was described by Tagore as the Shakespeare of India. He lived in silence for 25 years and wrote over 1000 books on topics such as philosophy, mysticism and hatha yoga . He spoke eight languages was connected to princes and presidents and remained incredibly humble during his 92 years of life. In his book " The Revelations of Saint Meikander" he shares some of the profound teachings of Siddhanta. Siddhanta is said to come from the Agamas. The Agamas were teachings similar to the Vedas. Veda means " the knowledge that leads man to the divine" and Vedanta teaches " thou are that, thou art Brahman so be that. "Agama means " divine approach." Its major path is Siddhanta. Siddhanta is also called Saivism and acknowledges the difficulty in " just being that." We are human after all. It is said that Agama was taught by Shiva to Parvarti and then to the saints. It is a Tantric path...

What inspired me in these sutras was the idea that:
The soul is neither the body, nor universal intelligence. It is like a needle on a compass. It is either drawn to experiences through the instrument of the body or drawn to universal intelligence.
The senses are the instrument of the soul. We can tune our instrument so that we can achieve perfect awareness of our consciousness. We can know that there is something peering out into the world from behind the glass of our eyes.
We cannot know what that is, as we can't turn in and look at ourselves, but we can at least be aware that we are not our thoughts, experiences and sensations.
For this awareness to know itself it must be drawn like a magnet by grace back to that universal intelligence.
As dancers in this realm of the senses our music can either be discordant and chaotic or pure and soul stirring. The more we stir the soul the less it looks through the looking glass and the more it turns back in on itself...
The more obstacles we create through our belief in suffering the less we can hear the sweet sounds of our instrument. The trick is to enjoy the dance and know that our soul longs to be drawn back. In a way all we have to do is surrender and trust in the pull of the divine. This is OM NAMO SHIVAYA...

photo by Alan Finger

Who was ISHTA yoga founder Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger


(image) I have just discovered more about my teacher Alan Finger's
father and how he discovered and founded
with Alan, the System of ISHTA yoga.
Mani's spiritual name was:
Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger
Kavi - minstrel poet who wandered from place to place proclaiming to his students about the ancient wisdom and power of yoga
Yogi raj- master of Yoga
Mani- Sanskrit for " Light"
Finger- ( English) we use this to point the way for others

Born in 1908, Mani met Ghandi at the age of four when visiting Mani's parents farm in South Africa. Ghandi patted him on the head and said, "He willl be a teacher and a philosopher" In 1946 he met Parmahansa Yogananda whilst on a business trip in Los Angeles and became interested in all aspects of Yoga. He went on to study with Sivananda in Rishikesh and was initiated by him as Yogi Raj in 1962. In 1971 Mani was initiated into Tantra by Tantric Yogi Maharaji Kavi Shuddhannada Yogi Bharati. Mani lectured, taught and ran a newspaper column in South Africa. He founded the " ISHTA method of teaching"( Integral school of Hatha and Tantric Arts) and taught teachers all over South Africa.

In an inspiring quote he says:
"When I meet a new pupil, his vibrations ask me?
Speak to me about the art of living
Speak to me about the beyond of stars and sun
speak to me about my orginal face
and the organised chaos of motion
Speak about the grace of asana and the need to sit
Speak to me of loving
Intuitively I answer within:
What you ask for you have already answered
what you say is also in my mind
So I begin to understand that
your voice is merely another image of myself and my voice merely an image of yourself"
photo by Alan Finger

Raja Yoga- climbing the mountain


The other day I found myself describing the last four limbs of raja yoga to a group of students in a way that I had never thought of before....

When we meditate its like being a mountain climber. At first we gather our resources, we remove distractions and prepare for the climb - pratyahara. Then we concentrate on the path so we do not loose our step... ( Dharana) As we near the peak the endorphins kick in and our ascent feels effortless... It seems easy to reach the top ( Dhyana) when we reach the top we can see the magnificance of the vista below. In climbing the mountain we master the mountain. We merge with the clear air and the view below ( samadhi)

Some of us are good at gathering our strength and some of us are able to concentrate on the path... sometimes everything flows effortlessly and sometimes our perspective enables us to feel one with our experiences...

We are the changers and the changeless....

Thoughts on Siva and Shakti


She dances
No matter what
She knows nothing of suffering

Siva he watches while tears fall
He cannot bear the dance
Yet he knows he must wait
For her return

But she is already there
Resting in his arms
Restless as a flame on a candle
He cannot keep her
He knows she is this wild dancing creatrix
Free as fire, light as the wind

She is a part of him like he is of her
Two sides of the same coin
One alive with the play of the universe

Shakti dances
No matter what
She knows nothing of suffering

Our energy builds through our connection with stillness. In tantra stillness is symbolised by the energy of Shiva. Shiva meditating up on Mt Kailash, his eyes closed pondering the infinite nature of consciousness. Shiva however cannot exist on his own, he needs Shakti; Shakti is the energy of all creation and this is what Shiva contemplates, the beauty of Shakti, the multitudinous forms that all feed into the one.
These two qualities of Shakti and Shiva are represented in our own body as blood, Agni, the fiery rush of life through our body, it heats our digestion and creates psychic heat to burn away our avidya (ignorance) and reproductive fluid, Soma, the divine nectar that inspires life and feeds and nourishes our cells.

In life we are the natural expression of these two energies digestion, assimilation, reproduction, thinking, processing, creating etc. when does the mind and body stop? In deep sleep! We actually only get about 2.5 hrs of deep sleep a night that’s not much time… but it seems to be enough. In some yogic systems we can think of Shiva as representing a still point while Shakti is like a coil unwinding. In life the desire to move away from the centre is stronger then the desire to move back. We move back in sleep and move out in life. To build our energy we must move back to the stillness more often and this is achieved not only through a commitment to practice and observation of the breath and mental focus but through observing our habits and tendencies. If you have a habit of overdoing it, working hard, stressing out, it takes a great deal of work to break that habit. Maybe you spend years in therapy and self help workshops and still the tendency is there. Tantra likes to take the direct approach, using mantra and yantra to uproot the habit, using Shakti, physical energy, creative energy and mental energy to change the direction from moving out to moving in.

Talking about Sivananda


(image) One of my teacher's teachers was Swami Venkatesanada. Swami Venkatesanada was an amazing yogi and scholar. he travelled the world sharing his wisdom and inspired and touched many people from all walks of life. My teacher Alan Finger got to hang out with Venkatesananda while he was growing up in his father's ashram in South Africa. Alan always calls himself a cowboy yogi, he used to lie around half asleep when the babas and gurus like Venkatesananda were giving satsang. He says he spent half his time playing in his darkroom or fixing his motorbike. I am sure he took in more then he let on as he certainly shares a deep wisdom from those early years of yoga practice with his current students. I have spent the last few years on Venkatesanada's trail soaking up as many books and talks as I can find as I am fascinated by the lineage that Alan and his father were initiated into. I am currently reading his talks on his experience of hanging out with his Guru Swami Sivananda. One of the most beautiful stories in there is of the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. This is a mantra for healing and wellbeing. What's beautiful about this mantra is that chanting it is a totally selfless act. When you chant for your self, to relieve your own suffering, or remove an obstacle there is some part of the ego involved, but when you chant for someone else ,you get out of the way, you forget about yourself... Alan taught me the maha mrityunjaya mantra years ago in New York. I was working with some private clients and noticed a warm feeling coming from the palms of my hands when I taught or put my hands on the students to adjust them. I asked him " what should I do" should I be focussing this energy in some way , directing it? He replied that there was nothing to DO, just to let it happen and let love flow through me and when chanting the mantra , just to sense the students opening to their own profound healing energy.
Healing has nothing to do with the is love moving through ... all we need to do is get out of our own way ... the mantra does this...
last night Nyck and I chanted this mantra over and over I chanted for peace and for all those friends and strangers that are unwell or suffering in someway...

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

photo of Swami Venkatesanada from

Yoga Philosophy in Tokyo


I am in the steamy hot streets of Tokyo... well more in my hotel room in between my yoga philosophy lecture gig at Be Yoga Japan. Spoke for 5 hours about Tantra. Tantra a weaving together of magical threads, individual threads that hold a kaleidoscope of possibilities. In Tantra the carpet is woven yet the thread lives with the idea that its individual, its color shining brightly. This thread is choosing how it wants to play with the divine. One moment joy, another moment, suffering. How magnificent is the mind. The Japanese have the same word for heart and mind ( kokoro) To me it is saying; your mind is your heart and your heart is your mind. When your mind is clear and still, so is your heart. When your heart is open, so is your mind. Sometimes the mind gets cloudy... this can be a problem with our intelligence, but not the rational intelligence, divine intelligence. Its the mind that lives in our stomach. The senses take in everything, but its a lot to digest. If we have our heart in our mind the food of love passes through us and fertilises the soil of our lives. If our mind is in our heart and our heart is blocked then the energy of the mind lives in the solar plexus and immerses itself in the fire. When the fire is weak, the mind is dull, its hard to tune to our higher intelligence. When the fire is too strong it overheats the mind and a kind of madness ensues. Nothing can grow when the sun's heat scorches the earth.

at the moment my mind is cloudy... like the clouds that hang over Mount Fuji

Action and reaction


stayed up last night buried in Venkatesananda's talks on Karma yoga and had a major breakthrough in my understanding of karma, vasana. samskara and dharma. So here goes, bear with me if your interested or just click on to a more lightweight blog.Consciousness spirals out from a fixed pointThis fixed point is called oneness or brahmanThe spiraling out is the force of shakti's split from shivaIt is in our nature to feel like we are constantly pushing away from the center in this spiral arc or being pulled back to the centreIt is in our nature to want things, to take action, to attract pleasures into our lives, to have goalsThis very action is the "pulling away from the centre"Sleep is a returning to the centre, fatigue is our exhaustion from constant goal orientationKarma therefore is the action we take to have what we desireAs we take action or rather shoot the arrow towards our goal an impression is leftThis impression can be broken down into two things:Vasana- deep unconscious habit or a scent that stains our fingers like inscenceSamskara- the way our particular personality expresses this vasanaAs soon as the arrow hits its mark we react- this is a givenThe reaction is often based on our Vasana- ( habit or tendency) and our Samskara (personality patterns) for instance: I insult you and you reactIf you have the vasana( tendency) to be violent and you express that in your peronality as anger you may yell at me or hit me.The reaction is there but how you express it is based on your conditioningIf I insult you and you have the habit of "turning the other cheek" then that is how you will react and you will most probbaly express your reaction in a loving wayIn yoga it is not important to notice the reaction- after all it is just a reenactment of your intial action which in turn creates more actionI insult you, you hit me I insult you again and so on and so onWhats important is to root out the Vasana while aknowledging the SamskaraIn modern day therapy we mainly adress our Samskaras- the personality issuesIn yoga we can use Kriyas to burn up the Vasanas and purify ourselves or as my teacher Alan Finger puts it " bake the seeds until they pop and dissapear"What then is Dharma? Dharma is what is presented to us to work out our Karma- Its what causes us to act and react in the first place. With out the law of Dharma there would be nothing happening just stillness and bliss. But the reality is that we are moving in this outward spiral and a spiral never returns, it does not close like a circle, The spiral then is destiny ... it is the pulling away and returning back that I mentioned earlier and within that are lots of actions, vasanas, samskaras and reactions, lots of events for us to keep working out our Karma.Venkatesanada explains that ultimately we do not have free will as it is our destiny to play out these actions and reactions which may even come from lifetimes of spiraling out from the soul of the universe.The only thing we can do then is to return back more often to the centre until that becomes the strongest pull... we can turn back to the light, through meditation practices, be they tantric or otherwise...These thoughts inspire me to turn back...."He who sees inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is a Yogi and performer of all actions." -Gita, Ch. 4, Verse 18. From The Bhagavad GitaTranslated by Swami Sivananda, Rishikesh [...]

Attracting what you want


(image) My partner Nyck and I have been watching an amazing online video documentary we purchased called "The Secret". After watching it we thought, This is it...The secret we have been waiting for. For most of my adult life I have done self development work either through yoga or in the area of change consultancy. In those workshops I learned that I was a creative being and that because of that I could have whatever I wanted. However the reason why I wasn't neccesarily getting what I wanted was because I was also a creature of habit. Habits that were carved into me before birth. In yoga these are called Vasana's. These habits drive me and it takes a great deal of will to either root out the unwanted habit or to change my orientation so as to carve out what I would call a more positive habit. When I saw"what the bleep" a few years ago I was very inspired by the idea that when we think the same thought over and over again we strengthen those firing patterns of neurons in our brains. I am discovering through my meditation practice that the mind is wild and sometimes even in the observing of the mind without reaction one thought can just keep appearing. "The Secret" reveals through a similar media style to "What the bleep" how our minds work. It shares that we are magnets and we can attract not only things we want but through, negative thinking, things we don't want. Hence our suffering comes from our Vasanas. This documentary also inspires you to start to become aware of your thoughts and what you are thinking and then to start to connect more to thoughts that make you feel good, letting your feelings be a monitor for what you are attracting. A happy feeling brings what you want... a sad feeling brings what you wish to avoid. It sounds simplistic to just change like that... but I do believe its possible. It just takes vigilance and a sense of letting go. Abhyasa- Vairagya as its called in the Sutras. In tantra we are given profound tools to attract what we want through mantra and yantra. These tools suggest rituals and practices and are very relevant. If those yogis were alive today, I wonder how they might teach?

When we are open in our hearts to the potential we have as humans we might just "Grok" in a second that there is nothing to practice.... as we are that thing that we are attracting already. At the same time the rituals of life help us to strengthen and purify ourselves so our hearts can open. Life is Paradox.....



(image) Matangi is Saraswati in her mahavidya form. She is the goddess of the arts and of happy families. In some myths she was born from the leftover scraps of the foods of the gods. She is therefore the goddess of pollution. We do not need to be pure to express our passions for all things creative. She is the goddess of attraction, whatever she wants she can have....She plays the Vina...

Yesterday I felt her energy within me and as I put it to a friend,
"Matangi came to me this morning as I pondered the unwanted polluted parts of myself. Just had another read through David Kinsey's theoretical take on the myths of her and feel quite a
few resonances with her dark attractive powers.....hmmm don't want to be her
just shine the light on me that is her in spite of my goody goody pure seeking jnana yoga self....."

This morning after Yoga and meditation Nyck and I chanted to Lakshmi....who like the last Mahavidya Kamalatmika is the energy which manifests the ultimate joys of our creative endevours. Ho... to all you creative wise beings out there!

Karma yoga


(image) Karma means action- take action- but what is that action? Is it merely doing or is it the action of complete surrender. Is it the ego assuming there is something it must do in order to be? Or is it just that in the being is the doing? Once the bow is drawn the arrow is already shot. The mere intention of action is action."In tension". As humans we long to be free of tension but with out tension no action can be taken. It is the paradox of life. To do or not to do, that is the being....

In yoga practice we say release the tension, let the arrow fly, let go feel that you are allready there, in fact all that is and ever was is pouring through you at this very moment. The moment, arrows flying, actions resolving themselves ,new actions being created. Swami Sivananda said " be good " "be good, then do good" Can we accept that we are good and that our purpose is to string the bow, aim the arrow and shoot, and that that flying arrow leads us from moment to moment?

Sometimes I feel like the arrow, my master has taken aim, but I have no idea about the mark, other times my gaze is as steady as the archer and I don't even need to look to shoot. I am guided by the one true soul of me.

Trusting Trusting

Photo of Ganesh by Tao Jones

Deeper meditation


meditating on the form
deeply moving in
my form is light
the body and its structures
placed carefully in asana
moved by the breath
my tratakam gaze
pulling me in in
I visualise my temple heart
and in it
ganesha ganesha always ganesha

just read a bit by Venkatesananda about the Gerandha Samhita and the three types of meditation- Sthula dhyana, Jyoti dhyana and Shuksma dhyana
moving from more complex forms of visualisation to more subtle

Here is what he says:

"Even so, sthula-dhyana has its place in the scheme of yoga. If the mind is not subtle (being gross and body-conscious), it will not be capable of entering into the subtle regions of contemplation that has often compared to jumping on one's own shoulders. However great an acrobat you may be, a body-conscious, unsubtle mind will not be capable of jumping on its own shoulders. The yogis, realizing this, suggest that it is most advantageous to realize what stage of development one is at, so that one can adapt one's meditation to that stage of development. If all one knows of oneself is "I am the body, gross, physical, material," then it is suggested that this special materialistic approach towards truth called sthula-dhyana be used.

Even should one realize that the earth is extremely subtle, and not what it appears to be through the gross instrument of the human eye, that it is also a mass dancing electrons, subtle, as energy is subtle, if in one's present state of development the earth is seen as solid, let the contemplation of the divine, of the supreme spirit, also be of something solid. There is no harm in proceeding with this, unless, of course, you start insisting that everyone else must do the same, or worse, use it as a stick to beat everyone else into submission:

"The book says to see the ocean! It's prescribed in THE BOOK! Poor man, not to have seen the ocean!"

It is totally inappropriate to force one's own visualization upon someone else. Each must find their own type of visualization. It's not even a question of remaining within the boundaries of one culture verses another. Even within what you think of as your own culture, there are thousands of variations. Some devotees may visualize a crucifix, while others don't even like the symbol of the cross. Some devotees may prefer to visualize a human form. Others would never dream of using a human figure in a visualization of the Divine. Each will have to find his or her own inner predisposition. The only principal that applies to all is the underlying reason for performing this type of meditation: I am body-conscious at present, and therefore, I need a physical symbol upon which the mind can rest, and focus."

Photo of a young swami Venkatesananda by Alan Finger



sensitive like fine hairs on a fern
when you pass by it curls
green the color of my heart
wishing I didn't feel so much
knowing I need to feel
but nothing would be better
I think
the thoughts roll
I lie around in this thick soup of me
dreaming pumpkins

Today I went to have a session with my favorite Ayurvedic practitioner Jacinta here in Byron. As usual it was deep, After being prescribed as having sadhaka pitta out of balance I poured back through my Ayurvedic books to see what it really meant.

The literal definition is" Sadhaka pitta is the fire that determines what is the truth or reality. It is located in the brain and in the heart and allows us to accomplish the goals of the intellect, intelligence and ego. these include worldly goals of pleasure wealth and prestige and the spiritual goal of liberation. It governs our mental energy, mental digestion and our power of discrimination. Its development is emphasized in Yoga particularly the yoga of Knowledge" David Frawley from his book Ayurvedic Healing

That about sums it up for me today....


Going deeper with the chakras


I have just read a page from Swami Venkatesanada's talks at Yashodara Ashram and he shares some fascinating perspectives on the chakras. He says that really we can't prove where the chakras are, we can only imagine them as being placed in certain locations while taking the image-in. Some people can verify the exact locations through their study of scriptures, but really we can't know. We can only experiment for ourselves. He is however, passionate about visualisation and sees the many different images given for the chakras as a way to go deeper and deeper eventually absorbing your self into the root of the image. In other words you start with the simplest image at the base chakra which is the yantra of the golden square and then like a complex tibetan buddhist yantra you can add more shapes, animals, deities and so on... the same thing occurs with the sounds at first you visualise the four sanskrit syllables on the four petals of the lotus until they are absorbed into the one sound which is LAM. Lam is then absorbed into the next chakra like earth settling to the bottom of water in a flowing stream. I am quite inspired by his description as it gives me permission to be as simple or as complex with my visualisations in meditation. Sometimes I need to see each aspect and other times just the sense of it balancing through the mantra and yantra is enough.....