Hey guys! This is a special #mythmonday video shot from my retreat location in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, the largest coastal mountain range in the world! I’ll be telling the story of Pārvatī, but while I was here in Colombia I did some research on local indigenous mythology and found a description of a myhtological figure named La Madre Monte, Mother Mountain:
Madre monte (Mother Mountain) is a stout, elegant woman who wears moss and leaves and a green hat that conceals her face. She lives in dense jungle and supposedly bathes in rivers, causing flooding and heavy storms. Madre monte haunts those who steal others people’s land and casts plagues on cattle owners who usurp fields or ignore boundaries. She also dislikes unfaithful spouses, vagabonds and general mischief-makers and punishes them by placing insurmountable obstacles in their path when they walk through the jungle. They eventually fall asleep with exhaustion and do not wake for hours.
I found many of her attributes similar to those of yogic mythology, like Pārvatī, or her son Gaṇeśa. Check out the #mythmonday video below.
Pārvatī was born into royalty; her father Himavat was king of the Himalaya, who was also sometimes referred to as King Parvat. Pārvatī was named after her father, and her name translates to ‘Daughter of the Mountains’. She is the goddess of fertility (everything comes from the mountain, or Earth), love, devotion, but also of strength and power – just like a mountain! The alignment of tāḍāsana (mountain seat) exists within every single other āsana we come into during class. All the āsanas have the same physical alignment, they are just shaped different. Similarly, everything on this planet, living and inanimate, are made of the same elements, we are just shaped different. The mountain, or let’s say Earth, is also the connection between all of the other forms we come into. We come into the form of humans – warriors and sages and saints, of animals – dogs, monkeys, birds, frogs, fish, insects. We come into the form of flowers and trees. We come into the form of tools – compasses, plows, boats. The mountain (Earth) is the common factor. Everything on this planet, even what we think of as inanimate objects, comes from this earth. The practices of yoga – physical, spiritual and philosophical – teach us how to relate and connect to everyone and everything around us in a meaningful and supportive way.
This story is very much about ego. Kahola could not stand being corrected by his unborn son, and cursed him, causing a birth deformity. Aṣṭāvakra couldn’t stand the mistakes being made by Kahola and could not help but correct him from the womb. The supposed vedic scholars could not believe that someone who looked like Aṣṭāvakra could also be a vedic scholar and were embarrassed when he proved them wrong.
Similarly arm balances are also all about ego. Yes, they require strength and flexibility – both attributes we need in our everyday lives. But when we can all of a sudden come into an arm balance, it all of a sudden becomes our new social media profile pic or new party trick (don’t drink and yoga you guys!) And when we can’t do them, we are looking around the room comparing ourselves to those who can and wondering why we can’t. It’s all about ego, and none of that matters. You won’t all of a sudden become enlightened when you come into Aṣṭāvakrāsana the first time (wouldn’t that be nice!) There is a deeper meaning behind why we practice āsanas, and it’s not about circus tricks. Although this does not mean that you shouldn’t at least try and work your way up to the full asana. If you never try, nothing will ever change. We can say that nothing we do will make changes in the world, but if we don’t at least try, then DEFINITELY nothing will ever change. Be the change you want to see in the world.
I have the great privilege and humbling honor to lead this year’s annual Jivamukti Yoga Memorial Day Retreat at Ananda Ashram, located in Monroe, NY, May 24th – 27th 2019.
We will spend the weekend exploring asana and meditation, while diving deeper into spiritual teachings that can support our health, happiness, and sanity. Best of all, we will be doing it together in a beautiful place. This retreat is not only a gift to yourself, but to everyone you know, and to all beings.
Each day we will rise together for meditation and asana class, then meet again in the afternoons for further exploration through asana, study and song. We will enjoy delicious vegan meals prepared for us with love. There will also be opportunities to study Sanskrit with the amazingly gifted teacher Bharati, and to participate in the ashram’s acclaimed evening programs.
It is often impossible to move forward in a new way without first taking a step back. The retreat is an opportunity to get in touch with our Jivamukti lineage, part of which came through Ananda Ashram founder Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. By unplugging from daily life, you have the opportunity to steep in your practice, and to suspend unhelpful cyclic thinking.
Semi-private accommodations $595, pre-register before May 1st $625 after May 1st
Dorm Room accommodations $535, pre-register before May 1st $565 after May 1st
Ananda Ashram in Monroe, New York, is a Yoga retreat and spiritual-educational center just over one hour from New York City, founded in 1964 by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati (then Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D.) as the country center of the Yoga Society of New York, Inc.
Located in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, the Ashram provides a serene, natural environment with woods and meadows surrounding a lake. Accommodations are simple and meals are vegetarian.
This past December I travelled to Australia for the first time. I spent time in Sydney, Melbourne, and the Blue Mountains. I taught some yoga classes, hit up every beach possible, went to art galleries, and went on bush walks. But the only thing I really wanted was to see kangaroo in their natural habitat.
Much like deer in the United States, there is an over-population of ‘roo in Australia, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. A friend who lives in the valley of the Blue Mountains told me she has kangaroo in her backyard pretty much all day everyday, so she offered to pick me up from where I was staying and take me to her home. We drove about 40 minutes to her house and were hanging out for about an hour without a single ‘roo in sight. None on the drive there, none in her backyard. I had pretty much given up hope and while my friends went inside for some tea, I decided to walk around the garden. I had been outside for a while, and started to head back in when I saw a flicker in the corner of my eye. I was sure it had to be a squirrel, but when I looked I found an entire kangaroo family in front of me – mom, dad, and toddler joey! I spent a good 15 minutes hanging out with my ‘roo friends before they headed off into the woods. (See video below).
I compared kangaroo to deer in the U.S., and that is pretty much what they are. Although they are not evolutionary related (kangaroos are marsupials), they are very similar; they look at you the same way, live in the same type of habitat, travel with their family, have similar ears, are both herbivores, and, as I mentioned earlier, are over-populated and sometimes a nuisance. Aside from how they take care of their young, there is one big difference – how they move around. While a deer can move forward, backwards, and side to side (although as Bambi has taught us, sometimes quite clumsily), kangaroo can only move in a forward direction. They are completely unable to move in reverse, but they can pivot quickly to change direction with the use of their tail.
Similarly, in our own human lives, we can only move forward. Physically we can move in all different directions – forward, backward, sideways, turn upside down and bend over backwards. Time-wise we can only move forward. Yet many of us are stuck in the past – we ruminate and agonize over things that have happened – words we regret, actions we wish we could change. We even tell ourselves that things will never change – that we will always be miserable, never have enough money, find the perfect partner, always have tight hamstrings (!). We tell ourselves these things as if they were hard truths. When the truth is that everything changes AND we can always pivot in a new direction.
There are many ways to look at the concept of truth, or satya in Sanskrit:
Within the realm of yogic philosophy we are told that the only thing that is True or Real is that which never changes. That there is something within all of us that is a constant, and this is what the quest is within a yogic practice; our Holy Grail; the journey of finding Ātma–bōdha, or Self-knowledge.
In the realm of science there are definitely things that we can take as truth (for now anyway) – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Earth is round; the Earth and the other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun; Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, just to name a few. But even these scientific truths have changed. It was once thought that the Earth was flat, and that the sun revolved around the Earth. As science progresses, what we once thought of as truth is suddenly not. What I am absolutely sure of is that it cannot be proven that you will always be miserable and that your hamstrings will always be tight…
In a relative sense, in our everyday lives, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Our bodies change, our hair changes, clothes, jobs, the people we hang out with, life situations, our āsana practice, EVERYTHING CHANGES. And although we can’t change something that has already happened in the past, the truth is we can make different choices in the present moment. If we are not happy with something in our lives, if we recognize that something needs to change, but we feel like it never will, then that is the first step! Hopefully making choices that are the benefit to ourselves and others.
I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do. Most of us don’t like change – it is hard to let go, even of misery, and is very often painful, but this challenge is what allows us to grow. In every single yoga āsana we are moving in opposing directions. In tāḍāsana (mountain seat), we are grounding down to lift up taller; in utthita parsvakonāsana (extended angle), we are pushing into the back leg while our top arm and the crown of our skull (amongst other things happening) are reaching forward. It is the opposing directions that allow us to feel expansive and grow. Similarly, in life, we are often pulled in opposing directions. We are trying to make changes and move forward, but are being dragged back by those incessant thoughts of the past. It is within this challenge that we can find growth, and maybe discover new truths. Just like a kangaroo, we can pivot, and then keep moving forward.
It’s not easy bein’ green Having to spend each day the color of the leaves When I think it could be nicer being red or yellow or gold Or something much more colorful like that
It’s not easy bein’ green It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things And people tend to pass you over because you’re Not standing out like flashing sparkles in the water Or stars in the sky
But green’s the color of Spring And green can be cool and friendly-like And green can be big like an ocean or important Like a mountain, or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful And I think it’s what I want to be – Joe Raposo/Kermit the Frog
When I was 9 years old my family moved from Rockaway, Queens to Long Island, in the middle of the school year.
Because it was the middle of the year, all of the kids in my class already had their table assignments and I had to be added to one. My teacher, without ever having met me or spoken to me, assumed, based on the spelling of my last name, that I was from a Spanish speaking country and did not speak English, so she placed me at a table with only Spanish speaking students. She made this assumption because at the beginning of the school year there were a group of siblings who had just moved from Peru and spoke very little English, whose last name was spelled De La Cruz. My last name at the time was spelled De Chagas. So just because my teacher saw a space in the middle of my name with a capital “C” she made this assumption.
I was completely offended by this and upset. My last name is Portuguese, but my great grandparents were German, Austrian and Polish, and my family had been in NYC for 3 generations. I definitely spoke English. But as a 9 year old, and a new student, I also just wanted to fit in.
I was so upset by this experience that I actually changed the spelling of my last name to make it less “weird.” To this day, all of my legal documents: driver’s license, passport, high school, college and grad school diplomas, even here at Jivamukti or on my website, my last name is spelled Dechagas. No space, no capital C. Each time my dad sees my name on something he says “you know your name is spelled wrong, right?”
Of course, now, as an adult, I think my Portuguese last name is really cool. There’s this mystery around it about where is comes from, and it makes me different. But it would take soooo much work to go about changing all my legal documents. And as a 9 year old I just wanted to fit in.
So many of us on a daily basis make assumptions about others based on what they look like, last names, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, or if they are covered with feathers or scales, etc. We make decisions and take action based on these assumptions without knowing the full situation. In the yoga world we often talk about everyone being essentially the same, and this is true, all human, animal and plant beings are inherently the same; we are all breathing the same (polluted) air and just trying to get by. But we are also all very different and we should own and be proud of our unique differences. In class we are moving together and breathing together, but our practice is also our own practice on our own mat. We are the same and different at the same time.
There once was an old woman who, every single day, would walk down to the river with two buckets attached to a long pole over her shoulders. One of the buckets was brand new, without a flaw, and the other one was very old with a large crack in it. Each time the woman returned home from her long walk with heavy buckets, the bucket with the crack in it was only half full of water.
This went on for many years, until finally the old bucket asked the woman why she still used him. “You work so hard every single day to carry water home, and each time I am only half full. I feel so inadequate and useless. Why don’t you just throw me out and get a new bucket?”
The old woman told the bucket to look at the path they walk each day. “You’ll notice one side of the path is bare and empty, and the other side is filled with beautiful flowers. I knew of your flaw, so purposely planted seeds on your side of the path, so that each time we walked home, the seeds would be watered. Without the crack in your side we would not have these beautiful flowers.” (Ancient Buddhist Story)
My teacher, Sharon Gannon, often says that magic happens when there is a shift in perception. That if we could just view the world in a slightly different way, magical things will happen. That if we can view buckets with cracks in them with potential, rather than garbage, flowers will grow.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra chapter 2, verse 33, he says
vitarka bādhane pratipakṣa bhāvanam
When disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think the opposite. Not such an easy thing to do. It takes practice (abhyāsa) and time. This doesn’t mean that if you are sad you should force yourself to be happy, but when you take the time to pause for a moment before reacting, to view a different side of a situation, you might find that there is always a little bit of magic.
I just returned from two weeks in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. My first morning in Belize I was woken up, waaaaay too early, by a cacophony of birds. There are about 590 different species of bird just in Belize, and I’m pretty sure every single one of them was saying, “April, RISE AND SHINE!”
That first morning was pretty irritating; but then I found myself purposely waking up with the birds, listening to them, watching them eat breakfast as the sun rose over the ocean.
What I noticed most during my time in Central America and Mexico was not just the many different kinds of birds, but more how all of them flap their wings in different ways. Some glide, some have a meandering wave, some need to get somewhere fast (they must be a NYC ex-pat), and some are nearly invisible. But they all move around this planet with consciousness and purpose. While hunting for food, they are deeply concentrated (dhāraṇā), and meditative (dhyāna), but have the ability to see the expansiveness around them (samādhi); they interact with the greater world without falling out of step. All the time totally absorbed in their point of focus. All three of these together (dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi) are known as saṃyama; or an intuitive insight.
It is believed that birds who fly together in flocks have a sort of biological radio, able to communicate those intricate patterns and actions instantly. The flocks have no leaders. Instead, each bird hones into the signals of the seven closest to them, and they act as one, flying up, down, around and to the side. They have an amazing ability to choreograph their movements in less time than it takes to blink an eye. (Joan Morris, Mercury News). I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a bird fly off in the wrong direction. And it’s not just those seven birds in communication – these circles interconnect, so they are all in communication with each other.
We as human beings can look to these birds for inspiration on how to move around this planet with consciousness. Hopefully we are also tuning in to those closest to us – not just our friends and family, but also our neighbors, community, country and all Earth-beings. Making decisions based on the benefit to all those surrounding us, and not just flying off in the wrong direction. This doesn’t mean we can’t have our own chirp or flap our wings our own special way, but we act with the highest of intentions for the benefit of all.
#itsbeenawhile has been my hashtag of choice a lot recently. Whether in regards to friends I haven’t seen in a while, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or in this case, writing a new blog post!
The past 6 months have been busy, busy, busy! Mostly filled with planning new and exciting things for 2018. Over the next year I will be traveling quite a bit; teaching yoga, checking out potential retreat destinations, and of course some vacation time! Don’t worry New Yorker’s! I’m still based here and teaching my full schedule!
Check out my global happenings below. Open to everyone! See you somewhere across the globe! Reach out for more info, or click the links below.
January 20th: Manahawkin, NJ, Hot or Not Yoga, Yoga Anatomy Course
February 3rd: Manahawkin, NJ, Hot or Not Yoga, Beginner Sanskrit
February 4th: Manahawkin, NJ, Hot or Not Yoga, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
March 3rd: Manahawkin, NJ, Hot or Not Yoga, Pranayama and Vedic Mantras