Lucy lifted us up


In our yoga practice animals inspire us in our asanas—pigeon, peacock, frog, cat and cow. As yogis, in life they inspire us, too. When I recently had a woman in class who had a yoga mat with cats on it I had to tell her how much I liked it. Yoga mats now have so many choices and designs but I had never seen that one. I told her how we had cats at our yoga retreat in Maine and that it had never presented a problem; even our allergic guests dealt with it. She said she thought every yoga studio should have a pet. One of the places I study in New York City (Genny Kapuler) does and I love it! One particularly allergic guest at Sewall House had no problem when it came to Lucy (“I wish I could hug her!”) and our “non-cat” people embraced her as well, sending us photos of her sitting on their bed.

Our first mascot at Sewall House was Westy, the subject of many of our guest’s camera shots. Guests would send us CDs with photo studies of dear old Westy, who was already 10 when he escaped the city in the summer months to his “country home” where his favorite activities were porch-sitting, jumping in laps for as long as he wanted and walking to his wooded outdoor bathroom as a daily routine. Like all of us, Westy had a personality and let you know when he had too much of whatever it might be, or not enough if he wanted a piece of your muffin! As he grew older he gradually became blind with cataracts and had hyperthyroidism. But he did so well, still engaging in his favorite activities, even if moving a little slower. He continued to slow down, hanging in with us until right before our Thanksgiving Retreat in Maine 2008. Sadly we reported his leaving us in our newsletter and received sympathy cards and emails about dear Westy. I had him 18 years. We had seen and done a lot together.

As Westy was preparing to leave us another life walked into our lives. I was teaching a full class over Labor Day weekend. Kent, my husband, had gone down to the lake to do some work on the cabin. But he never made it. At the head of the lake he was greeted by her so he came back, interrupted my class, and simply said “Can I speak with your for a moment?” He never interrupted class so I know this must be important. Continue reading

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A bagpiper’s tale

Picture of bagpiper

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Kentucky back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn’t stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I’ve never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played ‘Amazing Grace,’ the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, “I never seen nothin’ like that before and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Source: Somebody e-mailed this to us.

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Yoga in the sky

Every night space,time, and light come together in a union that creates our night sky. Every night the universe is singing to us. Are we listening?

Cameras that open their shutter hundreds of times a night create these images that are later stitched together to form a movie. This is what you would see when you turned your head up to peer at the sky from locations where the sky is clear and where there is low light pollution.

This is what the night sky looks from Hanle in Ladakh, India. Also home to the world’s highest observatory. If you like the video you may also like this.

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Is Yoga Popular?

Picture of man doing tree pose with sun-set behind him
If you were to Google “Yoga popularity” you will find pages upon pages of articles talking about the popularity of yoga. So the question this article asks is: Is yoga really popular? The answer that this post comes up with may surprise you.

Before we jump into answering this question we should clarify by what we mean by yoga. In this article the practice of yoga asana or the yoga of postures is referred to as yoga. The practice of all 8 limbs of yoga as defined by Patanjali would reduce the numbers of yoga practitioner to be quite marginal.

Let us look at the raw numbers. As per Yoga Journal survey in 2008 there are about 16 Million people practicing yoga in the US. This translates to about 5% of the population. If we were to take this number world-wide we have to first eliminate half the population. It was estimated in 2005 that about half the world lived in poverty at less than $2.50 per day. For the people fighting a daily battle to bring bread on the table yoga is not on their list of priorities. We then have to accept that yoga has poor penetration in China, most of Africa, and Middle-East. Even in India, the asana yoga practice is not very popular and it would be safe to say that the popularity is no greater than that in the US.

If you were to do the math you will probably conclude that no more than 2% of the world does yoga. Even this is probably a wild over-estimate. So the question then arises: can we claim that something practiced by 2% of the population as popular?

The point of the article is not to stir up controversy or engage in a mindless statistical exercise. The point is to illustrate the work ahead. Because of the low penetration of yoga the benefits to society has been on the margins. Yoga can help bring down healthcare costs and also improve productivity of the working population. Yoga can also help improve education. It is not difficult to imagine that reduction of anxiety and stress can greatly improve learning. The resulting benefits from improvement in education to society would be quite phenomenal.

Yoga can also help pacify and calm down society. If yoga were to be practiced by 90% of the population you may see the need of less policemen and jails. And as yoga spreads to a majority of countries you may even see a reduction in wars and conflict.

Unfortunately the practice of yoga within the “at risk” community is pretty insignificant. Thus the people who can benefit most from yoga are not the ones practicing it. This is why the tangible benefit to society from yoga has been marginal at this point and that is why work done by people like Lisa Danylchuk is so important.

It has been close to 100 years since Krishnamacharya started his epic quest to popularize yoga and we have reached about 2% of the population in that time. Even if we were to see a geometric increase in the number of people practicing yoga, we are talking about many decades before yoga reaches say 25% of the population world-wide. It is probably only at such levels that we should first start seeing direct benefits accrue to society. When this happens that would be a “tipping point” for yoga. An earlier post talked about the foundation of sacrifice on which yoga has spread. What this post is trying to say is that Krishnamacharya’s work remains unfinished. Only when society sees direct benefit accrue to itself, only then yoga teachers will be justly compensated. Till then the wagon of yoga will have to be pulled by the force of sacrifice.

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Dronacharya’s dilemma

Picture of DroanacharyaThere are times in our life when all the stars line up. Suddenly you find that success is staring you in the face. There is only one hitch. You may have to temporarily put your moral values on hold. What do you do? The lesson from Dronacharya’s 5000-year-old story should give you pause. Dronacharya’s story, taken from the epic called Mahabharata, illustrates the pitfalls of taking too many shortcuts.

Dronacharya was a great teacher and warrior. He ran the school that trained royal princes and people of high nobility. As such he depended on royal patronage and was always keen to be in the good books of the ruling elite. Dronacharya’s dilemma was that he found things going in his favor as long as he made morally questionable decisions. What should he do? Should he continue to act in his own interest or should he do the right thing? Dronacharya’s dilemma is really our dilemma and the lessons from this story can be applied to our lives.

Dronacharya’s ultimate ambition was not to be just an academic but a commander in the battlefield where he could demonstrate his knowledge and expertise in the real-world. Once he was a successful commander of an army he would have real political and military power and he would no longer be beholden to the ruling elite.

Though Dronacharya was a formidable warrior and a great teacher, it worked to his advantage if he made exaggerated claims of his capabilities. He was after all dependent on royal patronage for sustenance. He carried on the same charade with the royal princes who were in his charge. When these children grew up to adulthood and wielded power, they overestimated Dronacharya’s capabilities. They thought that he was unbeatable in war. Many of these princes soon set out on a course that was morally incorrect and would lead to future conflict. They did so because they knew that Dronacharya was completely loyal and if war were to breakout they would easily crush the enemy with his help.

Dronacharya did nothing to stop this behavior. In fact this was exactly what he wanted. He wanted the ruling elite to be increasingly dependent on him and in case of war to promote him to the position of commander-in-chief the army.

By supporting immoral actions of the ruling elite Dronacharya was making himself party to these actions. The right course of action would have been to rein in the ruling elite. If he had done so war might have been prevented, but Dronacharya remained silent. Unfortunately his ambition had blinded him to the growing risk and the folly of his actions. At the outset the enemy forces were minor and could easily be crushed. But the outrageous behavior of the ruling elite was slowly alarming distant states who saw that they would be next in line if the behavior continued unchecked. When it came time for war, the opposition rallied a much larger force than expected. Still Dronacharya was not perturbed. He was overconfident of his own capabilities. He believed that he could lead the army to victory if he were given charge of the battle.
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