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Friday, 31 July 2015

On Mountains, retreats, and the origin/meaning of Yoga.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. 
― Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Shiga, Shiga prefecture, Japan.
I just just this post up on my Japanese blog but it strikes me that it has everything to do with yoga, the quote above continues (full quote bottom of post)....

 "For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind". 

― Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The idea that yoga was 'invented' in India, that it belongs to India, that we have to travel to India and seek out teachers.....

As if Purusha can be recognised through the colour of it's skin

Yoga surely doesn't belong to anyone, to any one place or period in history, nor does it have it's origin anywhere other than within us, it's a shared heritage.

And yet we look to India, to it's teachers, with gratitude for the reminder
as we do when we look to Greece and Rome and....

"Yoga students are also familiar with Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, also known as Raja yoga or yoga of enlightenment. Here the term Yoga is not used in the sense of union but yoga here means peace of mind. Vyasa in his commentary makes it clear at the outset that yoga is samadhi or here nirodha samadhi or absolute peace of mind. Here the word yoga is not derived from the rood yujir but another root yuja meaning peace of mind. Patanjali makes it very clear in his second sutra by defining yoga as citta vritti nirodha or cessation of all activities of the mind like right knowledge, misunderstanding etc., and not the union with another principle. Citta vritti norodha is absolute peace of mind. Sankara uses the term samadhana another term popularly used even today in India to indicate peace of mind or a settled mind. Bhoja who has written an independent commentary on yogasutras says yoga has two meanings, union and peace of mind and Patanjali uses the term as peace of mind—yogo yuktiH samadhanam". Srivatsa Ramaswami (full article end of post)


The idea of Oomawari is that you can by a one stop ticket with JR (Japanese Rail) and go all over the network, eventually ending up one stop from where you started.

Yesterday I headed off from my local station, went up to Osaka Central, Kyoto, Otsu, around the lake and back down to Osaka and the next stop from me on a 120 yen ticket.

Along the way I found the place I've been looking for, where I would like to live perhaps in Japan, Shiga, in Shiga prefecture, a small town squeezed between the mountains and the great lake.

I spent some time in Switzerland many years ago (in the Rockies too ) and the mountains have been calling me back ever since. 

Marcus has a lot to say about mountains and the call of retreat.

Quotes above in context

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much.

But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself.

For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.

Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.

For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men?

Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.

- But perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee out of the universe.

- Recall to thy recollection this alternative; either there is providence or atoms, fortuitous concurrence of things; or remember the arguments by which it has been proved that the world is a kind of political community, and be quiet at last.-

But perhaps corporeal things will still fasten upon thee.

- Consider then further that the mind mingles not with the breath, whether moving gently or violently, when it has once drawn itself apart and discovered its own power, and think also of all that thou hast heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last.

- But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.

- See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgement in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee.”

― Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

All night long 
the Coyotes howled from the mountains of the moon

sending all timid men into closed doors of peace 
and solitude

and still the snow capped peaks 
reached for the stars.

laying alone, 
heart cold as stone

a mountain came to me....


Srivatsa Ramaswami on the Meaning  of the term Yoga

Yoga – What Does it Really Mean?

When Sri Krishnamacharya started to teach the Sutras to me for the first time, he explained the avyaya atha in the first sutra and then settled down to explain the term ‘yoga’. Usually I used to take down notes extensively at that time. But then put my pen down and listened to him. It was ‘jaw dropping’ as he went on to give a lecture on Yoga in general and then in the particular context used by Patanjali. I have written about it in my book in the chapter “What is Yoga” and also in my recent talk in Chennai. Maybe I have written about it in one of my newsletters. But repetition of these basic discussions can be pardoned.

All of us know that yoga is from the sanskrit root yuj/yunj to unite. Yujir yoge says the dhatupatha. Yoga and the English word ‘yoke’ have the same origin say some linguists. So Yoga means union. Union presupposes that there should be two principles existing for union to take place. So any yoga system should specify the duality between which the union would take place. Then the two principles should be compatible, else no union is possible, like water and oil won’t mix. Then there should be activity in them. They should move towards each other. Or at least one of the principles should move towards the other. The system also should specify how the movement could be initiated and sustained. All these factors make a yoga system of union.

Based on this interpretation of yoga, several systems have come to stay. Perhaps the most popular yoga system, especially among the contemporary yogis, is the Hathayoga system. In this, the two principles between which yoga is sought to be achieved are ‘ha’ and ‘ta’. According to Brahmanand, the commentator on Hatayogapradipika, ha would mean prana and ta apana. Are they compatible? Yes they are said to have been derived from one principle mukhya prana. Different interpretations of prana and apana are available and one interesting interpretation is this. The words, both, are derived from the root ‘ana’ to brathe. ‘Ana’ svase says the dhatupata. Ana as in the word to breathe. The prefix ‘pra ‘ would mean to take something in and apa would mean to discard something.

Since each organism, like us, is a dynamic living being, it maintain a constant intake of life maintaining objects, and life threatening waste products are expelled. These functions are performed respectively by the prana and apana. The most important thing that is to be ingested in pranavayu or oxygen and the most important waste product that is to be expelled is apanavayu or co2. So basically prana and apana complement each other by drawing in what one wants to live and expelling what one does not want to maintain life.

Harmonizing these two forces is the main goal of hatayoga or union of ha and ta. How does one bring about union between these two biological forces? Either by lifting the apana upwards towards prana or lowering the prana towards apana or both. Then how to lift apana or lower prana? By pranayama both are achieved. During inhalation the prana is pushed down and during recaka the apana moves upward. In pranayama this natural process is enhanced. During puraka the prana is pushed down to the limit while in deep exhalation along with the bandhas, the apana is pulled way up. So in Hatayoga this union of prana and apana is sought to be attained by deep puraka and complete recaka with a judicious use of the bandhas—all the time sitting in a proper yogasana to facilitate this process. So all the three aspects of hatayoga, the asana, pranayama and the bandhas become essential. A Hatayogi is one who practices not only asanas but also pranayama aided by appropriate bandhas.

Usually the word yoga is used for union with a higher principle—maybe an equal but never with something considered inferior. In this context anything divine is considered a superior principle to integrate into. Union with God is perhaps the most important use of yoga called generally as bhakti yoga, union with the Lord. When the suffering inferior individual strives towards union with the most superior Lord it is considered Yoga. So the two principles are the individual called the jivatma and the Supreme the Lord paramatma. So the union between individual and the supreme will be bhakti yoga.

Now, who moves towards the other? According to traditional bhakti yoga the bhakti yogi develops a great love/devotion towards the Lord that the individual can not stay without the thought of the Lord. Meditating on the Lord all the time all through the life the individual will achieve union with the Lord (sayujya) at the end of life. All the moves, initiatives, come from the individual. One is required to hold on to the Lord like one holds on to life or like a baby monkey clings to the belly of the mother monkey.

On the other hand, for those who consider the Lord as compassionate, the only thing the devotee has to do is to take the first step towards the Lord. Mentally surrender yourself to the Lord. The Lord will take care of you, He will traverse the distance and at the end of life will absorb you into Himself. He will take care of the devotee like a mother cat takes care of the kitten.

Another well known yoga system is the union of Sakti and Siva also known as Kundalini Yoga. It is a very popular and vibrant yoga system. Basically it is an attempt to arouse , move Kundalini at the Muladhara chakra and ultimately integrate it with the Siva tatva at Sahsrara. The method of arousing and guiding Sakti along the sushumna path forms the methodology of Kundalini yoga. The sadhaka according to Sankara experiences immense bliss in all the nadis consequent on this union.

Yoga is union with an equal or more often with some higher principle, so those who meditate want to unite with a higher or satvic principle like one’s ishtadevata. Most of the mantras are considered to be uplifting and lead to union with a higher tatva. Yoga in that sense is used to indicate achieving something extraordinary. Aprapya prapyam (prapanam) yogam. In astrology a unique and favorable combination of planets that may confer extra ordinary benefit to the individual are said to enjoy some yoga, like guru mangala or guru chandra yoga. Some combinations are said to confer Rajayoga or extraordinary lift in one’s fortunes

Yoga students are also familiar with Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, also known as Raja yoga or yoga of enlightenment. Here the term Yoga is not used in the sense of union but yoga here means peace of mind. Vyasa in his commentary makes it clear at the outset that yoga is samadhi or here nirodha samadhi or absolute peace of mind. Here the word yoga is not derived from the rood yujir but another root yuja meaning peace of mind. Patanjali makes it very clear in his second sutra by defining yoga as citta vritti nirodha or cessation of all activities of the mind like right knowledge, misunderstanding etc., and not the union with another principle. Citta vritti norodha is absolute peace of mind. Sankara uses the term samadhana another term popularly used even today in India to indicate peace of mind or a settled mind. Bhoja who has written an independent commentary on yogasutras says yoga has two meanings, union and peace of mind and Patanjali uses the term as peace of mind—yogo yuktiH samadhanam.

This article is based on something my Guru Kruishnamacharya said on the first lecture of Yoga sutras I guess in the early 60s.

Srivatsa Ramaswami,

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Breath bandha, drishti..... Guru? Plus “Buddha & the Yogis: The Vajra Body”. Robert Thurman, Richard Freeman and John Campbell Video and podcast

Perhaps I understand why Sharath stresses the Guru idea (see this video where he compares the Guru to God as in if you found God surely you wouldn't then look elsewhere.... or would you). If you think relating the guru to God is pushing it a but jump to the tantra section below, the importance of a teacher (guru, ācārya) is very much a characteristic of tantra that fed into the hatha yoga thread. See the pages I've included from George Feuerstein's bool Tanta - Tantra, the path of Ecstasy.

Video relates to  Guruji Lives Here
A short film celebrating the 100th birthday of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Live July 31st.

Sharath's grandfather Pattabhi Jois played such an important role in his life, for Sharath he seems to have been guru first grandfather second, of course he wishes such a relationship for everyone.

Pattabhi Jois was a Sanskrit scholar, a devoutly religious man and had practiced Yoga for many years. When the western students turned up at Pattabhi Jois' door in Mysore, many of them came with Autobiography of a Yogi in the back pocket of their Levi's, some came looking for a Guru others it seems just started to refer to Pattabhi Jois as Guruji out of fondness and respect and perhaps reverence. With Pattabhi Jois' passing newer students, brought up on stories of Guruji and no doubt Sharath's stress on the importance of the guru, of parampara, seem to be at a bit of a loss. I read and hear Sharath himself referred to as The man, Boss, Sharathji....., Guruji is perhaps next if it hasn't begun to happen already.

A good thing, a bad thing, does it matter..... is a guru necessary for this practice? Breath, Bandha Drishti.... Guru?

Does parampara or a passing along of the practice require a guru, are teachers that we respect enough, is the practice itself enough, doesn't it teach itself?

Ekam the arms follow the breath go up, dve, they follow the breath down.

Practice leads to the yama/niyamas and working at those along with your practice are perhaps sufficient for several lifetimes.

My suspicion is that too many teachers get in the way of practice, whether intentionally or not they make/create students dependent upon them...., the better teachers provide tools then shoo us out the door or into the mysore room to discover/explore our practice for ourselves.

Krishnamacharya was Pattabhi Jois' Guru as he was my own teacher Ramaswami's . I've never felt urged by Ramaswami to seek out a guru myself or to consider him as such. I respect him immensely as a teacher as I do Pattabhi Jois' son Manju, who strolls into the Shala singing out "Never fear Guru's here" a parody to overcome our first day clumsy reverence.

Reverence for a teacher ( note Reverence rather than merely respect) is a characteristic of tantra upon which hatha yoga relies heavily. Krishnamacharya seemed to strive for a balancing act between Hatha and the pre tantric Yoga Sutras of Patanjali although clearly his preference was for Patanjali but also Yogayajnavalkya, he seemed to turn almost reluctantly to the hathayogapradipka.

Modern Ashtanga seems to have tipped over more towards the hatha camp although many hatha yogis I've met may feel that Ashtangi's merely dip their toe in those murky waters, hatha lite as it were.

Tantra.... my temptation is to reject it altogether and just turn back to Patanjali and his early pre tantric commentators, to Samkhya. Patanjali's yoga seems to have been enough for the old Yogis for many hundreds of years before the hatha yogis turned to tantra and how many more hundreds of years did Yoga do very nicely thank you very much without tantra, before Patanjali constructed his sutras.

Tantra.... now there's labyrinth to get lost in a tantric Ariadne may well need a bigger ball of string.

Isn't Patanjali still plenty to be going on with, for this lifetime at least.

If I look at Anthony Tribe's defining features/characteristics of tantra there are few if any I have any leanings towards.

Characteristics of Tantra( from here)

"André Padoux notes that there is no consensus among scholars which elements are characteristic for Tantra, nor is there any text which contains all those elements.[5] And most of those elements can also be found in non-Tantric traditions.[5] According to Anthony Tribe, a scholar of Buddhist Tantra, Tantra has the following defining features:[19]

Centrality of ritual, especially the worship of deities
Centrality of mantras
Visualisation of and identification with a deity
Need for initiation, esotericism and secrecy
Importance of a teacher (guru, ācārya)
Ritual use of mandalas (maṇḍala)
Transgressive or antinomian acts
Revaluation of the body
Revaluation of the status and role of women
Analogical thinking (including microcosmic or macrocosmic correlation)
Revaluation of negative mental states"

If I were to seek out a Guru, I might well make the trip to Boulder, Colorado, I'm sure Richard though would hate the idea but what a wonderful teacher and I must confess to some reverence, I was quite tongue-tied when I attended his intensive in the UK a few years back.

Here he is talking tantra and kundalini with Robert Thurman first in 2011 (video) and again in 2013 (podcast). thank you to Angelo for the heads up on this, fascinating stuff. Richard makes for a quite dashing Ariadne.

Robert Thurman and Richard Freeman discuss the intro to what Freeman describes as the “handbook to Kundalini yoga,” Thurman’s translation of Tsong Khapa’s Brilliant Lamp of the Lamp of the Five Stages: Practical Instructions in the King of Tantras, The Glorious Esoteric Community. In this video, filmed during Buddha and the Yogi’s: The Vajra Body retreat at Menla Mountain Center, June 12, 2011, Robert Thurman, Richard Freeman and John Campbell explore how Nagarjuna transcends time and space and get to the root of the tongue.

This podcast below was recorded at the annual summer lecture series called “Buddha and the Yogis: The Vajra Body” given by Robert Thurman, Richard Freeman and John Campbell at Menla Mountain Retreat in July 2013.

Flowing Through the Knots – Ep 26

Also with Richard freeman and John Campbell

Buddha and Yoga – Ep17


Bob Thurman's blog and podcast

Richard Freeman's website as well as this interesting discussion of dualism


And here's another intro to Tantra if I have Angelo to thank for the podcast above i have Angela to thank for this, I particularly like the 

"Thoughts Are tools, not Truths." 
- Christopher Wallis

My own turn to Tantra rabbit hole is this one by George Feuerstein- Tantra, the path of Ecstasy

by way of a preview...
this from the end of Chapter 6 on The Guru Principle

Monday, 27 July 2015

Purpose of (hatha) Yoga Postures. "Traditional yoga for modern body" - Simon Borg-Olivier. Plus sweating less during practice

As mentioned before HERE, I'm currently registered on Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss' Yoga Synergy Fundamentals course. The first week, was kind of an introduction, History and Philosophy of Yoga but also the purpose of yoga postures.

This week is the main anatomy section on the nine bandhas ( nine joint complexes)
see these earlier posts

Simon Borg- Olivier- What do we call this ardha baddha padma mayurasana?

Wildyogi magazines interview with Simon Borg-Olivier give us a bit of an insight into Simon's view of the purpose of yoga postures and I thought it would be nice to share, it(s a better write up than my course notes.

"The traditional yoga postures were not designed to stretch or to tense muscles. They were designed more to achieve some sort of union in the body, and that union would be done primarily by increasing the movement of prana and chitta to the body. In more scientific words - moving of energy and information in the body along the different energy channels. Those channels include blood vessels, nerves, lymphatic vessels, meridians. And the energy that flows in the body includes, for example, the heat in the blood, or electrical impulses that move through the nerves". 

He's the above paragraph in the context of the interview.

My highlighting in Bold

Wild Yogi: Describe your method please in more details.

Simon Borg-Olivier: The traditional yoga postures were not designed to stretch or to tense muscles. They were designed more to achieve some sort of union in the body, and that union would be done primarily by increasing the movement of prana and chitta to the body. In more scientific words - moving of energy and information in the body along the different energy channels. Those channels include blood vessels, nerves, lymphatic vessels, meridians. And the energy that flows in the body includes, for example, the heat in the blood, or electrical impulses that move through the nerves. So we than made our practice to enhance the flow of these things.

What I was feeling during yoga practice - that I was in yoga. It didn’t feel like I was stretching, tensing, breathing or thinking. Yet what we observe with most people’s yoga practice in the modern world, that they are trying to tense, stretch, breath too much and think too much or not to think at all.
So we’ve redesigned the sequences in such a way that people without thinking too much would make their bodies do what automatically normal indian traditional body would do. For example, what a modern person would do to get into a lotus position. He would take one leg, grab it and pul it on the opposite thigh, the same with the other leg. When you do this you cause the muscles between a knee and a hip to stretch as a result of a stretch reflex. But if you do this posture in the way that traditional Indian body would do - they do it the same way we cross our arms - they put leg on the opposite thigh without using their arms. You must do it in the same way while you are in the head or hands stand, for you can’t do it with your hands. So legs are moving due to the action of the muscles. It is a simple nerve reflex - in order to bend your knee you have to switch on one muscle and switch off the opposite muscle. So by moving actively into a position, using forces of the internal body, it automatically gives you strength on one side of the joint, relaxation and length on the other side of the joint. It looks like you’re having a stretch, but it doesn’t feel like you’re stretching. And because one side of the joint was tensed and compressed, while the opposite is relaxed and lengthened, this causes change in the blood flow - from high pressure to low pressure. And this improves circulation. Working in such a way you feel warm very quickly. I can practice in a freezing cool room or walk outside in the winter and my body in a couple of minutes becomes very warm. Or if I practice in a very hot conditions I would not feel overheated because of good circulation process in my body.
So the most important aspect of the practice I teach is - can you move energy and information through the body in a way when you don’t feel like stretching and tensing. But as a natural byproduct of the practice you end up very flexible and very strong, and fit, while feeling like you were meditating and your mind is at peace.

Wild Yogi: Is this what makes your method unique?

Simon Borg-Olivier: Well, if our method is unique, it is only in the world of modern yoga. Because this is exactly what traditional yogis do. And that’s why they achieve the results they do. That’s what my teachers taught me, I had very good Indian, western and Chinese, Tibetan teachers.

full interview here


on sweating less during practice

Did you pick up on this in the above quote....

" I can practice in a freezing cool room or walk outside in the winter and my body in a couple of minutes becomes very warm. Or if I practice in a very hot conditions I would not feel overheated because of good circulation process in my body".

This has been of particular interest to me, I blame my first and second experience of kidney stones on sweating too much, the first time due to a Kyoto summer, the second, hot sweaty, practice, ideally the extra water we take on in summer should pass through our kidney's rather than our yoga towel (in case your curious the second kidney stone was most likely due to green (spinach) smoothies).

Like many I assumed that we were supposed to practice in a hot room, not Bikrum hot perhaps but pretty hot. Many Ashtanga teachers seem to want to make their room as hot as a Mysore afternoon in May. Where did that idea come from, we seem to be getting passed that now (see Gregor Maehle but there are still a lot of hot shalas around. Hamish's room in London was sweltering I remember but then he used to practice with Derek Ireland at The Practice Room in Crete, I imagine that was pretty hot.

I used to sweat a couple of kilo during practice at home and in Crete also, Kristina threatened to did a trough between my mat and Niko's for the following summer.

After 2nd series UK

Above was a typical sweaty summer practice in the UK but the picture below is of full Ashtanga Primary although more in line with Krishnamacharya's presentation in Yoga Makaranda (1934) that I've been practicing for the last two years or so; longer, slower breathing, kumbhaka, some longer stays. As well as Krishnamacharya's slower breathing I've been incorporating Simon and Bianca's focus on abdominal breathing, it does seem to keep one more relaxed.... and seemingly cooler. I've also started incorporating some other approaches of their's that gives a more relaxed practice (more to come on that later).

The yoga towel doesn't lie, almost sweat free in Osaka, in July

Here's the Osaka temperature this morning, around 32 degrees and 70% humidity, we have no Air Conditioning in this old house but we do have a fan.

The Yogasynergy fundamentals course I'm enrolled on.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Patanjali vs. Pattabhi Jois - What are the actual similarities? Alex Medin Plus The Old School of Ashtanga Yoga. Pranidhi Varshney

Stumbled upon this old article from Alex Medin, an interesting read and argument, thought provoking....., as it happens Alex was yet another of Derek Ireland's students. I heard that back in the day at The Practice Place in beautiful Ageos Pavlos, Crete everyone used to tease him about his interest in the philosophical side of things, The Practice Place philosopher cook.

Patanjali vs. Pattabhi Jois - What are the actual similarities?

"Pattabhi Jois always emphasised the importance of practice. Repeatedly he claimed that without a practical experience it is not possible to refine the mind, make it realise its inmost support and gradually centre the mind into a greater receptivity of being. For him åsana and pråñåyåma was the primary tools to facilitate this practical experience that would cause the students to realise the importance and implication of yama and niyama for themselves. These were even more important then åsanas he claimed, but their inner significance and strength would be hard to realize unless some kind of purification had taken place within the mind of the practitioner. Then one would naturally be more sensitive to the impact of ones actions and safeguard the receptivity of the inmost illuminating essence of the mind. The practice of yoga that Pattabhi Jois was teaching, with its particular focus on synchronising the breath and movement, how to keep the gaze, and how to move in and out of postures, was certainly an exterior practice. However, the main purpose of it appear to be a tool to gain a greater receptivity of the self:"

See too this earlier post on Alex's back in the Ring Drug addiction project

Some insane pictures of Alex on this Back to the Ring page

Another nice article I came across yesterday

Pranidhi Varshney

from the article....

"Guruji’s senior students have cultivated a community of practitioners that resonate with this more old school approach. In contemporary Ashtanga discourse, however, this community often gets left out.

We hear a lot from the community of newly authorized teachers coming out of Mysore, but we rarely hear from the thriving community of teachers trained by Guruji’s old students. Both communities are part of the global Ashtanga sangha and deserve equal respect and recognition.

Despite small changes in the vinyasas or differences in teaching methodology, the central tenets of breath, bandhas, and drishti remain at the core of our practice. These tenets are what unite us and I revel in how constant these tenets have stayed.

Whether new school or old school, the heart of the yoga that Guruji taught is beating strong. Though it’s seductive to think otherwise, there is no “one method” or “best method.” There are many approaches that, when practiced with correct intention, can all lead to greater health and happiness".

Full article here

Pranidhi Varshney

25th July UK/London -Yoga mat Bags made from Vintage Japanese Kimono material.

My friend Esther lives in Japan, In Yamagata - mountain country, an Ashtangai and teacher she also makes quality Yoga Mat bags from Vintage Kimono material AsobiGokoro Bags. I put up a post about her experience of making these bags in Japan a while back, you may remember it.,I've reposted it below. This post is to let everyone in the UK know that she's bringing some of her bags with her when she comes next week, you can find her at Hackney Flea market, see details below.

AsobiGokoro Yoga Mat bags made from recycled Vintage Kimono material coming to London


25 July at 11:00–18:00
Next Week · 22°C/12°C Clear
Abney Hall 73A Stoke Newington Church St London, N16

Calling all London Yogi.

Friends please pass the word round if you could.

Handcrafted Yoga Mat Bags. Unique, one of a kind pieces, made from Vintage Japanese kimono fabric and high quality cotton prints. Made with love,care and attention to detail. 

There are samples of my work on my facebook page AsobiGokoro, and I shall be posting the ones I'm bringing to London here over the coming weeks. 

Please remember they are all one-of-a-kind. I may occasionally make two in the same fabrics but different sizes. 

Here's a selection of some of those she's mentioned bringing over, there will no doubt be others.

Reminds me of my favourite screen in Kennin-ji temple in Kyoto

Fujin and Raijin (The Wind and Thunder Gods), Kennin-ji's one of my favourite temples in Kyoto. I wanted to shout "Nooooooo" when I saw you were taking this one to London but then I rarely use a Yoga bag home Ashtangi that I am. Still, the wind Esther, the breath, great bag!

The original blog post

I've been hassling Ester to send me a guest post on her mat bags, made from recycled kimono's, ever since I first saw one posted on fb. After much pestering and pinning down to deadlines here we have it. And pictures lots of pictures including some of the stages involved in making the bags, which I was particularly curious about. I sent a few questions as a framework but it turns out that Esther had already answered some questions in a post on another  blog, the much loved Small Blue Pearls/ The Runway project (PS. send in your runway pictures)

Here's Esther's guest post/response to my questions
AsobiGokoro Bags Yoga Mat Bags: Recycled Kimono
Why make bags out of old kimono?  
Well, because I had a pile of kimono and other fabrics taking up space in my cupboard, and I love bags.  I needed to start making stuff with all the fabrics I’d collected.  I have a bit of a fabric fetish, and they were beginning to pile up.  I love the Japanese sense of colour and design expressed in the kimono and really enjoy pairing this with a surprising print inside.

Making yoga mat bags started when looking at a lovely yoga mat bag that was way out of my price range.  So, I thought I would make one instead.  However, I soon realized, that after I”d gone and bought the fabric, thread, zipper, etc it wasn’t actually much cheaper than buying one.  But, I loved it, and it was in my favourite colours and totally original.  I made a couple  more and gave them to friends, they were very homemade looking.
Through a process of trial and error, asking friends, relatives, shop assistants all kinds of questions I slowly learnt how to make them better and more beautiful.  It really was, and still is, quite a journey.  Always aiming to make a more beautiful bag than the last one.  
What are some of the problems and how did you overcome them?
There have been constant hurdles to overcome, mainly because I have been learning as I go along, and every piece is different..  Different combinations of fabrics produce very different bags.  Also I don’t want to waste any material so I take a while to plan out a bag in the most efficient way, I have very few scraps.  Every little piece is a treasure.
How strong are these bags?
They are pretty strong. Not cargo strength, but I’ve thrown mine around a lot as a tester, it’s still going strong. I use a fairly substantial cotton interfacing in them all now.   It may not be necessary, as the first ones I made didn’t have this and they’re still going strong, but just to be sure.

The silk ones will eventually wear thin I’m sure, but that’s part of the beauty of natural fabrics.
Which was the most terrifying material you cut up?
The most terrifying kimono material I ever cut up was the sleeves from a friends coming of age Kimono, that her recently passed away father had bought for her when she was 20.  When young the sleeves are long and later the sleeves are trimmed. She had kept the trimmings, she is now about 46, and asked me to make a bag for her. It was quite an honor and very precious, not only because it was in memory of her deceased father, but also because the original kimono cost around 18,000pounds! There wasn’t much material, so I had to be careful and piece together a bag.  I will probably never sew fabric that gorgeous again, and was so pleased with the result I kept it a few extra days to admire it in private.

Has it ever gone really really wrong?
Oh yes, I have made every kind of mistake possible.  My husband has a good eye (his mother is professional seamstress) and points out all the faults.  Sometimes this feels like a Japanese spiritual path of bag making.  I take them apart, and redo, aiming for simple perfection. 
Do you have any that you couldn't bare to part with?
Actually, pretty much all of them.  That’s the thing, I get very attached to these bags, this isn’t a business, it’s my art, little embarrassing to say that, but that’s how I feel.  I stopped painting, as I wasn’t terribly good and paintings were piling up in the house, but to make something practical and special…that’s more like it.  It’s something I love to do, to play with fabrics and colour combinations.  I can only make a bag I am excited about.  I never want to part with the one I”ve just made, but by the time I’ve finished the next, I’m ready.

When I’ve made one I have to sit with it a while before I let it go, I’m getting better now. I’m always most pleased with the most recent one.  

My students and friends have been very supportive and snapping them up, which is lovely as I get to see my bags all the time.  Some have gone overseas and I’m getting better with the practice of non-attachment, ha ha!
A good friend told me I must let them go, keep a flow of energy, to challenge myself to make them better and better and more beautiful. 

How long does it take to make one?
Not sure how long they take, as I work in spurts whenever I have the time and inclination. Sometimes more like a frenzy, forgetting everything else in my excitement to finish one.   I don’t want it to be a chore, to have that negative energy in the bags, it’s nice to relax and get into the process.  It is a process indeed.  From taking apart the kimono, and if necessary washing and ironing all the pieces.  Then trying out combinations of kimono and lining materials and zippers what style of bag would it suit, once I feel suitably inspired and can carve out some time I start to to make one.  It does take many many hours, but the time flies, aborbed.  Measuring, cutting, interfacing, making bias tape, lots of hand sewing, I like the details.  Actual time at the machine is minimal.  

You jokingly mentioned that you wanted to see sweat and pin pricked fingers, the blood sweat and tears of making mat bags from precious kimono.  Well, no joke there is sweat, and near to tears when I do something wrong. As for blood, at times blood had been shed! There is a lot of hand sewing, sometimes through 7 layers of fabric the occasional finger has been pricked!

Do you have pictures of your favourite?
So hard, as at one point every one has been my favourite.  I guess the one I really couldn’t let go is the one I’m using, this purple one is the newest one and so my current favourite, and these came a close second.

I just so enjoy this creative practice, and want to make beautiful unique pieces for someone to carry their little piece of sacred space around with them, a joy to open, and hopefully help inspire a practice.  Beauty I believe can inspire spirituality, actually I was just reading this morning in the “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” about how meditation (or yoga) is an art and to do it in a richly inspired way, to inspire yourself.  So, this is my little contribution to help devoted yogi’s on their way.

If anyone is interested in any of the bags feartured here (link to blog) drop me a line on the AsobiGokoro facebook page.

Esther lives in Yamagata in the north of Japan and is also practicing and teaching Ashtanga yoga.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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