“I make but a simple statement of fact when I say that for years I was like on bound hand and foot to a log racing madly on a torrent, saved miraculously time after time from dashing to death against the many boulders projecting out of the swirling water on every side by just a narrow margin and in the nick of time, turning and twisting this way and that, as if guided by a marvelously quick and dexterous hand infallibly correct in its movement … At times I felt Instinctively that a life and death struggle was going on inside me in which I, the owner of the body, was entirely powerless to take part, forced to lie quietly and watch as a spectator the weird drama unfolded in my own flesh.”
Gopi Krishna

Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man

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This post has moved to it’s rightful place in the Ontekusuto ara.

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Leonard Cohen in Concert

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So it finally happened, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert, it was two days ago and just now the energy is beginning to settle and I can start placing some words in sequence to describe my experience. Numerous people have asked me about it and I still haven’t answered them.

Wish

I have a long-standing wish to photograph Leonard Cohen in concert and though that wish has not yet been fulfilled, pursuing it is a story worth telling. I began acting on this wish last summer when there were first rumors about a possible concert in Israel. The concert was to be held on September 21st 2008 – and he was to arrive in Israel 3 days earlier on his birthday. I first wrote to Jarkko Arjatsalo the webmater of The Leonard Cohen Files website, and he told me that there is a very protective bubble of security around Leonard Cohen. This wasn’t very encouraging but I did send an email to Robert Kory (Leonard Cohen’s manager) – I got no response.

As the concert was finalized this year I again sent a number of emails (to Jarkko, to Kory and numerous emails to the wonderful people who worked relentlessly to bring Leonard Cohen to Israel). Nothing came of it.

The day before the concert I was considering if I was going to carry with me my camera gear to the concert, in the end I charged my batteries and decided to take it with me to keep my options open. As we were riding the train towards Tel-Aviv I wrote a short letter to Robert Kory in the hope that I would be able to get the letter to him and that there would be a window of opportunity for him to read it and make it possible for me to photograph the concert.

When we arrived a few hours early at the stadium I parted ways with my family and began wandering around the many gates hoping luck would point out to me someone to whom I could hand the letter who could pass it on to someone else on a path that would eventually lead to Robert Kory. After some time (I think it was about 20 or 30 minutes) walking around I began to feel that it wasn’t going to happen. Then something happened.

I saw someone with an inviting face wearing a staff badge around his neck. I asked him if he could help. He pointed north and said that the Israeli manager was just ahead and I should try him directly. I walked up to him, he shook my hand and I asked him if he would be willing to pass the letter on to Robert Kory. He said he couldn’t because Mr. Kory was very annoyed with him … but … he pointed south and said that Mr. Kory was giving an interview to the press 100 yards away and I could try him directly.

I turned to walk in that direction and within a few seconds I saw Robert Kory walking alone and in my direction – he was maybe 20 yards away. I approached him, he had a peaceful, clear & pleasant presence, he acknowledged me and shook my hand. I asked if he would accept the envelope with my letter, he did. I said that it would be great if he had time to read it before the concert and wished him a pleasant evening.

I walked away with a feeling of peace and serenity, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be using my camera tonight.

Violence

The concert itself took place despite violent efforts to prevent it. Proceeds from the concert went to supports peace initiatives – specifically projects involving bereaved Israeli & Palestinian families who continue to build bridges and pursue peace.

When the concert began I was drained and tired. This was out 3rd visit to the center area of Israel (we live in the north) in two weeks and my energy was pretty dissipated. I live a fairly quiet and monastic life and I don’t enjoy cities and crowds, they overwhelm my senses and disturb me. I sense much violence around me in Israel, it’s so subtly ingrained into so many things that it goes largely unnoticed, but it’s there. When I am closer to it, it tires me (which is why I live far from it).

In addition, luck would have it that earlier at my parents home, I found myself (again) engaged in conversation (with my family) that attacked me and the choices I have made in my life in recent years. Though these conversations are rooted in care and good intentions, I experience them as violent attacks on subtle and precious aspects of my life. So they too drained me of energy. Of course, I am grateful to my family because they invited us to this concert – and that’s the way life goes :)

I have never experienced the kind of violence that kills individuals and breaks hearts & families but I could relate to it and feel it’s deep roots reaching out and touching even my relatively isolated existence.

So, drained of energy, I headed out to a 3 hour gathering of 50,000 people, with some heavy traffic, my father’s aggressiveness behind the steering wheel of the car and my sister’s aggressive consulting behind my father :)

Leonard Cohen

Then a 75 years old Leonard Cohen, touring the world for the last two years (“sent around the world like a postcard” is how he described it in one interview) walked on stage and gave a three hour concert. I was barely able to move in my seat and I recall thinking of Robert Kory and admiring (and appreciating with some envy) the protective bubble he created around Leonard Cohen to make it possible for him to appear.

Numerous times during the concert I closed my eyes and let the entire sound and space penetrate me. Each time I did this I first felt loneliness, then I felt embraced, supported and comforted – I could surrender to the tiredness that filled my body. When I did, my eyes overflowed with tears, a shiver flowed through my body and my lips trembled. Though I knew all the words by heart I could not move my lips – it was as if opening my lips would cause a damn to collapse.Only near the end I was able to move my lips to some beautiful words.

To me, the most beautiful moments of the concert were the occasions on which Leonard Cohen stepped aside and let his fellow musicians and singers fill the space. I was too far to see the faces of the people on stage, but there were several times when the cameras brought to the screens Leonard Cohen in waiting (I specifically remember his shaded face singing backup-spirit to Sharon Robinson’s solo on Boogie Street) – and those were magical moments – when his presence filled me – when he looked completely in tune, peaceful, attentive – meditating on stage.

I saw and stored in my heart many beautiful images that I still do hope to capture on camera. I witnessed divine beauty. For the next 12 hours I kept to myself and barely opened my mouth. Even yesterday, when Andreea asked me on the train on the way home about the concert – I still couldn’t give an answer.

I hope that when I am 75 years old I’ll be able to kneel, rise and run around like Leonard Cohen has been doing for the last two years.

Posted in Photography, Wishes | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Pratiloma Ujjayi

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Pratiloma Ujjayi is a longer cycle of breathing that weaves together the Anuloma & Viloma techniques

The breathing cycle in Pratiloma Ujjayi is:

  1. Inhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).
  2. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  3. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  4. Exhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  5. Inhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  6. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  7. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  8. Exhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).

A single Pratiloma breathing cycle is made up of 4 breaths! Though it may seem a bit more complicated and difficult to remember then the other techniques it is actually a very simple pattern – here is a way to remember it:

  1. Inhale using the same path you used for the previous exhale. For example: if you exhale using ujjayi and both nostrils open, then the following inhale will also be ujjayi with both nostrils open; if you exhale using nostril control through the left nostril, then you inhale through the left nostril using nostril control.
  2. Switch from left-nostril to right-nostril by passing through ujjayi (both nostrils open).

IMPORTANT: never use two breath control techniques at the same time. In this case when you exhale using Ujjayi, both nostrils are open; when you inhale using nostril control you release the Ujjayi – DO NOT use Ujjayi when using nostril control. This is true for all Pranayama techniques. Ujjayi and nostril control both act as valves to affect the flow of breath – only use one at any given time.

If your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Please remember that one round of Pratiloma breathing is made up of four breaths. When practicing, you should always do an even number of breaths – so that the practice remains symmetrical (unless you’ve been given other specific instructions by a qualified teacher).

Here is a practice to get acquainted with Pratiloma Ujjayi. It begins and ends with regular Ujjayi breathing and in the middle the technique is changed to Pratiloma Ujjayi. Find yourself a comfortable seated position and do the following practice sequence :

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   – 1.5 –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds  Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

Posted in Breath, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Energy – Prana

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This was a difficult post for me to write – I couldn’t find a clear way to express my experience of Prana. Prana is one of the Vedic concepts that I internalized (and continue to clarify) through years of practice. My initial attempts to collect my thoughts and express them in writing fell short of the actual experience and perception I have of it. So I put if off for many weeks. I then did some research into the Vedic roots of Prana and see what they have to say.

Why is there Prana?

I found what I was looking for in the Prasna Upanishad which is made of up 6 questions from 6 different students answered by one teacher. Questions 2 & 3 are about the nature, origin and function of Prana. But I found a pearl of inspiration in the sixth question and I would like to start with that:

Q6.3: “The Purusha reflected: ‘What is it by whose departure I shall depart and by whose staying I shall stay?’”
Q6.4: “He created prana, from prana faith, space, air, fire, water, earth…”

It seems that Purusa (spirit) wanted to get around – it was sitting there with infinite potential but nothing was happening. It wanted to reach out, create & experience, so it came up with Prana – a means for it to manifest. Then, before anything else manifested, from Prana came faith. I hope to one day gain more perspective on this subtle point. For now I am inspired by this suggestion that faith came before everything else.

What is Prana?

In the second question Q2.3 – we find that:

  1. Prana is that which supports and upholds the body.
  2. Prana manifests before ether, the subtle elements and the senses (suggested in Q2.2)
  3. Prana is divided into 5.
  4. Of the 5 pranas, Prana (the first) is the dominant one (Q2.4) : “when it rose upward all the others rose … and when it settled down they all settled down with it”.

Where does Prana come from?

The explanation offered in Q3.3 about the origin of Prana took my breath away. It is a wonderful example of Vedic wisdom.

Q3.3: “As a shadow is cast by a person, so this prana is by Atman.”

To gain some insight into this concise statement we need to call on some terms we’ve mentioned in passing. Purusa (spirit) & Prakrti (matter) are, according to Samkhya philosophy, the source of everything. Purusa (spirit) also goes by the name Brahman. While Atman, you may recall,  is the individuated manifestation  of Brahman that resides in all living things.

The text here suggests that Prana is the shadow that is cast by Atman. After carrying this image around with me for some time, I asked myself “Where is this shadow of Atman cast?”. The answer that I came up with is Prakrti. Spirit (Purusa) casts a shadow onto Prakrti (Matter), that shadow is Prana and it is what supports and upholds us.

prana01

How does Prana function?

  1. Prana engages other pranas in different parts of the body (Q3.4). It resides in the mouth, nose, eyes and ears (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of intake (food, water, air, impressions, experiences, etc.) – it is the basic energy that drives us.
  2. Apana resides in the organs of excretion and generation (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of elimination (bodily wastes, semen, menstrual fluid, fetus, carbon dioxide, etc.). It has purifying and immunization qualities.
  3. Samana is in the middle and distributes that which is offered to the fire (Q3.5).  It is associated with processes of distribution (digested food, absorbed oxygen, experiences, etc.). It has a nourishing quality.
  4. Vyana moves through the nadis (Q3.6). It is associated with processes of circulation from the center to the periphery (food, water, oxygen, emotions, thoughts).
  5. Udana ascends upwards and conducts the departing soul (Q3.7). It is associated with transformation process of life (growth, will, consciousness, expression, etc.).

Some things to know about Prana

  1. You cannot have “more or less” Prana, you can have “collected & diffused” Prana.
  2. Prana affects and is affected by lifestyle (eating, socializing, physical activity, etc.).
  3. Dominant qualities of Prana vary in different stages of life (childhood, adulthood, old age).
  4. Asana (physical yoga postures) are used to awaken & activate Prana.
  5. Pranayama is used to improve the flow of Prana – it’s not about the air you inhale or exhale, it is about clearing the channels (nadis) in which Prana flows so it may flow better.
  6. Mudra & Bandhas are used to manipulate and direct Prana internally.
  7. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to remove barriers that obstruct Prana from flowing into the central Sushumna Channel.

Translations of the Prasna Upanishad by Swami Nikhilananda , courtesy of Dharma Downloads.

Posted in Breath, Energy, Pranayama, Upanishads, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Not Quite There

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The only I person I kiss on the lips is Andreea, the rest of the people get a peck on the cheek. The last few days we have been staying at my parents place – visiting with my family.  Today I went out for a meeting and when I came back Andreea opened the door to greet me. I bent in to kiss her on the cheek (she tried to compensate for my navigational error and we ended up with half of the lips touching)!

It was an amusing and enlightening moment – directly experiencing the power of habitual patterns. The dominant pattern in my mind is “kiss on cheek when door opens at parents place”. Had I been truly present in the moment the pattern would not have taken over, but I was preoccupied, my mind was elsewhere and for lack of a better choice automatic behavior took over.

This is (another reason) why Yoga needs to be practiced consistently. No matter how much we create and practice new patterns we can never remove the old ones. When we let down our guard we will fall back to the rooted and familiar patterns.

Posted in Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment