shifting gears

I started a new story, because I had to keep from tinkering with my new novel while it was being edited. Now I have the edits, so I need to put down the new story. Sheesh! These are the kind of problems to have!

Human Interaction

I just drove to Saratoga Springs for the day to talk with someone who had already e-mailed me comprehensive feedback on a project. I got a ton of information from the line edits of my new novel, and my friend, author Lâle Davidson, wrote a very clear summary of her overall impressions.

So why did I drive for seven hours with Mica in the back seat and the nagging feeling that I should be sitting in Brooklyn being productive? It’s because my in-person interactions with Lâle are so inspiring. There’s an energy about face-to-face dialog that provides nuance to information and the real-time interaction allows fine-tuning of understanding. Continue reading “Human Interaction”

Tweet Poem

Stop; inhale, exhale; notice the inhale, the exhale; notice the moment between the inhale, the exhale; now go do something inspired…

Philosophy word for the day: Mantra

In my recent workshop for yoga teachers, How to Teach Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Class, I posted a list on the wall of Sanskrit words that I find make good vocabulary for sharing ideas in class. I’m going to define them over the next weeks, so keep posted. Here’s the Intro Post for this series.

Today’s word is mantra.

Mantra is a technique for altering one’s consciousness. The word itself means ‘mind liberation/transformation,’ and works on the mind with the mind itself. Explicitly, mantra is the repeating of sound or words, usually in Sanskrit, a language with carefully tuned vibrational sound (see the second bullet). Mantra works on several levels: Continue reading “Philosophy word for the day: Mantra”

Philosophy word for the day: Avidya

In my recent workshop for yoga teachers, How to Teach Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Class, I posted a list on the wall of Sanskrit words that I find make good vocabulary for sharing ideas in class. I’m going to define them over the next couple of weeks, so keep posted. Here’s the Intro Post for this series.

Today’s word is avidya.

Avidya is a negation of the word, vidya, which means knowledge. Avidya, therefore means ‘not knowledge.’ As with most things in yoga, however, the kind of knowledge is pretty all-encompassing, that is, it’s not about knowledge of the A-B-C’s or knowledge of how to bake a pie. Avidya is the opposite of knowing the nature of who we are. It is often translated as “ignorance,” but as I stated in the  Intro Post for this series, one-word translations of Sanskrit almost always leave out significant information. Continue reading “Philosophy word for the day: Avidya”

Philosophy word for the day: asana

In my recent workshop for yoga teachers, How to Teach Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Class,* I posted a list on the wall of Sanskrit words that I find make good vocabulary for sharing ideas in class. I’m going to define them over the next couple of weeks, so keep posted.

I should say that some of these words are okay to use in class, because they’re common, but often students don’t speak or pay attention to Sanskrit. It’s important to take a reading of your students and see. It might be more effective to interpret, that is, put the ideas into your own words. Nonetheless, as a teacher or serious student, it will help you to know the Sanskrit words, because Sanskrit is a language created to describe consciousness, subtle forces, and the nature of existence, which is what yoga is all about. Continue reading “Philosophy word for the day: asana”

Water Hole

My mornings feel like a nature show; I’m tearing apart one beast as two others circle, making thinly veiled threats to each other.

I strive to use nature’s way of preventing real war, making words the dog and cat just read as growls;

And on a good day, I manage to get them both their pet food without incident.

Teaching Philosophy during Yoga Class


I have a group of students in advanced training right now who are especially inclined toward the philosophy of yoga. They could talk to me about it all day. Other students I’ve had and other teachers I’ve known struggle with talking about philosophy period. Yet most of them are still very interested in the parts of yoga that are not asana (that is, seven of yoga’s eight limbs) and in the sister science of ayurveda.

Teaching philosophy during an asana class requires special skill, even for teachers who are interested or can gab all day about the Yoga Sutras.

I have a reputation for covering philosophy in class. When I began teaching, I was in a bit of a snit about why we spent so much time on asana when the real transformative processes of yoga happen once you have the comfortable, steady seat that asana, done well, provides. So I followed the model of my training mentor, Jean Koerner, and in every class I taught meditations that I was learning from Alan Finger.

Jean often takes on a topic from the yoga writings and, through a set of installments during class, describes the sanskrit terms and provides examples from her own life. It’s a great way to explain topics while you’re teaching class and don’t want to make people sit for a lecture. I’ve come up with a few ways of my own to talk about the nature of things, often using Jean’s serial technique, sometimes using other ways to weave ideas through class.

Ganesha-51The more you study and practice the various tools of yoga, the more that knowledge can’t help but find its way into your teaching. But you can help by starting to make your own connections between the philosophy you study and life as you experience it. The philosophy is just an explanation of life, not the other way around. When you start to draw the connection between the experiences your reading about and the experiences you’re having, sharing it becomes easy and your stories become relevant to your students.


I’m teaching a master class called “Teaching Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Classes” at ISHTA Yoga this Friday (info and sign up here). We’ll do some exercises and brainstorming and I’ll provide some more tips. Please come!

The difference between knowing and knowing

We don’t have good words for certain things in English. (There is an entire academic debate about whether we have as many words for snow as the Eskimos). One of the words we don’t have commonly is one for knowing something through experience versus knowing information intellectually. This first kind of knowing is what we’re after in yoga — and I would hope in life, but our culture is very set on the second kind.

My teacher, Alan Finger was talking to a new group of teacher trainees about how he grew up. His father had become a passionate yogi and converted part of the family house into an ashram. Alan said, “I grew up learning yoga like we learn English.” That’s the first kind of knowing.

This way!
This way!
I had taught a technique in class not long ago. Afterwards a student came up to me and said, that was amazing, it made such a difference. I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad that the student came to “know” the practice in that first way — she experienced the technique and thereby knew its effect.

What surprised me was what happened next. As soon as she told me she got it, she asked me where she could read more about it. The technique was rather esoteric, so it’s not spoken of much in general how-to yoga books. I had seen it only once, and then only as a mention. I told her that, and assured her that she had learned all she needed to know about it. Now she just needed to use it.

She was dissatisfied with the answer, and I could see that she was likely to go home and try to find more via Google. I was sad because I had taught her something so simple and powerful — something that bypassed intellect to work energetically, and she wanted to wrap her mind around it instead.

We live in an age of information glut. Just having familiarity with the information is like knowing it’s snows in Denver when you’ve never been out of Southern Florida. Knowing snow is what you get walking around New York City over the past few days as it went from falling to slush to freezing.

It’s important to remember the importance of knowing instead of knowing.

In sickness and in health…and other opposites

negflowersDSC_0020I’m sick. Even though I’m a vegetarian and practice meditation, chant, and exercise, I’ve got a head cold. The bad instead of the good. Last night, while sucking cough drops, I delivered my semi-annual lecture, entitled ‘Intro to Tantra,’ in which I have the pleasure of trying to convince idealistic students that the nature of the manifest world is one of opposites, which implies as much bad as good.

The notion of a world that by its nature contains evil (or any other negative quality you want to name) can be depressing and tough to swallow. Advertisers would recommend buying something instead of accepting it. Buddhists tackle it head-on in the four noble truths — #1 is the existence of suffering. As the following three noble truths also do, yoga maps a way to deal with the inherent existence of opposites.

Some yogis and some religions see the world as illusion to be ignored or somehow transcended, but ISHTA Tantra practice instead offers a path to realizing — having the experience of — existence as big enough to contain the opposites. In that experience (gained through sadhana), the opposites are like a great cosmic dance, or dramatic play (to quote Shakespeare). And in this dance, or lila, in Sanskrit, we participate and learn and grow. This process can be called, ‘working through karma,’ karma being the sanskrit word for the action of the manifest universe.

The act of ‘working through’ is evident to us in the way children mature and learn and grow, but we can forget it applies to us at all ages. A 5-year old doesn’t understand why he can’t have whatever he wants, but most adults can help him, because we have some memory of how he feels, and our perspective on the world has grown as we gained life experience.

Where idealistic students get thrown is the natural assumption that this view prescribes allowing evil or problems to exist and dismisses dealing with them as fate or the natural order of things. Rather, when yogis have perspective on life that allows them to see the nature of things and that we have a role to play in the cosmic dance, we can better address the things in front of us with grace and efficiency. We are less likely to get a mistaken sense of grandeur or to tie our happiness to the outcomes of our efforts. Operating in this way helps us to stay in a balanced state and keep things in perspective so we can see clearly.

A stanza of the Bhagavad Gita describes the nature of things via this perspective, in a description of the act of offering one’s activities for the greatest good (traditionally called, ‘sacrifice’). The universe that is all-encompassing is named Brahman in yoga and is referred to as such in the Gita:

The act of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman; it is offered by Brahman into the sacrificial fire of Brahman.

(the above is an interpretive translation of Brahmaarpanam brahmahavirbrahmaagnau brahmanaa hut am; from the Bhagavad Gita, 4.24)

Even though we can help a child see that the universe isn’t centered around her or that things don’t always work the way we want them, for many of us, there is a sense that we will arrive at a perfect state, once we get our ducks in a row: once we gain clout, or elect the right official, or create a successful nonprofit, or master yoga.

The perfect state, according to ISHTA Tantra, is not what occurs on the outside, but is the bringing of your consciousness of the whole into each decision, each experience, each moment. Then your actions will be inspired, your offering will be Brahman, and your consciousness of the way things are will continue to evolve as you move through your piece of the karma of the universe.