Forgetting & Remembering

“Our enlightened self is always present but most often forgotten – giving rise to confusion in life.” —David Life, Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month, April 2015.

Recently, I went to one of my favorite sanctuaries in New York City, ABC Carpet & Home. For those who don’t know it, ABC is a shop that showcases unique, interesting arts and crafts for the home from around the world. You can just walk around and drink in the beauty and diversity. I’m not advocating shopping. Not at all. Artists, poets, writers, and musicians understand beauty as an expression of the divine. Not cosmetic beauty, but rather a cosmic creativity that artists channel into a poetic form. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert said in a TED talk that artists are “mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine”.

ABC holds many yoga and meditation events. The event I attended was in honor of the great Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was the launch of a new, permanent meditation room dedicated to his work. Thich Nhat Hanh is a widely inspiring figure, perhaps because he delivers teachings in simple and relatable forms. One of those forms is calligraphy. He creates calligraphic pieces showcasing short, powerful Zen statements. These calligraphies were on display in the new meditation space, and I went around photographing them. Many cultural commentators say that nowadays we outsource our memories to our smart phones. We’ve gotten used to taking a picture of something, instead of making an effort to remember it. But I believe there is also an innate human desire to record things that remind us of our true nature. Because so often we forget. We need constant reminding.

One statement resonated with me particularly, and I posted the photo on Instagram: “The way out is in”. A student saw the photo and commented: “Please remind me often”. This is the essence of what we’re doing here together in this world. We’re reminding each other of our true nature, which is love, compassion, sweetness, divinity, interconnection; what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “inter-being”.

We don’t have to look someone in the eyes with a really intense gaze and say: “Remember! You are a divine being!” Though we could. We can think of many creative and different ways to remind each other daily. Can you think of someone who needs reminding?

My friend Carol Issa, a Jivamukti Yoga teacher in Paris, holds luxurious Jivamukti yoga retreats in exotic locations. When you think of going to a yoga retreat, you might tend to think: “I’m going to rest and relax”. “I’m going to feel so good!” You focus on your self. But when the practitioners arrive at Carol’s retreat, each is tasked with a responsibility. They get a little piece of paper with another yogi’s name. And they are charged with taking care of that person, anonymously, for the duration of the retreat; making sure they feel happy, supported, connected. Through reminding others of their true identity, we remind ourselves.

Yoga teachers are particularly lucky, because our main job is to remind people of their true self. What could be better?

The way out is in

On Making Yoga Playlists

Recently, I was interviewed by YogaCityNYC’s Alystyre Julian about making playlists for yoga classes. It’s always an honor to be interviewed by YogaCityNYC, and I love to hear the philosophies of the other teachers featured. See the article here.

The article text is actually quite abbreviated, understandably, so here is the full text I wrote about my playlist philosophy, which stems from the guidance of all my teachers at Jivamukti (scroll down to read it).

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I teach vinyasa yoga in the Jivamukti Yoga lineage. In our method, using sound* as well as silence is an integral part of the class experience. One the five tenets of Jivamukti Yoga is Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound. My teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, have inspired us to use sound creatively in class in order to support the rhythm of breath and movement, to uplift the spirit, to inspire the students to go deeper into their practice, and to teach deep listening. In the Jivamukti teacher training, we experimented with practicing to different types of music and observing the effect that it has on our bodies and minds.

Natalie Ullman, my first Jivamukti teacher, once spoke with me about the idea of the music in class creating a “force field” around the students. That idea and the way she phrased it has deeply inspired and shaped the way I create playlists. I hope to create an atmospheric, hypnotic feeling with music that takes you inside, that can bring about a meditative state, devoid of thinking. The music has to be at a certain volume (not too soft, not too loud) to create that dimensional, immersive experience. It’s as if the music is wrapping around the practitioners and protecting them.

Every class I teach at Jivamukti has a philosophical and asana theme, and I always choose music to support that theme. Sanskrit mantras have a powerful resonance that builds that force field in the mind. Longer ambient tracks work best to maintain a trance-like state. (Shorter tracks can create a choppy, interrupted feeling, which is counter productive for the continuous flow of vinyasa). It’s very rare that I use a track with English lyrics; it’ll only be in the playlist if it has a message that’s connected to the theme of the class.

Otherwise, I find lyrics to be distracting. Music that the students might already know from another context could take their mind off the practice, out of the present moment, and bring them into prior associations and memories, encouraging the mind to formulate thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Music has a vey powerful influence on the mind, the emotions, and the nervous system, so I think it’s important, as a yoga teacher, to be a caretaker; not to be aggressive and manipulative in the use of music in a yoga class.

My mentor at Jivamukti, Narayani (Nicole Nichols), is an expert on the subtle body, and she uses music as a way to connect with the subtle body and its energies. Her way of thinking inspires me. Sometimes, when I make a playlist, I think of it as the expression of the crackling of energy through the nadis (the subtle body’s channels), the energy moving up through the chakras. That energy has arcs, spirals, highs, lows, and finally a still point.

Swami Satchidananda coined the phrase “unity in diversity” and this is something my teacher David Life has emphasized too. Using diverse music from different sources and styles (electronic, ambient, world, mantras) and music in a variety of languages and from different sacred traditions, creates an atmosphere that unites the class.

I used to do a lot of research on iTunes to find ambient, atmospheric music, and in the past I’ve used music from lesser-known, subtle film soundtracks, because they usually have a sense of a story and atmosphere. But nowadays, the main source of music is my wife, Nora Heilmann. She’s an artist and a Jivamukti yoga teacher and an avid music researcher. She listens to new music all the time, and shares it with me. But we put our playlists together quite differently, so they’re never similar. Nora plays the Didgeridoo and harmonium, so sometimes she’ll play live music in classes I teach.

*recorded or live music, spoken word, audio recordings

Weekend Retreat to Bethel Farm, NH. May 8-10, 2015

Dreaming of a warm spring evening?
Save the date for our weekend yoga retreat to Bethel Farm, NH. May 8-10, 2015.

Nora and Tamar will be teaching a weekend Jivamukti Yoga retreat this May at Bethel Farm, an organic yogic farm and retreat center in New Hampshire.

Here’s what you can look forward to: seated and walking meditation, pranayama, Jivamukti-style vinyasa sequences, didgeridoo sound bath, restorative yoga, Sanskrit chanting, exploring the lush natural surroundings, bonfire, evening Kirtan, vegan food, and good mood!

Bethel Farm is a small yoga and living arts center in the woods of Hillsborough, NH, founded by Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Stephen Bethel and his yogic family. The atmosphere of Bethel Farm is conducive to deep inner reflection and yoga practice. The mood of yoga, healing and peace strikes guests instantly when they first arrive. The mood is enhanced by the gardens, that supply much of the produce in season for meals. Expect clean, delicious, varied, local, and nourishing food made with positive intention. The main yoga studio, with its warm textures and many windows is naturally well lit and spacious.

Full price: $375 house / $345 tent
Early bird: $325 house / $295 tent (until Feb 28)
Price includes accommodation and all meals.
To register, email: bethelfarmyoga@gmail.com

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The stream in the woods

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cozy accommodations

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the yoga room at Bethel Farm

RETREAT SCHEDULE:

Friday
4-6 asana class
6:30-8 dinner & welcome
8-9 restorative with live music

Saturday
7:30-10 meditation, asana, pranayama
10-11 breakfast
12-12:45 walking meditation
1-2 lunch
4-6 inversions workshop
7-8 dinner
8-9 kirtan

Sunday
7:30-10 meditation, asana, pranayama
10-11 breakfast
12-1 walking meditation+kirtan
1-2 lunch

All activities are optional.

HOW TO GET THERE
To get here from NYC for those with no car, the most economical way is to take a Chinatown bus (Yo bus, Lucky Star, etc.) to Boston, for $20. There, at South Station, one catches a Concord Coach Line bus to Concord,  New Hampshire for $18.

Concord is a 30 minute drive to Bethel Farm.  One can get a cab from there, or, more economically, we can arrange ahead of time for someone from the Farm to meet at the bus station for the ride here. That would be $30 for an individual, or $15 each for more than one.

Alternatively, a group of 3 or 4 could rent a car in NYC for the weekend, saving time –a 4 1/2 hour trip instead of 6 1/2. Rental car prices vary wildly, but there are usually bargains to be had.

A few weeks prior to the retreat, we will email the group to try and arrange ride sharing.

Retreat to Triopetra, Crete, Aug 15-22/ SOLD OUT

[UPDATE: the retreat is sold out. If you want to join a wait list, in case of cancellations, please email: info@yogaholidaysgreece.com]

Nora and Tamar will be teaching a one-week Jivamukti Yoga retreat this August at one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete — Triopetra! Triopetra means “3 rocks”. The beach is several kilometers long and is well known for its beautiful sunsets and golden white sands. The retreat center, YogaRocks, has breathtaking views of the sea and the unspoilt natural surroundings.

YogaRocks is run by friends of ours, super chilled and friendly, no shortage of hammocks, delicious vegetarian food, and other delights. This retreat sells out quickly because of its very affordable price, so please register ASAP if you would like to be part of it. We would love to see you there.

Here’s what you can look forward to: seated and walking meditation, pranayama, Jivamukti-style vinyasa sequences, live music yoga, didgeridoo sound bath, restorative, Sanskrit chanting, evening Kirtan, vegan food, good mood!
Please come and bring your friends along, we’ll make it the best week ever!

YogaRocks, Triopetra, Crete
http://www.yogaholidaysgreece.com
info@yogaholidaysgreece.com

800 euro
all in (yoga, food, accommodation). 50 euro off if booked by end of Dec 2014.

The retreat is limited to 20 participants and will sell out fast. Register soon!

More info here.
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triopetra