Monthly Archives: October 2013

yoga gives back


In Los Angeles, many people work in the media industry and do yoga, but few connect their two passions in a way that brings positive social change to the world. Kayoko Mitsumatsu, founder of Yoga Gives Back, married her two interests in film and yoga with a powerful vision to empower the women of India through micro-loan and education financing. Traveling back and forth to India nearly every year Mitsumatsu chronicles the stories of empowerment and change that her charity Yoga Gives Back effects through documentary style films that she creates and posts on YouTube.

As soon as she started practicing yoga the immediacy of the poverty that afflicts the majority of women in India struck a chord in her heart. Mitsumatsu had the empathic realization that these women were just like her, struggling to make their dreams come true. Through Yoga Gives Back she has created a path for the some of the women in India to work towards making their dreams reality. . .

For the cost of one yoga class we can change a life is the mantra of Yoga Gives Back, a charity founded by Mitsumatsu in 2007. She says, “While benefitting so much from regular Yoga practice and teachings, it hit me hard that 75 percent of India’s population still live under $2.00 a day. It came clear to me, if everyone who enjoys Yoga in the world, puts one class fee to the pot to provide micro loans for the poor in India, we can effect change.” With this mission in mind Mitsumatsu launched a global fundraising initiative that has grown to include yoga teachers who believe in the mission, organize and host donation classes to raise awareness and funds for the charity through over 100 events in more than 17 countries each year.

Yoga and Filmmaking Combine to Change the Lives of Women in India by Kino MacGregor

happy halloween

happy halloween


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

chladni figures

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

-Nikola Tesla


In 1680 Robert Hooke sprinkled a plate with flour, drew a violin bow across its edge, and saw the flour spring into surprising geometric shapes. The plate was resonating, driving the flour into invisible nodal lines on its surface that were not vibrating.

German physicist Ernst Chladni pursued these experiments in the 18th century and published his results in Discoveries in the Theory of Sound in 1787. Today they’re known as Chladni figures.

“The universe is full of magical things,” wrote Eden Phillpotts, “patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

h/t Futility Closet



According to his official biography, Bikram began studying yoga with Bishnu Ghosh when he was only 5 years old. Ghosh trained his young students to become champions. At the age of 11, Bikram became the youngest contestant ever to win the National India Yoga Competition and was undefeated for the next three years. After that he traveled with Ghosh giving weight lifting demonstrations. His competitive background may explain Bikram’s style of teaching. He’s like a weight lifting or track coach, always exhorting his students to push beyond their limits. Students with special physical problems are supposed to have the sense to take care of themselves, skipping movements that would endanger them. A couple of older students and one who is extremely overweight are allowed to stand against a wall for support, but there are no other props—no blocks, straps, or bolsters. Bikram derides the use of such aids as “furniture yoga.”

Bikram tells me he developed his method of teaching yoga while he was a student of Bishnu Ghosh. At that time, he says, yoga was taught one-on-one. Someone with a medical problem would go to Ghosh, who would prescribe the series of poses that would best treat the ailment. Then an assistant would work with the client privately in a separate room.

When Bikram opened a school of his own, he realized that working one-on-one was too limiting. He wanted to reach the largest number of students possible. So he devised a standardized series of poses that would address the most common health problems and still be easy enough for beginners in the West.

Bikram freely admits that yogis from other hatha traditions know the same poses he teaches. What makes his system unique, he says, is the sequence in which the poses are done. According to Bikram, each posture in his series forms the perfect basis for the next, warming and stretching the appropriate muscles, ligaments, and tendons. He compares creating his series to creating a song. Everyone knows the same notes, but putting them together in a melodic way is what distinguishes the great composer. According to Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, “the twenty-six exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to 100 percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order.” Bikram believes his unique system not only restores any afflicted organ, but also maintains general health throughout the body.

Although Bikram’s series is rigorous, aerobic—and, I have to admit, fun—it contains no inverted poses, such as Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) or Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). Bikram feels these poses are too hard for beginners. He doesn’t teach the Sun Salutation for the same reason, considering even Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) too difficult. The only pose in his series that works upper body strength is the Cobra.

“When Bikram speaks of curing chronic diseases…he is saying that if you will faithfully follow his directions, you will be relieved of your symptoms of discomfort.” The difference between Bikram and most other yoga teachers is the tone of his claims. While others speak of the healing effects of yoga, Bikram boasts of his cures—and contends he is currently pursuing medical research grants (one with the National Institutes of Health) to prove them. Bikram’s method might lend itself well to scientific study, because it is taught uniformly by all his teachers, and the availability of instruction is growing as more and more newly certified teachers open schools all over the world.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Yoga’s Bad Boy: Bikram Choudhury by Loraine Despres

sanatana dharma

sanatana dharma, in Hinduism, term used to denote the “eternal” or absolute set of duties or religiously ordained practices incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect. Different texts give different lists of the duties, but in general sanatana dharma consists of virtues such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. Sanatana dharma is contrasted with svadharma, one’s “own duty” or the particular duties enjoined upon an individual according to his or her class or caste and stage of life. The potential for conflict between the two types of dharma (e.g., between the particular duties of a warrior and the general injunction to practice non-injury) is addressed in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā, where it is said that in such cases svadharma must prevail.

The term has also more recently been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism as a unified world religion. Sanatana dharma has thus become a synonym for the “eternal” truth and teachings of Hinduism, the latter conceived of as not only transcendent of history and unchanging but also as indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian.

Excerpt from Encyclopaedia Britannica Article Sanatana Dharma

history of hinduism

Hinduism (Sanskrit सिन्धु “Sindhu” (Indus River) + ism) is a term for a wide variety of related religious traditions native to India. Historically, it encompasses the development of Religion in India since the Iron Age traditions, which in turn hark back to prehistoric religions such as that of the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation followed by the Iron Age Historical Vedic religion.

The period between 800 BCE and 200 BCE is “a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions”, and a formative period for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

The Epic and Early Puranic period, from ca. 200 BCE to 500 CE, saw the classical “Golden Age” of Hinduism, which coincides with the Gupta Empire. In this period the six branches of Hindu philosophy evolved, namely Samkhya,Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Monotheistic sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism developed during this same period through the Bhakti movement.

The period from roughly 650 to 1100 CE forms the late Classical period or early Middle Ages, in which classical Pauranic Hinduism is established, and Adi Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, which reconciled the Vaishnava and Shaiva sects, and gave rise to Smartism, while initiating the decline of the non-Vedantic schools of philosophy.

Hinduism under the Islamic Rulers, from 1100 to ca. 1750 CE, saw the increasing prominence of the Bhakti movement, which remains influential today. The colonial period saw the emergence of various Hindu reform movements partly inspired by western culture, such as spiritism (Theosophy). The Partition of India in 1947 was along religious lines, with the Republic of India emerging with a Hindu majority.

During the 20th century, due to the Indian diaspora, Hindu minorities have formed in all continents, with the largest communities in absolute numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the Republic of India, Hindu nationalism has emerged as a strong political force since the 1980s, the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party forming the Government of India from 1999 to 2004, and its first state government in southern India in 2006.

Excerpt from Wikipedia Article History of Hinduism

striking a pose


The land of the Far East was still a distant enigma for the West. The mystery that enamoured numerous, also intrigued American inventor Thomas Edison. His messenger was his cameraman, who set out to explore the terrain of China and India in the 19th century. His findings appeared on movie screens in the US in 1906. Edison’s Hindoo Fakir was the first movie produced about India — one that had the film’s protagonist display a variety of tricks for the camera, several of which could be classified as yogic postures. More than a century later, the film is again garnering interest. It has the audience queuing before the screen at Smithsonian’s Arthur M Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. Part of the exhibition “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”, it is one of the 130 exhibits sourced from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the US. “These works of art allow us to trace, often for the first time, yoga’s meaning across the diverse social landscapes of India,” says Debra Diamond, Associate Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Excerpt from The Indian Express Article Striking A Pose by Vandana Kalra

yoga’s twisted history

Today yoga has a large following in the West and many consider it synonymous with posture practice. How has hatha yoga, specifically asana practice, taken center stage, and what role has the West played in that? These are questions addressed in two new releases: Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, by Mark Singleton, and The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, by Stefanie Syman.

Yoga Body begins by examining perceptions of hatha yoga before and during Vivekananda’s time. Singleton writes:

At the time of Vivekananda’s synthesis of yoga in the 1890s, postural practice was primarily associated with the yogin (or more popularly, “yogi”). This term designated in particular the hatha yogins of the Nath lineage, but was employed more loosely to refer to a variety of ascetics, magicians, and street performers. Often confused with the Mohammedan “fakir,” the yogi came to symbolize all that was wrong in certain tributaries of the Hindu religion. The postural contortions of hatha yoga were associated with backwardness and superstition.

In his talks, Vivekananda never used the word “yoga,” a curious fact in light of some current scholarship which proposes that modern, transnational yoga began with him. Moreover, Vivekananda did not contort himself into the bow pose or any other asana. In India a yoga revival connected with Indian nationalism was in full swing, and Vivekananda was an advocate of the movement. But he avoided the word “yoga” because he thought Westerners would find it too foreign and frightening, and he avoided hatha yoga altogether because—along with the majority of his compatriots—he found it distasteful and wholly unsuitable for the yoga revival.

Excerpts from Mindful Article Yoga’s Twisted History by Andrea Miller

asanas old and new


Ujjain Manuscript – Yogacintamani (photo: Jason Birch)

Why are so few asanas mentioned in the traditional Yoga texts, such as the Yogasutras and the Hathapradipika, and yet so many are practiced today in asana based systems like K. Pattahbhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga and B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga?

It has been difficult to ignore the absence of historical evidence on the development of later Haṭhayoga.  Modern practitioners have clung to the hope of finding the long lost and mysterious Yoga Kuruṇṭa (a purported Sanskrit text allegedly used by Krishnamacharya) in the hope that it will validate the practice of vinyasa and Surya Namaskar as well as provide precedents to the ropes and props used by B. K. S. Iyengar.

A recent academic conference Yoga in Transformation held in September 2013 at the Vienna University was an extraordinary event that highlights the importance of this conversation and the efforts of scholars to provide a historically accurate picture while attempting to predict the future trajectory of this global phenomenon.

Jason Birch’s presentation on the Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the practice of Numerous Asanas in the 17th and 18th Century is a helpful piece in attempting to solve this complex puzzle.  Jason presents evidence to suggest that there were well over 100 āsana being practised in India before the British arrived.  He states:

“Generally speaking, there are very few seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga that have not been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources.”

Jason’s research involved the detailed study of several 17th and 18th century manuscripts found in various library around India.  These particular findings are significant as they offer a window into the types of āsanas practiced in India at that time.  Some of the Haṭhayogic techniques were prominent enough to catch the inquisitive eye of the Mogul Court and are recorded in a Persian manuscript.

It contradicts the assumption made by Scholars and Yoga Teachers alike that the physical āsana of modern Yoga have no precedent.  Jason states that in the manuscript evidence:

“The majority of these āsana were not seated poses, but complex and physically-demanding postures some of which involved repetitive movement, breath control and the use of rope.  When these manuscript sources are combined, the assemblage of āsana provides antecedents to most of the floor and inverted postures in modern systems of Indian yoga.”

Jason confirms that moving āsana, rope āsana and standing āsana were all part of the picture long before the revival of physical yoga in the 20th century.  He also points out that Haṭhayoga had been appropriated by orthodox Brahmins before the 18th century, moving it away from the renunciant traditions, and they wrote yoga texts that blended Haṭhayoga with Patañjali’s yoga, the Upaniṣads and Bhagavadgītā, much like we see today.

Excerpt from Article ASANAS Old and New: Unpublished manuscripts and hints of the missing Yoga Kurunta By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES

ultimate freedom

Ultimate freedom means complete freedom in the body, in the mind, and in the Self itself. In order to experience this total freedom, Indian saints and sages introduced the subject of yoga. Yoga is that union of body with mind and mind with soul…so this trinity of man are brought together, that he may live in a state of peace and poise. Yoga is a means for feedom and yoga is the end in feedom itself.

-BKS Iyengar