2010-06-18

Joseph



Love both of these pics of Joseph.

Two pictures to show the different seasons. One for the summer and fall, and one for the new year. Both radiate his spirit and soul.

I was shocked and sad to recently hear that Joseph Dunham passed away suddenly in Cambodia. For those who have no idea who Joseph was he might be best described as the “right-hand man" to Pattabhi Jois (the Master of Ashtanga-yoga) and how Joseph described himself.

Joseph, like those of us interested in yoga, headed directly to the source by travelling to India to take a few classes. As the story goes he had no intention of making it his life. This was back in the 70's. Without a master plan he had originally decided to stay in Mysore (the home of Pattabhi Jois) for 4 weeks. He ended up staying, however, for over 20 years and making Mysore his permanent home. According to Joseph he never actually "moved" to Mysore but gradually admitted that he lived there.

I personally found Joseph not only a gentle soul but a bit of a "mystery". First, I understood he had not chosen to lead a conventional life-style. He had not settled down, gotten married or taken a full-time mainstream job. Second, he had decided to offer his life as a service to Guruji, Pattabhi Jois.

When I first met Joseph I was unaware of his deep connection to the Jois family. I knew he was someone with 'experience', a seasoned yogi, lived in Mysore and appeared to have a clear idea of what he was doing. What I understood about him first was he was kind and helpful, and stood tall without an "attitude". In 2003, during a crowded gathering for Pattabhi Jois’s birthday, I was standing at the side. Joseph (without not even knowing me) made a point of trying to find me a chair. This was even after offering me his own (to which I refused) and locating a spare one.

For each of the years that I returned to Mysore, it became a part of the landscape to "bump" into Joseph. This was usually at the Southern Star (a popular hotel) where he had his daily swim at the pool and dropped off his linens. (In India, it's hard to wash your own stuff...and you're better off dropping it off at a washer.) Everyone was familiar with Joseph and knew he was around because of his famous motorcycle parked outside of the hotel. Each year we had breakfast or lunch together and spent time talking about yoga, life, work, teaching, the new shala and whatever else that came up. I can still see Joseph talking about the new shala (school) being built in place of the old one in Lakshmipuram.

“Oh even when the first shovel hit the ground people were crying.”

Joseph was an important figure in Mysore, both as a well seasoned teacher and student of yoga and his generous spirit. Better known as "Mr. Joseph", he was the local guide that many new-comers went to for advice or housing. He also had his own home, which was wonderfully decorated and extremely comfortable. To those who stayed there and friends, he was the king of the famous fruit salad. He called his housing “Chez Joseph” and rented it out to many Ashtanga students. For some reason, I always recall the “very young” picture of Joseph with Guruji in his living room. In that picture he was wearing a very pale yellow t-shirt...Funny, what you remember.

I don’t believe, however, that most local people in Mysore looked at him quite the same way as the yogi crowd (and not that it matters at all). A taxi driver once remarked on how he knew Joseph and talked about him as “alone”, "not married" and "alone". In a culture where family and marriage are predominant, his loner status was probably not well understood.

Yet what I always felt was special about Joseph was the way he seemed to mingle with the Ashtanga crowd and still remain somehow aloof, untouched.

When a person's life ends, and this becomes especially true if you knew them personally, there are many images that run sporadically through your mind.

As I remember Joseph I see him:

-walking away from the pool at the hotel;
-laughing his big hearty laugh;
-offering me a chocolate truffle;
-sitting on his bike talking about tax in the US and housing in Mysore, and;
-demanding cloth napkins at the hotel rather than the cheap paper ones.


So here’s to Joseph! To living life on his own terms, to his light and for his love of Guruji. Joseph told me a few years ago that he was not just a student but a friend...And he added, “Guruji would never say that about anyone unless it is true...”

Strangely, last year I did not see Joseph. Our last talk was in 2008. At that time, Guruji was becoming very unwell. Joseph talked about how the family was in denial and no one was really prepared for Guruji to pass away. I recall Joseph also telling me that once Guruji passes, his work will be done...he will also leave Mysore....

If we are indeed remembered by our deeds when we die and not by our status and jobs, Joseph will undeniably be remembered for all those he personally helped, for his kindness and for this devotion to his Guru.

Good-bye dear Joseph. Much love is there.

PS: Joseph was the one who corrected me on the fact that Ashtanga-yoga "is" Hatha-yoga...not Hatha-yoga and Ashtanga-yoga as being 2 separate yogas as they are known today. Each time I remind my students of this, I think of Joseph.

2010-06-12

G20 and Traffic

When the G20 meeting gets started in late June in Toronto, it`s hard to imagine the traffic could get worse, but it will. This morning at 4 a.m., I was already taking detours because of the construction. Is there any area in Toronto that is not under construction?

Last night, it was not much better with several cars lined up and everyone stuck at a major interaction, which was conveniently blocked off. Yikes!

I felt pretty smart, however, sailing by on my bicycle! A great investment given that so many roads are closed off and will continue to be closed off....As one student told me, "Time to invest in a bike." He was only half a kilometre from the school and missed his class while sitting in traffic.

2010-06-07

Rumi


There is a life-force within your soul,
seek that life.

There is a gem in the mountain of your body,
seek that mine.

O traveler, if you are in search of That
Don't look outside,

Look inside yourself and seek That.

This aloneness is worth more than a thousand lives.
This freedom is worth more than all the lands on earth.

To be one with the truth for just a moment,
Is worth more than the world and life itself.




Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad, but known to the world as Rumi was a Perisan poet and Sufi Mystic. He was born in 1207 and died in 1273. His name 'Rumi' is described as meaning "The Roman"....as he lived most of his life in an area called "Rum" which was ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire.

Rumi's work is profound, deep and moving. He weaves the events of daily life into a tapestry of moving images, feelings and thoughts. Much of his work is based on tawhid. That is, the union with the beloved (one's lover) with whom/which he has been cut off and his desires to restore the bond.

He believed that art, music and poetry were the paths that lead to God. While Buddhists may understand that the path leads to God through meditation, Rumi encouraged sama; listening to music and dancing. Sivanada, the Master of the Sivananda system of yoga, as well as a great Swami and medical doctor, also taught that there were many paths. He called this a synthesis in which you follow the path that suits or strikes your inner nature.

Yoga, while today somehow limited to the forms and exercises that many equate as being yoga, also embraces more than one path. Yoga can take the form of Bhaki-yoga (devotional yoga in chanting, praying), Karma-yoga (selfless service) or Jnana-yoga (the yoga of knowledge). From each of these entry points the journey begins. The packaging and the actions may appear differently and diversely, but the direction in reaching toward the divine (blissfulness) is the same.

2010-06-05

Summertime


"Summertime....and the livin' is E-zee."

"Summertime...and the cotton is high."

"Well, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'."

"So hush, ba-bee don't you cry."


Billie Holiday was an amazing, inspirational and very gifted woman. Every summer I hear her voice inside of my head. Nicknamed as "Lady Day" she is one of the 'greats' and in many ways an immortal mortal. What's striking about her, beyond her talent, voice and undeniable presence, was her background. She had a difficult childhood, was estranged from her mother and she learned to sing in a brothel.

What I understand from this is that great art and great people, more often than not, comes from pain...there doesn't seem to be any other way.

Earwig Font


While searching for a font to add to a graphic design, I came across the EARWIG-FACTORY font... Nice name.

As a bit of trivia...Earwigs came over from Europe to help solve an ahpid problem with vegetables and plants being consumed. They multiple readily and are a real annoyance to all gardeners. My mother believes they arrived on a boat from China. The name earwig is derived from the myth that they crawl into your "ear" while sleeping and "wig"-"gle" around (I just made up the last part, but the first is true).

2010-06-03

Headstands

The King of all asanas dropped by last night for a workshop. Formally named as Salambha (supported) Shirshasana (headstand), this posture has a series of benefits that range from developing balance to reversing the blood flow to transcending the constraints of our physical bodies.

Below is a list of do’s and do not's. Some of these are pretty obvious. However, getting on your head can make you forget even the simplest, most logical thing...

Do

Warm your body by practising 1-2 rounds of the sun salutations
Breathe through your nose for more steady and even breaths
Rest between the sets in bakrasana (child’s pose)
Place the pressure on the center of your head (top)
Practice lengthening postures such as forward bends
or twists to relieve the muscles and to create fluidity
Visualize your body in the posture while sitting quietly
Practice conditioning exercises regularly
Practice one step of the headstand regularly


Do Not

Begin your practice with the headstand
Place a lot of pressure on your head
Lift your head suddenly from the posture
Forget to breathe
Relax your legs or hip muscles
Lift your arms or elbows
Place your hands under your head
Squeeze or tense your shoulders
Jump or throw yourself into the pose
Use your head to lift your body


Responses and reactions:

“I just wanted to tell you that the workshop last night was outstanding! I am still amazed at how you feel after spending so much time on your head.” Andrea

“I really enjoyed the class. I really know now it’s a matter of time and, of course, practice!” Terry

"The pictures are absolutely terrific to have, what a bonus." Catherine
_____________________________________________________________________________________


As a part of my teaching, I started to take regular photos of the students in the workshops. My teacher Yogacharya in Mysore once recommended that he take photos of me. This sparked the idea to do this as both a teaching and learning tool.

As a yoga student, I found it helpful since usually our perception of "what we think is happening" is quite different from "what is actually taking place". For the last several years, I have taken photos during back bending, headstands and handstand workshops. As a teacher it's a bit of a juggling act to teach, snap a photo, give an instruction and assist someone. However, as a teacher you learn to grow 4 arms (sort of like Saraswati, the consort of Brahma (the creator) and the goddess of intelligence, music and art.)







2010-06-02

Twist n'Shout


Okay, maybe don't shout (unless you feel the urge), but definitely learn a spinal twist!

When we think about moving our bodies we may only envision this as either forward or backward. Movements to the side are often skipped, neglected or underestimated. Spinal twists, however, open a whole new arena in both our understanding of ourselves and development. They are also excellent counter postures in moving forward and backward in developing a more holistic approach to ourselves.

While I generally consider all of the postures of yoga as a learning tool (and should not be isolated from the 'whole'), there are certain aspects that spinal twists bring out in the body and mind that a forward bend does not. This makes them dynamic and unique in their own right while still working in harmony with the other postures. Twists can reveal mental habits, patterns, unintentional body patterns and habits, and unconscious preferences toward certain movements as well as aversions.

There are 2 important points to consider in learning twists. One is that the rotation of the spine starts from the bottom up. Usually we feel the pressure from the top down or mid-spine. Yet, to create a firmer and more stable twist, a strong base or foundation from which to support the movement needs to be created. Grounding the sit bones and pelvis develops a firmer seat (re: asana) from which the spine can twist against and away from. Without lifting the hips, the abdomen and waist move upward and sideways as they are contracted and squeezed. Using the hips as the base, creates the movement coming bottom up; the spine in turn moves deeper.

The second point is the use of the breath. The ‘in’ breath is the signal for new energy, oxygen and life. It opens the body and prepares for the movement. Inhalations allow the mind to become centered on the present moment. The ‘out’ breath is either the reinforcement of the movement or an extension; a supporting counter part to the 'in' breath. It may also be used to exert more pressure on the body as well as to release, let go and extend the spine.

Moving from side to side creates growth, support and balance. Because both sides of our body support each other, twists aid in the process of finding balance and harmony. Both the front and the back sides of the body work together with the sides. The inside and the outside also work together for growth and support. Twists create the space for a deeper conversation between the mind, the breath and the body.

All postures should create a conversation between the breath and your body. Twists are a good receiver. Moving with the breath develops a rapport between the right and left sides of the body addressing misalignments and correcting imbalances. Allowing the posture to speak to you is one of the most useful aspects of practice. This stops the ‘normal’ mind from its chatter, insistent noise, judgements and comments. A sense of observing ‘what is’ (not what you want it to be), but a simple acceptance of how it is can emerge.

Prashat Iyengar, the famous Yoga Master's son said: "Sthira Sukham Asanam"

Explore what is....

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

My Photo
Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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