Kriya Day Count Update, Yoga and Depression, Travels and Teaching

I’ve been doing the Fingers of Steel Kriya every day since I first did it, and that was a couple days after I’d reached day 40 of the Har Kriya.
Fingers of Steel Kriya – Day 51
Har Day 92, I think.
The last few days have been a struggle to continue doing them. Perhaps because there are so many distractions around my apartment, I’m finding it harder to focus on them. I know I’ve reached this point with meditations when I did them for a long stretch before – maybe it’s time to start new ones. They were actually easier yesterday when I did them in a group setting, without any distractions or music. I wasn’t actually aiming for any specific number of days of either; I just wanted to keep doing them persistently every day. I find myself procrastinating doing them now too.

I also reached a point where I got a bit disinterested in posting my daily practice online, since it’s probably rather tedious for anybody else and a bit time consuming (time “wasting”?) for myself. I have done almost all the meditations in Master’s Touch now; only a few are left, and I’m trying to find the motivation to finish them off.

The last one I did, “For the Arcline,” was similar to the Fingers of Steel meditation, involving holding the hands over the head for another half an hour – over an hour with raised arms between the two, and frankly, my arms aren’t as interested as my mind in doing still more of these! Several of the remaining meditations also seem to involve holding the arms over the head. Mine are still a bit sore.

Meditation for the arcline and the Narayan Shabd, which is recited with it

I’ve traveled around CA a bit this past month, which has been great, as I’ve been able to continue my practice in some more beautiful places, but also challenging to stick to it amidst travels and other schedules. Siri wants me to help out in Big Bear with her Pilates Intensive in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been trying to fit in a Pilates mat workout nearly every day too; my folding home Reformer has fallen apart, so I can’t really do apparatus workouts on it as well.

Around the time I quit posting daily, I was complaining in therapy about feeling stuck, and the next week was told the director of the clinic had suggested I try anti-depressants. The day that news was given, I hadn’t really had a full meal, had met with a friend in a park for a while to discuss some step-work, and then had done the Fingers of Steel and Har meditations before therapy. My energy was low, but afterwards I felt REALLY angry and depressed! So I’ve mentioned before how sometimes yoga has helped me clear away depression, but these two kriyas weren’t helping at all. I figured I’d try to process the feelings and walk through it for a couple of days, but then after several days of feeling “in a funk” (no James Brown or Parliament here!) I did the set that had helped before, Raising Kundalini No. 2. I realized that the exercise sets help with depression, but the meditations won’t necessarily do the trick. Fingers of Steel and the Har Kriya are really more meditations than exercise sets. A Pilates Mat workout is an exercise set, but more of a combination of a workout and handful of yogic postures executed in a workout fashion. It seems to help stretch and strengthen the body, and get your energy flowing, but it doesn’t seem to offer the more subtle changes I sometimes feel internally from the Kundalini Yoga sets, which probably involve channeling energy through the meridians, chakras, and priming and pumping the glands. While Pilates certainly keeps you in great shape – and I’ve seen it completely heal some serious debilitating medical conditions involving scoliosis and degenerative nerve diseases – it doesn’t seem to affect me at the same deeper level the Kudalini sets do. I don’t think it helps with what might generally just get called “radiance” either, although when your body is balanced and working well, there is a certain amount of glow that shows up too.

So when the cobwebs of depression start sticking all over my thinking, I’ve been remembering to work the exercise sets into my life too, and that helps a lot. I’m not open to antidepressants, and think I’ve placed a lot of value in my ability to counteract the depression through yoga, which is why I think the suggestion angered me so much. I’ve also seen a lot of friends struggle with juggling dosages and types of meds, and sometimes have that lead to electroshock, the aftermath of which I found quite disturbing. Some of the stories I’ve heard about antidepressants are horrifying. Of course, there are lots of people around me being helped by them, some who never talk about it. There are situational causes for depression and biochemical ones; I’d like to think my causes are situational.

Now about my travels.
Walker Creek Ranch, Petaluma, CA

This was the less picturesque spot that I did my kriyas one day, along the road, looking over the creek towards this hill below Walker Peak. Hawks circled overhead while I chanted. The next morning I did my sets near this picnic table behind the administrative building, a bit out-of-the-way, so I wouldn’t be interrupted. Deer wandered by, somewhat disinterested.

There were many wild turkeys running around too. Here’s a feather one lost.

My favorite spot to practice was under these pine trees on the hill above the dorms. I’d practiced here two years ago too, when the turkeys came right through the canopy of pine trees while I was doing my set in the morning fog.

The view from the mat:

As for the travels; I was at Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma for nearly a week in early August, for the Quaker Pacific Yearly Meeting. It’s a beautiful location, and I saw and met a lot of great friends there. Deer, turkey, and hawks moseyed by as I did my yoga outdoors there. The days were fairly solidly scheduled from dawn until late night, which I found a bit challenging as I wanted a bit more solitary time.

Joshua Tree Retreat Center
Institute for Mental Physics

This is the location where Bhakti Fest and Shakti Fest West are held. We stayed in the Frank Lloyd Wright dorm this time. I ventured up the hill by what was previously the chapel, where a canopy of trees lines the walkways. I can’t remember which yogi I observed holding court from the bench I chose to do my two kriyas on, but I do remember being impressed by him, so it seemed like a great place to practice. It was so bright out I could barely see the pics my phone was taking. It was also 102 degrees out, and a thunderstorm was threatening, although it never let loose.

This was the main stage at Bhakti Fest. It looked like this before we built a lighting frame and lined it with speakers. A lot of people at Bhakti Fest worked to turn it into a shrine too, and there was a tent over the entire ground ahead of it.

By comparison, here we are at Bhakti Fest last fall, unloading and setting up the stage. It was spookily quiet at this summer’s retreat, with the memories of that peak yogic convergence still in my mind nearly a year later.

Here’s Guru Ganesh’s band at Bhakti Fest 2013. Krishna Das, Donna DeLory, Jai Uttal, and many others performed too.

So in late July this year, I went to a retreat at the Institute for Mental Physics, aka Joshua Tree Retreat Center. I taught a one-hour morning yoga class there, and was trying to squeeze a bit too many exercises into the time allotted – this was compounded by people coming in for breakfast in the room and talking while we were trying to do yoga and meditation. Only one person had done Kundalini Yoga before; the others had little experience with longer meditations. I taught the Foundation for Infinity set as a warm-up, and then Yoga for Addictions and Compulsive Behavior set. It includes an 18 minute meditation at the end; people couldn’t do for more than five minutes. The friend who’d done Kundalini Yoga before said the meditation was too long. I thought that a bit funny, as we hadn’t even approached a third of it, but there was a bit of truth to his comment, since the people weren’t up to it. Yogi Bhajan has said that we shouldn’t let students tell us how to teach them, but there’s also the reality that if you overwhelm the student, they won’t come back.  There are a lot of people I run into on a daily basis who can’t even sit still for three minutes. So I guess I’m grateful I can quiet or focus my mind for 31 minutes for the last few months; sometimes that seems to be the one ideal pause in my day.

Contemplating Navels. Is that really Pilates? Shiva Rea Gets the Core

So I just finished Shiva Rea’s Creative Core Abs DVD workout.

Core work is usually hard for most people, and of any of the yogic sets in Kundalini yoga, I find myself resisting or procrastinating doing navel sets the most. They say if your navel center is strong, you’ll never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gurushabd went as far as to say that the people in the World Trade Center obviously didn’t have strong navel centers or they wouldn’t have been there on 9/11. A wave of irritation flowed through the class after that pronouncement. Despite yogic arrogance, there’s truth to the benefits of a strong navel center. It keeps you on track, gives you the ability to follow-through on your ideas and commitments, and supports your confidence. Navel fire is the spark of commitment, the spiritual corollary to the “fire-in-the-belly” they talk about in the film “Wall Street.” Over-developed, a person can become domineering, over-bearing, and unreasonable.

A strong navel center needs to be supported by a balanced first chakra, sense of self, groundedness. It needs an open heart center to allow the truth to be expressed and heard, and to allow the self to connect the animalistic survival functions with the spiritual dimensions.

The Shiva Rea DVD isn’t a Pilates method, and never claims to be, but I recognized a lot of the exercises as familiar from Pilates. Of course, the Pilates method integrates a variety of yogic exercises along with other techniques, so Shiva Rea very well may have gone directly to the source, and I just found the exercises familiar because I know them from the later Pilates techniques.

Pilates is all about building a strong core or navel center. At least that’s what the trainers always spend their time discussing. In reality the system stretches and opens up all the limbs while building long lean exceptionally strong muscles. But after several years of Pilates, after doing the teacher training for it, I still hated the Pilates mat workout, whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced. The only one I thought was interesting was the mat reformer series, which presents the exercises you do on the reformer on the mat; many exercises are the same, but the sequence is different. The reformer is a modified bed with springs, developed for rehabilitation of hospital patients who couldn’t get out of bed. If you ever see a Pilates “apparatus” you’ll probably see a reformer first, although there are modified chairs and the “cadillac” – another immobile bed with pipes and springs above it. I love the Pilates equipment and the sets on them, but the mat work is dreary, hard, and boring.

Unfortunately a lot of people seem to think Pilates is just for women. Any athlete whose performance relies upon strength and flexibility will see huge benefits from the practice, including football players. Joe Pilates himself was a boxer. Dancers and gymnasts love Pilates because it gives them flexibility and strength, focus and control. The surge in interest in it has been tied more to wealth and vanity than a real understanding of what it offers. Unfortunately, it has been so absurdly modified from studio to studio that you hardly know what you’ll get anymore. That is just what the NYC school was trying to trademark and prevent, and many teachers were angry about that – probably because what they were teaching bears little resemblance to Pilates.

For instance, the Menezes book on the technique bears little if any relation to the system taught by Roman Kryzanoska, Joe Pilates’ protégé.


(A better Pilates Method Book by Romana and Sean)

Sean Gallagher and Romana Kryzanowska

I met someone last weekend that had a herniated disc, a spinal injury that I’ve seen Pilates used to heal frequently, and the person said her Pilates work hadn’t helped it at all. I think there’s also a big difference between rehabilitative Pilates, and general exercise Pilates, and the thoroughly trained teachers can do both. Many people get certification for it without enough supportive work to learn the rehabilitative aspects of it.

I saw a magazine article that said Pilates doesn’t give you an aerobic workout and won’t help you lose weight. That was about as informed as the NY Times obituary that said that Yogi Bhajan’s White Tantric Yoga was a sexual practice. Unfortunately, the way some people teach Pilates, it IS slow and meditative, and doesn’t elevate your heart rate. That wasn’t the way it was intended. I saw a woman who lost 35 pounds in less than 10 sessions (typically 2-3 per week). Core work gets you slim. That fat may be the psychological “protection” we think we need, or ballast that keeps us sinking underwater. I think there’s probably a lot of psychic baggage trapped in it, so it’s hard to shed it.

But back to the DVD: Shiva Rea’s dance background seems to shine through in it, because it incorporates a lot of Pilates mat movements and a whole assortment of other abs routines in a constantly moving, never boring workout. I still associate the word “workout” with ending up tight and sore, but this set centers you and opens you up. I don’t think it was very long either; maybe half an hour. I think I’m going to come back to this DVD, hopefully frequently, because it made doing that core work fun, not dreary or boring. It’s not often I can say that.