Seattle Yoga News – Part One of Six

I have been asked to write a six part series for the Seattle Yoga News on my experience living in an ashram in India.  Such a beautiful honor to be able to share this experience in writing.  Here is part one.  The original article can be found here:  Seattle Yoga News – Part One

I Sat on the Floor

This is the first in a six- part series about the experiences of Sarvesh Naagari while he lived in a Yoga ashram in southern India for 6 months in a 2,000 hour teacher training program. The series focuses on what it was like to practice Yoga in a Gurukula environment and to learn about and experience one of the oldest and most respected lineages in the Yoga world, Gitananda Yoga.

Sarvesh is the owner of Ripple Yoga in Seattle, WA and the author of the newly released novel, 20,000 Oms and a Cup of Chai, an inspirational true story of the spirit that follows Sarvesh on his journey in India while recounting his near death experience 7 years ago and the courage of the spirit to come back to life and flourish. Sarvesh was in India from October 2015 through the end of March 2016.

Part One: I Sat on the Floor

Sit on the floor. This simple request back in October seemed mundane enough. So I sat, and realized within about 30 minutes that this benign request was going to become my yogic challenge for the course. I was unaware of both the length and consistency of floor sitting required not only in practice where we utilize Vajrasana and the seated variations (Padmasana, Sukhasana) but the class time spent in this position. During the first couple of months, I was usually in tears by the time Satsangha was 20 minutes old.

When I arrived at the ashram I was in very good physical condition for a 46-year old male. I was athletic and had the hard formed muscles from the primary sports that I played. These same hard muscles were quite inflexible and the fascia tissue around them was stagnant from years of lackadaisical stretching before and after playing these sports. In addition, my joints were stiff and toxic from years of abuse, primarily due to sitting at a desk in front of a computer for 20 years and a diet where while I tried to eat healthy, was toxic from years of Western influence. In addition, the mental and emotional tension that I carried with me were a burden on opening up and relaxing due to the tension it created up and down the nervous system.

As we began detoxification, I went through a series of processes in my body that built the foundations of the changes that would be necessary to allow me to sit on the floor. This process was one of pain in the back and hips for 4-5 days followed by an intense itching for 12-16 hours with the process completing with a purge from the digestive system in the form of diarrhea. This repeated itself 6 times from October to the end of November. This detoxification and mental cleansing would require me to raze who I was physically to the ground and start over. I would have to reconstruct my musco-skeletal system at the cellular level, and this is just what we did. The practice of Shanka Prakshala, the diet at the ashram and rhythm, repetition and regularity of the Hatha practice began the physical process. But what really moved the needle was the Pranayama practice, expanding the size and surface area of the lungs to allow for a quicker detoxification of the joints utilizing Hathenas and the sectional breathing. This awareness and use of the lungs significantly detoxified my body, mind and emotions and then I believe that the Eka Dasi practice fine tuned the grosser level practices.

As we moved into the study of Yama and Niyama it occurred to me that sitting on the floor was my own personal practice of Yama and Niyama. I had been committing Himsa to the self for years by not treating my body with care by sitting at a desk for 20+ years and not stretching and maintaining mobility in my athletics. I was now paying the price for that in this transformation which also was correcting 30 years of poor posture! I had been lying to myself for years about the condition and not practicing Satya. I would tell people that I was in such great physical condition that I didn’t need to stretch. This was clearly both the Kleshas of Avidya and Asmita in play only I was so attached to my body that proper discernment of what I was both doing and saying escaped me. The result of this behavior was stealing future happiness from myself as I would surely have ended up stiff as a board as the aging process marched onward and this would have effected my mobility and happiness. Asteya comes in many forms and this more subtle form was stealing time from myself, and the ability to be mobile in comfortable as I aged.

It is an interesting perspective that by breaking these three Yamas in floor sitting, I found they were tied so deeply into my mental and physical well-being. I also see that if we look at life as a being part of the problem or being in the solution that breaking against the Yamas is the problem and applying Niyama is the solution. And to be part of the solution we also must change the behavior that produces the Yamas. Pratipaksha Bhavanam is practiced on the behavior that is leading to conflict of the Yamas, or the practice of the opposite. When we practice the opposite, these actions eventually change our thought processes which eventually change our behavior. When we change our behavior, we become something different because our behaviors make up who we are, not what we have as is so commonly misperceived in this world. These practices become our new primary nature.

I realized that the ashram life had put the practice of Saucha in place for me to help me accomplish the goal of sitting on the floor. I realized this sometime in late October and that this was part of the solution. I have known great pain and suffering on my spiritual path, all of it self-inflicted. I understand on a deep level that pain is a necessary touchstone for spiritual growth and also recognize the difference between pain for pain’s sake and the pain that is growth. Despite the intense suffering of the body, I was intent on moving forward and with my daily practice of Isvara Pranidana (last of the Niyamas), I used that great will to march forward. When faced with an obstacle that I know in my heart is there for my growth and needs to be overcome, I channel this willpower as my own and with it, so long as it has good intentions, I can move mountains. It provides me with an intense ability to concentrate and to focus my mind in Dharana (focus) on the goal at hand and to overlook the discomfort of the moment.

This became my Tapas (heat) for the first 3 months of the program. My fire, my discipline. I started to name each class by the level of floor sitting required, much to Rahul’s delight. If the class was short and earlier in the day I would call it beginner floor sitting. As the day wore on or if the class ran long, it became intermediate floor sitting all the way up to advance floor sitting which was usually the Satsangha. There were many occasions where the Tapas of this practice brought me to tears during the Satsangha but with every tear I could feel the growth and the strength building in me, both mentally and physically. I told myself that this had to be done, not solely for me, but for the students who would come to me. They all had the same issue with floor sitting and I would need to experience the fire of this Tapas and get through to be able to teach it both effectively and empathetically.

There could be little Samtosha in the higher practices unless I could sit comfortably and have as Patanjali states in 2.46 of the Sutras: sthira sukham asanam. Ease in the state of being.

As with everything, this practice of learning how to sit on the floor was a beautiful exercise in Swadiyaya (self-study), both in looking at my past and realizing how I had treated my body and in the present finding that balance that we seek as Yogis to make the required changes in the body, mind and emotions, but not to push it too far; to not go into an extreme practice. The ashram was a perfect environment for this as we were being carefully monitored through all our practices.

As we continued with the physical practice, there were two Hatha sequences that were particularly beneficial once the detoxification and change in the muscle structure was complete. My muscles were now soft and supple, the muscles of a Yogi, but with strength. And what strength was lost I could feel returning daily. The Loma/Viloma practices and the Hip Opening sequences were key in the continuation of the opening the physical body as leg lifting was improving the strength of the hip flexors and muscles on the front side of the body. They had no strength because I had either not been using them and they had atrophied or the other muscles in my body had been overcompensating for them. I know that when I had practiced leg lifting in the past my core was doing all the work and the hip flexors were idle. And for people that are not naturally flexible like me, it is not a matter of getting flexible, it is a matter of getting strong. It is with strength that flexibility comes. Each day the leg lifting via these two sequences I could feel the strength building in those parts of my body that had been idle for so long.

One day in early January we were sitting in music class and sitting on a pillow with my hips lifted a mere one inch from the floor I crossed my legs and my knees relaxed to the floor with ease. I lifted my head and my heart and straightened my spine and felt no pain in the muscles up the spine that support the back muscles. I closed my eyes and listened for a moment to the beautiful and enchanting sound of the music teacher’s voice and felt gratitude in my heart for this place, these people, this opportunity and the love of life’s second chances. Because for me, every day is a second chance at first opportunities, and for that I am truly grateful. And by the grace of the Divine, I did it.

I sat on the floor.

Please tune in next week for Part Two in Sarvesh’s journey to India series. If you would like to learn any of the practices outlined in this article, please stop by Ripple Yoga where Sarvesh teaches what he learned and practiced in India. Sarvesh is also the author of 20,000 Oms and a Cup of Chai, a true story of inspiration that follows Sarvesh through his 6 month journey in India and recounts his past brush with death and how his spirit found the will to live. Sarvesh is also a life coach helping people to reduce stress, anxiety and other negative emotions that tear at the fabric of our health and happiness. His proven methodology utilizes actions to change perception.

The Artist Formerly Known as Gary

Hello Beautiful Community!
 
As part of the initiation to the Paramparya (Lineage) here at the Ashram, we were given the option of changing our name to a spiritual name that fits our Dharma and also has the energy of Yantra that fits our Dharma.  The name is chosen by our Gurus and assigned in a ceremony called Namakhara.  We completed this ceremony on Sunday and I am now named Sarvesh Naagari!!
 
Sarvesh literally means “Master of All, Lord of the Universe” and is associated with Lord Shiva. This name is a beautiful reminder of humility as every time that it is used I am reminded to be humble as the true way to master our universes in through humility and grace. The name’s energy is that of a responsible, tactful, kind human who brings out responsibility through transformation. The last name means “One who is with the people, a civilized communicator” and also is associated with the language of the Gods in the Hindu tradition. I will begin using this name as a teacher and as an author.  In the studio, you may simply refer to me as “Sarvesh”.
 
Om Shanti!

Lesson 20 – Final Lesson

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

Hard to believe I will be rejoining the Ripple Yoga community in person in about 25 days!!  This will be the last communication in this series as we are winding down and preparing to end our stay in this beautiful environment.  I am so grateful to all of you that have read these lessons while I have been away, it is truly a blessing to be able to share them.  Your feedback has been wonderful and I enjoyed answering all your emails.

There are some exciting announcements coming from the studio in the next couple of weeks.  One is that my name will be changing by the end of this week.  Our names have energy and the energy of our name help define who we are and either help us or hinders us in fulfilling our Dharma, or responsibility as a human being in this lifetime.  The science of name, number and shape is called Yantra, as mentioned in the previous lessons.  As part of this name change I will be initiated into this Paramparaya, or lineage of Yoga, and in particular this ashram.  Ripple Yoga will be by default an extension of the teachings in this lineage.  This is a very beautiful thing and a true blessing in this lifetime.

Also, starting April 4th, we will have a new schedule.  I will be teaching a minimum of 7-8 classes on this schedule each week including the start of an Advanced Yoga practice, which will be either a 75 or 90 minute class to be held twice a week.  This practice is for people who are serious about becoming Yogis and are interested in exploring the teachings at a more in depth level than will be taught in the regular Vinyasa and Restorative practices.

We will also be announcing  changes in the Membership packages on April 4th.  The relationship between the community and the studio is that of teacher-student, not customer-business.  What people pay for practices at the studio in the form of money should be considered an exchange of energy for the energy that is provided by the teachings and the space.  I personally teach (and run the business) as a form of Karma Yoga, which is giving of my teachings with no expectation of anything in return.  What this means in practical terms is that I have taught over 1,500 classes and managed the business of the studio without pay, and will continue to do so.  Of course, we ensure that the other teachers are compensated and the rent is paid.  With all that being said, there is no monetary value that can be put on the teachings that are coming with me from India.  If you are interested in changing your life and consciously evolving in so many amazing ways, seek out these practices from me – I will become your teacher should you seek the knowledge, experience and wisdom of this Yoga.  It is truly mind blowing.

More details to follow.  See you all so soon!!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

Don’t forget that 20 class cards are at a promotion price of just $199 for a limited time.  A wise man suggests picking up a class card before the promotion ends J

In Unity and Love,

Yogicharya Gary

Lesson 19 – Book Announcement

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

Time is flying by here in India and I am so looking forward to being back in Seattle and reuniting with the community.  Know that I am there in spirit and energy and that my teachings are flowing through the wonderful teaching team at the studio.

I have some wonderful and exciting news to share with all of you.  As part of my Sadhana here in India, I squeezed in the time to write a book.  This book will be released in the next 30-60 days in electronic format and then in paperback sometime over the summer.  It is the story of my spiritual journey.  As some of you know, 7 years ago next Wednesday is the date that I quit drinking.  It is also the time that I was so close to death that I am very lucky to be alive.  I decided at that point, with the help from my higher self that my life was for some reason worth living, only I didn’t really believe it, because I had been trying to kill myself for about 2 years.  But I had a tiny belief and stayed alive long enough not only to recover from severe alcoholism, but to figure out my purpose in life, which is to teach yoga and to share my story in the hope that others may benefit.

But the story is not just about alcoholism and recovery.  It is about the spirit going from empty to full, it is about yoga and how yoga found me, how yoga teaching found me and how I built the studio.  It is about mending relationships and overcoming life’s difficulties.  It is about the lessons of two spiritual programs, recovery and Yoga, and how they are oh-so similar.  And it is about the 6 month journey I have been blessed to have here in India.  I am very excited to share it with the world, and of course all of you dear students at Ripple Yoga.

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Yogi Gary

Lesson 18 – Yantra

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

We began the 2 week course in Yantra this week.  Yantra is the study of number, shapes and forms and the energy of them and how they work in the universe.  It is a fascinating topic and we will be doing Yantra workshops and courses at Ripple Yoga when I return in just over 30 days!!!

We calculate our Yantra numbers from our birth date, and the primary Yantra number is our Dharma or responsibilities in this lifetime.  We are in our lives to learn the lessons of the Universe and to burn Karma.  This balance, and sometimes friction, between Dharma and Karma is always with us.  We cannot escape it!

We then have Yantra numbers that are secondary based on the different stages of our life and annual Karma cycles with a different number.  So for example, I am an 8 birth path.  The numbers go from one to nine.  As an 8 birth path, my Dharma is to be successful.  That does not have to mean material success, although it is often associated with materiality.  So to put it another way, my responsibility is to learn the lessons associated with success in this lifetime and to try to succeed at whatever it is I do.  Dharma works in reverse, so in my last lifetime I was a 9 and in the next I will be a 7.  We are given every opportunity to learn all the lessons throughout our life down to the #1 at which point if we have learned all the lessons, we are released from the disease of constant rebirth and granted Moksha, reuniting with the divine!  It is a fascinating topic and belief system, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone in the wonderful Ripple Yoga community.

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Yogi Gary

Lesson 17 – The Higher Limbs

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

We are beginning to get into the higher level of practices here at the ashram including Pratyahara (withdrawal and control of the senses), Dharana (Concentration) and Dyana (Meditation).  I thought in this week’s lesson an overview of the meaning of these concepts would be helpful.

It is really important that we understand that without Pranayama these practices are not effective.  We must have the ability to control our breath, and in order to do that, we must have awareness of the respiratory system and a regular Pranayama practice.  Often we hear of people offering “meditation” classes.  This is actually a misnomer as they are teaching “Concentration”.  But offering a concentration class doesn’t sound very interesting to most people and is insulting to others because they don’t think they need help concentrating.  If we are honest with ourselves and practice Satya, we will agree that actual concentration is one of the most difficult disciplines there is, especially in today’s overstimulated society.

Pratyahara practice allows us to withdrawal the senses inward and then we go beyond the withdrawal of the senses to the actual control of them.  Our senses are always reaching out and looking for sensory inputs, not the other way around.  We don’t see something per se; our eyes go out and find it.

Dharana in taking the mind and bringing it to one point of concentration and then staying on that one point in a laser-like focus.  If we stay in Dharana long enough we reach a state of Dyana, which is a meditative state in the higher part of the mind.  We cannot consciously reach Dyana which is why it is impossible to teach meditation.  We can only come into a state of meditation from concentration.  This is very important to realize because when we understand this it opens one of the doors necessary to access the practice, and that is the door of awareness.

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Yogi Gary

Lesson 16 – Mauna

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

I can’t believe that in less than 60 days I will be back in Seattle.  I am looking forward to reconnecting with everyone and meeting all the new students at Ripple Yoga.  I recently invented a practice here at the ashram which I am calling “Tapas Tuesday”.  Tapas is a Niyama which means discipline, or can be translated as “to walk through the fire.”  There are people here in India who stand in tree pose for a year as part of their Tapas (not recommended)!

On Tapas Tuesday, from last Tuesday to the end of the program, I am practicing Mauna and fasting on Tuesdays.  Both are beautiful practices that help us in so many ways.

Mauna means silence, and more specifically no communication, verbal or otherwise.  It is an opportunity to look within.  It is an opportunity to realize that most of what we say is not really that important and doesn’t need to be said.  Mauna offends and subjugates our ego.  When we subjugate our ego, we work on overcoming it as a Klesha bringing us one step closer to Moksha.  Remember that Kleshas are inherent characteristics that are installed in us at birth and reside in the animal part of the brain.  They are Ignorance, Ego, Likes, Dislikes and Survival Instinct.  We must overcome all of these and our Yoga practice works towards that goal.

Fasting is simply not eating.  We can go about 21 days without eating and survive, so long as we have water.  We can actually live our life unaffected because the sun and our breath provide all the energy we need, if we know how to access it.  There are people in India called Breatharians who don’t eat.  Ever.  Fasting helps us to overcome our survival instinct.  We should realize that anytime we work on overcoming our Kleshas, we are moving from reactionary behavior from the animal part of our brain to responsive behavior from the human part of our brain, and advancing our evolution.

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Yogi Gary

Lesson 15 – Pranayama

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

We just measured our lungs here at the ashram.  We do this to check in on the effectiveness of the Pranayama practice on expanding lung capacity.  We measure all 3 sections of the lungs; lower, middle and high using a tailor’s tape measure and measuring the diameter between the exhale and the inhale.  All 3 sections of my lungs were 4” when fully expanded from where they were fully deflated.  When I arrived here, they were at 2”, which means that I have doubled my lung capacity in 4 months.

Why would we want to expand our lung capacity?

A great question, thank you for asking!  Most of us, and that means all of us, breath just enough to stay alive.  Even people who play sports and exercise regularly.  Before coming to India, I was playing 3-4 hockey games a week which is a high level cardio sport.  I was surprised to learn that my lungs were just a half inch over the average shallow breather, which is about an inch for women and an inch and a half for men.  Shallow breathing is an issue and awareness and control of the breath resolves these issues, through the practice of Pranayama.

Expanded lung capacity reduces the risk of almost ALL human diseases.  Diseases start with what is called acidosis which is too much carbon dioxide in the blood, which is a poison.  As we age, lung capacity shrinks, removing the body’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the bloodstream.  When we expand our lung capacity, the effectiveness of our Asana practice (Vinyasa, Hatha, Any) skyrockets.   Without proper breathing in Asana, it is the same as cleaning our apartments or houses with a toothbrush.  Breathing removes 80%+ of the toxins from our body so the ability to remove toxins from our body also skyrockets.  Breathing correctly also calms the mind and emotions, and cleanses the nervous system.

Pranayama is coming as a practice to Ripple Yoga in April, look for it!  We will use different Asanas in this practice to open the lungs and Pranayama techniques that I have learned here to bring awareness to your lungs and to expand their capacity.  Pranayama may not look good on Facebook, but this is where the real Yoga practice begins.  This is the first step in becoming a REAL Yogi..

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Yogi Gary

Lesson 14 from India

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

The week of the Yoga Festival is over and we are back to our regular Sadhana.  We have been studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for almost 8 weeks now, going through each Sutra with a deep discussion, relating it to modern life and how it relates to our overall practice and the evolution of self.  It is such a beautiful learning process and I am so looking forward to sharing all this knowledge of how we can become the best “us” we can be.  Yoga teaches us to move towards unity, to move against the current grain of our societal conditioning towards separation and duality.

This week’s lesson is on that simple message of Unity, and Yoga’s belief is Unity.  To be a Yogi is to live a Yogic life and to strive for balance and unity in all things.  Being a Yogi is not the modern photo of a person with a yoga mat strapped to their back walking down a busy city street.  It is what we are inside, and how we behave in this world.  It is how we live our life.  We are defined as human beings by our thoughts, words and actions; and they should be consistent from one to the next.  In Unity, we see the divine in all beings, in all things.  We don’t see “fat”, “black”, “catholic”, “democrat”, or even “American”.  We see a divine human being and transcend our social labeling caused by our conditioning of duality.  We are born seeing Unity, and taught to see duality.  Yoga helps us “unlearn” duality and we transcend labels.

Ponder this concept as you walk down the street and see people passing you.  Every person you see, from the street corner panhandler, to the striking woman in high heels, to the bus driver, to the child being led by his Mother’s hand; is the same.  We are all one.  This is a universal truth.  Tat Sat.

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Gary

Lesson 13 – International Yoga Festival

Namaste from Pondicherry, India

Beautiful Ripple Yoga Community!

Happy New Year!  I hope that everyone has a happy and prosperous 2016 filled with joy, serenity and peace.  We started the New Year off with the 22nd Annual International Yoga Festival sponsored by the Pondicherry Board of Tourism.  All of the students from the ashram were given a speech to make at the Festival!!  Some of us were pretty nervous, but I was OK – I have a lot of experience speaking in front of people!  My talk was on Yoga for Stress Management and I hope to make the video available to the community soon.  We need to upload it to Youtube.

The primary cause of stress in our lives can be found by looking in the mirror.  Harsh lesson right?  But it is reality, or Satya.  For those who are interested in the anatomy, it works like this.  We perceive things in our lives through our senses which is then filtered into the brain through any ignorance that we have and our ego.  Again, ignorance does not mean stupid, it means we have yet to gain knowledge.  This signal of perception goes into our brain into the emotional center, which is the limbic system.  This system surrounds the hypothalamus gland.  If we perceive an external factor as stressful, such as our job, our boss, our kids, etc. the emotional part of the brain bombards the hypothalamus with this message.  That gland then releases hormones into the body causes the physical, or psycho-somatic reactions to stress in the body.

Once we understand that stress and the results of it are self-induced by our misperception of the world, we can overcome stress and anxiety by overcoming self.  We have to recognize that we are responsible for our lives, which means we are responsible for our thoughts, emotions and actions.  There is never anyone to blame for anything.  Here at the ashram we call Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga the “No Excuse Yoga”.  To overcome perception is to overcome self, and THIS is exactly what Yoga does for us.  Probably not the type of Yoga that you have ever practiced, but it is now the Yoga that we teach at Ripple.  Real Yoga, Authentic Yoga.  This is what I am bringing back to all of you in the lovely community and what has already begun integrating into the teaching through the current teaching team.  Check out the Foundation Classes, my friends.

On a side note, I am an example of stress and anxiety gone amok.  In my 30s, I was so stressed out from work that I was hospitalized with heart palpitations, sweats and shortness of breath from hyper ventilation.  I was prescribed Paxil and Xanax, rather than treating the underlying cause.  I wasted 5 years taking those drugs and countless hours in counseling when all I needed was self-realization and the practice of Yama and Niyama, which I have been practicing now for 7 happy years.

Many of you have asked, especially new students, why I look so happy in all the photos.  It is because I am happy, and it is because I practice Yama and Niyama!!

Yoga is Unity, We are One, see you in less than 80 days!!!!

Enjoy, keep practicing, continue evolving and so much more to come!!  As always if you have any questions, you can email me directly at gary@rippleyoga.com.  I answer all emails!!!!

In Unity and Love,

Gary