Cosmic Book Club

Cosmic Book Club

Cosmic Flow Kundalini Yoga studio welcomes all to celebrate this year’s One Book One San Diego choice, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai.

All over San Diego country, diverse communities are reading this book. People are participating in discussions of this book at public libraries, service organizations, and educational institutions throughout the county. One Book One San Diego is a literary program with the purpose of bringing our community together over the shared experience of reading and discussing the same book. I like to imagine the city as a stadium hosting a huge rock concert; on stage is this one book, resting on a night table. Everyone in the stadium bends their heads over their own personal copy of the book open and reading together. This might be a sort of creepy or comforting image, depending on where your consciousness takes you…

Anyway…

As a fresh way to celebrate oneness and the community spirit of Cosmic Flow, we thought it would be fun to host a free event in which we practice a breath meditation and then discuss The Great Believers over tea at this yoga studio.

The meditation we will practice will be lovingly chosen from thousands taught by Yogi Bhajan, a meditation that relates specifically to the challenges faced by the characters in the book.

Suppose Yale, Charlie, Fiona, or Richard — some characters in Makkai’s book — came to Cosmic Flow yoga and asked for a special breath meditation they might practice every day to help them face their struggles. Well, this is the meditation we will practice. Suppose our lives have similar themes as those in the novel; maybe this particular meditation can help us through, too.

While reading a piece of fiction, a yogi might ask, what practice might serve the characters in this book to help them engage, focus, cope, heal, relax, and excel through the problems they face in the book?

Offering breath meditations to fictional characters in books is just a quirky way this yogi goes about reading fiction. It’s not something that The Vedas or The Puranas talked about. It’s not something mentioned in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib; nor is this something taught by Yogi Bhajan. Nowhere has it been written to contemplate the characters from books coming to your yoga class and imagine what meditation you might teach them and encourage them to practice every day. This is a line of inquiry that so far only I know only I would think up, and maybe I am the only yogi who thinks this is an interesting and fun way to be in this world. So be it. I have to be me. And may those sacred teachers to whom I bow and feel infinite respect please forgive me if there is any offense here. Offense is not intended. The only thing I wish to enjoy forever is my birthright to have reverence but also explore the fullest spectrum of freedom of expression. This is not an easy road to travel; that’s why I practice.

But let’s look at it with any characters from any books. Suppose Tsukuru Tazaki came to your yoga class, wouldn’t he benefit from Kirtan Kriya? And what about the unnamed narrator in Killing Commendatore ? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen if he practiced forty days of Sitalee Pranayam? These are two examples from Haruki Murakami works because he is the novelist I happen to be reading a lot of lately. But this is a way of imaging works with any writer’s fiction. Imagine if Madame Bovary had bought a monthly unlimited class package at Cosmic Flow Yoga studio, surely her fate would have been totally different. Perhaps she would have experienced the Kriya for the Heart and Magnetic Field, and felt fresh tenderness and desire toward her boring husband. Perhaps not. She’s pretty categorically tragic… But I think it’s fun to wonder if the benefits of kundalini yoga would have helped Madame Bovary.

I swear: sitting around thinking about ways to improve the lives of fictional characters through yogic breathing and kriya is pure fun!

Perhaps in a typical book club discussion, people mention whether they liked or disliked the book and why. Sometimes the conversation goes deeper than that and people talk about the ways the book was crafted, whether the characters were believable or not, whether the ending seemed plausible. I’ve even been to a book club discussions in which women identified with the characters and then revealed their own personal stories of struggles. In these cases, the discussion led to therapeutic emotional release. Other times, readers have confessed that they fell so madly in love with the characters they could imagine marrying them and felt inspired to write their own fictional story based on that premise, and they proceeded to share that imagined story.

It is exciting to wonder what the discussion will be like for the Cosmic Book Club. But one thing is sure, we will begin the book club meeting with conscious breathing, a specific breath meditation that we can speculate may support the characters in the book as they face their challenges. This is a way to teach us to observe characters in a book in the way a yoga teacher might observe her students when they come to her wondering what meditation they should practice every day to help them get through life’s snags.

Without giving away too much of the story details, here is an example of how this approach looks reading The Great Believers:

Charlie experiences acute anxiety, paranoid that Yale will break his heart. He could practice a breath meditation to “Re-vitalize the Heart Area.” In this meditation, sit in easy pose, bring the palms together, and raise the arms up to a sixty-degree angle as far left as possible. Inhale powerfully through the nose and exhale powerfully through the mouth, using the navel point to press the air out. Do this for 8 minutes. Would this help relieve someone like Charlie who continually fears losing a loved one?

Fiona must find her daughter who has joined a cult and is in some kind of trouble. Fiona is continually remembering conflicts from the past during which her daughters way of coping was to run away. Fiona could benefit from a meditation called, “To Know and Experience the Unknown.” This meditation is more complex and involves pressing on the rib cage on the left side to breathe through the right nostril and pressing on the rib cage on the right side to trigger breath through the left nostril. I won’t go into more detail than that here, but the effect of the meditation is to help learn how to consciously switch which nostril you breathe from. When you are in a difficult mental state, if you consciously switch the breath to go through the opposite nostril, you will release yourself from that mucky mental state.

Yale could benefit from a meditation that brings the entire nervous system and glandular system into balance. This meditation involves holding a particular mudra (hand position) in front of the heart as you inhale deeply, then calmly suspend the breath in for 15 seconds; then exhale and calmly suspend the breath out for 15 seconds.

As a devoted yogi, I have absolute faith that Yale could face his process with more presence, consciousness, and elevation if he practiced this meditation for 3 to 5 minutes every day.

These meditations don’t necessarily cure or make our problems go away, but they help us go through these difficulties with refined grace and awareness.

During our book club meeting at Cosmic Flow, we will practice one of these breath meditations and then the discussion of the book can launch in any direction from there.

We will also enjoy yogi tea. Here are the five ingredients used for making classic yogi tea:

black pepper

cinnamon

cardamom

clove

ginger

The Cosmic Book Club is intended to be a fun way to hold space for two beautiful arts to enjoy fresh collaboration, the art of fiction and the art of conscious breathing. What unfolds when we bring our love for yoga together with our love for reading good literature? Let’s explore the possibilities! Sat Naam!

A Yogi’s Curse

A Yogi’s Curse

In ancient times, when Bhukhamumookha was queen of all of the Myapakka Valley, there lived a devoted yogi who practiced his sadhana in the forest that surrounded the great Lake Nagshala. 

After twelve years intense sadhana, the yogi achieved certain siddhis. He gained the power to heal through his presence, the Maha Devi Siddhi.

Quickly, news spread about this yogi’s achievements. Many people, local and from far away, wanted to meet him.  Over time, the sick and those in great need would travel to sit with this yogi. In return for his blessings and healings, visitors would bring the yogi gifts.  Many benefited from being in his presence.  Eventually, many people grew to love and fear this powerful yogi. 

Near this yogi’s forest was a village where there lived a talented female weaver named Gunjika.  She lived with her family and worked hard at weaving to ensure her family would have enough to eat.  She wove scarves, robes, blankets, prayer rugs, baskets.  You name it, Gunjika could weave it. The villagers adored this honest artisan.

One day, a stranger came traveling through the village seeking the help of the well-known forest yogi.  The stranger had spent years trying to find a wife.  Alas, his deformed face scared people.  He’d hoped he would meet the yogi to receive help and guidance to ease his troubled heart. 

Before meeting the yogi, the stranger wished to find the perfect gift to bring to this yoga master.  A kind villager learned the stranger was looking for the perfect gift.  So, the villager described Gunjika’s woven goods as the most magnificent of gifts the village had to offer.  The villager guided the stranger to Gunjika’s stall.  It so happened, this villager was also the caretaker of wayward orphans.   The orphans loved nothing better than to sneak around playing tricks on people.  While the villager led the stranger to Gunjika’s stall, the orphans followed quietly, suppressing their laughter at the stranger’s deformity.  Without being seen, the orphans spied on the stranger while he looked over Gunjika’s blankets, robes, and baskets.

Gunjika smiled at the stranger as he wondered over which of her creations he should choose. He was mesmerized by all the beautiful choices.    After much deliberation, he found the perfect robe to bring to the yogi.  “Ah!  This is perfect!”  He chose a simple, honey-colored sevani robe.  Gunjika said, “Great choice!”

While the stranger was digging into his pockets to produce the money to pay Gunjika, the orphans secretly sprinkled some stolen emodulanda powder into the folded robe.  Then they ran off to find a place to hide so they could burst into laughter. 

Now, emodulanda powder is nothing that exists in these modern times.  In ancient times it was a kind of powder that was used to heal wounds from snake bites.  However, if too much contacted your skin, you would turn emotional, mostly angry mixed with delusions of grandeur.  It was the village orphans’ intention to play a prank on this foreigner with the ugly face.  In their ignorance, they even thought the powder would help him fall in love with his deformity. They did not know the extent of damage their prank would cause. 

The stranger made his visit to the yogi and waited his turn to have his private moment with the yogi.  The yogi gave him his blessing and healing. Then the stranger presented the yogi with the robe.  The stranger explained to the yogi that he had purchased the robe from Gunjika, the finest weaver in all the village.  The yogi was humbled and grateful for the gift.  He, too, admired the honey color and the perfect weave of this fine robe. After his meeting with the yogi, the stranger left the village and was never seen again.  Perhaps we can assume he lived a happier life after visiting the Maha Devi Siddhi Yogi? 

The next morning, after bathing in the lake, the yogi dressed in the fine robe the stranger had gifted him and proceeded to practice his bowing meditation.  When the sun struck the yogi’s visual horizon at 35 degrees, the yogi felt an unfamiliar emotion rush over him — he grew very angry.  While he sat in meditation, the yogi heard resentful voices fill his head, shouting about enemies chasing after him and the world coming to an end. 

In a moment of clarity, the yogi sensed that something was wrong with the robe the deformed stranger had gifted him.  Immediately he took off the robe and rushed to bathe in Lake Nagshala. 

The yogi contemplated the matter for a few days then decided that Gunjika’s woven fabrics put the village in danger.  Feeling righteous and courageous, he marched himself to the top of the steps of the Temple of the Goddess and proclamed:  “Everyone, hear this!”  The humble villagers listened with reverence.  When he had everyone’s attention, the yogi continued: “The noble sages of high teachings have charged me to pronounce a curse on Gunjika the Weaver.  The robe she wove contained foul enchantment.  Come new moon time, Gunjika the Weaver shall turn into a fig!”

The yogi’s curse frightened the villagers.  From then on, all avoided Gunjika, the Weaver.  Only her daughter stood by her.  Gunjika was confused by the curse and had no idea what the yogi was talking about.  What foul enchantment could be in the robe she wove?  This curse didn’t seem fair to Gunjika, but no one would listen to her when she asked for help to try to solve the mystery. She requested the yogi return the robe to her so she could see what was wrong, but the yogi claimed to have destroyed it in the fire ceremony for Boopoo Muni. And now to the simple villagers, Gunjika had become a pariah.  

Just as the yogi had said, at the new moon, Gunjika turned into a fig. 

Her daughter brought her mother-turned-fig far outside the village and buried her.  For the rest of her life, Gunjika’s daughter mourned her mother’s passing by visiting the Temple of the Goddess every day and praying for mercy., until she grew old and died quietly and all alone.   

Centuries have passed since this sad story took place.  Lake Nagshala is all dried up. These days, a proud city has been built over the land where that lake once existed. 

However, in the forest outside the city, there grows a rare type of ficus tree, called ficus maposyrupa.  Monks use the wood from the tree’s thick branches to make fragrant prayer bead malas.  Mothers pick the sweet figs to feed to their babes.  The tree’s bark drips an unusual sap that cooks use to mix into special sweet sauces to pour over bread and rice.  Songbirds nest in the tree’s branches.  Bugs crawl through the tree’s bark.  Worms, grubs, and slugs live deep in the soil curling up close to the roots of the tree to enjoy nourishment and protection.  These centuries — long after the death of the yogi and the death of the weaver’s daughter — this one fig tree has provided sustenance, protection, beauty, and nourishment for countless beings from above and below.  It welcomes all and judges none. One rare fig tree grew up from a fig planted by a grieving daughter who would never see the glory of this tree these hundreds of years later.  

One day, a forest yogi, descended from the Maha Devi Siddhi Yogi, came to sit under the tree to meditate.  There he achieved his enlightenment.  After that, he went around blessing people and proclaiming his profound connection to the divine. Little did he know that there is no such thing as enlightenment. He mistook the tree’s nourishment — a little breath of fresh air — for enlightenment.

Nowadays, tree lovers are realizing this: we don’t need to follow the teachings of “enlightened” men. Simply praise trees! And like trees, be nourishment to all. No doubt tree wisdom surpasses that of the human . They live longer and give freely.

By now, everyone has forgotten the story of the time when a yogi turned Gunjika into a fig.  No one ever tells the story about the daughter who buried that fig and spent the rest of her life in grief for her fallen mother.  Only this one fig tree stands as silent witness to all the beautiful life force that moved back then, through the ages, and here and now. Trees do not tell stories in the conventional ways we are used to, but trees have so many stories to tell. 

Infinite gratitude to Richard Powers and his novel The Overstory, which was the inspiration for this blog post. The Overstory

May I become quiet so as to let the trees sing.  Through listening endeavors, may this mind grow green, lush, and fruitful! May the cycles of this human life flow toward growing thick with nourishment potential.  May all humble beings come to know the curses that are blessings in disguise.

Sat Naam!