Saturday, May 31, 2014

Update on Rockin' Yoga

I am very happy to announce that I have reached an agreement with ASCAP (see previous post)!  Because there are only about a dozen songs that I would want to use for my yoga playlist, the ASCAP representative agreed that it would make sense for me to just contact those artists directly to get their permission to use the songs.  If I get their permission directly, I would not need the ASCAP license.  I am currently in the process of contacting the artists (or their representatives), and as soon as I have obtained permission to use all of the songs, here is the playlist that we will be using for Rockin' Yoga at Body Soul Bliss:

Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Power of Soul - Jimi Hendrix
It's Love - King's X
Baba - Alanis Morissette
If I Die Tomorrow - Motley Crue
Nothing Else Matters - Metallica
Back on Earth - Ozzy Osbourne
Carry On Wayward Son - Kansas
Love Will Find A Way - Yes
This is Love - George Harrison
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun - Pink Floyd
Across the Universe - The Beatles

In addition, we already have permission to use our teacher Mark Whitwell's fabulous (albeit non-rocking) "Pure Love Project" CD.

So, hopefully soon we will be playing music at Body Soul Bliss!  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Music is for The Rich Only

My previous post, Rockin' Yoga, was written in October of 2011, when I taught at City Arts Coop.  At that time I had a handful of students who participated in the class.  It was a beautiful venue, a lot of fun, and I love the people and the ambiance at City Arts!  But, because there just weren't enough steady students, I could not afford that studio, and returned to teaching in my own home, an aging double-wide, where I could only accommodate three students max in the converted living room.

In January 2013 I had two remaining students, one of whom occasionally enjoyed doing Rockin' Yoga. By March, defective plumbing had attracted an impressive rat infestation, resulting in a fire and a burst pipe which thankfully put out the fire but gave rise to Black Mold, rendering the double-wide partially uninhabitable and wholly unsuitable for teaching yoga.  Meanwhile, I became very ill from the Black Mold and therefore was unable to teach, even after moving into Lothlorien House with the lovely new studio.  I could barely keep up with my other jobs.

In November I received a package from ASCAP addressed to "Artistic Director, Body Soul Bliss LLC" inviting me to purchase a copyright license for music.  I had no idea what it was or why I would want it; I have not written or performed music in public for many years, with the exception of karaoke. So, like most of the numerous promotional materials for various goods and services which continually arrive in my mailbox, this one went into the trash.  Shortly thereafter I received a followup letter stating,

Dear Artistic Director:

I recently sent you a package explaining copyright licensing for the music in your establishment.  Included in that package was the ASCAP license agreement and invoice for fees...  the ASCAP license gives you legal permission to perform any of the over eight million titles in our repertory...  If you have not done so already, please sign the license agreement recently sent to you, and send it to us, along with fees specified on the invoice...

Sincerely,
Traci Lawrence

"Legal permission"??  I replied by email, "We are not interested, but thanks anyway," because I suspected the letter was some kind of scam (which perhaps, indeed, it is) and more pertinently, because Body Soul Bliss was for all practical purposes out of business.

When I began teaching again this month, May 2014, I went to the ASCAP website to find out whether or not I really needed said license, and if so, why, and what it would cost.  According to the website, yes, all businesses including yoga and dance studios need a license to play music.  This is the conversation that ensued.  On May 5, I wrote:

Dear Traci, 

I was going to shut down Body Soul Bliss last year due to lack of business, but have decided to stay open for the occasional private yoga lessons even though there's no $$ in it.   I would love to be able to offer those few occasional students the option of listening to music that I already have in my collection, those songs which I have paid for several times over the years, first on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, not to mention numerous expensive concert tickets, VHS, CD, DVD, and most recently, i-Tunes.  A good portion of my lifetime income has gone to music in one form or another!  But the fact is, I am currently living below poverty level.  My yoga studio nets negative.  I went to your website to get some idea how much a license would cost and could not find any information about it.  Can you give me at least a vague idea of how much a license would cost for somebody in my situation?  Thank you.

On Tuesday, May 6, she replied: 

Good Morning Jamie, 

Thank you for the email! I am happy to answer any questions you have, if I don't cover everything, please let me know. First off I will start with the cost, the smallest category we have is 75 clients or less which would put your 2014 license at $99.27. To touch on a couple other points that you made, unless your studio is totally quiet, you would still need a license. All CD's , DVD's , iTunes , etc is all copy written material, meaning that once you purchase it you can play the music all the time for your personal use but once its used in a business per Federal Copyright Law, you need authorization and that authorization comes in the form of the license we offer. I hope this makes sense. Please don't hesitate to call me if it's easier for you to answer any further questions.  Hope you have a great day!  Regards,

To which, I replied later that evening:

Dear Traci, 

Thanks for your quick reply.  My total gross receipts for teaching yoga in 2013 = $120, of which $20 involved music.  So far this year my gross receipts for teaching yoga = $40, without music.  I teach yoga because it is my vocation, but I cannot make a living doing so.  My primary income is from psychic readings, which do NOT involve music. I teach yoga on the side, private lessons for a few rare students, in my own home, where I have sacrificed my living room in order to have a studio. I would teach for free if I could afford to do so, but since I have to take time off my other job/s to teach, I must charge for my time.

Traci, I am a huge supporter of music, I have many musician friends, and I have worked for their fan clubs and over the years done many promotions for them as a volunteer. I totally "get" that artists should be compensated for their work and that people who make a profit off of the music, should pay the artists a fair percentage of the profit.

But, under the circumstances, do you really think it is fair and/or appropriate for me to pay $99 per year to play music in my class when last year I only grossed $20 (before expenses!) on classes with music? Is it really fair that I should pay the same fee as someone who has 75 clients and, unlike myself, is actually making a profit?? Or, can only rich, successful businesses legally play music?

I'm very sorry, but that is just insane! I would be happy to pay a reasonable percentage, even say 10% per class w/music, so if I made $20 I would give you $2. I am sure that is a much higher percentage than a business with 75 clients would be paying. I look forward to hearing from you and hope we can find a reasonable and mutually agreeable solution here.

Today, May 7, I received this response:

Jamie, 

I cancelled your account based on our original conversation that you were not playing music, so currently you do not have an account with us. I understand that you may not have 75 students but I am not at liberty to change your license fee based on the Federal Copyright Law as well as ASCAP being obligated to work under Federal Consent -decree which means we can't make adjustments for specific businesses, We have the different class sizes by which we have to follow:

Under 75
Under 150
Under 300
Over 301

As I mentioned before if you do not play any music you are fine, if you play one song or play music 24 hours a day in your business, then you need a license. The license is not governed by the income you make, is based on how many student/clients you have and again, 75 is the smallest category.

Hope this helps.

To which I replied:

Dear Traci,

So you really ARE saying that:

1.  I should pay a license fee equal to 500%, i.e. $99 for a single one-hour class with $20 gross receipts, or 82.5% of total gross receipts for all classes including those NOT involving music (based on 2013).
2.  A person teaching 2 yoga students out of their own home should pay the same license fee as a successful studio with 75 students. 
3.  If I'm too poor to pay the license fee and/or the fee is totally out of proportion to my income, then I can't play music for those 2 students. 
4.  You are rejecting my generous offer to pay 10% (!) of gross proceeds per class involving music.

Wow. What a racket.  I wonder how much of the money you collect actually goes to the musicians.

I have meanwhile been informed that I can legally play Pandora or the radio, but I'm not interested in those.  I have a very limited list of songs by a few specific artists that I would want to use.  Maybe I will just contact those artists directly to get their permission.  My teacher has given us permission to use his CD in the past, and I have a feeling Sharon Osbourne may likewise be sympathetic.

Thank you very much.

- Jamie Brown

cc:  Better Business Bureau, Nashville
       Sharon Osbourne

***********

So, there you have it.  As Ms. Lawrence stated, the law is quite clear:  You must pay for a license even if you only have one student and only play ONE song, even if the cost of the license is five times the gross income from that one class and even if your business is, in fact, not making a profit.  And you must purchase the same license as a successful studio having 75 students.  No negotiations or compromises will be made, period.  If you are too poor to afford the license, then you simply can't play music.  After all, music is only for the rich - right?!  

Musicians would, no doubt, find this quite ironic, since many of them started out poor.  They know what it is like to survive on Ramen noodles in order to pay your electric bill so that you can power an amp that goes to 11.  They understand the looming threat of homelessness when you don't make enough money from your gigs to keep a roof over your head.  I don't believe that most of them wrote their music only for the enjoyment of rich people.

Upon doing some research, I did learn that there is a loophole in the law, namely, churches are not required to have a license to play music during worship services!  Lothlorien House is a church and I am a minister.  Yoga is literally whole-body prayer.  Therefore, all I would have to do is offer yoga sessions for free and call it "worship," which technically it is, and we could play whatever music we want.  That would be the ideal solution, if only I could afford to take time off my other jobs to teach for free.

Meanwhile, Mark Whitwell has already given us permission to play his absolutely beautiful, albeit non-rocking, "Pure Love Project" music during our classes.  I am still waiting to hear from Mrs. Osbourne.  Rock on, friends!  But only if you can afford to pay the required license fee.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spanking the Monkey-Mind: Autoeroticism and Religious Guilt Tripping

[Disclaimer:  This post contains adult subject matter, so if you are under 18 please do not read it without your parents' permission.]

To my surprise and delight, I have somehow become the "Dear Abby of Tantric Sex."  People from all over the world, including a large fan following in India (a country I have always loved, the birthplace of yoga!) contact me with their questions about yoga, spirituality and especially, sex.  I am honored and humbled that these strangers trust me with their most intimate personal concerns, and I take all such questions seriously.  Being a bhakti-tantrika, I regard sex as sacred and to be treated with reverence, but at the same time, it's ok to laugh, and my regular readers are already well aware of my tendency to sarcastic humor.  To my new readers, I apologize in advance.

This blog post is in response to questions that continually come up about masturbation.  I have had so many inquiries on the topic that I decided to go ahead and write this, rather than having to constantly repeat myself.  Many young men have shared with me their concerns about this matter.  In addition, based on the messages, others have taken liberties with my Facebook photos.  I choose to regard it as a compliment and sincerely thank God that my photos can still be so "inspiring," given my advanced age and increasing decrepitude.  At the same time, however, it also demonstrates how very desperate they are, to be using photos of a 51-year-old, especially since my "raciest" ones involve a bikini or relatively conservative Vulcan underwear.  Apparently young men in those countries do not have access to any decent porn, such as Playboy, and must settle for seeing an aging yogini on FB, much as in the olden days when boys in the U.S. had only the Sears catalog underwear ads.

Their desperation also, of course, speaks of the societal dysfunction which has led to these questions, with or without the associated behavior related to my photos.  There is a great deal of loneliness and frustration in the world, compounded by repressive socio-cultural traditions which give a person no way out of their dilemma.  Many young men have difficulty finding a suitable partner, especially in societies where women are expected to wait until marriage and "good girls" don't have premarital sex for fear of damaging their reputation.  Meanwhile people are waiting longer to get married, until they have finished their education and are established in their career.  This is actually a good thing in terms of economics, because marrying and having babies before completing education is a significant cause of poverty among women and children worldwide.  However, the situation leaves young people with no sexual recourse at a time in their life when hormones are raging.

Fortunately here in the West we had a "sexual revolution" in the 1960s and 70s, thanks in part to Hugh Hefner's promotion of the Playboy philosophy, "Nice girls like sex too -- it's a natural part of life. Don't be ashamed of it," hence the wholesome "girl next door" look of his models.  Now, one could argue that the Bunny costume was silly and/or degrading, but be that as it may, Hef's philosophy was a breath of fresh air in our formerly stuffy, repressed society.  As a result, my American and European friends struggle less with their sexuality, and I don't get as many of these questions from them.  The women ask me about sex and relationships, but not about masturbation per se, either because they aren't doing it, or they are doing it and it's working out fine and not a problem.  It seems to be more of an urgent, pressing concern for men, which perhaps is understandable; certainly if I had one of those remarkable organs I would want to play with it, too!

My younger brothers in India and the Middle East write to me in great distress with their concerns about masturbation.  One sincere young man, a member of a fundamentalist Christian church, contacted me quite worried about the impending Rapture/Tribulation, which is the doctrine that Jesus will come back and whisk His followers away to heaven before the world basically goes through 7 years of hell under the Antichrist.  I assured him not to worry, because according to that doctrine, if one believes such things, Christians will be taken away before the bad stuff happens.  This nice young man then confessed to me that he feared Jesus would leave him behind because he had masturbated!  And he is not alone.  Many other young men have likewise told me they actually believe that God will send them to hell, or perhaps a bad reincarnation, for this grievous sin.  And BTW, contrary to popular belief, Christianity has no monopoly on sexual repression!  It is common to the fundamentalist branches of all religious traditions including Hinduism and Islam.

Now of course, my atheist friends will say, "Well, that's what happens when you believe this kind of bullsh*t in the first place!  Get rid of religion and everybody will be fine."  Indeed, many people have lost their faith specifically because of the sexual repression enforced by fundie religions.  My worried young friends will be relieved to know that according to modern science, masturbation is perfectly normal and healthy, perhaps several times a day for most young men, the frequency decreasing with age, depending on opportunity and circumstances.

But, it is not necessary to throw out the Babe with the bathwater, and as a minister of reconciliation, I am here to help religious people embrace their sexuality as the sacred gift that it is and be thankful, rather than fearful of damnation.  In all of our religious mythologies, God made matter, including our body and sexuality, and called it Good.  Moreover, in Christianity and Hinduism, God saw fit to incarnate as a man in a human body at least once, or perhaps many times.  Somewhere along the line, the insidious gnostic dualism "Spirit is good, matter is bad" contaminated our religions, leading to the doctrine that sex and physical pleasure is a sin.  And the specific Christian prohibition of masturbation is actually based on a misinterpretation of scripture.

Now, what parent among you would give your child the most wonderful, excellent toy and then forbid him or her to play with it, or even to touch it?!  God would have to be either stupid or cruel to have created us with this powerful, pleasurable sex drive and then forbid us to enjoy it, even privately with our own bodies!  As an Episcopalian, I believe that God is neither stupid nor cruel.  But, as a yogini it's really not a question of "belief" at all; I speak rather from experience.  God is way more Fun than He/She is given credit for, more Fun, in fact, than literally anything.  You can trust me on this, but you don't have to take my word for it.  Other yogis like Steve Ross, Yogani and Ramakrishna have said so, too.  That is why, when your yoga practice reaches a certain point, you don't have all these concerns anymore, and how I was able to be happily celibate for 14 years until I met my husband 9 years ago.

The yogic philosophy is that sexual energy is also spiritual energy, and sex serves two basic functions:  The biological purpose of sex is procreation and stress relief, while the spiritual purpose is Love and Ecstasy.  For many people, orgasm is the closest they will ever come (pun intended!) to meditation.  In tantric yoga we have techniques to send that energy up the spine and prolong the orgasmic state for hours, or indefinitely.  Needless to say, this is incredibly satisfying.  However, unfortunately, the same fundie religions which forbid premarital sex and masturbation nearly always forbid yoga as well, and I would not recommend celibacy to anyone who does not have a serious yoga practice.

Here's the thing:  At the base of the spine is incredible sexual/ spiritual energy coiled up waiting to be expressed, the powerful creative energy of Life itself.  If you try to repress it, it's eventually going to come out one way or another, and maybe not in a polite manner.  If you are a yogi, you can channel that energy and offer it up in ecstatic prayer.  I can teach you how to do that, but it requires a lot of discipline and practice.  Otherwise, you are left with very few options according to the fundie religious dogma with which you have been brainwashed.  You can attempt to be celibate using "sublimation," which is where you try like hell not to think about sex, while basically exhausting yourself doing other things such as sports, intense physical exercise, housecleaning, digging ditches, building houses for the poor, etc.  In all likelihood you will still end up having wet dreams, which is your body's way of releasing sexual tension and some believe, is also a reason to feel guilty.  Or you can get married too young, for the wrong reasons.  Or you can just suffer and moan about it to Dear Tantric Abby.

I would recommend, my young friends, that you make peace with your body and God who created it.  Ideally, I would like to see you find a good sympathetic friend with whom you have mutual respect and trust, in order to practice safe sex (please, use birth control!) until you are ready to settle down and start a family.  If that is not possible then you will inevitably take matters into your own hands - which is perfectly normal!  Do not allow the religious dogma of repressed, bitter old men to ruin your spiritual life.  Are they wiser than the Creator?  There is no need to feel guilty about a natural biological function.  Stop beating yourself up over beating off.









Friday, May 23, 2014

My Counseling Services

In addition to teaching yoga, I also offer spiritual counseling.  Since 1992 I have worked as a professional "psychic" for several famous services including Psychic Friends Network, and currently am with a Very Famous Service Seen on TV Which Cannot Be Named for Contractual Reasons, as well as my own independent site, where I also offer spiritual direction.  What are the differences, you may ask, between these services and why would somebody choose one over the other? In particular, what does "psychic" mean and isn't it demonic?

The latter question comes up sometimes because here in the Bible Belt, which is dominated by fundamentalist churches with extremely limiting doctrines, people have been taught that "psychic" = "fortune teller" = "occult" or "demonic." It is assumed that if indeed psychics have access to hidden information, or predictions about the future, we must be obtaining that information from demons. Many, many years ago when a dear friend gave me my first Tarot deck for my 14th birthday, my own mother, who was raised somewhat fundie, was horrified and told me the cards were "from the devil." Actually, the Tarot was the original card game from which modern playing cards evolved, and today you can even get Christian Tarot cards such as "The Jesus Deck," which has Bible verses and themes from scripture.

Now, while there may be "psychics" out there somewhere who consult with demons, I don't, nor have I met any other psychics who do. It simply wouldn't make sense, because demons are notoriously unreliable and delight in telling lies to trip people up and to cause as much grief as possible. They find this extremely amusing. Even if a demon had access to real information, they could never be relied upon to deliver it accurately. So dealing with them is a waste of time, at best. I personally only interact with demons when requested in the course of my work as a minister if they are bothering someone and I am asked to expunge them.

So, if not "demonic," where then do our "psychic powers" come from?? Well first of all, that question implies that "psychic powers" and "demons" are real, which of course many modern educated people, especially atheists, would deny. They would say there are natural explanations for these phenomena, i.e., the psychic pumps the client for information and picks up on subtle verbal cues. Certainly there is some truth to that, and as a psychic, I endeavor to obtain as much information as possible from my clients in order to provide them with the most accurate and in-depth "reading." I do, however, seem to have an ability to "tune in" to people on an empathic level and help uncover information of which they were not fully conscious. If indeed this is a "psychic power" then I am sure it is a natural gift from God, which most psychics will acknowledge.

I use the Tarot as a tool in this process of uncovering information. Now, fundies will object, "God forbids divination!" This, obviously, is untrue since the Hebrew priests had their own divinatory tool, the "Urim and Thummim," which was sanctioned by God. In any event, I don't use the cards for "fortune telling" as such. Rather, with my background in Jungian psychology, I use them as sort of a complex Rorschach. The cards contain archetypal images from what Jung called, "the collective unconscious," the level on which yoga says we are all One. They "work" because the archetypes are themes common to the human experience which we all share and nearly everyone can relate to. The images on the cards provoke discussion about the client's situation and feelings.

Now, it is true that in the course of my work as a "psychic" I sometimes make predictions about the future, simply because clients expect it. That's just part of the job, and I can do it with a reasonable degree of accuracy by carefully examining all the data at my disposal, including my knowledge of human nature. If this makes me a "sorceress," then likewise meteorologists, stock brokers and investment bankers must also be "sorcerors."

The reason I am working as a "psychic" is because State licensing restrictions forbid me to practice my profession as an M.A. Psychologist in the United States. When I got my Master's degree in California I was able to legally practice as a Ministerial Counselor, but the law has since changed so that ministers may not practice counseling, at least here in Florida, and all U.S. based online counseling services require their staff to have the respective licensing in the State where they live. This is unfortunate for the public, because back when ministers could legally counsel, it was possible to obtain therapy for as little as a $20-40 donation, whereas now people can only consult State licensed therapists who charge $125 or more.

But, thanks to the internet and globalization - one of the few positive examples of globalization that I can think of! - people now have access to therapists around the world. ProvenTherapy.com is leading the way in this new trend of online therapy available internationally. Not being limited by U.S. licensing restrictions, ProvenTherapy is able to hire counselors based on their own unique qualifications and experience, and to offer their services to the clients for significantly less than the cost of therapy here in the U.S.

Now, as a client, why should you choose a "psychic" or a "therapist"? Some people call a psychic line for advice and feedback in helping them work through their difficulties because of the social stigma of "needing therapy," i.e. the implication of "mental illness," and the psychic advertisements do specifically state, "for entertainment purposes only!" Others, however, may turn to a psychic simply because they do not have insurance coverage for mental health and therefore assume that they cannot afford to see a therapist. Well thanks to ProvenTherapy.com, that is no longer the case! Nearly all of the therapists on staff charge less than $100 and many as little as $50 an hour, or $45 per week by email, which is quite affordable.

The third category, "spiritual direction," is pastoral counseling specifically aimed at answering questions of a religious or spiritual nature, which is my specialty!  As a spiritual director it is my privilege to help people explore and deepen their relationship with God, to move beyond dogma and experience divine intimacy.

So, now people have more options. If you appreciate the mythology of the Tarot and want to approach your counseling session from more of an artistic or "entertainment" perspective, you would probably enjoy calling a psychic. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with serious issues and you want direct, straightforward psychological help, and/or you are wary of the religious stigma associated with "psychics," then I would refer you to ProvenTherapy.  Although I am no longer on staff there since going full-time with the Famous Psychic Line, I can recommend several caring and professional therapists.  Finally, if you want to deepen your spiritual life and improve your relationship with God, you would call a spiritual director.  Either way, I would be happy to help! Call me. We'll talk. No big whoop.







Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our New Project

Note: This was written in November, 2012. Clean & Green by Design closed in September 2013 due to lack of business. As of the present time, May 2014, Hawk and I have yet to find a way to make a decent living. He continues with his low-paying, part-time subcontract at the beach, spending a fortune on gas for the commute. I have retired from medical transcription due to severe deterioration of my typing skills, and continue to work as a "psychic," in lieu of having the appropriate State license to practice psychology in the U.S., although I am doing so at a counseling service (online) based in India. Meanwhile, our plan to turn Lothlorien House into a nonprofit yoga studio/retreat center was derailed when the County revoked our homestead exemption and raised our property taxes by 48%, requiring us to move back into the House in order to reclaim the homestead. We have had a couple of students here, but Hawk and I have decided we do not feel totally comfortable teaching in our home, so at least for now, I will be teaching only via Skype.

*******

In a previous blog post back in August I had described the economic circumstances affecting our yoga studio. I refer the interested reader to that post, Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing – but in short, due to our living in an impoverished hick town known as “The Redneck Riviera” and specifically, our location 45 minutes away from the “happening” area on the beach, we have been unable to make a living teaching yoga. Hence our new project: Clean & Green by Design.

Coincidentally, as I was in the midst of working on this blog post, one of my fellow HOY teachers, Jason Brown (no relation), posted in his excellent blog On The Merits of Not-For-Profit Yoga: “There is no greater obstacle to becoming a highly skilled yoga teacher then having to work at an unrelated job to pay rent and eat.” He raises some very good points about the economics of teaching yoga. As I would put it: “There is no greater obstacle to working as a highly skilled yoga teacher, than trying to make a living.” I have had the privilege of learning from some great masters in my 36 years of yoga study and practice, and I have taught (often for free) since the early 1980s. But gainful employment using the skills acquired over that lifetime eludes me.

The going rate for yoga classes in Panama City has dropped by about half since we opened in 2009. Several new studios now offer classes for $5-7 and some for free. What I have gradually come to realize is that the only people in town who can afford to pay $10 for my classes (or $20 for private instruction), plus the cost of a couple of gallons of gas, are those who have more than one job, put in lots of overtime or work on-call, and therefore often miss their class due to work. And those who have time for yoga and the 1.5-hour commute, do not have the money. Some of my students have argued, “You are a great teacher and if people are serious about learning Real Yoga, they will make the drive!” If I were Mark Whitwell or Steve Ross, students might find the trip worthwhile. Being only myself, teaching in our humble home studio, a [full disclosure] rat-infested double-wide trailer a 45-minute drive out into the boondocks where you pass signs that say "Jesus Saves" and "Deer/Hog Slaughtering" and might imagine you can hear the theme song from "Deliverance," it is understandable that people will take advantage of the inexpensive classes offered in nice fancy buildings on the more civilized beach, where we had hoped to relocate.

When we were unable to sell the farm and/or find a good home for our beloved horses, Hawk and I decided to offer “Equine Assisted Learning,” or “Yoga with Horses,” a trendy new activity in more affluent areas. I had wanted to call it, “Equine Therapy” but learned that it is illegal to use the word “Therapy” since I am not a licensed Therapist (Psychologist) in Florida. I don’t know how people offering “Yoga Therapy” can get away with it, but I am fairly sure Florida will soon regulate the hell out of that profession as well. Unfortunately, my [very expensive] equine liability insurance specifically prohibits allowing handicapped persons near the horses, thereby ruling out my plan to work with "special needs" kids.

Still, I thought somebody would be interested, but despite extensive advertising, only one person has inquired about our program, a lady who told me that her daughter "needs horse therapy.” I explained that while we can’t call it “therapy,” there is no doubt that horses are, indeed, therapeutic! You can bury your face in a horse’s sweet-smelling mane and have a good cry, and the horse will nuzzle you with its velvety nose as if to say, “There, there, dear, everything will be ok.” I assured her that riding the horses would be good for her daughter and she was eager to make an appointment. However, when told it would cost $25, she quickly hung up and I never heard from her again, which is odd because ordinary non-therapeutic riding lessons around here cost $25 and any form of "therapy" costs upwards of $125. Now some of my hard-core PETA friends might object, “But isn’t that cruelty/ exploitation of the horses?!” No, it is not, but that is a subject for another blog post. In any case it is a moot point because we have no customers, but at least I can write off the horses’ living expenses on my taxes, a neat trick which I learned from the Romneys.

So the horses continue their life of leisure, while Hawk continues to work on his dangerous and low-paying construction contract. I have had 2 other jobs, both of which are night shift: medical transcription and Psychic. The former has been petering out for years and extremely fickle; I would go days or weeks with hardly any work, and then suddenly be flooded with hours and hours of transcription, typically on nights when the Psychic line was ringing off the hook and I had a yoga class scheduled for early the next day, and I would be typing until dawn, mostly oncology, which is extremely depressing. As for the Psychic job, it is very enjoyable but pays only about $5-10/hour, versus $100/hour I would be making if I could legally work as a Psychologist doing essentially the same thing, except in psychology we normally use Rorschach rather than Tarot cards.

So on the days when I had a yoga student scheduled, I would drag my tired ass out of bed, do my own abbreviated yoga practice (usually around 15 minutes, rather than the hour I would prefer) and frantically attempt to get my home clean enough to welcome the student, who may or may not show up, depending on their work schedule and/or any other considerations which might arise. This process takes me about an hour, plus half an hour to make myself presentable. Now some of my students have kindly said, “Oh, you don’t have to clean house on my account!” Well, yes, I do. Really. I live here in this trailer with my 2 feral cats and my feral man. His word, not mine; in fact, when we were with Mark Whitwell at Omega last year, Hawk said to him, “You and I are not like other men. We are feral.” Mark did not dispute that observation.

I won’t go into all the gory details, but e.g., the bathroom which my students use belongs to my beautiful feral [and straight] man, whose beautiful hair which reaches nearly to his waist tends to get washed down the sink no matter how often I nag him not to do that, resulting in a perpetually clogged drain. And my feral cats love to roll around in the sand outside and then come into the house and clean themselves vigorously, licking and scratching and depositing large amounts of fur, sand, pine needles, and various other debris on the floor. Naturally their favorite place to do this is in the yoga studio, where they enjoy soaking up the good vibes left behind by my students. Sometimes they also bring prey into the studio, play with it and eat it there, leaving entrails. So yes, it really is necessary for me to clean the studio before you arrive. And let’s hope you are not a vegan, because we may have had eggs for breakfast which our chickens kindly gave us and the smell of which would gag you. We do live here, after all.

As time goes on I am less comfortable with having students in my trailer home. I really feel that I need a studio separate from our living quarters. But, Krishnamacharya taught in his home – am I better than him, that I need another studio?! I don’t know what the conditions or the social expectations were in India at that time, however, he did have a wife and presumably she kept the home in order. Maybe that’s what I need – a wife! Meanwhile here I am charging $10 for a “semi-private” class (3 students or less), which people say is too much, and which becomes around $8 after taxes, for spending an hour in preparation and an hour in class time if the student shows up. I had offered semi-private classes thinking that I could do a group class for the students who could not afford private lessons; however, I discovered that it is quite difficult to reliably schedule even one student, much less get 2 or 3 of them together at the same time. As a result, the more casual students were getting private lessons for $10 while the serious students were paying $20 for that privilege, which is not fair and obviously also not sustainable.

I was mulling over this situation, sobbing while I scrubbed my bathroom. When I am depressed and my life feels out of control, I find cleaning quite therapeutic, as it visibly makes the world a better place and obtains at least a temporary victory over entropy. Earlier I shoveled a couple hundred pounds of manure and the horses had comforted me as best they could. I had found my true vocation as a yoga teacher but could not make a living. The late-night medical transcription was literally killing me and didn’t pay nearly enough to be worth the torment. The Psychic work was wonderful but didn’t pay the bills. One of my fellow yoga teachers in town makes her living as a waitress. I am too much of a klutz to be a waitress. Another teacher works at Publix, and I did consider getting a job there but learned that the only openings were at a store a 2-hour drive away. And if I were able to find any kind of a regular 8-5 job I would not be able to teach anymore, nor do my Psychic work, and no jobs around here pay enough on their own. What on earth could I do?! As my tears fell into the sink I thought of my first job at age 17, when I worked as a maid.

A maid! I can do this. It was only a summer job for a girl on her way to college, and I never dreamed it would become my career at 50; I was going to be an astronaut, a writer, a psychologist or medical transcriptionist, but God knows, I would far rather scrub toilets than transcribe one more report of a cancer patient being burned and tortured. Having just recently lost my step-mom to the ravages of chemo, I wanted nothing more to do with it. The next day I discussed it with my former yoga student Amy, whose horses also live here and who no longer has time or $ for yoga due to having 2 children and 2 horses. Amy informed me that she had been thinking of starting a cleaning service using natural nontoxic products. It turns out we are both good at painting, too, and share an interest in design. Hawk and I designed and built our beautiful house (which is currently rented) and would enjoy doing more of that. So Amy, Hawk and I have created a new company, Clean & Green by Design, which hopefully will allow us to pay our respective bills. Unlike yoga, there is apparently a big demand for house cleaning in this town.

I had said I would give the yoga studio until summer but, the mortgage needs to be paid now. Therefore, I have put a temporary hold on classes here at Body Soul Bliss in Lothlorien. My serious students can continue to come here, and if anyone else shows up I will not turn them away, but I have stopped actively advertising and only offer private lessons. When my tenant moves out the end of May, we will convert that house into our new yoga studio. We can fit 10 students in the great room, and the house also has 2 lovely guest suites. Among other things, Hawk and I plan to offer tantric retreats for couples where we will share, with due reverence, our knowledge of philosophy and technique, and then leave the students to their private “homework.” The house would be a great retreat for anyone wanting to get away for a few days of peace and quiet out here in the country, walking in the woods or communing with the horses. It is a beautiful, tranquil building and hopefully students might find it worth the long drive. If the cleaning & design business generates enough income, we might even go non-profit and teach yoga for free, not because we want to, but because it may be the only way that we will be able to get students and thereby fulfill our vocation of teaching Real Yoga.

Dharma, Desire and the Death of a Dream

(09/05/2013)

A little over a year ago in August 2012 I had blogged about the economic circumstances here at Lothlorien (Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing). At that time I even briefly questioned whether or not it was really my destiny, my dharma, to teach yoga. It was certainly my dream, and all my life I've been told "If you can dream it, you can be it," "Follow your Bliss," "You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it," etc. Admittedly, after decades of education in the School of Hard Knocks I have become rather skeptical about New Age optimism. But this was not some fanciful "pie in the sky" sort of dream. It actually was quite reasonable, because yoga is what I know best. I've been practicing since 1976 and teaching off and on, primarily one-on-one and mostly for free, since the early 1980s. Yoga has been my life. I was studying with gurus and meditating in a monastery while other people my age were establishing serious careers, buying homes, marrying and having children, when the current crop of 500-hour RYT teachers were still in diapers.

Since yoga at that time was not generally regarded as a practical career choice, I had eventually settled on medical transcription to make a living, although over the years I have become extremely disillusioned with mainstream medicine, especially oncology. When the work began to peter out in 2009 I decided it was time to do something that I love, something I am good at, a service which would benefit people and help them improve their health and hopefully avoid becoming victims of the medical industry. I had every expectation of success.

The success of my yoga teaching and holistic wellness counseling, however, faced 2 major obstacles:

1. Our location out here in a double-wide trailer in the boondocks, a 45-minute drive from civilization. I was getting lots of calls from potential students at the [relatively] more progressive and affluent beach area who were excited to come to Lothlorien for yoga until they learned that the Arnold Road where we are located is NOT the Arnold Road at the beach, but rather, out in the country north of Panama City. At that time there was only 1 studio at the beach, although there were several in town.

2. The economy. Everybody in town was broke and couldn't afford to pay $10 for a yoga class and the gas to drive here, although some of those people could afford to go out drinking and partying on the weekends and buying expensive shoes. I meanwhile was falling deeper into debt and having trouble paying the mortgage. I had taken on a third job, reading Tarot cards on psychic lines, which was enjoyable and somewhat relevant to my Jungian psychology training, but paid very little. My husband Hawk was spending hundreds of $$ on gas commuting to his job at the beach.

After giving the situation some careful thought, analysis and prayer, I decided it would make sense to sell the farm and move to the beach, where I would open my new studio to meet the needs of all the potential students there.

Just to make sure that this project had my full commitment and no hesitation, I went back and studied "manifesting"/ "The Law of Attraction" again. I had believed and practiced this wholeheartedly in my youth but never got any real-world results, and eventually discovered that life went more smoothly using the "go with the Flow and be ok with whatever happens" approach. However, given the grave financial circumstances and the enormity of the project, I figured it might be worth investigating again. Since my entire reality had shifted in 2011, silencing the monkey-mind and dissolving all my doubts and fears, it did not seem unreasonable to suppose that the LOA might work now.

I put aside my skepticism and took the "Abundant Yogi" course from Kris Ward, the person through whom I had met my teacher Mark Whitwell. Her life-coaching course helped me specifically design and visualize, from both a practical and spiritual standpoint, the manner in which I would actualize my goals. I had total clarity and absolute confidence. I saw it as already having happened: the studio on the beach, the students coming in the door. I felt the breeze on my face and smelled the ocean as the door opened. I had already found the building that I intended to buy and renovate and it was very affordable and in a perfect location. I saw the cute perky blonde teacher there, who was quite popular but did not yet have her own studio, and hopefully would work with me. It was all perfect.

However, despite having my property on the market for over a year, I got zero offers even when I dropped the price well below what it was worth. My tenant wanted to buy the beautiful house that Hawk and I had built, but she could not get a loan despite having a great job as a firefighter/paramedic and being a military veteran. The County decided to revoke my homestead and raised the property taxes by 43%. As a result, I could no longer afford to rent out the home because the rental income was not enough to cover the mortgage, income tax, property tax and insurance, and without the homestead, on the verge of bankruptcy, we would be left with only the aging trailer.

The trailer, meanwhile, due to a series of events including roof and plumbing leaks, rats, fire, flood and black mold, became unsuitable for yoga students after January 2013. It was awkward enough inviting strangers over to our humble mobile home prior to this. I felt ok with the few regular students who were close friends, but I really wanted a larger studio that was separate from our living quarters. Spacious, airy and peaceful, with rainbows dancing from the skylights, Lothlorien House would be an ideal yoga studio and retreat center! Although still located out in the boondocks, at least it wasn't a trailer and might be worth the drive.

With regard to the depressed local economy and my past ambivalence about charging money for a spiritual practice, I discussed this at some length with friends and fellow teachers, especially Justin Kaye, and ultimately decided to teach yoga on a non-profit donation basis at Lothlorien House, to share the gift of Yoga with everyone regardless of their ability to pay. I felt really good about this decision.

Of course, then the problem remained as to how I would pay the mortgage. When my step-mom died as a result of her chemotherapy "treatments" at the end of October 2012, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience continue to participate in the oncology industry and I quit my medical job. I continued to offer a comprehensive holistic wellness/personal training program including yoga, pilates, nutrition and lifestyle modification for a fee, but I only had a couple of clients. It soon became apparent that the people who most needed my holistic counseling service could least afford it. They were often unemployed and struggling with medical bills while seeking to recover from the toxic side effects of mainstream medicine.

We tried various other business ventures, such as putting the horses to work with Our Equestrian Program at Lothlorien, and Clean & Green by Design, which was a fabulous idea - cleaning toilets for a living so I could teach yoga for free! but unfortunately got no business despite extensive advertising. I put in more and more hours on the psychic line but could only make about $20 a day at best.

In the spring of 2013 I became very ill as a result of exposure to the black mold in the trailer, a powerful immunosuppressant, and I had a relapse of CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome), a diagnosis which mainstream doctors had assured me was "incurable" back in 1994 in California. They said, "You will never work again" and put me on Disability, but my SSDI was turned down when I moved to Florida. At that time I embarked on a serious study of holistic medicine which put my disease into remission, much to the surprise of the doctors, and I had believed it was totally "cured" until the relapse. It was humbling to be struck down like that.

The renovations proceeded very slowly and the Grand Opening, originally planned for the Solstice, was delayed several times. When I was able I cleaned, painted and decorated lovingly, chanting japa and picturing my student's happy faces as they would enjoy Lothlorien House in the future. At some point I re-injured my "wonky" shoulder and had to take a break for a couple of weeks. I did get a few calls for the cleaning & design business when I was too sick to work and/or in the midst of renovations here. I had just begun to regain my strength by July, when I caught strep throat from a child who was an [allegedly "noncontagious"] asymptomatic carrier, an indication of the fragile status of my immune system and a reminder that my employment options were quite limited.

Some days I was too tired to even do asana and didn't have the verbal skills or presence of mind to be able to read the Tarot on the psychic lines. I was using credit cards to pay the mortgage, property taxes and groceries, falling ever deeper into debt. Nevertheless, as I lay in my waterbed, my body wracked with pain, weak as a kitten, I was in a blissful meditative state, embraced by Divine Love, with total confidence that everything was unfolding as it should. I was not upset. I was not worried. I knew that my body would heal, as it had in the past, and I would soon be teaching yoga at Lothlorien House. Everything would be ok. The cleaning and design business would pick up, or the psychic line would become busier.

By the end of July I had managed to finish the renovations on the studio, although the guest suite still was not done. A potential student had called the previous week and I decided to go ahead and open up for students. I called to tell her we were now open and she did not respond. I posted photos of the beautiful new studio and engaged in vigorous promotion, with zero results. Even the people who had seemed the most excited about yoga at Lothlorien House had lost interest by the time we opened. This was not at all what I had expected. I also emailed all my previous students and, to my surprise, nobody was interested. Apparently they had all moved on, every last freaking one of them. But, they don't need me - I'd already taught them the basic technology of the yoga practice that they can do at home, which was after all the whole point.

I continued to feel that everything was fine and that God would send the students who were supposed to come here. I also applied for a position with an online counseling agency from India which did not require U.S. licensing, and was thrilled when they accepted me! Finally I had a job in my field as a Master's level psychologist. This was an answered prayer. Surely now things were looking up. However, my new counseling job failed to generate any income in the first few weeks, and I realized that I would not be able to pay the mortgage in September.

So, then I did what I swore I would never do: I went crawling back to beg for my old medical job which was dharmically and emotionally inappropriate for me, as well as financially inadequate - but I had completely run out of other options. As it so happened, my former boss was thrilled to hear from me, and in fact had been trying to find my email address earlier that day to get in touch because she needed my help! I was simultaneously relieved to have a job, any job, and heartbroken that it had to be this one. I couldn't believe that I was once again working for the oncology industry that I despised. I rationalized that I wasn't personally lying to the patients and their families, giving them false hope, burning them and injecting poison into their bodies while bankrupting them; I was only doing the paperwork, but... I cried all night.

One of my fellow Heart of Yoga teachers had posted on Facebook, "If you take care of the Dharma, the Dharma will take care of you." I argued with the Lord. "Really?!" I said. "I have done my part. I have followed my dharma to the best of my ability. I have given 110% when I had nothing left to give, with absolute faith. Now I must compromise my integrity by taking this job and it won't even pay the bills! How is the Dharma taking care of me?!"

I was quite upset but still, at that point, I continued to believe that everything would work out. I told myself that I could endure working in oncology, as well as my other jobs - the psychic line, the counseling service and whatever cleaning work I could get - if it would pay the mortgage so that I could keep Lothlorien House open for yoga students. Which, of course, there were none as of yet, but surely they would come. Everyone including Hawk assured me, "If you build it, they will come."

The first day back on my medical job I was still kind of in shock or denial, and extremely tired. I had not yet realized the full implications of what was happening. At the end of the next workday it suddenly dawned on me: Wait - how am I going to teach yoga when I am trying to juggle 4 other jobs?! The reality of the situation and my new work schedule hit me like a ton of bricks. I became angry. I had given my full trust and felt utterly betrayed! I was perfectly willing to do anything. I would have been happy to clean toilets for a living, in order to fulfill my dharma of teaching yoga. What more did the universe expect from me?!

Then I second-guessed myself. Maybe I hadn't visualized it clearly enough, or my intent wasn't sufficiently pure? Maybe I was too negative or my faith wasn't strong enough? Should I have kept the house on the market longer, lowered the price even more, or gone with a different realtor? If only I had stayed in California. If only I hadn't moved to Panama City, Florida. etc.

The next wave of emotion was a deep aching sorrow to the core of my being that my one remaining desire in this life - to teach yoga, the thing I know and love best, the thing that I most want to share with the world, the gift I have to offer to people - was not going to happen. Instead I was being forced to take a job that went against my dharma and made me feel dirty and which, adding insult to injury, wouldn't even pay enough to keep a roof over my head.

But, then I had to ask myself: Is this one desire worth coming back here? Assuming reincarnation is true (and who knows, really, because there is no empirical way to determine what actually happens after we die) - would I allow this seed of unfulfilled desire to bring me back into the rat race when I have already tasted Freedom? As a Christian I've been taught that I have a one-way paid ticket Home and the Gita also hints at that, salvation by Divine Grace. But what if it's wrong? What if, in fact, an earthly desire - however noble - can generate karma to keep the whole damn thing going?

Even more importantly, though, this unfulfilled desire was causing resentment which was damaging to my relationship with the Lord here and now - the relationship which is the whole point of my yoga practice, indeed my life! I had to let it all go. Ishvarapranidhana. "I lay it all at Your feet. I give up. Please, don't let this or anything else come between us!" I proceeded to do my evening practice.

As I inhaled, coming up from a deep forward bend, I felt something break loose from muladhara and heard a familiar roar like being in the tube of a wave, along with bell-like ringing, the Music of the Spheres, that I had not experienced in ages. All of my kundalini "phenomena" had happened many years ago, in my 20s. In recent years there had been mostly just deep silence, Love and ecstatic bliss. I felt the powerful vibration surge up my spine and out the top of my head and when it was over I realized with absolute clarity: The "manifesting" had, in fact, worked! It had worked really well.

In the first few months after I had stated my intention to sell the property and open the new studio on the beach to take care of all the students who were calling, 3 new studios had opened up there, one of which belonged to the perky blonde teacher, just a few doors down from the building I had wanted to buy. As of today there are 7 yoga studios on Panama City beach, and 10 on this part of the coast. There was no deficiency of focus, impurity of intent, unclarity of vision or lack of qualification on my part. I simply lacked the monetary capital which the project required and which other people were able to invest. The "manifestation" was never about me, it was about the students. Their need has been met. The students now have plenty of yoga teachers at the beach.

Granted, it is not Heart of Yoga - Real Yoga from the Source, the seamless blend of asana, pranayama, bandha and meditation, hatha, tantra, bhakti, even advaita, everything all woven together in one deceptively simple yet extremely powerful system; asana as moving meditation, whole-body prayer. Nobody else is teaching this. Hawk and I are the only Heart of Yoga teachers in Florida now that Justin has moved back up north. But maybe the students don't want HOY. Maybe they just want a good workout for $5 at a studio in a nice, convenient location that has childcare. Maybe they want to be taught by a younger teacher who can look pretty with her foot behind her head, a teacher who will push them to do more difficult poses resulting in a sense of accomplishment and pride, who will assure them, "You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it!"

"If you can dream it, you can be it." Well yes, I can be it; I AM it. And if I can dream it, I can also die to it.

I'm not confused about my dharma. I'm not waiting for some guru or angel or voice from the sky to tell me what the hell I am supposed to be doing in this life. I know that I did not incarnate to type oncology reports. I have absolutely no doubt that it is in fact my dharma to teach yoga as whole-body prayer. But, I now realize that doesn't mean the economy will support me in doing it.

People here in this little redneck town in the Bible Belt probably question whether "body" and "prayer" even belong in the same sentence, because the flesh is evil, after all. In any case they aren't willing to drive 45 minutes out into the boondocks to learn more about it. Although I have a big following of students from India, apparently nobody here in Panama City is interested. And that's ok. The dream has died. It is not my burden to carry anymore. I'm free again. I will enjoy my private practice, and everybody else can piss off.

Lothlorien House is our peaceful sanctuary. It is a romantic tantric retreat for Hawk and me. And yoga is our refuge in the midst of chaos, our ecstatic relationship with each other and with the Divine, which as long as we can breathe, will still be ours even if we become homeless. As we continue our real-world efforts to prevent that from happening, if anybody seriously wants to learn Heart of Yoga we will do our best to make time for them. But I'm not holding my breath.

Yoga for Christians - Not Such a Stretch

(07/31/2013)

I have discussed in previous posts (1) some of the objections raised against the practice of yoga by Christians. Specifically, I pointed out that Dr. Albert Mohler's argument against yoga on the basis that (he says) it uses sexual energy, while the body/sexuality is unspiritual, clearly has its roots in ascetic gnosticism rather than orthodox Christian theology, and denies the goodness of God's creation and the fundamental premise of the Incarnation, not to mention the sacraments. My readers responded that they really weren't at all concerned about the Southern Baptist's opinion of yoga or of sexuality, nor were they particularly interested in nit-picky theological distinctions about the Incarnation.

Later I addressed comments by a retired priest who, it turns out, was not in fact speaking as a representative of the Vatican when he said at a film festival that yoga is Satanic, in that it allegedly leads to Hinduism (i.e. demon worship) and a belief in reincarnation. Upon further investigation, I was relieved to learn that according to the official Vatican documents which actually discuss yoga, among other spiritual practices, there is nothing satanic about it per se, so long as caution is exercised and the focus is kept on God rather than the ego. My readers, however - including the Catholics - yawned and informed me that nobody gives a damn what the Vatican says anyway.

I have also discussed the idea that God is both immanent and transcendent (panentheism - God is the omnipresent Source and everything is in God) and its implications for experiencing the presence of God in meditative practices. As Paul said, "He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:27-28). This concept, which was embraced by Vatican II and subsequently rejected as heresy by "traditionalist" Catholics as well as fundamentalist evangelicals, who insist that God is not, in fact, within us, failed to generate much enthusiasm either way among my readers.

I suppose I should have learned from these previous endeavors that such discussions are a moot point, since essentially nobody cares about the opinions of fundamentalist Christians with regard to yoga. But, as a Christian minister and a yoga teacher, I care. Or rather, I am concerned about the potential negative impact on Christians who might otherwise benefit from doing yoga but may hesitate based on these erroneous claims.

Today I will address Pastor Mark Driscoll's assertion that yoga is demonic, "a spiritual act to a being other than the God of the Bible."

Like Dr. Mohler, Pastor Driscoll deserves credit for correctly pointing out that yoga is actually more than mere physical exercise. He quotes Elliot Miller of The Christian Research Journal as stating the root word is "yoke" and that "union is desired with nothing less than God or the Absolute, and yoga is the system that Hindus have developed to achieve that end." So far, so good. Driscoll then goes on to say, "The history of yoga is overwhelmingly spiritual in practice and the postures of yoga are only one aspect of yoga, and they are part of a broader system aimed at union with God and attaining enlightenment." Again, this is true.

However, according to Driscoll this is a bad thing, because he believes that yoga is a purely Hindu practice which can only lead to union with Hindu gods. He supports this position by pointing out that some Hindus have formed a movement to "take back yoga" as part of their religious heritage which has been stolen and secularized by the West. He states that yoga cannot be separated from its Hindu roots. He alleges that for some reason yoga won't "work" in relation to the Christian God, and instead will open up practitioners to possession by Hindu gods, i.e. demons.

And this, I believe, is the source of the confusion. Only the fundamentalists - whether Christian or Hindu - treat yoga as a "religion" devoted to certain specific gods. In fact, the whole premise of there being "different gods" running around competing for our worship, like politicians campaigning for our vote, is alien to yoga. Yogis understand that God is One, there is only God, and that religious mythologies are simply the sociocultural context in which we relate to the various aspects or manifestations of Divinity. On a side note, I cannot help but find it slightly ironic that a Christian pastor who is worried about "other gods" has named his church (Mars Hill) after the temple of a Roman deity, the god of war.

Be that as it may, Driscoll quotes Romans 12:1, "“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” But, that is exactly what we are doing when we practice yoga as whole-body prayer!

Yoga is a system of techniques which can be used by a person of any religion, directed to whatever God they worship in the context of their own cultural tradition and beliefs. Doing the asanas (postures) does not invite "other gods" to take over your body. Nor is it necessary to use Hindu mantras such as "om shrim shriyai namaha" (an invocation to God as the Divine Feminine). Christians can use mantras such as "om Jesus Lord namaha" ("Eternal Word, Jesus, I bow to You.") "Om," by the way, refers to the primordial sound or original vibration of creation, which for Christians is synonymous with Christ as the Eternal Word, "through Whom all things were made." If, however, one wishes to avoid Sanskrit language entirely, "amen Jesus Christ the Lord," "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me," or other biblical or liturgical phrases may be used instead.

Driscoll's other arguments against yoga are based on a shallow understanding, or misunderstanding, of Vedic theology, perhaps confusing it with New Age thinking. He interprets "union with God" as the ego identifying with God. Yogis, however, know that technically the only reality is God, to Whom the ego must surrender, much as St. Paul says in Galations 2, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." Driscoll also states that Hindusim, and therefore yoga, is an "autosoteric" system (salvation based on self-effort) which denies the grace of God. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Hindus would agree with James that "faith without works is dead," a central premise of Vedic scripture is that God is ultimately the only doer, and that only by God's grace are we saved. "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart and is directing the wanderings of all living entities. Surrender unto Him utterly and by His grace you will attain transcendental peace and the supreme and eternal abode." (Bhagavad Gita Ch. 18:61-61)

Driscoll further argues against Hindu theology on the basis of its being "oneism," monism or panentheism, which he says is incompatible with the Christian understanding of God, although as we have seen, not all Christians would agree with him. He then goes off on a tangent regarding the use of spirits, demons, magic, spells and rituals in order to manipulate reality, which of course has nothing to do with yoga at all, nor with mainstream Hinduism. Regardless, the practice of yoga - asana, pranayama and meditation - does not require a belief in any specific doctrine whatsoever.

In fact, the aim of yoga, or as it would be called in the Christian context, "practicing the Presence," is to transcend dogma, quiet the mind, and simply "be still and know that I am God" - to rest in God's peace and His Love. When we are in that state we are not concerned about theological arguments or doctrinal disputes. We simply enjoy the presence of God, Who is beyond religion and cannot be contained in a man-made box constructed by fundamentalist preachers.

Not that anyone was probably worried anyway - but just in case you were, well, here it is. Enjoy your yoga practice!

(1)

Is Yoga Un-Christian?

Did The Vatican Say Yoga Is Satanic?

Stairway to Heaven - Rockin' Yoga Part 2

She Kicked Her Butt

(05/06/2013)

The other day I heard "through the grapevine" - well actually, from my husband who had heard it from a fellow yoga teacher's husband - that another teacher in town had attended his wife's class and "She kicked her butt!" I asked, "What do you mean, 'kicked her butt'??" My husband replied, "Well, this guy's wife is very buff, she's even more ripped than you, and the other girl just couldn't keep up with her, I mean she wore her out!"

Apparently there is a fairly common practice, at least in our little town, of yoga teachers attending the classes of others, often incognito, for the purpose of assessing their "competition." My studio has been relatively immune from this phenomenon, presumably because nobody considers me "competition." Only one yoga teacher, Su Lin, has come to my class. She attended 3 times, was extremely friendly, focused and seemed sincerely interested in learning. She was clearly too advanced for the basic class I was teaching. She told me that she had taught yoga in Japan and shared one of her textbooks with me, which unfortunately I couldn't read. I offered to go over the more advanced stuff privately with her, but due to a significant language barrier we never got very far. On her last visit she graciously gave me a lovely pair of beautiful silky pants from Japan which were labeled "Extra Large" and she said she believed they were my size, which could have been an insult although I suppose a size 6 would be "XL" in Japan, and anyway they are quite comfortable. I subsequently learned she has opened her own studio in town which in addition to yoga offers massage and other holistic therapies; all the best to you, Su Lin!

The only other local teacher who has expressed interest in studying with me is Trace Moeck-Martin, who shares my understanding of "yoga as a devotional practice," and I would like to have her teach at Lothlorien if we can ever find a mutually agreeable time in our busy schedules.

So anyway, while I know the practice exists, I found my husband's story troubling for a couple of reasons. For one thing, from the ego standpoint of pure vanity, I was quite surprised to hear him describe the other teacher as "more ripped" than me. Certainly I am not the most buff person in the world. However, in this very small southern redneck town where diet and lifestyle are generally not optimal, "ripped" women are uncommon and I personally have never met any female here who is as buff as myself, with the possible exception of my farrier, Keely, who lifts horses all day. I am more ripped than some men my own size. In fact, on more than one occasion due to my upper body musculature combined with my unusually androgenous figure - broad shoulders, hardly any waist and very narrow hips - people in bars have asked me if I am a man or "used to be a man." I take this as a compliment. The only other woman I know who actually is more ripped than me is Trace. You might not see it in her photos, as she is model-thin (bordering on anorexic, IMO, as we often see with vegans), but the fact is, the woman does 100+ pushups a day, whereas I would be lucky to do 20.

Now my husband described the "butt-kicking" yoga teacher as being smaller than me but more muscled, "built like a 13-year-old gymnast." Umkay. But it is unclear what that has to do with yoga. I have never met "the gymnast," and all I know of her background is that she had a "very important guru in Europe" and when my husband offered her a brochure about Mark Whitwell, she rolled her eyes and sniffed condescendingly. The lady who attended her class, whom I also have not met in person and who, like me, is a dancer, appears in her photos a pretty, petite, cheerful, slender blonde who reminds me of a young Madonna. She now has her own studio on the beach, which apparently is quite popular and has the lowest prices in town. The butt-kicking teacher's husband told my husband that his wife was justified in charging more for classes than the blonde based on the fact that she had "kicked her butt" and "really worked her out."

But again, what does this have to do with yoga? Not a damn thing, IMO.

When Lothlorien House opens in June, which will offer yoga classes on a donation basis, I invite any and all serious students to come and study with us. Teachers, non-teachers, beginners, advanced, everyone is welcome. But don't waste my time if you are just looking for a "workout" or "competition." Yes, we do have various exercise/ weight equipment and I offer personal training on the side for a fee. But we are primarily about yoga here - Real Yoga, the classical variety as handed down from T. Krishnamacharya through our teacher, Mark Whitwell, with the emphasis on the breath. You can do this yoga if you are totally ripped, or if you are in a wheelchair. It's not about how the pose looks on the outside, or keeping up with somebody else doing a difficult or extended pose. The fitness aspect, if any, is secondary. The purpose of yoga is how it makes you feel inside, experiencing your oneness with the Source. It is a devotional practice, whole-body prayer. We're not here to kick your butt. You can go to any gym for that.

Personally, I am quite glad that our style of yoga does not require fitness, because at 50 my strength is not what it used to be, and I intend to keep practicing yoga when I am very old, in devotion and as preparation for a happy death. Someday we will all leave this body regardless of how fit we may be.

Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing

(08/23/2012)

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you, my students and friends, that unless things significantly improve by then, Body Soul Bliss at Lothlorien will close its doors next summer. That is when our liability insurance expires and I cannot justify renewing it when I will in all likelihood have to get a “regular job” of some kind, maybe at Publix or Home Depot. I really hope this will not happen, but honestly I am not optimistic.

In retrospect I wish I had gotten into the yoga business sooner. Although I’ve been practicing yoga since 1976 and teaching since 1980, until a few years ago I never entertained the idea of teaching yoga for a living. I didn’t think it was practical, and I also felt a bit uneasy about accepting money for doing this “spiritual” activity. I had taught for free until the late 1980s when I spent many lunch breaks from my real job hanging out doing yoga and meditation on the back porch of a New Age store down the street in Berkeley. The owner asked me if I would be willing to teach, and I agreed. To my surprise they offered to pay me $20 per student per hour and nobody seemed to think this was expensive. So I taught there “on the side” while continuing with my regular job as Operations Manager (i.e. glorified secretary). I moved to Southern California and had various other secretarial jobs and eventually went into medical transcription, which was quite lucrative for a few years until our jobs started going overseas during the Bush administration. I moved to Florida to be near family and continued my private yoga practice but paid little attention to what was happening with yoga in the world outside my little farm north of Panama City.

Only when the medical transcription work petered out in 2009 and I needed to find another way to make a living, did I consider yoga – and only by process of elimination. You see, I’m really not qualified to do much of anything else. My philosophy and psychology degrees are useless and jobs here are scarce. When I read in a mainstream medical journal, “Yoga demonstrated to have health benefits” and it was being promoted by doctors, I thought, “Hey, this is actually a service that I can provide!” We turned our double-wide “manufactured home” into a yoga studio/retreat house and Yoga at Lothlorien opened for business. This little redneck hick town in the Bible Belt (yoga is satanic, you know!) was already FULL of yoga studios, far in excess of the demand, and the going rate was just about $10-12/hour. Nevertheless I was quite optimistic, as I had finally found my calling in life. How obvious it now seemed, that this is what I should have been doing all along! If only I had realized it years ago and gotten established prior to the Yoga Alliance takeover and the recent boom in studios.

Since opening in 2009 I’ve had some students here at Lothlorien and a couple of gigs teaching at other places, but unfortunately nothing has been steady. I keep losing students. In my more paranoid moments I think it is because I am a bad teacher. However, I have never gotten a single complaint about my teaching. Rather, the consistent theme has been: $$, or lack thereof. Everybody is broke. They say $10 is too much. For $10 a student can buy a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread to feed her family. Yoga is a luxury. Besides, the cost of gas – Lothlorien is out in the boondocks. I get calls from potential students at the beach all the time who are very interested, until they learn our Arnold Road is NOT the Arnold Road on the beach. I can’t blame them. Why should they drive 45 minutes to pay $10 for a class in a trailer, especially given their options at the beach?!

Back in December I decided to sell the house that Hawk and I built in order to buy a studio on the beach, to answer the demand there for yoga. I didn’t want to sell the house, but it was the only way to get out of debt as well as to fulfill my dharma. In the 9 months since I made that decision, not only have I had ZERO offers on the house, but also, 3 new yoga studios have opened on the beach! One is very luxurious. Another has all kinds of classes – some type of “yoga” and zumba, pilates, ballet, etc. for just $7, or $6 if you pay in advance. Plus they have childcare! Other teachers in town now offer classes for $5 or sometimes for free. We simply cannot compete with that.

Yes, it’s true that we are the only Heart of Yoga studio in town, in fact one of just 2 in Florida. This is REAL yoga from the source, and there’s nothing like it! But people are mostly just looking for “a workout.” We can do that here, of course. I can work your ass out, to be sure! We have weights and everything, but you can get it much cheaper at a gym. And Lothlorien is the only studio around here to offer Equine Assisted Learning – “yoga with horses” and riding lessons. But nobody is able and/or willing to pay for it.

Meanwhile, I am weary of teaching in my home studio, in this trailer where we now live, Hawk and myself and 2 cats, and can only fit 3 students at a time in our converted living room. I really need a yoga studio separate from our home. The beautiful house we built (which is currently being rented out) would be PERFECT for a yoga studio/retreat! However, upon doing the math, we can’t afford it. The studio would need to generate a minimum of $1000 per month in order to pay the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities. And that’s just not happening.

So, if it’s still not happening by summer of 2013, we will close. It breaks my heart because I do believe at age 49 that this is why I am here on earth – to teach yoga – but I could be mistaken. Maybe teaching yoga belongs to the young, beautiful, skinny and rich. Maybe it’s really my destiny to have a job stocking shelves at Publix (I don’t even know how to use a cash register), or helping people find tools at Home Depot, or even an office desk job, which I detest, and hope that it will pay the bills. But, whatever is God’s will. If He wants to strike me down dead with lightning and thereby end the whole “how in the hell am I supposed to make a living?” drama, that’s ok too. Ishvarapranidhana. Or as my mother used to sing to me when I was a little girl, “Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be…”

Mark Whitwell's New Book, The Promise

(07/31/2012)

Here is my review of Mark's wonderful new book on Amazon.com:

The Promise Delivers

The Promise is a deceptively simple, yet extremely powerful, spiritual practice. This technique has been called "advanced yoga for perfect beginners" because it is equally beneficial for experienced yogis and for complete beginners. Don't let the simplicity fool you. Yoga adepts can incorporate this technique into whatever system they are already doing and take it to the next level. After 35 years of a serious yoga practice, a few minutes into doing the Promise my entire reality changed. This is how yoga was supposed to be all along!

Mark purposely avoids using the word "yoga" or any other Sanskrit terminology in this book, except in the "Afterward" where he explains why. His intent was to distill down the essence of the ancient hatha/tantra tradition and present it in religiously neutral modern language, so as to make the practice accessible to EVERYONE and indeed, it is. Unlike the modern notion of "yoga" as acrobatic contortions attainable only by athletic skinny people and/or celibate monks in a Himalayan cave, if you can breathe, you can do the Promise! I have taught it to beginners, "special needs" kids and wheelchair-bound persons and it works great for them.

In addition to providing step-by-step instructions on the basic technique, this book also does a wonderful job of explaining very simply and directly the nondual philosophy of tantrism, a much-needed antidote to the insidious influence of gnostic dualism, "spirit is good, flesh is evil" which has unfortunately pervaded the religious traditions of both East and West. This divorce of body and soul has resulted in estrangement from ourselves, from God and each other. The Promise offers healing, and can be used by people of any religion and all walks of life to re-connect with their faith and realize their spiritual ideals in a tangible manner.

Beyond My Wildest Expectations

(03/31/2012)

As a long-time yoga practitioner and teacher, I am amused by modern social constructs telling us what yoga is and how we ought to perceive it. My own understanding is based on the old-fashioned definition of yoga as “union” – most often described as “union with the Divine,” or the essence of religion, “re-linking.” For those who dismiss the whole idea of the Divine, yoga could also be interpreted as “union of body and soul,” or simply “unity with all that is.”

When I began practicing hatha yoga at age 13 I didn’t know it was supposed to be union with anything; I thought it was just postures. I did practice Zen meditation with the intent of reaching enlightenment. At that time I was an atheist, and it was only years later in college thanks to the Hare Krishnas that union with the Divine became an all-attractive goal, one which might, perhaps, be realized many lifetimes later if I obeyed all the religious rules. Meanwhile I was only permitted to worship Him at a distance and long for Him. This, they said, was the “highest spiritual experience” – pining for the absent Lord. I was not convinced. I would rather have had Him. Meanwhile I was practicing Kriya yoga with SRF and this was supposed to lead to “enlightenment” although it also seemed unlikely to occur in this lifetime.

Some of my fellow teachers and yogis reject the concept of yoga as union with the Divine, for a couple of different reasons. For one, there is simply the modern denial of the Divine per se. Religion is perceived as something archaic and limiting that would best be abandoned entirely, or which might have been useful for monastic yogis but is, in any case, irrelevant to the needs of modern householders. Personally, as a former monastic, I find union with the Divine even more useful, indeed necessary, now that I am a householder. There is, however, another more fundamental reason for rejection of that definition: namely, it implies a search for attainment of a union which already exists. The Divine is not absent and thus there is nothing to be attained!

The latter objection can be extended to yoga as a practice to attain spiritual enlightenment, psychological integration, or any type of “self improvement” whatsoever, on the basis that we are perfectly fine exactly as we are and nothing can or need be done! U.G. Krishnamurti went so far as to say that spiritual practices such as yoga/meditation are not only useless, they actually make our human condition WORSE by the implication that we are not ok and that there is a better life to be achieved. This view has become popular in some intellectual circles and it certainly appeals to the modern ego. However, let's be honest, it simply does not jive with our actual experience as human beings. If we’re totally fine the way we are, why do we so often feel miserable? Why this existential malaise?

U.G. would say we are miserable only because we’ve been conditioned by religion and society to expect something better, and we need only let go of our expectations. But, we can’t even do that because in reality there is nobody to let anything go. There is no subject or object, experience is all one and there’s nothing to be done and nobody to do it. That’s all well and good, and it may be strictly true from an ontological standpoint, and intellectually tasty, clever, and gratifying to the monkey-mind. It is also completely unhelpful and provides absolutely no hope or comfort to people struggling with the pain of their existence. But to be fair, U.G. explicitly stated that he had no interest in providing hope or help of any kind, as such was impossible.

Some teachers flirt with a modified form of this viewpoint. They will affirm that we are fine just the way we are, and yet at the same time they will recommend that we do our yoga practice, while insisting that the practice be done “without expectation." Krishna Das says, “One of the biggest impediments to our practice is our own expectation.” This is a deliciously ironic sentence because “impediments” implies a goal to be achieved, i.e., our practice is expected to attain something, which our expectation is impeding us from achieving!

Now, it is true that expectation can result in disappointment and thereby contribute to our existential misery. So by not expecting anything, we can conveniently avoid disappointment in life. However, then we are living from a place of avoidance - the desire to avoid disappointment, which is itself just another trap.

We can have reasonable expectations in life. Our lifestyle choices have predictable results. For example, if I eat a healthy meal I can expect to feel satisfied. If I overeat I will feel bloated. If I stay up late drinking too much I can reasonably expect to feel like sh*t the next day. If I sit on my ass watching t.v. and eating junk food I can expect my ass to get bigger, whereas if I work out and eat a healthy diet my body will respond accordingly. If we practice yoga daily it will have a beneficial effect on our body and mind. There is nothing mysterious here, it's how we are hard-wired.

Needless to say, I would feel silly telling my prospective yoga students, "Do your yoga but don't expect it to have any effect on your life." Modern people are very busy and as a general rule, we won't spend our precious time doing something if we don't expect it to benefit us. Of course the whole concept of "benefit" presupposes that it is possible to improve our condition, which U.G. denies.

My own dear teacher Mark Whitwell, a fan of U.G., has been known to advocate a similar point of view, which I find quite amusing in light of the title of his new book: The Promise of Love, Sex and Intimacy. How a Simple Breathing Practice Will Enrich Your Life Forever. Why should we “enrich” our life if it’s already perfect? Why do yoga or breathing practices? Why do anything? It’s all good, right?! Except, again, from an experiential standpoint it really ISN’T, which as T.K. Desikachar points out, is why people are motivated by pain and unhappiness to turn to yoga in the hope of improving their lives. And there IS hope!

If yoga is to be done “without expectations” then clearly no “promise” can be made because there can be no expectation of its fulfilment. In fact, however, despite the intellectual assertions or mind games suggesting otherwise, the promise of yoga is genuine: There is an appropriate yoga for each person, and if it is actually practiced daily, it will change your life. I can attest to this from my own personal experience.

Last May, after practicing yoga for 35 years, my life utterly changed 3 minutes into doing Mark’s breathing technique. I assumed it was due to that technique, although perhaps it was mere coincidence; I can't help wondering whether it might have happened much sooner, had I been practicing the Heart of Yoga technique all along. In any case, at that moment, the promise of yoga was fulfilled for me and it has exceeded my wildest expectations. I don’t call it “enlightenment.” (1) I don’t feel particularly “enlightened.” I don’t know anything that I didn’t know before. It feels like “liberation.” In the past I had imagined “enlightenment” as a sort of detached, impassive state without preference or feelings. Instead, in this state that yoga has given me, all human feelings remain and indeed, perhaps more vivid than before, as there is no resistance. The weight of existence has been lifted from my shoulders. There is still pain but nobody is really suffering because this “self” such as it is, has become transparent, merely a function of Life enjoying this particular experience as “me.” The veil has been lifted. Union with the Divine – which was the case all along because, duh, the Lord never actually went anywhere! – is finally realized as an actuality, not an abstract concept.

But, apparently I’m not supposed to say that. You see, there are those who (contrary to U.G.) recommend yoga practices as a means to reach a goal which they call variously “enlightenment” or “liberation” or “divine union.” They assert that yoga is designed to produce this result. But at the same time, they imply that it won’t really work – not for you or me, not in this lifetime, anyway. Maybe for monks in Tibet or Rishikesh, but not for ordinary human beings – especially women. If and when the yoga practice which they recommend actually does work for you, you’re not allowed to SAY that it worked. It’s kind of like an exclusive secret club and the boys in charge are very particular about membership, and silly little rock & roll surfer girls are not allowed. But, never mind me. I actually know several other people for whom this has happened and many others who are obtaining real benefit, although maybe not to that extent (yet). Yoga has been practiced by millions of people over the last several thousand years and it does, in fact, “work.” It is a tried and true system which allows us to experience our natural state, here and now, to feel and celebrate the Divine union which already exists.

So here’s what you can expect, yes, EXPECT: First, if you attend my “Rockin’ Yoga” class (2) at Body Soul Bliss you can expect to have the hell rocked out of you by Led Zep, Jimi Hendrix, Alanis, Motley Crue, Ozzy and friends. If you prefer mellow music you may hear Mark Whitwell’s “Pure Love Project” or some Indian tantric music. Or we can practice in silence. Either way, we will do asanas according to your ability, the movement always contained within and guided by the breath. We can do challenging asanas if you want, but ultimately it’s all about the breath. You will be solo or with a couple of other students. The class ends with a brief “meditation” which is to say, we will do pranayama, maybe chanting, and then sit silently and by grace you may experience meditation. I can’t promise that you will experience Divine union, especially if the Divine is not real to you. But I do promise that you will experience Something. You may experience bliss or ecstasy. At the very least, you will leave here feeling better than you did when you arrived.

If you faithfully continue the yoga practice, as my teacher calls it, this "discipline of pleasure," at home on a daily basis (which is the whole point, after all), over time your life will change. The meditative or unitive state that you experience while doing yoga will begin to spill over into the rest of your daily life. Your relationship with yourself, God/the universe, your spouse/lover, and other people will improve. Problems won’t magically vanish, there will still be pain, but life will flow and you will be able to handle it. You will experience the joy in simple things. You will enjoy your life. Sex will be even more profoundly pleasurable. You may also get more toned and physically look better, but that is a fringe benefit. Don’t take my word for it. Just do it.

(1) (see my previous blog post, “Why I Could Give a Rat’s Ass About Enlightenment”)

(2) Unfortunately we are not allowed to play music anymore because we cannot afford the licenses from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.