Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Drowned Studio

I got married and moved from Chicago to Houston last fall, where my husband is based. We bought a house in a wooded area overlooking a ravine, with a studio space in its lower level where I placed my art and artifacts. I am an economist by day and an artist by night. Over the years I had created works on paper, collages, printed photographs in a darkroom set up in my pantry, and exhibited them regularly. I had collected art from local artists in Chicago and my many travels. As an immigrant away from her home country, I also kept boxes of family photos, handwritten letters, childhood slides, and memorabilia from my late father’s world travels. All of these I kept in that space. The day before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the rains arrived in Houston, my husband and I moved all these items as well as his architecture school drawings and blue prints to higher shelves in the studio. We prepared ourselves and our belongings for a potential flood of 3-4 feet. This room flooded at an all time high up to its ceiling.

A week later entry was still impossible and a demolition crew had to use axes to break through its doors on Labor day. I geared up with boots, a mask and gloves to be present when they broke in. It was impossible to step in the room: everything had come down - sheetrock, ceiling, furniture, paint and all the items we had meticulously saved” were now in ruin and become a mixture of mud and water. Some items had floated up by the high waters and attached on top: a brush stuck on the wet wall, small boxes atop the visible skeleton of the room. In the darkness of the room, the first thing I felt was assault, a blow to things I had worked hard for. The first image that appeared sitting face-up on a pile of debris was a photograph of a dance group in Iran who performed at our wedding. It was surreal to see everything destroyed but also beautiful to be reminded of happy times. A new perspective was forming.

The crew spent a full day taking mounds of debris out of this zone of carnage, deconstructing what was already destroyed. As they pulled various boxes and handed them to me with a sense that I interpreted as sympathy, they waited patiently as I kneeled on the muddy porch scavenging through the smelly piles. It was sad and heartbreaking to see packs of photographs, handwritten letters, and my memories stuck together in contaminated fluid. In a state of mourning, I started frantically taking photos of what was visible and salvageable: a photo of my late father and myself, one of my sister and my mother, letters with now illegible phrases, friends from the past, grandparents long gone, ex loves from pre digital era. They appeared smiling, as if wishing me strength.

At first the sense was a sense of loss; loss of things that you hang on to and cherish. I felt guilt and remorse for not having moved things to the first floor (which also flooded but not as intensely). I was angry at having bought a house near a bayou. I felt sadness that most of these images were not digital or digitized and the negatives were not salvageable. All of my sculptural artworks were absolutely destroyed. The chemical from the negatives and slides and the flood water had washed down on photo papers and created new abstract images. Amid the mixed feelings and the frenzy of not hindering the work of the demolition crew, I ended up in a creative frame of mind: that vortex of peace and serenity that one experiences when deeply immersed in the creative process. It was as if I was back in a darkroom, where nothing else mattered but the creation at hand. The abstract and washed out images had transformed into beautiful visuals that spoke of loss but also of happiness. They showed both sides of an emotion. The same way that one can experience moments of calmness and peace when going through the loss of a loved one. These images were a visual manifestation of that sensation.

Working against a backdrop of a flooded bayou on the results of years of concentrated creativity and treasured collectibles covered in brown muck, my sadness, guilt and anger changed into appreciation, gratitude and healing. If these objects could resurrect themselves - why couldn’t I?  I kept a few things. Cleaned them to the extent possible, dried them for days and stored them in new boxes. What I have salvaged from the flood is a number of washed down photos and muddy canvases, but more importantly a reminder that no matter how hard or devastating a situation is, you can try to find something to hang on to and gain hope. I shared my array of feelings through my social media outlet: Instagram – sharing photos of the new version of the past through photographs. My followers felt their own sense of awe, expressed mixed emotions, and said things such as: "glad you shared because it reminds us of the bubbles we live in," "tragically beautiful," "Harvey is quite an artist," "getting perspective as we prepare to evacuate for Irma," "interesting how there is always, always room for gratitude,” etc.

As I lost my physical art studio that I loved and most of my cherished artworks, I gained a new project: I plan to exhibit a series of these salvaged images for raising funds for the victims of the Harvey floods, especially those whose livelihood was damaged and lost much more than I did. The message would be one of hope and resilience and the beauty found in ruin.

My Instagram feed: @avishehmoh

Avisheh Mohsenin,

Houston, September 13, 2017

The Houston Chronicle picked up the story and kindly published it:


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Burning Man 2015

 I was convinced to go to Burning Man (BM) by my sister who had been there before. As a California resident it becomes inevitable not to experience this almost 30 year old festival.

It is something that started as a playful, experimental exercise by a San Francisco artist and with 8 people, where they gathered by the beach and burned an effigy of a man, and got written up in the local newspaper the next day and so kept the 'ritual' for years to come. They grew too big for SF at some point so they moved it to a remote Nevada desert, 3 hours from the Reno airport, and 8-10 hours drive from both SF and Los Angeles. This year 70,000 joined this "ritual" from all over the world. There are burning man alike festivals all over the world, and celebrities such as Susan Sarandon were there this year paying homage to another deceased friend and celebrity, leaving their ashes at the BM temple.

The Stage: a 5 miles by 5 miles desert with harsh conditions. The "playa."

The Actors: people from all walks of life and ages, in costume, goggles, tutus, and fur coats for the desert nights. The "pilgrims."

The Score: best DJs flown from all over the world, mostly techno/psychedelic music.

The Duration: A week leading to the first Monday of September (labor day in US).

The Set Design: International professional and amateur artists.Materials used includes wood, metal, concepts, reused material, fire installations, and more.

Mode of Transport on the Playa: bicycles only. Customized and decorated with light in order to find it among 1000s of other bikes at your points of stop. They look like "Playa Bugs"

Synopsis: an exercise of letting go, connecting, not worrying, belonging, loving, & testing your limits in a harsh environment. Enjoy music, dance, make new friends & learn about community.


BM before anything is about scale. The scale of the desert, the scale of the artworks, the scale of the sleepless night, the scale of no obligations and no limits and the scale of anticipation and excitement.

BM is also similar to many religious rituals. The Shia Ashura for example, where you have ornamentation, music, crowds connecting in tight encounters, and givings: food in Ashura vs. hugs and love at BM. Also there is a rule of no money can be exchanged at the festival. You also have a lot of introspection, mostly aided by drugs (Acid being the drug of choice just like the 1960s) and freedom in expression of how you dress, decorate yourself, and what kind of camp you set up. This freedom has caused a loving and caring community and not a college kind of drunken craziness. This is partly due to the fact that it still is a kind of elite gathering, where you have to know about it, and want to go to it; and partly because it is expensive (tickets are $300/head and it is costly to set up camps and get there and prepare for the harshness of the desert). It is also that the massiveness yet simplicity of the desert as the foreground and the background is humbling and quieting. The harshness of the sand storms and the heat calms and regulates the potential craziness and violence that can be pumped by drugs, alcohol, nudity and absolute freedom.

As a Mexican shaman there told me as he was tossing and turning me in some acrobatic yoga poses there: "We have a lot to learn from the desert people."

The Temple is one of the 2 center pieces of this ritualistic gathering. It sits across from the 'man' (the other center piece). It started with an invited artist to do something like that in the late 1980s. Today it has become a beautiful architectural and artistic production, each year more interesting than the last. Its relationship to the 'pilgrims' is reminiscent of the Muslims' Hajj, or any temple or place of worship, where you have fouls of people pouring their hearts out, meditating, connecting, praying, crying.

The overall scene is one of a community. In a 5 miles by 5 miles radius, camps are set up in an organized and numbered fashion, you immediately have a 'home' and neighbors. You share the public bathroom (no showers) with them, unless you have an RV with one in it. The rules are to help each other out, and to barter things if you need anything without accepting or asking for money. One of the items in the Manifesto is "gifting". Most people plan for this and come with handmade jewelry for example or prepare things to eat/drink or give a service (pop up showers, a massage, singing for you... you name it... ).  There are kids, old people, young people, from all walks of life. I met an IBM executive from the US who lives in China now but comes for BM every year. I talked to a monastic yogi who is in the tech world, i met a shaman who is an energy healer, and partied with groups of cool Iranians from LA, SF, Texas and Canada.

You connect and talk to people. There are no boundaries or walls, everyone is at their best, in a sort of utopia where class, gender, status, and race does not matter. these distinctions do not matter, to the point that some adopt a stage name, pen name, pseudo name that expresses their likes and wants and soul, a "playa name." This connecting from the core, clean of titles and names and boxes and frameworks is the essence of BM; the most beautiful part of this gathering and the saddest at the same time: why can't we have this in the larger scale in the world? what happens that when we leave the Playa everyone is back to their boxed ideas, negative feelings and pre-conceptions and violence to whatever extent that a crowed like this is prone to and capable of (honking, road rage, grudges, bitterness... none of this is there o the playa, why can't we keep it that way outside of the playa?)

The second thing is that you are reduced to your childhood form. By that I mean, you ride bicycles (and only that is allowed on the playa), are dressed silly, or funny, or are naked or half naked, as you wish, similar to when you were a toddler and before you subscribed into 'systems' and 'rules' and 'norms'. You  have this huge playground. It is filled with inspiration, things to do, huge art carts that go around blasting music, everyone is happy, there are no 'soucis' but only FOMO (a hipster terms for Fear of Missing Out) and dehydration or not finding your friends at the next playground or fun event. This is truly the best part of it: you are void of obligations, time restrictions and judgment. Everyone loves you, cares for you, is nice to you, you are a child again, safe and happy. The environment is filled with grandeur, beauty, and music. Similar to what you thought the world would be when you were a child. I don't think there is any other place or event that creates this kind of a reduction to the basics.

The temple like I said is similar to any Imamzadeh I have been to in Iran, it is humbling to see how this urge to shed suffering and sadness is shared by all humans, and it is sad to see how we could have had the same benefits of such places of worships without them being so manipulated by institutionalized religion. Sitting there meditating, crying or praying, you can only think of how connected all people are to each other. Your sorrows and problems immediately pale to nothing in comparison to others' suffering that are expressed on the walls. The walls inside and outside are COVERED with writings, nick-knacks, wedding gowns, images of family and pets, boxes, drawing, toys, threads etc. They are left there to be cremated on the last day of the festival as the temple burns to ashes. This is the last major event where everyone gathers in silence and cries in a collective sob, with occasional shouts of "Mom I miss you" or "Mary I love you." Again a sort of crowd hysteria that you experience in a concert, in a crowded bazaar, or anywhere where you get a synergy of the human energies.

Someone wrote on its walls: "Like a split in the river, we may end up in different directions, but we will always hare the same water. I will see you in the ocean of love."

The 'man burn' which was done from the early years of BM, was less 'spiritual'. it was more of a fireworks spectacle this year and not as moving as the temple burn or the burning of the artworks.

A lot of the large scale artworks are also burnt, and most are dismantled to be carried back to the studios where they were made. This transience and ephemerality of the artworks is similar to works by land artists. Andy Goldsworthy, for example. The Scottish land and environmental artist who wakes up at 5AM to build a huge ice sculpture from natural materials without using any glue or screws that will be melted by noon as soon as he is done with the work. I have always been extremely touched by artists who do that. Less by those who destroy their works, but more by those who make work that is ephemeral, short lived. To their non-attachment to the work, and the utmost emphasis on the 'process' of creation and keeping the effects of that process internally rather than using the results of the process as an 'object', potentially a commercial one. this is of course a whole different subject, but there is something selfless and ritualistic about it, something similar to the Buddhist Mandalas. At BM you have that where the artist has spent months constructing an amazing work, only to burn it after its one week of viewing.

The art is nothing you would showcase at MoMA or Pompidou in my humble opinion. I saw a lot of imitations  and nothing avant-garde or ground breaking. This I think is partly because the 'hippie' art is a retrospective/sharing one that is done with an agenda to fit the concept of this festival. It is not the artworks that will push the discourse in art history forward. This is not the place for that anyway.  This is a place where they want to create art that moves, or inspires, or is interactive. Everything I saw was too charged with meaning and descriptions, a bit too easy, which I take as the vernacular of this festival. That said, I am sure that this has to do to some extent with the lack of the white cube. If some of the same works were displayed in the white cube,  I wonder if I would be more generous and less critical. For example, Boltanski's work could be something that fits here, while I love his works (not matter how easy it might be, I do connect with his melancholic story telling medium), and so I always love them in the museums, but had I seen them on the playa at BM I would probably say the same thing (that they are pedestrian or easy or not pushing any boundaries).

One of the other rules is to not leave any trace. Similar to the Buddhist Mandalas again, you leave the desert with everything you brought, including your shower water (if you set up a shower) and any trash of any kind. The desert goes back to sleep the way we found it and that is a key and moving aspect of this gathering. (these years with the number of people, there are teams of volunteers that stay back for a week or two cleaning up the desert back to its original state.)

There are a lot of ways to discuss experiencing BM, from what I heard from people who have been back a dozen times, each time your experience is different because each time you are different, your moods, what you are seeking or running fro or to is different.

Ejected from the System

Six months had past when M. asked: "is it out of your system yet?" She asked in Farsi where pronouns are gender neutral. She had meant "he." The answer was "no."

In the yoga teacher training course that I took shortly after, I learned two important things: do not hyper-extend, and: the goal of yoga is to tune our inner vibrations with that of the outside. This is to regulate our emotions and energies, and to prepare for meditation. The way to bliss or being content starts with the physical goes through the mental (the mind) and ends up at the spiritual.

The heart breaks, but its home is the body, an organic entity that shares all the physical and quantum characteristics of any other organism. A web of nerves, veins, cartilages, muscles and more all intertwined in a give-and-take relationship. The heart breaks, but the way to heal it ends up starting from the physical through the mind and to the spiritual.

Physically you have to attune yourself to the void created by the departure of the person, you have to change your surrounding in order to minimize the cues that will tell your brain something is gone or is missing; you have to get rid of all reminders and memorabilia. Then as inevitably you are faced with withdrawal, guilt, over-analysis, sadness and anxieties, you will have to resort to the exercises that deal with the mind (meditation, compassionate concentration, etc.).

Suffering is the act of non acceptance. With these tools in hand and with the best catalyst of dealing with any kind of loss, TIME, once you are physically and mentally stronger, you can accept what is and move out of the imbalance and into a spiritual acceptance of what is.

The pain created from the shock of loss is so filling that there is no way to move beyond it than "ejecting it from our system." M. knew what she was talking about and it was only after I had room for love (after months of doing these exercises daily) that I understood what she was saying and how "physical" the experience of loss and especially heartbreak was.

There is one thing that is certain in life and that is 'change.' It all comes down to how to ride the waves of change.
The more in tune and accepting of the shocks and waves one gets, the softer the landing will be....
and being patient of course...
and being optimistic that this is not forever...
and being kind and soft on oneself....
and remembering that things always change...
and knowing that humans are stronger than they think they are....
and believing that it will all be fine at the end, and if it is not fine, it is not the end yet.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

  Expressions of Spirt Yoga Page:  OM the sacred sound of God  
The Core of Yoga
by William J.D. Doran
          The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole. 

This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali,
approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoying lasting peace.

         The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

The EIGHT LIMBS, or steps to yoga, are as follows:
  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine
 The SIX POISONS surrounding the spiritual heart are:
                1. kama (desire)
                2. krodha (anger)
                3. moha (delusion)
               4. lobha (greed)
               5. matsarya (sloth)
               6. mada (envy)

The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhibring the mind under control and when purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons  will, one by one, go, revealing the Universal Self. 

The first two limbs are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

       The yamas are broken down into five "wise characteristics." Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, "they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful." 
They are as follows:
I. Yamas (Universal Morality)
1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things  The word ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness 
Satya means "to speak the truth," yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.

3. Asteya - Non-stealing 
Steya means "to steal"; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.iii   The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time for inconsiderate behavior demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.
4. Brahmacharya - Sense control 
Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
5. Aparigraha - Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth 
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future.v Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.
       The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when these five behaviors outlined above become part of a person's daily life. Thus, the yamas are the moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.

II. Niyama (Personal Observances)
       Niyama means "rules" or "laws."  These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully
1. Sauca - Purity 
The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. "But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride." 
2. Santosa - Contentment Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one's lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything - yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment 'to accept what happens'. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have.
3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy 
Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal.  Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns - these are all tapas.
4. Svadhyaya – Self study The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means "self' adhyaya means "inquiry" or "examination". Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.
5. Isvarapranidhana - Celebration of the Spiritual 
Isvarapranidhana means "to lay all your actions at the feet of God." It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god's will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives. vii
III. Asanas (Body postures)
       Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means "staying" or "abiding" in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being.

The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Indeed, using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unseen elements of their being, the forces that shape our lives through our responses to the physical world. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.
As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that pervades our every aspect of our body. The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit. "This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. 

… This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body." To this B.K.S. Iyengar adds: "The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within."

IV. Pranayama (Breath Control)
       Pranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized. In yoga, we are concerned with balancing the flows of vital forces, then directing them inward to the chakra system and upward to the crown chakra.
Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and the body, respectively. The practices produce the actual physical sensation of heat, called tapas, or the inner fire of purification. It is taught that this heat is part of the process of purifying the nadis, or subtle nerve channels of the body. This allows a more healthful state to be experienced and allows the mind to become more calm. As the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing "the patterns strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration."

V. Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)    
   Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means "nourishment"; pratyahara translates as "to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses." In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.

In pratyahara we sever this link between mind and senses, and the senses withdraw. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint or pratyahara. Now that the vital forces are flowing back to the Source within, one can concentrate without being distracted by externals or the temptation to cognize externals.

       Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around.

       No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp. Under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants. The senses entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things. In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat we eat, but not because we have a craving for food. In pratyahara we try to put the senses in their proper place, but not cut them out of our actions entirely.

       Much of our emotional imbalance are our own creation. A person who is influenced by outside events and sensations can never achieve the inner peace and tranquility. This is because he or she will waste much mental and physical energy in trying to suppress unwanted sensations and to heighten other sensations. This will eventually result in a physical or mental imbalance, and will, in most instances, result in illness.

       Patanjali says that the above process is at the root of human unhappiness and uneasiness. When people seek out yoga, hoping to find that inner peace which is so evasive, they find that it was theirs all along. In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both.

VI. Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)
       Dharana means "immovable concentration of the mind". The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction.  "When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (seeker) reaches the sixth stage, dharana. Here he is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which he is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption."

       In dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and, the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away.

       The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. The particular object selected has nothing to do with the general purpose, which is to stop the mind from wandering -through memories, dreams, or reflective thought-by deliberately holding it single-mindedly upon some apparently static object. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are "all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of 'I' and 'mine'."

       When the mind has become purified by yoga practices, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now we can unleash the great potential for inner healing. 

VII. Dhyana (Devotion , Meditation on the Divine)
       Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when one focuses on the divine they become more reflective of it and they know their true nature. "His body, breath, senses, mind, reason and ego are all integrated in the object of his contemplation – the Universal Spirit."

       During dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and between the subtle layers of perception. "We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived, between words, their meanings, and ideas, and between all the levels of evolution of nature."

       As we fine-tune our concentration and become more aware of the nature of reality we perceive that the world is unreal. "The only reality is the universal self, or God, which is veiled by Maya (the illusory power). As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer. Unhappiness and fear – even the fear of death – vanishes. This state of freedom, or Moksha, is the goal of Yoga. It can be reached by constant enquiry into the nature of things."xvii Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.

VIII. Samadhi (Union with the Divine)
       The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means "to bring together, to merge." In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.

       Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the "I" and "mine" of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.

       The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.

       These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.xviii

Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi
Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga Mind & Body, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
The Essence of Yoga, Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Bernard Bouanchaud

Chicago, June 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hugging a Stranger

That moment when on the train you stand by a young woman weeping quietly.

That moment when you feel her sadness and disappointment through her rolling tears knowing exactly what she is going through.

Those moments when you recognize her look through the blurriness of her experience searching for an understanding, wondering what has just happened, and how she could continue.

That moment when as your stop approaches, you hug her and tell her that you are sorry she is suffering and that you have just gone through it.

That moment when a smile forms on her face as she thanks you before rolling back into her abyss.

That is the moment when you feel some of your own tears have paid off and you get off the train.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


I loved Anthony Bourdain's "23 brilliant life lessons" published the other day. Apparently that is a thing! So for fun, these are mine!

1- Whatever your mother says is true. Trust her and swallow all her words. It will take 40 years to realize this, so just take my word for it.

2- Learn at least one other language. It is one of the best things you can do to yourself.

3- If you are a woman, think hard in your late 20s and early 30s whether you want to have a child or not. If you do, no matter how fit, cool, young, or unprepared you are, make that a priority. There is a terrible myth going around that having children past 40 is a piece of cake. Do not buy that. This trend will be reversed in the next 10 years so get ahead of it.

4- Your friends are the best assets you will ever acquire.

5-  Live within your means.

6- Everyone is really beautiful naked. Once naked it does not matter if you are short, tall, fat, thin, have big breasts or have a mark on your penis. It all really is beautiful.

7- Your 20s and 30s are spent searching for meaning, yourself, planning your life, building your career. Once you are past that you not only still have to search for all that but you have to learn how to deal with loss, wounds, baggages, and more! So try to have fun a little too as it never ends.

8- There is no up without a down, and there is no down without an up.

This also means that Change is Constant. What is not changing is you core. Find it and remember to always come back to it to anchor when you go through change.

9- Laugh really hard and let go for real at least once a week. If not, once a month. The more the better.

10- Meditate. The vibrations of your heart and breath and the more than 60% of the water inside you take you to oceans and help you tune out the bad stuff and tune in to yourself. At least until the next round of meditation.

Another way of achieving this is connecting with at least one of the 4 elements every day:  //Water: If you don't live by a lake or the sea, then take a bath. //Fire: Soak in the sun. //Wind: bike or run. //Earth: Sit on the ground, walk bare foot, plant or look at trees.
In all of these focus on your breath.

Take this exercise of TUNING IN as seriously as brushing your teeth or eating. It is as important.

11- Have a hobby. Please.

12- If you are anti the marriage institutions for the obvious reasons of church or state, you will learn that there is actually solid good reasons behind all the binding and vows and rituals. Think of it as a code of conduct, an oath one takes to always comes back to and remember why he/she is in it to begin with. Construct your own code and adhere to it. There are still no guarantees either way.

13- Never tell anyone to "move on" or to "get over it." Never.

14- Always think about whether you are doing something out of love or out of fear or weakness. It is hard but try to understand it. It will help you cut out extra obligations, inauthentic behavior, and weed out unnecessary money or time expending. In other words, always ask the "why" and do the pros and cons and see if you should do what you are doing.

15- Have a role model, even if imaginary.

16- Life is not fair and is hard and it hurts. Kind of like eating an ice cream with hidden thorns!  But it is all you and me and everyone else gets. Everybody also goes through all you are going through and more.

17- Sit on the floor, bare foot, at least once a day. It grounds you and is good stretching. This becomes especially helpful if you don't have

18- Deal with people as if you were going to die tomorrow. Would you have any regrets not having said something to them, or done something with them?

19- There must be an after life. Of course in form of energy and not heaven/hell.

20- Eat a lot of vegetables.

*** The End ***

I tagged my friends who have turned 40 and asked them to share their 20 Brilliant Life Lessons! here they come and they are wonderful. Enjoy!

RH's List:

1. Do epic shit…continuously (at least once a week) (…and try not to share) - it helps keep your mind and body in sync and creates a discipline in you. Furthermore, it helps continuously digest new experiences.

2. spend at least 1 to 2 nights outside per month, every month - waaaaay too many positives.

3. Eat healthy - exactly that! avoid crap. the body is a machine. Give it good fuels.

4. Leave every conversation with a smile - Personally i like to remember others smiling….if you think about it, you do as well :0)

5. Mix work and play - You spend more time with folks you work with than your own family! it is a fact. Make it fun. They are also in the same boat. 

6. Make decisions - good or bad, as long as 51% are good, things will move forward.

7. Make new friends - there are 7 billion people on this planet…..

8. Make every breath count.

9. Listen ….. more than you speak (something i personally need to work on).

10. Drink good spirits - life’s waaaaay too short to drink cheap whiskey!

11. Create - exactly that: create.

12. Walk.

13. Love honestly - it took me a while to learn this as a "life lesson" but it is true. Another interpretation could be: don't engage unless your heart is in it....and if you do engage in something then give it all.

14. Don’t trust anyone that says they don’t care about money.

15. If stuck on a problem, walk away….then come back to it after some time passes - it works!!!!

16. Do math (daily) - not like sit there and do chaos theory applicable! something to keep the mind sharp.

17. Keep it simple - This is one rule to live by.

18. Don’t drive fast - pretty obvious.

19. Listen to lots of music.

20. Read a book - and if you don’t have the time, then make the time. If you still can’t do that, then 
do books on tape!

21. Don't do crazy shit!

22. Read Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at least once!!!

NM's List:

1. Don't waste your time shopping. don't waste your time shopping for cheap stuff especially. if you must, get the real goods - and only a few of them. but know that they're not always the most expensive.

2. Check your thyroid - and take your thyroid medications on the dot and as prescribed if you need to.

3. Appreciate your mom.

4. Don't "default" to how your parents lived, talked and behaved. be active in living your own personal version of life.

5. Hug and kiss your children a lot.. smile at them a lot - even if you're not a smiley person.

6. If you make a mistake, yell at, or do anything that you regret towards your children - let them know that you regret it and that you're sorry about it and do your best not to repeat. it's the best lesson for them and keeps you in check too.

7. Sometimes you need to put yourself on auto-pilot and just do it.

8. Never underestimate the power of "going out of your way".. when you care about someone or something - that's how you show it.. If it were convenient, then it wouldn't mean as much.

9. Having a point of view on religion, god, the "higher being", spirituality, etc. anchors a person. Don't pull it out of no-where.. read, talk and learn about it. 

10. When you let money take center stage in life, it will wipe out a lot of good feelings, a lot of things you loved or liked about yourself and others. don't let it happen.

11. Follow the world news. I don't have to count the reasons why - but the least of it, is that it will make you less self-centered.

12. You will never ever know what others feel unless you've had very similar experiences. you will never know what it feels to lose a parent, unless you've lost one. you'll never know what it feels to be beaten by the police, unless you've been crushed by one.. so there's no point trying to get it. All you can do is to be there for them.

13. Weave together your own mis-matched and colorful tapestry of friends and acquaintances.. they will stretch you and expose you to so many different worlds and feelings. don't surround yourself with like-minded people.

14. By far the most memorable experiences of my career, are those where I coached and mentored others.. and I could always do more.. everything else pales.

15. Be conscious about cutting sugar out of your food. It will do wonders.

16. Read and re-read the classics.. wisdom of the ages.

17. If you open yourself up to loving and understanding nature, you've just given yourself a precious gift and outlet for peace.

18. Every person yearns respect. it will do wonders to give an ounce.

19. The best form of love is the kind that comes after while. it comes from familiarity, appreciation for the soul of the other. it's the kind that makes your heart ache for the other. but you gotta give it time.

20. You will drive yourself nuts if you try to optimize every single action of the day - just pick a few big ones.

21. Every morning - write on a standard post-it note, the list of things you have to accomplish that day and only do those that fit on a single note paper. start the next day with a new post-it.

AM's List:

1-     Don’t ever miss an opportunity to have a good laugh… and a good sob!

2-     You don’t have to please everyone; also do not need to piss anyone off, unless it is absolutely necessary.

3-      Love is like a delicate flower. It needs constant attention. Leave it alone and it will die off. Attend it and it will grow and become stronger and more beautiful.

4-     Take time and go through your mistakes and errors every now and then. Find a way to avoid them in the future and more importantly forgive yourself for doing them and move on.

5-     Spend time with people younger than 6 and older than 70. There is a lot to learn from both groups.

6-     You don’t have to always substantiate your point. See if it is worth your while to make someone else look like an idiot. If not, let them be.

7-     Always remember, it sounds impossible until it is done.

8-     Do not trust people who say they do not like kids. It is very fine if someone says they do not like to HAVE kids, but if they say they do not LIKE children, in general, they’re weird.

9-     When you are doing something and a voice in your head says: “oh, oh, this is not going to end well…” stop doing it as soon as possible, because most probably it will not end well.

10-  You sometimes have to do some things that you do not like, to make someone that you love happy. Since you are doing it anyway, do it with love and try to enjoy doing it.

11-  (Someone said, love it, change it or leave it)… If you don’t love it, try to change it first before giving up.

12-  If you want to know your true self, observe yourself when you are playing

13-  Avoid annoying people and situations at all costs. They will just grind your soul without any rewards.

14-  If someone doesn’t like your sarcasm, make sure you ask them how you can completely change yourself to please them… (mwahahahaha)

15-  Always go back to the big picture and adjust its size accordingly, preferably make it bigger.  

16-  Do apologize for what you said when you were hungry.

17-  Shop online. It saves time and fuel and the anticipation, while waiting for your newly purchased merchandize, makes it sweeter.

18-  Cook and enjoy cooking.

19-  Don’t ever try to make your kid(s) what you wanted to be. They belong to their own future not to your past.

20-  Watch sad movies and listen to sad songs and cry. It is an unbelievably sole-polishing practice.  

21-  Workout hard. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count. BUT don’t ignore your injuries… especially now that you are over 40!