I started sadhana (meditation) as a child, however I don’t remember who taught me (makes me believe in re-incarnation, carrying previous life’s knowledge with you onward to the next), but I used to come out of my body often and would get scared, so some where around 7 or 8 I think, I stopped. I would re-visit meditation through out middle school and high school, but once got caught by my mom sitting still in the dark in my room and she startled me, turning on the lights and yelling, asking if I was smoking pot or something! So I stopped this for a while, until college where I joined a meditation group that met weekly.
I never realized until I had any formal training by some of my gurus, that swimming is like pranayama, you need to have a longer exhale than inhale. I swam throughout my teens and 20s, much of the time working in swimming pools, sitting on a lifeguard stand for hours on end, watching the water, watching my thoughts, watching my breath…. In retrospect I see it was all training, good preparation for what I am up to now.
However I think I was always holding long stretches and breathing deep, being an athlete, I didn’t realize it was yoga until I started with astanga vinyasa in the late 90s (in Boston). I then learned traditional Hatha at the Yoga Training Center with Sunil Kumar Ji in Varanasi during my first trip to India for the “Take Me to the River” film project. Over the years in NYC, I practiced mostly at home, but occasionally took class at studios where friends were teaching, like Laughing Lotus, or privates with friends as a trade, (I would build their websites). Sometimes Aarona Ganesan (formally Pitchinson) would lead us in a morning pre-work session at the Projectile Arts studio.
I started with vipassana meditation as soon as I entered India Jan 2010 and have even lived volunteering at our nearby center for over a month in 2013. I find this practice not only the most transformational clearing of emotional luggage experiences I have had to date, but also very useful in holding asanas for longer durations.
One of my teachers in India, Ananda Divedi Ji, who runs Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya, didn’t encourage asana (other than it’s literal meaning, seat). He was mostly a meditator and constantly would remind us to be aware of our breath. He would jokingly say, “you want to see yoga? Watch me climb a tree or chop wood”. He was graceful in everything due to his mindfulness. From him I grew to understand yoga is not just these asanas. Living with him (for about a half a year in 2010-2011) we sat twice a day (4am-6am and 8pm-9:30pm) formally as a group (of teachers – we were running a holistic school) and several times throughout the day with our students. Often he would guide us in a sort of yoga nidra (however we would be sitting, not laying down).
Another one of my teachers, Archana Bahunguna who started Space for Nurturing Creativity where I lived nearly 2 years (about year an a half around 2011-2012 and sporadically for months at a time since, including 3 months this past monsoon) and maintain close contact even now that I am traveling in the states, teaches Shruti and Swadhaya in a way I think all humans need to be taught: “look at yourself, listen to yourself, understand yourself”, truly turning on the inner seerer. This is her style of yoga, to constantly be an observer of the present moments around you, what is going on, what is making it through the senses, how are you perceiving it (through veils of past impressions or truly how it is at this moment, always new), how you are feeling, what comes up, what is triggered for you…? She has taught me to truly examine all of this before I react. Living with her (and the 20+ other students of hers, ages between 5 and me), we had nearly 2 hour sittings twice a day and often spent days in a row in silence.
Over the past three years living at Santosh Puri Ashram, I’ve been more formally trained with foundations in the seven limbed hatha yoga system: shatkarma (seasonal and daily cleansings and detoxes), asana (postures), mudra (gestures for connecting one’s individual pranic flow with the universal or cosmic force), pratyahar (concentration towards removal of disturbance from sensory input), pranayama (expansion of the breath and prana / vital energy), meditation (uninterrupted blissful flow of pranic energy), and ultimate samadhi (completely balanced state of mind in all situations), in accordance with the sanskrit scriptures Gheranda Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Grounded in ancient tradition, infused with both Sanatan Dharam and Buddhist philosophies, my training ultimately encouraged me to cultivate the discipline needed to maintain a daily routine of sadhana and an authentically yogic lifestyle, in atunement with the nature: living on a moon cycle, waking before sunrise, cleansing kriyas, doing puja at the dhuni (sacred fire place) each morning and evening, using our temples as places to offer expressions of gratitude, frequent kirtans, observances of special holidays, bathing in Ganga, fasting, maintaining health with ayurveda, maintaining my sanity with some creative expression (mostly making music and journaling) and meditation, etc. I try to live a very balanced life, not doing one particular task or work for too long in one day, but several accomplishments throughout the day each with its one pointed focus (not multitasking, but only doing one thing at a time – silent meals for example).
The asana series taught in my 500 hour teacher training, is designed to balance the alignment of the physical body, the three gunas (rajas, tamas, satva), the seven major chakras, as well as the dualistic (Sun-masculine / Moon-feminine) pranic energies within our (container) bodies. Sometimes done according to the moon cycle: starting with the day after the new moon, with eight asanas added every two days, until the series expands to reach 56 total asanas by the day before the full moon, then eliminating eight asanas every two days until the day before the following new moon, like the waxing / waning of the moon; and in three styles: Rajas (holding each asana for 3-5 breaths), Tamas (holding each asana with inhale/exhale retention accordingly), Satva (holding each asana for much longer duration, working with the breath to go deeper into the pose).
The 200 hour training I participated in was Therapeutic Yoga, dealing with various asana series for particular ailments (arthritis, constipation, high/ low blood pressure, etc.).
As for Pranayam, I have been also trained in nādi shodhana, anulom vilom, sūrya bhedanam, ujjāyī, sītkārī, śītalī, bhastrikā and bhrāmarī, however I don’t always keep them all in my daily routine.
I am fluent in Hindi and have also undergone hundreds of hours of private Sanskrit tutoring (during my last year living at Santosh Puri Ashram) from Narayan Giri Ji, 80+ year old Sanskrit scholar and sanyasi, who spent 12 years studying at Kailash Ashram in Rishikesh, and thus act as his translator (he doesn’t know English) when he conducts the Sanskrit portions of the Ashram’s hatha yoga teacher trainings. And I have been studying the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and Vigyan Bhairav Tantra extensively.
Karma Yoga / Seva has been a major part of my sadhana training, since quitting my “job” and moving to India in Jan 2010. Sweeping, mopping, changing bedsheets, cleaning bathrooms (and yes even toilets), along with the rhythm of chanting my mantra (inside not aloud), has done enormous work on my consciousness, much of it indescribable. Karma Yoga is our first step on the path towards purification, preparing oneself to be a student.