Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Week Without Yoga...

Have films ever spoken to you in a deeply personal way?

It has only happened 4, maybe 5 times since my major surgery recoveries and yoga training in '16 that I've gone a week without doing yoga at all. This past week was one, and what a weird, spinning week, full of a big holiday, the flu, and an ER visit for pain management today.

First and foremost, it was Christmas which is lovely with a child. I enjoyed the holiday prelude of December with my son. I loved pointing out Christmas Tree and Santa with enthusiasm and magic to my son who does not speak quite yet, but who knows what each is already. In my family, we have always had a Santa Claus actress in the family arrive to the Christmas Eve party and play the part in great costume and with each of the children. The expression on my son's face was priceless.

I came down with the flu Christmas day. Knocked out in bed for 24 hours without much movement. I've had two months of not sleeping well at all if I wake up (which I always do for my condition) due to medical worries. I've worked though this with Memorial Sloan Kettering, so my worries are much lessened. Today I was thinking as I drove myself to the ER at 4:50am that my veins surely by now have seen their hundredth needle. I said as much to the nurse who stuck me with some quite weird moving around of the vein. Thought I was better at this by now, but I guess it's never jolly. I was also thinking my New Year's wish - so so trivial - would be to get good sticks the rest of my life! I have procedures regularly, and this is why that's a funny but serious wish for me (and impossible). I have been mostly awake (except for dozing off twice to be awoken) since 1:30am today. Hour by hour the pain got worse in the wee hours of the morning, and there I was, sure that here was another ovarian cyst and I was then driving myself to the ER in negative 12 degree weather, the windows cracked for fresh air when I could stand it.

As interesting as my 6th visit to the ER this morning was, the second one this month, I am reflecting more on the image of myself being led around the corridors of the hospital in the stretcher; this is a different layer of reflection than usual. I see this moving image of me as part of me. Maybe because now it's become almost normal and a part of life: 5 cat scans, 4 major surgeries, 8 minor surgeries/scopes in 2 years, barium enema, x-rays, ultrasounds all since March 2016. The wheels of the stretcher bed take you from prep into a procedure via anesthesia. I can see myself this morning as I was being taken for a simple ultrasound (for a lot of pain). I see myself over all this time in a hospital, at peace somehow inside, in the hallway chatting with the escort person - or not, depending on how well I am feeling.

David Bowie, amazing in The Man Who Fell to Earth

So, during my flu, I surfed and was very particular about which films I would watch while couch-ridden. I haven't seen a movie in over 6 months (crazy I know), and I almost never watch television. I first watched The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), with David Bowie. Then, the next day: Never Let Me Go (2010), a deeply thoughtful British film, also based on a book. Then, yesterday: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), with Meryl Streep. I went to bed last night thinking that I had somehow seen my own life in these three films. Surely, other people see themselves in films from time to time too - and what an interesting thing to experience. I started wondering what the underlying current or themes were that connected each of these three films. I realized: Death and Doctors were represented in each film. Was each film representative of a different struggle or learning curve or attitude or journey within my life? In The Man Who Fell to Earth we see: Getting distracted, failure, oppression by doctors. A man looking for water to bring back to his family.... I don't want to give it away, but it is a David Bowie film, i.e. artistic and thus no cookie cutter happy ending, just something like a razor and a mirror to look at life with.

Scene from Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
, you'd have to see the film one day - I suggest without reading about it first. Trust in it for thoughtful, wonderful rendering of great emotion; this is what you call a good drama. A smooth film to drink down with all the intrigue and existential questions it raises. I don't want to give too much away about the question I identified with, but it is something like, how much can the body give before completion? Without spoiling anything, I hope, I'll say surgery comes into play in the movie, which is refreshing, in a way, to see people having trouble following surgery -- cuz that's reality. I say this as someone who realized there isn't enough representation of medical realities of children, the elderly, middle age, etc in mainstream media. People need more thoughtful representation of realities such as these kind of hardships. People going through things. A bunch of colleagues at UC shared with me that there are great films out there that I didn't know about for representation of disabled when I shared that I thought it would be so cool to have a Disney character who is in a wheelchair. Or what about a Powderpuff in a wheelchair? I realized this lag between disability and mainstream representation as an experience when I was put in recovery for days and days and days with a TV (which remained off). This is not the main question of the film, but it is a question I saw and have been asking myself: how much can be taken from the body? Which is the question I have been forced to ask myself even again - and again recently. I could go on but I've said enough. Point: The movie is brilliant. Thoughtful art is so refreshing and helps us reflect on - and shape - our lives. Find a film that speaks to you about an "alternative" issue you may face. Relish it, share it.

"They can say I can't sing. But they can't say I didn't sing."
-- Florence Foster Jenkins
The film with Meryl Streep was just the way to climax my personal film festival and mini-journey as I moved from feeling a bit better from the flu to a surprise ER pain management trip: this film struck on a high note, quite literally. This film is a delight, and even more so because it's based on a real woman's life (read NPR's take on this woman) and her triumph of spirit over 1. self-limits and expectations of society and 2. medical condition. Towards the end of the film, she utters some words which moved me and connected to my feelings in a way no movie quote ever has. Background story is she contracted Syphilis (a then incurable disease) when she was just 18 on the night of her wedding from her first husband. It's amazing in her day that she lived 50 years beyond that, as the doctor who examines her in the film notes. Indeed, as the movie about this real-life woman shows, it was her love for music that kept her alive. Her story is literally amazing, and radically flies in the face (and ears) of all clichés about failure. Her legacy goes on, which is startling - and honorable and fitting. You will laugh and you will not forget that voice.

The touching lines came at a moment in the film when Florence's doctor has warned her that too much activity could really cause her harm. Her husband warns her of her upcoming performance's possible effects on her life. She responds that she has been living with death for 50 years (meaning since her diagnosis). She goes on musing about this, which I totally appreciated, and in light of this she has lightness despite it all, says that if she did die from doing this dream of hers (don't want to spoil what the event will be), she would die happy.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Dalì and Schedule of Classes



Cordially inviting you: 
We have a nice & easy class Saturdays 9:30-10:45am & Wednesdays 9-10am, 
or a more intense, workout yoga class Mondays 9-10am. 
I like tailoring sessions to your interests in yoga. 
See you soon at 402 Rowland Street, Ballston Spa. 
 Email Domenica at domenloren@yahoo.com for more info

Update: It's Snowing! Make some snow angels out there! No class on Dec 29, Christmas day or New Years, or January 20. Otherwise, refer to above for usual schedule!

We are thankful: Life is grand! no matter what it hands us, it always hands us learning opportunities and opportunities to choose love & light. I realize after this happy, reassuring scope: I have been gifted life.

In the space following, I share photos from Monday, my 40th birthday, at the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL. With a 1000 pieces in the family's collection, I always see a new painting or a painting newly. Fantastic exhibit with Elsa Sciaparelli. Decadence to the max for fashion and art.

Cherry nipple

Before Rod Stewart wrote Hot Legs

Wedding dress





Dalì

Lobster dress and phone

Schiaparelli

Tristan et Yseult et le filtre

Sagittario

Acquario

The Zodiac

Greek gods. Yet another mythological couple who chase each other in cursed forms

Kissing couch and her Prince shirt

Kissing couch and kiss

Dali detail 



The 3 stages of life

Family, like red wine
The girls and the Dalì museum

Con mio padre


Monday. December 18, 1917. Tampa Airport
Bling celebration courtesy of April!

My son, Summer 2016



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Traces We Leave

If you go back in time, and think of all your different cat lives, that was all part of you. But also, that is not you. You have been through a lot. We all have a story. What happens when we forget our story? Can we let ourselves simply be? Or maybe it is good for some to feel proud of your experiences, even the crappy ones that you learned from and that drew you into a fuller sense of self: responsibility, awe, correction, self-transparency, honesty, wonder, stillness, compassion for others, sorting out what kind of person you want to be. The experiences when you were at this age or that, in this relationship or that: That is all you. Of your past, to cleanse yourself from what you hold onto, forgive areas that feel dead and discarded. Release those you dislike from the power of your dislike. The dead trees are as much of a part of the landscape as the living trees.

Tree Goats of Morocco
Trees are worth more living than they are dead.
-Prince

Don't live in the past, embrace the present, who you are, and seek within and around you the understanding or elements that would help you be a kinder or a wiser soul or both. Pull those strings of you together, gather up the energy and bring it into the now. Here I am, in the present. How do I best move forward in the present? There is the yoga of contemplation and meditation, and there is also the yoga of action. There are many different kinds of yoga - see which you like. I am exploring too. Anytime I have gone through immense shifting or change in my life, I have needed to seek deeper faith and sometimes I have contemplated what ancient texts say, and then sit in silence and marvel at how my questions evaporate for a time.

Artistic rendering of Racine's Phèdre
Everything is illusion. Why chase the illusions: everything is temporary. Can you live without so much judgment, can you cultivate clearer perceptions? How do we still the mind, have disregard toward the wicked, have compassion for the suffering, and celebrate those who have compassion and love? How do we let go of that idea of self even when we have minor success in that?

Life is a lot of ignorance, a lot of fear, ego, attachment to living and survival, and a lot of avoidance of suffering. But is that really living? Inquire about your source. Identify your inspirational texts, thinkers, doers, or images.

Right thinking, right speech, right living, these are hard to get "right" - but when you see other persons and the light they carry within, when you read texts that make you truly think and reflect, when you develop a practice, when you seek... at least you can be semi-confident in what you are seeking. Maybe dharma means to do your duties with a clear conscience, as a devotional painting.

Pariksit hearing, rendering based on Part II of the Bhagavata Purana

Peace and wellness, good education, nutrition, and excellent healthcare for all.
Namaste

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hope

Hope shines bright and with greater buoyancy in the darkest night. In the pitch black and in the silence, you hear truth and real comfort only when it is spoken to you so preciously. You recognize people and their merits and their spirit. You see clearly life, the values of it, and there is so much more I can say, but it wouldn't matter until you found yourself in a similar position confronting death. It's all individual anyway - and relative in terms of urgency. But perhaps it is true that life should be considered preparing for your death: how do you want to look back and say you had lived? How do you leave without unfinished business or regrets or attachments? We all learn to think and act as if death was not going to happen to us. But that wonderful American televised painter, Bob Ross, says that a dead tree is just as much a part of the landscape as a live tree...I am paraphrasing. But imagine what a lesson to have hit home when you want to be there for your growing son.

So for those with a diagnosis or a very pressing, grief-like, or sad event in their life: What is hope? Is it brainwashing the self into thinking you're going to be alright despite some very real facts laid out before you? Well for me, I do not like brainwashing. I can feel when something is sincere - especially when there are some facts that you can go and do further research on. You need to do this, if you have a medical (or other) issue. Research things for yourself: Separate the false information and input from the real deal. I put out a question survey on a forum I belong to and I look for research and I ask the experts (a fellow told me there are two case studies) and even in a recent meeting, I get very, very few responses back because: We don't know. "Where there is no data, we are going to use our experts in different fields to share their experience," the expert female doctor (and reputable surgeon) explained to me. Now this was reassurance. Someone saying: We don't know. Looking back, I had been exposed to false reassurance: with the first GI doctor who told me I didn't didn't bother to biopsy the polyps he saw in one of my organs. He told me they were usually benign. Once again, we need to be aware that there is fake news (unfortunately) and then there is journalism. There is the red pill and there is the blue pill. There is also the pill cam that you need to swallow with a monitor over top of your clothes most of the day.


Anyway, this doctor who will work with me, she was the loveliest of surgeons I had ever met. She was so vibrant, and she seemed to be shining as she looked at me, heard me, and spoke with me, a woman of experience and wisdom and youthful beauty. I was in a Tolkenien forest and had met a creature of divine skill, one who was slightly strange only in how lovely she appeared. It is striking to feel the aura of a renowned female surgeon and woman who is inspiring all the way around, just upon meeting her. I went back a couple weeks later to meet my next doctor, one of the internists (internal medicine) that she and my previous surgeon recommended, and was wowza-ed by his expert and professional and thorough ways. I've met a lot of surgeons and doctors for my age, and I don't know that I have ever experienced so much in a doctor the incredible balance of: a genuine, inter-relational, personal tone and a deeply concise, thorough, and knowledgeable way of speaking about medical histories, research, and outcomes. This balance is another important component of their expert professionalism.


These doctors at centers like Memorial Sloan Kettering are another level. This guy was impressive and took his time with me, felt the areas of my body of concern, even at the epidermal level.



He had all the most relevant reports of my medical history printed in his hands, the condensed version, and went through the stages of my medical journey with me, the surgeries, the scope results. He asked for those that were missing from the pile.

Moral for all: Be your own health advocate. Ask questions. Seek second opinions from experts if you need to. It is a matter of quality of life and of death. When you're walking that line, don't mess around. I hope for more excellent healthcare for everyone.

We can all be very thankful for places like Memorial Sloan Kettering and other excellent doctors and nurses who really stand out locally.

In the meantime, work on those kleshas (ignorance, ego, fear, aversion to things you experienced and didn't like and now try to avoid, and attachment to life) - this is a never-ending work. And listen to your body: what is it asking for? More movement? Green, clean foods, vegetables, lemon, olive oil, no more boxed or canned food? Or quitting unhealthy habits? The self is not the body - but the body helps us get to know the self, and it definitely allows us to be around for those we love and who love us.

I'm thankful for the yogic tradition, which has helped me tremendously, cleaning out the spirit, the mind, and the body. Making changes in my life. Opening the heart to faith, trust, the divine source. Letting the breath and refocus within the practice sustain me through some very difficult days. Nights are hard when you are looking at two hard options.

Ionesco: "One must write for oneself,
for it is in this only that one may reach others."
Eugene Ionesco, a French playwright of the 20th century, author of Rhinoceros and The Chairs, said that in this life we should prepare for death. Maybe that was the theatre for him. Indeed, we all hide our fear of death in the unconscious. I have spent weeks in sadness, and am coming out of the clouds. I am seeking the practical and spiritual lessons in all this... Letting myself come to this. Preparing, learning, seeking my source and wisdom and love and letting go. Receiving hope and courage from truly awesome souls I have crossed paths with. I have a lot more hope now moving forward also, thanks to expert doctors. And still, I think Ionesco had a good point - several, actually.

"There are more dead people alive than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer" -- Ionesco

Try delving into an ancient wisdom text - verses. Love is what makes the world go round.
Namaste

Sunday, October 22, 2017

On Leonard Cohen and "Depression"



Leonard has a taste for irony and for the beyond.

From "It Seemed the Better Way" (2016):

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way

Sounded like the truth
But it's not the truth today

I better hold my tongue.
I better take my place.
Lift this glass of blood.
Try to say the grace.

-Leonard Cohen

The rare wit was ever-present with Leonard: Take for example when Fredrik Skavlan asks Leonard this question on the Norwegian-Swedish talk show (2007): "Do you think that dramatic changes in your life... do you think human beings do that out of free will or must it be forced upon us?"

Leonard responded: "Well, I think free will is exaggerated." The audience laughs.

He continues: "I think most of the time we are compelled to do the things we do, and I think that um - What was the question?"
"If a change has to be forced upon us," the interviewer says.
"I think it has to. It's clear that it is only catastrophe that encourages people to make a change."

"I became ordained as a monk." Asked why, Leonard responds: "I'd always studied with my old teacher who is going to be 100 in a couple of days. After I finished a particular tour, I felt very dislocated and had an appetite for some kind of structure, so I formalized my relationship with this teacher. If he'd have been a Professor of Physics at Heidelberg I would have learned German and studied Physics. He happened to be a zen monk, so in order to participate in his world I had to shave my head and put on robes - and I was very happy to do so because it was clear to me from the beginning that he knew a lot more than I did. It's for that reason that I wanted to spend time with him."

"What kind of life did you live in there?" Skavlan asks.

"Well, I ended up as a cook," Leonard says - laughter from the audience.

The interviewer grapples with the fact that Leonard spent five years in a Zen monastery: "But could you go outside, could you see people, could you have a glass of red wine??"

Leonard responded, "I tried to introduce him to red wine, but he was devoted to sake - which is not quite the same kind of thing. He believed that raw fish and sake doth a dinner make."
But he adds: "He did eventually develop a taste for chicken soup that my mother taught me how to make, and some other Jewish dishes."

My photos (at the top) of Leonard in concert are my own, but they do not convey the feeling one has at the great occasion of the great poet there before you, kneeling on the stage, moving his mouth to form the words you have memorized and hear a voice held in a vault in your chest since you were an adolescent. 

The concert photos are from his show at Madison Square Garden in 2012. Seeing him at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2009 is the more delightful memory. I remember tears dropping from my eyes, falling directly onto my cheeks, signifying for me the immediacy of his wonderful presence as he took his place on the stage - and he did so very humbly. On each side of my face, the tears skipped the normal "preambule" of rolling down. These tears were waiting for years for this moment. They were heavy and they surprised me as they fell with the weight of a crocodile. The tears fell simultaneously with his voice in a chamber of golds and reds at Caesar's Palace. I had no time to expect them or to conceive of their imminence. They bore witness to this deeply inspiring soul and voice.

Speaking on the power of language and rituals, Leonard reflects on the synagogue's influence over him: "I think I was touched as a child by the music and the kind of charged speech I heard in the synagogue, where everything is important. I always feel that the world was created through words – through speech in our tradition – and I've always seen the enormous light in charged speech and that's what I've tried to get to." He didn't set out to be a singer; he wanted to be a writer like those he admired: Fernando Garcia Lorca, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and W.B. Yeats.

Almost thirty years ago, I fell in love with him first via "Everybody Knows" - so arousing in terms of looking blank-faced at reality. I appreciated how Leonard's lyrics are the truest and most honest - and perhaps this is why his music is accused of being "depressing." However, as Douglas Hesselgrave points out in his Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker Review, some of Leonard's audiences may not have understood that "if you write about a razor blade, it doesn't necessarily mean that you want to harm yourself." From my own perspective, even as an adolescent, I knew that this man's poetry was urging everyone to think differently, find meaning, laugh at the irony - as we defog our lenses.

In another interview (Los Angeles, 1990s), the topic was to be about his 5 years in Zen monastery, yet the interviewer steered the questions towards depression, and perhaps feeling put on the spot, Leonard graciously answers: "Yes, I feel like I'm coming out of the closet, but depression has certainly been an element that I've had to work with all through my life." As he is poked and prodded about "depression" and asked if he dealt with it with travel, drugs, and scotch, he delves deeper and speaks from his level: "What happened was that I understood that I had to deal with this question at the fundamental level of consciousness."
Leonard was given the name "Ordinary Silence" at the
Mount Baldy Zen Center

The interviewer attempts to connect Leonard's artistic success to depression and, perhaps because he picks up on her inability to relate, he elucidates the very real experience of depression, saying: "I think that's a popular notion - that it is exclusively suffering that produces good work or insightful work." He asserts: "I think good work is produced in spite of suffering, and as a victory over suffering."

The interviewer looks a bit perplexed and says, "That is an interesting concept: victory over suffering?" And Leonard very pensively says: "If the level of the degree of the intensity of anybody's distress or disorder is sufficiently high - I mean - you can't move. And for people who have experienced acute clinical depression - I mean - the problem is getting to the next moment. You know, the room tilts, you lose your balance, and you're incapable of coherent thought."

She asks, "Have you been that bad?"
"Yes, yea, I - I've been there," he says.

The irony is that his way of seeing has inspired thousands of souls, in countless ways, to hear the poetic side of life. Regarding singing, Leonard would say that that is another irony perhaps. He says that his son, Adam, is the real thing - he has a beautiful voice and perfect pitch - but of himself he says, "I kind of croaked my way through the enterprise."

Listen to a song he produced with his son, Adam Cohen, from just before he passed away last year:

"It seemed the Better Way" 
2016

And a longtime favorite:
"Take this Waltz"
1986



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Keli Lalita Makes Me Want to Learn More (as any good teacher does)

Keli Lalita Reddy, EYRT 500
On September 26, I met with Keli Lalita, a bhakta yogini who has been teaching yoga for over ten years. If you know Keli at all, you'll know that her name is very à propos, as it is a name for the Divine Feminine and means Beautifully playful. In addition to leading yoga practitioners in the deeply restorative practice of yin yoga, Keli is also training yoga teachers in the power of synchronicity of breath and movement, beautiful movement through mandalas, the breakdown and biomechanics of poses, and a repertoire of negativity-busting kriyas and mantras to teach trainees at Yoga Mandali in Saratoga Springs, NY. Keli is excited about the faculty team she teaches with, and appreciates how each faculty member brings a whole slew of talents and expertise to the program: Ann, Heather, Nini, and other special guests.

Guru Chants & Mantras
in the Tibetan Tradition
Besides designing teacher training programs, guiding practitioners into "juicy" poses, and leading yogis on retreats in Costa Rica or in India, Keli co-founded and owns a recording studio called Mantralogy (since 2008). In this way, Keli helps spread the joy and feels blessed to produce music from all over the world in the Bhakti tradition.  Bhakti music can be associated with kirtan, which is a moving practice of praising God, the divine, with song. Keli is excited to announce that Mantralogy recently released their first album in the Tibetan language, and it is called Guru Chants & Mantras (see Mantralogy's full listings).

This September, Mantralogy released a second (2nd) solo kirtan album with Adam Bauer called Wonderville. Adam Bauer has a particular sound to appreciate (if you don't know Adam Baeur or want to hear kirtan, you may click here to listen to his devotional voice). If you want a cool experience, you can join him in kirtan live at Yoga Mandali from time to time (follow their calendar or fb). 

Adam Bauer's second solo kirtan album
Adam Bauer's first album, Shyam Lila, includes deeply devotional songs to Krishna. His second album, Wonderville, is an East-West fusion that, à la différence de Shyam Lila, features mostly Shiva chants. This is exciting work to Keli – and there’s a Ganesh chant, Keli adds. The album was produced by Ben Leinbach, an award-winning producer, and Keli raves about how he is "a musical genius." She raves about how many instruments he plays and his work, saying Ben Leinbach is "probably the most famous producer of yoga music of all time – you just don’t know that you’re hearing his music all the time, but every chant you’ve heard, he probably has worked with those people."

Keli studied writing and literature at The New School in NYC and is the kind of person who never stops learning and deepening what she knows. She has been a reader for Edwin Bryant’s books, a brilliant scholar at Rutgers who translated the Yoga Sutras and recently published a book called Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings from the Bhagavata Purana. Coincidentally, I had ordered the book the morning before I met with Keli at Professor Java café (vegan chocolate and tea - very good) - and it was fun to hear her talk about this book. Keli credits him as having taught her so much about the ancient texts. During training, I liked to hear Keli bring illumination to certain terms in Sanskrit as she discusses the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Bhagavad Gita. When I asked her this day if she knows Sanskrit very well, she responded: "I’m just starting to learn Sanskrit for real." And I don’t know if she is just being modest, but I can tell you she knows a fair amount, and sings some truly inspiring, beautiful kirtan in Sanskrit herself. Her voice was truly a beautifully playful startup to our early mornings at Yoga Mandali.

Keli Lalita leading kirtan at Kripalu

Keli was one of the first to introduce me to bhakti yoga, one of the greatest kinds of yoga. As I have been learning in reading Edwin Bryant’s book, bhakti yoga goes beyond just stilling the mind in order to find the peace of the Atman within, and opens up a devotional path and greater cause with yoga, as yoga means "union" and can be thought of as union with the divine. In bhakti yoga, you can meditate on God and find your practice leading to the contentment of loving Ishta Devata, that is, the God of your heart, in a more real and fulfilling way. In a personal regard, I can say that yoga has helped me connect to God, in a unique way, and to healing and to something greater, as I get in tune to my mind and body and appreciate how God has enabled me to live.

Regarding Adam Baeur’s two albums, one more of Krisha chants, and the other more of Shiva chants, I asked Keli about the difference between Krisha and Shiva chants, since I am unsure: “If you were talking to a beginner," I ask, "How would you describe the difference between someone who is more devoted to Krishna and someone who is more devoted to Shiva? Cuz in Hinduism, don’t they choose who they are devoted to?”


I was prepared for her response to be very elucidating, and as she answered, I remembered exactly why I liked training with her so much last year: "That’s a really good question," she replied. "I was at a Christian funeral yesterday, and I was talking with my stepmom who is Jewish (we are a Jewish family) and discussing how we kind of do the same things in the various religious traditions: At a funeral, you light a candle, you burn incense (for example, you burn frankincense in Catholic church and also in yin yoga), you have water, there’s some kind of song, and there’s some kind of food, and sometimes there’s dance. Those seem to be threaded throughout every religion. And so, if you were to see the people who were worshipping Lord Shiva, the average Shiva worshipper and the average Krishna worshipper would be really hard to tell apart because it’s about what’s really going on is in their heart. It’s not visible at an external level. So in the Hindu tradition there’s something called Ishta Devata, which means the God of your heart. So, if I were to see you with your son and a boy of the same age, they both look like little kids and you wouldn’t be treating them differently. You’d be feeding them both lunch or taking care of both of them, but obviously for you, your son is something different for you in your heart. So I think it is similar with those that are devoted to Shiva and to Krishna."

Little Krishnas: Celebrating Janmashtami in Vrindavan, India

She goes on with more interesting cultural examples, both from her travels to India and from the community in which she lives (in the Albany region): “You know in India you could say they wear different clothing. You can see the really extreme aesthetic Shivites carry tridents and cover their body with ashes. They are like, just your average Albany Hindu Temple Society guys – and everybody kind of hangs out together and no one minds. In fact, if you go to the Hindu temple here in Albany (you should go) there is every type of deity represented. They literally have every deity, including a very rare deity which is the child of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu when he assumes a female form called Mohini. If you go to this temple in Albany, all the way on the left there’s a hermaphroditic deity and there’s only a few of those peppered throughout the world. One of them is there."

Mohini distributing the Amrita to the Devas
"So there is a story where Shiva assumes the female form so he can enter the Rasa dance so they’re very connected. It’s utterly fascinating, I could think about it forever and still be fascinated. There’s even a recognized third gender that’s recognized. It should be recognized, because it exists. If you go to Vrindavan in Northern India, there are people that look like women but they are just much taller. They are men who take the form of a Gopi and that is one of the meditations actually. It’s a meditative path of taking the form of a woman, and they are called the Sahajas and they have an ashram. And if you go to Vrindavan with me, we’ll go to a temple called Gopeshwar Mahadev and there’s a statue of Shiva dressed as a Gopi. He basically wants to enjoy a pastime with Krishna and so he takes a female form to be in that intimate pastime with his beloved. So Shiva then protects the four corners of this Krishna town, so there are four Shiva temples in the four directions. So, these two are very closely connected."
Vrindavan
I was curious: “So city planning in India is very wrapped around religion?

Keli laughs melodiously in response, saying: "I think you would have a hard time calling it planning, but yes! Because there are temples everywhere. There are no plans. The plan is: Which place should we worship?!!"

As someone who has designed study abroad experiences for students as a professor, I hope to travel with Keli and help construct a beautiful voyage for a beautiful, in-depth yoga retreat in Italy next year. Together with other delightful souls, we could practice yoga by sea, Greek temples, and some good food. I don't believe we will have any problem looking around Rome, the Amalfi coast, or Sicily, and asking: "Which place should we worship?!!" In the meantime though, I may check out this Hindu temple in Albany. I don't want to miss out on an opportunity to experience diversity and to peer into and appreciate another culture and religion, set of values and self-expression.
Keli Lalita teaches yoga at Yoga Mandali, Saratoga, NY
and at Bodhi Holistic Yoga & Spa in Hudson, NY

Many thanks to Keli Lalita for the music, yoga, teachings, and light that she shares within the community. Thank you for always continuing to teach and inspire me. Namaste~