Our Centre Community: Vikash Markus Knox

Vikash at kirtan at the Centre a few years ago (photo from the Driftwood - local newspaper)

Kirtan at the Centre a few years ago (photo from the Driftwood – local newspaper)

I grew up near Boston, Mass. with one brother and one sister. My parents are Episcopalians (similar to Anglicans). During my confirmation process at the church, I was not able to get satisfying answers to my questions.

Vikash (then Mark), age 6, with his sister

Vikash (then Mark), age 6, with his sister

As a young man, my first inkling of spiritual life came to me in high school, ever since I started to think for myself as a young teen. My interest in spiritual life grew, getting more focussed in my senior year of high school, largely through reading Thoreau. I started to see spirit in nature, seeing nature as sacred, and I rejected the modern, industrial world as a misdirected human endeavour. That was me in a nutshell at the age of eighteen. I took long walks in nature – for three, four, sometimes five hours.

I went to to University in Massachusetts, wanting at first to be a medical doctor; two of my relatives were doctors. After two years I changed to wildlife biology. While at university I met the Hare Krishna devotees. I loved the chanting and the food – and they were able to answer all my questions.

I made the choice after two years of university to live on a Hare Krishna farm in West Virginia. My parents were not happy about my choice, but they respected my freedom to choose. It wasn’t easy for them. Regardless of how difficult it was for them, especially my mom, they still visited me there a couple of times. On the Krishna farm we lived a very disciplined and austere lifestyle. What kept me there for two and a half years was the fact that I felt a genuine spirit of devotion. Eventually, however, the dogmatic nature of the teaching, along with the rigors of the lifestyle, prompted me to leave in 1979.

Vikash's parents

Vikash’s parents

A year before I became a Krishna, I got my draft card. I was fortunate enough to narrowly miss the mandatory draft by about six months, so I didn’t have to go to Vietnam. Instead, the Krishna farm was a spiritual boot camp for me.

After I left the Krishna farm, I went on a two month, 600 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail, from central Mass. to northern Maine through four states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, then Maine. This was primarily to reorient myself; I was so inculcated in the Krishna farm that I wanted some time to reorient, to see what my life would be now.

I made a decision to study Comparative Religion at UC Santa Barbara, and do what was needed to establish residency in California. My old roommate from U. Mass. had moved to Santa Cruz, so I landed there and got a job at Staff of Life. After about a year of living there, I saw that there was so much living spirituality around me – Zen buddhists, Tibetan buddhists, master yogis, Native American teachers – I realized that this living spirituality was richer than sitting in a classroom, so I never enrolled in UC Santa Barbara. I did, however, become more interested in Baba Hari Dass. This was in 1983. It took time because I was disillusioned with Hindu gurus; the strong link was the beautiful kirtan.

At first I came to only the kirtan hour of satsang in Santa Cruz, but slowly I began listening to what Babaji had to teach. I found his view far more universal than that of the Krishna doctrine, so around 1986 I started going regularly to the whole satsang.

During my stay in Santa Cruz, I took a year off to travel around the world and spent time in India. I found India to be deeply spiritual, emanating from the land itself, though I was uncomfortable with the chaos and pandemonium of the modern culture of India. I visited with my parents upon my return, and then went back to Santa Cruz.

It was not obvious at first, but I found out that Babaji had a centre in Canada. Also, a friend was hosting a gathering on Salt Spring Island. In 1987 I travelled with a friend from India to Salt Spring where I attended the Celebration of Life at the Salt Spring Centre. I was enchanted by the beautiful grounds and the easy-going vibe of the people at the Centre, and decided I would like to move there. Meanwhile, I returned to Santa Cruz, moved to Mount Madonna Center in the fall of 1987, lived there for the winter and worked in the garden. On the spring equinox of 1988 I moved to Canada to live at the Salt Spring Centre, where I resided for two and a half years, living in the Phoenix Cabin (before it burnt down and got resurrected.). I must say I loved my time living in the Centre community very much, and enjoyed managing the garden.

1988 at the Centre - Vikash fingerpainting with Soma

1988 at the Centre – Vikash fingerpainting with Soma

In the fall of 1990 I was invited to live in a community in Maui. Because I didn’t have legal status in Canada – and because it was Maui – I decided to accept the offer and move there. I got work gardening on Maui and I built a rustic cabin, thinking I would live there for many years. However, towards the end of my stay in Maui, my daughter was born. Since things didn’t work out with her mom, I moved back to California; my daughter and her mom moved to the northeastern US to get support from my parents.

Vikash's daughter, Mahina (probably around age 6 or 7)

Vikash’s daughter, Mahina (probably around age 6 or 7)

I lived for two years in a remote, isolated commune in northern California called River Spirit, where I learned how to turn deer hides into clothing and make fire by rubbing two sticks together.

There were 11 adults and 11 children living there, and eventually I found the small number of adults to be socially claustrophobic. After getting a letter from Sanatan, I thought of Salt Spring and how I had enjoyed my life there. In June of 1998 I moved back. Sanatan found me a small room in Fulford village – a small, cement, basement room in the house Satya was renting. After several more moves, one of which was in Sanatan’s bus, I eventually landed at the “goat shed” on Weston Lake, with a beautiful yard and great landlady, where I lived for over ten years.

Claire and Vikash in front of the goat shed (where they lived)

Claire and Vikash in front of the goat shed (where they lived)

Vikash, Kamalesh, Henri, Sanatan, 2003

Vikash, Kamalesh, Henri, Sanatan, 2003

During these years I learned how to make beads out of rose petals. It came about as a need for livelihood in the winter season as my gardening work was largely over by the fall. After a false start making rose beads, a friend told me about a recipe for them, which I tracked down. I had success with that recipe, and rose bead making has now been my main livelihood for about 13 years. The beads are quite unique, and carry the fragrance of the rose for an amazingly long time. In fact, the term ‘rosary’ comes from the time the Catholics got the beads from the Muslims in the 1500s. The beads originated in India before Christ. I still sell the beads at the Saturday market, and I’m just setting up a website: www.rosepetalbead.com.

On August 22, 2012, I married Claire Ryder and we bought a house together in the south end of the island. My daughter, Mahina, has become very close with Claire’s daughters, Rose and Dorah. Claire and I go to satsang regularly and support the music with voice, me on drums, Claire on harmonium. We also host a Wednesday evening kirtan circle at the Centre.

Vikash and Claire a few years ago (before they were married)

Vikash and Claire a few years ago (before they were married)

Babaji’s teachings and presence over the years have enriched my spiritual life. I receive teachings from other spiritual teachers as well, and find the core message the same – the non-dual path of awakening, which is closest to my heart. I find myself a pretty grateful guy as to how my life has turned out: a great partner and family, a close-knit spiritual community and an extra beautiful environment. I have been a seeker for much of my life, and now I’m a finder! OM SHANTI

Asana of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana

Ardha Chandrasana (are-dah chan-DRAHS-anna) – Half Moon Pose
Ardha = half; Chandra = shining (translated as “moon”)

Ashok in Ardha Chandrasana against a wall

Ashok in Ardha Chandrasana against a wall

I like to add this pose in the middle of a sun salutation or on its own followed by downward dog (adho mukha svanasana) and cobra pose (bhujangasana). Include this standing pose in a morning practice as a reminder of life’s abundance and ones own physical reawakening from winter season.

Benefits include
Balance, core, leg and buttock strength, stretches the spine, chest groin and hamstrings. Improves digestion.

Getting into the pose
Place a hard block at the front-left side of your mat. Start in tadasana (mountain pose) at the front of your sticky mat, with your feet together and arm resting next to the torso. Exhale and step the right foot back approximately 3 to 3.5 feet and turn the foot out to the edge of the mat, with the left foot pointing forward, heels lined up. The left leg is straight and both arms are held horizontally over the legs, keeping the shoulders relaxed with shoulder blades soft, moving down the back. Hip points and chest are facing the side of the mat. At this point, find the legs strong, balance coming up from the inner arches while pressing down through the earth with the outer right heel.

Take the right hand down to the waist as you begin to exhale and extend over the left leg, bringing the trunk over the thigh with equal extension on both sides of the spine. Bending the left knee, take the left hand to the floor (or block) 8-10 inches in front of the little toe and pressing evenly down through all fingers, simultaneously lifting the right leg up, keeping the foot flexed and the leg parallel to the floor or slightly higher so that it creates a straight line from the side body.

Let the standing leg begin to straighten with the kneecap lifting and the quadricep contracted. The right hip should stack over left. Your head is neutral, neck is aligned with the spine and looking to the side. Regulate your balance with the body’s weight more onto the standing leg but the balance controlled from the core, through the limbs. Repeat on the opposite side, take a break in child’s pose or continue through a sun salutation.

Variations on the pose
To deepen the pose, the right arm can extend above the shoulder with the palm facing the right. Turn your gaze up to the hand while lengthening through the torso from the top of the head to the tail bone.

Using a Block: Use the block on the side that provides the most support and balance. A block provides 3 sides (or heights) to help reach for the floor. Keep your hand flat to the block with a firm hold.

Using a Chair: Beginners can practice using a chair to understand the pose and the alignment of the pelvis, while balancing on the hand and leg. Place the hand of the standing side on the seat of a chair.

Using the Wall: Position yourself against a wall with the feet 2 inches away from it, then follow through as above instruction. Using the wall eliminates the balance component and helps to develop the alignment of the pose

About the instructor
Peter BarragonPeter Ashok Baragon graduated from SSCY’s Yoga Teacher Training ten years ago  and has been teaching in Vancouver and West Vancouver ever since.  He enjoys teaching at community based centres for the variety of participants and the opportunity to offer different styles throughout the week. Rooted in classical ashtanga yoga and hatha yoga, he also teaches yin, restorative, chair-yoga for seniors and power flow vinyasa. Teaching for him flows from a place of love, compassion and gratitude.

Read more about Peter’s experience as a student of the Salt Spring Centre’s Yoga Teacher Training program.

Other postures taught by Peter

Meet our YTT Grads – Peter Ashok Baragon

Peter Ashok Baragon

Peter Ashok Baragon

Where do you live? What do you do in your life apart from yoga?
I live in beautiful Vancouver, I was born and raised here. I have my own business working with real estate companies as an exterior stager for presentation/sales centres around Metro Vancouver.

What motivated you to begin practicing yoga? How did yoga come to be a part of your life?
The initial motivation was to help stretch out before and after a work-out at the gym, then I began to enjoy the yoga class from the meditative side, the spiritual side. My teacher at the time was very encouraging, and helped me explore this. Eventually the class was more than a stretch class; it became my “everything” class. I found myself wanting to sit quietly more than to move in poses, and Be. Thinking back, I remember as a young child watching yoga on TV and being fascinated with it, and my memory of that program is clear today.

What attracted you to the SSCY YTT program?
I was visiting a friend on SSI at the time, and one afternoon he said, “We have to go and see Babaji at the centre today”. My response was, “Who? …Where?” We would return for asana classes from time to time over the next year and always felt at home at the centre. This is before the YTT program was in place, in the late 90’s. I was encouraged by a yoga teacher to be a teacher, so I looked for a centre/school for my YTT and after months of looking I returned to the place where it all began, SSCY!

What aspect of yoga has had the most transformative effect on your life?
My practice as a whole has helped me see myself, my role as a teacher, and my perspective on the world differently than before I started this yoga. I’ve become more patient, more compassionate, more forgiving, and more open to the experiences that unfold every day.

Please share some memorable moments – or a favourite moment – from YTT.
There were several, but one memory that stands out was that I was one of four men in the group.The class was mostly women; I was a part of the minority and this was source of good humoured remarks. YTTs are mostly made up of women, so to be surrounded with a lot of female energy, I have to admit, had its yin/yang moments.

What can students expect from the yoga teacher training at the Centre?
They can expect a comprehensive yoga teacher training covering all the aspects of yoga, in a fun supportive and loving environment. The student will become a teacher within a family community here. Good friendships are made at the SSCY and YTT.

Do you have any favourite quotes?
I have many… I use them as mantras. Today’s is “allow and surrender”

Read Peter’s contributions to our Asana of the Month series:

Guru Purnima 2013

Join us for Guru Purnima on July 22nd, at 8am, at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga.

Through our ancient Vedic ceremony (yajna), we will honour Babaji and all spiritual teachers. May we renew and rededicate ourselves to all that the teachings inspire within us, to attain real peace.

We offer our gifts from the heart in deep gratitude.

Guru is your own Self which is projected onto a person who is more knowledgeable and capable of teaching. In the beginning an aspirant seeks support from outside, which is given by the teacher. But when the aspirant begins meditating honestly, his or her own Self is revealed as the Guru. Then the aspirant starts turning inward and finds the path, which is shown by the voice of the heart.

If you are interested in offering at the Yajna, or would like more information, please contact Rajani at 250 537 9537 or rajanirock@me.com.