Book Review: Love Poems from God

Love Poems to GodLove Poems From God

Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
Translations by Daniel Ladinsky

book review by Kenzie Pattillo

THEY CAN BE LIKE A SUN

They can be like the sun, words.

They can do for the heart
what light can
for a field.

-St. John of the Cross

I began shaving for my yoga students. There I said it. I was 35 years old and had never shaved anything, ever, but I did this for them. Why? It’s the same reason I seek poems about God without the word ‘God’ in them to share at the end of my yoga classes. I want the yoga classes I teach to be completely accessible, without any triggers that might ramp up my students’ left brains and take them away from their own present experience of yoga. (This is also the reason that at rec centres I don’t ‘om’ before and after class, though at studios I ‘om’ to my heart’s content).

Now, one might think that looking for ‘God’-less poems about God in a book titled ‘Love Poems From God’ might be a fruitless (and somewhat ironic) endeavor, but I beg to differ. I had previously discovered that Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of the poetry of Hafiz in ‘The Gift’ offered a healthy handful of poems for my use. ‘Love Poems From God’ proved to be just as full of such divine seeds to plant in the fertile, post-savasana soil of my students open hearts and minds.

Admittedly, I turn to this book often for my own solace and nurturance, and I draw deeply from all of the poems- ‘God’-less and ‘God’-full. Ladinsky has once again done an inimitable job translating a diverse range of poetry into a contemporary feeling anthology that traverses the spiritual traditions of East and West, as well as great swaths of time! By book’s end, what is made plain are two things- it’s all the same God, and it’s all about LOVE.

Though some might critique the author’s translations as too contemporary, he preempts such judgement with this quiet rebuttal in the introduction:

“In studying the lives of these wonderful saints, I can’t imagine any of them saying “no” if they were asked if we could freely adapt their words to a few bluegrass tunes or whiskey soaked jazz. I think they might shout, “Go for it baby; set the world on fire if you can, kick ass for the beloved with some great art.”

Included in the book is a short biography of each saint before there poetry appears. As spiritual aspirants, we are often encouraged to read about the lives of saints, and Ladinsky offers just enough information to contextualize the poetry that comes after while whetting the reader’s appetite for learning more about each of these god-intoxicated individuals. Ladinsky writes:

“I chose these great twelve figures to work with because of their ability to help us know our own sacredness, and because of their skill to awaken us to the wonder- and thus gratitude- of the common.”

So I offer you now a few “God”-less poems about God.

THIS CHOIR

So amazing this choir of
socks, shoes, shirt, skirt, undergarments,

earth, sky, suns, and
moons.

no wonder I too, now,
sing all
day.

-Rabia (717-801)

~~~

A RABBIT NOTICED MY CONDITION

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and
came near.

It often does not take more than that to help at times-

to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t
–chat,

they just gaze with
their
marvelous understanding.

-St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

~~~

WHAT DOES LIGHT TALK ABOUT?

When you recognize her beauty,
the eye applauds, the heart stands in an ovation,

and the tongue when she is near
is on its best behaviour,
it speaks more like light.

What does light talk about?
I asked a plant that once.

It said, “I am not sure,
but it makes me
grow.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

~~~

THE WAY THE FOREST SHELTERS

I know about love the way the field knows about light,
the way the forest shelters,

the way an animal’s divine raw desire seeks to unite with
whatever might please its soul -without a single
strange thought of remorse.

There is a powerful delegation in us that
lobbies every moment for contentment.

How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love

the way the gracious earth
does to our hand’s
impulse.

-Rabia

~~~

WRING OUT MY CLOTHES

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,

I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.

-St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

~~~

LOVE DOES THAT

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries
about the things that bother only
burros.

And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.

Once in awhile a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
than that,

he looks into the burros eyes and touches her ears

and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,

because love does
that.

Love frees.

-Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

~~~

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that-
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in the cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

-St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

~~~

A GREAT YOGI

In my travels I spent time with a great yogi.
Once he said to me,

“Become so still you hear the blood flowing
through your veins.”

One night as I sat in quiet,
I seemed on the verge of entering a world inside so vast
I know it is the source of
all of
us.

-Mira (1498-1550)

Ladinsky does us a great service by uniting these many voices within the pages of ‘Love Poems from God’ through the medium of his formidable skill as a poet and translator.They each prove in their own way that a divine union with God is possible, which seems to be at the root of  Ladinsky’s intention behind this book. He says it better than I ever could when he writes,

“That concept, that sublime, divine experience of union with God I believe has existed since humans could conceive of time…To dismiss the possibility that the divine can speak through women and men is to limit God…Through their poetry, their lives, and their prayers, God played for us his music, which can still be heard today, hundreds of years later, for what a party the soul aflame ignites.”

This is my kind of party.


KenziePattillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

Book review: Myths of the Asana

Myths of the Asanas

The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition
Written by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

Book review by Kenzie Pattillo

“Yogic myth has a genius to clothe the infinite in human form.” Eknath Easwaran

MythsOfThe AsanasBookThe authors of ‘Myths of the Asanas’, Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij, use the asanas (yoga postures) as a means of turning us towards the true goal of yoga by way of myth and metaphor. “The myths point to a higher state of consciousness. They depict the travel of the soul from ignorance to illumination. Their goal is to take us from the illusions of our ego centred existence (samsara) to the reality of liberated existence…” Especially in the West, where yoga is offered as primarily a physical practice, this book shows that a closer look at the poses themselves offer a means of moving the practitioner closer to truth. As Manorama so eloquently writes in the epilogue,

“Myths of the Asanas’ offers the reader an opportunity to journey into this metaphoric link that exists between the yoga pose and its myths. When one engages an asana, one can explore not only the literal pose but also the depth contained in a pose’s story. This fluid linking between the ancient and the modern gives the student of yoga both a window into the profound yogic path as well as a manageable lesson to practice with.”

BookReview-PadmasanaBecause I bought the book with the intention of applying its contents to my teaching, I was briefly disappointed to find a lot of the poses offered are quite advanced. I teach mostly beginner and multi-level classes and many of these poses I will not have opportunity to teach. But what I have found is that even the most unattainable, pretzel-like poses are based soundly in truth that can be applied to other, more attainable ones. For example Padmasana (lotus pose) is not easily achieved by many yogis but by reading about the lotus growing from Vishnu’s navel opening  to reveal the sound of ‘Om’ thus causing the creation of the universe, one can realize it’s not just about the pose. Onward the text reveals the metaphorical significance of the lotus flower and brings it full circle back to the posture as a seat for meditation and ultimately enlightenment by way of the term ‘avidya’ and Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

“The journey of this sacred flower reflects the journey of the yogi. We are rooted in the earth, absorbed by the endless cycle of births, deaths, sicknesses, tragedies, celebrations, bills, apartment leases, and family relations. The yogi knows this muck as the dirt of avidya, the great mistake of identifying ourselves with something other than our divine nature…The promise of yoga is that eventually, through enough nurturing and determination, we will surface above the water and realize our full potential.”

This was just the first pose in the book! Every pose explored by the authors leads the reader from posture, through myth, into metaphor until the deep, profound intention behind the practice is once again revealed. Every pose exposes the potential for transformation of consciousness.

BookReview-WarriorPoseSometimes the myths themselves seem rather inexplicable, yet Kaivalya and Kooij manage to elevate them. For example, the myth attached to the warrior poses (Virabhadrasana) is shown to be about our own struggle against our reactive mind and how to maintain an uplifted outlook (chitta pranadam) by introducing yoga sutra 1.33,

“In order to preserve an elevated state of mind, be happy for those that are happy, cultivate compassion for those that are sad, feel delight for those deemed to be lucky (virtuous or righteous), and experience indifference to those perceived to be wicked.”

Sure, Shiva sent Virabhadra to cut off his father-in-law’s head when his wife Sati appeared to instantaneously combust. But he made it right: he replaced Daksha’s head with a goat’s head…(?) Apparently even god’s make somewhat questionable decisions sometimes.

“It is not easy being a warrior, especially one who is constantly fighting against a reactive mind…Warrior poses are a reminder that ferocity exists not only to destroy but also to allow us sufficient strength to achieve integrity, compassions, and a loving state of mind.”

‘Myths of the Asanas’ offers explanations to many Sanskrit terms I’ve come across in my yoga studies, yet by reading this book I feel they’ve finally sunk in. Terms like abhinivesha, avidya, chitta pranadam, dristhi, guna, guru, isvara pranadana, jivanmukta, karma,  lila, maya, nadam, namaste, om, sadhana, sadhu, samasara, Shraddha, siddhis, and yoga nidra (just to name a few) are all introduced and explained seamlessly and effectively.  I actually hoped there was a glossary of terms at the end of this book so I could test myself! Coupled with an index, this could be an excellent textbook and a very effective approach to teaching yoga philosophy and history at a teacher training.

Kaivalya and Kooij are concise and not effusive in introducing ancient yogic texts from which many of the myths originate or the metaphors are expounded. The Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Mahabharata, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Vedas are all contextualized within yoga’s long history. I imagine a reader new to yoga could feel well informed and satiated while gently encouraged to explore these background texts when they feel ready. I was surprised that there wasn’t a bibliography at the book’s end referencing particular translations of these ancient texts. A great translation can make all the difference and obviously a lot of research went into the writing of this book.

BookReview-balasanaI’m still contemplating how and when to share the bounty within these pages when I teach. For my beginner students, there is time within class to explain the significance of Anjali mudra, Namaste, ‘Om’ and Savasana as they are consistent parts of a yoga class that might seem inexplicable to those unfamiliar with yoga.  The more physically accessible poses such as Balasana (child pose), Tadasana (mountain), Gomukhasana (cow’s face), and Dandasana (staff pose), could allow for some deeper explorations, as they are often held for more than five breaths.

I feel strongly that ‘Myths of the Asanas’ could be very valuable to both yoga practitioners and teachers, and all lovers of myth and metaphor. This book acts as an accessible guidebook, graciously offering to lead the reader from the physical realm of asana to the infinite realm of truth. Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij have created an exceptional and unprecedented contribution to the contemporary study and practice of yoga.

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: ‘How Can I Help?” Stories and Reflections on Service

How Can I Help book coverWe are all walking each other home.

‘How Can I Help?’ Stories and Reflections on Service
by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

The first phone conversation I had with a beloved friend after her mother died was punctuated by a lot of tears on both sides of the line. She had been her mom’s main caregiver during the final few months of her life, and the experience of both caring for and saying goodbye to her mother had been profound and transformative. Amid the tears and heart talk, she mentioned a book that really helped her during this time, and she felt strongly that I should read it. Less than 24 hours later my eyes were drawn to a bright orange book cover on the tiny book shelf at my favourite juice bar as I awaited my ‘Ganesha’s Greens’. Amidst the raw food and vegan cookbooks sat my friend’s book recommendation; ‘How Can I Help’- Stories and Reflections on Service by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. But of course: that’s how strong our love is.

Ram Dass and Gorman begin by establishing a few key principles, and then circle back to them as different aspects of service are explored. Beginning with the premise that we are all helpers, that compassion is our true nature, and that spontaneous expressions of innate generosity arise when we realize our inherent unity, they explore the barriers to that natural compassion. In acknowledging those barriers, they offer ways to overcome them, while providing deeply moving first person accounts that help place these ideas firmly in the world of experience. Those of us who learn better with concrete examples and/or personal narrative will especially benefit from this aspect of the book.

Ram Dass is a yogi’s yogi (he was even taught by Babaji way back when) yet I don’t recall the word ‘yoga’ being mentioned even once in the text, which makes the book more accessible to a wider audience, while still effectively exploring the practice of karma yoga. Wherever a barrier to effective helping is found, cultivating ‘The Witness’, unjudging awareness, is offered as a remedy. By creating more space to see situations clearly, our compassion for ourselves and others increases, our sense of unity is amplified and the helper and the helped dissolve until there is only helping. But it’s not easy and it takes practice!
The only practice offered in the book is called “opening to pain,” which not only helps us experience firsthand our own reactivity and aversion to suffering, but also offers the foundation stone of the Buddha’s teaching: “He saw that if we could break that link between painful conditions and the reactivity of the mind there was hope of liberating ourselves from the continuous experience of suffering. He realized that pain alone is not the enemy; the real enemy is fear and resistance.” Illuminating our reactions to suffering is also part of cultivating ‘The Witness’ and dissolving our sense of separation through true compassion.

“Through these practices, and our efforts to keep our hearts open in the presence of suffering, we find ourselves more available to whoever we are with. Compassion is increasingly an automatic response. We find a deep quality of love infusing our actions with others. The expression of this love, in turn, becomes increasingly our goal, whatever the circumstances. The more unconditionally we share it, the more helpful it is to all.”

This book is a helpful, practical guide for volunteers, those in the helping professions, activists, and even just friends and families trying to meet each other’s needs. But, this book also reminds us that helping is a deep spiritual practice of devotional service.

“Service gradually becomes an offering, first to those we are with, but eventually to that greater truth or source of being in which we are all joined in love. Helping becomes an act of reverence, worship, gratitude. It is grace merely to have the chance to serve.”

“It is no longer an end in itself. It is a vehicle through which we reach a deeper understanding of life. Each step we take, each moment in which we grow toward a greater understanding of unity, steadily transforms us into instruments of that help which truly heals.”

Every chapter of this book leads us toward a greater capacity to be of service. Certain chapters resonated more with me because of my own experience of helping, yet each chapter led me again back to the realization that true compassion is born of bearing Witness and dissolving any notion of a separate self. Ram Dass and Paul Gorman have served us all well by writing this book. It is truly, truly helpful!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: “May I Be Happy” by Cyndi Lee

“May I Be Happy”
A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind
Written by Cyndi Lee
A book review by Kenzie Pattillo

Book-Review-May-I-Be-Happy.JPEG-0d885I found a new yoga memoir at the library last month unexpectedly. I’d been in left brain yoga study for months it seemed – reading books about hands-on adjustments, sequencing and anatomy – and was yearning for a little personal narrative to apply to my yoga studies. Enter “May I Be Happy” by Cyndi Lee: a compelling and well-written memoir that also has within its pages the potential to help us heal our relationship with our own body.

The story is divided into three sections – arising, abiding and dissolving – providing a metaphorical structure that beautifully reinforces the subtleties of Lee’s unfolding journey towards self-acceptance. Teaching discourses interspersed throughout reinforce the process she is going through on her own path and her willingness to bring her students along with her. Her complete honesty and humility are refreshingly daring and exemplify her commitment to the vows of the bodhisattva. “I vow in every moment…to be helpful to every being I encounter in my life- all those beings I know and love, those I know and don’t like so much, and all those many, many beings I’ll never meet.” This book is a manifest expression of that vow.

My first take-away from the book came in the opening line of the opening paragraph: “Vinyasa has three parts – arising, abiding and dissolving”. Now that I’ve thoroughly digested this book I’m starting to recognize this truth in each yoga posture I perform, in the unfolding of both my home practice and the classes I teach, and even in the trajectory of my own life. “It’s a big vinyasa; everything that happens plants a seed and everything that is happening is the fruit of a previous seed. I’m becoming more aware of the seeds that I’m planting; and I’m becoming more aware of the seeds that have created my current experiences. That also means I can choose which seeds I want to water.”

What arises for her is the realization of her own suffering through long held body dissatisfaction that had been normalized early on in her life and cemented as a “full blown adult body grudge” that was only getting stronger as she passed through middle age. It was affecting her relationships, her health and her ability to teach yoga authentically. “Most all of my friends know this syndrome well and consider it a normal thing for our self-esteem to be based on how we feel about how our body looks.” She shares her inner dialogue about these feelings in real time while attending a Yoga Journal Conference in Hong Kong and on pilgrimage to India to visit Deer Park where the Buddha shared his first teachings. She mines her past and sees the origins of her negative body relationship in her upbringing as a minister’s daughter and her young adult life as a professional modern dancer. Once she begins to truly see how unhealthy her relationship is with her own body she sees how it’s been with her all along. It just keeps arising!

She moves into abiding, exploring the presence of this reality in her life, while seeking counsel from friends and mentors, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Northrup, and other long time girlfriends. She integrates this newfound awareness into her meditation practice as a 30 day challenge in the form of a Zen koan of sorts, asking herself, “What is my ‘ideal’ body?” She offers her students a lively discussion of sukha (ease) and dukha (suffering) – practice sukhasanasa-stop practicing dukhasana! – and an experiential teaching of Basic Goodness, found through sitting in Vajrasana and exploring the reality of neural plasticity in regards to the power of practice. “I was not going to share this with my class, but I realized that repetition is how I’ve become such a masterful critic of every nook and cranny of my one precious body.”

Two thirds of the way through the book Lee is firmly aware of the truth of her reality, but still hasn’t found a way to change it. The dissolving still must find a way to be initiated. Enter her mother’s own dissolution and the discovery of her husband’s philandering and the potential dissolution of that relationship as well. Then, Louise Haye (mother of positive affirmations and catalyst for by far the most entertaining discourse in the book) tells Lee to acknowledge her own mother’s narcissism, her own unwillingness to do anything about her situation thus far, and the absolute imperative that she not call the book “I Hate My Body”, because every time she says it, “It just gets worse!” Louise tells Lee in no uncertain terms that she has spent a lifetime practicing “rotten affirmations” and instead offers her the affirmation “I am my own yoga student”. Haye helps Lee see the contrast between how she thinks about herself compared to how she thinks about her students: “I love them and I don’t care what they look like and I never think their bodies are wrong.”

Lee meets with Buddhist nun Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo, who reminds her to take her troubles into her practice and turn it into the path. This includes thanking Lee’s husband for his indiscretions and forgiving the women who were involved. But most importantly Palmo recommends that Lee practice Maitri-loving kindness- for herself. ‘May I be safe/May I be healthy/May I be happy/May I live with ease’ becomes another powerful affirmation to dissolve her lifetime body grudge.
“That old grumpy voice was the one thing not being fed…The most important safe and healthy environment was inside my head. I was no longer willing to live in a place where the law said I had to be perfect. And I was not going to live with someone who didn’t like me, respect me, or take proper care of me, so I broke up with that person – the woman who hated her body – and decided to become the person I did want to live with.”

During the final chapter of this book Lee literally becomes her own yoga student as she practices along with a yoga video she made a decade ago. She feels such compassion for her past self and acknowledges how far she has come. “I realized I had decided to accept the assignment of working with this body. Not to get rid of it; not to resent it; not to wish I looked more like somebody else; but to take this body as it was at this moment on the path towards more goodness.” “If I loved it (my body) unconditionally, I might learn to love myself unconditionally, and then to spread this unconditional love to others. That was a good day’s yoga practice.”

I couldn’t help but relate to the inquiry set in motion in this book. I believe that most women live with at least a small amount of ‘body grudge’, but that it is viewed as something non-negotiable – the cost of doing business as a woman in this contemporary world. I completely identify with a quote she shares by Gelek Rinpoche who said, “You can’t divide yourself into parts and hate one part and love another – both parts are you.” Yoga asana practice has helped me to access those parts of my body my mind has judged unacceptable and integrate them back into a loving, safe whole. The mindfulness inherent in yoga practice has helped me access the truth in the statements “You are not your thoughts” and “Don’t believe everything you think”. What needs to be added is the knowledge that we can change our thoughts, not just abide them. Though I’ve been able to create some space between myself and my negative body thoughts, they still arise quite regularly and if not brought to the light of awareness, I can easily find myself watering full grown plants long ago planted as seeds. Through Lee’s words I feel empowered to not just abide these thoughts but to apply some conscious affirmations in order to plant new seeds instead.

This book tackles a very big subject with grace and courage. Our relationship with our body is nuanced, multi-layered and deeply personal. I can’t even begin to do this subject justice by reviewing this book, but Lee does the subject profound justice by writing it. As Louise Haye said as she hugged Lee goodbye, “…when you get it, you’re going to get it for everybody.” Thank you Cyndi Lee! This book will help so many people. Please read! Please share!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: The Gift, poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

A Book I Wish Were Found at the Library
A book review by Kenzie Pattillo

Hafiz The Gift book coverI offer this book for review not because I found it at the library, but because I wish it were found there. I read poems from this book after my yoga students finish their savasana and make their way back to a comfortable seat and close their eyes. I pick a poem intuitively during the last few minutes of final relaxation, and almost without fail a student after class will tell me how much this specific poem spoke to them and ask where to find this book. Hence, I wish I could send them to the library to find it!

I have always deeply loved poetry but wasn’t introduced to sacred verse that truly spoke to me until I was given a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies’ on the eve of my first solo traveling adventure (which of course led me to SSCY). I actually stopped writing poetry at that time because he so perfectly expressed what I yearned to but found so truly inexpressible. Soon after, I discovered Rumi – lucky enough to be living at the Kripalu yoga centre when Coleman Barks, eminent Rumi translator and scholar, came to perform Rumi’s poetry. Between Rumi and Rilke I thought I was well served…until I found Hafiz.

About ten years ago, while living at SSCY, I came across ‘The Gift’ and felt such endless nourishment in its pages. I could open at random and be rewarded, or start at the very beginning or the very end for that matter and fill up on true soul food. I committed the simplest to memory and repeated them like mantras. As a poet and a seeker I delighted in these best words in the best order. Daniel Ladinsky’s contemporary use of language made Hafiz’ work accessible and yet timeless. These three poems I can still draw on when ‘The Gift’ is not with me at the end of a yoga class.

IT FELT LOVE
How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its
Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,

Otherwise,
We all remain

Too

Frightened.

~~~~~

THIS SKY

This
Sky
Where we live
Is no place to lose your wings
So love, love,
Love.

~~~~~

THE SUN NEVER SAYS
Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe
Me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

As my boys grew older and I resumed teaching yoga regularly, I recalled something that struck me in an article I’d read about the qualities of a good yoga class. The idea was to include something of your understanding of truth and of beauty in your class. To me truth and beauty are indelibly linked and perfectly transmuted in sacred poetry – so I began to bring ‘The Gift’ with me to class.

I intuitively chose to offer one poem after savasana and before closing the practice. While researching poetry in yoga class for this piece it was often suggested to offer a poem at the start of class as a theme to weave throughout or at the start of savasana to help guide the relaxation. In both instances I thought the mind would not be ripe to intuit the deeper meaning of the verse, nor were words an appropriate anchor for practice or final relaxation. I didn’t want to sense wheels turning throughout class or savasana. As I explored my own intuitive reasoning for this placement I came to see what beautiful potential sacred poetry has for unifying the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Please forgive the simplicity of my understanding, but a good savasana takes us deeply into the right brain (imagery/sensuality/expansive presence) but we naturally transition to some left brain function (language/linear and analytic thought) to leave class and go about our worldly duties. In this transitional place the transcendent nature of both the poem and the practice can hopefully be recognized and received . Poetry elevates – and the closing of our practice primes us for deep poetic reception. Hafiz so beautifully expresses the ineffable knowing that yoga practice leads us towards.

WITH THAT MOON LANGUAGE

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
To connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon
Language,

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.

~~~~~

WE HAVE NOT COME TO TAKE PRISONERS

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wonderous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
Light!

~~~~~

AND FOR NO REASON

And
For no reason
I start skipping like a child.

And
For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun’s mouth
And dissolve.

And
For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their
Cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.

And
For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn into a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve into the Truth
That I Am.

Another of my considerations when offering a poem at the end of a class was whether it was appropriate to use the word ‘God’. This can feel very loaded for some folks and I want my sensitive, receptive, post-savasana students not to feel triggered unexpectedly by my offering. Thankfully Hafiz uses so many different words to express the divine that with 250 poems to choose from, avoiding the word God helps narrow down my choices. But at times I will preface a poem by saying that I will be using the ‘big G’ word (“so please take that to mean whatever it means to you”) and at other times I simply omit the word God and replace it with love or light (my apologies to Daniel Ladinsky- but I truly don’t think Hafiz would mind).

These are a few I’ve had to preface over the years:

A HARD DECREE

Last

Night

God
Posted
On the Tavern wall

A hard decree for all of love’s inmates

Which read:

If your heart cannot find a joyful work

The jaws of this world
Will probably

Grab hold of your

Sweet
Ass.

~~~~~

I GOT KIN

Plant
So that your own heart
Will grow.

Love
So God will think,

“Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Rolls.”

Sing
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Needs.

Laugh
Because that is the purest
Sound.

~~~~~

THE GOD WHO ONLY KNOWS
FOUR WORDS

Every
Child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’t,
Not the God who ever does
Anything weird,
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come dance with Me.”
Come
Dance.

Even if I’m misguided in my understanding of the right brain/left brain poetry connection, I still feel that after savasana is a fertile time to plant the seeds of the true intention behind yoga practice. We all know that there is more than just stretching, strengthening and relaxing going on in a yoga class. Much like poetry, it is more than the sum of its parts. What one receives from a good poem and from a good yoga practice is often times indescribable, partly because they nourish a part of us that is beyond words and partly because they meet us exactly where we are at which is so deeply personal.

There is much to be said about Hafiz- his place in history as a Sufi Master and realized being, his rediscovery in the West these last 200 years, and his influence over contemporary poets and poetry. But for me, the true measure of this book is that even after ten years I can still turn to its pages and find inspiration, companionship, and a rowdy God-intoxication that is contagious. As Coleman Barks so succinctly puts it, “There are universes inside Hafiz, a lineage of masters. Daniel Ladinsky follows the playfulness; the rascal moves well.”

In closing, I offer my favourite bhakti mantra from “The Gift”. It was the first I committed to memory, and the only one included in this review that I find too personal to share in a class setting.

~~~~~

MISMATCHED NEWLYWEDS

Like
A pair
Of mismatched newlyweds,
One of whom still feels very insecure,
I keep turning to God
Saying,
“Kiss
Me.”

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Ayurveda, Yoga & You: The Hot Belly Diet book review

Ayurveda, Yoga and You:
The Hot Belly Diet by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar

hot-belly-diet-bookcoverDr. Suhas (as he is called by his students and colleagues) has sub-titled his new book “A 30-day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore your Body’s Natural Balance to Heal Itself.” And the magical diet plan he describes presents the time-honored Ayurvedic approach to diet and nutrition that is based upon sustaining a strong digestive fire. Babaji was asked myriad times over the years, “Babaji, what should I eat?” And one of his standard answers was “Eat what you can digest.” He was pointing to the fact that it’s the digesting that’s the crucial point, not so much the eating.

Dr. Suhas’ starting point, however is much broader in scope: “ . . . all roads to perfect health . . . begin with your mind-set, and your diet is the most important factor in creating that mentality. Food is information . . . it gives your body the fuel it needs . . . and helps generate the connection between what you think and do, and how you feel.” He encourages us to generate “the qualities of ‘self-referral,’ which means you’re connected to yourself in ways that allow you to optimize every aspect of yourself” . . . body-type, lifestyle, emotions, stress, relationships, and nature.

In the Foreword to “Hot Belly Diet,” Dr. Deepak Chopra presents the basic principle: “The digestive tract is the most critical system in the body, because it supplies the energy that allows cells to go through their life cycle, from birth to death, in a state of perfect balance. The key concept is agni, the digestive fire, which supplies vitality to the whole mind-body system when it is burning brightly and efficiently. Moreover, the quality of your metabolism – the process of converting food energy into bodily tissues – decides the quality and quantity of the life you experience. If you have a humming metabolism fueled by agni, you will slow down your body’s aging process and boost its overall health.”

In the hot belly diet described by Dr. Suhas, the basic idea is to re-kindle and sustain a balanced digestive fire that burns cleanly and brightly. He lays out a 30-day plan that is designed to change your whole approach to food and eating; it will reset not only your metabolism but your eating habits as well. It begins with 3-day preparation phase that detoxifies and lightens the load, so to speak. During this phase, we’ll be eliminating refined carbohydrates, red meat and full-fat dairy, white sugar, and alcohol.

The 23-day acceleration phase is firmly based in kitchari, a nourishing, easy to digest rice-dal (bean) combination that comes with endless variations. Kitchari is the main dish for lunch (and dinner if you choose), plus a non-creamy soup and steamed vegetables. Breakfast consists of either a super-food smoothie, oatmeal, or an egg-veggie scramble.

The final 4-day phase of the plan is called “Transform”, which he calls the ‘rest of your life phase,’ in which other foods are gradually re-introduced. The recipes in the Appendix give a hint about the possibilities: Kale Tabbouleh, Red Rhubarb Quinoa, Flaxseed Pesto on Spaghetti Squash, and Black Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa! Recipes for happy cooking . . . and eating!!

While the emphasis in Hot Belly Diet is on food and eating, Dr. Suhas also includes a discussion of ama (undigested food particles that clog the body’s channels), cravings, fasting, as well as guidelines for eating, the importance of warm beverages, optimal eating times, eating for your unique doshic balance.

Even if you’re not prepared for a 30-day dietary make-over, Dr. Suhas’ discussion of the Ayurvedic approach to eating . . . and digesting . . . make for fascinating reading. And most all of us can benefit from deepening our understanding of the invisible process of transformation that takes place within our bodies each and every day . . . from food to tissues & energy & the thoughts/emotions that comprise our life. Happy reading! Happy digesting!!

-Pratibha Queen


Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Bring on the Yoga Fiction – Book Reviews by Kenzie

Continuing the theme of ‘yoga books not found in the ‘Yoga’ section of the library’, I present to you two works of ‘Yoga Fiction’. Though I read all sorts of books, I turn to fiction when I want to take a little vacation from my life and inhabit a completely imaginary one that is well crafted and engaging. Yet I admit I was slightly skeptical of the idea of yoga fiction, especially when also touted as chick lit, meaning “genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly” (Wikipedia).

YogaFictionBooks
But, honestly, I loved both of these books. In fact I read both again six months later and enjoyed them just as much the second time around (a poor memory really helps with this). These books conjure worlds I can easily imagine myself inhabiting, or at least as a fly on the wall. I was able to suspend disbelief and simply experience the stories not only because they are about all things yoga, but also because of (rather than in spite of) their ‘chick lit’ genre. I AM a modern woman: I should more often approach my yoga with humour and light heartedness. And yet because they are about yoga, they go deep. Both of these authors have obviously mined the depths of yoga themselves or this yogi would have found their work disingenuous.

Both books offered some yogic wisdom at the start of each chapter. ‘The Yoga Teacher’ had simple silhouettes and lyrical descriptions of asanas that then wove themselves thematically into the following chapters. In ‘Enlightenment for Idiots’ it was either a quote from a yoga guru, often hinting at the real teacher behind the fictional one about to be encountered, or a pose description that lent itself to the unfolding story. I think this speaks to the truism that you ‘work on yoga and yoga works on you’, and that this practice does not stay neatly on your yoga mat but follows you out into your world whether you like it or not.

‘The Yoga Teacher’ is set in London, England and Grace is an Astanga yogi and pharmaceutical sales rep. Throw in the turmoil caused by her partner dying, her new boyfriend’s drama and a chance encounter with a psychiatric doctor with similar misgivings about the pharmaceutical industry, and you’ve got a recipe for major life change! As this is a work of fiction I’m tempted to not give too much away, but, suffice it to say, she does dump her boyfriend, quit her job and head to a yoga teacher training in the States. The irony is not lost on her that she is heading west, not east, to study yoga.

Anyone who has completed a YTT likely recalls the sharp contrast between who they thought their classmates were at the start of training compared to who they revealed themselves to be by the end. The author, Alexandra Gray, shows through Grace’s character that this is as much about our own innate biases as it is about yoga’s cumulative effect of peeling away the layers we use to project our ideas of ourselves onto others, thus allowing us to simply being who we are. She also explores that awkward limbo of a thirty-something woman who is not so sure which ‘camp’ she belongs in: the young, single, childless twenty-somethings or the more experienced (and less drama-oriented) over thirties.

The second half of the book follows Grace back to London to make her way as a teacher. When her yoga teacher offers her a position at his studio without pay she casts her net wider to make a living. She grows into herself as a yoga teacher by embracing the opportunities that come her way, teaching patients referred to her by doctors who have no more solutions, and as the ‘hired help’ to London’s rich and famous.

‘Enlightenment for Idiots’ has a similar story arc of a young woman/yogi in a tumultuous relationship choosing to make radical change and using yoga to reimagine herself into the future. But in this book, the scope of exploration is wider and humour is used to great effect. Amanda, living in LA, has a degree and a series of dead end jobs. She writes travel ‘For Idiots’ books to pay the rent and is offered the job of going to India to write a book about how to find enlightenment – ‘For Idiots’ of course.
I suspect any travel log of India would be fascinating, but seen through the eyes of a Western yogi who must track the elusive ‘enlightenment’ while sending chapters back to her editor regularly about her progress makes for an infectious read. Amanda visits gurus and ashrams that overtly hint at their ‘real’ counterparts- Amma, Sri K Patabhi Jois, Satya Sai Baba, as well as straight up places of spiritual pilgrimage: Mt. Arunchala, the Ganges River, Rishikesh, Mysore and the cave where the Buddha was said to have meditated, as well as the tree where he gained enlightenment. She finds the ideal travelling companion in a red-headed, dreadlocked, celibate sadhu who always speaks of himself as “we”. He offers a counterpoint of stillness and perspective to offset her frantic search in the face of a plot twist I dare not share in hopes you will read this book!

I really fell for Amanda. She has an honesty and wit that feels refreshing amid the overly serious tenor of many seekers. The way the author shares Amanda’s inner dialogue shows insight and familiarity with how we all fall into the ego’s trap of creating a narrative of our lives from the outside in and then suffer when reality fails to mirror our own mental constructs. There is a vulnerability in sharing such private thoughts that I think only a work of fiction truly allows, and thus I was able to feel more emotionally invested in Amanda’s unfolding story.

These are stories to get lost and found in. They offer beauty, depth and an honest glimpse into a contemporary woman’s experience of life through self-inquiry and subsequent transformation. They also realistically explore the intersection where yoga practice meets life and both consequently become enriched and enlivened. Plus, in case you haven’t already, you get to attend a yoga teacher training and a pilgrimage to India.

Bring on the yoga fiction!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Kenzie’s Book Review: How We Live Our Yoga

How We Live our Yoga

Teachers and Practitioners on How Yoga Enriches,
Surprises, and Heals Us
Personal Stories edited by Valerie Jeremijenko

HowWeLiveOurYoga-bookcover

Upon finishing this book and contemplating this review, foremost in my mind was the need to convince everyone to read it. The collection of personal stories, ‘How We Live Our Yoga’, feels like a very important book to me, though, for quite some time, I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. What I am starting to grasp is that this book is a piece of radical activism that offers a new narrative of what it means to be human in a world that desperately needs new stories that show our potential for living truth fully.

The authors collected in this book, teachers and practitioners of yoga, humbly offer a look back at their lives with the discernment gained through their yoga practice. They explore the themes of celibacy, parenthood, the guru/devotee relationship, cultural appropriation, aging parents, traumatic injury and illness, the relationship between yoga and art, and so much more. They share traditional yoga philosophy along the way but are fully grounded in the context of their lives. They offer myriad answers to the question “what happens to a practice based on stillness and acceptance in a world based on striving, distraction and insatiable appetite” with such profound honesty that their words at times felt like Holy Scripture for the present day.

I suspect there is a little something for everyone in this book, and I personally found that every story resonated with me in some way. I’ll share with you a few that truly struck a chord.

Adrian M.S. Piper’s ‘The Meaning of Brahmacharya’ shared the author’s own practice of celibacy over twenty years and the West’s conflicting and hostile views of this interpretation of Brahmacharya. She places the practice in the context of the ancient Vedic Brahmanas that outline different life stages that put sexual activity in an appropriate framework. She also gives us a possibility to ponder: perhaps celibacy comes about as a result of spiritual growth rather than a precondition for it; perhaps the point of relationship between two people is spiritual rather than sexual.

Judith Lasater’s ‘Swami Mommy’ treads on very familiar terrain for many of us who took our yoga with us into parenthood. After years of formal yoga practice she struggles with how to maintain her practice post baby and realizes that it’s her attitude which has to change. Before parenthood, she could keep her yoga on the mat in a predictable form, but as a parent, she truly has to live her yoga moment by moment and accept that her formal practice would look very different. She explains the concept of an upa guru (upa meaning near) which is whoever is near that is teaching you in that moment. Her children become this guru for her and she also finds parallels between how her asana practice informs her parenting and vice versa.

The guru/devotee relationship comes up in many of these stories with various levels of doubt, questioning and conclusion. Elizabeth Kadetsky tells her story of studying with the Iyengar family in India and returning home with more questions than answers (a good sign in my mind), while in ‘The Guru Question” Jeff Martens is plagued by the story of the farmer who digs many holes but never finds water, until he transforms the story into a narrative that helps him truly arrive at a place of deep knowing. In ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ Vyaas Houston studies and travels with his guru and struggles within the relationship – conflicted when he seeks his teacher’s path, critical of his imperfections and power when he deifies him, yet aware that his teacher sees in him possibilities he himself had not perceived.

I could go on! ‘An Insomniac Awakes’ and ‘Journey in Yama-yama Land’ explore the effects of our disconnection with our bodies. In the former, Lois Nesbitt shows us firsthand the suffering caused by living too much in the mind and the place yoga has in teaching us that we are not our thoughts and that the mind cannot offer the truth of reality as it is un’know’able. In the latter, Robert Perkins shares his descent into and ascent out of suicidal depression through the loss of his wife and the gaining of a yoga practice, realizing along the way ‘…that I breathe, that tension and anxiety have their roots in my mind and their blossom in the body..”

The story that seemed to touch me deepest was one of the first I read. ‘Brick by Brick’ is the story of Samantha Dunn’s traumatic physical injury and the healing journey that followed. In a riding accident her horse’s hoof nearly shears off her entire lower leg and what enters her mind at that moment is the words of a friend; “God touches us with a feather to get our attention. Then if we don’t listen he starts throwing bricks”. As a freelance fitness writer she always approached her body as a problem to be solved from a place of deficit and expressed this belief through her writing and her lifestyle. When a writing assignment landed her on Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa’s doorstep post injury she ‘felt like a wanderer who had just found shelter and, now safe, could admit how terrified she’d been of the storm’. When her healing stalls and she immerses herself in a healing meditation practice, it is pointed out to her that her horse, whom she had saved from slaughter, was actually the one who saved her.

I loved reading this book. I was reminded again and again that each person’s path is unique because yoga meets us all where we are at. Though we must all live our own yoga we are not alone on our journey from darkness to light. Whether it is a physical guru, inner guru, or upa guru, our teacher is always present.

Sometimes we tire of our own story, but maybe we can look at it anew as the path that brought us here – forgiving ourselves for not knowing better until we did, striving to live our truth as our truth is slowly revealed, accepting that we can be painfully slow learners at times. Maybe through the divine alchemy that yoga offers our spirit to reveal our soul we can better release our past and truly greet the future without fear, standing firmly in the light.

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: Stretch by Neal Pollack & Warrior Pose by Brad Willis

‘Stretch – The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude’ by Neal Pollack
‘Warrior Pose’ – How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life’ by Brad Willis AKA Bhava Ram

In the last sixteen years, I’ve read almost all the books in the yoga section of each of my local libraries, and I’ve finally had to begin looking further afield for my yoga-related reading fix. This is what I’ve learned: not all yoga books are in the yoga section!

As an aspiring yogi, I’ve often been encouraged to read the lives of saints, and I have! But now I am coming to see the value of reading about the lives of present day seekers, whose experiences often parallel those of my myself, my students and my peers, on this path of yoga. Here I review two books I found in the memoir section of my local library.

Stretch-book-cover
Neal Pollack’s ‘Stretch’ is undoubtedly much lighter fare than Brad Willis’ ‘Warrior Pose’, and treads on much more familiar ground for most western yogis in the 21st century. In his twenties, Pollack experienced great literary success which built up his ego, identity and career around a certain cynicism and self-deprecation that left him reeling when his career nearly imploded because of his own self destructive and egocentric behaviour. The pain of losing one identity and finding a new one – in parenthood and middle age – sent him to yoga.

He started, like many, in a fluorescent-lit gym, on a borrowed mat, in a crowded and bewildering class, but even then knew he’d found something precious: his best self, a self he’d not known since high school, and a self he wanted to be again:

“…(T)he whole concept of finding my best self went against everything for which I stood. It even sounded stupid…Nevertheless I had to put that cynicism aside, at least partially, because I found myself wanting to go deeper into the yoga…In the walk of life, I’d stepped into a big pile of yoga doo, and nothing could get it off my sole. Or my soul”.

Pollock takes the reader on a journey into yoga that is occasionally cringe-worthy, often laugh-out-loud funny, and heartwarming throughout. He is an earnest seeker, and yoga continually meets him where he is at. As he pursues his best self, he is again and again thwarted by his, shall we say, less than best self. As he makes his way through the Ashtanga primary series, he shares with the reader his insights into yoga philosophy, as it relates to his everyday life. He explores the Yoga Sutras, especially the idea of avidya (ignorance of our true nature, leading to suffering) as it relates to sex and bramacharya: “In other words: Have sex, sure, but stop seeing it as a game or a goal. Go about your sexual business ethically, causing as little harm to others as possible.”

His path becomes more interesting when he takes part in a 24 hour Yogathon for charity, which leads to his becoming a writer for Yoga Journal. He covers the Yoga Olympics (“the idea of a yoga competition seems as absurd as the idea of competitive prayer.”), a Yoga Journal Conference, Wanderlust Festival, and interviews many master teachers in their home studios. The description of the tantrum he throws at a Jivamukti studio in New York City nearly brought me to tears of laughter. He bumbles through it all with self-deprecating humility and humour, but also fresh eyes and a desire to glean deeper truths from an often times circus-like atmosphere that, on the surface, seems anathema to the true goals of yoga.

Like many of us, his practice crystalizes when he finds a teacher he truly resonates with and takes pains to study with. There are some beautiful pages of discourse between him and his teacher about the first Yoga Sutra, ‘Yogas citta-vrtti nirodhah’,
which culminates with how best to react when one steps in dog poo, both literally and figuratively. In ‘Stretch’, Neal Pollack carries his practice into all aspects of his life, and in doing so, shares with us his growing insight, knowledge and transformation.

WarriorPose-book-cover

‘Warrior Pose’ is a much more intense journey from darkness to light. Brad Willis was a prominent foreign war correspondent who risked life and limb to report on the treachery and sufferings on the front lines of foreign combat, in hopes that sharing the truth would bring about change and help people. At age 35, he broke his back and left it untreated because he didn’t want to risk his career trajectory. He suffered years of chronic pain, alcohol and substance abuse, until, at age 50, he found himself permanently disabled, with stage four throat cancer and months to live. His family staged an intervention, and, once drug-free, he found himself in an experimental outpatient program called the Pain Centre, which offered holistic therapeutics to manage chronic pain.

The first two thirds of the book chronicle his journeys abroad and his descent into darkness. They are well written, honest, and compelling. Throughout these parts of his story I couldn’t help but notice the seeds of spiritual growth that were planted along the way: witnessing the indomitable spirit and miraculous recovery of people facing profound trauma, loss and injury; the gift of a golden Buddha in a secret shrine in Vietnam; the advice from Father Joe to “find your soul”; and the timely pleading of his son to just “get up Daddy”. These seeds all begin to grow in the fertile soil of yoga practice, and, inevitably, bear fruit.

The final third of the book follows Willis through physical therapy, JinShin Jitzu, and bio feedback, the latter of which has a profound effect on him. “I begin to realize something that never occurred to me before: It’s not just my physical body I have to heal, it’s my thoughts and emotions as well”. Eventually he is allowed to add yoga to his schedule. His mobility is severely limited, so his practice is primarily restorative, but he commits to it fully. He practices whatever he can after hours – reading yoga books, practicing pranayama, meditation, chanting mantras and singing bhajans. He feels he has found a systematic approach to healing body, mind and spirit, and he repeats to himself daily the affirmations “Stand in yoga” and “get up Daddy” to cement his conviction.

When the Pain Centre closes unexpectedly, he returns home and builds a ‘cave’ in which to practice twelve hours a day. He eventually finds a local teacher and studio to support his asana practice. He attends a retreat (unnamed but obviously Mount Madonna Centre) to learn the purification techniques of shatkarma, and returns home to begin many months of rigorous self-purification, in a final bid to cure his cancer within the time he’s been given to live.

Four months into his yoga practice, Brad Willis’ broken back is healed, and his cancer is in remission. He shares profound insight discovered through deep suffering and firm, unwavering commitment to healing himself. Two passages that best describe this follow:

“…my first step into yoga wasn’t at the Pain center …It wasn’t the epiphany when I entered the yoga room…It was nearly four months earlier, on the morning I found my family downstairs and the intervention began. That is when I began to face myself, realized I had lost control of my life, chose to let go of all resistance, heard my inner voice telling me the truth about what I had become…I had no idea this was yoga. But it was.”

“Yoga has taught me that a fundamental principle in life is that energy follows intention. When we create a strong intention and really believe in it, the world magically seeks to support us. People who think positively and have faith in something are vastly more likely to manifest it than those who feel doubtful and negative. It still takes great devotion and hard work, but it always starts with the mind”.

Neal Pollack’s memoir is equal parts hilarious and irreverent, but still informative and life affirming. He traverses the contemporary western yoga landscape and takes us along for the ride. Brad Willis offers a dramatic journey from darkness to light, and documents the transformative potential yoga holds. Both authors expose the true heart of yoga – still beating after all this time.

Kenzie Patillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.