Richard's March Newsletter
Workshops, New Classes, & Mailing List Update
MAILING LIST UPDATE:
As you may already know, the Piedmont Yoga Studio has left its rooms at 3966 Piedmont Avenue and is now leading trains and classes in several different venues in the East Bay under the name Piedmont Yoga. We wish them the best of luck. Now the rooms at 3966 have been acquired by You and the Mat from Orange County and re-opened as its Oakland branch. I'll be teaching a good portion of my classes, workshops, and trainings at this new-old site since it's been my second home for the last 15 years. To streamline the distribution of my monthly newsletter and other communications with my longtime students and those who come to me through YATM, I'm turning over my mailing list to the school's directors. Now I'm fully aware that all of you originally signed up under the auspices of the old PYS, so if you don't care to be contacted by YATM please unsubscribe from the list. My monthly newsletter won't be sent to you directly anymore, but you'll still be able to read it by going to my website. Thanks.
(I’ve written about this issue lately, but it came up in a conversation recently and I think it’s important enough to go over again. NOTE: The Sanskrit "c" is pronounced as the "ch" in church, so the word we normally see spelled as "chakra" is properly spelled "cakra." The former spelling is meant to help non-Sanskritists with pronunciation.)
The Hindu cakras (literally "wheel") are much in evidence in Yoga Land. We often see representations printed on T-shirts and sticky mats (where the ancient revered symbols of transformative power are unceremoniously stepped and sweated on by the mat’s owner; imagine doing the same in public to an American flag and what consequences might ensue). Our teachers too make extensive use of them as "props" or organizing principles in classes or workshops for all kinds of instructional purposes and/or goals. Typically the cakras are presented as a system of seven energy centers in our "subtle" body, six of them ranged along the spine from the sacrum to the atlas, the seventh situated at the crown (technically this last center isn’t a cakra, though it’s usually spoken of as such).
What do we need to know about the cakras? First, there are traditionally many more than seven in the subtle body, and they’re not just localized in the torso and head. We have cakras in our hands and feet, ankles, knees, elbows, even the tip and root of the tongue. So the familiar system of seven isn’t the only one; there’s an eight-cakra system, for example, attributed to the semi-legendary human progenitor of Hatha Yoga, Matsyendra, believed to have lived sometime in the tenth century CE (see the Kaula Jnana Nirnaya, "Discussion of the Knowledge of the ‘Family,’" patala 10), and a system of nine attributed to his similarly semi-legendary successor, Goraksha, usually assigned to the twelfth century CE (see the Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, "Tracks of the Doctrine of the Adepts," chapter 2).
We should also be aware that the cakras as they’re typically represented nowadays have been greatly simplified for modern consumption. A drawing will often include the cakra’s characteristic geometric shape, such as a square or triangle, and maybe its "seed" (bija) mantra. But most of the rest of the its accompanying symbolism is excluded, such as the totem animal (e.g., an elephant or a crocodile-like creature), and the resident god and goddess, with their symbolic trappings (e.g., a trident or drum) and symbolic hand gestures (mudra). Though yoga purists may protest this as a "dumbing down" that drastically impoverishes the centers’ potential psychological/spiritual impact, it’s actually a perfectly reasonable introduction to cakra study. After all, we Westerners are yoga kindergartners, our schooling now not more that about 70 years along (no, we can’t trace our practice back to 1893 and Vivekananda, he despised Hatha Yoga), a relative eye blink in yoga’s 2500-year history. We need to learn our ABCs before going anywhere near the yoga equivalent of Finnegan’s Wake. By the way, the best overall introduction to this subject I’ve found is Laya Yoga by Shayam Sundar Goswami.
Now it’s one thing to simplify the images so they can be of some use to students. What gets my dander up though are the random alterations or outright changes made to that imagery, in particular the nearly universal proclivity of modern illustrators to assign the colors of the rainbow to the seven centers. Whenever I mention to a teacher or student(s) that these colors aren’t traditional, my words are invariably met with surprise bordering on disbelief. "You mean there’s no green?" responded one incredulous student recently.
Need proof? Google "cakra" (which Mr or Ms Google immediately "corrects" to chakra), and then click on "Images" at the upper left of the screen. Et voila, through the magic of modern technology we’re immediately inundated with hundreds of photos and drawings of the seven cakras in various settings and contexts, ninety-nine percent of them colored red at the root and running through green to purple or violet at the crown. I’m not exactly sure why this one alteration irks me so much, maybe because I have this rather irrational dislike of anything smacking of "New Age" teaching. I suppose rainbows, like dolphins (or the people who "swim" with them) and angels, are high on my hit list, and it feels to me that in this instance "simplify" has slipped over into "distortion." This is one of our greatest offenses against the yoga tradition, twisting aspects of it to suit our own often self-serving agendas.
So what are the true colors? That, dear reader, is up to you to find out for yourself, I can’t do all the work here. Below is one on-line link to the sixteenth century Shat Cakra Nirupana, the "Investigation of the Six Centers" (and notice, not seven centers), an authentic account and explication of the symbolism of the cakras (this text can also be found at the back of John Woodroffe’s classic study of kundalini, The Serpent Power). I strongly encourage you to download the pdf and go over it at your leisure. There’s much there that can benefit serious students ... and teachers.
WORKSHOPS & NEW CLASSES
On Sunday, March 1, at Namaste Berkeley, 2820 7th Street, I’m presenting a workshop on what I call "modern nadis" or "energy channels" and pranayama. These channels are based ultimately on the teaching of Mabel Todd in her classic study of human posture and movement, The Thinking Body. For more information and to register on-line, kindly go to:
I also intend this month to begin a brand new weekly Sunday class at the Oakland branch of You and the Mat, 3966 Piedmont Avenue. The time and starting date haven’t yet been scheduled, but expect an early morning kick-off, probably around 8:30 am, a running time of 90 to 105 minutes, and a start date either on March 22nd or 29th. If you’re interested in attending, check in sometime after March 16th for the starting date and time. And don’t forget, or if you don’t already know and so can’t forget, I now have a Thursday evening class at YATM beginning at 7:30 pm. See you in April, the cruelest month of all.