October Newsletter 2015
October snuck up on me, and so my newsletter this time is a bit behind schedule. As they say though, Better late than never, though some of you after reading this latest encounter of mine might be thinking better never than late.
Anyway, I had a wonderful time in London at Tri-Yoga, all the students there were brilliant, and I made a bunch of new friends. For some reason I haven’t yet fathomed, they asked me to join their teacher training faculty, and we’ve already set the dates for next August.
As far as October is concerned, I’m off to Ojai and the Yoga Crib next week, I’m looking forward to seeing the gang down there, teaching a couple of classes, and attending a few myself. Then right at the beginning of November, I’ll head out to Knoxville, one of my favorite places, the food and music there are always superb, and I always enjoy everyone making fun of my "accent." The best part of being there is when complete strangers pass me by on the street, smile, and say, "Mornin’."
Put a red circle around the date November 14 on your calendar, it’s a Saturday, because we’ll be holding a benefit for the Veterans Yoga Project at You and the Mat, 3966 Piedmont Avenue, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. This is a most worthy cause, the teachers associated with this organization work with veterans often in some distress. Several of my students have gone through their training and they all assure me it’s of the highest quality. Last year, under the auspices of the late Piedmont Yoga Studio, we raised over $1000, and I trust the YATM community will be just as generous. As the building’s resident veteran (Berlin Brigade, 287th Military Police Company, August 1971 to January 1973, and no, this isn’t a joke), I’m more than happy to be leading the charge, uh, class. Expect a suggested donation, which you can add to if you wish, though if you’re a bit short, you can toss a little less in the pot too.
And looking way down the line, start thinking about the annual Spa Day, it’ll be on Sunday, December 27, as usual a benefit for our work with special needs students.
Coming down the hill from the bookstore one afternoon, I decided on the spur of the moment to stop in at Café Loka for an agua fresca and a peanut butter cookie. As I walked into the dining area the first person I noticed—he would be hard to miss in any crowd—was Yogi Meshugganatha (hereafter M), all 300 pounds of him, arms and neck tatted up, eyepatch over the right eye today, it being an even numbered day (he wore the patch over the left eye on odd numbered days, alternating daily according to this schedule, to give each eye "every other day off," as he once explained). Sitting with him was a very attractive woman, maybe in her late 20s or early 30s.
"Richard!" M’s voice boomed out across the room, rattling the cups on the tables near him. "C’mon over here, there’s someone I want you to meet." I threaded my way through the scattered tables to where the two were sitting. The woman’s name, M informed me, was Durga Goldberg, and close up now I saw she was wearing a T-shirt that read: Post-Mortem Yoga. Death is Not the End of Practice. "I like your T-shirt," I said, "it’s very funny." She looked at M, who said, "Well, um, actually it’s not supposed to be. Durga really does teach Post-Mortem Yoga." She looked at me and smiled. "It’s OK," she said, "I get that all the time."
I sat down. "So tell me," I said, "what’s Post-Mortem Yoga?" She smiled again. "I’m glad you asked," she said. "We have yoga for all the stages of life, from toddlers to seniors. But what about those in the afterlife?" "Um, what about them?" "Well, they’re people too," she said, earnestly, "at least they were and will be again. Why should practice stop just because you’re dead?" M nodded. "I like to think of it as pre-pre-natal yoga, get ‘em started even before it’s early."
"So how exactly did you get into this?" I asked.
"Eight years ago," she began, "I was traveling with my teacher in India. We were going to see a yogi, reputed to be over 200 years old, living in a cave in the Himalayan foothills. When we found his cave, it was obvious it had been abandoned for a long time. We went into the cave, flashlights shining, and found three crumbling manuscripts, two in languages neither of us could identify, the third in a kind of crude Sanskrit. My teacher started reading, though each time he turned the page it fell apart, so there’s no record of it that survives. (Hm, I thought, where have I heard that before?). It was titled the Maranottara Sutra, the After-Death Sutra, and it outlined how to teach yoga to the souls in what’s called the anama sthanam, the Place with No Name. This is where we all go after death to await assignment for our next incarnation."
"How do you teach the souls there yoga?" I asked, trying to keep the incredulity out of my voice. "They don’t even have a body." "Oh but they do," she replied, "it’s called the karma kancuka, the karma "jacket," made of all the karma accumulated through dozens of lives. We all have one, except for the adepts like Meshugganatha." He nodded. "Mine’s at the dry cleaners," he said, "spilled some vrittis on it." "But how do you contact them?" I wanted to know.
"Well, it wasn’t easy at first," she said. She reached into a big bag hanging over her chair back. It was white with black-lettered words all over it: mrtyu, vyapad, ajivani, antashayya, abhavani, uparati, kalakriya, dirghanidra, dehayatra, nirvrti, pramaya, pranahani, mahanidra, mari, and many more. She saw me reading. "Guess how many words there are in Sanskrit for ‘death’," she said, "betcha can’t." She was starting to freak me out. "Lots and lots," I ventured. "Close, "she giggled. "144." "There’s a guy in India I know," M said, "he has ‘em written down on little pieces of paper. You pull one out of an old Yankee cap he uses, and he can tell from which word you randomly pick the exact day and time you’ll die ...I’m 3:22 pm, September 26, 2032." I stared at him, waiting for the punch line. "It’s a Sunday."
As M and I were talking, Durga rummaged through her death bag, finally pulled out a dog-eared paperback, opened it and read, "The effects of karma might manifest immediately or later in the future. If you observe your actions with unwavering attention, or study omens, you’ll acquire an insight into death." "Patanjali," I said, "three twenty-two." I was enormously pleased with myself. How many other teachers could just call out chapter and verse like that? I waited for a compliment. "Three twenty-three," she corrected, and I couldn’t let that pass, "When the text includes 196 sutras, instead of 195." The smile broke into a full-throated laugh. "Yes, the extra one is numbered three twenty-two." I started to say something about that, not wanting to lose the last word, but thought better if it. "I tried working with karma for a year or two without any success," she continued, "then I picked up on the word arishta, usually translated as ‘omen.’ I knew I couldn’t learn how to work with omens on my own, so back I went to India to find someone who could teach me. To make a long story short, I studied with three shakuna masters over the next four years, and learned to read lightning and rain, stars and constellations, altar smoke, body moles and wrinkles, shadows and wraiths, the bumps on your head, and most importantly, the cawing of crows, the cooing of doves, and the hoot of owls, all entry points to the Nameless Place. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to make my first contact."
"But what do you teach them?" I asked. "Oh, the poses are the same as you’ll find in traditional books. Some jackets are quite light, made predominantly of white karma, and they hold poses for what seems to us like several days." "I know the feeling from my training at the Iyengar Institute," I joked. "Who’s Iyengar?" she asked with a straight face. I looked at M, who shrugged. "Anyway," she went on, "others are weighed down with black karma, and need special attention."
We chatted a bit more, then Durga said she had a class to teach. As she stood up, I couldn’t help but ask. "By the way, how do you get paid?" There was no smile this time. "I don’t teach the dead for money," she replied sharply. "It’s a labor of love," and slinging her bag over her shoulder, she walked off briskly without looking back.
"Who or what was she?" I said to M, and he just laughed. "She might teach the dead for free, but her trainings are quite expensive." My eyes widened. "People actually buy into that?" I said. "Oh yes, absolutely. It’s especially popular in countries with high suicide rates." "But how do they make any money?" "The relatives left behind pay for their dear departed, the pitch is quite effective." He shifted to one side and pulled a pamphlet out of his back pocket and handed it to me. "Post-Mortem Yoga ... Give the dead the gift of life," I read. "Their next incarnation will thank you." There was a picture of Durga, and a schedule of her upcoming trainings, Tucson, Des Moines, Green Bay, and encomiums from her trainees. "Teaching the dead is so rewarding," Tiffany H., Sacramento. "I only wish Post-Mortem Yoga had been available to me the last time I was dead." Shava D., Teaneck. "She also provides a ‘pre-fetal finding service.’ It’s for yoga couples planning to have a child. She tracks down the soul that’ll be assigned to their fetus and gives it privates. Apparently some of the kids are born already in Lotus." "How does she..." I started to ask, then "... never mind." I handed back the pamphlet. "And how did you meet her," I asked. "Oh," M smiled, "I ran into her the first time in India, as she was coming down from my cave, and we’ve kept in touch ever since."