Sunday in Lisbon was World Yoga Day and it lived up to its name. Our Portuguese Yoga Confederation hosts took us to a small sports stadium in Lisbon for the festivities, which were webcast live. The stage was set up for short talks, skits, demonstrations and more. In fact, we should acknowledge that this, and all of the events, was highly coordinated and run by sincerely devoted sishyas with great discipline and care for the guests from all over the world. At the height, we estimate 1,500 yogis were enjoying lounging on the green but sun-scorched grass field as the program ensued.
As part of a group of masters that were called up on stage to give short prayers, Sadasivanathaswami gave a stirringly profound poem about what we owe to the grace of gurus present and past, which stunned our host and everyone else present. It stood out as totally different from the mostly "I want to thank our host..." prayers. The other stand out was an effusive, heart-felt outpouring by a Spain -based yoga teacher, Nalini. We will put Paramachariya's blessing at the end of this post.
The opening was a delight. They blasted Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkle followed by Allegría by Madonna while the master gathered all of his students on and in front of the stage in a big, swaying hug-fest, to the intense emotional tones of those two fantastic songs. It was amazing. After that there were lots of little talks, some impressive hatha yoga demonstrations (world-class would not be an exaggeration), more talks, and demonstrations, and on it went. It was a European yoga conference in every imaginable sense. Great, and a bit different than what we might do. But great and enjoyed by all present. Probably good to mention that is is also something historic, and there is an effort afoot to have the United Nations recognize World Yoga Day for June 21st each year.
The shade protection for the VIPs was not sufficient for the more vulnerable among us and we got quite a bit of sun. All day in the sun on the longest day of the year seems to turn the face bright red. The bus can only go so far into the village because the roads become so small that only little cars can drive on them, so they drop us off and we have to walk a beautiful kilometer or so the rest of the way to the hotel.
Every hour of the day has been so tightly scripted that is is difficult to report but we will keep trying. After Lisbon,we are on our own schedule, so days will be less intense and allow us more opportunities to communicate.
The prayer Paramacharya gave:
How immensely blessed we are to be in the presence of ancient lineages and awakened gurus. We thank Jagad Guru Amrta Suriyananda Maharaja for bringing us together on this historic World Yoga Day.
All of you present today are living proof of the power, poise and presence of yogis. And you would be the first to put those blessings at the feet of the masters who have gone before us, to whom we owe an unpayable debt.
It is said that galaxies swirl in infinite space because of the vastness of gurus past and present
It is said that the earth revolves around the Sun because of the wisdom of gurus past and present
It is said that birds sing and flowers give blossom because of the joy of gurus past and present
It is said that water flows and clouds drift across the sky because of the detachment of gurus past and present
It is said that children play and lovers weep because of the compassion of gurus past and present
It is said that consciousness evolves toward the Divine because of the sadhanas of gurus past and present
And I say we here today could not be together were it not for the love of gurus past and present
Aum Namasivaya. Sivayanama Aum.
Over the retreat Saravananathaswami, Sadhaka Jayanatha and Cody traveled to the other side of the island for a hike in Waimea. Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and is quite extraordinary to behold. The group hiked along a cliffside trail which follows the rim of the canyon and leads to the top of a massive waterfall.
On the first day of the Lisbon event, Paramacharya took the stage to present a 25-minute look at yoga's history and future, its trends and its troubles. The presenttion was both artistic and content-rich and he was accused of waking up the audience. He hopes to narrate it for posting to YouTube when we get back, but in the meantime some excerpts and screen shots (his Keynote is highly animated and so we cannot replicate its real effect here, but you can imagine how he played with imagery to communicate the message.
"With the grace of Satgurudeva Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, we will speak today on Yoga: The Promise and the Peril
Let's turn back the clock to see just how yoga has evolved in the last 100 years in the US media.
Compare this 1911 image of an ash covered Indian yogi with this sultry invitation to yoga in an up-scale spa.
Back in 1911 Current Literature magazine published an article called "The Heathen Invasion of America," which concluded: "Literally, yoga means the ‘path' that leads to wisdom. Actually, it is proving the way that leads to domestic infelicity, and insanity and death."
100 years later Time magazine wrote: "Stars do it. Sports do it. Judges in the highest courts do it. Let's do it: that yoga thing. A path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India, yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute."
You know yoga has gone mainstream when you can download more than 2,000 iPhone apps
Another sign is its widening acceptance in major corporations in America, including Nike, HBO, Forbes, Apple, Google, General Mills and Target. These leading businesses provide onsite yoga classes for employees. They are working to improve productivity and employee health, improve creativity, manage stress and enhance team morale.
Yoga is dear to all gathered here. It informs and balances every dimension of life and ultimately takes us within, to the infinite and silent center of ourselves where we discover our true, perfect, immortal Self.
Just as yoga is reaching profoundly into Portugal's culture, so too is it being increasingly embraced in my country, where more than 22 million Amricans practice it and drive a $20 billion industry.
The suit contends that yoga cannot be separated from its religious roots in Hinduism. Teaching hatha yoga, attorneys argue, promotes Hindu thought and spirituality. Conservative radio commentators insist that "Yoga is religious indoctrination" and has no place in a public school in a secular country. On the other side, parents have hired attorneys to defend their children's right to learn yoga in school. It all started with a $533,000 grant from the local K.P. Jois Foundation to create a health and wellness program. The hope was that students, ages 6 to 11, would learn to bring body and mind together, focus on studies, keep themselves calm and even curb bullying.
The presiding judge, John Meyer, himself a fan of yoga, said his ruling will be given on June 26th."
Paramacharya went on to speak of the Great Debate between Deepak about how yoga (in a sense India's intellectual property) is being stolen without attribution. Then some talk of the remarkable burgeoning of yoga-related copyrights, patents and trademarks in the US and the related lawsuits. There followed some insights into how other religions view yoga (not too kindly), and some cautions about kundalini yoga, complete with Paramacharya's story, excerpted here:
While traveling with my Guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, in Chennai, South India in the early 1980s we visited the home of former Supreme Court justice, TN Maharajan. He greeted us at the front door and as he lead us to a sitting room we noted he was in an old fashioned full-body brace tightly wrapped around him from his hips to his neck. He told us the story of how as a young man he discovered the deeply mystical text Tirumantiram, and became intrigued by the states of high consciousness which its author Tirumular described. The young lawyer had no guru so determined to practice on his own and perfect the many yogas spoken of in the text, including kundalini yoga. For years he drove himself in the disciplines and sadhanas, fasting often and partnering with his wife in extreme forms of meditation, pranayama and tantric sex.
He succeeded in awakening the kundalini, and while there was much inner awakening and expansive consciousness, it was not the blissful merging with Siva that he had anticipated. Instead he was wracked for years with discomfort, loss of sleep and powerful bodily contortions. He described it as though too much electricity had been released through an insufficient wire, burning its way through his nervous system, damaging his organs and his spinal column.
The unleashed kundalini began to deteriorate his bones, cause numbness, spinal deformities and ultimately cancer of the spine. When we returned two years later, he could neither sit or stand. My guru, knowing tantric and kundalini yoga should only be persued under the personal guidance of a knowledgeable master, offered this admonition: "Be cautious of those who promise great kundalini awakenings and spiritual rewards from severe practices without preparation, initiation and renunciation."
There was more about taking yoga seriously without trivialization and without greed. It ended with with the blessings of Maha Satguru Lord Siva. Aum Namasivaya. Sivaya Nama Aum
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