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Now that I have your attention, this post does not have anything to do with sex. Sorry.

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I’m referring to the position of being a missionary, rather than missionary position. First made famous by the Christians, this attitude and practice has long been adopted by many sects, ideologies, and groups to promote their vision and ideals.

Last year the yoga community I was living in imploded after a series of sexual harassment claims were directed at the founder and main teacher. Sadly, this triggered a series of events that dispersed many in the community to far corners of the world.  I observe my friends, many trained in yoga, mediation and tantra for over a decade, attempt with varying levels of success, to build their own personal brands and offer teachings around the world.

I also have this calling – to share, to give back just a small portion of what I have received. I have been examining this impulse closely over the last months and have observed that this missionary energy is well-established inside me too. 

Where did it come from?

One of the great gifts that my yoga teacher possessed is of inspiring others to practice yoga. I cannot tell you how many people took their initial steps on the path of yoga after hearing one of his lectures. In the 500-hr. teacher training program, which I completed in 2013, there were a series of commentaries on the great Bhagavad Gita, specifically two aspects: where:

1. Action is said to be superior than inaction (promoting the path of karma yoga in the world, and teaching spirituality) and

2. Where Krishna instructs the protagonist Arjuna that of all those in the world, those who teach yoga properly are most dear to him.

Inspiring, no?

What is interesting is that my initial background in Zen Buddhism was in strong contradiction to this view. Zen is what you can call a very anti-missionary teaching. Even people who come and knock on the door of the monastery are often turned away or forced to endure some kind of initiation that proves that they are sincere seekers and not just following a fad or looking for food and shelter.

When I look into my heart and question why I want to share, I find two aspects, one is the genuine desire for others to experience the beneficial aspects of the practices that I have personally befitted and observed others benefitting from.

Then there is the shadow side of this missionary desire. The one that seeks to justify one’s own choices, lifestyle and habits by proclaiming it superior to other ones. When we make choices there often residues of doubt, uncertainty. What if I took the other path? And this can lead to a doubling-down on your choice, and missional practices.

Today I decided to actually look-up this statement in the Bhagavad Gita – from Chapter 18, the Chapter on Liberation from Swami Sivananda:

67. This is never to be spoken by thee to one who is devoid of austerities, to one who is not devoted, nor to one who does not render service, nor who does not desire to listen, nor to one who cavils at Me.

68. He who with supreme devotion to Me will teach this supreme secret to My devotees, shall doubtless come to Me.

69. Nor is there any among men who does dearer service to Me, nor shall there be another on earth dearer to Me than he.

While this can be interpreted as those who teach are very dear to God, a critical caveat is made here – that yoga should not be taught to anyone who is not interested in it or prepared for it. Therefore the Bhagavad Gita is not actually advocating a missionary-based approach to spirituality.

This is a work in progress for me – recognizing the world has changed a lot in the last several thousand years since this text was written and the original practices of yoga were unfolding.

I once asked another one of my yoga teachers “Who am I to teach” after completing a training program with him and being a novice in meditation and yoga. His response was “Who are you not to teach?”

My feeling now is that the best path is to continue deepening my own understanding, seeking community and sangha to practice with and within. Foremost a practitioner and student, secondarily a teacher when called upon by the circumstances. Following the impulse to illuminate, not the one to justify or defend.

To be continued…

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I’m at it again. Today is the third day of a new 10-day brown rice only fast, otherwise known as the Ohsawa Diet # 7. This is the extreme form of the Macrobiotic Movement, a diet based in the principles of balancing our Yin (receptive/lunar/feminine) and Yang(emissive/solar/masculine) energies, aligning what we eat more closely with what our body actually needs. I talked more specifically about Oshawa and Macrobiotics in my Austerity Measures post.

The morning of Day 1, I performed a Shanka Prakshalana:

In Sanskrit shanka means ‘conch’, and refers here to the intestines, which are as tortuous as a conch. Prakshalana means ‘cleansing’ or ‘purification’; therefore this technique could be called ‘the purification of the conch’. In other Yogic treatises it is also called värisära dhauté (‘the purification through the essence of Water’).

In other words, I drank 6 liters of salt water, then alternated between doing Yoga exercises and going to the toilet. A slightly different version is described here. I performed a Shanka about a year and half ago in Rishikesh with a couple of friends who were taking the Agama First Month Intensive with me. My memory was that it was a lot more difficult the first time! All together I think it took me about 2.5 hours to complete the process, and I wasn’t as affected by the horrible taste of the salt water this time. I added a couple ounces of lemon juice to each liter to make the water taste better, but the reality is you cannot do much to improve the flavor of salt water…

More background on the shanka prakshalana:

According to the Yogic outlook, one of the keys to health lies in the intestines. The physical body becomes ceaselessly and systematically intoxicated throughout the entire duration of life. One of the main causes for premature ageing and senility is the accumulation of poisons in the body through self-poisoning. Every living cell produces toxins. However there is an even more dangerous source of self-pollution, consisting of the poisons which filter through the intestinal walls and which intoxicate the entire body. Even those who believe they are not constipated still have a permanent source of self-pollution in the large intestine. Daily evacuation of the intestine does not exclude the possibility that the mucous membrane of the intestine may gradually be covered by a shell of sediments (generally known as “mucoid plaque”) which become encrusted there and are never removed. There they ferment and rot, and these toxins spread into the entire body. The origin of several forms of cancer is due to the permanent irritation of this intestinal mucous membrane. Cancer of the intestine is one of the most common cancer. However this illness is not the only evil to be fearful if the large intestine is covered with a crust of un-expelled feces. The illnesses which may be directly due to self-pollution are cirrhosis, rheumatism,dysentery, rhinitis, arthritis, neuroses, psychoses, heart disease, skin disease and rashes, foul breath, insomnia, sciatica, anemia, genital infections, piles, gall stones, hysteria, depression, enlargements of liver and spleen, etc. The sedentary life also promotes this self-pollution.

Therefore, the ideal method is shanka prakshalana. Water is simply absorbed through the mouth and reaches the stomach. Aided by certain movements it then travels through the entire length of intestine until exiting from the anus. This procedure is continued until the water expelled is as clean and limpid as when it first entered the body. Depending on various personal factors, it involves an amount of 3 to 5 liters of water.

After completing the shanka, I began my brown rice regiment in the evening. This time around I’m adding a little variety to my 10-day Oshawa. Fortunately in Boulder its very easy to find organic whole grains, so I’m including Quinoa, Buckwheat and a few different types of brown rice. The purists wouldn’t approve, but I think I’ll need the variety in order to get through this on my own.

Like last time, I’m focusing on chewing my food as much as possible, to aid the digestion and retrain my eating habits. I’m meditating and doing yoga daily, going for walks, absorbing sunshine whenever possible. I feel pretty crappy today (headache, bloodshot eyes), but I think this is what happened to me last time. My body is detoxifying and getting used to the smaller quantities. Wish me luck for the remainder of it!

I also wanted to take this opportunity to update you on several fasts I attempted over the past months. I described my initial experience back in June. In late July I participated in a second 10-day Hridaya Meditation retreat. The retreat runs from a Friday to the following Sunday so I decided to attempt two 36-hour fasts from Thursday evening until Saturday morning focusing my fast on Friday when universal love energy is most resonate. I drank only water, spending most of the day in meditation, using my lunch breaks for long walks rather than food preparation. I found both days to be relatively easy – the daytime heat of Thailand helps as you don’t really feel like eating when its so warm. The hardest aspect was late morning, when my body was accustomed to getting its first meal, although this was primarily psychological suffering and once passed I was able to get through the rest of the day without issue. Fasting during retreat was a fantastic experience and I will likely do it again in the future- my body was more settled in meditation, not distracted with digestion or wondering what I was going to make for lunch. I felt a soft clarity that inspired me even past the initial fasting day into the remainder of the retreat.

Now after these two fasts you can imagine I got a little confident and I attempted a third one in late August while I was doing work exchange at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. Work Exchange consists of hosting large groups, cooking, cleaning, doing millions of dishes and generally being on your feet all day long. Oh and you do still sit 3 or 4 periods of meditation in the morning and evening. Needless to say the time there is quite demanding and after about 24 hours ( I was hoping to get to 36) I felt very dizzy and light-headed. I still had the dinner shift ahead of me and decided to call it quits on on the fast, eating a light meal. While I do think you can do the majority of your daily activities when fasting, keep in mind it may be difficult if you are doing a lot of physical work.

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Last week I participated in a workshop focused on the principles of holistic healing applied in Yoga, Ayurveda, and homeopathy. It was a very informative week, led by Dr. Mihaiela Pentiuc, a doctor Western-educated in medical rehabilitation, physical medicine and physiotherapy and now specializing in homeopathy and natural healing methodologies. She is also a nearly 20-year Yoga practitioner and longtime Agama teacher.

My main impetus for taking the course is that as I move into my 30s, I’m beginning to realize my health is not something I can take for granted and is something that needs regular awareness applied to.  There is also the practical matter of being a vagabond with poor health insurance coverage and needing to avoid expensive treatments and hospital stays however possible!

After completing the workshop, my view on what it means to be healthy has shifted significantly. Like many people, I viewed health as simply the state of the physical body- if there are no symptoms or issues, one can be deemed healthy. From a yogic standpoint, physical health is just one small piece of a much larger pie. Homeopathy, and more specifically yoga, looks at a much wider view of the body: including our energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. Someone very healthy physically may be dealing with large emotional trauma or have a serious mental condition. Such traumas and conditions often do manifest in the physical body, but not always. Another shift is the understanding that I completely own my own health. Poor health manifests from blocked emotions, negative thinking, poor diet, etc., NOT just from the environment and outside.  Why does the same cold virus make some of sick and not others?

There were also simple shifts around approaching suppressive therapies. For example, what do many of us do when we have a fever? We try to suppress it with various chemicals. When we do this, we are actually preventing our body from its natural means of healing itself. Of course, in serious conditions of very high fever or the young or old, suppression can save lives. But for most of us such suppression is not necessary.  As a Western-educated doctor, Mihaiela is not opposed to conventional treatments and would often suggest cases where going to the hospital or seeing a doctor is the best option. What she passionately suggests is that there is a balance to be struck between natural and conventional methods that can provide the best outcome.  The World Health Organization’s definition of health is:

Health is a complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity

They’ve gone on to show that under this definition, a very small percentage of the world population is actually healthy. Are you healthy?

Throughout the week we explored a wide-range of topics including lifestyle, diet, spiritual practices, fasting, therapies and purifications. We experimented with yoga asanas for healing, Qi Gong, basic homeopathic remedies, hypnosis, emotional and sexual healing and held a very constructive conversation on diagnosis, treatment and healing of various kinds. I’m by no means a healer now, but think this subtle shift in perception of health and application of alternative therapies can help both myself and those I love remain healthier in the future!

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I find myself in a lovely rhythm this week on Koh Phangan. Two weeks ago I moved to a new place, high in the jungle and extremely private. I have a lovely sea view from my bed and French doors that open to a large seating and practice space. The beach was nice place to start, but its energy can be distracting and I’m pleased to have made the move towards a more secluded abode.

I wake early, meditate, do my tapas (spiritual commitments), read, and enjoy a nice breakfast of fruit and tea. I am practicing Hatha Yoga and Pranayama with a teacher and class each day from 12-4. I’ve progressed to level 3 at Agama and am very fortunate to have the wonderful and talented Kirsten as my teacher. She is a true Yogini, very inspiring and dedicated to her students. Her emphasis is on meditation, stillness, and deepening. I feel an affinity with her aspirations and style and am extremely grateful for her teaching.

As you progress in the levels here, the emphasis shifts from knowledge to practice, and I’m loving it. We’ve had several classes of nearly three and a half hours in length, holding asanas for as long as 10 minutes, practicing sublimation techniques, breathing exercises and meditation. I often feel like I might float away when I walk out of the hall. Agama Yoga is an incredibly transformational practice and it’s so beautiful to watch both myself and others open and explore their true nature, remove blockages and fears and journey down the road of realization together.

There is a growing awareness of my subtle body (prana-maya-kosha). This is the one you can’t read about in any school book and science will deny its existence because they cannot measure it. Yet we all know it’s there, and countless sages have spoken and taught about it. You first have to work on modifying blockages at a gross level in your physical body, removing toxins like alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, and focusing on diet, sleep and general lifestyle improvements. Then you have a platform for exploring the intricate energetic phenomena that is our subtle body, a body so much wider and expansive than our physical one. In many ways its like being an infant and learning to use one’s body for the first time – often stumbling and running into things, having difficulty navigating in the world. Yet as I practice more and more with this, there are new pathways opening to me, new ways of knowing myself and being in this world. There is a feeling of coming back home to a true self, not the one we have been taught or believe that we are, but the one that we actually feel and know that we are. This is the body connected with prana (the subtle life force that pervades everything) and begins connecting us with everything else.

Agama is a tantric yoga school – and there is incredible insight into the sexual energies, raising and subliming them towards the ultimate desire of the union of consciousness with its own luminosity, wherein all appearance is recognized as your deep, blissful nature, or true Self. Tantra focuses on the polarities of Shiva and Shakti, their interplay and communion. Last week I participated in an event known as a tantric transfiguration. I first got together with the men to learn how the event worked – after some time we entered a dimly lit hall where 40 women were sitting in a large circle. The men all took their seats and we began. The women were wearing a dress based on their element (earth=yellow, water=blue, fire=red, air=white). All of them looked incredible. The men remained in their seats, the women traveled around the circle. Every three minutes a new woman would appear before me, present her mudra (often a very provocative gesture indicating where her energies were), then I would take her hands, seat her very close to me. We would sit facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes without blinking or looking away for several minutes. I’m not sure exactly how to describe what was happening – but it was powerful. In those few minutes you could see and feel so much: openness, love, rigidity, pain, longing, hurt, passion, confusion, questioning, seeking, wanting, denying, on and on and on. When is the last time you stared into your lover’s eyes for three minutes without moving? Imagine doing this with 40 (mostly strangers) people without stopping. Something happens. From what I understand, transfiguration means to see another as a sublime manifestation of the Divine, to go beyond the limitations set by human personality, to embrace in the consciousness sphere all the perfect aspects manifested or yet unmanifested which lead love spontaneously to elevated, superior levels.

I spend a lot of time alone- focusing on what’s right in front of me. Cooking my own meals, reading and watching spiritual movies. I’ve been careful about my social life here – one can easily lose focus on practice, engaging in the almost nightly events or constant distractions of being on an island in paradise. I’m no hermit either, I enjoy company and have found a small group of people whom I really enjoy spending time with, discussing the simultaneous beauty and suffering of this spiritual journey together, our aspirations and fears. One relationship in particular has actually changed the course of my life and has been a deeply moving, opening and incredible experience. One bestowed with grace, wonder and love. I could fill pages with more about this and the discoveries occurring within me but these words are more appropriate for a private conversation.

Time to go.

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Maybe some of you think I perished on the brown rice diet because I failed to update you once finished! Quite the opposite, in fact. I truly have never felt better. Solarized, active, and masculine all come to mind. I didn’t weigh myself, but have a sense I lost 5-8 pounds, getting closer to my Yogi fighting weight. It became possible to clearly distinguish between true hunger and the more mental attachment to eating. When your only option was another bowl of rice, the running mind, you know that one that mentally scans the contents of the refrigerator, thinks about possible take-out options or the sweetness of chocolate cake, has no choice but to give up. It’s then that you discover that your body actually requires much less than the mind thinks it does. Please don’t misunderstand me – brown-rice only is horrible for long-term nutrition and many have gotten themselves into trouble with it. However, as an experiment, both to cleanse body and mind, I highly recommend it. Often people ask the question: what was the first thing you ate on day 11? Interestingly, I watched as no single craving stood out. I felt even, disinterested actually. Somewhat frightened to shock my system with something new. I ultimately choose to have some fresh mango and papaya and bowl of yogurt because it seemed like a good idea… A week and a half later I do find some habits creeping back in: over-eating, eating to satisfy craving, not hunger, etc. But – I am eating slower,  more consciously and carefully. I can acknowledge when I do want something only to satisfy a craving – salty and spicy food for me… and be OK with this sometimes, realizing that it’s not what my body really needs.

The diet didn’t have the miraculous effect of clearing out my friendly parasite and it’s becoming clearer that a true fast along with a shankhaprakshalana will be necessary soon.

That’s it for now – I’ll surely be attempting this diet again, let me know if you want to join me next time.

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Today I begin a 10-day brown rice only fast, otherwise known as the Ohsawa Diet # 7. This is the extreme form of the Macrobiotic Movement, a diet based in the principles of balancing our Yin (receptive/lunar/feminine) and Yang(emissive/solar/masculine) energies, aligning what we eat more closely with what our body actually needs. Agama Yoga, where I am practicing this summer, is a big proponent of this diet, as the theory is that most of us in the West have a significant Yin/Yang imbalance, primarily that of have too much Yin energy. 

Originally from Japan, the principle behind the macrobiotic diet combines tenets of Zen Buddhism with a Western-style vegetarian diet. Much more than a list of recommended foods, it is all about a spiritualism that transcends lifestyle, attitude, and diet practices. The word "macrobiotic" comes from the Greek and essentially means "long life" or "great life."

The macrobiotic diet regimen supports an Eastern philosophy of balancing foods to attain a balance of yin and yang. To achieve that balance, foods are paired based on their sour, sharp, salty, sweet, or bitter characteristics.

Yin foods are cold, sweet, and passive while yang foods are hot, salty, and aggressive.  Some foods are prohibited because they contain toxins or fall on the far end of the spectrum, making it difficult to achieve and respect a balance.

The brown rice cleanse or diet # 7 is considered the ultimate in yin and yang balancing, popularized by George Ohsawa, who supposedly cured himself of cancer by following such a regiment. Even today, many people with cancer and other chronic diseases attempt a macrobiotic diet of wholesome, nutritious foods.

Why am I doing this you might ask?  Several reasons.  First, I have been battling a chronic gastro-intestinal issue for over a year that I picked up some time during my travels to Asia in 2009 or 2010.  The theory is that I have some form of bug, a parasite or bacteria that is very persistent and not subject to the various attempts I made with strong antibiotics to rid myself of this unwanted guest. Plus, the more I learn of the side-effects of antibiotics, the more inclined I am to seek natural remedies. I have attempted Ayurvedic herbal remedies, various elimination diets (gluten and dairy) and while these things have helped, they have not eliminated my symptoms completely.  I’m not completely optimistic this will cure me, but its a step in that direction.

Second, I find I have a very interesting relationship to food. During my retreat last week, I found myself seeking solace or reward through food – even if just a cup of tea or piece of fruit, there was something of a cycle of deprivation and reward. Thinking back to my Zen retreats, this existed via a cup of chai or small bite of chocolate on a break. Not that there is anything entirely wrong with this sort of thing – I just have never fully removed myself from the cycle to investigate it.  Eating only brown rice for 10 days will surely do this! This whole relationship to food can be a blog post in itself, and something I will surely ruminate on over the next 10 days.

Finally, I am in a community that fully supports this. There is a group of about 8 of us who are starting the diet today, who will go ‘out to eat’ together and provide encouragement. I won’t be locked away in my bungalow alternating my glance between yet another bowl of brown rice and the bag where I stashed my snacks out of sight….

Wish me luck, I’ll try to update as I go along, although my posts may get progressively angrier sounding…

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Two years ago I built this website for the purpose of documenting my travels abroad and here I am again, on the cusp of leaving home and seeking something unknown abroad. In one week, I depart for Koh Phangan, Thailand, where Agama Yoga awaits.

My initial pilgrimage sought to explore the world, to uncover hidden corners of the planet, to create new experiences and memories.  My trip in 2009 allowed me to exhaust a long-held myth I had about discovering some form of realization through the accumulation of experience.

Today I have a much different aspiration: Unwinding all of this experience, the false identification of self and my delusion about the actual nature of reality. I realized over time that my journey was much more an inward one than anything external or material. My search has narrowed significantly from the entire world, to the spiritual practices of Zen Buddhism, Tantra and Vajrayana. I’ve discovered that this unwinding process is best accomplished through a life not filled with experience, activities and commitments, rather through self-enquiry and meditation. As Yuan Wu so eloquently stated in my last post:

Sit upright and investigate reality. Within an independent awareness, you must constantly step back from conventions and perceptions and worldly entanglements. Look to the void and trace its outline. Take your head out of a bowl of glue!

If all one needs to do is sit upright and investigate reality, why am I traveling half-way around the globe?  Fair question that I will attempt to answer. Let me back up a bit. 

Almost one year ago, on May 16th 2010, I returned home from India, completing a year (mostly) abroad. The journey brought me back to the same place I began, yet things had shifted significantly within me. I vigorously began practicing Zen, both at a monastery in Crestone and at the Boulder Zen Center, developing strong relationships with the Sangha (group of practitioners), and the teachers. After spending a month in a rigorous monastic setting in the fall, I considered a longer-term stay, considered joining the annual 90-day practice period in the winter. Yet, worldly entanglements and my own fear of such a practice prevented me from moving forward. I was involved in a romantic relationship that has since dissolved, a relationship that I believe represented many of the aspects of worldliness that I refused to let go of.  Once again ignoring intuition, I was drawn towards societal ideas of what it means to live in this world, to relate to another person and basically all of the shoulds that are based on nothing but one’s own projections of society and ego.

Part of me wants to say that I’ve been idling the past 3 or 4 months, drifting in this sort of purposeless manner. This is true when examined from the lens of normal that society and we produce for ourselves. I have to step back and remind myself that this is all part of a greater process of renunciation for me, detaching from ideas of self and the world that do not benefit anyone, that only seek to perpetuate a process and mode of existence that perpetuates a world of suffering and discontent.  I meditate a lot, I sit upright and examine my experience. I am constantly trying to step back from worldly entanglements and perceptions.  I examine all the presumptions and ideas of how the world works, what is reality and why I am here.  I attempt to infuse intentions of compassion and wisdom into my body, speech and mind.  Despite on paper being a 31 year old unemployed guy from Boulder with nothing going for him, I feel this tremendous sense of change within, of a new world unfolding before me, filled with Possibility, Beauty and Love.

This still has nothing to do with answering my initial question of why go anywhere? My teacher has told me that practicing in a single stream provides the best results- why swim in another? My answer to this is that my exploration of Agama is, while primarily spiritual in nature, also an opportunity for me to pursue a vocation in the world that has meaning for me. I am considering a meditation teachers training in 2012.  My idea involves bringing meditation and self-enquiry to more people, via any channel possible: Yoga, Corporate Training, workshops, seminars, private consulting, blogging, etc.  It is very loose and evolving at this point, but there is a sense of momentum and purpose for me right now. My intention this summer is to explore the school, evaluate the teachers and the programs, to ensure this is the type of commitment I want to make in early 2012.  This summer I plan to take a number of courses, including Vira Training, Hridaya Meditation Retreat, Kashmiri Shaivism and Naturopathic and Yogic Healing, in addition to continuing my second and third month of studies in the Agama curriculum.

There you have it.  I have a one-way ticket to Thailand, a new Yoga mat and a big heart.

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