What is Yoga?

As part of the RYT 200, we were all asked to write an essay as titled, ‘What is Yoga?’.
This is my take on it

What is Yoga?

I think it far easier to answer questions such as’ what is the sound of one hand clapping’ or ‘if a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a noise?’

(the answer to the latter at the end)

Forty years ago, yoga, to me, created visions of scandinavian men and women, all in leotards and all with thick moustaches, as I’m sure they were the images impressed on me when I picked up a magazine about Yoga as a child in a dentists waiting room. Initially yoga for me was a memory of painful fillings.

Now, four decades later, Yoga is the fastest growing activity in the world and the leotards have changed to designer spandex and the dentist’s assistant is an Ashtangi.

Of course most people confuse yoga with asana – the bendy, stretchy stuff.

For some, yoga is endless selfies posted on social media showing off circus act feats, from head stands to handstands wearing designer clothes adorned with Om and Lululemon symbols mostly done in exotic locations or in front of a candle lit mandala or an iconic Hindu or Buddhist deity.

However, are these amazing contortionist images, pictures of someone doing yoga?

Of course not.

They are simply pictures of people showing off circus act feats, from head stands to handstands wearing designer clothes adorned with Om and Lululemon symbols mostly done in exotic locations or in front of a candle lit mandala or an iconic Hindu or Buddhist deity.

You cannot, by definition take a photograph of yoga anymore than you can take a picture of a dream. And whether you have long or short hair or wear a Saddhu beard or are clean shaven or dress in woolly Ecuadorian coats (fleece lined or not), play the pan pipes, eat only gluten free, sport Ganesh tattoos or are able to do a turn on a didgeridoo whilst juggling flames does not make you more spiritual or yogic ‘than thou’.

* As a side note I am considering setting up a male yoga shorts empire which will be branded as BudgieSmugglers (© Kev Ollier 2016) *

Some of the earliest photos of a westerner doing Asana were of the eventually- presumed- murdered, Theos Bernard in the 1930’s. Bernard’s  intention wasn’t for admiration or instagram hits but to show how to execute (possibly a bad choice of word) a particular posture to get an inner result.

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Bernard was of one of the most influential Western Yogis of the twentieth century, whose guiding light was to know the truth, free from the trappings and tapestries of illusion.

So is yoga, asana?

Yes but mostly no.

Yoga is said to have derived mostly from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali of which there are 196. Compiled 400 years BC/BCE/CE, depending on your preferred acronym, asana is only referred to three times and yet the whole world now assumes that yoga is asana when asana is, in truth, a very minor aspect.

In the sutras, Patanjali suggests, when practicing asana, for it to be “steady and comfortable”.
“The body is held poised with the practitioner experiencing *NO DISCOMFORT*. When control of the body is mastered, practitioners are believed to free themselves from the duality of heat/cold, hunger/satiety, joy/grief, which is the first step toward the non-attachment that relieves suffering”

Surely that’s the whole point. That paragraph just quoted is probably it –  what yoga is, though I think even that can be minimised and summed up in one word……..but we all like to read volumes and volumes of books saying exactly the same thing, from Buddhist philosophy to the Gita to get to that all encompassing and simple word, so continuing on…

Listed below are traditional rules for performing asanas:

  • The stomach should be empty which means not eating for at least 3 hours before asana
  • During asanas force or pressure should NOT be used, and the body should NOT tremble.
  • Lower the head and other parts of the body slowly; in particular, raised heels should be lowered slowly.
  • The breathing should be controlled. The benefits of asanas increase if the specific breathing to the yoga type is performed.Having practiced asanas for 20 years I have witnessed that very few people follow even these. Navasana makes me tremble. In fact if I want to feel like I have rickets, Navasana ticks the box.The heart of Patanjali’s teachings is the eightfold path of yoga of which asana is only one and with modern hatha yoga aka Ashtanga yoga, this is seen to be ‘what yoga is’

    In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows: Yama : Universal morality –

    Niyama : Personal observances
    Asanas : Body postures
    Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
    Pratyahara : Control of the senses
    Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
    Samadhi : Union with the Divine

     

    Anyone of us can experience something nearer to what yoga is whilst doing asana.

Many fingers point to the moon for us to experience yoga in asana, albeit with a different and revised set of distractions from the usual thoughts occupying our minds during our practice. Following and concentrating on one’s breath, having focus points within each pose (drishti), pulling in or up parts of the body rather than wondering what to make for dinner or being anxious of the day to follow or does my bum look big in this Lulelemon swimsuit?

An asana practitioner can spend a lifetime working out and feeling where the perineum is.
One can usually tell when someone is trying to find it as the face pulled is similar to that of a face that’s just eaten a non-agreeable Vindaloo – and there is someone in the loo.  (For the record, the perineum is  on the ‘bridge’ between the anus and the genital area/scrotum and trying to pull that centre up is akin to riding a see saw – you want the calming centre, not the ends)

The yogic distractions, if followed with meditative discipline, will bring you into your body and by default the postures will be deeper and more comfortable as your mind relaxes and lets go, but most modern classes, only having five breaths to work with in each posture, more often than not don’t allow time to get to those ‘spaces’ – for most people, and this could be why ‘Yin’ yoga is becoming more popular. There is fundamentally no difference between Ashtanga and Yin expect the length of time held in an individual posture. Yang is Ashtanga flow, Yin, Ashtanga slow. If we were to stay in each posture in a Hatha Ashtanga class for just one dedicated minute, it would do what Yin achieves, giving space and time for the mind and body to relax and be comfortable – apparently the whole point of Patanjali’s reference to asana.

This seems to be the whole point of asana. Without this aim, all we are all doing is stretching and bending. The mind has to be fully involved in the moment before becoming eventually uninvolved, which is nearing what yoga truly is, as far as my own understanding goes.

The book of books, the Bhagavad Gita concludes that yoga is simply doing what you do in everyday life without any attachment to ‘the fruit of your actions’

Donna Farhi – currently my very favourite ‘yogi’, once asked, in a workshop, what is yoga?. The usual stock answers were forthcoming of course but one girl said, and I paraphrase, that yoga is clearing up after a workshop, it’s helping the old lady across the road, it’s holding a door open for somebody. It’s doing RAOK (Random acts of kindness)

Currently it could be helping refugees in some way or it could even be feeling so much warmth and sorrow for Donald Trump. If you can do the latter, you’re nearly there.

So, what is Yoga? There are 7 billion people on Earth and therefore 7 billion correct answers but for me it comes down to one word.

Is that word, God? The problem with the word ‘God’ – a word I think should be banished from all language is that people perceive God as a person, a person to many in the west who looks a lot like Santa only with more sensible clothes and a longer, indeed eternal, Hell if you’re naughty, than just no presents on Christmas morning

The word ‘YOGA’, same as the word ‘GOD’ can be changed to another word and that is LOVE.

The ‘secret’ is seeing everyone as one of your own relatives or friends. The BIG ISSUE seller or the lady camping out every night in a doorway is your mum, sister, daughter, best friend. The abusive guy in the car that just cut you up is your son, brother, dad having a bad day. The refugees living in squalor in Calais are your family and friends but with all of these it very simply could be you. Compassion and Empathy is part of Love.

Practicing asana may eventually take you so deep into yourself that you can’t do anything else but to feel compassion and empathy, firstly for your own self and then, like gravitational waves from your own heart, to every being alive

Love.

To me that is what Yoga is.

As for the falling tree in the forest. No

Yoga. Why?

 following on from
https://kevollier.com/2015/05/25/so-18-years-on-to-be-a-yoga-teacher/

I think my decision to do the teacher training has brought up a lot of questions, particularly the one that will I ever teach? I’m not sure I will. I have no intention to but then I hear so many teachers say that they said the same thing right up until they were qualified. But other questions that have been loitering in the back of my mind have come to the forefront and the questioning of yoga has begun; it reminds me of why we should question everything which was brought home to me by David Icke, no less, who’s conference I attended back in 1991, (which was his post turquoise/pre lizard period). He was giving an example of why we should question everything (and in yoga that means questioning the seemingly ‘they know best’ unquestionables).
David’s wife
was cooking something for dinner but before she added this whatever – it – was to a pan, she cut the corners off it and the conversation apparently went something like this:

‘Why do you cut the corners off that?’
‘Well that’s how it’s done, it’s always done like this’
‘Who says exactly?’
‘That’s how my mother has always done it’
‘Yes, but why? Could you ring her and ask her, right now?’
So Mrs Icke calls her mum and asks why she always cut the corners off to which came the reply,
‘We had to, it wouldn’t fit in the pan otherwise’ !

Kev Ollier - David Icke

How often do we leave a slug of tea in the bottom of a cup still? A memory from when there were tea leaves and I always leave a pool of tea and yet I’ve never had tea leaves!

It was at a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff – who is one of the original western students who studied yoga under Sri Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India – where I learnt why we ‘supposed to’ do a 6 day a week practice ( I say ‘we’, but I really mean ‘they’) and not a full 7 days. It was simply because Mrs Pattabhi wanted to go shopping with her husband and so it was changed from a 7 day to 6 day practice to placate her. This would then follow, that had she insisted on three days with her beloved, then the western Ashtangis would be doing a 4 days a week practice.  Who says it has to be so many days a week? Was it just Pattabhi or was it Krishnamachurya, Pattabhi’s teacher, who insisted, and if so, why? Was it because he had nothing better or more pressing to do?

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Nancy Gilgoff practicing with Pattabhi Joisback in the day

At a Kino Macgregor workshop in London a couple of years ago, she explained that it is not essential to take your arms out to the side coming in to the first sun salutation in a crowded space, particularly if you’re likely to smack your neighbour in the face on the way up. Lifting the arms over the head and joining hands is all that apparently matters.
It was also Kino that expressed that there is so much dogma attached to yoga, especially with Ashtanga, in practices such as Nodi Shodhan (alternate nostril breathing) where she called the action of pressing the fingers into the third eye on the forehead as simply ego – it’s closing the nostrils alternately that matters.

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Kino

It seems we all expect (without question) that Yoga, especially Ashtanga, has to have tropically heated rooms, so hot that if you close your eyes you could hear tree frogs. Gregor Maehle says that if you want to age prematurely in yoga then heat the room. I quote from a post he sent to Facebook about this very question

“I keep receiving questions regarding whether it’s important or good to heat the yoga shala and whether this aids in detoxing. I also hear people reasoning that the shala should be heated to emulate the heat of the gangetic plains in India, which is supposed to be the native environment of yogis. Now during the 1980 and 90’s I travelled extensively through the gangetic plains but I must say that I found them surprisingly bereft of yogis. On the other hand if you went up into the freezing Himalayas you found that the yogis were stacked up to the rafters. Surprising, isn’t it!
Do you remember that even Krishnamacharya went up into the Himalayas to practice tummo, yoga of inner fire, while sitting on the ice? You can’t practice that down in the gangetic plains.
Nowadays Western yogis are really emphatic about keeping the windows of the yoga shala closed. I remember that neither KP Jois old shala in Lakshmipuram nor the Parakala Matt in Mysore where T Krishnamacharya taught ever had any windows. And I remember that in January at 4.30 AM I always froze in those drafty windowless rooms. And nobody offered to turn on any heaters because there weren’t any!
People who practice in such a fashion usually age prematurely and if you look at them 10 years later they have a washed out and drained look to themselves because of all the prana they lost, by practicing too vigorously under too hot conditions.
Notice that the yogis were very concerned about loosing tejas (inner glow) and one of the ways of preventing that is to rub the sweat produced during pranayama back into the skin.
**This is a technique, however, that should ONLY be used in the context of pranayama and NOT during asana, during which excessive sweating should be avoided**
Hence, do not heat the room too much and if it’s warm outside keep the windows open. Many yogic texts (shastras) state that the shala should be well aired.”

Ekapada-Gregor
Gregor Maehle

Then there was the time that I was at one of the Brian Cooper workshops in Glastonbury. I respect Brian immensely, particularly for his ability and total honesty and his very dry sense of humour (at least I think it is). He was asked by one student as to what is the point in getting a leg behind your head and his answer was “there is no point, what’s the point to any of the postures, fun? To show off at a party?”  I love Brian.

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Brian Cooper

Of course, the BIG question is why do yoga? Usually you have to keep asking why to each answer you give yourself before you get to the crux of an answer and one that might surprise you. Was it really to be fitter? You could ruin your knees and go jogging to do that. Was it to try and stave off the inevitable, to look good, to feel young again-  or was it to go within, to your ‘true’ self? Maybe the first answers are what you think are honest ones yet maybe deep down it was the latter we seek. Eventually in yoga, to those that stay the distance, that turning inwards, will happen to everybody and surely that’s the idea? Yoga is a non-religious spiritual practice. It is not for atheists. If you’re an atheist and you’re practicing yoga then it’s simply not yoga – it could be exercise, it could be gymnastics but it certainly is not yoga, whatever the sign says above the door, and it really should go without having to keep reminding ourselves that there are eight limbs of yoga and the physical is just one, the lesser one at that, and more ‘yoga schools’ would be beneficial to teach, or to at least discuss, the heart of yoga – the other seven limbs.

Asana is by far the easiest limb to master. One’s self is the holy grail.

kala

So 18 years on, to be a Yoga teacher……….

Today, approximately 18 years after entering my first yoga class I am filling in the form to take the 200 hours teacher training. This, has been a difficult and soul-searching decision to say the least.

Kev Ollier acro yogic flying

It was all those years ago and being the owner of a security alarm business that stress got the better of me. Running a 24 hour business and having to respond at any time to a false alarm was trying at best and I lost my two best friends that year, one to cancer and one to suicide and I pretty much sort of flipped.

My very best friend was also my spiritual friend as we had both got on to that path together simultaneously a few years earlier getting quite heavily into Ram Dass and Buddhist teachings as well as dabbling in dowsing and visiting crop circles, stone circles, holy wells and ancient sites. Our choice of music changed from AC/DC and Motorhead to Enya. And when you go from Motorhead to Enya virtually overnight you know that something has shifted.
So his death was a terrible shock and was followed by my other great friend who having a poorly tummy that led him to go to the doctors also led him to his death just 6 weeks later, leaving two kids the same age as my own.

I spiraled into anxiety and depression.

Death was real. Loss was real. Fear was very real.

I went through months of thinking I was going mad, being outside of myself, avoiding crowds and supermarkets (though the latter I think is still advisable) and it was around this time that I was walking along Glastonbury High Street when I got talking to a hippy girl and found myself opening up to her – though this was normal at the time. I think I was so fearful of what was happening to me that I opened up to all and sundry. Anyway she advised I try yoga – which in my mind produced a picture of camp Scandinavian men in dodgy leotards and bad moustaches doing improbable body bending. (there are a lot of guys who, until very recently at least, hold some or all of those images of yoga guys- trust me on this).

Kev Ollier yoga .17

Besides this and having read the Celestine Prophecy I took this suggestion as a message and so I went along to a class with a wonderful teacher, published parapsychologist, Serena Roney Dougal. I was blown away. The class followed the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati mostly from Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha – a renegade yogi apparently that shocked the yoga establishment at the time. (However Satyananda’s other significant move was to bring yoga into the domain of medical science, and explain esoteric techniques in terms of western anatomy and physiology). We did humming breath, stared at a candle for ages, nodi shodan, meditation and asanas and I left that class each week so calm, so clear yet as high as a kite, that lasted three days and seeing how Marijuana lasted only 4 hours and resulted in mostly talking bollocks, three days of renewed and organic clarity was literally a Godsend. I don’t think I missed a week and I never saw that girl who suggested the class again (and some of us may have a name for those beings).

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In time Serena moved on, spending 6 months of each year in an ashram in India but I couldn’t stop the yoga so I went to various hatha yoga teachers, all very good, drifted into an Ashtanga class about 12 years ago going a few times but not keeping it up for more than 3 weeks thinking it missed the spiritual element too much but 8 years ago, aging as one does and seeing the futility of the ‘staving off the inevitable’ gym life, I revisited the Ashtanga and got hooked and have been practicing ever since with the odd Hatha here and there thrown in.

It is my own Glastonbury teacher, Jane Piddington, student of Brian Cooper, who is running the teacher training in Glastonbury over 10 months, rather than a month intensive and it’s at least 30% less cost than other teacher trainings and Brian will be there to teach over two weekends.

For those who haven’t (unbelievably) heard of Brian Cooper, he was hailed by legendary yogi David Williams as ‘the real deal’. Brian has also co-founded Harmony Publishing which publishes out of print yoga classics and he is the Honorary Secretary for Scotland for the International Yoga Federation, an Honorary Member of the World Yoga Council, a member of the Advisory Board for the World Yoga Council, and on the Advisory Board of Yoga Alliance UK.

Kev Ollier with Brian Cooper

And – there are about 6 or 7 places left on the training if you’re quick!
http://www.ashtangavinyasayoga.co.uk/index.php/6/

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Rishikesh! Yoga capital of the world

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/07/02/beggars/

yoga rishikesh

The bus from hell pulled in at Dehra Dun at 5 in the morning and still being 10 miles from Rishikesh allowed taxi drivers to take advantage, or try to at least. They should understand that after the last 14 hours my inner yogi had gone awry and I was left with a strong case of the fuck it attitude. The greedy smiles of the drivers saying that ‘there is no other choice than to take our taxi as the first bus is 5 hours away’  found my yogi free body waving a finger at my face and saying ‘do I look bothered ?’ which was lost on them as I can’t imagine they knew who Vicky Pollard was. In fact, nobody we asked, and we asked a few after the shock of the first blank face, had ever even heard of Madonna, so Vicky had no chance.
Standing our ground the fare halved when all the other passengers had gone on their way and soon we arrived at our hotel in Rishikesh, waking the receptionist asleep on the floor behind the counter who, bless him, rounded up some sleepy staff and got our rooms ready.

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A few hours later we were up and out and immediately the senses were assaulted by more yoga posters than you could ever imagine. I confidently think that you could stay in Rishikesh a whole year going to a different yoga class each day without repeating one. The yoga posters though had stiff competition from the meditation posters. And it is a honey pot for westerners – most on month long courses and nearly all on a long term world hippy travel adventure – and of all ages – in fact the over 50’s were as abundant as the under 30’s.

We wandered down the narrow alleys to the first cafe – a chilled cushion seated affair called the Happy Buddha Cafe which afforded the first views of the Ganges. It maybe only a river in the same way the Himalayas are only a mountain range but breath is stripped from your body just the same.

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I struck up a conversation with an English threesome who were at the back end of a Sivananda yoga course, one I’ve never tried but their recommendation to do so will be acted upon. They told us of a circular walk that takes in all of Rishikesh so that’s what we decided to do. Heading off we soon came to the defining Lakshman Jhula pedestrian suspension bridge but spotting, what truly has to be, one of the best sited people watching cafes in the world, the Devraj Coffee Corner and Bookshop hovering above it, we decided to have another rest – this time a Honey Lemon Ginger tea was the order of the moment to watch the constant drama unfold below.

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To say this is a pedestrian bridge is pushing it to say the least. The only thing not allowed on it, and only because it isn’t wide enough, are cars and trucks.  Motorbikes and scooters cross it and it seems as long as you ‘peep’ it’s ok to kill a pedestrian. I assume a death resulting from no peeping results in prosecution.  But ‘peep’ doesn’t adequately describe the murder inducing sound that is emitted. Along with the motorbikes and scooters, also jostling to cross are cows, buffalos, dogs, the odd donkey and every sort of human alive, and constantly, the very naughty monkeys, who, looking all cute at first glance, are jumping down on to the bridge and then literally stalking and then grabbing and ripping any bags not held against a chest. There is no movie worth watching that is as enthralling and dramatic as the live action of Lakshman Jhula bridge.

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Once one runs the gauntlet of this crossing you come into the area that is itself Lakshman Jhula. To picture this imagine the Green Fields’ cafes of Glastonbury Festival crossed with the High Street of Glastonbury town with a splattering of ashrams to a backdrop of Himalayan foothills and a turbulent Ganges running through it all, accompanied by scents of Patchouli, Sandalwood and Hashish with yoga and meditation being the main stay of business.
One word.
Go!

 

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more posts on Rishikesh to follow…..

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

 

I am not a Buddhist – McLeod Ganj

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/05/10/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj/

‘I am not a Buddhist’ were words I heard myself uttering at the end of our three day stay in the home of the Dalai Lama – the town of Mcleod Ganj not the big man’s house itself of course.

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We dropped our backpacks into the Pink House Hotel, had a hearty breakfast of Mango Lassi, Chocolate and Banana pancakes and a Tulsi Tea and then went off to discover the town. After just 100 yards I was approached by a woman with a baby who told me that she didn’t want money, just food, for her starving child. How could one possibly refuse? –  so I was led back the way I’d come, to a shop. It was at this time I realised that I’d become part of a scam I hadn’t come across before. The shopkeeper was well prepared for me as I assume the woman must do this as many times a day as she can get away with. The choice offered was rice or/and milk and I decided to pay my dumb dues and pick rice – at 400 rupees a bag which I later found was about 350 rupees too much. I guess that she gets a small commission and the shop owner, Mr Robin Bastard, gets the rest. I left muttering inner ffs’s and started back up the road only to met by another woman and a baby. I couldn’t tell if it was the same woman and baby and I entertained the prospect that today might actually be groundhog day. This time I said No. I learn fast.

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Apart from gangs of babies clutched by women, McLeod is brimming with purple robed Buddhist monks and nuns and a hefty mix of dreadlocked Ohm wearers who fill the many groovy cafes and funky restaurants.

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Most of the population are Tibetan non-monk refugees fleeing the on-going Obama and Cameron ignored  atrocities of the Chinese which has been on-going since 1960 when the first refugees came and still do to this day.

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Tibetans outnumber the Indians by at least 5 to 1

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All of the buildings are built in Tibetan style which include the residence of the Dalai, the Tibetan Childrens Village, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute and hundreds more. I wasn’t sure about the Astrological one as I’m a Virgo and it’s a known Virgo trait not to believe in Astrology. There is the Library of Tibetan Works and countless yoga and meditation centres. It was in Mcleod Ganj that I discovered what I assume must be a Tibetan delicacy – French Toast. Everywhere does it and they all compete for taste. This is not Eggy bread, this is French Toast – the names don’t even sound similar.

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What surprised me here was being in a restaurant and monks ordering chicken. I was always under the impression that sentient beings weren’t supposed to be eaten and apparently the Buddha himself died choking on pork which might have been his very last lesson on the pitfalls of eating a fellow sentient. But more than that, from what I understand, a monk dons his robes to renounce the world, but I didn’t encounter one who wasn’t holding a smartphone or an ipad where, rather than renounce the world, you can access all of it, 24/7 which makes becoming a monk bloody easy in my opinion.

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I always wonder what Christ would think, if he came back, and allegedly he’s supposed to, of all the churches built in his name, each one with his murder hanging from every arch and alter and I do wonder what Buddha would think of all the golden statues of him, some small with holes in his head to hold joss sticks, some so big to rival a cathedral.
At least the Buddhists don’t have his everlasting image as a guy trying to cough up some bacon, so he got a better deal than Jesus.
And where does it say that to understand the teachings of the big B one has to shave one’s heads or don robes or prostate?
It doesn’t.
The philosophy and teachings of a tuned in being, once again, have been lost or side stepped into a religion of ritual – yet another case of fingers pointing at the moon.

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The Dalai Lama was in residence when we were there, though I think he was having a lie-in and indeed the temples are certainly very  impressive – as buildings and as symbols of devotion, and all of it with the majestic and mystical snowy peaks of the Himalayas as a back drop. It is a magical town.

Kino MacGregor Primary Series DVD review

At Amazon UK

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the amazon link

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years now with the last six of those being Ashtanga with a teacher who some consider to be one of the best Ashtanga teachers in the UK – Jane Piddington, who teaches in and around Glastonbury.

So my bar is already high.

This xmas I was bought this DVD as I wanted to do an extra practice at home with what is as close to my teacher as possible, and this DVD is the MUST HAVE DVD for home practice.
It is like being at a class only with a virtual 1 to 1 feel. It’s the perfect compliment to anyone’s Ashtanga practice and it is the real deal, the pure primary series.

Kino hasn’t filmed this run through from her own design or as a fitness video. This is a pure lineage teaching, passed down from her own teacher, Sri Pattabhi Jois who himself was a student of Krishnamacharya. Kino was and still is the youngest western woman to be certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.
She has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series.

If you practice to this DVD you have the solid guarantee that you are practicing the pure teaching and that in itself is worth it’s weight in gold. Kino is one of the world’s best and most dedicated yoga teachers spreading the word globally.

This DVD is simply a treasure for anyone already taking their Asana yoga practice seriously.

Kino is at
kinoyoga.com
photo_kino17
and to LIKE on facebook for news and info at

www.facebook.com/kinoyoga

Jane Piddington is at
ashtangavinyasayoga.co.uk/
jane-piddington
and to LIKE on facebook for news and info at
AshtangaYogaGlastonbury

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Yoga Biking

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As I understand things, all spiritual teachings are taught, essentially, to allow one to strive for one thing, stillness of mind.  Yoga Asanas are there, as just one limb of eight, to prepare the body for meditation so that it can sit as still and as comfortably as possible without having ones legs turn blue so to be able to calm the mind, and along with the other seven limbs, to realise that all is just thought from which arise our attachments and aversions and ultimately the universe we individually live in.

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Television and the media has managed to shepherd us all into a similar pattern of thoughts and thinking and so we all seem to kind of agree on a similar ish universe.   Spiritual teachings however can, at least temporarily, have us experiencing other new and enticing universes, be it a Buddhist one or an Islamic one or Sufi, Hindu, Jesuit, Jain, and so on, until we are ready to drop that too and to simply be.  In the meantime whilst we are travelling on our own long yellow brick road to our inner wizard, terrible wars are being fought, insanely, because different collectives of people are holding on tightly, very tightly, to the universe that they think they live in, a universe based in religion, a religion that they insist is the only true one. The truth is that the world is squabbling and killing over who has the best imaginary friend.

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Meditation, I am told, is simply a way to let go, to not hold on to anything.

The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” which is different, well slightly different to self familiarity that happens around puberty. The later more grown up familiarity is encouraged for training the mind to understand states that are rewarding such as concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, awareness and mindfulness.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be done sat in lotus imitating Buddha or Ramakrishna.  It is accepted nowadays that posture is not really that important. Buddha could just as well have sat on a chair and got boomshanka’d but, like most yogis of the day,  he was a wandering sadhu and chairs were not lying around in fields and under enlightening trees. Sitting in lotus is another case of us human types imitating. We no longer dress up as Batman or play air guitar – well not in public at least – but if Buddha got through by sitting cross legged then we seem to think that’s the way for us all, but where does this end?

If Christ had been hung from a gallows, rather than crucified on a cross, Christians would today undoubtedly be wearing nooses around their necks, albeit small ones on a pretty chain – but I digress.  So it’s surely not really about posture,  you can do walking meditation, standing meditation, kneeling meditation –  it’s about stillness  – specifically stillness of mind and recently I discovered a forced yoga if you will, about 3 minutes after driving off on a recently required, not been on one for 28 years, motorbike.

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Materially, It’s a great bike, the result, some say, well a lot say to be honest, of a ‘mid life crisis’ though I simply fail to see where there is any crisis happening, I’m having a great time – It does just under 80 to the gallon and it will hit 110 mph (apparently) with road tax at only £37 per year. So, by comparison to cars, it’s very ecological and economical and shockingly, to me, extremely meditative. (oh yeah and a lotta lotta fun)

From moving off you are forced into
1/ letting go of any fear immediately and
2/ having an instant and perpetual lesson in both awareness and mindfulness – and you can’t do any of these if you are not totally focused and full to the brim of concentration.

The roads are clogged nowadays more than ever and the Highways Department consider two-wheel riders approximately not at all. The manhole covers are very rarely level with the road surface, any utility works undertaken are then resurfaced by what can only be the local playgroup. Farmers, bless them, do try to help by adding a layer of mud wherever possible and councils love to decorate them with rumble strips and speed humps.  This is before you encounter any other actual road users , so from the off you are ‘in the zone’ and to understand or at least second guess other drivers you must have a full tankard of both empathy, and to discourage you from giving the finger, compassion.

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one must stay alert at all times

Distraction is limited, unlike being in a cocoon vehicle because it’s very difficult and extremely messy to eat or drink on a bike and you simply cannot hear a word on the mobile phone and texting is particularly trying and turning around to see what the kids are doing would be very illegal. You are simply there. On the bike, there is, no mortgage, no debt, not even a family,  just you and the space around you most commonly referred to as ‘the moment’ though you can never know that you’re in the moment because you’re in it.  I concur with film star and Ducati rider Ryan Reynolds who recently said, “I love the fact that on a motorcycle, riding is the only thing you’re doing”.  Although I’d add saying ‘yippee’ in quite a high voice within the confines of the helmet.
I imagine  surfers have the same feeling of oneness and yippee, except the only obstacles they have to look out for are passing turds. The organisation ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ isn’t in existence for nothing dude.

Kawasaki Yogi 250
And to yoga class – it’s the only way to travel.

And all the time the wheels are moving, you are naggingly, very wide awake aware of the biggest one of all – impermanence but all the time holding an inner smile and something that might be called loveOr maybe delusion

Mysore – The Guide

There is a lot more to the Indian city of Mysore than most people realise including the western yogis. It is the perfect city to head to for the India virgin. Not too large, it has all the elements of India, is low on hassle and scams and has an air of chill out about it. You do not have to be on a yoga course to go but the vast majority of westerners that do so are there only for that purpose,  and you will soon discover that there are not too many other westerners around outside of the main yoga suburb of Gokalum meaning that it’s a city for the residents and not necessarily for tourists per se, so you get to experience a slice of real India – and it’s perfect for a 4 day/5 night stop.

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The nearest international airport you could fly into is Bangalore and I’d recommend having a pre-booked taxi driver standing, holding up a sign with your name on it as you exit the airport with your baggage who will take you straight to Mysore – a 4 hour trip, that for the uninitiated is like a full on acid trip, but with no comedown (possibly ever) and that for only £28 which is a much more desirable alternative than a 3 hour trip into Bangalore itself where you will likely pay at least that much for a room – see
https://kevollier.com/2012/12/02/helloindia/

Mysore Palace

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Beautiful and opulent and yet I couldn’t help thinking that the Maharini who had it built was more than a little egotistical but simultaneously on a guilt trip. In the main overlook hall he’d hanged huge paintings of various deities along the back wall with one of himself as the centre-piece. It was a shoes off affair to walk around as it is also with the temples in India and that in itself was quite freeing and they did have the shoe organisation off to a tee rivaling even those of 10 pin bowling alleys back in blighty
When we exited back out into the gardens we spotted some elephants with handlers in an off-piste bit of the grounds in the distance and so went to inspect as these were the first elephants we’d seen so far on this trip and seeing our curiosity the handlers surreptitiously beckoned us over and insisted we stroke their trunks, sit on them without any form of saddle as they had them gallop and kneel, be a bit scared and then pay them a weeks wage to be able to get back into the public, elephantless area.

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Each week on a Sunday evening and every evening during the Dasara festival the palace and all the buildings are illuminated in an instant and it is definitely a Mysore highlight so unless you’re there for Dasara it would be prudent to factor in a Sunday evening if possible.

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The Silk Factory

Grab a tuk tuk and head over to the silk factory. Where you will see the most beautiful sari’s made from scratch – from silkworms in situ, through to the added gold thread, which the workers encourage you to feel and touch as it whizzes through their looms and you weave between the huge machines listening to their directions so as not to decapitate oneself on the virtually invisible and very taut silk thread that connects the who place like a spiders web  ( they’re not big on health and safety) to the finished product. Nothing is hidden here, it’s not a sweat shop, but immaculately clean and tidy and the workers loved you being there and taking an interest in their work..

From here it’s only a 5 minute tuk tuk to the Sandalwood Factory which couldn’t be so different. It’s as if the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been turned into a sultry, jungle of incense stick and oil making workshops with the Sandalwood pervading the air at every breath. It was quintessentially Indian and here the workers were extremely chilled out and a tad nonchalant having not much work because, we were told, there is a serious shortage of sandalwood trees on Earth and hence it is becoming increasingly expensive.

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Before reading further, please bear with me – because also, not too far away from both the Silk and Sandalwood factories, is the Mysore Railway Museum which we managed to get around rather quickly and I think it’s really for rail enthusiasts that are really, really, very, very enthusiastic. We didn’t see anyone wearing an anorak but then it was a warm day, but for the sake of my train spotter friend (be honest, we all have at least one) – here is the entire list of what’s on display. (Feel free to scroll down to the next block letters)

ES 506 4-6-2 is the first locomotive at the entrance. An Austin rail-motor car. Several inspection cars, one inspection car is used as a ticket office. Two royal coaches that belonged to the Maharaja of Mysore. The Maharini Saloon carriage that has a kitchen, dining car unit and royal toilet dating back to 1899.yawn. A W.G Bagnall #1625 which was made in 1900 for Khushalgarh – Kohat – Thal Railway which was a military frontier line, was subsequently transferred to North Western Railways. It operated at Timber Depot in Marala and was transferred later to Dhilwan Creosoting plant. This 2′-6″ gauge locomotive is configured as 2-4-2ST. Class E #37244 4-4-4T from SIR built by North British Locomotive Co. in 1920. Originally # 8, it was one of the three superheated locomotives. Class TS/1 #37338 2-6-2T from made by W.G. Bagnall in 1932 for Mysore State Railways. A YP #2511 made by Telco in 1963.

DevaRaja Market

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We loved it here. It’s everything you expect India to be. It’s hot, colourful, stinky, hassly, smiley, cheap and full of thousands of market sales people who I can only assume are permanently on a task for The Apprentice. This is where you will learn a few new skills. One is being able to ignore everything and everyone as if you were walking alone on a barren and deserted salt lake. But before you learn this you have to learn firstly never to look, stop and especially touch any item on any stall ever because this essentially means you will buy it even if it’s only as a pay off.

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After this you go through learning a bit of quid pro quo banter, before learning really and truly how to say NO before then reaching the salt lake stage and lastly the next time you’re in the vicinity, you learn to avoid the market.

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But if you love all of that then this is India’s very best market apparently. And to be honest we went there every day. It was trippy and life affirming. We bought about 200 incense sticks for no more than 50p and a brass inlaid wooden incense box for £1.

Green Hotel and the Malgudi Cafe
This was our Mysorean sanctuary. We didn’t stay here but we did visit several time to eat the glorious food and drink the greatest coffee in its renowned and controversial cafe – a cafe that once made the world’s press as the cafe is staffed by ‘untouchables’ – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/apr/06/dalit-girls-waitress-caste-taboo

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Employing these ‘untouchables’  is still frowned upon to this day but the ones serving and cooking in that cafe have the warmest and loveliest smiles you may ever see. And the hotel it belongs to has been set up as a model of sustainable tourism and ALL of its profits go to charitable and environmental project in India.

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Chamundi Hills
We took a bus to the top of the main hill where the astonishing Chamundeshwari Temple is situated at 3489 feet. We wandered around choosing not to join the thongs queuing to go into the temple. We had been in a few that week already and you simply don’t have enough years in your life to go into every Indian temple. We then walked down back to Mysore, down 1000 steps built by Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar in 1659 who at the same time, at 300 steps down, also built a huge Nandi, Lord Shiva’s Bull.
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This Nandi is one of the largest in India standing 16 ft. (4.8 meters) tall at the head and 25 ft. (7.5 meters) in length and it’s one of the largest carvings from a single piece of rock, granite no less.

On our journey down these teenagers stole my shades but taking their photo got them returnedAlong, with I think I recall, a few rupees.

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This is a great walk down and when nearing the foot of the hill you pass through a village where the children are not part of any begging ring but just want to crowd you and speak to you and laugh with you and point out the numerous monkeys that had now gathered all around us in a very Hitchcockian manner.

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And in Gandhi Square in Mysore centre there is a golden Gandhi
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Kino MacGregor – Bad Girl Yogi

It had to happen and it has. The holier than thou brigade have fired their angry arrows at the rising star of Ashtanga Yoga, Kino Macgregor, and they’ve thrown these white hot coals because Kino, in their opinion, is not adhering to the yoga philosophy laid down thousands of years ago and that’s the point, it was laid down thousands of years ago.

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The current Ashtanga yogi’s take their philosophy and teachings mostly from those of Krishna Pattabi Jois who himself was the ‘student’, as it’s commonly known nowadays  though it may have been known as ‘disciple’ at the time, of Krishnamacharya who preached that one should make yoga propaganda and to get the message out there. I support that one.

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Krishnamacharya in a thong

From my own experience the world would be a totally different place if everyone practiced yoga. I think it should be taught in schools as part of Physical Education and also as part of Religious Education as yoga crosses both boundaries. One only has to pick up an Ashtanga yoga book to know that there are eight limbs of which the asana’s (physical postures) are only one. The eight limbs are very similar to the Buddhist eightfold path and also to the Ten Commandments though in Yoga, which is, or at least originally was (he says controversially), a hindu philosophy there is no commanding going on which is also the case with the Buddhist eightfold path – there is no reward and no punishment for following or for not following except that from and for your own self.

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Yoga in schools has already courted controversy as it’s ‘not Christian’, which is like most people then in the west, because for most people who say they are Christian, it’s just a convenience so they know what to put in that blank box on passport and census applications.

Kino has been pointed at for her style of yoga clothes – talk about attachment and aversion! It gets hot in an ashtanga  yoga class and I wear as little as I can get away with (vest and shorts and when it gets really sweaty the shorts get rolled up as high as is possible to go). In the warmer parts men mostly just wear shorts and in some cases, I will sit down before I say the next word – speedos ! – and women wear bikinis, but so what? If people are getting distracted by this or fearing that a bout of lust might come upon them, then that, at least, shows them where they’re stuck. This clothes fascism is akin in some ways to the Catholic Church not allowing female priests, cardinals or popes although I think the only reason for that is because the celibate men have all the frocks.

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Kino is trying to get yoga on to TV.  This has amazingly upset the upper brethren of Mysore yogis. What seems to be the yoga moan lately is whether yoga should or shouldn’t be an Olympic event or whether yoga should become prime time TV. The argument mostly being that the Asanas, what most of the world think is yoga, is not the whole yoga. My personal opinion on this is that when people come to yoga for whatever reason, they are all the better for it and some, probably quite a high percentage, eventually dig deeper and begin to want to breathe properly, try to then maybe regularly practice meditation which leads on to greater empathy and compassion and kindness and bigger eyes to see the world with.

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If the population would frown at yoga on TV, yet sit glued to Strictly Come Dancing or the greatest karaoke show on Earth (X Factor) or watch endless programmes about chefs who cook with varying degrees of alcoholism and bad language, then abandon hope all ye who enter etc.  Yoga will be on television, this much is for sure and there are many great teachers out there who will embrace the medium and hopefully for the right reasons and Kino should be right up there and lead from the front.

Like it or not, according to Bloomberg, ‘Yoga is the fastest growing industry on Earth’ (and without any TV!). Bill Harper of Yoga Journal announced, ‘it’s not just an activity, it’s a lifestyle’. Are these facts a bad thing? Maybe only to the brethren of the mountain ‘Holier’ which is quite a bit higher up the valley than ‘thou
Kev Ollier at Kino Macgregor workshop London

My naked half leg (bottom right hand corner) at the end of a Kino workshop in London, England

Everyone has their own path to their own G-D and that’s as it should be and whether the path is pathless or not is irrelevant.

see also, ‘Kino MacGregor, London’ at
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/30/kinomacgregor/

and
‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
https://kevollier.com/2013/05/30/yogamat/

and
‘Kino DVD review’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/01/05/kino-macgregor-primary-series-dvd-review/

Kino’s ‘how to’ videos are here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwSX7NnE-uU&playnext=1&list=PLBAA695702548F199&feature=results_main

The article this post addresses by Kino is at
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/confessions-of-a-loved-hated-ashtangi-kino-macgregor/

Tuk Tuks – avoiding death and scam

“Stop this tuk tuk right now or I’ll grab your keys” was one comment I screamed at a driver. There were many others. I estimate that we took more than a hundred tuk tuks in the few weeks travelling through South India and were treated to a plethora of scams and dishonest practices – but there is no better way to experience the towns and cities than to put you life into the hands of a tuk tuk driver.

Especially this driver – as it’s yours truly

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A tuk tuk which is known by the less colourful name of ‘auto rickshaw’ is basically a dirty two-stroke motorbike with three wheels with a hard plastic hood over to seat, well you’d think to seat two people but I did count seven in quite a few of them. Some are the driver’s pride and joy which is evident in its adornments and cleanliness and some are simply a means to an end aka death traps. There are millions of them on the roads in India.

They are without doubt the cheapest and most exciting way to get about the urban areas and you can pretty much be getting into one, only ten seconds after thinking you might need one because in India a western tourist is simply a very sweet and sticky jam and the tuk tuks are extremely hungry wasps. However jumping into one and saying ‘home James and don’t spare the horses’ might leave you disappointed because there are so many pitfalls and stresses once you step over the threshold to taking a ride, that it’s worth knowing some of the latest dupes and scams that you can find yourself involved in and/or the victim of.  It can be a great game to play of psychology and wits as long as it’s not hot and you’re not slightly tired or distracted otherwise you may fall folly to their little games – which seem to vary from city to city. We stayed in three cities and each one had its own unique scam amongst the universal ones.

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In Mysore, it wasn’t too bad. One day you could pay 100 rupees and the next 50 for the exact same journey of 3 miles but as it was 85 rupees to the £1, one at first feels no pressure to grumble but that will inevitably wear off.  ALWAYS ask how much it will be to wherever you’re going and when they tell you a price that you think is ok, repeat it back to them and get confirmation at least three times. Two times isn’t enough. Tuk tuks have meters yet we only saw them in use on two occasion in all the tuk tuk journeys undertaken.

Once in a tuk tuk, most drivers will ask you where you are from. This is not asked to discuss your life or cricket but to know what language they need to scam you in. They are of course very low paid, work very hard and have enormous competition and they will try to sell a journey to every tourist spot in the area – which can be much cheaper and very useful if you actually want to see the places they are offering and in Mysore there are some wonderful places (watch this space for an upcoming Mysore guide blog) but most tuk tuk drivers haven’t yet learned the English for ‘no’. It is good to talk in a slow east European accent naming exactly where you want to go and then answering every question they broach at you with ‘capotski’ and a big smile.  You’ll get to your destination quicker. Always know where your destination is as they don’t.  Whilst in Mysore we were staying near the Pattabhi Jois yoga centre yet it was surprising to us how many drivers asked us where it was and when I explained to them that they in fact were the driver and we the western tourists they would pull over and ask locals who always checked us out and then had a chuckle with the driver in Tamil or Hindi or maybe it was east european but nonetheless it’s a wonderful endeavour for anyone who has or  is recovering from paranoid tendencies .

The driver stopped to run an errand

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In Cochin, they have a  different approach. On the whole they are friendlier here and speak much better English but will offer you a free trip or a very cheap one, at say 20 rupees, if you would only do them a favour and visit this shop or that shop as they get a petrol token from ‘the rich Kashmiri owner’ and all you have to do is look around whilst they wait outside. We did this the first time and the idea is that you are pressured into buying something to which the driver gets a percentage that adds up to much more than any fare he would have received. I assume he gets a little something for just taking you there. We were in Cochin nearly a week and virtually every single driver tried to get you into some shop which are always full of westerners trying their very best to say no as they delve for their purses and wallets.

In Bangalore, and I have to assume all bigger cities, it’s a whole different ball game. They don’t even hide behind friendliness. But above all they tell bare-faced lies and even go close to what could be construed as kidnapping in some countries.

One morning we decided, from our city centre hotel, to go to the huge Hare Krishna temple of ISKCON seven miles away but still in the centre of the city – Bangalore is huge and sprawling. I asked a tuk tuk driver how much it would be to go to the ISKCON place and he looked at me as if I was a talking cat. I said it slowly several times and added other words like K R I S H N A   T E M P L E  but to no avail. We were then ambushed by an astute, silk shirted, much younger driver who spoke perfect English and knew Mick Jagger who pulled us from this ride to his own tuk tuk admonishing the older guy in Hindi. He then explained that ISKCON is closed until 2pm. I said that the lonely planet guide says it’s open all day, he assured us it was not but offered us a tour for only 100 rupees to see various temples. This he did – at first – but then it became a pressured set of stops to various emporiums. I had to demand quite strongly that he returned us. The ISKCON temple, of course, had been open.

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The next day we decided to walk for a while before asking a kerb-crawling tuk tuk how much it would be to the botanical gardens, he said 20 rupees, we got in and off we went. Whilst driving, he told us that the gardens was closed until 2pm and he’d take us on a tour. I told him that it’s OK, just take us to the gardens anyway at which point he stopped the tuk tuk on what can only be described as a six lane inner city motorway with cows and turned to me and said, ‘no it is closed’, I assured him that it was open to which he got a tad annoyed and so we exited the tuk tuk to his fury.

We were then immediately picked up by another one at 20 rupees. I explained that I don’t want to go any shops, we just want to go to the gardens, he agreed then took a turn at speed and in totally the opposite direction before explaining to me that he was just taking us to his friend’s shop. This was the point where the calmness my yoga training has brought me left the tuk tuk and was replaced by my training from the streets of Northern England. It could have got hairy but I didn’t fancy a Bangalore prison so we left him still with his keys to his auto, shouting apologies back at us. I genuinely think it was the first time that he’d been challenged like this.

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But now we were in the middle of nowhere and so we flagged another tuk tuk down as we were determined to see some bloody flowers before the day was out. He told us it would be 100 rupees. And here’s a tip – a tuk tuk is cheap for a reason. This 100 rupee tuk tuk was intending to take us to our destination without us having to look first at wooden elephants and brass Buddhas. I did however, ten minutes later, utter, under my breath, ‘for fuck’s sake’, when he flew past the entrance to the botanical gardens. I told him but he assured me he hadn’t. Two miles further on and for the third time in an hour I forced a driver to stop. This one however was not, it turned out, scamming us, he was just completely clueless and realising his mistake and the time he’d now lost randomly pulled over and said, ‘we’re here’ pointing to what was simply a front lawn in front of an average sized government building.  This time I refused to leave the tuk tuk to which he hailed over a policeman and we both explained our disagreement with me having an ace card commonly known as a city map. The policeman gave him short thrift and 15 minutes later (the time it takes to do 2 miles in Bangalore) we were at the gates.

The gatekeeper mistakenly short-changed us, I say mistakenly in that he had deliberately short-changed us and that was his mistake.

I promised myself there and then that I will never return to Bangalore on purpose – though the gardens were lovely.  They even had spit bins dotted about to stop the paths getting too gooey.
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India and Imodium

When you tell others that you’re soon to head off to India, one word above all others that pops up is Imodium. This is usually followed by advice on what not to eat. So it looks like we will dodge the dreaded Delhi Belly as long as we avoid meat, vegetables, unpeeled fruit, water, anything that has been near water or has been left out in the rain. And it’s best not to touch anything, to shower with your mouth, ears and nostrils sealed and try not to breathe the air unless it’s absolutely necessary.
But regardless, I simply can’t wait to go. This is the first trip that doesn’t feel like it will be a holiday per se but more of a true adventure bordering on a re-birth, but hopefully not a literal one. Just yet.


We’ve been saying for years that we’d go to India once the kids have grown up and as the youngest is nineteen on the day we return, that time has to be right now.

I was ‘sold’ the idea many years ago when a friend came back from there and was recalling a moment he  had in a cafe in Mumbai, which at the time was still known as Bombay. He said he was sipping his Chai Tea in a crowed and noisy tea room as random cows were aimlessly wandering outside, amongst chaotic, technicolor people and traffic that included every mode of transport including the odd Elephant, whilst a beggar, without arms, was sat doing tricks on a skateboard at the cafe entrance and all the time monkeys were running in and out trying to steal food off the tables!

To see anything remotely like that in England you’d have to brave Stoke on Trent on a Friday night.

Mysore Palace (not Stoke on Trent)
We’re spending a week in Mysore before going where the universe sends us and where that will be we won’t know until the day arrives – which is very exciting and although we are going to Mysore, we’re not going for the yoga, even though the yoga will of course be practiced every day, we’re going there for its gateway into South India. The man at the Indian Visa centre was surprised and pleased that we were not thinking of going to Goa as that destination seems to be frowningly regarded by some as the Kavos/Ibiza of India.

I earlier had email confirmation from our taxi driver who will be taking us from Bangalore airport to Mysore and I smiled to learn the driver’s name is Ganesh. That seems like a good sign.


So we’re packing very light, we have to as we’re carrying it all on our back. In fact the heaviest things I will be carrying are books. I’ve opted not to take the kindle but instead a few paper books and apart from the reading material there will be enough clothes to last only a few days in the rucksack as Mysore allegedly has the very best street markets in India. Besides, any available space will be taken up with Alcohol gel, sun block, Deet, baby wipes, toilet rolls, 42 Ainsley Harriot cup a soups, a canary and enough Imodium to be able to take regular bus trips without embarrassment.

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd

Kino MacGregor, London.

I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!


Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.


We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.

The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).

The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.

Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.

Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.

        This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.

After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!

Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!

Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.

In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/

Yoga Books

My qualification for this blog is that I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years, the last five of those being Ashtanga and also a dusting of Kundalini. I’ve been reading books associated with yoga for over twenty years and I thought I’d let everyone in on what I think are amongst the best books available on yoga *that I’ve read so far* and I would love to know what other yoga books people have read and been positively changed by.

My longest mention is firstly to Ram Dass. His books have been mind blowers to me. Born as Richard Alpert (curiously the name that the TV show Lost chose for one of its main characters) he became one of the leading professors of the Psychology department at Harvard in the 1960’s.  He was best friends with Timothy Leary and was at the forefront of LSD research that pretty much spawned the post Beatnik flower power movement that overtook the world (apart from some villages in Northern England who have yet to this day to be introduced to Bill Haley)

This LSD research got him famously thrown out of Harvard and after a time he wound up in India and found his ‘guru’, Neem Karoli Baba, became Ram Dass, which means servant of God, and at the same time realised that Psychology didn’t know much about the workings of the mind, which is quite something coming from a professor of Psychology at Harvard! His workshops and lectures since then are legendary and his book ‘Be Here Now’ is a classic. His writings and anecdotes are as laugh out loud funny as those of Bill Bryson, if Bryson did inner travels.

His latest book though is, for me, the ultimate biography/instruction manual on the reason we are here – which is to perform yoga. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean buying lycra and trendy mats and saying hello in a low misty voice, but the discipline of life, that is yoga. ‘Paths to God, Living the Bhagavad Gita’ has been called the greatest commentary ever written on the Gita and is an enlightening, humorous and very easily digested and highly recommended to all those beyond lycra 🙂

I came across the book ‘The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Pathway to Liberation’ by Bhava Ram in a second hand bookshop in Glastonbury, UK. Seeing the cover of an aging western hippy sat on a rock, somewhere warm, wearing a garland around his neck I very nearly put it back on the shelf but thought I’d read the back cover so I could be reinforced in my initial cynicism.

It stated that ‘Bhava Ram overcame a broken back, failed back surgery and stage four cancer through yoga’. Stage Four is to cancer what Category Five is to hurricanes – so I bought the book – and I’m very glad I did as the book is essentially a modern and western explanation of , as the title states, the eight limbs of yoga – which is Ashtanga yoga as written down 2200 years ago by Patanjali. If you’ve never read about the sutras and the whys and wherefores of yoga, this is a good place to start, though the book is not that easy to get hold of but worth the extra effort to find.

Mysore in India exists as the place to visit for western yoga enthusiasts and tens of thousands do visit each year. Indeed, for westerners, Mysore is to yoga as Goa is to hedonism.

This is thanks to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
who began practicing yoga at the age of 12 and at 15 ran away from home to study Sanskrit in Mysore. He eventually held a teaching position in yoga at the Sanskrit College of Maharaja becoming vidwan (professor) as well as being Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Government College of Indian Medicine. He is renowned for bringing ashtanga yoga to the west when he visited California in 1975.

He wrote just one book which is a book of his original teachings with photos showing all the postures of the ashtanga primary series and reading the book feels like one is reading history and all ashtanga practitioners today, in the west at least, have Jois and this book ‘Yoga Mala’ to thank.

I’m currently reading ‘Heaven Lies Within Us’ by Theos Bernard, an American who is allegedly the first westerner to go to India to study and practice yoga, back in the 1930’s, and from what I’ve read so far he delved more than most ever have since and the book is all about his travel and his delvings and is proving to be another must read for yogi’s. It has just been republished having been out of print for many years.

Although I’ve read many books that refer to the yoga book of books, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I’ve never read the actual book itself.  I feel that I may have been leaving it to last, getting everybody else’s viewpoints and translations before going for my own – but now I have a copy and it will be accompanying me on an upcoming visit to India which includes a week in Mysore not doing any of that hedonistic stuff. 🙂