My favorite months to be in Helsinki are in May and August. It’s best to be out in a nature, preferably by the sea and a smoke sauna, at summer’s zenith. But May is like the fresh dawn of summer and August, its utterly pleasant dusk. The sun still lingering on in the capital…
May in Finland means three things for me: the Helsinki African Film Festival (HAFF), Eddie Stern’s workshop and Petri’s workshop in Tampere. It would also mean the World Village Festival, but, alas, since it always falls on the same weekend as Tampere, until we defy space and time, one does have to pick and choose where to be.
I’ll talk more about the cultural festivals going on around town in my Helsinki Happiness series a bit later on. But for now, let me turn my attention to yoga and the coming together of our sangha.
It is always such a joyful gathering when Eddie rolls into town. It was his fourth year in a row, and while I didn’t make it to practice in the mornings, Sesam and I did attend his afternoon lectures and a yoga therapy class, as well as join in the puja (a ritual of worship) and chanting sessions. It was especially lovely to hear the story of how Eddie learned to do puja, which basically involved a lot of self-study, deep passion and an interest in the task at hand. It was also a nice moment when he dubbed Sesam with a new name, “DJ Sesam…just you wait!” Yes! 🙂
The thing I appreciate and relate to most with Eddie as a teacher is his ability to think laterally (as I do) and to make connections, often between seemingly disparate subjects, while still remaining so deeply rooted and devoted to his Guru, Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois. All the information that he gathers, be it from physics, the latest research on brain development, or from the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, he ties back into yogic philosophy and the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.
Here is an example. (*Please note: This is my interpretation of Eddie’s lectures. I have quoted and paraphrased him as best I could without changing any of the original content. Any mistakes are mine alone).
In order to cultivate long-lasting yogic traits, phrases like self-directed biological transformational and self-directed neuro – plasticity start with, as I have understood it, the daily practice of yoga. And in the case of Ashtanga yoga, starting with the method of tristana– posture (asana), sound breathing and gazing points (drishti)- one can change how one lives and behaves by stilling the mind and bringing our senses into better control. We can then observe that we make better choices (food and diet, for a start). Thereby, creating healthier habits (good sleep routines and a stable lifestyle), which leads to happier, more productive behavior and, eventually, towards a more peaceful character.
Sounds good, right? I mean, if we are to be perfectly honest with ourselves, who wouldn’t want all those things? Besides, where’s the harm in striving for these positive, uplifting qualities while trying to navigate through the Drama and spectacle of life. The drama of procreation; the drama of sustenance; the drama of expression. What to mention of the inevitability of death and the mysteriousness beyond?
A question Eddie posed was, “What is the role of fear in our lives?” As in, fear as a motivator. When we start from our collective negative bias, a bias needed for survival back in our hunter-gatherer days, we can see that fear was indeed an essential motivator (Better run from that hungry- looking creature with the big, sharp teeth or else it will eat me!). Today, for most of us, basic physical survival in our immediate environment isn’t quite as urgent as this. However, we still learn faster, and sometimes better, from the negative (think about putting your hand on a hot stove) and the media heavily fuels this perspective, with such sentiments like If it bleeds, it reads. While we see that it can be useful to learn from the negative in some circumstances, the trouble with the negative bias lies when we become habituated to it and we seek it out, thinking that our negative thoughts are right, the truth, the way things are. We become attached to the dark, shadow stuff, seeking it out and perpetuating our defeatist tendencies. Our self-sabotage. Or that of others.
With the practice of yoga and self-directed biological transformation, we can move toward a positive bias, which is not the same as projecting our good wishes and fantasies into the future. A positive bias means operating from a more present baseline. Being able to soak in simple goodness as it happens, without trying to make it last, without trying to relive it once it’s passed, without trying to bottle it up for later. It also means (and this is more difficult) being able to hold your center when things are not so pleasant; to behaviour, situations and circumstances you want away from you as quickly as possible. A positive bias can help us respond appropriately, in any given situation, with task-oriented competence instead of over-confidence.
It feels like we are working towards encrypting our genes so that they can continue on at a happier place, operating from a positive bias; rather than simply remaining programmed for survival alone, passing the same ‘stuff’ down the lineage, without refinement. Basically, it means trying not to keep repeating the same mistakes, as history has shown we are wont to do.
Eddie also recommended a short video called Power of Ten, a micro-macro perspective of the universe made in 1977. It’s great! I remember watching it in science class in high school and thinking it was pretty far out. I discovered a similar clip here (with Morgan Freeman’s resonant voice narrating) and here (with epic soundtrack appropriate for matters of cosmic scale). Choose accordingly.
I like the description one of the videos gave on quarks: may, theoretically, consist of “vibrating pieces of string.” My conclusion is that on the most micro and macro of levels (and everything in between), IT is all vibrating bits of information. IT is all trying to ingest, process, use and relate to other bits of information. IT is all trying to learn, communicate and convey something. Again, let’s choose accordingly to what information we ingest and use since WE are IT. Whatever IT may be. Okay, now I’ve totally confused myself. This wave (of consciousness) is going back into the ocean (of consciousness).
Once we bid Eddie a safe trip back to NYC, we left for Tampere.The highlight of the trip this year was discovering Minetti Jäätelö. Thank you, Mr.Minetti, for coming to Tampere in the 1920s and bringing this truly spectacular Italian gelato and sorbet with you. It was perfect for the remarkably hot weather we had before Finland resumed its familiar chilly, melancholic mist.
We also discovered Tampere’s marvelous stock of vintage and antique shops and flea markets. Not to mention that Seinäruusu wallpaper shop stocks the ever delightful and whimsical 1940sesque Dutch design label Pip Studio!
Finally, it’s always such a pleasure to spend time with the Tampere Astanga jooga jengi. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to give a few adjustments to some of you!
Here are the photo highlights from the month of May…
Lots of shoes outside the shala indicates something good is going on inside!
Juha sets up for an afternoon lecture
Petri doing what he does
The thought wizard casts out the net of knowledge
Eddie and DJ Sesam rockin’ the same hairstyle 🙂
Ganesh Puja: the traditional worship of Sri Ganesha to invoke blessings at the beginning of an endeavor and to remove any obstacles we might encounter.
Mangala Arati: the auspicious waving of the light
Sesam listens attentively to Daddy
It’s nice to be able to bring Sesam to the yoga school and keep learning
Two old friends by the sea
And new friendships being made…Thanks Eddie. See you next year!
*Bonus pic! Julian graduated from Yläaste on the last day of May, 2014.
Congratulations Julian! Me ollaan ylpeitä susta!
Stay blessed and enjoy the life you live! Om! ❤