Cults and Karma…

Occult: clandestine, hidden, secret; knowledge of the paranormal.

Hmmn. A cult, among other things, is defined as a “social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs or practices.” Wikipedia is kind enough to remind me that “The word “cult” has always been controversial because it is (in a pejorative sense) a subjective term used as an ad hominem attack against groups with differing doctrines or practices.”

On that note, for this year’s vacation, I chose to attend a teacher training focusing on the Subtle Body (because that’s what we yoga teachers do for vacation, we hang out with other vegans and get high on pranayama, obviously.) The teacher was a renowned, long time Master and Sadhaka, (hardcore yogi) someone I had never studied with or met but had heard about for years. The topic of the course pulled me in, but other than that, I had no idea what I was getting into. That made me nervous. In a good way?!?

A series of missed connections and delayed flights (due to heavy snows… in April!) made me very very late to the first day of training. Not the way I like to roll in these matters. I was so late that I spent a good part of the gorgeous 1.5 hr drive from the airport to the middle of heavenly nowhere, debating whether I should still turn up now or simply go to my airbnb and call it a day. Training had started at 8am and I was looking at arriving around 3:30pm (if I managed not to get lost in this utopian landscape of giant skies and distractingly natural nature…) I didn’t want to seem like the New York asshole I probably was for walking in that late. Yeah. After weighing my options carefully, I decided that yes I am that New York asshole after all and I was going in. My New Yorker mind whispering under my breath, “Fuck them if they can’t take a joke.” What can I say? I was alone in the car. Namaste.

Yoga feels like a cult. Doesn’t it? No matter how Western and sterile the studios/gyms seem, you know there’s still a Ganesha stashed somewhere in some closet. Remember your first class? Before you decided to let go of all the things that gave you pause about this weird thing called “yoga”? Grown people who are not even backup dancers in full on spandex get-ups voluntarily twisting themselves into bizarre shapes…HELL NO. Then the moment you finally realized that you too were actually saying the Om out loud even though it felt weird, the yumminess of the vibration overriding your secret suspicion that they were making you pray in a different language. Yeah, I’m on to you, “Yoga Teacher”! Or that time you were a trooper, doing everything the teacher was saying, only to realize that your foot had somehow ended up behind your head- wait a minute, what is it doing there, and is that really what my left foot looks like- suddenly wanting to ask them whyyyyy and hoooooow does this actually make me a better person? And now it’s too late because here I am, with a very strong sensation in the back of my leg looking at, well, I don’t know what foot I’m looking at. Orrrr, the day you unsuspectingly walked into a class and there was a strange (but handsome) androgynous person with tattoos sitting behind a small wooden box, making music and singing their little heart out in sanskrit, hoping you would join in? Yup. Maybe not right away…but one day, you drank that Kool Aid hard. Kool Aid moustache, Miles flavor. You’re welcome.

Even the simple belief that through the power of our breath (prana) and self observation (svadyaya) we can communicate with our highest self is truly revolutionary. Yoga fundamentally asks us to suspend our disbelief at every step along the way and sometimes at the most basic level.

I’ve been there every time I walk into a new studio, or meet a new teacher, or go on a retreat. Every tribe is slightly different, they all have their own normal, and their normal, I find, is rarely what I am used to. A cult.

Well, friends, I walked into this recent training in a BARN in the middle of nowhere, 7 hours late like a cranky baby hyena. The only person in a group of forty who had never studied with this teacher, amongst people who had taken- on average- at least three trainings with him, who were all decked out in his t-shirts. No one even moved a muscle to make a space for my mat. Yup, I’m out of my comfort zone. In fact, I’m all up in my discomfort. That’s how I knew it was going to be an exceptionally good week.

Kaivalya– the highest form of samadhi (or awakening)– translates to aloneness. But it’s not meant to be a sad, turbulent, dark aloneness. Rather an aloneness that stems from moksha– freedom. Freedom grounded in steadiness (sthira). Freedom from the karmic wheel, where our karma– actions- have created samskaras -scars or ruts, that have been maintained and sustained by our vasanas– our tendencies (which spring from our beliefs and stories).

So, I would venture to say that coming up against our weediest basic beliefs again and again, is the very thing which makes this practice so powerful at it’s core. Yoga tests, shakes, cracks and debunks our belief systems all the way down to their foundation. Every time our beliefs crumble, we free ourselves a little more from the karmic wheel, extract ourselves from the ruts and experience new strength in the very space that’s opened up. And in that falling together/apart, we inhabit our intuitive self, our purusha, which lives deeper and further down below. Options come to light that may not even be imaginable until the walls of our old beliefs crumble and the light leaks in.

I’d say it is very good to be way out of your comfort zone every once in awhile. Fall apart, fall together. But I will also say this: of all the cults I’ve been lucky enough to visit and enjoy- though I always try to be a respectful visitor- ours, is by far, still my favorite.

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****Sunday Jam: weekly 12:30 Sunday Classes at Pure East are now open to the public and two hours long. So come! Everyone is welcome and you can pay at the desk.

-Yoga and Asana: Backbends
Friday June 2 6-8 ($40)
Bhakti Center
Join the band (Doyal, Caroline and Miles) for a led self practice with mantra threaded throughout. To register email me.

-Weekend Woodland Retreat
June 9-11 (starting at $400)
Goshen, CT (reachable by bus and train)
Join the band (Doyal, Caroline and Miles) for a weekend in a gorgeous 140 acre property just 2.5 hours from the city. We will practice together, have delicious meals prepared by Caroline and Doyal and enjoy an amazing recharge. To check out the details CLICK HERE! Or to register email me email me.

-Kirtan with Miles and the Monki Menace
July 21 8-10pm ($15 advance/$20 at door)
Laughing Lotus NYC
to register CLICK HERE!

-Italy with Joey Sbarro and Miles
August 28-Sept 4
Valpolicella Classico Region (near Verona and Venice)
for details CHECK THE WEBSITE or to register email me.