Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Author: Michael Stone on Freeing The Body, Freeing The Mind: Connecting Yoga & Buddhism

Michael Stone, Centre of Gravity summer practice 2010, photo Andrea de Keizer
Michael Stone is a yoga teacher and psychotherapist who leads yoga and meditation workshops and teaches internationally on the effectiveness of yoga and Buddhist meditation in clinical psychotherapy practice. His approach to yoga focuses on the integration of theory and practice in a way that is rooted in tradition yet responsive to contemporary culture. He is the founder of Centre of Gravity Sangha, a community of yoga and Buddhist practitioners based in Toronto, where he lives. He has published several books including, The Inner Tradition of Yoga, and Yoga for a World out of Balance. His newest publication, Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind is a collection of writings by prominent teachers in Yoga and Buddhism, that investigates the common threads in both traditions.

I had a hard time finding Centre of Gravity on my first visit; that's despite Bellwoods Avenue having been a street I lived on for many years. It's nudged quietly in between the residential rows; and I think there was something on the website about finding a red door. And then, Michael had also said something about arriving early. Inside, on wooden floors in a long hall, lined by low lying book shelves, people spread their mats alongside one another in two careful rows; leaving about an inch of space in between. It was intimate. This was the closest I'd been to anyone else in a room while practicing. Intimacy and community is something Michael likes to talk about; he brought it up again this weekend in a few workshops at Yoga Festival Toronto. As guest author of the following post, he traces the intimate connections between Buddhism and yogic practice, so that we can find our way through otherwise cryptic maps to the red door; and to the helix that marks the communal meeting spot of the body and the mind.

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Freeing The Body, Freeing The Mind: Connecting Yoga and Buddhism
by Michael Stone

Over the years, I’ve found it increasingly frustrating that Yoga is continually reduced to “a body practice” and Buddhism “a mind practice.” This makes no sense at all. Anyone who has practiced deeply in both traditions knows that the Buddha gave attention to the body, Patanjali the mind, and both traditions value ethical precepts and commitments as the foundation of an appropriate livelihood. I organize a community in Toronto called Centre of Gravity Sangha, a thriving group of people interested in integrating Yoga and Buddhist Practices.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Who" is the Final Destination? The Looking Glass and Sister Elaine MacInnes

It really depends on how you look at it. But you can see a wave forming before it actually comes up. I mean, you can see it underneath, before the surface rolls over.  There's an introduction, a pre-amble, a subtle shrinking almost in the opposite direction that happens a split second before the swell.  Something that hints at what's really going on.
Extraordinary people are wonderful to watch when they are doing extraordinary things. That's obvious. But extraordinary people at rest are also a revelation; because they look empty until something comes through them. And they appear aware of that fact...of that ground zero....Resting in some steady neutral...
Sister Elaine MacInnes, Yoga Festival Toronto 2010

Sister Elaine MacInnes is sitting in an S-shape. At eighty-something, she is curved gently over the clay colored metal chair in the mirrored room at the National Ballet. The light is peppered unevenly, glowing grey in the early evening, coming through the slender rectangle of a window on the far left corner. Sister MacInnes' chair is tilted to the right; and the floor, a smoke-blue, is covered is washy streaks left by toe ice-skates, the geometric shapes, half-arcs, scratched into the reflective surface of its rubber.

And then with a few words everything about her unfolds, quite literally, as she opens her shape across the chair and leans into the small gathering at this weekends Yoga Festival Toronto.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Matthew Remski, Co-founder of Yoga Festival Toronto
Matthew Remski is the co-founder of this weekend's Yoga Festival Toronto, which runs August 20th through 22nd, at the National Ballet School. Matthew and I first met when I was fifteen. We were both part of a week-long intensive held in Ottawa designed for politically-inclined youth from across Canada called Forum for Young Canadians. I think in our mock parliament, Matthew was the anarchist. As you can see from the Q&A, some things don't change...some fish swim upstream. He had a few minutes to type out his thoughts about this weekend's Yoga Festival and his involvement in Yoga Community Toronto. Our conversation below:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

YOGA: The Architecture of A Trojan Horse, An Interview with Ravi Ravindra, Phd

Yoga is like a Trojan Horse. You can do yoga simply as a physical practice. Some people do yoga because they believe it will increase their sexual potential...or make them more beautiful. All this is ok. But eventually the practice will generate its own effects.” (Ravi Ravindra, Phd)

 “Do not rush through the book”,  read the email.

Fair enough. There are times when it’s worth following instructions. I read Ravi Ravindra’s cogent and lucid translation of the text that is the spiritual cornerstone of yoga practice entitled, The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, with 50/50 contemplation and leisure. And, because I was suffering from minor wrist strain at the time, I had the fortuity to immerse myself in the book’s inquiring momentum for a few hours at a stretch, and then follow it intermittently with lazy august naptime; only to get up and digest some more. It was lovely summer afternoon reading, rich and elastic in its depth of insight culled from sources as diverse as Sufi mystics, Christian theology, Puranic lore, threads from Rainer Maria Rilke and British artist William Blake. For someone supine, slightly injured, and looking for yogic transformation through a good read, this book was a no-brainer. 

(The Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Ravi Ravindra)

Ravi Ravindra, PhD is a spiritual visionary, scholar, and leading international speaker on religion, science, and spirituality who has written fourteen books; several of them on the practice of yoga. He is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, where he was Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion and Adjunct Professor of Physics. Known for his ability to communicate with and inspire students, he is recipient of several awards and research grants and author of more than 100 papers in physics, philosophy, and religion. The latest of his many books is The Wisdom of PataƱjali's Yoga Sutras. Ravi’s spiritual search has led him to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G.Gurdjieff, Zen, and a deep immersion in the mystical teachings of the Indian and Christian traditions. He shared a personal friendship with J. Krishnamurti about whom he has written several books. He has also received blessings and instruction from Sri Krishnamacarya, and studied with Sri TKV Desikachar at the Krishnamacarya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai. 
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

In this first post for the Examiner, Ravindra has been kind enough to chat at length about the roots of his own personal practice, and how he came to study with, and later befriend Sri TKV Desikachar. In addition, he talks about his personal choice to renounce the practice of teaching yoga in the 1960’s, his upcoming work in October at the Yoga Crib in Ojai. And, he describes the enormous transformative potential of yoga through the metaphor of the Trojan horse; a weapon of stealth, as it pervades a person's interior battleground, despite anyone's best efforts to resist. 
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