At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

Sangita Yoga was brought in by the coordinators of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence to provide an evening of sacred music for this year's conference which draws several hundred loyal ashtangis from all over the world. Tim Miller, whom many call Timji, is one of the pillars of the Ashtanga community, a leading teacher and a torch bearer of their founding Guru, Sri K. Prattabhi Jois. My somewhat mystical meeting with Timji last year began a deep friendship rooted in mutual spirituality that I can only define as "sangha", which means "fellowship" or "brotherhood".  I met with him a week before the Confluence and he invited us to attend the opening ceremony and puja on Thursday night.

Together with Lopa and Janzel, I went to the Catamaran Resort with my habitual mixture of skepticism and non-judgment (a paradox?). Being traditional and a purist in may ways, I confess that I'm often skeptical when Westerners are in charge of anything dealing with India's sacred traditions.  But the three of us already had exposure to Timji's Ashtanga Yoga Center, and so we had relatively high hopes for the evening's ceremony.

A shortened, yet very authentic, Ganesha Puja was led by Eddie Stern.  We immediately saw and felt his authenticity and reverence. His intention was to invoke Sri Ganesha's blessings on the conference and convert the resort into a yoga shala, a place of practice and learning.  Those of you who know me know how much we at Sangita Yoga value such invocations.   Afterwards, we met the leading teachers and other ashtangis.  These interactions made us feel totally at ease in an environment sanctified by the puja.  We sensed their collective desire to reverently connect with India's sacred roots.

On Saturday night, the coordinators and staff were extremely helpful and easy to work with --- a good sign of inner peace and organization. We were happy to see the murtis (holy statues) of Ganesha and Hanuman prominently placed (rather than in the background or off to the side) and decorated with flower-offerings and oil lamps.  A misprint on the schedule required us to wait until 8:30 to start rather than 8:00 (an India-like delay), but everyone kept their cool. Life's obstacles are the proving ground for our efforts in sadhana.  I know people who can lose all their hard-earned inner peace over a 10 minute delay.

Earlier on we had been told that the classes and sessions on Saturday would leave everyone exhausted, and many people would rather have an early bedtime rather than attend a kirtan.  But the Confluence coordinators wanted to give a gift to the participants, a devotional-musical break, for those who would want to rest in a different way.  And so we realized that those 150 who came throughout the night really, really wanted to be there.  It was evident in their voices and attentiveness.  That collective devotion becomes its own generator, producing a secret power --- Timji later told us the kirtan fully recharged his batteries after an exhausting day.  One veteran ashtangi wrote: " brought some needed juiciness to counter all the tapas from the rest of the weekend — mental and physical tapas....The music [was] another reason my Sunday practice was so open and powerful."

I did my best to stick to the allotted 90 minutes, especially considering the 30 minute delay.  When it reached time to end at 10pm, I offered to stop there. But I saw Timji sitting near the front signaling  "one more!".  I realized that everyone who was there still wanted to be there, despite their fatigue.  This is a different kind of tapas (discipline) --- when the body and mind complain with fatigue and restlessness but the heart's devotion issues an executive order to "stay put" and "go deep"!

Afterwards, our Sangita Yoga crew sat together talking about the event. We were very impressed with the sincerity of the ashtangis and their determination to stay true to the traditions of India, brought by their Guru, despite living in a society where quick n'easy usually trumps authenticity and discipline.

To those who were with us, we want to say how touched we were by your enthusiasm and heartfelt devotion. To those who missed us, we totally understand and hope to see you sometime in the future (maybe even AYC 2014).  Our awesome sound engineer, David Williams of 2ndFloorRecording, came down to record the evening.  If all goes well, we'll have a beautiful CD for all to enjoy. And some sweet HD video footage is on the way.

As I was leaving late at night after take down, I saw Jenny and Deb, two of the coordinators.  We exchanged thank yous and Jen said, "Sangita Yoga's music and Ashtanga Yoga Confluence--it's a great fit."  I agreed. I later thought about what she said and I wondered why we "fit" so easily.  None of us in Sangita Yoga had previous knowledge of Ashtanga Yoga; and they never really knew us or what we're about.  Then it hit me: Whenever we dig deeply enough into our respective practices and paths—which seem scattered across the fertile soil of India's sacred traditions—we reach the deep roots that nourish and unite us all.  That kind of kinship is a joy and privilege to discover.

By: Naren K. Schreiner

© 2013 Sangita Yoga