Friday, June 17, 2016

Pacific Yoga--Pura Vida!

Pacific Yoga

Sunset in Samara, an ocean village on the west coast of Costa Rica, our varied yoga teacher training group in vrksasana on the cliff above the beach (Costa Rica, Mexico, Texas, Switzerland, Poland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, New Orleans, Massachusetts and Virginia are represented!) and finally Sam Saladino Blackthorn and Peggy Kelley on that same cliff are reproduced for your viewing pleasure. These intense days of study and teaching and practice and sharing will be treasured memories for me, I can already tell.

It's always been the NAME of this great ocean off the west coast of North, Central and South America. that has entranced me--Pacific--the word itself is an inspiration to yoga teachers in training. Beginning a third decade of training teachers, I'm a bit amazed that this project of encouraging people with a passion for yoga to learn to pass the practice on to others has lasted so long in my life.
Back when I started to teach in 1976 or so, there were no yoga teacher trainings that I could find. Community schools in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia were looking for yoga teachers, so I applied for the jobs. I'd had some introduction to yoga in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I'd lived when my son was born. B.C. was where I went to college, and Austin has been where I have done this long work of developing techniques to train yoga teachers.

The topic is so vast and so unlike all else that I studied in colleges and universities. Marine biology, languages, education, law and literature were what I dug into then. On a parallel track I was reading Light on Yoga, The Autobiography of a Yogi, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  It's my parents I thank for a love of reading, and my father in particular for encouraging me to think for myself. This technique of testing what one reads in books or scripture against one's own personal experience could even be called the Heart of Yoga itself. We encourage student teachers to see how these philosophical buildling blocks (yama and niyama-- postures, pranayama, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and absorption) serve them in their quest to build a life of purpose, harmony and meaning.

The thoughtful people in the group present here at the Costa Rica School of Massage (and now Yoga), the hard work of my colleague Sam Saladino, the generosity of the other faculty and staff, all make this time possible. AND, most auspicious of all, we will be here for the International Day of Yoga. The plan is to offer a free class to the community, team taught by all in our merry band. Stay tuned for next week's blog post for further details on that happening!

This weekend it's off to tide pools, and getting to know each other better. There may be time for reiki, massage, personal practice, even laundry! The imperative that "it is more important to know oneself as a physical body is more important at this moment in human history than at any other time" has been with me so long that I honestly don't know if I made it up or read it somewhere. So long have I loved the way yoga practice brings me into this body and helps me rub the dust off the mirror of my consciousness to see the inseparability of body, mind and soul, that I run out of metaphors to explain the beauty of the path. As they say here--"Pura Vida!"

Thursday, February 18, 2016

B.K.S. Iyengar's Birthday Celebration, Pune, India 2015

Guruji Iyengar’s 97th Birthday, 14 December 2015

We gathered at Govinda Gardens at 6 pm. The open-air theatre was beautifully decorated with malas of marigolds surrounding images of gods at the back of the stage, and then around busts of Rama\amani and B.K.S. Iyengar toward the front. A podium was to stage right, the family was seated in the front rows, along with the almost one dozen speakers from all over the world who had prepared speeches about their experiences with Guruji.

Rajvi Mehta was mistress of ceremonies, and gracefully introduced the many speakers one by one. Some obviously had significant time to prepare their talk, others (like Maria below) only a very short time. All, however, spoke absolutely from the heart, or so it seemed to this listener.

Leslie Hogya from Victoria, Canada, spoke first. She gave a careful summary of Iyengar’s visits to Canada, once to Vancouver and Victoria and once to Edmonton and Toronto., She had a wonderful story of Iyengar and his Canadian friends crossing the Georgia Straight (the body of water west of Vancouver between the mainland and Vancouver Island). Apparently at one point the owner of the boat commented that it was too bad that one could not practice yoga asana on a boat. “Nonsense,” declared Iyengar. He soon had everyone on board hanging from bunkbeds, standing with support of various available solid objects, and understanding that yes, indeed, yoga asana IS possible on a boat!

Leslie also recounted a serious shoulder injury which she suffered three or so years ago. She wrote to Iyengar to ask if she should bring herself to the medical classes with her problem. He answered yes, IF she was willing to put up with “almost unbearable pain.” She was, and attended the medical classes two years ago to receive his help. She demonstrated to all of us present the great range of motion she now has in her injured shoulder after Iyengar yoga therapy.

Next up was Faeq Biria, one of Iyengar’s longest standing students. Guruji stayed often with Faeq and travelled with him all around Europe. Apparently in the 70’s, even before Faeq had married his wife Corine, Iyengar stayed with him in his apartment for the long span of two and a half months. He had told Faeq that they would live together as two bachelors. Iyengar, after his morning practices, would walk the neighborhood, making friends everywhere. Even the baker obliged his dietary requirements, preparing breads and pastries without eggs for him to eat. Faeq was the first of many speakers who told of Iyengar’s love of speed. Many times he had his student/hosts in Europe and elsewhere take the speed of their cars way beyond the legal limit. Thank goodness the authorities were not around to make arrests, and thank goodness the hosts were good drivers!

My memory may not be serving me well to recount the exact order of speakers, but I am fairly certain that Xavi (pronounced “Chavi”) from Alicante, Spain was next. His strong Spanish accent made it a little difficult to make out every single word he said. However, it was clear again that Iyengar wanted to go faster when Xavi was driving him from one place to another, and once they even ran out of gas! Iyengar’s amazing calm became evident at this point. For an hour they had to wait on a deserted road for help to come, but Guruji had no anxieties. Xavi also mentioned that he had shown photographs of Iyengar in various postures to other spiritual masters, and all had verified that Iyengar was obviously deeply in touch with his inner/pranic body, and in fact, was a siddha (one who has mastered the powers—siddhis—mentioned in chapter three of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali).

In contrast, when Maria Flores spoke, she mentioned that she  and her husband John had taken Iyengar in their camper bus with their children to visit various places around Holland. The camper bus was, of course, very slow, and since it had a couple of bunks, Guruji was able to have a nice savasana on a bunk during one of  their journeys. In this case, understanding that the van was naturally slow, he did not request to be driven faster. Maria spoke of her studentship from the perspective of being a mother. Her sister Annemieke and her husband John were both devotees of Iyengar. Maria did what yoga practice she could while still looking after the kids.

Jawahar Bangera was the only one of Guruji’s senior Indian students to speak. He told of being literally dragged to a yoga class by his parents when he was a teenager. Everyone knows how much teenagers like to sleep in the morning, and it was an early morning class. I can only imagine how resentful he might have felt. But the yoga began to catch his interest, and today he is one of the most senior teachers and one of the longest-time students. He commented that many of the early students of Iyengar yoga in Mumbai were Parsee, for example Sam and Freny Motivala. Today of course, Iyengar students come in all shapes and sizes, are of all ages and stages, and live in almost every country in the world. 

Jawahar also mentioned that Guruji would sometimes get impatient with his students. At times like that, he would say, “I have taken the poison and the nectar from these asanas. I am giving you the nectar and you are only taking the poison.”  To me, this speaks to Iyengar’s generosity, and also to the fact that as teachers, we sometimes struggle to find the right words to convey the action in an asana, or the fine points of a philosophical principle.

Gabriella Giubilaro from Florence, Italy, spoke about her early classes in Pune with Iyengar. She apparently had some fear of him, for she described hiding behind any pillar or post that she could find so that he would not see her. Of course he had an eagle eye and saw everyone, hiding or not!  Apparently he had friends in Florence, so he visited her there. She, like many others, described driving him within Italy, I think to Rome, and being asked to go faster, faster!!!

Pixie Lillas from Australia described the early, much smaller classes at RIMYI in the seventies. She told us how intensely Iyengar would teach his students then, and how, just when they thought they were spent, he would come up with another asana or two to do. Even exhausted, they found that with his fire and encouragement, they COULD do more.

Stephanie Quirk spoke next. She has lived in Pune for twenty years, and helped Iyengar often with his writings (he would always write long hand, she said, so much transcribing needed to be done to bring out the 25 books he wrote in his lifetime!).  Among others, she mentioned how Guruji would study and meet with people downstairs in the library, and how much she learned about him as she watched him interact with students, teachers, journalists, other yogis, and famous people from all over. She described Iyengar as “an ordinary man, BUT…..”  He was one who understood the link between shraddha (faith) and virya (strength) so completely that he was liberated by that faith in his relations with all different kinds of people. Iyengar showed friendliness (maitri) to all. Established in his faith and strength, he never covered anything or held himself back. He was a man, she said at the end of her talk, who “held his ground.” He always impressed me in the same way in the few meetings I had with him, so much so that I think of his signature pose as tadasana, rather than natarajasana or hanumanasana.

Patricia Walden spoke about Guruji’s message about love. Many times she was asked to come to a platform at a mega class or at RIMYI to demonstrate a pose. One time she was asked to demonstrate paschimottanasana. He gave adjustments and verbal hints and then asked her what she felt. Thinking of the adjustments and words, she said, something like “I felt my thoracic spine move in and the sternum move forward.” Iyengar was not pleased with her answer. When the opportunity came up to demonstrate the same pose soon after, she reported that when he asked her again what she felt in the pose, her answer at that moment “bypassed her brain.”  She was able to answer that she felt “silence and space.” or words close to those. He responded that yes, that was what he wanted her to notice in the pose. She described how luminously he transmitted love, space, and silence, She said that Iyengar always maintained that love “cannot be taught, but only transmitted.”  Patricia declared that for her, his main message was about love.

Prashantji took the stage at the very last, and we were regaled with a glimpse of his new book, “Discourses on Yog.” already sold out at the RIMYI bookstore, by the way. He spoke of his father as both teacher and parent. I’m not sure whether it was Prashant or another speaker, but someone who spoke pointed out that Iyengar himself was a bhaktin of yoga, Geeta a karmin, and Prashant a jnanin. B.K.S. Iyengar played many roles in his life—father, husband, teacher, philsopher, author, artist. Clearly he is remembered in different ways by different people, and though he may from the outside sometimes have seemed sometimes ferocious, sometimes  ordinary, he was, in the end, truly an extraordinary, loving human being.

May we long live in his light, and may we share this light with generations to come!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Further Reflections on (International) Iyengar Yoga Assessment and Training, and Abhi on props

December 9, 2015
Pune, India

On Friday, I'll have been in India for two full weeks, and what full weeks they have been! We have a group of over 1200 who are now in the middle of learning from Geetaji at her second annual Yoga Anusasanam at Balewadi Sports Stadium. She is teaching asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. She has been in extraordinarily good spirits and has already given some amazing classes. My favorite so far has been this afternoon's pranayama session which included digital work in Brahmari in seated and supine positions. What a brilliant way to quiet the mind. We are surely in for more of this excellence in the days to come. The venue works well; the support staff are VERY helpful, and everyone from the whole wide world is getting along famously in the glow of Iyengar yoga.

In the afternoons, we are having sessions on Guruji's writings, his invention of props, and even a music concert.  Abhijata's presentation on props yesterday was especially enlightening. The first story was of Guruji working with the principal of Fergusson College, a local Pune institution. He was in his eighties, and could barely walk. Guru noticed that when he had the principal lie down to do prone poses, his legs kept coming together. So he saw a nearby bar and used it between his heels to help keep the legs apart. Uday imitated the old man very well.

 She told of her grandfather having her stand like Charlie Chaplin (toes pointing completely outward), being placed at the end of a trestler with a stool pressing her hips and legs into the end of the trestler and being told to bend backwards and hold the long bar. When she asked Guruji why, he said that turning out the feet had a better effect on her sacrum.

She had Raya and Uday show different versions of ardha chandrasana, to show that a prop could be used both to help a stiff student bring the lifted leg higher, and to help the one who goes too far to come down to the right place. In the first instance, the long bar of the horse/trestler was used for the lifted leg, and in the second instance, a rope with a weight tied into it was used on the upper leg to provide resistance.

She wound up by telling of Guruji's use of the trestler in eka pada viparita dandasana. He was using the stump to hold his sacrum/tailbone area up, and had his forearms bent and down on the wooden platform of the stump. His lifted leg was near the trestler. Abi heard him say several times to move the trestler closer, but when she offered to move it yet again closer, he said NO. He was trying to keep his leg AWAY from the bar of the horse, and finally did not want it moved closer. So here, the prop was used as a guide to stay away from, not to lift from.

The whole story of props was told in a previous blog. You can read it below if you are interested. I was especially fond of the story of the invention of the eye bandage!

A quick summary of the meetings of worldwide Iyengar Yoga Assessors and teacher trainers.  First: people involved in assessing and in training teachers should be kind and have "the human touch." Second: there is no need to race through the different levels of the various syllabi. Guruji himself thought that mentorship is a better method than teacher training group classes, apparently, and Geetaji and Prashanti echoed this opinion. HOWEVER, the word, which I'm sure everyone has heard by now, is that assessments will proceed in the year to come. Greta and Prashant did not put a stop to it, but rather gave us much food for thought as we go forward.

More from Pune in the next few days.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reflections on Assessment, from both sides now

Some Reflections on our Process of Assessment and Growth as a Democratic, Educational Nonprofit Organization

This year, for the first time in my ten years of serving as an assessor in the US and Mexico, I will be part of two assessment teams and chair of one. That makes three, and it is probably the first and last time I will be able to do so much.
It is certainly true that those who come to BE assessed have travelled a long road of practice, and eventually, teaching. It is absolutely true that B.K.S. Iyengar himself, and now his family, daughter and son Geeta and Prashant and granddaughter Abhijata, have given their lives to the practice and teaching of the 8 limbed yoga of Patanjali. The system we have developed over our 25 years of existence as a democratic, nonprofit, educational organization asks those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit Pune several times and put enough years into practice and teaching to serve as assessors.
Each time we do this we leave our home community, our beloved personal practice space, our dear families and students, and for three intense days observe the practice and teaching of a group of dedicated people who have come for the event because they have become committed to Iyengar Yoga. Before we are permitted to serve as bona fide assessors, we have to serve twice as assessors-in-training. Both groups, then, assessors (and assessors-in-training) and candidates make substantial sacrifices to participate
So the process involves years of preparation, countless miles of airplane (or at least automobile) trave, a considerable financial investment and eventually what can only be called sacrifice or selfless service. Why on earth would intelligent people go through such a process, indeed eagerly submit to it, even clamor to serve as assessors? Searching for an answer to this question, I can only surmise that we do it because we have, firsthand and at a profound level, witnessed both in ourselves and in our students, the strengthening transformation that the practice of Iyengar Yoga brings.  What are the distinguishing features of this approach to yoga?
Attention to the mind in the practice of yogasana, attention to alignment of the embodiment, study of the yoga literature, and study of anatomy, physiology and pedagogical techniques.
After all these years on the path, I can honestly say that I have witnessed dramatic improvement in the quality of the teachers who come for assessment, AND in the thoughtfulness, compassion, and good judgment of the assessors. It is clear that our process is working, because people come from large AND small communities of yoga practitioners. Even though, as my colleague Theresa Rowland has observed, when we began to assess, there was really no national agreement on what excellence in the teaching of Iyengar yoga meant. We did not have an agreed-upon pedagogy! Despite this slightly unmoored beginning, with all the concomitant difficulties it produced, we have made giant steps.
The reasons for the difficulties surely was that senior teachers who had been with B.K.S. Iyengar for years had been with him often together, but sometimes at different occasions. There are many who knew Guruji infinitely better than I did. His genius, in my opinion, was largely based in his ability to teach to the people in front of him. He was passionate about bringing an understanding of how the physical body can be used as a vehicle to an experience of profound peace, balance, and eventually, spiritual enlightenment. Focussed yoga practice, he maintained, is a way to deepen your understanding of the sanctity of life no matter what god or no god you may believe in. Of course he taught differently to different people at different times. And of course, this would lead to some confusion in the attempt to construct rules or even guidelines for practitioners and new teachers.

This fall, two thirds of the way through my commitments in this process, I can say with joy that our system is bearing fruit. From both sides, the candidates' side and the assessors' side, we have made tangible, visible, durable progress. There is, of course, still work to be done, refinements to be made, improvements to ponder, yet in a democratically run organization, which listens to feedback from all sides, the way forward becomes clearer. With Geetaji's guidance at meetings in Pune later this fall, I'm sure we will be on very solid footing! Deep bows of thanks to all who are assessing and who are candidates for assessment!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Meditation on art, teaching, science and yoga

Meditation on art, teaching, science and yoga

This morning has dawned fresh and clear in Yonkers, NY, where we are staying with my old friend Susan Butterick, a physician assistant with Planned Parenthood here in New York and former law school colleague at UT. So many threads are weaving through my brain at the present moment, and being a big picture person, rather than a detail person, I have to pause to bring them into a fabric that will hold strong.
Last weekend with my colleagues Kristin Chirhart and James Murphy, we went through a process of assessing several candidates from the east coast at the junior intermediate two level. My thinking on the pedagogy in the Iyengar system has gone through much change in the past two decades since we started helping teachers prepare for Iyengar certification and in the past decade since I started working in Mexico. I think it will be helpful to write down some of the ideas that have been brewing inside me before chairing the introductory II assessment in Madison, New Jersey in two weeks time.

I used to think that we in the United States have the very best method of training teachers. We came to our system via a backwards route, since our national association began assessing teachers who wanted to become certified in the Iyengar method well before there was any agreement among our senior teachers about what the Iyengar method IS!  The first chairperson of our  certification committee, Ariane Hudson, was succeeded by Kristin, who has been followed by Joan White, Laurie Blakeney, Kathleen Pringle, Mary Reilly and now Leslie Bradley. A colleague has nominated me for the post, and though I would serve gladly, I have some reservations about taking on the position should I be elected and am not attached to the election results!

B.K.S. Iyengar himself ALWAYS emphasized the necessity of recognizing the modern practice of the third limb of yoga—asana— as part of the other seven limbs of classical ashtanga yoga. His method has grown into an empire of excellence-in-asana-seekers, varying in age from the twenties to the sixties. Geeta Iyengar has called for a meeting of people involved in training teachers worldwide for November of this year, I suspect because she recognizes that there are some significant differences among the international Iyengar communities in how people are “promoted” and trained. I’m also fairly certain that Geeta Iyengar is aware of the huge commercialization of yoga that has taken place in the last decades. This commercial aspect of yoga has, in my opinion, led to a strange but powerful  cult of yoga as a path to eternal youth and beauty. Witness the ad campaigns for Lulelemon and Lole.

In conversation with James and Kristin, my original spark for following the Iyengar method became clear in my mind. Guruji always emphasized that working on the path of yoga, in yoga, would lead us to the sight of the soul. After reading all of Iyengar’s books and in particular most recently his ideas about vinyasa in particular (arguably the most popular “style” in the world today) in the essay on the subject in Ashtadala Yogamala, I am convinced that he never stopped highlighting yoga as a physical practice that includes the spiritual/devotional. The vinyasa essay is part of an assignment I am sharing with Gail Ackerman to present at  Stephanie Quirk’s last workshop in Denver next month. Iyengar also speaks on the subject of vinyasa krama in the excellent film “Breath of the Gods”. From his writings and lectures in all the above sources, I am clear that he wanted us to come to the path of yoga with an understanding that our bodies are instruments on a journey to the soul. 

To do justice to that insight, our pedagogy, I think, needs to recognize that the seekers/sadhakas who come to us for deepening their studies of Iyengar Yoga might also be interested in a level of yoga study “beyond” the physical. Since we are involved in a discipline that combines art and science, we have a complex task at hand—how to give good instruction in basic technique and at the same time to communicate how our work leads to a spiritual dimension, whether or not one “believes” in spirit or soul.

In a nutshell, this is what I would like to see our community of educators communicate more directly about, not just about acceptable methods of teaching parsvaikapada sirsasana. Though I see the value of the details necessary for the understanding inversion variations, I would like to insure somehow that people are kept safe throughout their yoga life, and valued for their contribution to the community of practitioners no matter what their age or physical capabilities might be. Beginning with our home communities, working with each other in an egalitarian, honest and open way, we can be part of the larger world of yoga and maintain a practice that promises peace and health to all.

Guruji worked for many years on crafting a democratic constitution to govern the Iyengar communities worldwide. He called it “The Pune Constitution.”  It is a document that he obviously gave much thought to and wanted us to take very seriously. Each country is at a different stage of development in their community of Iyengar practitioners. A flexible document (and  it IS written in language that allows it to be flexible) will be a good starting point for all of us. The key is good communication among those who have been on the path for many years and who are involved in guiding teachers in their home communities. I am hopeful that Geetaji will be able to shed some light on the way forward for all of us in November.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, 20 y 27 julio, 2015

Thanks to Emilie and Jim Rogers, we brought a group from Texas down to Oaxaca City 10 days ago to practice Iyengar yoga, learn a bit about ayurveda and Indian dance (thanks to Sreedhara Abhikebbalu), AND attend the Guelaguetza.
The state of Oaxaca has a greater Indian population than any other, and more Indian languages are spoken here than anywhere else in Mexico. The Guelaguetza, or the "Dos Lunes del Cerro" (the two Mondays on the Hill) is a great gathering of villagers from pueblos of Oaxaca who sing, play music and dance their hearts out. The word "guelaguetza" is from the Zapotec language and means "offering". It reminds me of nothing more than the potlatch of the Northwest coast Indians, an annual summer gathering where the bounty of fish, berries, and crafts was shared throughout the community. Here in Mexico, too, we are in the rainy season, fruits are plentiful, the weather is temperate and pleasant--rains usually miss the El Fortin hill where the open air theatre is located, home of the performances on two Mondays each July.

Often the dancers would dance separately, the men in one line or circle and the women in another, and sometimes they would dance as couples. Many times a couple would walk in a stately manner to the front of the stage to welcome the crowd and to  recite a poem in Zapotec, or another indigenous language, and, thankfully for us, also translate the poem into Spanish. One that stood out for me was recited by a supremely energetic and bold-voiced woman who translated the Spanish (I'm paraphrasing): "We are from the clouds and the winds, we have come from far away, our hands are now empty, but we are the root, we are the root, we are the roots."

One village dance is called "La Danza de las Ananas", the pineapple dance, because the women dancers come out in their colourful costumes balancing a real pineapple on their shoulders. What was most remarkable about the end of EACH dance was that baskets were brought onstage from the wings and fruits, baskets, hats, tortillas, and some things that I am obviously forgetting, were thrown out into the audience with great gusto and received BY the audience with great eagerness.

Our row caught nanches (a fruit that can be fermented), a bandana, a basket, a toy broom, and a hat. People near us caught apples, pineapples, bananas and more baskets. It was quite a haul, overall, in our section of the audience. Though I heard that some indigenous groups harbor ill feelings about the festival, considering it too "touristic", the audience seemed to consist of a majority of Mexicans. Perhaps they were from other parts of Mexico and therefore also tourists, I could not tell. But it seemed that when the announcer introduced the dancing groups from the various parts of Oaxaca, there was loud applause from a section of the audience, so it appeared that each village had a fan base in attendance from their hometown.

In any case, touristic or not, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and I was carried back to a time I can only imagine. A time of simpler living, collaboration and mutual support rather than competition and back-stabbing, and a time of great exuberance, color, handiwork, music and dancing. Viva la Guelaguetza, Viva Oaxaca!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blessing the Seeds

Community has become a trendy word these days. There are civic communities, online communities, even yoga studio communities. There are communities of online reviewers and bloggers, communities of like minded foodies (the "vegan community" for example) and communities of sports and pop idol fans. What boggles my mind is that members of some of these communities never see each other face to face or even meet voice to voice. Communication can occur via visual image labelled with a minimum of words. "Awesome veggie burger" with a photo of your favorite one about to be eaten by you, "perfect pedicure" with a photo of your toenails, or less commonly "spectacular sunrise", also illustrated by a photo.
In many ways our new ability to share our whereabouts opinions and purchases with family, friends, and an unknown online community has an appeal and a power that I for one am only just beginning to appreciate, and somewhat mistrust.

Here's why: ever since I owned a computer (probably 1996, and for many years used mostly for word processing) and a "smart" phone (ca. 2013) my communication and collaboration skills have deteriorated. My opinion about this is confirmed by my friends and family, who have to now compete with these devices for my attention. The devices provide me instant information about world events, a window to the tiniest bit of trivia I might want to know (what IS the etymology of the word "community" anyway?) as well as a means to keep in touch with home when I am on the road. The last mentioned use was the initial rationale for having a cell phone, which soon morphed into the smart phone, so now I am never without the means to access calls or emails or text messages or world events.

As a matter of fact the word community shares the same Latin root with commune and communion, which, as a member of "communities of spiritual practices"--yoga and meditation--I  find highly intriguing. After teaching at Sama Yoga in Queretaro all weekend, I was taken by my friend Lorenia Trueba to San Ildefonso where the second annual Festival of Traditional Corn was taking place. Mario, Loreñia's friend, had worked for weeks with the local communities there to put together a newspaper, a photographic exhibit and a place in the plaza for villagers to come and display their handicrafts and amazingly beautiful ears of red, blue, white and yellow corn. The special newspaper proclaimed "Somos hombres y mujeres de maiz" --"we are men and women made of corn," and "sin maiz no hay pais"--"Without corn there is no country." Seeds were on display, bean and squash as well as corn. Many people were wearing traditional dress-- the women in long pleated bright white skirts and blouses trimmed in strong colors. A blue corn quesadilla filled the empty space in my stomach, and the beautiful woman who reached her hands full of corn seeds across her display table to fill my hands with red, blue-black and yellow/white kernels won my heart. Her words were "es un regalo--its a gift"--she wanted no money, just for me to plant them. They will be contraband in my suitcase of course, but with luck they will make it. Also with luck my crop will yield more seeds.

Mario explained that the villagers were not exclusively protesting Monstanto and its Frankenstein-like invention of "roundup ready" (meaning the pesticide is already IN the seed) corn, but also against the global monopoly that four big-ag corporations have on the world seed supply. He recognized Percy Schmeiser's name when I brought it up and said that he knew about Percy's lawsuit against Monsanto that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. Percy lost, by the way, since the court legally had to protect Monsanto's patent, but the corporation was awarded no damages. Percy was in Austin several years ago for a convention, and I consider myself lucky to have met him. He is a man of principle, a rarity these days.

As the 8-man rock band was warming up to entertain us at the festival, I had a chance to read the exhibit hanging under the tent cover. It described the 10,000, yes ten thousand!-year history of corn in the new world. As I read through the information I was completely emotionally blind-sided by the fact that the village has re-instituted the annual "Bendición de las Semillas" in early February. Tears actually welled up in my eyes as I recognized how far I have lived from anyplace on earth where people bless seeds before planting.

The band began to play Bob Marley songs--I shot the sheriff, one about Babylon, complete with trombone and trumpet. Young people looking very much like the counter culture kids of my youth began dancing in the afternoon sun, a man with his sleeping daughter on his shoulder in front of the stage, two women at the back. Older people were rocking in their plastic chairs, and everyone seemed holy beyond belief. I'm going to let that typo stand, though I meant to type "jolly". This old woman, though she was completely out of place, felt "no obstante" (nevertheless) completely at home.