From the Street Yoga article by Hilliary Black
Don’t blow your prana all over the place.
Alanna Kaivalya’s book description, trailer, and informational video for her new book, Sacred Sound: Discovering Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan. Click the link to check out my review!
BOOK REVIEW: Sacred Sound by Alanna Kaivalya
There is a new guidebook for the modern-day yoga practitioner gracing bookstore, library, and (hopefully) university shelves this month! Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan by Alanna Kaivalya is a reference book that will rock the contemporary mystic’s world with witty writing, examples from popular culture (two whole pages on the dharma of the Matrix), and story-telling that will transform the way the West interprets spiritual practice and mythology.
In this book and guide, Alanna merges two of her strongest gifts: storyteller and singer of sacred sounds. I have experienced both of Alanna’s great gifts firsthand through being a long-term student of hers. In fact, her use of mantra inspired me to become a yoga teacher myself a few years after I first took a class with her accidentally (I was on my way to hot yoga and stumbled into her class at Pure Yoga instead). What initially separated my first class with Alanna from that fateful hot yoga class that I had missed that day was her use of mantra. The first instrument I witnessed her with was a guitar, not a harmonium, though I came to know her as a master of those as well. Following the chanting of mantra in the beginning of her classes came a mythological imbuing of pranayama and asana. She cannot help herself; everything she does from singing to arm balance has to have a story connected to it and she finds it her responsibility to communicate those stories to the world. She does so through the myth. “Don’t miss the vibrations” is what I heard when beginning Alanna’s yoga podcasts all those years ago. What set her classes (and podcasts) apart from my previous experiences in yoga class way back when was her use of mantra; Alanna sang to us during savasana, creating a complete experience of utter joy through chanting and nada yoga.
In the introduction to Sacred Sound, Alanna firmly states that what she writes “isn’t merely a theory to understand but a practice meant to be fully embodied and experienced.” She says, “Through practice, we make these mantras our own so they help us on our spiritual journey.” Yet even as Alanna emphasizes and re-emphasizes the importance of immediate applicability in one’s spiritual practices in her latest work, she does not compromise practicality for mythology.
Because I know Alanna well, I know that one of her personal heroes is the mythologist Joseph Campbell; Alanna’s dharma is to continue his life’s work now that he has passed. Sacred Sound continues the work of Myths of the Asanas: The Ancient Origins of Yoga (Alanna’s first book) by making her dharma - her enthusiasm for this particular part of the practice - public.
For the yoga teacher, this book is fuel for 21 (the number of mantras Alanna breaks down in Sacred Sound) classes, dharma talks, and mini-kirtans. As Alanna says in the chapter on the mantra of Asato Ma, yoga is about the student-teacher relationship. Mantras are a means of educating. Knowledge, thus, is power. This book conveys that power to its readers. For the yoga student, this book gives context to the practice, a context, which extends far beyond a 90-minute class. And for the skeptic, Alanna’s entertaining voice and perspective provides enjoyable mythology and concrete, accurate knowledge of Sanskrit for all readers. Both myths and mantras are powerful containers for the teachings of yoga. In Sacred Sounds, Alanna delivers these containers to their owners: the modern-day yoga practitioners who know there is more than just asana.
This powerful new work will leave you with more answers than questions, which is a feat for a spiritual text. After sharing all of that with you, I honestly do not know what you are waiting for; delve deeper into the practice in any way possible. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan is an excellent tool.
Ayurveda Skool: A Journal of Experiences
The week following Bhakti Skool, I embarked on yet another training (I know; I might be a bit addicted): Ayurveda Skool with Ali Cramer. I was fairly nervous for this training; two weeks of ten-hour days are a lot and I was already exhausted after the first. Thankfully, my yogi partner in crime who flew in from San Francisco to do these trainings with me reminded me of a very important fact: Ayurveda is about self-care. Now, a few days post-training, I can honestly and thankfully say that I experienced this training while practicing the utmost self-care: good food, every night a full night of sleep, and replenishing asana and pranayama. Here is a round-up of my experiences. Enjoy!
Day 1: Dosha Factions
Right before this training, I read the Divergent young adult novel series by Veronica Roth. The basic gist of these books are that a dystopian Chicago gets separated into factions based on their personality traits and physical capabilities.
The premise of these books sounded a lot like the Ayurveda 101 discursive lecture Ali gave us on this first day of training where we used basic information on Ayurveda to determine our
factions doshas. I uncovered from this discussion and lecture that based on my curvy body and driven/ambitious nature, I am kapha-pitta. Want to find out what this means? Check out Ali’s article on BreatheRepeat here.
Gratefully, this lecture-heavy day (which was - don’t get me wrong here - AWESOME and full of what I consider concrete information…at least for yogis) was followed by a fantastic class with the one and only Dana Trixie Flynn. She moved us around and gave us the experience of a true teacher’s practice where we were able to adjust one another during the flows. I left abundantly grateful for such a well-planned training; by the end of the five days, we were all doting about how whenever we wanted to change topics or get moving, that was what was next up on the agenda anyways. In other words, it was a training of feeling very well taken-care-of.
Day 2: Intelligent Sequencing (of a whole intensive)
This day brought my last point home. We began Tuesday by learning about the Vata (airy) dosha. Now, I have very little vata in me so I was surprised when I was actually balanced out by the vata class Ali taught us. And then I realized that we flow with the seasons, regardless of our dosha and not only that: Lotus Flow intelligent sequencing makes sure that everyone can get something out of it. The architecture of this style of yoga that I have grown to love taught me that on Tuesday when we flowed through vata’s creativity, but with the stability that balanced it out. This whole intensive encapsulated the intelligence of Laughing Lotus’s sequencing; we did Vata before Pitta and Pitta before Kapha to progress from the space of airiness to a space of groundedness (i.e. how our knowledge of Ayurveda progressed throughout the week).
That afternoon, we brought Vata down to earth even further with the amazing Nikki Costello who had us hold prasarita paddotonasana for what felt like 20 minutes. We learned the alignment of savasana and created a bhav (mood) in the room that was unshakable. Nikki asked us to describe what we thought yoga was both before and after the practice.
BEFORE: Yoga is liberation through union of all.
AFTER: Yoga is awareness coexisting with both action and being; it is the facilitation of awareness and awareness to facilitate union.
Day 3: Labor Day fashion rules don’t apply to yogis.
We came in wearing white and I spent the entire morning terrified on the 4 train that I would spill coffee on my white scrubs or white belly-shirt. Why would we wear all white on an overcast day in April, you ask? Kundalini day, of course! We had a fantastic teacher come to teach us Kundalini kriyas by dosha, but honestly, it was not the kundalini that got to me; it was this teacher’s unshakeable happiness and enthusiasm for life and for the practice. I was instantly enamored and that adoration was what made me willing to participate in the practice and give that which I was skeptical of a chance. The experience served as a potent reminder of what it takes to be a good teacher: enthusiasm, kindness, and the quirkiness that makes us all unique!
Day 4: Satsang
After a yoga-filled morning, we spent the afternoon basking in the presence of Morley, a fantastic sound healer, but more than that, I learned what it means when 26 smart and service-driven yoga teachers occupy a space with one another. At one point, we went around in a circle to share what we plan to do with what we learned in the training and the answers put me in a state of awe, from making yoga something that one does not need to “afford” to opening an orphanage in Brazil. But above all, I was reminded that sangha - community gatherings - are what nurtures dreams so that they have the fuel to become reality.
Day 5: Butter in my eyes!
The last day of training was FANTASTIC. And how could it be anything else when my yogi partner in crime and I began it with fresh NYC bagels (let’s just say we had to give ourselves something to balance out with Ayurveda), running into my 10th grade Global History teacher on the street (a true reminder of good teaching practices), gospel music on the subway (we bought the CD), and the Union Square farmer’s market…all before 7:45am - huzzah!
The rest of this day (selfishly) felt like it was catered to me; we began the day with Kapha errythang; herbs that felt good in my body, asanas that cleansed, and pranayama that released. In the afternoon, we went over Ayurvedic nutrition and yet again, I was in awe at a) the scholarly approach of this training, and b) the sequencing of the information and how Ali doled it out. To only learn what Ayurveda is most known for on the final day puts food into perspective, especially for the yoga community that can get obsessed with what we put into our bodies. I will forever appreciate the non-proselytizing tone that came with this kind of learning. Ali kept repeating, all throughout this training, “It’s all just information.” We have the agency to choose what we do with it afterward.
Oh, and if you think this title is a joke, think again: we learned how to administer and receive abhyanga, Indian eye massage where clarified butter (ghee that we made during the training as we ground spices with our new mortars and pestles) got poured into our eyes. Literally. No joke. La verdad. I kid you not. And as I debated whether I wanted to receive this seemingly outdated treatment I came up with a new mantra to the tune of “When in Rome.”
"When in Laughing Lotus…"
Because this blog is called Story of a College Yogi, I would like to share the ways in which this training got “balanced out” upon returning to school that night to a house full of drunk friends ordering pizza. Yes, I returned from eating herbs to drinking beer, but you know what? The next morning I woke up, used my tongue scraper, and allowed for the information to assimilate itself in my body, my life, and my reality.
For more information on Ayurveda and college, check out Yoga U, specifically the chapter on “Dorm Room Doshas,” which Ali contributed to many moons ago.
You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.