YOGA-My Path Through Yoga (Part Three)- An Introduction to Tantric Philosophy

By mike
6 June 2024

 

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This blog is the text of what served as the second of two speeches to my Toastmasters club  on my experiences with yoga.  My hope is that through relating my experiences through my blog, I can help to promote some wonderful and dedicated practitioners of yoga from several different traditions.  (For me the main road for “physical ” yoga is “hatha” yoga, with Sivananda, Tantric, Restorative, Gentle, Vinyasa, Kundalini, etc. all being branches off the main highway of hatha).  I encourage any readers of these posts to please check out the classes, books, CD’s, DVD’s, blog posts and courses of the folks mentioned, as they all provide great value for the time you will invest.

When the 80’s began, I injured my knee in a fall and needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear.  That ended my experience with modern dance.  Dr. John Gregg was a respected surgeon who was affiliated with Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia PA and performed a successful surgery and rehab program.  Several consequential life changes occurred during this period of the early 80’s.  After my successful rehab following the aggressive protocols of Dr. Gregg’s PT team while living in Ambler, I found myself without a job.

I found a new one relatively quickly with a Time Warner Cable TV franchise in Levittown and worked in that company for about 8 years.  I left there to join Henkels and McCoy out of Blue Bell PA, and went on to meet someone who would serve me well as a mentor and role model throughout my life,( who I hope to write about in a future blog series), Mike St. Angelo.  I also moved from Ambler to Willow Grove with my girlfriend Annie, who had been by my side through the whole ordeal of surgery and job loss.  This was the beginning of our life together and led to 33 years of marriage where I was fortunate to experience her love.

My yoga practice during this time was largely on my own as I was not actively studying with anyone as I did with Bharat. I made the difficult decision to leave Mike and H&M in the early 90’s to join the team at General Instrument, which eventually became Motorola.  I rekindled my interest in yoga through a lunchtime yoga class held in the on-campus fitness center.

This job eventually ended for me and I moved on to a technology sales and marketing position I would hold for almost 18 years. During this time and into the modern era I continued my experience with yoga through LA Fitness classes. My early experience was based on the physical aspect of yoga known as “Hatha Yoga” through the Sivananda tradition. For the most part there is a beginning and an end to the pose, and then a short break, before another pose is started.

Upon returning to regular yoga, I experienced a variety of teachers and approaches, not all of them a good fit for me.  Be careful who you ultimately practice with, as injury can result from any physical activity, including yoga.  Several taught a Vinyasa style, also called “flow” because of the smooth way that the poses run together; it is one of the most popular contemporary styles of yoga. This constant movement through poses appeals to a lot of fitness folks who want the core strength and flexibility that yoga can provide.

One teacher, Adrienne Wade (shown in picture below) , stood out in that she did not follow the standard protocol of demonstrating postures while she taught, but instead talked you through them with exceptional detail and a watchful eye and the occasional demonstration of the asana.  She also threw out references to her teachers with names such as Naime Jezzeny and Douglas Brooks, PhD and an expert in the Auspicious Wisdom of Tantric Yoga and the Goddess Tradition of yoga, and founder of Rajanaka Yoga.  Brooks, Brooks, – I am thinking,  that name is very familiar to me; finally I make the connection to a Professor Brooks at the University of Rochester where my son is enrolled.  And yes it is the same Douglas Brooks, he not only teaches courses like Sanskrit and Eastern Religions at the UofR, but also leads a philosophical school of Tantric Yoga called Rajanaka Yoga.

Brooks’  Rajanaka School of Tantric yoga  is the philosophical foundation of the tradition practiced by Adrienne and her teachers Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind.  Naime and Sue own and operate Dig Yoga, a studio located  in Frenchtown New Jersey. Naime, is highly regarded as an expert in anatomy and physiology, a teacher’s teacher, and runs many focused workshops on maintaining proper alignment through yoga postures. His wife Sue is equally highly regarded for her deep understanding of hatha yoga principles, yoga philosophy, meditation and breathwork practices. Together they run the studio called Dig Yoga that has been an incredibly significant contributor to my understanding of yoga.

They sponsor workshops with Douglas, where he sets up shop in the studio for a weekend, and weaves his tales of the origins of yoga, the goddesses that populate the Hindu traditions of yoga, the Tantric teachings of his beloved “Appa”, (Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, the anti-guru guru), and the myths that resonate with yogis of today.  All done in an interesting, light-hearted, conversational manner with the most precise use of language you might ever hear.  

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Professor Douglas Brooks, Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind at Brooks’ workshop at Dig Yoga Lambertville NJ

I have attended several of Douglas’ workshops by now, and highly recommend them for anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into the philosophical basis for yoga, or an interest in exploring the Tantric or Goddess traditions that are the foundations of Rajanaka yoga.

So having weaved all these things in my yogic path from around 2006 to the present, there is still one more fork in my yogic path, and it’s not an easy one.   

In 2013 my wife is diagnosed with ovarian cancer after a long surgery performed by a Gynecologic Oncologist Dr Edelson from Abington Hospital.  I note this because it is important to the patient that this initial exploratory surgery be done by a gynecologic oncologist with years of experience.  A general practice gynecologist lacks the experience to maximize the potential for survival by removing all cancer cells from the patient at the time this surgery is completed.  See link for more info on this aspect of the story.

Widespread Flaws Found in Ovarian Cancer Treatment – New York Times

There are many recommended complementary therapies encouraged for cancer patients and yoga is one of them.  However, my wife had only minimum actual exposure to yoga, and was not at full strength or stamina.  I wanted to get her started on yoga again, but she would have to be able to handle it.
 

I found the solution through Dig Yoga and something they offered  called Restorative Yoga.  Restorative takes a very passive approach, and utilizes an assortment of “props”, such as bolsters, straps, blankets and blocks to support and maintain the body in longer hold times, sometimes as long as 5 minutes in one posture.  Even though my wife was a four year survivor, she finally succumbed to the disease in 2017.  If there is one thing that I can look at in the whole ordeal, and say that was the right decision, it was choosing to do Restorative Yoga with Nikki Albano Robinson, who was the actual instructor of the course provided by Dig Yoga.

Nikki is a fantastic teacher, and my wife Annie and her bonded so well that she continued to go to Nikki’s weekly restorative class, even though we had a 1 hour drive into Philadelphia (PA), for much of her treatment time.  One thing I quickly came to learn was that I needed a class like this just as much as my wife did.  
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Foundations of Restorative Yoga class at Dig Yoga led by Jillian Pransky, respected leader in the field and teacher of Nikki, Sue and Naime, and Adrienne (seated along wall)

I have my own physical challenges that developed over the course of my wife’s treatment, basically Neuropathy impacting my feet and legs.  Due to current limitations of neuropathy  I have looked into less physically demanding forms of hatha yoga and discovered “Gentle Yoga” with Nikki’s help.  When Nikki left Dig Yoga to work full time as a Managing Partner of the Yoga Garden in Narberth PA, I followed her there.  The owner Mark Nelson teaches Gentle Yoga as well as many other forms and styles on a regular basis.  Gentle is kind of what you would expect, no strenuous vinyasa flow sequences, no constant moving through “down dog”, no extremely challenging poses.  Mark does a good job of pushing the envelope just a bit into some challenging moments, but always allows for a safe place to maintain if that is what you need to do.

With my current physical challenges, I find Restorative Yoga to provide many benefits, such as relaxation, the calming down of my nervous system, allowing me to gently stretch and impact things like my vagus nerve, a key pathway within the skeletal system.  I recently tried Chair Yoga”, which incorporates yoga movements, while eliminating the need to sit at floor level and perform the the ups and  downs of working from the mat. Future posts will discuss the benefits of Restorative and Chair Yoga, with a demonstration of the combination of these techniques.

 

 

Nikki Albano Robinson

Mark Nelson and Nikki Robinson

I seek to stay in my present moment with my yoga, no judgment for not being where I once was, no longing for where I might be going, no envy for where others already are.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
― Thich Nhat HanhBeing Peace

 

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2 Comments

  1. Ethan_Clark

    Anuyoga is associated with tantras that emphasize the stage of completion. Mipham states that Anuyoga refers to training in the practices that rely on one’s “vajra body” (i.e. the subtle body), and the body of another (i.e. sexual yoga), pursuing a path that emphasizes the wisdom of great bliss. They also teach a “principle of instantaneous perfection”, which is not found in other tantras. An example of one of these texts is the Atiyoga (Dzogchen). In Nyingma, Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) is seen as a non-gradual method does not make use of the two stages of tantric yoga (Anu and Maha) and focuses on direct access to the innate purity of things which is introduced by the teacher and then meditated upon. There are numerous tantras and texts associated with this vehicle, such as the

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    • mike

      Allowing this comment to my blog post but without fact-checking of comments, so please read with that in mind and complete further research if interested in these topics. Posting does not signify agreement with this comment.

      Reply

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