Tag: enlightenment

Best Yoga on the Web

Best Yoga on the Web – Friday, November 22…

For yoga teachers and serious students, “Best Yoga on the Web” is your hand-picked guide to this week’s best of the best yoga from around the world.  This week – Where to Study Yoga in India

My dear friend Mariana Palau recently moved to India and asked if I could recommend where to study yoga in India.  In honor of her, this is my “best of” list of ashrams and meditation centers. Any one of these would be an amazing experience, the opportunity to visit all of them would be a dream come true!

1. The Vipassana Research Institute

vipassana global pagoda

If you have time for only one place, the Vipassana Research Institute would be the place to go.  The home of Vipassana meditation, here the offering is a 10 silent meditation course.  The program is intense, but the results are worth it.  It is a practical program for bringing peace of mind and pointing you towards conscious awareness.  The courses are held twice a month, but are in high demand, so make reservations early.

Location:  About 3 hours from Mumbai – Igatpuri, 422 403 District Nashik, Maharashtra, India


2. The Bihar Yoga Bharati

bihar yoga ashram

Bihar is a serious yoga school.  Rather than catering to the western student by focusing on physical practice, the school teaches a full yoga lifestyle based on steadiness of awareness, self restraint, and service. Courses are four months long and one must not leave the ashram for the entire course, with no access to external services such as internet, or e-mail.    The school’s teachings are based on a combination of academic and scientific methodology combined with the spiritual vision of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati.  The four month course in English is offered once a year, usually from October to January.

Location:  Ganga Darshan, Fort, Munger, Bihar


3. The Isha Foundation Ashram

isha ashram

A newer ashram, founded in 1992 by Sadhguru (you can see his TED Talk here),  Isha is a great way to ease into the ashram experience, although you probably want to avoid their annual celebration which draws a crowd of 600,000 to 800,000 people.  Isha’s introductory course is a 3-7 day program called Inner Engineering that teaches guided meditation and an inner energy process designed to promote deep transformation.  Other programs offered include advanced meditation, hatha yoga, and mind/body rejuvination.

Location:  The base of the Velliangiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu


4. The Osho International Meditation Resort

osho ashram 2

With “resort” in the name, you can tell that the Osho ashram is a bit more relaxed than my other recommendations.  The campus is lush and beautiful, and is described as a place where “all of your emotional, bodily, and spiritual needs can be met”.  The ashram is geared more towards healing than personal development, but is a beautiful place in which to practice various forms of meditation.

Location:  Koregaon Park, Pune


5. The Parmarth Niketan Ashram

himalya ashram

Parmarth Niketan is worth going to for its location alone—in Rishikesh along the Ganges, at the base of the Himalayas.  Courses in philosophy and spirituality are offered and there is a required commitment to tapas (non-violence, polite etiquite, no drinking or smoking, etc), but there is also plenty of physical yoga practice, which caters to western audiences.  First time visits to the ashram are limited to 15 days.

location:  Swargashram, Rishikesh (Himalayas), Uttarakhandre

With all that is available on the web, plus with the spread of yoga throughout the world, I don’t think it is necessary to travel to India to be a serious student of yoga or a yoga instructor.  There are an abundance of great teachers and great yoga centers all over the world at which to practice.  But as the birthplace of yoga, a chance to travel to India is always a great opportunity.  Happy travels!

If you have something you think might be worth sharing in a future edition of “Best Yoga on the Web” send me an e-mail or link at chris@chrisbrownstudios.com.
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Beyond Minimalism: Embracing Abundance


Beyond Minimalism Embracing Abundance
I made space in my life for new things and as if by magic, the woman who became my wife appeared. Tulum, Mexico 2009


Minimalism has always had a certain allure.

To me, minimalism represents the mid-point of the journey to enlightenment.  When you are ready to embrace minimalism, you’ve realized that all the external things you’ve accumulated to make you happy – the cars, the fancy shoes, the houses, the big screen TVs, the high income job you don’t like, drugs, alcohol, whatever your poison – they just don’t work.  You’ve realized that trying to obtain happiness through things outside of yourself is short lived and hollow.  So you begin to think minimalism is the answer.  Well, minimalism is a great step, maybe even necessary, but only a step along the journey.

You Must Embrace Minimalism Before You Can Move Beyond It

My own realization that I needed minimalism started with piling up stuff that, rather than providing satisfaction, left a hollow feeling – my library grew to over 3,000 books focused on “deep stuff” – my ego’s status symbol for intelligence.  I also collected lots of sports toys – skis, snowboards, bikes, golf clubs, windsurfers, surf boards, you name it.  Don’t get me wrong, I used the stuff, but they certainly weren’t essential.  I sometimes bought clothes I bought but never wore, you get the idea.

As I let my life fill with a lot of junk, one of the biggest rationalizations was, “I may need that some day,” which allowed for the purchase of a shiny new object and its fleeting promise of happiness.  To make things worse, in addition to stuff piling up in my apartment, I also had my own permanent storage area – the basement of my mom’s house.  This was where I could keep all those “important” things “I may need some day.” 

Letting Minimalism In

I will go over a few ways I have used minimalism over the years and how they have led to abundance, but if you feel at this point you only want to dive into minimalism, I recommend Joshua & Ryan over at www.theminimalists.com.  They have a ton of great practical advice for how to live a minimalist lifestyle.

The primary minimalist streak in my life was in my 20’s.  It was a reaction to aspects of me that were both positive and negative: 

1.   I realized that buying stuff to make me happy wasn’t working.

2.   I was afraid of commitment.  I liked being able to pack up and leave for somewhere at a moment’s notice. 

3.   I was drawn to a solitary lifestyle – not the lifelong commitment to poverty and austerity, but the idea of having plenty of time to contemplate life’s big questions.

4.   I was cheap – my biggest minimalist streak was during college – being a poor graduate student can make minimalism both attractive and necessary.

A Few of My Minimalist Experiments

For my first semester in architecture school, I furnished my room with 3 things (8 if you count bedding).   Those three things were a mattress on the floor, a lamp, and an alarm clock.  I also had a closet, in which I kept the minimal amount of clothes, my school books, a backpack, and a picture of my girlfriend.  I guess keeping the picture of the girlfriend in the closet was a bad sign for that relationship.

During some of my early years as an architect, I kept my belongings to only those that could fit in my car.  This way I could live easily with friends – take over an extra bedroom without being too much of a nuisance.  I was able to live with a very light imprint, yet with my car I was able to travel and spend time with the many friends who were within driving distance.

I Still Occasionally Embrace Minimalism

vegMinimalism for specific aspects of your life is great for figuring out the difference between what you need and what you want.

A recent example for me was, my minimalist diet.  I will cover this in more detail in another essay, but I recently did a cleanse.  The basics were these – I went about one week on water only, one week on vegetable juices (no fruits in order to cut as much sugar as possible from my diet), then two weeks on vegetable juices and solid vegetables plus a small amount of nuts.

These experiments may be considered extreme by some, yet other people have gone much further, and in the case of my cleanse, I was under doctor supervision.  Through all of my minimalist experiments, I always had a roof over my head, a bed, and I’ve always had food available if I wanted it.

Minimalism Made Me a Trend Setter!

I was the first person I knew of to get rid of a land line phone (some minimalists have no phone at all). 

I stopped wearing a watch as soon as I realized the phone in my pocket told me the time. 

I’ve gone for years at a time without TV (our current furnished apartment came with a TV).

Beyond Minimalism: Embracing Abundance

And yet, minimalism is a great step, but only a step along the journey.

As the Buddha found, I found also – stripping everything from your life doesn’t necessarily lead to any sort of great insights or awakening.  These experiments have been very beneficial.  In each case, I was able to find exactly how far I could go in terms of cutting the unnecessary from my life.  I was then able to carefully add things back, only as deemed necessary.

Embracing minimalism for minimalism’s sake misses the point.  Deprivation is not a way to fully participate in the world.  Minimalism’s principles can, however, form the foundations of a more mature lifestyle.  The lifestyle of abundance.

From the outside, a lifestyle of abundance can easily be mistaken for a lifestyle cravings (the place you were at before you discovered minimalism).  But there is a big difference. 

The Lifestyle of Abundance Recognizes Some Basic Truths;

1.   You have to be willing to get rid of anything and everything in your life.  At death all physical things will fade away anyway, so you might as well lose your attachment to things right now.  With this attitude comes liberation.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  If your partner stuck with you for years, but things are broken beyond repair, leave.  Anything with negative energy, get rid of it.  Don’t hang on to anything that is not working.

2.   Cleaning out makes space for abundance.  Cleaning out, physically and mentally, allows you the freedom to be yourself. 

3.   You must remove unnecessary thoughts.  Creating space in your mind is one of the best things you can do to allow for your life to be filled with abundance.  Not easy, but it is definitely possible.  I’ll discuss this in more detail in another essay, but a great place to start removing unnecessary thoughts from your mind is with my recommendations in Best Yoga on the Web, November, 1, 2013, the meditation spectacular!

4.   Once you have created space in your life, trust and go with the flow.  You will be amazed at the opportunities that organically grow and present themselves to you.

This is What Abundance Looks Like

Mexico,TTC 2I had been going from one relationship to another, always with a fear that I might be left alone in life, with no one.  But the relationships were never working out.  Things would be bad, but I would keep holding on.  Eventually I got up the courage to decide that I would remove those negative relationships from my life.  This was the minimalist stage for me, relationship wise.  I created the void, and it was scary and lonely.  Eventually I became quite comfortable with being alone, and greatly enjoyed the time I got to spend with myself. 

After a number of years of embracing a minimalist lifestyle where I had friends, but no primary partner and almost no possessions, I came to realize that minimalism was not the answer for me.  I realized that minimalism as an end point was keeping me from fully participating in life.  So I began to make efforts to allow for life to enter into my life.  I knew that this would also mean allowing in a certain amount of chaos and messiness that comes with real life.

It took a while, but I’ve learned to leave space in my life, planning a lot less, and allowing for life to unfold naturally.  I still have very little in terms of possessions, but my life has filled with abundance beyond anything I could have imagined.

One of the biggest changes for me in allowing for abundance was in the realm of relationships.  I went to a yoga retreat at Maya Tulum, Mexico, in 2009.  I was extremely open, and the void was filled with the wonderful person who became my wife.  Darina has been a fountain of abundance, yet only one of the many amazing things that have come into my life now that I am open to all that life has to offer.

delivery room b&wA current example, we decided to move to the Czech Republic to have our baby.  We were living in Washington DC, paying tons of money to live in a small apartment, and that wasn’t feeling abundant.  Plus, we were surprised to learn that the cost of having a baby in the United States is tens of thousands of dollars more than in any other industrialized nation.  We were open to possibilities and it gradually began to make sense to have our baby in my wife’s home country, the Czech Republic. We didn’t make a conscious decision to make it happen, all we did was decide to be open and the path presented itself.

We are currently still in Czech for a few more months.  The internet allows us to remain connected to our jobs, our clients, and our families.  Amazingly, we are now living in the same size apartment as in Washington DC, yet the cost of our apartment is 8% of what we were paying in DC.  That is not a typo… we reduced our housing costs by 92%!  Talk about abundance!

And my wife’s home town?  It is like living in a fairy tale…

stramberk-1 b&w


Abundance Flows

The medical care during my wife’s pregnancy and our child’s birth turned out to be much better than we would have received in the US.  There was a palpable difference – in the United States, we always felt as if we were being rushed to that doctors and nurses could get on to the next patient.  Here, we felt as if we were allowed to take as long as we needed.  After birth, plus four days in the hospital, my wife decided she needed another day in the hospital.  No problem, no rush, and the amazing staff made us feel more than welcome.  Abundance. 

The apartment we got turned out to be within walking distance of my wife’s parents, so they are able to help with the baby and I have been able to get to know them better.  Abundance. 

And our apartment in the Czech Republic?  It came furnished.  Not in a minimalist style, but in the style a lady who lived her whole life there before passing on.  Our furnished apartment is filled with wonderful things, not minimalist, but in a style from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  We stumbled into a fun, funky place of abundance.

Always be on the lookout to clear what is not necessary out of your life, and be open to allowing your life to be filled with good things.  Ultimately, we shouldn’t get rid of things just to be minimalists.  Don’t get attached to things.  Remove what isn’t working.  And accept that abundance in your life is inevitable… if you allow it.

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Living the Yoga Life

The Best Yoga is not a Map

the best Yoga is not a Map

Finding the Right Instructor is Invaluable

If your yoga teacher is telling you what to do, it’s easy to get stuck where you are in your yoga practice.  I call this the map method, which is the easiest way to teach “do x plus y plus z” day after day. But the best yoga is not a map.  This is why I don’t even like to be called a yoga teacher, as that implies I can teach you what you need to know– I prefer yoga instructor, which is more like a guide.  They best yoga will point you in a direction to move in, based on where you are in your life and along your path to self awakening.  The best yoga recognizes that the answers are not found in the yoga itself, but in the places that yoga encourages you to look.

If your yoga teacher is only talking about the physical poses in a class, you are missing out.  Yes you may experience some temporary benefits from an exercise oriented yoga class, but the true benefits of yoga are only experienced through self exploration.  Find a teacher that will encourage you along your path, not by telling you what to do, but by suggesting a direction to move in.  This may happen within the framework of a physical class, but if you have a good instructor, you will notice that they are talking about a lot more than the pose itself.

Recognizing that the best yoga instructors are only providing sign posts or directions to move in can be hard medicine to swallow, since it means that yoga will not spoon feed you answers.  Your yoga will ask you to take personal responsibility for the direction you move in within your practice.

This can be particularly hard for many of us who are experiencing or have experienced stress, pain, trauma, and other challenges.  The direction that yoga asks us to move in is towards these challenges rather that away from them, the so called “leaning into your pain”.  This can be difficult, so don’t force it, we often need time and the development of self compassion in order to bring our yoga practice to the level where we can look at these deeper issues.  And if it seems too difficult or overwhelming, remember, you don’t have to do it alone.  Talk to your yoga instructor one on one, or if you are in distress or suicidal, seek immediate medical attention – my experience has been that people who work in the medical profession are a wonderful resource – all you have to do is ask, you will not be judged.

So, it does take courage and it does require work.  But the path that yoga will point you towards is also a lot of fun, and it will be incredibly rewarding if you stop studying the map, follow the signs, and experience the actual path.  Think of yourself as an explorer, you are capable of handling anything that you encounter along the path of yoga.

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