As we move into the heat of deep summer, the bright light of the sun can serve to awaken our highest qualities: bliss, joy, gratitude, peace. As members of the yoga tribe, we have the opportunity to achieve – and celebrate – these states with the practice of yoga.
A well-loved teacher in the Anusara system of yoga, Carlos Pomeda
travels around the country teaching that joy is available now – through yoga. He combines his traditional monastic studies with an academic background that includes two Master’s degrees:one in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley and another one, in Religious Studies, from UC Santa Barbara. During his 18 years as a monk in the Siddha Yoga lineage, he studied Indian Philosophy and immersed himself in yoga under the guidance of Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. He is currently working on his PhD from UC Berkeley.
Sitting with Carlos in his institutional grey office splashed with colorful Hindu posters of Krishna and Hanuman, deep in the arteries of UC Berkeley, I asked him how Anusara relates to the joy and celebration of yoga. “What is different in Tantric traditions is the spirit in which you go about your practice. You can still have the same discipline, but your basic outlook is not one of warfare with yourself. It is one of yourself and raising yourself little by little by skillful living. Using every moment in your life as an access to practice or as a practice itself. So that’s where joy and celebration come in.”
Tracing its ancestry back to the Tantric school of Kashmir Shaivism, Anusara is epitomized by a “celebration of the heart,” that looks for the good in all people and all things. Tantra is often thought of as primarily a sexual practice in the United States, despite its rich heritage as an Indian philosophical system that encompasses the full spectrum of life. Says Pomeda, “Arguably, Kashmir Shaivism is the most sophisticated formulation of Tantra. If you’re a yogi who is interested in making the whole of life a practice, Kashmir Shaivism gives you the tools to do that. Also, when you dive into Kashmir Shaivism, it’s so sublime, so rich. The way it teaches us to consider life, to consider ourselves, to consider others, it is so uplifting and so inspiring. It’s just fabulous! I’m very partial to it.”
Many of us feel challenged by living in a world that is constantly directing us to find happiness outside of ourselves. Carlos explains, “In traditional ascetic understandings, life is not something to be celebrated. Life is something to be transcended. And so, the ultimate is always elsewhere, truth is always elsewhere, beauty is always elsewhere, ultimate happiness is always elsewhere. Tantra doesn’t deny that there is a higher way of living, that there is a higher reality. What it does is affirm the here and now. It affirms the possibility of everything that consciousness is and that consciousness has to offer in this very moment, in this situation, wherever you are. And so that brings about an entirely different approach. You can actually celebrate life.”
“Life, from the viewpoint of Tantric practice, becomes very simple. You do the things that are life-affirming, as John [Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga] puts it, the things that are conducive to that expansion of your being, and you stay away from the things that are not conducive to that, or that actually bring you to a state that is counter to that. Transformation of this kind is not easy, it takes constant practice and dedication. But little by little, we begin to learn there are certain behaviors, certain emotions, certain actions that make us feel contracted, that reinforce a sense of smallness and disconnectedness, whereas there are certain actions that are life-affirming, that areexpansive, that make us connect with something that is greater.”
“What John came to realize is that you cannot exclude – and you don’t have to exclude – any part of your humanity. Just as you go on developing your practice and your discipline and all of that, it is very good at the same time to develop the heart as well. And to sublimate, to channel your emotions into love for the Highest, love for humanity...that’s one of the things that I like very much, that synthesis. That you can have a practice of yoga that is not just about the body, but that includes your mind, heart, behavior. It includes everything. It really enriches your life.”
“Within this dual cosmic play, there are two basic functions that consciousness does to itself. First of all is the veiling (Shiva). The veiling is necessary because if Supreme Consciousness doesn’t veil itself, then there’s no space for creation or limitation.
Tantra is unique in this, Tantra doesn’t formulate something else, like some sort of external Maya principle or illusion, but that only consciousness can limit itself because it is the only reality. So that is the first movement of consciousness, the process of contracting itself and veiling itself, multiplying itself while at the same time, at the deepest level, not changing at all.”
“But at the same time that you have this veiling, you have its opposite, because everything in life comes in opposites. So with the veiling comes the revelation or the grace (Shakti). And what that means is two things – very important for us. Number one, the possibility of expansion is always there for us. That’s by the way implied in the name Anusara (flowing with grace). What follows after this awakening, or this expansion of consciousness, enables farther expansion, further revelation. We make the choices whether to align ourselves with that power of revelation or to align ourselves with the power of contraction and separation.”
“The second aspect about this that is very important is that whatever we can say about Shiva and Shakti, we can say about ourselves. We, too, do the revelation. We, too, do the grace. So that we can choose to live in a way that is life-enhancing. We can treat others in a certain way that is life-affirming, that is revealing of the highest purpose, or not. And so this understanding of Kashmir Shaivism puts us in the driver’s seat of our life.”
Carlos teaches an ongoing philosophy series at Yoga Kula in Berkeley, and has an upcoming workshop on the Doctrine of Recognition in Sante Fe. He recently completed a translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with John Friend, and has plans to translate many unknown texts in Kashmir Shaivism.
“Yoga is so much more than the wonderful practice of the asanas; yoga has the capacity to literally transform our experience of being alive, and give us an intimate understanding of the purpose of life, to make us feel at home in the universe. Not only that, but it will give us the tools to do that, to get there. It’s an open invitation that is extended to us. That is really what I’m interested in, making that invitation.”