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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

auspicious celebrations

In many northern hemisphere cultures, this time of year brings a focus on the days getting shorter and the crops getting ready for harvest. It is not surprising that so many religious events focus not only on family, community, feasting and celebration, but many also focus on the balance of purification and readying for the dark months ahead.

On September 23, 2006, the Jewish people will honor Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and commemorates the creation of Adam. It is a celebration filled with a lot of symbolism, some of which comes about in foods consumed for the holiday. To greet someone on Rosh Hashanah, you say, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." This is based on the idea that every person is judged on Rosh Hashanah, with that judgment sealed ten days later on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, is the end of the Jewish high holy days and probably the most important holiday in the entire Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement" and is the day when God seals the judgment for sins against God during the previous year. This is the last opportunity to repent and make amends. Most Jews commemorate Yom Kippur with a total fast from sunset on the previous evening until sunset on Yom Kippur. There are religious services throughout the day, ending at sunset with the sound of a long blast of a "shofar" (a special ritual horn).

Also beginning on September 23 is the Hindu festival of Navaratri. Navaratri (nine nights) is a harvest festival and a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. In Hinduism, one of the main mother goddesses is Durga. This festival commemorates Durga's victory over the demon Mahishasura in a battle that lasted nine nights. It is a time to honor the blessings of harvest and the sacredness and strength of women. Many of the Navaratri celebrations these days blend into the holiday of Dasera, this year on October 2. The hope is that the blessings bestowed on this day will ensure success for the months to come in all of one's endeavors.

The fall equinox, which occurs this year on September 23, is known by many Neopagans as Mabon. It is also a time of balance as, once again, the days and nights are of equal length. There is also a focus on the balance between life and death, as the world looks back at the life-giving days of the summer months and looks forward towards the inward-reflecting days of the winter to come. Many groups celebrate this sabbat with a feast or some other form of community gathering, enjoying some of the last good weather of the season before the chill of the fall air takes over.

For followers of Islam, the month of Ramadan begins on September 24, 2006. This month commemorates the Qu'ran being sent from heaven down to earth to provide a source of guidance for followers of this faith. The most familiar practice for Ramadan is the entire month of fasting - no eating, drinking, smoking or sexual relations during the daylight. The 27th day of Ramadan is known as Laylat-al-Qadr, the Night of Power. This night celebrates the revelation of the Qu'ran to Muhammad. Islamic teachings state that on that night, Allah determines the course of the world for the next year. The month of Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al Fitr, a time of great celebration. -- from
if, a journal of spiritual exploration


yesterday morning, i began my day giving thanks to the freeway gods -- thanks for the congestion-free traffic conditions that got me to the office in much less time than it normally did. in fact, for a brief moment, i wondered if i had made the mistake of driving to work on a sunday!

it was only later in the day when i finally realized that it was yom kippur, the jewish high holy day of fasting and atonement. many, i suppose, had chosen to take the day off and spend it at home or at synagogue. is it possible that the jewish community in LA is so large that it can actually affect traffic patterns in the city? i wonder if mel gibson realized that when he made those now infamous remarks...

my trip back to the westside later that afternoon was just as blissful. i opted to take the scenic route down topanga canyon to the coast, then cruised all the way south to venice, to sacred movement (aka exhale venice) where shiva rea was scheduled to teach her signature vinyasa flow class.

the parking gods must have also been looking down upon me, because despite the fact that all the street parking was taken up by those attending yom kippur services at a nearby temple, i managed to find a spot that i barely managed to squeeze into... and i can only imagine all the westside SUV drivers who desperately tried to fit into it... and couldn't :)

unbeknownst to many (including some of the exhale staff), shiva rea had decided to treat her students to a night of chanting and yoga. the reason for the celebration: the nine-day period of navaratri, a hindu festival that honors the divine mother in her three aspects: as durga, the source of power, as lakshmi, the source of wealth, and as saraswati, the source of wisdom. last night was the tenth day, also known as vijayadasami, the day of victory, a most auspicious time for starting new ventures.

auspicious. a word rich with meaning:
Having omens or tokens of a favorable issue; giving promise of success, prosperity, or happiness; predicting good; as, an auspicious beginning.

which reminds me of the nepalese bracelet i bought some time ago from reena at kathmandu imports in santa monica, the one with the eight auspicious symbols on it. this sounds like the perfect time to put it back on; i could use some success and prosperity right about now...

but i digress.

shiva invited many of her musician friends to join the celebration, including caitanya and joey lugassy and craig kohland. with hardly any time between classes to get set up, the musicians tuned their instruments and did their sound check while the rest of us arranged our yoga mats in a circle around the tall lamp shiva had placed in the middle of the large room. with the musicians ready to chant and the students ready to move, she started the celebration.

shiva led the class through a quarter-mala of 27 sun salutations. 22 slow, deliberate surya namaskar A's, followed by 5 more vigorous surya namaskar B's. she cautioned us to take it easy in order to get through all 27, and that we should consider stepping rather than jumping forward and back, maybe even keep our knees bent during the forward folds. i started out gently, per her advice, until i got warmed up, then went through the salutes in my normal fashion, floating forward and back, and trying my best to maintain a much slower and relaxed pace so as not to speed ahead of her and the others. surprisingly, i got through all 27 with energy to spare, probably thanks to all those power yoga classes that have built up my stamina!

she then followed the namaskars with a series of kriyas, or asana sequences, that opened our hips, shoulders, and heart centers. finally, after 90 minutes of intense moving and sweating, we laid ourselves down in heavenly savasana. at that point, the musicians began their kirtan chanting, and as we were ready, we joined in one by one until the entire room was filled with our combined voices.

who would have guessed that a regularly-scheduled class would have turned into such a joyous event? so lucky of me to have been at the right place at the right time!

i can only hope that this auspicious celebration heralds the start of my auspicious new year...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in that class that night as well--wasn't it the most awesome, amazing class ever?!

1:07 PM  
Blogger joni said...

all i want to know is: when's the next one, so i can mark my calendar!

10:22 PM  

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