A week ago I travelled to the canal weaved city of Amsterdam, Netherlands, for a 4 day practice of Ashtanga Yoga with Eddie Stern and to attend his Yoga Philosophy lectures at the stunning Delight Yoga Studio. I knew Eddie as a renowned Ashtanga yoga teacher, however, I didn’t expect that the way I perceive yoga would shift so much in a direction that is closer to my being and my heart.
The 4 day course started with a very special Ganesh puja to gather funds for Knot On My Planet that work to preserve and protect elephants. Hence I used this very special opportunity to sit down with Eddie and talk a little bit about yoga and his tour of Ganesh pujas across the globe to gather funds for Knot On My Planet and to help elephants in the wilderness.
Eddie is a renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher, and together with his wife Jocelyne Stern founded Ashtanga Yoga New York, the Brooklyn Yoga Club and the Brooklyn Ganesh Temple. Eddie studied under Ashtanga Yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from 1991 until his passing in 2009. He has published several books on Ashtanga Yoga, including a translation of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s 1960’s treatise, Yoga Mala, as well as together with Deepak Chopra and Moby he has created The Breathing App. Throughout 2018 Eddie will be going around the world doing Ganesh pujas to raise awareness of the decrease of elephants in the wilderness due to poaching and to gather funds for Knot On My Planet campaign which supports the work of The Elephant Crisis Fund. While pujas are always free, at the end of these Ganesh pujas donations will be accepted, and all of the money collected will be donated to Knot On My Planet, which supports elephant protection in Africa and the end of the ivory trade worldwide. These pujas are being performed in Moscow, Stockholm, Chengdu, London, Amsterdam, Milan, India, Buenos Aires, and Tel Aviv. You can find Eddie’s schedule on the Ashtanga Yoga New York and Brooklyn Yoga Club homepage, as well in the blog section you can learn more about his initiative.
A short note on what is Ganesh and why exactly Ganesh pujas from the Eddie’s blog:
“Elephants are one of the most majestic and amazing creatures on our planet. Also, I worship Ganesh and have a Ganesh temple. Ganesh is the elephant-headed God and it seems contradictory to worship an anthropomorphic deity, who has a deep symbolic meaning, and not at the same time worship and protect the very animal who the manifestation of Ganesh is inspired by.”
My Good Planet: Thank you for sitting down with us. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what do you do?
Eddie Stern: Hi, my name is Eddie Stern, I am a yoga instructor and I live in Brooklyn, where I teach Ashtanga Yoga.
MGP: Could you tell us what yoga is for you and how do you see yoga in the modern world?
ES: Yoga is a many faceted practice, there are a lot of benefits that come from yoga. At its highest level yoga is a practice of self-awareness, coming to know who you are and the āsanas that you do, the postures, basically are supposed to be positions that we put ourselves in so that we can become self-aware. The word ‘ās’ means, it is a verbal root for ‘to sit’ and ‘ana’ means breath. So every āsana is a position where we sit with our breath. And whenever we sit with our breath, we are sitting in the present moment with our awareness. So every āsana is basically a seat of awareness. And that is what I see the basic purpose of yoga for. Hopefully, it will turn us into better people.
MGP: So your new initiative with Knot On My Planet is a practice of yoga as well. Please tell us a bit more about your involvement with Knot On My Planet and how the idea of travelling Ganesh pujas started.
ES: I have been doing Ganesh pujas for a very long time. However this year I decided to pay a little more attention to beings on the planet that need to be thought of and need help. I do a lot of work with human beings for access to yoga; I work with communities that don’t have access to yoga or communities that are percept for a lot of gun violence and things like that. But I haven’t really been doing a lot for, what I feel is a natural world, aside from being a vegetarian and recycling. So good friend of mine David Bonnouvrier and his wife Trish Goff started something called Knot On My Planet, which is a charity that raises money for Save the Elephants and Elephant Crisis Fund to protect the elephants that are being killed off at an alarming rate, at about 30 000 elephants per year, there are only about 415 000 elephants in the wild. And poachers go after them for their tusks for ivory.
So we are doing these pujas and at the pujas we collect money and all that money we give to Knot On My Planet to help the elephants in the wilderness.
MGP: Could you shortly explain what puja is?
ES: ‘Puja’ is a Sanskrit term that means ‘ritual’, so it is to perform some kind of ritualistic practice towards an idea or the image of God. It also means a purification of karma, so by doing worship you are also trying to purify your karma, so that your actions become better in the world, so that you collect less negative karma and more good karma, and move towards evolving as a human being.
The idea is that the deity worshiping on the outside is none other than your own heart. And that feeling is a feeling of the connectivity – that I feel this thing inside of me but I can also connect it to the outside of me. Connecting to things outside of ourselves is very important, it is difficult to connect to ourselves, but it is easier to connect with ourselves and sometimes it is to connect with difficulties of the world. So if we establish these simple daily rituals of connectivity then the things in the world which are troubling to us might become a little easier to deal with. Maybe we get a better perspective about them or can try to do something about them.
Thank you so much Eddie for your time and knowledge. To support Knot On My Planet please head over to their homepage, or you can also purchase limited edition t-shirts created by Eddie Stern and Delight Yoga with all the money going to support Knot On My Planet.
Please see the video below to learn a little bit more about this cause.