northern, jyotish, chart, style, western, indian, astrology, vedic

As I began learning about Vedic Astrology I started trying to hybridize the chart styles to make them easier to understand and use.

Long ago, Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology were used as a single synergistic method for identifying and treating medical, spiritual and practical afflictions. I have sought to recombine these ancient systems for healing and self-discovery into a new form with practical modern applications. Please join me in exploring the ways my integrative chart systems can help you in all your personal, spiritual, and health endeavors.

. . . if you are interested in my personal story of how I became a Vedic Astrologer, please read on.bio

A Journey of Unintentional Manifestation:

After seven years of researching and self treating a host of confusing health problems, my girlfriend Taylor had found a virtual magic bullet of healing. Going gluten free had proven instantly transformative for her physically and mentally. She had lost 60 pounds in six months, and ended a lifelong roller coaster of debilitating physical and emotional afflictions, using them to make herself into a beautiful well adjusted version of her already very attractive personality. Gluten free was something we had done together, and it was steadily solving some of my most severe problems, but it was not the complete health makeover for me that it had been for her. She had become healthy and ready for a new start, and I was still obsessed with finding my own answers. We soon found we had little left in common, and after several attempts to work things out I finally left for Colorado on a Christmas Day.

Our decision to separate left me with no ideas for a new future and a lot of questions about where I should go from there. A few months living in my mother’s basement gave me time to think about finding an angle to re-enter my life. One positive side effect of our break up was that I lost 75 pounds in 6 months. With no one around to share meals with I was free to pursue an extreme diet consisting solely of roasted vegetables and blackened fish. The health I had tried so hard to achieve showed up the moment I stopped trying to get it. But it didn’t help my mental state.

I had been diagnosed years before with Asperger Syndrome, which affected my relationships, but what was more problematic for me personally was constant anxiety and Touret’s-like tics. The healing effects of my gluten free diet initially compounded the issue. A capacity to empathize and feel emotions emerged slowly, creeping up on me like some form of adult childhood. The phases of a child learning to cope with scary emotions in a social context are not well tolerated in adult relationships. Taylor had been a model of self-control and appropriate expression of tough emotions. I found myself mentally checking in with “What would Taylor do?” in any social situation. Still, I was a hot mess with any potential friends.

Surprisingly, the only useful advice I found still came from Taylor, who walked a delicate tight-rope of trying to stay extricated from our relationship while at the same time helping to support the growth she could see happening in my life. Single life wasn’t very happy for either of us, and we both independently sought methods to achieve the internal balance that might make new relationships successful.

My solution was to focus on work, while Taylor began working out and taking classes like yoga and Pilates. After one particular experimental class she contacted me to strongly recommend that I try it for myself. It was a type of yoga called “Kundalini” and all she said was that she knew I would like it. I could tell she believed that she had found “the thing” that was going to help me, so I immediately signed myself up for monthly unlimited yoga classes at a studio called Yoga Yoga. I had never done yoga in my life, and knew nothing about it, but I had just landed my dream job as a concept artist for a game studio and there was a Yoga Yoga with Kundalini classes right by my new office. The availability of time and funds had appeared.

It’s hard to remember my first impression of the class itself, but it must have been strange, even to me. The room was fairly dark. Mantra music played quietly. The teacher and many of the students wore white with white turbans and head coverings, and sat on sheep skins. The class “tuned in” with a mantra that everyone chanted together. And the exercises were repetitive motions that sometimes made me feel self-conscious and other times seemed like a joke. Sometimes the exercise itself was to laugh hysterically, or breathe with silly animal sounds.

“Breath of Fire” is a central component of most classes. It pretty much involves doing exactly what you’ve been taught not to do with your breathing, which is to hyperventilate. I found that by following the instructors’ directions carefully I could do it for a short time, feeling very energized by it, but my “core” muscles were so weak that it felt like I had never used them in my life.  The first time I did a whole kriya (sequence) with Breath of Fire I felt as if I’d swallowed a bag of corn chips without chewing for days after.

At the end of each class we lay in “savasana” and listened to the teacher play the gong. And this was when I knew that Kundalini would always be a part of my life. There was a large symphonic gong that made sounds I would never expect any instrument to be capable of. When I listened with my eyes closed it seemed to emit energy in peals of soft luminance that washed over my body and completely quieted my mind. I felt, for the first time since early childhood, the complete lack of anxiety. I had crisp clear visions of seemingly spiritual imagery, like the face of a lion, in sharper focus than anything I’d seen in real life. The sense of the presence of God, which had formerly come in frustratingly tiny doses, settled on me and stayed.

I was completely hooked. I went to a class every single day, sometimes several times in a day. There was one very popular class, “The Kundalini of Sound” with Siri Bahadur, that I attended on Saturdays. His classes were always so full that students sat elbow to elbow. Near the end, he sang a song with his guitar to wake us from the gong meditation, and I actually lifted my head up to see where the beautiful music was playing from because I could not believe it wasn’t a recording. When we closed the class with “the Long Time Sun” song, the students sang in a spontaneous harmony, as if they were a trained choir that had rehearsed it.

Siri Bahadur in front of a Kundalini class.

I didn’t find out until several years later, (Kundalini classes still the main part of my routine) that Siri Bahadur was one of a few teachers who had founded that studio. And they each had learned Kundalini directly from Yogi Bhajan, the master who had brought it to the US against the objections of his peers in the Punjab.

I quickly found my favorite teacher, Billy Barron, who was relatively new to Kundalini and approached it with a playful curiosity that I enjoyed. As a bonus of sorts, Billy always read something at the beginning of class about the Vedic “Lunar Nakshatra” (moon sign) of the day. He was an energetic and muscular man with a big belly, a mane of curly black hair., and an excellent sense of humor that made the strangest exercises comfortable. He also happened to have a wonderful talent for playing the gong evocatively and powerfully. In his first years of teaching this was only known to those few of us who were his regular students, but by the time I left Austin his classes were getting as full as Siri Bahadur’s.

gong, mehtab, benton, symphonic, gong, teacher, astrology

Mehtab, playing one of the symphonic gongs at Yoga Yoga.

I must digress here in the early part of my Kundalini practice, to share an unrelated experience that changed Kundalini (and all reality) for me forever.

2009 had been one of the worst years in recent memory for my family, so my mother decided to invest in turning it around for us, via a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our birthdays. For my birthday we chose to celebrate with a bus tour, at sunset, to visit the observatories at the top of the volcano, Mauna Kea.

This experience turned out, quite unexpectedly, to be life changing for me. I am fascinated by science in general, and particularly astronomy, so I was excited to visit the funny dome shaped buildings I’d only seen in photos. What I didn’t realize was that the “bonus” night sky viewing experience, on the way back from exploring the observatories, would change my perspective of reality forever.

These tours stopped after sunset, just below the summit, to observe the stars through telescopes on tripods assembled by the guides. I wasn’t really expecting much from this portion, because I had looked through bigger, better telescopes with my father at my family’s home in Colorado; and I had spent many hours in planetariums looking in greater detail at the “night sky”.

But, at the top of Mauna Kea, the sky itself was truly spellbinding. I don’t recall looking through the telescopes at all. Color and detail I’d never imagined filled every inch of the sky’s expanse. The tiny window of a telescope’s magnification, no matter how powerful, could only detract from the mind bending spectacle wiping away all of my preconceived notions of Earth’s orientation to the Milky Way Galaxy.

With the sunset turning to twilight, the ecliptic became clear. A row of planets pointed towards the bright spot on the horizon. I fully grasped, for the first time, that a “sunset” is when the star at the center of our solar system passes beyond the Earth’s curvature, which shades us from it’s light.

We live on a tiny planet, a collection of matter in space, on the edge of a whole galaxy of mysterious and beautiful objects. Of course I had always known this. I even had a special interest in astronomy as a child. But, here on the top of this volcano, I could see it with my own eyes.

I stood there next to my sister, gazing toward the center of our galaxy, and felt that I was standing on a mote in space situated between a nearby star and it’s galaxy. Clouds of dark dust obscured in intense glow emanating from the thickest part of the galaxy, and meteors streaking through our invisible atmosphere were the only evidence that anything insulated us from outer space. It seemed to me, that something magnificently alive and luminous lay just on the other side of those dust clouds.

I did not know, when we got back on the bus to warm up from the freezing, barely existent atmosphere and travel back down to Earth, what consequence this revelation would have on my day to day life.

At home in Austin, Texas I had begun to practice Kundalini yoga, which had already been very healing for me physically. But, from that revelatory moment onward, every time I lay down to meditate after my yoga practice, and the gong played, I was under that sky. I felt that I was laying on the thin surface of a liquid planet at the edge of a galaxy with an incomprehensible light at the center of it.

I expected this perspective to make me feel small and insignificant, but instead it instilled me with a sense of expansiveness and safety that has never gone away.

Maun Kea, volcano, sunset, observatories,

Me, in a sweatshirt my sister gave me, at the top of Mauna Kea. That is the shadow the mountain casts upon the sky behind me. Mauna Kea is 44,000 ft tall from the sea floor. That is 4x taller than Mt. Everest.

After three months of Kundalini classes, and hours of practicing Breath of Fire, I found that I could really breathe. I think I had probably never breathed properly before in my life. I found Breath of Fire to be the fastest and most powerful healing technique that I could apply, at any time to any ailment, in my life. I found that I could effortlessly jog for a mile the first time I ever tried jogging. Taylor had also continued Kundalini classes and we soon moved into a new apartment together. (We are still together 4 years later) And I gradually accumulated a repertoire of mantras, meditations, and exercises to apply to every possible problem in my life.

A new lifestyle was the natural side effect of Kundalini for us, and for many other students. After practicing there for so long we became friends with our teachers and began to realize we were part of a tight-knit community. Our studio of choice, Yoga Yoga, is the largest yoga studio in Texas, with 6000 students in many types of yoga classes. So, over the years I received many warm invitations to go to events and to learn more about Yogi Bhajan, or to attend special classes with Yoga Yoga’s founders Mehtab and his wife Guru Karam, but I had little interest in it since my classes with Billy were so completely fulfilling.

yogiji, yogi, bhajan,

A photo of Yogi Bhajan, the founder of Kundalini yoga in the US.

By this time Taylor was participating in a work-trade program where she traded cleaning work in the studios for free classes, and discovered that she could get discounts on other interesting events and services there. She decided to try out a personal “Vedic Astrology” reading by Mehtab, and was so impressed by the transformative effects that she paid for me to get one a week later.

I don’t recall many specifics of my own reading. I was more interested in the new concepts than the personal information. Also, I was preoccupied with how entertaining I found Mehtab (we both love comic books), and how interesting our conversation was. The reading was extremely accurate and specific compared with Western astrology, and I was fascinated by the unusual diagrams he showed me. It connected the practices and concepts I’d learned in Kundalini to the stars and planets that I envisioned in my gong meditations.

Mehtab also described the “energetic” interactions between my chart and Taylor’s, and how each showed a relationship of complimentary opposites which made us excellent partners in any endeavor, and in many ways interchangeable in our roles with others. We were “karmic opposites”, he explained; two sides of the same coin.

Not long after, Taylor received an invitation to study Vedic Astrology in group taught by Mehtab himself at his home. My teacher, Billy, was already participating. I anticipated any mention they made of things they learned in their classes.

My knowledge of Western astrology came from my mother. She sometimes gave me horoscopes as gifts. One of the first books I’d read as a child was about astrology and kundalini as dream interpretation symbols. The symbols and charts were attractive to me, but I disliked it for the general vagueness that seemed inherent in it. Also, I disagreed that people should be made aware of afflictions and negative parts of their chart if there was nothing they could do about it.

Taylor was learning about a much more ancient and accurate form of astrology than I had ever seen, and which included “remedial measures” prescribed by the Vedic texts. Any problem that could be defined in a persons chart also came with an array of treatments to correct that problem. Whether the subject preferred gems, color therapies, herbs, aroma therapies, mantra, meditations or dietary changes. There was an appealing option somewhere in each chart to improve their life. The concept was utterly thrilling.

Unfortunately for Taylor, the new study workload came at the same time as a wave new professional responsibilities. Her hours were increasing, and she was running out of time to study the complex and often very scientific course material. She was only a month into the course when a major scheduling conflict with work arose. Faced with the conundrum of getting Taylor to her meeting without disrespecting her teacher by canceling her one on one class, we decided I would go instead.

I arrived at his door, with Taylor’s binder of study materials, a little early. But it was Guru Karam who answered, explaining that he would be home in 15 minutes while, she was herself was on her way out. She invited me to sit at the kitchen counter and wait.  I petted his extraordinarily large cats until he arrived.

He was surprised, but happy, to see me.  I explained to him what was happening with Taylor’s work and we began to talk about astrology, my experience with it, and my interest in its concepts.  It had occurred to me on the way over that I might be able to take the classes in Taylor’s stead, and when I suggested it to him he gave me a short verbal quiz.  I was amazed to discover how much information I had soaked up by proxy from Taylor and Billy.  I passed the test and we arranged for me to read the catch up material and come to the next group class.

The materials began the same way anything truly exhilarating and interesting for me begins: by demonstrating that everything I thought I knew was wrong.  I knew a little about the Vedas and a bit of Indian history, but had no idea how deep this “rabbit hole” actually went.

Veda” (noun): 1. the most ancient Hindu scriptures, written in early Sanskrit and containing hymns, philosophy, and guidance on ritual for the priests of Vedic religion.

If the word “Veda” is familiar at all, it is likely to evoke images of Hindu mythology. Or it might remind you of the word “Ayurveda,” referring to a system of healing based on elemental energies. The Western concept of a magical and superstitious India might be why I was surprised to see India pop up in the BBC documentary “The History of Mathematics” which explained that Vedic scholars set forth advanced mathematical treatises 1,000 – 3,000 years ago. They described the concept of zero, the 10-based value method, the techniques of algebra and algorithm, and square root and cube root, for the first time in recorded history. Sanskrit words contextually and phonetically similar to “geometry” and “trigonometry” appear in mathematical texts dating from before India’s contact with Greece, and the word “Algebra” comes form the title of the first foreign book describing Indian methods of calculation. There is evidence that concepts such as “Pythagorean Theorum”, attributed to Greek or European scholars, were in common use during the construction of the ancient Harappan civilizations.

European scholars overlooked evidence of advanced mathematical knowledge in India for so long that these fields were slowly and gruelingly re-invented in the West over millenia before their existence in India was re-discovered. Perhaps Europeans believed that a land so full of ritual and faith based belief systems, where people wear turbans and select their foods for their “energetic” qualities, could not possibly possess the the tools for such precise logical analysis of reality. It is only very recently that the field of quantum mechanics brings conventional wisdom full circle to concepts described in the Vedas.

Why did the ancient Indian “Seers” need to invent methods to make such complex calculations? What were they doing? Perhaps the most important thing by their reckoning was the calculation of Vedic astrological charts. These charts were cast not only for the birth of kings but also for the beginning of journeys, at the outset of important endeavors or in any given moment to seek guidance. Yoga and Ayurveda are both said to be branches of Jyotish (Vedic astrology), the “science of light.” Ayurveda was a system of “remedial measures” prescribed by the Vedic texts. Any problem that could be defined in the chart came with an array of treatments to correct it. Whether the subject preferred gems, color therapies, aroma therapies, mantra, meditations, dietary or lifestyle changes, there was an appealing option somewhere in each chart to improve life. This empowering concept thrilled me, since I had never conceived of the idea that a person had any option to strengthen or counteract the events described in their own birth chart.

An astrology chart has something to say about absolutely anything one can ask. In Western astrology this information reads like a description of a static pre-destined path. Not so in Vedic astrology, which emphasizes the impact of free will, describing the precise tools each individual can use to reach their unique potential. Ironically, I found that Vedic astrology treated the planets much more like symbols of personal and practical concepts in life than their unyielding and often tyrannical Western counterparts, which suddenly seemed oddly superstitious by comparison.

In Mehtab’s class I learned what he called “arcane knowledge” which inspired me to begin making charts and diagrams, exploring and arranging new and old concepts that took on new meanings. Planets, chakras, linguistics, aesthetic and stylistic choices all revealed their interrelationships and intrinsic meanings.

The first surprise I uncovered was in my own chart. “My sign” was not my actual sign at all. Since the Western zodiac does not account for the procession of the Earth’s poles it is in error by more than a week, meaning that there is a good chance that your Western signs are incorrect. The Western system slides a little bit more out of whack each year, while the Vedic system remains accurate in any century and it showed that all three of my main signs were wrong. The traditional twelve signs are further divided into 27 smaller sub-signs which explained how two people in the same sign can be so different; something I really took issue with in Western astrology.

In Vedic astrology the planets each signify a category of roles and activities at play in a person’s life. Their hierarchy of importance follows the same basic order as the actual influence they have on the surface of the Earth itself. The Earth’s orientation, your rising sign, is most important as it represents your body and personality. Second, the Moon, your inner mental and emotional state. Third, the Sun, signifies the soul and indicates your dharma, public life, and the effects of authority upon you. Next are the five visible planets, like character archetypes, representing their own roles and activities in the world. Each has a strong personality, and is located in one of twelve houses describing every domain of life, in a sign that adds its own atmosphere.

So, basically, the planets are like people and the roles they play. The houses are areas of life, like career or home. The signs are the condition and feel of those areas.

Also, there is an extremely useful “mahadasha” system to plot the unfolding time periods unique to one’s life, each ruled by different planetary influences. This is not to say that they dictate what happens. Instead, they mark the influences and probabilities at different stages, giving us a heads up when it might be a good or bad time to start a business, have a child, go to school, or any other activity we might consider.

The world around us is full of tools with hidden meaning which we can use to assert our own free will. Ayurveda is meant to be used with Vedic astrology to not only heal the body, but to support all of life’s activities. We are all meant to solve the unique puzzle of our lives.

“What is the use of much speaking? Whatever object exists in this moving and non-moving world, cannot be understood without the base of Ganita (Mathematics).” – from the Vedanga Jyotisha text 1,000 BCE

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