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YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS NOVEMBER 2008
Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,
With all the hoo-ha out there about our financial meltdown, I (for once!) find it hard to find anything intelligent to add to the conversation. All of you know already how beneficial yoga is in times of stress—in fact, Classical Yoga was created to help us stop worrying! Still, platitudes about remembering to breathe, staying the present moment may not comfort when the moment seems so bleak.
So, some practical advice: get back on the mat. Don’t wait until you have the time, the money, the energy, the inspiration. When everything is open to negotiation, from the job you may not have tomorrow to the price of your monthly cable bill (try them out—you’ll be surprised what companies will do to keep customers these days!), practice alone is not negotiable. Practice lends you the resilience to face whatever comes.
I have been pondering the whole psychology behind the recent crisis, and what jumps off the page is the notion of value—of what things are worth. Clearly, many of us jumped on one bandwagon or another, stashed our eggs in this basket or that, based on what others around us thought was safe/dependable/potentially lucrative/insanely lucrative. Based on these informal (and sometimes formal, institutionally sanctioned) clusters of consensus, we chose where to invest our savings and our retirement accounts, how much to pay for our houses and how to mortgage those payments, even what type of profession and where to work.
Sadly, many of these group decisions veered widely off the mark, bearing little if any connection to “reality” as commonly understood. Things obtained value simply because people decided they were valuable and not because of any intrinsic worth. Thus, when all the paper pushing was exposed as just that, the bottom fell out from under us. The value of what we had invested in plummeted as we realized, collectively and simultaneously, that that “something” was truly nothing, worth nothing!
What can we learn from this? (1) That value is subjective: we determine what is of value, and to what degree. (2) That value is volatile. What is worth something to you today may be useless tomorrow—if you are struck blind today, your eyeglasses will be worth nothing to you tomorrow. Thus, our yoga practice on and off the mat should entail daily, indeed moment-by-moment, contemplations of what we consider valuable and how we can sustain what matters most to us. Being physically strong and supple and healthy is the bottom line for me, the base from which all else becomes possible. Thus, it is worth my time to practice daily. The health (and indeed survival!) of our planet also matters, so I do my small part to travel lightly on this earth and to support organizations that actively sustain and repair our environment. Take a moment to jot down what matters to you. The things that come up first are probably the “non-negotiables.” “Spend” a little time and energy taking simple steps to preserve what you care about. That’s my prescription for a universally healthy “economy.”
THE OTHER 23 HOURS
Yoga is fundamentally a practice, something we do daily to preserve our bodies, our wits, our sanity. The preparation for life. Then there’s what we do when we are not practicing, when we’re engaging the dance of so-called life. Tantric Yoga urges us to identify our gifts, our talents—what one of my corporate clients calls our “skill sets.” Merge these with your passions, cultivate the blend, and you are on your way to living your values. And you will never be without gainful employment and a full calendar. I know this from experience, because I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer, and the universe has always provided. I was hidden away in university libraries studying French literature during the last economic boom; I made conceptual (read: unsaleable) art during the peak of art market frenzy, and I began teaching yoga when most people still confused the word with “yogurt” and my best friends thought I had joined a cult. Yet I always had a roof over my head, more or less balanced the books, and lived richly.
We no longer live in a world where everything seems possible. We are being asked to adjust and adapt ourselves to new and changing circumstances. This is not a problem, it’s a challenge. You get to define yourself over and over, to stretch, bend, strengthen and rebalance just as you do on the mat.
UP, DOWN, AND SIDEWAYS
Speaking of stretching and bending, this fall I made odysseys to Asia and Central America. I returned to Japan for the second time, where Studio Yoggy graciously accommodated my request to see “more than Tokyo” by booking a whirlwind teaching tour of four cities in four days. The carefully orchestrated baton-toss saw me shuffled from chaperone to bullet train to chaperone to studio to bullet train . . . . and thankfully so, as I remain helpless before Japanese signs and deaf to the language. At tender moments I wondered what would happen if Aya or Seiko was not there on arrival. Yet all went smoothly, and I even caught a glimpse of a temple or two, a market, a soba restaurant, a traditional Japanese bath. I discovered the mind-boggling culinary abundance of department-store basements, where you can feast on anything your palate desires (and you can point directly at what you want, without having to decipher menus!).
During my 5-day layover in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of returning to teach at both Studio Yoggy and Be Yoga Japan, my original host. I lived in the lap of luxury, in a spacious duplex with one of Be Yoga’s most dedicated students, and wandered out to reconnect with new friends and generally take the edge off this still intimidating cross-cultural travel.
Anusara is now well entrenched in Japan, allowing me to take the teachings to the next level with special workshops on the Bhagavad Gita, Ganesha, and Karma. We practiced inside in studios hither and yon, and enjoyed an impromptu practice outside in one of the city’s most elegant public parks. Each session rounded up with the inevitable photo shoot: photos of the group, photos of the sensei, photos of the sensei with each student, photos of the students with each other. So many photos my jaw ached from smiling.
Then it was off to China. It’s true, China is not for everyone. Slate-gray skies, monotonous urban sprawl of high-rise after highway after high-rise with more to come every day—enough to dim anyone’s view of the future, much as 19th-century Parisians were stupefied by Baron Von Hausmann’s surgical incisions into their medieval city. Buildings with that singular Chinese schizophrenia of bland exterior and Las Vegas interior. But despite the gloomy surroundings, I found the Chinese people exuberant, lively, and demanding. After the polite reticence and formality of the Japanese, the loud, boisterous Chinese students were refreshingly candid and engaging. Eager for knowledge, they showed up early and stayed late, funneling their prodigious energy into mastering the Anusara Yoga principles in record time. (See slideshows of my travels in Japan and China on the Tour Schedule page of my website, www.blueskyyoga.com.)
Back in Costa Rica in November for my third visit this year, I completed the first Anusara Yoga Teacher Training for Costa Ricans. Despite the geographic distance and language barrier (as I pick up a little Spanish each visit, it’s become more of a fence than a barrier, affording glimpses through the slats), I was gratified to see them “getting it”—Anusara Yoga alignment, heart language, the whole nine yards. I have been working with this group for three years now, tending to them as seeds, then seedlings, then tender sprouts, and now fully growing plants.
Mexico saw me teaching alongside local Certified teacher Ann Moxey at the national yoga conference. Somehow it struck me as funny to see this old, corrupt, sexist, Catholic culture soaking up modern yoga’s egalitarian, quasi-Hindu, often rigorous morality. What the Mexicans get about Anusara is what they give: open hearted enthusiasm, no B.S., passion, and abundant laughter.
From Mexico City Ann and I traveled out to her country home turned yoga retreat center in Cuernavaca. There we continued with lively evening sessions and a full-on three-day therapeutics training. Ann has single-handedly created the kula south of the border, and the dedication and devotion of her students was palpable. After a week of working with these gifted beings, I was almost ready to trade bagels for empanadas, slushy sidewalks for sun-drenched hillsides.
Back in the city, my 2008-9 Teacher Training is halfway done. I have been meeting weekly with this intimate yet diverse group, watching them unfold before my eyes. As our holiday celebration devolved from cookies and cider to rum and champagne, I was reminded yet again that you yogis are the ones I cherish most come year’s end!
The yoga program I customized for Physique 57 (the epitome of non-nonsense, results-driven women’s fitness) is now up and running. While about half of the students attending my classes have done some kind of yoga before, I am also attracting “the rest”—people who might not otherwise have ever stepped foot in a yoga studio. These women demand an effective and intelligent workout no matter what we call it, yet they are clearly seeking more than that. My first challenge was to distill the “best of” yoga as I know it into 57 minutes; next is sharing the transformative power of this practice with students who may not be consciously open to change.
Curious? Or just short on time? The class flows from sun salutations through standing poses, beginning arm balances, and lots of shoulder openers and back bends, rounding out with seated poses a brief savasana. Full schedule on www.physique57.com, Spring Street Studio.
BACK IN THE SADDLE
For those of you who are in the Hamptons over the holidays, I’ll be offering a special New Year’s Day Practice at One Ocean Yoga in Bridgehampton, Thursday, January 1 11:00am.
I’ll be resuming my weekly classes at Virayoga starting in January:
I’ve missed seeing you all during my autumn travels. Please join me for class during and after the holidays !