Tag: Power Yoga

Living the Yoga Life

The Curse of Brilliance

Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey
Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey

When I was teaching yoga in Princeton, I had a number of students that made me nervous. 

These weren’t just any students; they were scholars at the Institute for Advanced Study – the place where Einstein spent his final two and a half decades as a faculty member.  These were some of the brightest minds in the world, and to make matters worse for me, some of them were from India, the birth place of yoga.

All I could do was present yoga from my point of view, and to my surprise, these students kept showing up.  It turned out that my fear, as is usual with fear, was totally unfounded.  These were people eager for a yoga practice, and as they opened up to me, I became aware of their special challenges.

The student’s minds were both a blessing and a curse.  They had incredible abilities to think, to reason, and to remember.  Many of them had been recognized as “special” early on and suffered under the burden of high expectations.  But the biggest challenge for most, if not all, was the tyranny of their over-active minds, the curse of brilliance.

One student described his mind to me as a race car speeding around a track, a race car that never stopped.  Not even for one second.  And there were memories that he wished to forget, but couldn’t.

At the Institute, they feel a special connection to Einstein, so we came to use him as an inspiration, a frame of reference for our practice.  Einstein was fond of play, of taking breaks from research.  I used his quote, “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself” to encourage self-inquiry and to wonder if our true existence transcends and incorporates more than just our bodies and minds.

We found together, that even for the most active of minds, it is possible to step outside of the mind, to realize it as a tool, to give it the opportunity to take a much needed rest.  For some of these students, who had never given their minds a rest in their entire lives, this was one of the most rewarding feelings they could have, to final get a bit of a rest.  We surmised, with no proof other than observation, that the mind works even better after getting some rest and relaxation.

My classes, influence by these students, were often focused on the mind.  The beautiful thing was that we were able to experiment with my ideas and suggestions together, and they were able to report the results.

We found a number of things:

1.   Exercise helps to calm the mind.

2.   The mind is more receptive to relaxation techniques after exercise.

3.   You can bring yourself to realize that your mind in not you, but rather, it is a tool for your use.

4.   You don’t need to and shouldn’t believe all of your thoughts.

5.   You can train yourself to decrease, if not eliminate, repetitive thinking.

6.   Your mind, like other muscles, seems to have more energy and work better after giving it a rest.

It was amazing to see the benefits for these students over time – people who I was originally intimidated by, but whom I came to realize had their own specific challenges, like any of us.  I believed that the challenges they faced could be overcome, and I believe we are all capable of making these positive transformations in our own lives.

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Living the Yoga Life

Yoga: It’s Not About the Pose

its not about the pose

 

 

I Can Tell You One Thing That is for Certain About All Forms of Yoga,

It’s Not About the Pose.

After a deep awakening, the present moment became so alive that I could find incredible stimulation in a blue sky or a friendly smile.  So, understandably, I gradually fell away from using the internet, which seemed like way too much stimulation.  Even now, I barely watch tv, I love to be in silence in my apartment, and a silent drive is a wonderful experience, maybe even an amazing one, when completely present.  But now I’m back online as a means of staying in touch with friends, family, and students. 

 

The Internet is Full of Surprises for Us Yogis

So, I decided to take a spin around the web to see what’s going on in the yoga world.  I suppose I had been thinking that the world itself was becoming more conscious, and was therefore surprised when I typed “yoga” into YouTube, and the most popular video was “Jillian Michaels: Yoga Meltdown Level 1”.  It reminded me of the early days of yoga’s popularity in America when we started seeing things like, “MTV’s Crunch Yoga”.

 

Is Yoga Just Another form of Exercise?

Jillian Michaels is wonderful, and from what I’ve heard about her, she has overcome a lot to become an inspiration to many.  On top of that, who knows, an exercise guru at the top of the yoga pyramid on YouTube may be a good thing – my own introduction to yoga was as an almost purely physical practice… I was prepared not to like it (I imagined yoga as some sort of religion), and I was relieved when my first DVD (no internet back then) seemed like exercise (no chanting, just flow yoga).

 

How Did We Get Here with Yoga?

In the Late 80’s and early 90’s, Power Yoga was at the forefront of the popularization of yoga in the US.  Power Yoga didn’t take a form of yoga from India and start directly teaching it in America.  Others had attempted that and it was like asking Americans to follow a road map through India.  People weren’t ready for it.  Instead, by understanding the root essence and purpose of yoga, Power Yoga was able to transform the practice for the west, developing what became a road map for yoga that would resonate with American audiences.

 

Did We Lose the Essence of Yoga?

Gone, for the most part in these westernized forms of yoga, were the Sanskrit names, and the physical path of yoga was emphasized over other forms.  Yet if you listen closely, the underlying messages of the great traditions of yoga are present with these early teachers in the West.  We could now ease into yoga as a physical practice, and if one stayed around long enough, the deeper message might sink in – you would be hooked and on the path.

Today, some teachers despise westernized forms of yoga as bastardizations of the “true” yoga found in India or as an American corruption of the system as set out by Patanjali.  Still others seek the much more recently created forms, such as those by Iyengar, Jois, Friend, Gannon & Life, as these seem on the surface to pay more reverence to yoga traditions.  What many fail to acknowledge it that Power Yoga kept the essence of the best non-dogmatic approaches to yoga while vastly increasing yoga’s accessibility to the west.

Yet this is why I rarely go to group yoga classes anymore – this Americanization of yoga, the same Americanization that made it accessible to me as a beginner, has become so American that the subtle underlying message has been lost, and yoga now appears to have become simply another form of exercise.  Contrary to what you might think, however, this does not bother me at all.

 

A Great Future for Yoga and Those Who Practice It

We should be excited about this phase in yoga’s history.  It doesn’t particularly matters that a lot of yoga teachers don’t quite get what yoga is about, or that many people’s first experience of yoga is as another form of “exercise”.  This development in yoga’s history is exactly what has allowed for its huge growth in popularity in the West.

Here is what is true today.  It’s inevitable that many will want to discover more within their practice… this is what is so beautiful, amazing, and wonderful about the long tradition of yoga.  It is romantic to think there is some ultimate method, but in actuality, the tradition constantly evolves and grows. 

Now, with the internet, the doorway to yoga’s true purpose is accessible to the world – both the teachers who teach yoga as “exercise” are there, as well as the deeply enlightened teachers who can foster the ultimate understanding of the power of yoga.  When people go deeper they can find all of the amazing realms that yoga has to offer, finding that the physical practice is only a tiny part of the yoga universe.  All of this right there on the web, accessible to anyone who wants to find it.

Creating Your Own Yoga

In my yoga classes, I don’t follow a map or a method, I encourage my students to create their own map.  But I do try to make yoga accessible to all, so everyone from the first timers to the lifelong yogis can get a meaningful practice.  And it is amazing for both me and them when everyone seems to get what they need.  I often find myself saying in class “It’s not about the pose!”  The newbies think it’s funny.  A few of the others know exactly what I am talking about.

Ultimately, with whatever type of yoga works for you – your yoga is important, not for what it has you say or do, but for what it makes you think.

And I can tell you one thing that is for certain about all forms of yoga, it’s not about the pose.

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