Yoga, The Journey to the Heart

Jun 30th, 2017
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1. How did you start yoga? What was your experience of the first yoga class?

I took my first Bikram Yoga class in 2003 at the advice of a friend who knew I would Love it!! I was an athlete – a marathon runner, yet even then, I knew that the body was a direct link to, and learning device for, the Mind. Physical challenge allowed me to access the level of intensity inherent in my nature, to gain focus, clarity, and to connect to my breath. It showed me that Limits only exist in the Mind that Creates them. Little did I know at that time that the cultivation of this practice would open my Mind, Heart, Spine, Life, and Spirit to Infinite new Depths. As I did the work on myself, it became increasingly clear to me that this would become the Way in which I could help others find the same self-love, self-acceptance, personal expansion, forgiveness,  and freedom that I had found through practice.  This would become my Life of Service.

I approached my first class as any “athlete” would – that is to say, like many others, I thought that this was just “a stretch class in a hot room.”  My first realization that yoga was more than “a stretch class” came within  the first two months, upon the forgiveness of my mother, which I was able to find in the midst of a deep back-bend known as camel pose. I had once estimated that in my 20 years of running, including 7 marathons, I had pounded the pavement for over 40,000 miles, in part trying to let go of the emotional pain I had from childhood that seemed to be holding me back in my life. Here I had found it: in one hot, long, deep backbend.  From that moment on, I was hooked! I knew there was more to a dedicated practice than merely the physical benefits, and so I began to read as many books as I could find – and from every discipline. My study included asana, meditation and breath work, yogic philosophy, anatomy, and consciousness.

 

2. Who is your first  teacher and any teachings you received from other teachers? what motivated you to teach yoga?

My first teachers were Denise and Damon Abraham, as well as Stephen Kaleda. To the three of you, I am eternally grateful. Denise and Damon owned a small studio in a space directly above a favorite local breakfast place. The community of students was close, warm, and inspired. And there, (and later in a different space that they grew into) Denise passionately revealed to me the magic of this life-changing sequence. The classic 90 minute class is called the “beginner series,” yet, from time to time, and as I developed the requirements to attend, Denise invited me to practice what is known as “the advanced series,” or Patanjali’s original 84 Therapeutic Yoga Asanas… Sooner or later, my love of practice led me to Bikram and Rajashree Choudhury, Emmy Cleaves, and virtually every Senior Teacher, throughout Teacher Training and beyond.
And so the time naturally came when I was ready for more. As divine timing would have it, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” And so he did. I had attended a workshop / posture clinic at my studio, led by Esak Garcia, the 2005 Men’s International Champion of the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Yoga Cup. There I discovered a training he was hosting to delve deeper into the benefits and practice of backward bending and the expanded
“advanced series.” The year was 2009. From this moment on, there was no turning back.

My passion for practice,  love of technique,  and realization of the unseen benefits inherent in yoga inspired me to Teach.  My desire to set the tone of an entire community inspired me to open a studio.  My path now calls me to travel far and wide to share the bountiful gifts of practice in the form of seminars, retreats, and private sessions; and in the most incredible full-circle way, i’ll also be teaching at an advanced certification course  known as e84, formulated by Esak Garcia, in Bali, Indonesia in May of 2017.

 

3. What do you think is the philosophy of Bikram yoga and how it is different from other yoga lineages?

For me, the most poignant Bikramism is “Having everything means nothing if you don’t know how to use it.”   There are countless Bikram quotes out there, but the bigger picture is that Yoga is Life.  What happens on your mat is a microcosm of what happens in your life.  Bikram Yoga taught me this with Immaculate Clarity.  I use the expression, “Learn it on your mat to use it in your life,” because the Consciousness with which we conduct our practice is the Same as the consciousness with which we conduct our lives.  Concentration facilitates Meditation, and Meditation facilitates Transformation.  I would say this is the basis of the Teaching. Bikram Yoga is frequently referred to as, “a 90-minute open-eyed moving meditation; a 90-minute breathing exercise, a 90-minute series of choices you make on your mat.” And I can confirm that for those who dedicate themselves to a daily practice, it can be all of this and so much more. The practice is progress based, as the same 26 postures are performed in the same order, two times each.  Each posture prepares you for the next, and the next, and by the time you have completed the series you have affected every single cell of your body, every time you practice. Each posture in the sequence is broken into steps, with the instructions of “start where you’re at, do what you can, always and only with breath and with form.” This daily prescription creates foundational Strength while developing neural-pathways and increased ability to concentrate and connect to breath. Progress comes step by step, and in ways both seen and felt. This approach seems to be a  powerful  formula for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  

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4. When people say you are born flexible or naturally flexible?  what is your view on this?

(Hahahah, Oh Lordy!) Great question! This is exactly my point: First and foremost, yoga is not “a flexibility contest,” and you need not be flexible to practice, but likely you will become so if you do. When stillness in posture is held against gravity, practitioners become as Strong as they are Flexible, and Flexible as they are Strong, and both will continue to increase together…(You could say I took this to the next level.) NO, I was not “born this way;” and No, I am not “double jointed.” I am not in my 20’s… I was not a gymnast or ballerina, and this is not contortion; and I did not take my first yoga class until I was 36 years old, with three children! This has become one of my favorite questions, because I am uniquely qualified to clarify many of the misperceptions out there, and speak to an audience who might benefit the most from my experience.
When people say to me, as they often do, “WOW! You’re SO flexible!” My first thought is always that the primary essence of my being is Strength. In fact, I used my Strength to Create flexibility, and by doing so, became Stronger. On the subject of Technique, and yes, I am a huge fan of Bio-Mechanics and Technique, I seem to have cracked the code on the formula for virtually any posture that exists. I have spent quite literally thousands of hours in practice, doing the work to open my body and mind, tuning out the outside world, tuning in to my inner-teacher, in what I have come to call “creation.” For me, it requires the realization that Thought is the Ingredient of Matter. It requires the mind’s ability to visualize and command, without thought obstruction; it requires that one tune in to the laws of nature, and understand that gravity is your teacher; it requires dedication, hard work, patience,
self-compassion, an understanding of the modifications of the mind; It requires complete cooperation from every aspect of BEing and on every level of BEing; and It requires a lot of letting go, and willingness to “peel the layers” of our emotional bodies. In this “hard work” of which I speak, the hard work of the body, we might initially think we are creating a body that is strong, balanced, and flexible; but remember, the body is the learning device of the mind. The work of the body directly translates to a MIND which is strong, balanced, and flexible. This is the beauty of practice. So the answer is, the depth of these postures came to me through sheer love of doing the work, and doing it patiently, mindfully, and consistently, over the course of more than a decade. The best compliment I can receive is that “it looks like that feels good,” or “that looks easy, I could do that,” or that I must be “naturally flexible.” Yes, I have worked extraordinarily hard for more than a decade to become ‘naturally flexible.’ And if I can do it, You Can Too! That is exactly my point.
More Importantly, I have learned to use My MIND in order to be deliberate in the creation of my life. It so happens that deep practice was my passion, and perhaps yours is different. Maybe you are not inspired to become a
“pretzel” or a “yoga champion;” but please hear me. Through the power of INTENTION and learning how to use your mind, You can create Anything you chose in your Own Life! For me, this message is the natural continuation of the conversation.

 

5. What does the term “‘advanced yoga practitioner’ mean to you?  What does your daily yoga practice include?

Speaking on the physical level, some postures may not be available or suitable for a practitioner who has not yet developed the strength, concentration, and connectedness to breath inherent in daily practice. Additionally, most advanced postures require that the shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and even sometimes wrists, elbows and ankles be sufficiently open to meet the demands of the posture.  The muscles must be lengthened, but please realize that we are not just “stretching muscle.”  Stretching also includes fascia, nerves, blood vessels, and skin. A practitioner of advanced yoga must learn what to contract, and more importantly, what to relax, and must have the ability to command their pieces separately.  There are many physical and mental aspects of practice that need to be cultivated before advanced postures can or should be executed.  The mental aspects of practice are as important, if not moreso, than the physical. Remember, asana is the journey through the self to the Self. Anyone who Knows me Knows that to me, “It’s Not about the Posture.”  That tends to be my Mantra.  I like to say that “The posture is the tool we use to get there, and/or the indication that we have.” In this way, “Advanced Practitioner” does NOT mean “look what I can do.”  The more advanced postures are an indication of the hard work, the dedication, faith and determination, concentration, meditation, intention, mindfulness, patience, stillness, self-compassion,and connectedness that have manifested in the form of asana.   There are some basic concepts, or mindsets, that I like to impart when it comes to stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.  The following are a few of my Ideas:

* Effort Moves toward Ease

**”It’s only hard until you can do it. Then it’s not hard anymore.”
*”The more you do it, the better it feels; the better it feels, the more you do it; the more you do it, the better it gets, and the better it gets, the better it gets!”

My daily practice has evolved as I evolve. When I was “In Creation,” as I came to see it,  I used to take class on the average 4 to 6 times per week, with an additional 20 hours per week on average of deeper and more targeted work. It seems my practice has been directly linked to my path in life as it unfolds. I’ve practiced to become stronger, deeper, and more correct; I’ve practiced to liberate both body and mind of limitation; I’ve practiced as Spiritual Path, and I’ve practiced to heal.  I’ve included other disciplines in my practice, most especially yin yoga, and I’ve enjoyed melding the consciousness of yin and yang practices, by exploring lengthy holds on very yang postures. (Yes, that 20 Minute Mind Expanding Back Bend!)   I currently practice asana much less and focus on meditation and pranayama techniques much more. I Trust my Inner Voice, which guides me in practice.…(more)

 

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