8.31.2006

The Yogi’s Façade

There is definitely a certain persona that yoga culture tells us we’re all supposed to emanate as yogis. We should appear happy, tranquil, unshakeable… completely blissed out. Maybe even a little spacey.

And lots of times, practicing yoga or meditation really does make us feel this way. It’s not a façade at all. It’s who we really are.

But other times, it’s all an act. We’re stressed, sleep-deprived, angry, sad, unhappy with ourselves or others, or otherwise in a funk. And what do we do then? We can’t wear these feelings on the outside and still walk into a yoga class (certainly not in a place like Los Angeles where people take their yoga and its feel-good vibes so seriously). So we bring them all inside and hope that the practice of yoga will some how make it all better. Or we skip our yoga practice altogether because it’s so exhausting to play the part of a happy yogi when we’re not feeling happy at that moment.

Maybe you’ve never felt this way. Maybe you feel this way all the time. Whether you fit into either category or somewhere in between, it’s worth thinking about the energy we project into the world.

One of the most amazing lessons I’ve learned not just by practicing yoga, but by teaching it, is that the Buddha was right: There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

Sometimes, just by acting happy – by putting on our yogi’s façade – we can actually be happy.

A yoga teacher always has a responsibility to be a steady, calm presence, and to leave whatever personal issues might be troubling her out of the classroom. Sometimes that’s no problem because we’re feeling good already, but sometimes we have to really work to embody a positive persona. When I prepare to teach a class, I put on my yoga teacher façade – happy, steady, tranquil, connected. Over time, this has become automatic. I become Yoga Teacher Tanja, which is one of my favorite versions of me.

It might sound a little odd to think about a teacher putting on a façade to teach. We want to believe that our teachers are just like the people we see them as in class, 100% of the time. But it’s just not true. It’s not true of the world’s best yoga teacher. It’s not true for the most learned ascetics and monks. And it’s not true for the Dalai Lama. We all have versions of ourselves that appear at different times and express themselves. But as a teacher, we must support our students by projecting the Yoga Teacher version during every moment of class time.

But what’s amazing about this practice is: it doesn’t matter what kind of a mood I was in before class, or what was going on in my mind. If I have truly dedicated myself to teaching from my heart (putting on a masterful performance as Yoga Teacher Tanja), I always feel the same way at the end of class.

Happy.

Perfectly happy. Steady. Tranquil. And connected.

And then, it’s not a façade. It’s not an act. It’s how I truly feel.

Of course, sometime after class, I inevitably get back into my thoughts, zooming ahead to future plans, or getting stuck on something that happened yesterday. And I gradually lose track of that perfect happiness. And it’s not until I sit down for meditation, my own yoga practice, to teach, or get into the zone through some other action that I get another little taste of it.

For those moments, though, when I choose to project something positive and stay totally engaged in that moment, I become the very same positive energy that I’m projecting. And it’s an incredible thing to experience.

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

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So does that mean we should suppress our emotions and fit ourselves into the perfect model of outward happiness, only to deny who we are at any given moment? Of course it doesn’t.

But I believe it does mean that we can actively choose to influence our emotions with the energy that we send out into the world. And if you’ve paid attention, you’ve already noticed that the energy you send out multiplies itself. If you’re grumpy one day and you act grumpily, those around you are likely to take on a little bit of that grumpiness. But if you’re upbeat and friendly and positive, there’s a good chance you’ll raise the spirits of those around you. And then their good spirits will raise yours, and the cycle continues.

So the next time you feel yourself putting on your yogi’s façade, ask yourself if you can make it more than a façade. Concentrate on the energy you’re working to project and let the rest of your thoughts grow quiet.

And then watch what happens.

8.30.2006

Passage of the Week

From The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron:

Being satisfied with what we already have is a magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted, and inspired way. One of the major obstacles to what is traditionally called enlightenment is resentment, feeling cheated, holding a grudge about who you are, where you are, what you are. This is why we talk so much about making friends with ourselves, because, for some reason or other, we don’t feel that kind of satisfaction in a full and complete way. Mediation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.

Krishna Das Returns to Los Angeles

Yogamates has just announced that everybody’s favorite Kirtan superstar is going to be playing LA, at the Ford Amphitheatre no less, on Saturday, October 21.

The Ford seems a tiny bit big for that kind of experience, but Krishna Das has already outgrown every other space he’s played here. So I’m sure we’ll manage to fill it with love and warm fuzzies, even if it doesn’t seem the obvious choice to host Kirtan.

Tickets are available here.

8.29.2006

“You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life.”

Though the pages of Yoga Journal and other yoga pubs serve up a contradictory impression (articles espousing a life with minimal possessions, ads and ad dollars telling you about all the new yoga and holistic life products you can’t live without), most yogis intuitively know that accumulating stuff goes against the yogic path.

Plenty of people have written articles about the various ways not to accumulate – Buddhist meditation that will eliminate your desire to acquire, a more charitable outlook that will focus your energy more on giving than receiving, ways to become self-fulfilled so that you don’t feel the need to fulfill yourself with retail therapy… the list goes on. The authors usually write as though they themselves have mastered their own impulses and live lives free from the desire to own anything at all.

I am no such author.

Like most people, I tend to acquire things in a few different yet distinct categories. And for me those are outdoor gear, accessories like earrings and bags, and the occasional item of clothing. But that’s evolved over time – I used to have a wicked propensity for buying housewares and kitchen gadgets, and my shoe collection was once an astonishing sight. Over time, my interests have evolved and minimized, and so have the things I (occasionally) shop for. (And just as a disclaimer, I still believe that I buy a lot less stuff than most women in demographic group… these days, at least.)

So my question is this: if the goal of yoga is ultimately to calm the fluctuations of the mind and connect with the true reality, and all schools of yoga ascribe to the belief that it’s important to be in an environment conducive to ushering in this mind-state, is capitalism aimed at creating just such an environment really a bad thing?

Well, obviously, the answer is still yes. The little pair of earrings that I think nothing of purchasing probably traveled to me by fossil fuel powered truck and ship and were made in sweatshop conditions by underpaid workers in a country with no environmental protections. But let’s suppose that none of those things were true. That the earrings were made and transported in a sustainable, non-polluting way, and gave the makers of them a fair wage.

Earrings are a bad example, of course. What about furniture that makes my home feel welcoming and comfortable, instead of cluttered and uninviting? If my home has an uplifting feel to it, am I not more likely to be inspired to undertake spiritual endeavors like mediation and asana practice? And certainly might not an aesthetically pleasing home entice me to keep less clutter around, thus actually reducing my tendency to accumulate more, and increasing my charitable contributions when I get rid of things that don’t fit the aesthetic?

While clearly this thesis is mostly justification for my life of accumulation, I do believe that, for most people, we need to have things and stuff around to have the potential to live a fulfilled life. An ascetic life is all but impossible, certainly in this day and age, certainly in this country. Imagine trying to raise a family without the necessities needed to provide food and shelter, and the means for intellectual and spiritual growth. Without those things, stress would tear a person apart. But if we can remove that type of stress from our lives, we give ourselves the mental space to start exploring the spiritual realm. Even without a family to raise, if we don’t pursue capitalistic endeavors (i.e. “jobs”), we don’t have access to health care, we don’t have the means to travel or take classes that expand our perspectives, and we are at the mercy of the system for food and shelter.

In other words, it’s only by having the necessities and by pursuing them through capitalism that we can start to let go.

My vision of the Source, the thing that inspires and drives me, is nature. I’m in total communion when I’m out in the mountains, climbing, trekking, whatever it may be. And I can tell you from having slogged many miles with a lot of pounds on my back, I’m thinking a lot more about the nature and a lot less about the weight of my pack when the gear I carry is expensive but ultra-lightweight gear. Climbing can be completely meditative and mindful, or it can be frustrating and exhausting. The difference is often how much I spent on my gear. So more spending equals more mental space, and more clarity.

But of course there is always a line. You can have a perfect yoga practice without an $80 Manduka Mat. You can have a perfect practice with no mat at all. You can have a perfect practice without a single pair of yoga pants (and without a set of perfect abs). And you can live a wonderful fulfilling life without a high-end car, or a single designer clothing item or pair of shoes, or the latest cutting-edge cell phone, or the nicest apartment, or or or….

What’s important, I think, is to create an environment that you love – not for others, but for yourself. An environment that reduces your stress and allows you to express your own spirit. But ask yourself if you’d be devastated if you lost anything you own. Or anything extravagant that you can afford to do. If your answer is yes for anything but the most sentimental treasures, then it’s time to really start letting go.

When the stuff you own starts owning you, it’s time to go back to the mat.

8.28.2006

Osho Fo Sho

As any teacher or guide can tell you, when you spend a lot of your time teaching, it becomes difficult to maintain your own practice. For new teachers, this is a often a tough lesson to learn -- I know it was for me. Back then I went from attending three or four classes a week to attending virtually none in a short span of time because teaching started taking up all my time.

I felt like I'd lost my practice altogether. But the good news was that I learned to really develop my own home practice, and to integrate yoga into more aspects of my life, instead of keeping it sequestered to the yoga mat.

But even though I don't make regular time for class, sometimes I like to explore public classes to open up some new perspectives and freshen up what I bring to my own classes. So for the past week, I've taken quite a few. Since I'm teaching now at Golden Bridge, probably the premier Kundalini studio in the whole country, I've been taking advantage of their vast array of Kundalini classes. For the devout hatha yogi, Kundalini can be a little, well, free-form. But it sure does feel nice to dance for the last quarter of class.

It felt great to throw myself into a little Kundalini again, since it certainly has been a while. But even still, the classes were basically what I expected.

What I was not expecting was what I got when I went to the Sunday 8 am Osho Dynamic Meditation class.

(If you'd like to see for yourself a rundown of what this type of meditation entails, click here.)

I've been trying to figure out how to describe the experience of it as I've recounted the class to friends, and so far I can't quite put it into words. You do it blindfolded and in the dark, there's really loud music on, you breathe with your whole body, you scream and let out all your pent-up emotions, you dance (and if you're coordinated like me, you whack the stucco walls a few times and end up with some good rug burns)... it's an experience for sure.

Chris, the instructor, was great, and helped get us all ready for the whole thing. And I swear I was floating somewhere above my body when it was all over.

Somehow the phrase "blissed out" just doesn't do it justice.

8.26.2006

The Spin on Yoga

It often comes as a surprise to my yoga students that I also teach cycling ("spinning") classes.

It's an obvious surprise -- cycle classes are known to be more like bootcamp than the "honor your body" tone of most yoga classes.

But if you've practiced yoga with good teachers, you've certainly heard them tell you that all of life is really our yoga practice. We might dedicate an hour each day, or maybe even a few minutes here and there, to coming to our mat, focusing on our breath, performing asana, and blocking out the rest of the world for those moments. But when we leave our mats, our yoga practice doesn't end. It travels with us into each moment of our waking lives. It is one of the goals of our continued yoga practice to start to see this fact. When we're new to yoga, we see it as a distinct moment or series of moments. But as we learn more about ourselves and delve deeper into our practice, we make every moment our yoga.

So to me, every moment can be yoga, and more, any moment can be a meditation. Whatever action brings you to a place of total focus, meditation, and release -- that can be your yoga. There's nothing special about warrior pose or tadasana. They have wonderful benefits to our bodies, but so do many postures we don't do in yoga practice. Our asanas, our vinyasas, aren't some mystical secret. We do them in class only because that's what's been passed down to us.

If practiced mindfully, and with positive, non-violent intention, cycling can absolutely be yoga, and that's the attitude I bring to my bike when I'm teaching. And what's amazing is how many of my cycling students have started coming to yoga after cycling with me, and started to view their bodies and their workouts completely differently.

Cycling is yoga to me, and so is rock-climbing. That's my best moving meditation of all.

Maybe for you it's running, or hiking, or playing with your kids, or cooking for your friends or family. Whatever brings you here, to this present moment, through focused action -- that's your asana practice. So take advantage of that! Tune in, go with the flow, and enjoy it.

Much love,
Tanja

8.24.2006

Upcoming Events

Los Angeles is an easy place to be a yogi. The overcrowding, traffic, and smog notwithstanding, there are lots and lots of opportunities to get your yoga groove on in this city. Here are a couple of upcoming events that I will certainly not miss... and you shouldn't either:

Friday, September 8, 8:00-10:00 p.m., Snatam Kaur in concert at Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood. I can remember the first time I heard Snatam's voice, and she remains one of my very favorite mellow chanting artists. Up there with Deva Premal.

Saturday, September 9, 8:00-10:00 p.m., Yoga Trance Dance with Shiva Rea at Sacred Movement in Venice. Shiva is one of my biggest inspirations, and I attend her workshops every chance I get. All Vinyasis out there should definitely check her out.

Saturday, September 23, 8:00-10:00 p.m., Kirtan with Dave Stringer at Sacret Movement in Venice. Dave is one of the current pop stars of the kirtan circuit, and lots of fun to chant with. I'll be out of town for this show but thought it was worth posting anyway.

Saturday, November 11, 7:oo p.m., Yoga Trance Dance with Shiva Rea at Golden Bridge Yoga. More Shiva, closer to (my) home.

And the second Bhagavan Das and Krishna Das decide to come back to town, I'll be first in line...

(Sorry for all the props to Golden Bridge and Sacred Movement... they're the ones hosting all the good stuff these days!)

Current Class Schedule

Hi there, dear students --

My schedule has been in flux lately, but here's the real deal...

Yoga:
Mondays, 6:00-7:00 a.m., 24Hour Fitness Hollywood -- members only
Tuesdays, 7:30-9:00 p.m., Golden Bridge Yoga
Wednesdays, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Golden Bridge Yoga
Wednesdays, 8:00-9:00 p.m., 24Hour Fitness West Hollywood -- members only
Thursdays, 7:30-9:00 p.m., Golden Bridge Yoga
Saturdays, 10-11:30 a.m., Gold's Gym Downtown LA -- members only
Sundays, 9:30-11:00 a.m., Golden Bridge Yoga
Sundays, 12:00-1:00 p.m., 24Hour Fitness Hollywood -- members only

Cycling:
Tuesdays, 6:00-7:00 a.m., 24Hour Fitness La Cienega -- members only
Wednesdays, 7:00-8:00 p.m., 24Hour Fitness West Hollywood -- members only
Saturdays, 8:00-9:00 a.m., 24Hour Fitness La Cienega -- members only

Lots of love,
Tanja