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YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS MARCH 2007
Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,
One meaning of the word “Tantra” is “to stretch, to weave, to loom.” Being a good Tantric, I find that my net widens daily: since my last newsletter, I have been to Montclair, NJ, to Rochester, NY, to Costa Rica (again!), to Tokyo, and various points in between. Whenever yoga takes me on the road (or in the air), I think of that book titled “Wherever you go, there you are!” As I understand it, the book posits this as a problem: there’s no escaping yourself, so don’t hope to change by pulling a geographic. For me, the sentence celebrates the fact that wherever we go, there we are! What a relief to know that we don’t have to recalibrate our personalities, our beliefs, and our passions with each time zone. What joy to walk into a yoga studio in downtown Tokyo and be able to speak from my heart just as I write to you now.
And more delightful still, how great to find that wherever I go, there you are—students who love yoga as much as I do, and who revel in the teachings of this sacred tradition. While the mountains of Central America are a far cry from the teeming sprawl of urban Japan, and both more than a stone’s throw from my home base in Manhattan, these exotic locales have proven fertile grounds on which our yoga can grow.
Tantra tells us that the Divine is everywhere, and yoga is the connection. A global network of unseen wireless routers allow you to dial God from anyplace—all you have to do is remember to log on. While it’s easy to hook up to our kids (well, sometimes!), our pets, our favorite songs, Tantra challenges you to see the Divine in everything, from illness to “bad” weather to bad moods. Our yoga is about connecting to what is really happening (not pushing it way or denying it), then deciding how best to respond.
What happens when we connect? In a good connection, things shift around. After a good conversation with a friend or mentor, you emerge in a different place. Learning to argue with others, to face conflicting views and reach consensus or compromise, is one of life’s greatest skills. Similarly, yoga invites us to connect to ourselves, and in so doing to allow ourselves to evolve. On the mat we confront the reality of our aging bodies, rich in histories of use, misuse, neglect, and care. Yoga works from the outside in (from body to spirit) and from the inside out (from intention into manifestation). But we have to make the connection: we have to take the time to practice, and we have to show up with our minds and hearts as well as our bodies. We have to engage yoga, connect to ourselves through yoga, to feel the shifts. Similarly, meditation, sitting and watching the ripples of your own thoughts, can radically alter the structure and function of your mind--but like the Tibetan monks, we have to put in the hours to see the results!
Through connection, we grow. The universe is growing too; it’s not “done.” What we do matters; our very presence here alters the world. Look no further than your overflowing recycling bins, and you will see that you will not leave this place as you found it. What we do to the net, we do to ourselves, and vice versa. The greatest acts benefit the greater whole. When we feel cut off, alone, when we choose to disconnect, we operate from self-centered fear, thinking that somehow we can help ourselves while short-changing the rest. When we connect, when we plug into the web, we empower ourselves to act in ways that leave this place better for everyone.
This winter’s retreat found our merry band in the mountains of central Costa Rica, surrounded by gently climbing hills, bubbling brooks and waterfalls, and an abundance of tropical flora. The night sky, miles from the ambient light of any city, shone with hundreds of stars, layers and layers of lights, that we never see back home. The bright noonday sun warmed stones for sunbathing, and at dusk gentle fog rolled in to blanket the valley below.
To those of you who have yet to experience a retreat, I can only say “Go!” More than a yoga vacation, retreats offer you time to reconnect to the best in yourself and to see that mirrored back to you in others. Our closing circle is always a predictably teary event, as we all feel how close the week has brought us to each other and to ourselves. Start saving now for winter 2008!
GIDGET GOES TO TOKYO
I tend to go where I am invited. But to be honest, when Tokyo first appeared on the horizon last summer, I was not tempted. I mistakenly wrote down my future host’s phone number wrong, and it was only in a casual conversation with students a couple of months later that I was able to get the right number from her husband, a colleague of my students. Even then I resisted—too much time, too much travel, another big city.
Thank God I am surrounded by souls more adventuresome than I, many of whom have actually worked and lived in Japan. One by one, these folks emerged, telling me enticing stories of their time abroad. Add to that, Anusara Yoga’s bright new presence in Japan (make possible through the efforts of the Yoggy studios), capped by John Friend’s own visit to the capital in November 2006. Who knew the Japanese would take to yoga, and to Anusara’s heart-oriented yoga above all?
So, off I went, armed with some essential facts about this island culture. Number one: the 14-hour flight and 14-hour time difference will leave you bamboozled coming and going. Resistance is futile. Do the best you can. I used the long flight to read my Lonely Planet guide cover to cover, and now consider myself somewhat of an expert on Tokyo FAQ; the wee hours back on the ground went to practice. Number two: Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis of 18 million, with no street names and no street numbers. It’s true—I even bought a Streetwise Tokyo just to see what such a map would contain. A tiny filigree of zigzagging streets and thoroughfares, punctuated by shrines and palaces, media headquarters and high-end hotels--and nary a single street name.
To be fair, the brave citizens of Tokyo have organized a kind of proxy system of numbering neighborhoods and sections of streets—none of which appears on the map. So, predictably, the cab driver would get me close to my destination, and then we would circle, and circle. The cabbie from the airport the first night got so flummoxed he asked me to get out, bags and all, and find my own way.
Which brings up helplessness factor number 2: I can’t read Japanese. Lots of signs—especially advertisements and restaurant names—are actually in English, or French, but the more useful stuff remains lost to translation. Usually a fearless wanderer in foreign cities, in Tokyo I found myself shepherded around by students and studio staff, who kindly donated their time to getting the sensei to class. Thus, I have not seen very much of Tokyo, unless it happened to be on the way to one studio or another. My one free morning was split between a visit to the park around the Meiji Shrine (had not seen a tree for four days!) and a promenade down Omotosanda, a broad avenue lined with jewel-box boutiques by architectural stars like Herzog & DeMueron and Tadao Ando. Prada, Chanel, Gucci—if you can get it in New York, you can get it in Tokyo.
Best use of downtime in Tokyo: the public baths. Right on my corner (which I will never again be able to locate, for you or for me) was a traditional neighborhood bath. No frills here: tile floors and walls, fluorescent lights, rickety lockers with crude wooden keys, girls on one side, boys on the other. Average age of bathers: 70. All of Tokyo is built on volcanic rock, so wherever you dig, if you go down far enough, you will find hot springs. And I mean hot—the water literally bubbles up out of the earth in a rolling boil. The center of the earth literally explodes out of the ground here, just as the Divine peers out at us through the world’s many changing faces. One prolonged dip in the baths will ease away airplane snail asana, and give you the closest thing to a full night of jetlag-free sleep you will get in this amazing metropolis.
As for life back home this winter, I do not have a lot to report, except what you already know: it’s been a long, cold winter. During one particularly icy week my bike broke down twice—first the brakes froze, then the gears. Feeling compassion for my trusty steed, I invited the old clunker to sleep over in my apartment. I also did google search for bicycle sweaters and shawls—mohair? Pashmina? Gortex? We are both relieved to see signs of spring, to feel our joints more supple and to see the bike back outside where it belongs.
Last week we turned the corner toward the light with daylights’ savings and the first day of spring—perfectly timed with some freakishly warm weather. I’m always surprised how the first good weather makes us sluggish and sleepy, rather than bouncy and buoyant. They say our blood thickens in the cold weather, and that is exactly how I feel on the first balmy day. A brisk flow practice with back bends and inversions jumpstarts my seasonal clock. I encourage you to experiment with the same.
I’ll be continuing my New York City classes through till summer, including a new morning class at Virayoga (Thursdays 10:00am, starting April 1). Called “Yoga Nerd,” the new class zooms in on the details that can shift your whole practice. (And no, you don’t have to be a nerd to come—just bring your love of yoga!) Please join me in class and connect—to yourself, to me, to the city’s inspiring community of fellow yogins and yoginis.
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