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Lois Nesbitt

Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,

With the holiday season upon us, I find myself reflecting on the year behind us. Not quite the rollercoaster that was 2008, during which we saw our economy plummet and the first black man rise to president. Last year, anything seemed possible, from dark to light. This year felt more like one long aftershock, as the new reality kicked in on all fronts.

While jobs continue to evaporate, banks claim more homes they don’t want, and no one can get a loan for anything, the pundits bounce up and down from day to day, pronouncing that the recession is over, nearly over, not nearly over, or just beginning. I guess Americans just can’t abide not knowing. We need labels, we crave answers, we want it all spelled out in black and white—or black and red! Meanwhile stocks go up and down, riding the adrenalin waves of the happy few on Wall Street who somehow remain oblivious to the hard knocks of life out here.

Along the way, our president humbly accepted the Nobel Peace Prize just after announcing a troop surge destined to draw us farther into war in Afghanistan, with Iraq’s unfinished business looming on the dark horizon.

Among my (mostly) Blue friends and in the media and the opinion polls, it’s been an autumn of Obama-bashing, as disillusionment set in. Where is the savior we elected? Where is the anti-Bush, the man who was going to take down big business, lead the little guy or gal safely through financial meltdown, and pull us out of imperialist wars fought amid and against cultures we barely understand? Who was going to make healthcare a basic right?

Sadly, that man never existed. Yet we Americans will idealize; it’s part of our lovable (and highly empowering) optimism. But when anyone fails to live up to our ideals, we treat our own disillusionment as a betrayal. We toss celebrities into the stratosphere, then express shock when they cheat on their spouses, gamble away fortunes, end up in rehab. Many of us do the same with ourselves: we set impossible goals for our professional achievements, our relationships, our yoga practice. Then the messy, muddy quicksand of life snares us, and we feel like Yurtle the Turtle, dropped to the bottom of the pond. Unable, unworthy, worthless.

Yoga offers a way out of this all-or-nothing, good-or-evil bipolar thinking. In Anusara yoga, each principle or action in the body has a corresponding complementary action. Inner spiral of the thighs followed by outer spiral, engagement by expansion, expansion by engagement. Balanced action rather than pendulum swing. In all poses, we hug toward the physical midline of the body, for the place of the middle is the gateway to the heart. When we are hanging out at one end of the pendulum, we are not being true to ourselves or to others. None of us is all good or all bad, all Blue or all Red, all black or all white. None of us has all the answers; no one is completely clueless. The world is not populated by angels and devils, saviors and sinners, but by little humans constantly aligning and misaligning, acting from love and generosity, from fear and anger.

We need to see ourselves in the round, in three dimensions, as well as through the passage of time. Tantra tells us that we each contain the universe; we are every character in the story.

Thing is, we can’t always see our shadow sides, the stuff we’ve hidden even from ourselves for so long that we don’t even recognize it.  We can see ourselves reflected in each other—which is why it’s so important to hang out with people who are different from us.  A few years ago a student of mine helped found an organization devoted to nonpartisan debate. His feeling was that the two sides of any political/world issue never listen to each other. The group stages debates on specific topics, with speakers from both (or all!) sides of the issue, to open up real discussion and allow for informed difference. The problem is, the nonprofit organization struggles to stay alive because most of us only want to support causes we already believe in!  Interested in the other half? Check them out at citizenjoe.org.

One thing our president does seem to possess is the rare gift of thoughtful listening. I think he’s gotten as far as he has because he’s willing to listen to all sides. It’s a skill the rest of us could cultivate, if only to better understand ourselves. Yoga has always encouraged the inward turn of self-scrutiny; Tantra added the twist that wherever we go, wherever we look we will find ourselves—but we have to be not just looking but seeing with our mind’s and heart’s eye. Understand the world, understand each other, and you will understand yourself. We are all made of the same stardust. And, as Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself:

I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself!
I am vast
I contain multitudes!

So let’s all step down from the bandstand, stop seeing ourselves as cardboard signs, admit and allow each his or her unique mishmash of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, principles. Accept and embrace our inconsistencies and absurdities.


I continue to rack up flyer miles, this past fall with a return to Japan and China for more intensive work with the budding Asian Anusara community.  I love the focus and zeal of the Chinese students as much as the quiet receptivity of the Japanese. I hate the return-home jetlag, which for days afterward descends without warning like a summer squall, leaving me tangled up and blue.

Thank God, I return to teaching stateside, and there’s nothing like the warmth of a roomful of eager students to light up the spirit.  My weekend immersions in East Hampton have become the highlight of my weeks. Gathering to practice surrounded the splendid scenery of the East End, these groups have moved through the depths of winter, spring’s awakening, fall’s abundance, and now back to snowdrifts too high to walk through.  Our insanely talented chef James Chew, who put in some serious years of training at the best restaurants in New York and Asia, continues to astound us with feasts fit for kings. Our champion fire-builder keeps a blaze going, and everyone sleeps more soundly through the silent nights. Even the house seems to expand with our energy and heave a deep contented sigh when we pile into cars and onto trains Sunday evening.

My yoga classes at Physique 57 in New York continue to usher more curious students into the magic of yoga. Some have put in time on the mat before I meet them, others are “virgins.” But all have taken to the extraordinary precision, and many have found relief from niggling aches, pains, and limitations through small shifts in their alignment. Brings out my missionary zeal! I feel like we just can’t get the word out fast enough. Far too many people get injured, or make existing injuries/imbalances worse, through practicing yoga. It breaks my heart and baffles my mind that with all of the technological gizmos at our fingertips, it’s still going to take some time for high-grade yoga to circle the globe. After all, yoga is still best handed teacher to student, body to body.


My yoga year ended on a high note last week, when I traveled to Anusara yoga founder John Friend’s home in The Woodlands, Texas. I serve on the Anusara Curriculum Committee, which oversees our rigorous, multi-tiered training system for both students and aspiring teachers. Having clocked more hours (okay, years) in higher education than I like to admit, at the country’s top universities, I naturally value the learning process and all that it entails. I am proud to say that Anusara truly is the Ivy League of yoga, and our standards are rising every year.  While this has been John’s vision from the start, being invited into the process of shaping Anusara yoga into the future is both exciting and humbling. Our committee, made up of some of Anusara’s brightest lights, came together with such clarity, effectiveness, and openness that I can only credit to our combined decades of heartfelt yoga practice.

To top it all off, John invited us to visit his home and the core of his home, a book-lined room that houses his puja (altar). Every inch of surface (including the ceiling!) was covered with gifts from teachers and students, objects of personal and divine value, inspirations abounding. Sitting in silent meditation amid it all, I felt like I had truly entered the heart of Anusara.

John also gave us a tour of the office, where I got to match faces with the names that respond to all my emails, answer my phone calls, and generally keep Anusara running like a well oiled ship. Here too were posters from John’s teaching tours and gifts from students, hundreds of daily reminders of the web that spins us all together.

You too are part of that web, part of my web, part of the whole. As we enter these holidays and nights, take a moment to honor the divine being that you are, in all your splendid entirety. Draw those you love into your heart, and say a prayer for anyone you still hold at a distance. Those on the other side often turn out to be our most powerful teachers/guides. Here’s to Red, Blue, and Purple!

Finally, my tropical retreat is just a week away. If you’ve had enough of snow and ice, or just want to get the New Year off to the best possible start, there are still a few spots open. Take advantage of the post-holiday airfares to join us for a week of yoga and sunshine at our oceanfront lodgings, surrounded by ancient Mayan ruins. Top off the day with a mango margarita and fish fresh from the nearby waters.  I’m co-teaching this one with my good friend Jessica Bellofatto. Interested? Don’t delay! Contact Jessica@jessicabellofattoyoga.com.

Holiday Joy to you all!

Lois Nesbitt

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Yoga News, January 2009