Jan 24 2013

Hometown Yoga Heroes: Trace Bonner

Erica Rodefer Winters

When I first moved to Charleston a couple of years ago I was thrilled that my apartment was only a few miles from Holy Cow Yoga Studio (little did I know that a “few miles” could take up to 30 minutes in Charleston traffic). The first yoga class I went to here was led by Trace Bonner. From the first Downward Dog, I knew I’d found a teacher I’d be able to connect with—this lady says what she means and means what she says. She’s direct, relatable, and funny in a way that comes so naturally I don’t think she even thinks about it—it’s just who she is. This is a quality that, for me, is the difference between a good yoga teacher and a great one. So I wanted to talk more to her about her approach to the yoga practice and find out what makes her tick.
Here’s what she had to say:

What’s one thing you wish you had known about yoga when you first started practicing?

That it is not about becoming flexible. I think in the beginning years of taking yoga I strived toward attaining the perfect posture. However, after some time I realized that it was more about being more flexible in my mind. I slowly let go of the rigidity of things in my life being a certain way. I let go of pacifying my ego’s wants and desires without deeper contemplation. And so, I think yoga has the ability to slowly transform one’s mental suffering.

 What’s your favorite pose at the moment? What are you learning from it?

I have always loved Downward Facing Dog. It remains the most evolving posture I do daily. Something about being tipped upside down and feeling the power of my arms and legs working in unison. I consistently find a deep and prayerful space to watch the breath and mind at play while hanging in there viewing the world from a completely different perspective.

What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Truth is one, paths are many. This is the famous teaching from my teacher, Swami Satchidananda. When I was younger I grew up believing that there was one way to connect to my highest spiritual self (God).. And yet, during those years I never bought into that way of thinking. It felt so exclusive, and I didn’t feel God could ever be that way. So, when I met my teacher you can imagine my joy of discovering that it was OK to have varying beliefs, and each one held a valid way of experiencing the divinity of God. I felt a wave of relief that we could each find our own path and they were all equally going to get us to the same place. I continue to share that teaching.

To read more visit: http://spoiledyogi.blogspot.com/2013/01/hometown-yoga-heroes-trace-bonner.html


Jan 9 2013

Hometown Yoga Heroes Series

Megan

In 2004, I visited a friend in Seattle, Washington who had gotten into “yoga” and couldn’t wait to bring me to a class.  My only prior yoga experience had been a do-yoga-at-home video that my spine doctor had recommended to help my scoliosis.  I did it twice, got bored, and decided that I didn’t like “yoga.”  Since my friend really wanted me to try her class, I went.  I figured, how could a bit of stretching hurt at all?  However, just a few minutes into the class, I was shocked to learn that this “yoga” was nothing like the video version.  I felt like I was going to pass out and die the entire time- I was miserable- and decided that “yoga,” whatever it was, wasn’t for me, again.

A year after college I moved down to Charleston and was spending a lot of time on the beach.  I still hadn’t lost my freshman 15 (plus the sophomore through senior 15) and I needed a new workout.  My good friend, Ali, suggested I come with her to a “yoga” class.  I remembered my first two attempts and told her I didn’t like “yoga.”  She somehow convinced me to come with her to a class, and I was surprised once again.  Her class was very different from both the video and my Seattle venture.

I ended up trying a dozen other classes over the next few months and realized that even though the titles contained the word “yoga,” they were all incredibly different.  Even when the subcategory names were identical, each teacher created a different experience.  There was one class that I found myself attending every week.  It kicked my butt to the level I needed, mentally and physically.  At the end of the class, the teacher always seemed to have the perfect message that was exactly what I needed to hear to conquer my issues at the time.  I loved it.

A few years went by and yoga had changed my life in remarkable ways.  I would try to influence everyone I crossed paths with to try yoga.  Most people would say they had been to a class or two but didn’t like it.  I would explain how there were many different styles of yoga and tell them that it took me trying at least a dozen different classes before I found what fit me best.  This is what motivated me to start CharlestonYogi.com.  With teachers writing about yoga from their unique perspectives, it gives practitioners (and non-practitioners) a chance to see the wide range of options available in Charleston.  My hope was that it would help people find their style before giving up on yoga- as I did several times.

As it turns out, there are others who share my vision.  Local yoga teacher and writer, Erica Rodefer Winters shared a similar desire with me recently.  In an attempt to get to know some of what Charleston has to offer yogis from all walks of life, she decided to interview some of the biggest movers and shakers in the yoga community and understand what makes them tick.  And she wants to share their stories with the community, too, so we can all benefit from their collective wisdom!  She’ll be posting the interviews on her blog, SpoiledYogi.com, and we’ll also share some here.  It is a bi-weekly series all about Charleston’s hometown yoga heroes.  We hope it will inspire your health and fitness goals, and maybe even entice you to mix up your practice by trying a new class or two in spirit of the New Year!

Wishing everyone a very happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year- with lots of sweating!

Megan

 

 

Hometown Yoga Heroes:

Andrea Boyd

Interview by Erica Rodefer Winters

 

Jivamukti Yoga is known for its dynamic classes including chanting, lessons from yoga philosophy, and challenging poses set to music. Jivamukti Yoga Charleston founders Andrea Boyd and Jeffrey Cohen have a close relationship with Jivamukti Yoga founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. And one of the things that makes this studio so special is that Jivamukti Yoga Charleston is the ONLY Jivamukti Yoga School outside of New York City. You won’t find anything quite like it anywhere else!

I caught up with Andrea to learn more about her, the studio, and the yoga scene at Jivamukti Yoga Charleston. Here’s what she had to say:

What’s one thing you wish you had known about yoga when you first started practicing?

I wouldn’t change a thing. I guess if I had to say something it would be knowing about a compassionate diet sooner.

What’s your favorite pose at the moment? What are you learning from it?

At the moment, I am lying down on my teacher’s daybed, which is indeed a favorite pose. I like being with my teachers. What am I learning from it? The details.

A vegan diet/lifestyle is an important part of Jivamukti Yoga, correct? Can you briefly explain why?

Yes, that is correct. Vegetarianism is an important part of yoga, period. Not just the method that we teach. The yoga scriptures state very clearly to avoid eating animals. Eating clean and gentle food is wise if interested in having health of the mind and body—skin, organs, etc., a healthy earth, and earthlings.

It is a feeling decision. Yogis strive to live harmoniously with all other beings to the highest capacity. Limiting the amount of suffering we cause to all—humans included. Kindness and compassion for animals can lead one to feel their own essence, which is the same as that of the animals. It brings great joy and peace to oneself and the atmosphere to not kill gentle, innocent animals. Love has no limits or boundaries, unless we create them.

To read the rest of the interview visit: http://spoiledyogi.blogspot.com/2013/01/hometown-yoga-heroes-andrea-boyd.html


Jul 14 2010

The Heart of Yoga: A Young Yogi’s Perspective

Matthew Foley

As I’ve begun my journey as a new yoga teacher over the past year, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the essence or heart of yoga. What is it exactly about yoga that makes me passionate both as a student and now a teacher?

It’s difficult of course to talk about THE heart of yoga, since yoga means many different things to many different people. One of the most noticeable aspects of the modern-day yoga community here in the States is the incredible diversity of reasons why people come to a yoga class. If you were to conduct a poll of people entering any given yoga studio and ask “Why did you come today?”, I think you would be amazed at the variety of responses.

Some are coming simply for a good workout. Some are coming for a personal oasis during the day – a chance to get away from the job, the to do list, the day-to-day grind. Some are coming to recover from injuries and wounds, both physical and psychological. And some come seeking the more spiritual aspects of the yoga tradition – to discover their true selves and perhaps find a little bliss along the way.

I think it’s quite a positive thing that many people are coming to a yoga practice from so many different perspectives. I think it actually speaks to (if you will excuse the pun) the flexibility of yoga in meeting a wide-range of needs of the modern person. Not bad for a tradition that’s been around for several millennia.

As I go into this question of the heart of a yoga practice, I realize that I can only really speak for myself and from my own experiences along the path. I am also a firm believer in the maxim “One Truth, Many Paths” – that there is a multitude of ways to express the same perennial truth. I realize that my words are, at best , mere fingers pointing at the moon.

Even though I can only speak of the heart of my yoga practice, I still think these thoughts may be helpful to someone at the beginning of their yoga path or someone interested in seeing things from a different perspective.

So, I come to this question: when I am teaching a yoga class to a group of students, what am I really trying to get across, what am I really hoping to share with them?

The heart of what I hope to cultivate in a yoga class – whether as teacher or student – is essentially an inner experience. It isn’t so important to me that I or anyone else perfects any one particular posture. I don’t think there is anything magical about an asana in and of itself – as if doing a perfect Virabhadrasana II is the mysterious ticket to everlasting nirvana. I think some people were born to do the uber-flexible advanced postures of yoga – but many of us aren’t.

I’m also not particularly interested in advancing a particular belief system. I think yoga’s current appeal in the West in terms of spiritual matters is that it offers a way of relating to spirituality – of connecting to the sacred, to the divine, to God – that isn’t about believing one particular way or subscribing to a specific dogma.

I believe yoga’s true gift (though it obviously doesn’t belong exclusively to yoga) is an inner experience of transformed awareness. In other words, yoga provides a radically new way of feeling our connection to the world and a transformed way of experiencing ourselves.

As we relax, expand, and open both the body and mind throughout the course of a yoga class, we clear a space within ourselves that is ordinarily cluttered by all the anxieties, fears, tensions, and doubts of our fast-paced lives. Within this cleared, open space, something else, something deeper, something more profound finally has the chance to speak.

If we are bold enough to listen, we find that it is our true selves – a self not exclusively rooted, however, to the narrow confines of me and mine, my story and my wants. This open, expanded self doesn’t necessarily reject what we feel we need and want in life, but it puts it all in a fresh, expanded perspective. I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that a spiritual practice is meant to help us transcend our earthly existence, as if there is something wrong with being a living, breathing human being on planet earth. In fact, my experience has been that a yoga practice helps us reconnect to the splendor of just being who we are, in a gorgeously interdependent world of plants, animals, sunshine, mountains, and all the wonders of life.

This newfound connection to life, brought about by the transformation of our consciousness, offers not just a solution to our modern sense of alienation and dissatisfaction, but also offers a blueprint for relating in a more ethical and responsible way to our fellow human beings and our ecological environment.

At this point, you may be asking: isn’t this a tall order for an hour-long asana class, often scheduled between one student’s business meeting and another’s commute to pick the kids up from school? Well, in my opinion, the heart of yoga doesn’t reside within the walls of any one yoga studio, nor does it always involve a yoga mat. Yoga is a transformative way of living one’s life, right here and now, whether you are attempting a headstand or folding the laundry, whether in deep meditation or looking into the eyes of your loved one.

I hope these thoughts bring some new inspiration and insight to your practice, whether you are just beginning or have been at it for many, many years. Yoga can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, so I share this not to convince you of the “right” way to do yoga, but to hopefully inspire you to find the heart of your yoga practice.


Jul 5 2010

The Yoga of Social Action

Matthew Foley

I came to yoga with a strong interest in social activism. As a college student, I was active in campus campaigns, attended anti-war rallies, helped start three organizations, and spent most of my weekend volunteering. In fact, the person who invited me to my first yoga class was a man I met not at a meditation retreat, but at a campus dialogue about race relations.

As I started going to yoga classes more often and learning more about the philosophy behind yoga, I immediately starting asking questions about how yoga related to the world I was dealing with as an activist: politics, poverty, race, gender, environmental destruction, violence, and injustice. I heard my teachers speak about peace and compassion, tolerance and openness, but I wondered about the ability of yoga to be completely relevant in the messy and often tragic events of our world.

Like many people, it took me a while to shake off my conception of yoga as something otherworldly. Our image of a yogi is still often shaped by images of lonely men in caves, meditating for hours on end, their focus set on God, with no contact with communities or people. This otherworldliness still infuses the Western perceptions of many of the spiritual traditions of India & Asia, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism.

I sought to learn about individuals who have bridged this apparent gap between social action and spirituality. I read more about familiar names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, but also learned about heroic individuals like Thich Nhat Hanh, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Cesar Chavez. All of them saw a spiritual practice as the foundation for a life dedicated to serving others.

As I learned about these figures, I also dug into my own experience of walking these two paths. My path of social awareness deeply influenced my yoga practice. Instead of staying stuck in that otherworldliness of yoga, my practice has become a more down-to-earth path over the years. I don’t look for enlightenment or samadhi as some blissed-out haze of detachment from the things of this earth. Instead, I see my practice as being mindful and grateful for the day-to-day – even seemingly mundane – events and people of my everyday life: the brilliance of a blue sky, the sound of my cat purring while I rub his belly, the sound of beautiful music, the joy of being with the people I love.

My yoga practice has also deeply influenced my path as an activist. One thing I’ve learned is how the world of politics and social change can be filled with a strong sense of duality – a mentality of us vs. them, of absolute right vs. absolute wrong. Yoga has constantly reminded me to remember the humanity of the people I may disagree with and to treat them with respect and compassion even as we may debate or argue over what is the right thing to do. Yoga has sustained me personally, helping me keep burn-out at bay, and keeping me from getting too cynical about the world’s problems. I realized that to truly love humanity and this planet was not just to care and worry about its problems, but also to appreciate and take joy in its beauty. It is just as important to stop and smell fresh flowers as it is to attend the next big peace rally.

These interconnections have led me to see that the path of spirituality and the path of social action are not separate. They can merge together as a powerful tool for both personal and global transformation. This is because, according to yogic philosophy, the individual and the universe are not separate.

The physical practice of yoga (asana) allows us to experience ourselves as a whole organism – mind, body, and spirit. The larger philosophy and path of yoga allows us experience ourselves – ordinarily believed to be separate from what lies beyond our skin – as inherently inseparable from the entire organism of existence. This is the true meaning of yoga: union.

This united organism of existence includes our natural environment, our social environment, our political environment, and the environment of our own bodies and psyches. All of them need our attention and our compassion if we are to experience peace, both personally and globally.

I think the yoga community would benefit from a more vibrant and engaged conversation about the connections between practices of yoga and meditation and the interconnected world outside of our yoga studios and meditation halls. I’m not suggesting that yoga classes become soapboxes or group meditations become political action meetings. I simply believe that yoga and other meditative practices can be powerful forces for good on this planet if we seek ways to more deeply practice peace and compassion – both on and off the yoga mat.

~ Matthew Foley


May 25 2010

Mind/Body Harmony

Matthew Foley


I had a really phenomenal experience this past Sunday morning teaching a yoga class to a dance group at the College of Charleston. About a dozen people showed up for the class, which took place in a beautiful dance room located inside the brand new Cato Arts Center on the CofC campus. In preparing for the class, I did a lot of thinking about what a yoga practice might offer people who are passionate about dance and creative movement.

One of the central aspects of yoga is cultivating a harmonious relationship between mind and body. Such harmony is of course essential to creating beautiful and graceful movement in dance. In many Eastern spiritual paths, the mind and the body are seen as equal halves of an integral whole. This is the philosophy of yin and yang: things that appear to be opposites – light and dark, tall and short, earth and sky, spirit and flesh – are in fact inseparably connected with one another.

In Western culture, however, there is a very rigid division between mind and body. In the last year, I’ve stumbled upon a number of brilliant Western thinkers who have addressed this division and the disharmony is creates in individuals.

The first is Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on human creativity, who gave a brilliant address at the 2006 TED Conference on creativity in children and whether or not educational systems around the world do an adequate job of fostering that creativity. (The whole talk is worth watching, but the part I’ll be focusing on begins around the 9:00 minute mark).

During his talk, he spoke about the fact that almost all schools around the world tend to place a great emphasis on language and mathematics over the arts, particularly drama and dance. He says: “As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist-up. Then we focus on their heads – and slightly to one side.”

He goes on to describe what type of person this emphasis on head-only education creates, particularly in the form of the stereotypical academic professor: “They live in their heads. They live up there – and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s a way of getting their heads to meetings.”

Another brilliant thinker I’ve come across in the past year is Alan Watts, who came to popular attention during the 1960’s as an interpreter of Eastern spiritual traditions (especially Zen Buddhism) for Western audiences. In one of his talks featured on YouTube, delightfully illustrated by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, he addresses this split between mind and body that exists in the West and how it shapes our sense of self.

“I’ve always been tremendously interested in what people mean by the word “I” – because it comes out in curious lapses of speech. We don’t say: “I am a body.” We say: “I have a body.” Somehow we don’t seem to identify ourselves with all of ourselves. We say “my feet,” “my hands,” “my teeth,” as if they were something outside me. As far as I can make out, most people feel that they are something or other about halfway between the ears and a little ways behind the eyes, inside the head. That’s what you call the “ego.” That’s not what you are at all, because it gives you the idea that you are a chauffeur inside your own body – as if you your body were an automobile and you are the chauffeur principle inside it.”

The point that both Robinson and Watts are making is that when we identify primarily with our mind and our thoughts, we disconnect ourselves from our bodily existence. The results are usually disastrous, particularly in our modern culture. We stuff food into our mouths that are deeply gratifying to the mind (products high in fat and processed sugar) but which are nutritionally disastrous to the body. On the opposite extreme, we flock to gyms in order to sculpt our bodies into an idealized mental image of what we should like like – usually based on digitalized media images of the super skinny or ultra buff.

What is lacking is a deep listening to the wisdom of the body. Oftentimes, we only start to listen when we are forced to, usually as a result of an illness or life-threatening condition. Many people then realize that they must flip their entire life-style upside down and start living from a more holistic understanding of themselves.

Many of these people, of course, find their way to yoga classes and meditation retreats. A great deal of the popularity of such practices as yoga, tai chi, and seated meditation are found in the fact that they help cultivate a holistic way of looking at the world and our place in it. These practices are based on the realization that the mind and body form an inseparable wholeness – just as each individual human being, animal, or plant is an integral part of the interdependent environment in which they live. The process of yoga, in my mind, is a process of extending the feeling of identity outwards, away from the narrow confines of our egos, and connecting with our bodies, our communities, the planet, and the universe.

In the yoga class I taught to the dance group, I continually encouraged the participants to focus on their breath. The breath is an incredible tool for helping us cultivate mind/body harmony. Mindful breathing helps us turn down the volume on our mental noise so that the wisdom of the body may begin to be heard. A yogi or dancer can then begin to truly feel his or her body. They can begin to discover where they are tight or sore, where they hold anxiety or stress, in what movements they feel confident or terrified. This deep listening to the body can give us insight into the ways we live and in what ways we may need to change.

When the body and mind begin to move and function as one, we become more effective in what we do, we become more graceful and effortless in our actions, we become less worried and anxious in our inner lives. This is obviously helpful not just on the yoga mat or on the dance stage, but in all aspects of our lives.

So the question is… What might your body be trying to tell you? And if you start to really listen, what changes would begin to happen in your life?

~ Matthew Foley