Posts Tagged ‘tacoma’
ALBUQUERQUE YOGA VINYASA CHRIS COURTNEY
Last year I wrote an article, Retail Therapy For The Economically Recessed, which touched on the yogic restraint of aparigraha (non-hoarding, non-grasping). At the time, I approached it from the angle that most do; one of resisting the urge to consume ever more stuff and not taking more than you need.
While this is an important perspective to consider as the annual American orgy of consumption (aka the “holiday season”) approaches, I believe it only scratches the surface of how we can apply this yama (self-restraint) in our everyday lives. By observing other aspects of aparigraha, we can make the world a more civil and happy place to live. Isn’t that what the yamas are all about anyway?
It seems we’re always grasping for something we think we don’t have enough of; possessions, people’s attention, a great looking pincha mayrasana, or the accolades of others. One aspect on non-hoarding that comes to mind is the need for us to apply it to everyday conversations. You can live a most frugal and materially unselfish life but if you tend to dominate every conversation you’re in, you’re probably not living with aparigraha.
Sure, we all have something to say and want to be heard, but not hoarding the conversation and leaving space for others to offer their thoughts makes for more harmonious interactions. Besdies, we do learn more by listening!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak your truth – far from it. What I am saying is that in speaking your truth, explore your own intentions and ask yourself if you are allowing space for others to speak theirs as well. This also means taking the time to listen. not just finding someplace else to be (mentally or physically) when its someone else’s turn to speak.
What about other ways we interact with those around us, like the way we occupy space on the sidewalk, the studio, or the grocery store? After over a decade of living abroad I’m often still in culture shock when I see the way Americans physically occupy space, with little awareness or regard for how it affects others. Yes, I believe aparigraha applies here as well.
Sure, this hoarding of space can take the form of trying to have the biggest house, the biggest car or staking out your own 2 acres of space at the beach but its often much simpler than that.
It doesn’t matter whether its a group of friends walking five abreast on the sidewalk (and expecting everyone else to move out of the way) or the ones who block an entire grocery aisle with their cart while standing with their hands on their hips looking at an item – we Americans are space-hoarders.
As a tall guy with long arms and legs, I’ve always been hyper-sensitive about not taking up too much space since if I’m not mindful about it, its just going to happen – especially in a crowded yoga studio. I often joke that the reason I wanted to teach yoga was because it seemed that only at the front of the room could I fully stretch out my arms…but I digress.
Sure, we’re a country with a low population density and a cultural need for “personal space”, so we do seem to come by this one honestly. But, as our public spaces become more crowded, a little less space-hoarding and more personal awareness could go a long way to improving everyone’s quality of life.
Of course being mindful all the time that we’re not monopolizing a conversation, taking up too much space or too much of someone’s time can seem like it would require a lot of effort. Luckily, there is an easier way; living in abundance. As studio owner and author Meta Hirschl says in her book Vital Yoga: A Sourcebook For Students and Teachers; “Aparigraha also means gaining awareness and focusing on our inherent sufficiency instead of deprivation.”
So, instead of feeling the need to say everything you want to say in every conversation, living in abundance reminds us of the richness of thoughts and ideas someone else may have – which helps us to actively listen and engage others in real conversations, not a series of monologues. It also releases us from the feeling of insecurity that we need to grab space and attention while we can, lest an opportunity be lost.
And finally, living in abundance makes us aware of just how fulfilling our lives can be. If we practice this each day with a sense of gratitude, it won’t be long before we’re living with aparigraha without having to think about it.
So, in the coming weeks as the deluge of advertisements bombard us with messages designed to tell us what we lack, by living in abundance and gratitude we can blissfully smile and breathe our way through the season.
Plus, the space we’ll be leaving in the aisles of those stores by our absence will make it easier for others to embrace aparigraha in some way as well.
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal, November 2010.
For years, I’d thought about attending a yoga festival, but for so many reasons, wasn’t sure if I would fit in. Was a six foot 2 inch, 220 pound guy bendy or enlightened enough to fit in among all of those blissed-out yogis and rock star teachers?
So many yoga festivals seemed so far away; on either coast or on an island, and always in a five star hotel, not to mention the hefty registration fee. Yoga festivals and conferences seemed so inaccessible, I wondered if I’d ever experience one.
So it was late last spring while surfing the internet for an excuse to go back for a visit to northern Arizona that I happened upon an ad for the first annual Flagstaff Yoga Festival. Here was an approachable, grassroots festival with a reasonable price in a town I loved. Best of all, a big chunk of the festival proceeds were going to the Sierra Club and toward building a new Waldorf school in Flagstaff. Something just clicked in me—I had to go.
Just over 10 years ago, I rediscovered yoga while living in Flagstaff. I was looking for a way to improve my climbing and find more balance in life. It didn’t take but a few classes with Ulla Lundgren at The Yoga Experience to give a name to what my mother had taught me as a young boy; yoga. As the years passed and I bounced around from place to place, yoga ended up overtaking climbing as my main passion in life. So, a yoga festival in Flagstaff would be a homecoming of sorts.
Last summer, while driving across from Albuquerque I did get a little nervous, wondering again if I would fit in but, once back home amid the tall pines and clean mountain air, those concerns disappeared. Everything about the Flagstaff Yoga Festival seemed almost purposely designed to say “welcome all!” The event was held in a Waldorf school where you laid your mat down in elementary classrooms amid an atmosphere of early learning and discovery. Any apprehension I felt quickly melted away as the playful and unpretentious vibe of the event, not to mention being around hundreds of like-minded people, made me feel right at home .
Sure, there were no “rock star” instructors but it was like going into one of those Nashville cafes full of amazing musicians you’ve maybe never heard of – but won’t soon forget. Everything from the opening ceremony featuring Revital Carroll’s stunning Odissi dance to Tom Beall’s insightful Yin Yoga to Aubrey Hackman’s joyful Jivamukti classes (to name a few) made me wonder why I’d waited so long to attend such a festival.
And during a Thai Yoga Therapy class I discovered that I was not the only big guy grooving to the yoga vibe when I met (and partnered up with) the 6’7” Dan Gottlieb, a Phoenix/Detroit based yoga teacher better known as Yoga Dan. It was nice to know that if a former Arizona State basketball player can fit in, so can this broken down old climber.
“This was exactly the kind of atmosphere we tried to create, where people can get into their own experience,” said festival organizer Laura Brown in describing her vision for the sold-out event.
So now, having finally attended a yoga festival, I’m filling my calendar with more of them, especially the grassroots events like the Telluride Yoga Festival (July 8th to 11th), the World Peace Yoga Festival (October 21st-24th) and of course the Second Annual Flagstaff Yoga Festival to be held July 30th to August 1st. Sure, someday I hope to attend one of those fantastic big festivals sponsored by a well-known yoga center or magazine, but for now I’ve found my home (and so can you).
Photo: Rob Dutton
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal
No Passion, No Compassion.
For anyone trying to live a mindful and compassionate life, at some point you’re bound to be told not to take something too personally; like the plight of the poor, the impact of government policies, or something unkind said to someone we care about.
But doesn’t exercising compassion mean that we connect and take these things a little too personally (and no, I’m not talking about being offended by every little thing)?
How often these days do we hear messages telling us not to take something personally or that it’s “someone else’s problem”—encouraging us to disconnect from the world around us? To be fair, the person (usually a friend) giving us this advice probably doesn’t want to see us feel hurt or sad…but the message remains: disconnect and protect yourself.
If we take that advice, are we really being present in this world?
By taking the path of disconnection and living in a spiritual cocoon, we not only aren’t fully present but we render ourselves powerless to make a positive difference. Given the choices we make every day and their impact on the world around us, we can’t fully disconnect anyway.
To see our connection with others, we need to truly open ourselves up to it—and part of that means that we must acknowledge that some terrible things are going on in this world. Having the courage to bear witness to them can fuel the passion which drives our compassion.
Mother Teresa could have stayed in the convent praying for the rest of us, but instead she spent her life in the slums of Calcutta caring for the sick and poor. She certainly had the courage to connect, and was not afraid to live among and provide comfort to those with leprosy and other debilitating diseases.
This week in particular, we celebrate the memory of someone who had the courage to connect and a passion to fuel his compassion; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the news this week, you’ll probably hear him referred to as a “civil rights leader”—which he certainly was—but he was so much more. He was also a passionate advocate for peace and social justice. Above all, he was a champion of compassion, who asked us to take a sober look at whether we are truly living our values, and to do something about it. What was Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech (below) if not a call to connect with one another and live in harmony?
He not only fought for the rights of African-Americans, but for everyone, as highlighted in his Beyond Vietnam speech (also below) when he said that “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” He reminded us that in the presence of injustice, we shouldn’t just sit on the sidelines but that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
As we reflect this week on the memory of a man who had the courage to empathize and the passion to drive his compassion, we should recall that he asked us all to take it personally and get involved.
So, how about it? You don’t need to take on the whole world but chances are, you’ll encounter a situation today where you can make some small difference. It could be speaking your truth on an issue you care about, or stopping to help someone in need. If anything, today’s imbalanced world provides plenty of opportunities to get involved.
So, if you dare to live compassionately, connect and get involved—just remember that we should have an easier time of it since we are (in the words of Isaac Newton) “standing on the shoulders of giants”…like Dr. King.
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal in January, 2010
Buy Less, Live More.
Over the past year, we’ve heard more than a few observers state that the current economic downturn may have arrived just in time to save the planet from our excessive consumption. At the same time, it seems something even more powerful may be going on; this downturn could be helping us cleanse our souls.
While I would certainly not want to make light of the hardships faced by millions as they lose their jobs (and health care), there is no doubt about it: we are living in a new age of frugality. It’s a forced frugality, of course, but the result is the same: more people are learning to be happy with less. Gone are the days of packed parking lots at big box stores and throngs of shoppers exiting with big bags of gadgets and new clothes (often bought on credit). We forgot the difference between what we want and what we need—and many now have no choice but to re-learn this difference quickly.
The longer our economic malaise goes on, the more Americans are learning what millions in Namibia, Peru, and India knew already; happiness does not come from acquiring more stuff, and that “retail therapy” is highly overrated. We now see more people spending their Saturdays together in the park, checking out books at the library or planning a nice family dinner at home. We also see more people realizing that you don’t need to own something (like a flower or singing bird) to be enriched by its beauty.
This of course is bad news for advertisers and retailers, many of whose success depends on making you feel that you are missing something if you don’t buy their products. How will they sell to people who no longer feel that they lack much of anything? It’s much harder to convince you to keep up with the Jones’ when the Jones’ are wearing comfortable old jeans and planting carrots in the back yard.
So how can these businesses (which we rely on for food and jobs) still survive?
Simple: by inspiring people rather than making them feel they lack something. Is it any wonder that so many of the businesses thriving in the current economic climate tend to rely on inspiration to get their message across? And that inspiration must be authentic, otherwise we’re still not convinced.
But are frugality and inspiration enough?
My own father was not a yogi, but he certainly observed the yogic restraint (yama) of aparigraha, or non-hoarding and non-selfishness. A child of the Great Depression, he learned early on not to seek happiness from material things and other outside sources, but to find it within himself (in his spiritual tradition). His constant exhortation to us growing up was that “everything you need is right here” (while pointing to our hearts and heads).
He had never read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, nor its advice that “freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence”—but he certainly lived it. Today, millions of people seem to be learning the same lesson.
As the US economy began its sharp decline last year, my father feared that many people, after years of seeking happiness through material things, would be unable to cope with the coming hard times (which he had experienced as a boy). So, in the final months of his life while lying in a hospital bed dying of thyroid cancer, he penned one last book titled “Painting The Milkweeds” in the hope that some helpful lessons could be passed on.
Perhaps the most vivid story from the book (and a bedtime story we were often told) was of a Franciscan monk named Brother Aloysius Gilmartin, who embodied the spirit of selfless generosity and non-hoarding.
A prime example of Brother Aloysius’ selflessness happened one freezing Pennsylvania winter during the depths of the Great Depression. Seeing that he did not have anything to keep him warm outside, my grandfather had given Aloysius a new winter coat…and he showed up without it the following day. When asked what happened to the coat Aloysius replied:
“You see I saw an old man sitting on the curb, and he had no coat, so I gave him mine. He needed it more than I did.”
So, now that we are living in similar hard times, we may find we have an easier time looking inward for happiness rather than seeking it through material wealth or hollow achievements. At the same time, with increasing hardship all around us, we have more opportunities to look outward and practice compassion, just as Aloysius did.
What we do with these opportunities may have a lot to do with whether we lose our way again when the “good times” return—or whether we realize that those good times have always been here, provided we make them so for someone else.
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal in September, 2009.