Yoga for the Not-Totally-Self-Absorbed

Image courtesy of Flickr

It’s sometimes hard to justify a yoga class. The day-to-day challenges of life in NYC are pretty time-consuming, and the bigger picture is full of oil spills and underprivileged children and other important causes that need help. How is a full two-hour practice, or even a five-minute routine, really going to make the world a better place?

Tina Fey, for example, has “thought about yoga, even done it a couple times” but says “While it would be great to work out an hour a day, there is something inherently sort of selfish about it. I can’t do it.” [quoted on YogaDork]

On the other end of the extreme, we have Michael Stone. He pursued a scholar’s path with full dedication. But that route still exposed the conflict with daily life.

Michael Stone
Michael Stone

When I began practicing yoga my primary focus was the physical practice of yoga postures and every morning for the first six years, I woke up to practice at five o’clock, six days a week. I sat in meditation for an hour, followed by standing postures, twists, forward bends, an hour of back bending and inversions and finally breakfast. When I had any free time, I attended academic lectures on Indian philosophy, completed two degrees in psychology and religion and studied Sanskrit; but the formality of my practice began to feel separate from the world I moved through and I felt that formal practice and daily life had little in common. The connection between meditation, the physical practice of yoga, and the spiritual discipline to which it belonged became ambiguous and vague and though I could intellectually grasp the connection between waking up the body and stilling the mind, I didn’t understand how to put these practices into action in everyday life. While I was having significant insights in meditative practices, I felt formal practice and daily life were not seamlessly woven.

This is true for many contemporary yoga practitioners, and as I now teach extensively, the most common question I hear is how to integrate philosophy, body practices, meditation and daily life together with one’s role in relationships, concerns about the world around us, and the desire to take action in a world out of balance. Even when students begin having genuine experiences of insight or meditative quietude, I always ask them how they are going to incorporate these experiences into their daily activities. How does spiritual practice support and motivate our choices and ambitions? How can my personal enlightenment be the goal of practice if there is so much suffering around me? If the domain of any spiritual tradition is the relief and transformation of suffering, what does yoga, one of the great spiritual traditions, have to say about contemporary forms of suffering and existential disorientation?

If you’re interested in these questions, Michael is giving a lecture this Friday at The Shala, and teaching two classes the next day.

yoga for a world out of balance: teachings on ethics, art and social action
public talk with michael stone, author, teacher, psychotherapist and activist

friday, may 7
6 to 8 pm
$15 suggested donation

drawing on his latest book, michael will offer practical suggestions for bringing yoga into our personal, social and ecological lives and how we can share the core teachings of yoga with our friends and students without imposing a belief system. drawing on patanjali’s teachings on ethics michael will talk about how to integrate ethics into our lives internally (like working with self-judgement patterns), in relationships (flexibility and withdrawing projections) and in community (taking action) so that our spiritual practice is fully engaged with the world. this is the heart of yoga: non-separation and action.

asana is pranayama: maturing yoga postures in depth with michael stone
saturday, may 8
9:15 to 11:45 am and 2 to 4 pm
$35 per class or $55 for both (class cards accepted)

yoga postures don’t mature by adding more spectacular “moves,” but rather through tuning into the subtle movements of the breath, attention and bandhas. in this detailed class we will slow down some familiar sequences to learn how asana can become a practice of pranayama leading to deep meditative insight and ease and teaching us how to approach yoga practice psychologically. if you do not have a pranayama practice or if you are learning how to teach pranayama in an asana class, or if you’re interested in applied yoga psychology, this should be an excellent class.

More info and registration here:

2 thoughts on “Yoga for the Not-Totally-Self-Absorbed”

  1. Cool post, Erica. Thank you for the great class resources. I love Tina Fey, but I ave to disagree with her on this one. When I take the time to take care of myself, I’m able to give much more, and much more readily.

  2. Totally agreed, Christa. It’s like I’m two different people, with and without a regular practice. I far prefer the former, think the world does too!

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