I recently started a Meetup group here in Boulder, where there are already many Meetups and many fun things to do, but this one – BAE (Boulder Animals and Environment) YOGA – was not yet one of the many, so I started it.
Part of my motivation must be the feeling that there are others who feel as I do: that the contemporary “yoga” scene tends to be very narcissistic (despite all our prayers and lip service to the contrary) and that there must be a way to collectively combat this parasitic trend of self-centered absorption by more consistently and practically connecting our practice with the welfare of others – especially the welfare of otherwise defenseless animals and the environment.
Frankly, I am tired of seeing yoga practitioners drink factory farmed milk in disposable coffee cups that cannot even be recycled. Torturing cows and trashing the environment really diminishes the credibility of yoga as a relevant spiritual practice in our world today.
Don’t you think?
So far, over the past 2.5 weeks, this newly founded Meetup has amassed 33 members online. It has also hosted 4 events, and has had a total of 4 people (5 if we include myself) show up.
I’m not yet sure how to get more of our online members to actually show up in the real world.
The first Meetup was scheduled to celebrate Earth Hour at the local St. Julien Hotel here in Boulder. For “Earth (Happy) Hour”, the hotel bar would be shutting off all non-essential lights while offering live acoustic music with organic cocktails to inspire people to be more conscious of our energetic footprint on the Earth. When I first heard about the event, I thought it would be a great first occasion for the BAE YOGA Meetup: it is yoga practice to discern what’s essential and what’s not, to seek to lighten our ecological footprint on the Earth, and to come together in a celebration of natural light!
FYI: While Cooling (AC) & Refrigeration consume the greatest amount of electricity between the Residential and Commercial sectors in the USA, lighting is still a significant portion of our footprint! “The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2018, the U.S. residential sector and the commercial sector used about 232 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity for lighting. This was about 8% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 6% of total U.S. electricity consumption.” – EIA.GOV Check out the diagrams here from the EIA:
Also to note: this Meetup was spontaneously announced to provide a social setting in which we could chat about what we can and want to do as individuals and collectives to better care for this planet, to combat Climate Change and stand up for animal rights, while supporting a local business who was making a practical and symbolic gesture in this regard. It was not meant to encourage the consumption of alcohol on the path of yoga.
I know many people for whom yoga has been a life changing path to sobriety. A consistent practice of Ashtanga Yoga in particular has helped people to free themselves from devastating addictions, like drugs and alcohol, and to restore clarity and more sane connections with other people in their lives. Check out The Trini Foundation.
That said, everybody is different. Some yogis and yoginis drink alcohol. Some don’t. Several revered Tibetan yogis drank a lot of alcohol, including the local legend Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This does not sanctify drinking alcohol as a suitable activity for everybody. Either way, we are all in this together: drinkers and non-drinkers, alike.
So, it was kind of exciting going to the St. Julien bar that night, not really knowing if anyone from the Meetup would actually be there, and if they were there, who they would be. Indeed, one gentleman turned up. We had an interesting conversation.
This gentleman was European and had a physical manner of speaking that could be considered more common in certain areas of Europe. I lived in Europe for several years and have been told that I myself often speak with my hands like an Italian. Even so, I felt a bit awkward at first talking with this gentleman, as if my personal space was constantly being intruded upon by the moving of his arms as he spoke. More than once, he reached out to touch his hand to my hand in the midst of expressing an idea and it made me uncomfortable. We were just meeting for the first time and I did not feel at ease feeling his hand against my hand. So, I told him exactly that. He seemed surprised and subsequently made a more profound point. He said something along the lines that: these days, especially in the USA, people are very confused about how to naturally touch each other and to comfortably make contact with each other. So much so, he felt, that people have turned to animals more than other people to share affection because people no longer know how to be casually affectionate with people. I had to question if this was true in my case. It’s true that I hug and kiss my dog more than anyone but I have known her for over 14 years and we live together!
So anyway, I tried to bring the conversation back to animal and environmental activism issues, and the vision of BAE YOGA for which we were essentially meeting. I was curious if there were any causes he felt particularly strongly about that he would want to see us as a yoga group come together to work on in the future. In fact, he said that he felt humanity was the most important issue: that humans have to first improve their manner of relating with other humans if we want to get anything else done for animals and the environment. In his opinion, animal and environmental activism was born from the consequence of humans failing to relate with each other. I argued with him on this point. I asked: what if our relationship with animals and the environment is actually the primary issue? What if we cannot improve the relationships between human beings, how we relate with each other, until we improve the relationships we maintain with our environment, including all the animals with whom we share our environments?
What do you think?
“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” – Immanuel Kant
“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” – Lady Bird Johnson
Love & Courage,
After 6 years of teaching yoga and 15 years of studying yoga, I’m excited to now be connecting some of my time and activity on the mat with some of the time and activities that I want to be more involved with off the mat, especially: activism for animal rights and environmental protection.
BAE (Boulder Animals & Environment) YOGA is a project to support organizations fighting for a compassionate and sustainable planet. We connect the practice of yoga and meditation with activism, and we connect activists with the practice of yoga and meditation.
We cannot really take care of ourselves if we are not taking care of our environment, and we cannot really take care of our environment if we are not taking care of ourselves!
Yoga and Activism go hand in hand and that is our mission, to go (“go go go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond” – Heart Sutra), hand in hand, together.
Animals, wild and domestic, have an essential presence in our environments, in our homes, in our hearts, in the circle of all our relations. When we cultivate respect and love for animals, we cultivate respect and love at the very depths of our human nature.
The practice of yoga is ultimately a practice of exploring this nature, of choosing how we relate with what is. How do we more skillfully and compassionately relate with our changing bodies-minds and with those of all other beings?
According to Yoga and Ayurveda philosophy, we are all already united by the same 5 elements (the Pancha Maha Bhoota पञ्चमहाभूत ) : Earth (Prithvi पृथ्वी ), Water (Apas/Varuna/Jal अप् ), Fire (Agni अग्नि ), Air (Vayu वायु ), Space (Akash आकाश ).
May we cherish these elements (in all their forms) inside and out!
We are all already united.
Vaguely, I remember at some point in my studies with Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor (at this time I was in New York, before I came to Boulder to continue studying with them) where Richard was talking about the first verse of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra(s), the terse two words: “Atha Yogaanusasanam” (pronounced something like aahhhtaa yogaaaanooshaasaanaam).
This verse is often translated as “Now the study of Yoga”.
What I remember most is Richard emphasizing the importance of “Now” in this verse to suggest that we have now arrived at the study of yoga because nothing before now led us anywhere else, actually. We’ve made many attempts through many different pursuits and paths to achieve some kind of solid destination in the external world by which to measure and affirm our egos – however, all of these achievements have proved of temporary importance and fleeting satisfaction. Nothing outside of us has become a reliable, permanent refuge. Alas, we awaken, surrounded by the ashes of our impermanent stories, wondering: what happened? How did I get into this? How do I get out of it? Thus, we arrive at the study of yoga… “Atha Yogaanusasanam” …
As a yoga student and teacher, I find it helpful to consider this first verse of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra(s) again and again. All too often our minds wander far away, far from being here, now, even when we are supposedly practicing yoga.
What does it mean to be here and now (perhaps this question could also be phrased as: what does it mean to practice yoga?)?
Is the “here and now” defined by an external place and a point in time? If so, where are the boundaries to here, when are the limits of now? We all know that we can be in the same room with somebody and still be world’s apart. We can be on the same clock as somebody but in a completely different experience of that moment. So it seems: the “here & now” is not measurable from the outside.
Being present is an internal awareness, a tuning-in to the present experience, a connecting with the bodymind in its immediate circumstances.
That said, what then is the value of physical space and conventional time? Does it no longer matter where we are? Does it no longer matter when we do something?
We live in a unique wave of human history when it is easier for us to communicate with people on the other side of the world then it is to communicate with the people next door. How many of us have more friends and familiar faces online then we do in our own neighborhoods?
Our sense of locality – our physical rooting in space – is threatened everyday by the quickening of technology and transportation.
Our sense of rhythm – our mental rooting in time – is threatened everyday by the convenience of technology and the immediate gratification of consumer culture.
We are living in a world, a planet, this amazing Earth, that is battling everyday a complete dissociation with its mega-bodymind, aka, Nature.
Nature is our Here & Now.
For this reason, atha yogaanusasanam…
(photos courtesy pexels.com)
A few Words for the Memorial of Elise Winters
March 3rd, 2019 at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, NJ
by Sandi Higgins, February 2019
If I have anything to share in the radiant memory of Elise Winters, it is mainly thanks to my high school English teacher, Woody Rudin, who bragged affectionately about her every chance he got. I graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School Old Tappan in 1999, but Woody was still sending me personalized emails exploding with pride about his wife’s accomplishments all the way into 2010: Elise’s jewelry was showing at the Newark Museum, Elise’s jewelry was being worn by Gwen Ifill on PBS, Elise’s jewelry was rolling down the runway on the fashion models of Cynthia Rowley (and Woody was upset that the young fashion models were taken out of school indefinitely to work as models)…
I have only met Elise Winters in person briefly with her husband, but I can tell you, she was always there with him even when she wasn’t.
The last I saw Elise was with Woody after a theater performance that I gave at the Bergen County Players in Oradell, NJ in the summer of 2017. They had graciously attended my show, Chapter Two, and joined me and high school friends at the coffee shop next to the theater after the performance. Woody and Elise were vibrant as ever and exemplified the meaning of togetherness in every sense. I wondered what could be in their water because they both had such a glow. They appeared to me as the perfect symbiosis, a natural partnership that anyone could envy.
Rumi says, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” There may be no goodbyes for those who love with more than their eyes, but there is still grief for those who can no longer see the ones we love. Upon learning of Elise’s passing, I have tried like many to imagine: what words of solace could make a difference here? What words are strong enough to help lift the weight of grief?
As a teacher-figure, Woody has always encouraged my creative endeavors, in particular my writing. He has always given me an utmost sense of “being on to something”. That is the best way I know how to describe Woody as a mentor: he listens to what you have to say and looks back at you like you’re “on to something” (not “ON something” but “on TO something”). The joy with which he listens, the look in his eye, it all seems to suggest that there is something wonderful ever waiting to be discovered if one just follows their thread of inspiration. He doesn’t impose his own vision but naturally gives you the hope that yours has promise, that you have something of your own to develop. This is the quality of a real teacher.
Years after I had graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, while still struggling to make a living in the gritty, grimy, go-go-go of NYC, I got an invitation from Woody to join him at the Joyce Theater for a dance performance one night. Honestly, I felt ambivalent. I was uncomfortable in my own skin at the time. And is there anything scarier than facing someone who believes you have promise when the world has shown you how easily promises can be broken? Despite my ambivalence, I went to meet Woody. Of course, I heard more praise about Elise. And after our meeting for the dance performance, I somehow felt more hopeful. There were still good people in the world. Maybe I was still one of them.
Thank you Elise and Woody for sharing “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within.” Peace be with you!
Obituary for Elise Winters (received by email)
Elise Winters, an artist and arts educator residing in Haworth, has died at the age of 71, having survived and thrived during 16 years of treatment for cancer at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey.
Winters’ artwork resides now in the permanent collections of six major museums in the country, including: the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisconsin; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey; the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego.
In an article published by Ornament magazine in 2009, Winters was quoted as saying, “I have never been this happy about what I’m doing…the work I’m doing now feels like I found my voice and it’s flowing off my fingers.”
The article describes Winters’ one-of-a-kind art jewelry as having “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within. This shimmering characteristic calls to mind the radiant sunlight of early dawn.”
She was chosen to be featured in the 2010 New Jersey Craft Arts Annual, titled “Make Me Something Beautiful,” held at the Newark Museum. Virtually all of the promotional advertising for that exhibition included images of Winters’ creations.
Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Winters taught art classes in various school systems, including the Dumont Schools, where she created a three-year program for photography which led a number of her students into careers as professional photographers.
She is survived by her husband, Sherwood Rudin of Haworth and two brothers: Aaron Winters of Rochester, New York and Dr. Dan Winters of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
A memorial gathering is now being planned to celebrate Elise’s life and her contributions to polymer art and to arts education. This will be held at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, New Jersey on Sunday, March 3 at 2:30pm. The date was set to give adequate time for friends, family and former students to make travel arrangements and to prepare remarks they might like to offer. Everyone receiving this email today should consider themselves invited to attend and to speak, if desired.
Those wishing to make donations in Elise’s honor should consider a contribution to the Oncology Department of the Englewood Hospital, or to the Racine Art Museum, in Racine, Wisconsin.
It occurs to me that some people are uncomfortable with an open discussion of rape/sexual assault/sexual harassment, etc. There is a lot of fear around the subject of sexual violence. Indeed, an experience of sexual violence and its aftermath can be very frightening to say the least. Not everybody is ready to embrace the positive side of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that are pointing out, stirring up, and overturning the violent social constructs that ignorantly underly our societies today.
So, I want to offer you a more invitational perspective.
A perspective that is also more hopeful. You might say that it is also more radical. My perspective offers you a way of looking at the experience of trauma as a form of yogic awakening, a psycho-spiritual upheaval in the uncoiling of kundalini. Please don’t roll your eyes at the mention of “kundalini” nor at the cliché association of yoga with “healing”. A French theater teacher of mine once told me, “a cliché is actually a truth just waiting to be dignified.” Let’s see.
This newfound understanding – I would also call it my way of integrating my own experience of trauma – has been churning in my consciousness for at least the past 7 years, at least since I started practicing the sadhana of Mysore Ashtanga Yoga. In this time, I have seen my relationship with life evolve in a process of expansive transformation that seems somehow connected to my practice.
Indirectly, I feel this perspective that I am about to share here was crystallized just this past week in an intensive Ashtanga yoga workshop with Ty Landrum on the Ashtanga Second Series – also known as Nadi Shodhana (cleansing the subtle energy channels in our bodymind). In this Ashtanga vinyasa workshop, Ty inspired me (and probably everyone in attendance) to think more multidimensionally about our practice, and thereby, all that arises along the ever pulsating continuum that is life and death.
For me, this continuum includes – among other things – a traumatic experience 10 years ago at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Mumbai, India.
An important benchmark in healing from trauma seems to be the ability to access its memory without being overcome by it. I am so happy to have arrived at this benchmark.
Before this experience in Mumbai, I don’t recall ever feeling such a primal connection to my survival instinct, to the desire for life itself.
In the yoga workshop last week, Ty was saying how our desire for life is at the root of all other desires. There is one creative pulse at the source of our being. Yoga practice helps us to combat the existential estrangement we feel from this primal creative impulse.
Connecting with this creative pulse is what our yoga practice can ultimately do, and thereby, liberate. Tapping into our most primal desire for life itself can liberate us from all other desires (and subsequently: sufferings) because all desires stem, like fractal reflections, from this primal energy. This primal energy can be understood as bliss consciousness, and it can also be called, kundalini.
I’m going to elaborate a little bit here:
When kundalini rises in our bodymind (physiologically, from the root of the spine to the crown chakra), it inevitably confronts any psychic knots in our energy system. Whatever is blocking our psycho-spiritual development is blocking the flow of kundalini. These knots or blockages in our subtle energy system can cause real upheaval in our lives – like a lightening bolt hitting a rod can electrify whatever is touching that rod. Undoing these knots to free the inner flow is part of the practice of yoga. The “sudden” and “jarring” experience of knots coming undone is related to the practice of “hatha” yoga, which literally implies using force to awaken our bodymind.
Now, if we can understand “trauma” as a sudden and jarring effect on our nervous system, then we can start to see its functional integration in and to the context/process of hatha yoga practice, in which the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is rooted.
Personally, the traumatic experience that I had in Mumbai in 2009 put me first and foremost into a direct connection with my primal desire for life itself. The experience of this desire was completely overwhelming. I am a person who refuses to eat meat, however, at the moment that I was attacked on a life-or-death level, I felt ready to murder the man who was trying to murder me. I was determined to stay alive. I wanted to survive. I did not want to die in that moment as he tried to choke me. I did not want to die as he pinned my body under his. I kept fighting. I kept screaming. I felt so strongly that I couldn’t let him shut me up. And I am sure that is how I actually got his hands off of my neck. That is how I got his whole body off of my body. Not by the strength of my arms but by the persistence of my voice. He was afraid that someone would hear me.
When he finally jumped up and ran away, I jumped up and ran after him. There wasn’t even a thought in my head. Until, suddenly, jarringly, I realized that I was running naked. This realization stopped me in my tracks. It was a Zero-Experience, an experience without any other reference point that I can offer.
For now, I’d like to add that recognizing this traumatic experience as a sudden and jarring awakening of my kundalini shakti has nothing to do with any moral judgement on the experience.
This perspective is not about passing a morality judgement.
Morally, I would say, my experience in that moment was negative and should not be something that happens to people. We should do what we can to prevent such harm from ever happening and that is the virtue of the #MeToo & #TimesUp movements.
Spiritually, however, I have to say that it is in fact how my karma unfolded in the awakening of my consciousness. This process of awakening is a positive experience.
Can you relate?
More on this in another post.
Love & Courage,
This is a video from the Indian TV news after I was raped/sexually assaulted at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness guesthouse in Mumbai, India in 2009. I still do not know what the reporters are saying in this video but I can tell you for sure that the animated depiction of two men knocking on my door, and “me” opening the door to converse with them in my room, is totally false. The way I am depicted is in blatant disregard for the facts, as if a fantasy by the reporters is acceptable journalism. I never wore a crop-top at ISKCON. I wore long kurtas. Nobody knocked on my door at the guesthouse apart from the man from room service delivering tea to my room the night before the attack. After drinking that tea, I blacked out. I woke up semi-conscious in the dark hours of morning with a man already violently moving on top of me.
Sexual violence does not heal in private. It festers. The mediation of our #MeToo stories – and the public investment therein – is essential to the healing of sexual violence because sexual violence is a social epidemic that can only survive if it can promote itself as something “private”. Assuming that we want to end the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues the planet today – and that on this battlefield we are fighting for a healthier future for all – we must acknowledge that the media has a great responsibility to bring such “private” matters to the “public” in a skillful way that both public and private can win, or heal, together. Skills are what we go to school to develop, along with knowledge. However, speaking from my personal and direct experience, the mediation of sexual violence has felt like an unskillful, losing battle.
When the media lacks integrity, we all lose. There is no healing where there is no truth nor, at least, the intention of seeking the truth. In Ashtanga yoga philosophy, the value of ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming) is connected with that of satya (truthfulness). Ahimsa and satya go hand in hand such that we do not use the seeking nor telling of the truth in a way that could be harmful to another. Telling our truth requires as much conscious intent as does seeking to know our truth.
This seems like a conundrum, especially for victims of sexual violence. How can I speak my truth about the harm that another has caused me without causing them harm in return? Two concepts need to be clarified to answer this question. First, what is harm? Second, what is my relationship with the one who has harmed me and the one to whom I am speaking about this harm?
First, harm is that which hinders or injures the integrity of another. We harm ourselves when we harm others. If one has already injured their own integrity by acting in a harmful way towards themselves or another, then it is actually helpful and not harmful to articulate this loss of integrity. Only by accepting a loss can we accept a gain to restore it. A crime can only be brought to justice if it is acknowledged as a crime. Justice is the restoration of balance in the pursuit of an ethical relationship with each other.
Second, all relationships are non-dual. This means that our experience of harm is something that has arisen in relationship, in a connection between the parts of a whole, and therefore it can only be resolved through relationship – not in some isolated and disconnected idea about “self” or “other”. We too often take the part for the whole.
Perhaps the best metaphor for non-duality is to look at our own bodies. If there is pain in the knee joint, then there is something that has gone awry in the relationship between the hip and the ankle. If the knee doesn’t say anything, the hip and the ankle joints may not accept the problem in their relationship, and the pain will only get worse. The knee must speak up for itself in order to correct alignment to prevent further pain. Should the knee fear harming the reputation of the hips by expressing the truth of its pain? Of course not. And our knees naturally have no hesitation. Similarly, we should not hesitate to speak up about the truth of our experience in fear of doing harm. Where the harm has already been done, the integrity has already been lost.
Keeping with our metaphor between the hips and the ankles, we may need to recruit new muscular assistance from our body in order to correct the alignment that is causing pain. This is akin to the role of the media. In reporting on sexual violence, the media should be employed to help correct the alignment that caused the violence. However, adjusting one’s alignment can go either way – properly to relieve the pain, or improperly to make it worse. If the media increases the tension in the joint by misreporting the violence, or by sensationalizing the experience of pain, the alignment is not going to improve and the pain is only going to get worse.