Activism, Ahimsa, Ashtanga, Boulder, Colorado, Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Healing, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, Liberation, Meditation, New York, New York, Paradox, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Perspective, Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor, Sanskrit, Sustainability, Yoga

Atha Yogaanusasanam: Here & Now

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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…

Xo Sandi

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(photos courtesy pexels.com)

Clay Art, Community, Death & Dying, Grieving, Healing, Health & Wellness, Teachers, Yoga

Teachers Matter

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Art by Elise Winters

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

Boulder, Colorado

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!

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Woody Rudin & Elise Winters
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.

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Activism, Ashtanga, Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Healing, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, India, Kundalini, Liberation, Meditation, MeToo, Perspective, Sexual Health and Wellness, Social Justice, Survivors, Times Up, Violence, Womens Wellness, Yoga

#MeToo Healing Part 3: Perspective & Kundalini

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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,

Sandi

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