Ashtanga, Boulder, Colorado, Buddhism, Chakrasana, David Swenson, Flow, Hatha Yoga, Healing, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, India, Krishnamacharya, Liberation, Lineage, Meditation, NYC, Primary Series, Sexual Assault, Shanti, Sharath Jois, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, Sustainability, Teachers, Tradition, Water, Yoga

Advanced Teacher Primary Student

“Right now, I want it to be about him [acknowledging Sharath Jois in the front of the room]. He’s about to begin.”

~ David Swenson

They say we live in degenerate times. How do we, as yoga practitioners and dharma practitioners, develop and maintain a genuine respect for our teachers and our lineage? This is a little anecdote with some personal reflections about rediscovering respect and regeneration by observing an advanced teacher being a primary student.

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Photo by Agathe Padovani thanks to Sonima. Sandi Higgins practicing next to David Swenson at the Led Primary Series with Sharath Jois in Brooklyn, 2019

David Swenson has lived and breathed the Ashtanga Yoga practice longer than I’ve been alive. Known as one of the world’s foremost practitioners and instructors of Ashtanga Yoga, David is also one of the original disciples of guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. 

Jois was himself the disciple of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the grandfather of all modern yoga in the West. Other disciples of Krishnamacharya include: B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikachar, and Srivatsa Ramaswami.

Back to David: I had the joy of first meeting David Swenson when he came to give a Weekend Workshop at the Shala in NYC, where I had just started practicing Mysore Ashtanga Yoga with my first teachers, Barbara Verrochi & Kristin Leigh. I recorded the talk that he gave that weekend and listened to it several times after. If I knew where that audio file is today, I’d listen to it again! In a spirit of casual question & answer conversation, David elucidated many difficult aspects of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, or sadhana (spiritual practice), in his down-to-earth and accessible style – while also making everybody laugh a lot. He shared a great sense of humor about Ashtanga and how he relates with it in his own life. To this day, I continue to quote him from that talk in many of my own yoga classes.

Since then, I have only seen David Swenson once a year when Sri R. Sharath Jois comes to the USA to teach on tour from Mysore, India. For those of you who don’t know R. Sharath Jois, he is the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and probably the most coveted transmitter of traditional Ashtanga Yoga in the world. Although David Swenson has a very advanced practice, and an extensive international student body of his own, he has consistently shown up in NYC to practice as a student with Sri R. Sharath Jois. I have always seen David place his mat humbly in the back of the big auditorium, filled with practitioners from all backgrounds and experiences. If you’re not familiar with this scene, it is common for advanced students to put their mats as close to the front-row-and-center as possible. I’m not as advanced, but I certainly do that too, especially when I haven’t seen my teacher in many months or even years and I want to be held accountable by his inescapable eye-line. The back of the room asks for more personal accountability.

One year, probably 2016, I had been following Sharath-ji for practice on tour through California and then in NYC. My body was a little tired after 3 consecutive weeks of Led Intermediate and Primary Series classes with him! I had a back spasm during the second or third day of practice in NYC and I had to sit-out on the side of the auditorium in the middle of the practice. While watching the whole room move in its ritual ebb and flow, I couldn’t help but notice David Swenson practicing in one of the back rows. I particularly appreciated his way of doing the Ashtanga-style chakrasana transition. He had a very simple and economical manner about this sophisticated backwards roll. Instead of rolling directly into chaturanga, he rolled directly into adho mukha svanasana. It was like a little revelation. Somehow I had never seen chakrasana done that way before. It was very soft and slow and strong, and super mindful of the space behind and around him (which is especially a good idea when all the mats are very close together). I later tried and found this way of doing chakrasana very difficult compared to the way I had previously learned it. Yet it looked easy when David did it. Since then, the image of this way of doing chakrasana stuck with me. One day, I just found the way to do it! New mindful tool in my practice belt! A lot of practice works like that. An image is imprinted in the mind and gradually the body awakens to it. Now I can chakrasana either way (depending on whether or not I want to be kind to the person behind me – just kidding – let’s be kind whenever possible).

Last year in 2018, Sharath-ji didn’t make it to teach in NYC during his tour and I didn’t have the opportunity to catch him in any other city. This year in 2019, however, he did. Although I currently live in Boulder, Colorado, I flew back to New York City and attended his classes. Happily, I saw David Swenson again and somehow this year I had the courage to ask David if I could put my mat down next to his all the way in the back row. He welcomed me and my mat kindly and continued to chat with his mat neighbor on the other side.

The chattery excitement in the Brooklyn auditorium began quieting down and drawing itself inward as we neared the start of practice. Sri R. Sharath Jois was looking softly over the sea of mats and bodies and minds before him. He had not yet stood up to call “Samastitihi” which brings everyone to the top of their mats to begin the Surya Namaskars, so there was still some lingering chatter through the auditorium. David Swenson had stopped talking to the person on his other side, thus just before putting my phone away and getting quiet myself, I seized the moment to ask him for a seemingly-obligatory-aspiring-ashtangi-selfie: “Hey David, can I take a picture with you?” 

His response continues to resonate with me. “You know what, let’s do it after.” he said. “Right now, I want it to be about him [acknowledging Sharath Jois in the front of the room]. He’s about to begin.”

Sure enough, David took a picture with me at the end of the practice, and there were lots of pictures taken by the event’s official photographer in the middle (see above). But in that brief and casual way at the beginning, David pointed out something to me that is perhaps more valuable and enduring than any photo: 

  1. even the most advanced teachers are humble students

  2. there are many ways to show respect and disrespect to our teachers 

It made me reflect. These are some of my reflections. I claim no authority on truth, nor truth on authority!

What does it mean to be a student? What does it mean to be a teacher? Why is it important for students to show respect to their teachers, and vice versa? 

Although I haven’t had a chance to ask him directly (and maybe after writing this I will ask him), I don’t think David Swenson shows up as a student in Sharath-ji’s Led Primary Series classes to get adjustments or to further perfect his asana practice.

My guess is that David shows up as a student, not only because he likes getting on his mat and he trusts the count of this teacher!, but because he respects the lineage that has gifted him the tools that he has used to craft his own lifelong Ashtanga practice. Being a student in this way means that you are staying connected to the source from which you drink, from which you have tapped your own well, and you are tending to that flow. 

If, as teachers, we act as though we are no longer students, that our wells are so full, that we know more than our lineage: eventually, we will no longer recognize the source of the water we are drinking, and if the well runs dry, we can’t get very far without water. These days, we also need to be more vigilant than ever about what’s going into our waters.

Now, let’s say we find some pollution in the water (for example, the accusations of sexual assault against Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, or any guru in any lineage for that matter) and we just want to distance ourselves as much as possible from feeling in any way complicit or connected with such violence, and yet we want to keep practicing what we’ve learned. This is totally understandable, but unfortunately, unworkable. We do not purify our wells by pretending that they are somehow separate from their ground source. We cannot really clean the water we drink by ignoring where it comes from and using our own filters. For the long run, we have to acknowledge the pollution at the source and work to clean it there as well as in the flow – if we want clean water, or a karmically clear practice, for ourselves and for others to continue drinking. 

The source of a lineage is always a living continuation from one person to another, a parampara, that leads back to the guru. Yes, perhaps the ultimate guru is the Om in every heart, but it manifest in often “imperfect” human forms. Every genuine teacher we learn from within a lineage leads back to the source and is part of our flow. If we don’t respect the flow, we don’t respect the source nor the need for flowing water.

Why is it important to sometimes make the teaching more “about” the other?

A teaching can only be given and received in proportion to how much attention and respect is shared between student and teacher. I think that this is probably true no matter what we are learning. Ashtanga Yoga is ultimately a sadhana, a spiritual practice, an organic, living, lineage of knowledge, skills, tools – wisdom – that has a unique healing power. It is a transformative learning process. As such, learning a sadhana, as far as I understand, is at some point about taking one’s fixation completely off of oneself and one’s story, and putting it instead into the sadhana – and thereby, towards the one who embodies the sadhana. Some teachers may embody it in its entirety, but often different teachers reveal different proportions of skills, knowledge, insights, and qualities of the sadhana that we want to learn. 

Respect is the way we approach this process, the way we shift our “fixation”, or the way we give our “attention”, with a healthy sense of balance. Disrespect is the way we try to bypass that balance and ultimately cheat ourselves of trusting our process – that we actually do have more to learn and to receive.

Learning and receiving is the sustainable way to continue teaching and giving. 

My first yoga teachers in NYC, Barbara & Kristin, would host many yoga workshops with visiting teachers/colleagues/friends from around the country and the world. Every time I was at a yoga workshop hosted by Barbara and Kristin, but taught by another teacher, the two of them would be in the room practicing or listening, pen and paper nearby, taking notes and exploring the teachings right alongside their students.

Respecting a teacher or a student doesn’t mean agreeing with them about everything. It means being open and curious about the truth they are expressing.

Sometimes there is a fine line between respect and disrespect. What might appear “irreverent” might feel more “reverent” in certain situations. I don’t think these things can always be understood by looking from the outside-in, because respect is not really something that can be codified in external gestures like “touching the feet” of the guru. Codified gestures without a genuine heart-intent can be more disrespectful than “disrespectful” gestures with a genuine heartfelt intent.

Respecting the teacher, and for that matter, respecting the student, does not mean disrespecting one’s own self. To the contrary, the more we respect ourselves, the more we can respect each other. Discerning respect in a relationship might appear differently at any moment in any relationship.

Personally, I am still learning this discernment and these distinctions, and it’s a great thing to be learning!

Thank you David Swenson for inspiring this reflection.

And then Sharath-ji called, “Samasthiti!”

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Sandi’s selfie with Sharath-ji after practice in NYC, 2019

 

#WFPB Vegan, Activism, Ahimsa, Animals, Ashtanga, Buddhism, Environment, Food, Going Vegan, Hare Krishna, Healing, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, India, ISKCON, Krishna, Liberation, Meditation, MeToo, Perspective, Sexual Assault, Sexual Health and Wellness, SexualHealing, Shastriya Sangeet, Social Justice, Survivors, T. Colin Campbell, The China Study, Touch, Vegan, Violence, Womens Wellness, Yoga

Hare Krishna! Go Vegan!

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I am writing this instead of sitting in meditation. Maybe I should have sat in meditation.

If you are a cow milk drinker and/or a Krishna devotee, you may or may not want to read this, but I would love to hear from you if you do. Please read with an open mind, then please do contact me and point out the errors in my own thinking. How else can we evolve?

Disclosure: I declared myself vegetarian around the age of 10 because I thought that a lot of animal “meat” tasted gross. I did like the taste of a few things: microwavable breakfast sausages drenched in maple syrup, scrambled eggs with fried onions and salty ketchup, raw salmon with capers and cream cheese. Looking back, I’m sure I liked the taste of the “accoutrements” that accompanied the animal meat more than I liked the actual “meat”.  Maple syrup, ketchup, fried onions, cream cheese… sugar, salt, oil, fat, yum!

A cousin also opened my eyes at a young age to the violent reality of factory farming: animals being enslaved, tortured, objectified, and treated abominably for human consumption. He opened my eyes a little bit as well to the damaging environmental impact that this consumer behavior was inflicting on our planet. Not to mention the many ill effects on human health. These considerations made my resolution to renounce animal meat even stronger but some doctors tried to dissuade me. I felt a little bullied by their “authority”. They thought animal protein was “necessary” for my growth. I had not yet heard of Doctor T. Colin Campbell and The China Study, and apparently, neither had they. So I compromised with eating some dairy, fish, and eggs every now and then. I was ambiguous about fish. Were they also living beings suffering the pain and environmental degradation of factory farming? What about eating eggs? Until I started thinking of eggs like chicken menstruation, they didn’t seem so bad – I didn’t know about the nightmarish living conditions for so many farmed chickens. I was clueless that mainstream cow’s milk had become a despicably cruel and unhealthy industry. I loved those “Got Milk” commercials! I even wanted my own milk mustache commercial, darn it. I wasn’t yet clear enough to trust my own resolve and intuition.

Flash forward: in my late 20s, I was traveling in India – the country with the highest number of vegetarians in the world, and arguably the most tasty and versatile cuisine for herbivores! By then, I had adopted a very Indian inspired vegetarian diet. Lacto-vegetarian. My ex-boyfriend was Rajasthani and an excellent cook. I learned a lot of Indian style vegetarian cooking from him. I still drank milk – especially in my spicy Indian chai, which I enjoyed – and I still loved yogurt and cheese, also known as “paneer”, as well as “ghee”, or clarified butter (often recommended in Ayurvedic recipes). I was not yet contemplating the hellish reality that cows endured to produce these products for human consumption in our contemporary culture (very different from ancient India). 

On this particular trip to India, I was traveling on my own, doing research and recordings for a documentary film project about Indian Classical Music (title: JHAPTAL). I was visiting different friends in several different cities. During my stay with friends in Mumbai, it turned out that their guest room had been infested with bed bugs just before I arrived. After two days, I was massacred by bed bugs and I had a horrible blanket of bites all over my skin. The itching was very painful. So I had to find alternative accommodations while my friends cleaned their room and took care of the infestation.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) ashram was just down the road from their house. My friends were ISKCON members. The ISCKON ashram in Mumbai has a big, beautiful guesthouse. There were rooms available. The rooms were spacious, clean, and affordable, with gorgeous balconies overlooking the temple. So I moved there.

While staying at the ISKCON ashram guesthouse, I woke up in the dark hours of morning, naked and screaming with a man moving on top of me. An unknown man had broken into my room and mounted me without me knowing. I was semi-conscious. I later came to reason that I had been drugged by the chai that I had ordered from room service the night before, after which I had completely blacked out. This man clearly did not expect me to wake up, nor to make so much noise upon doing so. He couldn’t shut me up. He ran away for fear of getting caught. I could not run fast enough after him. He escaped. I have told this story before. Please read my earlier post for further details.

The point that I want to make here is that I had a very visceral experience of extreme violence and violation. The “private” parts of my body had been trespassed, bruised, and I had finger nail scratches across my breasts. My body and my mind had been violently touched and tampered with by someone for whom I had given no consent to do so.  I felt that I could have died while fighting that man off of me, but I survived. All this while I was in an ashram dedicated to Lord Krishna. 

One of the Krishna devotees who came to my side when the police and doctor arrived said something to me that I have reflected on ever since – and my interpretation of it has varied over time. She said something along the lines of: “You are blessed that this happened in Lord Krishna’s home. Your karma ripened here for a reason. You could have died if it had happened elsewhere. He protected you.” 

At that time, I really didn’t know what to think. Isn’t the whole world Lord Krishna’s home? Why wouldn’t he protect me anywhere? Why here?

For years, I struggled to work through the trauma. I didn’t consider it as a calling to Lord Krishna, specifically. I found a lot more help from the teachings of the Buddha. I even changed my name to a name given to me by a Tibetan Buddhist lama. I kept that name as my official name for one whole year. I stopped working on my documentary and all my film/video creative work.  I started to practice yoga like never before. I became a vegan.

Overall, the trajectory of healing from this trauma has been transformative in a way that I feel much better about who I am now than I remember feeling about who I was before: clearer, calmer, and at greater peace with myself.  Going vegan has been a real part of that. It’s a way to clear confusion, vagueness, and ambiguity about aspirations towards non-violence. Ahimsa. 

It has taken me 10 years to put this life changing event into a positive perspective on many levels. I no longer doubt the meaning of being raped in an ashram dedicated to Lord Krishna. Krishna is also known as Govind or Gopal: the protector of cows.

Yes, spiritually speaking, the whole world is actually Krishna’s home – but different parts of the world call Krishna by different names. In this particular part of the world where I was, where my trauma occurred, the ISKCON Guesthouse in Mumbai, the name of the divine is called: Krishna. Krishna is a protector of cows.

At the moment between life and death, I was in some way protected in Krishna’s home. I survived. What is my debt to Krishna? My debt is to help protect cows.

The choice to go vegan was one of the most clear consequences of my experience of rape because I had so dramatically felt what it might be like to be a cow and experience such a degree of VIOLATION. 

Buying “organic” milk was no longer enough of a reassurance for me that the cows were comfortable with constant human interference on their “private” parts. For the first time, it felt undeniable that the dairy industry is an industry of sanctioned sexual assault. No thank you.

Cows cannot argue for their own rights. Humans must give them a voice.

May ALL cows be protected. Hare Krishna! Go Vegan!

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photo thanks – www.thehindu.com
Activism, Ahimsa, Animals, Ashtanga, Ayurveda, Boulder, Colorado, Classes & Workshops, Environment, Healing, Liberation, Meditation, Pancha Maha Bhoota, Plant Power, Sustainability, Vegan, Womens Wellness, Yoga

BAE YOGA & the Pancha Maha Bhoota

pexels-photo-148275.jpegAfter 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.

BAE YOGA Sundays Yoga Intentions Final Flyer

Connect with the BAE YOGA group online via meetupfacebookinstagram, and reserve your spot for our upcoming Sunday classes now through eventbrite!

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.

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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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Activism, Animals, Buddhism, Environment, Healing, Health & Wellness, Liberation, Meditation, Music, Social Justice, Survivors, Sustainability, Vegan, Womens Wellness, Yoga

actually, it’s ours: in this together

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Yoga practice can transport us out of the suffering of conventional reality and reveal to us a kind of indestructible personal universe, a playful spaciousness within our own mind & body – but – that – is – really – only – a – beneficial – experience – if – the yoga practice also calls us to return to the conventional, collective, shared experience of suffering, the daily realities of this planet. We have to face all the HALAHALA! In yoga mythology, halahala हलाहल is the poison that arises from the churning of the ocean of samsara in the battle between the gods and demigods (perhaps a battle of our own intentions) for Amrita, the nectar of immortality. We seek the way out of the suffering in order to get back into it, we practice and non-attach, not to escape nor disconnect from the world, but to re-turn and re-connect with greater contentment, compassion, calmness, courage, purpose. ✌️💕🚀 Music: That Day Musician: Jef 🎶 #yogawithsandi

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