The following excerpt is taken from Stephen Cope’s well-known book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. In it, he guides the contemporary reader through the philosophies and practices of yoga in a thoughtful way that demystifies them and brings us to a greater understanding of ourselves. You see, I want a lot. Perhaps I […]
Sometimes a seemingly simple gesture, phrase, mantra, or anecdote inspires us to pause and take note. Here, we share such tidbits from the Kripalu community.
One morning, as I was meditating, I realized that I needed to write a book. But I had the distinct feeling that, before I could get started, I had to clean my office. By myself. Not hire a cleaner, but get down and scrub. So I cleaned. I braved the spiderwebs. I filed piles of […]
J. L. Johnson, guest blogger
When Edmund Hillary set foot on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, it was his greatest feat: a first ascent that would forever link his name, along with that of his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, to the world’s highest peak. But it wasn’t his greatest challenge. That would come in 1975, when Hillary’s wife and 16-year-old daughter were killed in a plane crash. “It changed everything,” he told Time magazine. “My life disappeared.”
Hillary did eventually remarry, and carried on with vital environmental and humanitarian work in his beloved Nepal. When he died in 2008, it was as a climbing legend who had conquered the unconquerable—but also as a husband and father who’d spent years tackling a much more personal obstacle.
Whether it’s loss of a job or loss of a loved one, accident or illness, sooner or later we all find something daunting that is standing in our life’s path: An obstacle. A roadblock. Or, as suggested by Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, a mountain: something that can seem insurmountable but can help us learn to value the climbing process itself and give us greater perspective as we rise.
Where we look for answers to this question can make all the difference between fantasies and dreams come true.
I’ve been teaching at Kripalu for more than 15 years now—and throughout most of that time, I’ve been Kripalu’s Senior Scholar-in-Residence. Each year, I teach hundreds of people in hatha yoga programs, in yoga philosophy programs, and in personal growth programs. Sometimes I feel like I’ve inadvertently landed on one of the great pilgrimage routes of modern times, seeing—as we do here at Kripalu—a river of more than 32,000 contemporary seekers a year: modern versions, sometimes, of the ribald seekers of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or the more innocent characters of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Each of these contemporary pilgrims brings along his or her own story, of course, and each story is compelling. But over the years I’ve come to see that these stories, unique as they are on the surface, often have one central longing at their core, one insistent question: How can I live fully?
Our seekers phrase this question in so many different ways: How can I live a passionate and authentic human life? How can I discover the full potential of this human mind, body, spirit?
The other day at the end of a vinyasa yoga class I did my usual thing of plopping down and gearing up for Savasana with no blanket or sweater to get warm and cozy. Being in a large, chilly room, I sensed that I might need extra warmth but paid no mind. The teacher, Andrew, prompted us to “Take this time to allow the hard work to land, and nurture your self in resting pose.” Upon hitting the deck and doing my utmost to actually get comfortable—doing a brief body scan to relax myself—I lay there wondering why my need to be self-sufficient had, yet again, left me bare-skinned and frigid, trying to relax my shivering bones into Corpse pose.
Being somewhat small in stature, and a good-natured vata/pitta, my tendency is to be high energy and cold most of the time. Andrew started to walk around the room, his soothing voice gently guiding the group into a restful state, and asked anyone who might want a blanket to raise their hand. I pondered his offer and observed myself as I refused to raise my hand, even though I was chilly and unable to settle comfortably into Savasana.
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”—Henry David Thoreau
Do you feel stuck? Do you find that you’re always preparing for the worst? Where are you putting your attention? When we step back and examine our worldview it can lead us to question our belief systems and our perspective. Yoga often initiates this exploration: As we experience being in our body, being in the moment, and fully feeling our experiences, we open to the possibility of being comfortable in the uncomfortable. How do we integrate this practice into our daily lives?
In her R&R retreat workshop Life Is Perspective, Kripalu Yoga teacher and life coach Coby Kozlowski, explores the gift of perspective and how yoga can impact our experiences. Discussing tenets from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, specifically, yoga as “the cessation of the modifications of the mind,” Coby notes that we can approach our experiences as “the observer, the witness, and open to seeing the way we frame our own experience in the belief systems that we’ve codified in our perspective.”
I see my own concerns about fulfillment played out nearly every day of my professional life. I work at one of the biggest holistic retreat centers in America—Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. We see more than 35,000 people a year here in our sprawling, former-Jesuit monastery perched high up in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. Our guests come for various kinds of retreats: yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, couples’ work, healthy living. And almost every single one of them comes here in some phase of the mission to find this secret, hidden inner possibility spoken of in the Gospel of Thomas.
Right away, Seane Corn will have you know: She is not perfect. Although she is one of the yoga community’s best-known teachers—a gifted orator, physically beautiful, and, as the founder of the grassroots outreach effort, Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM), certifiably giving—the Los Angeles–based yoga star can be impatient, controlling, short-tempered, and reactive. She has a mouth like a truck driver. Corn makes it clear, however, that she hasn’t succeeded despite these shortcomings—rather, she has succeeded because of them. Learning to recognize, and claim, those imperfect parts of herself has, she says, made her a better teacher, friend, daughter, and partner, and directly benefited her efforts as an activist.
Corn began her relationship with activism at an early age. As a recent high school graduate living in Manhattan, she participated in emotionally charged rallies concerning women’s and gay rights. Before giant, angry crowds, she’d hop on stage, grab a megaphone, and release her point of view in bouts of rage, thinking that she needed to be loud in order to be heard. Eventually—and largely, she says, through her yoga practice—Corn began to understand that change happened only when both sides were willing to see, and hear, the other’s point of view, which first required her to learn to truly appreciate her own.
“For a long time, I had a need to change or fix certain circumstances but an unwillingness to look at my own issues,” says Corn. “I realized that if I was going to change the world, I needed to start with myself.” She came to understand that being a good activist meant taking responsibility for her feelings and respecting those of others even—especially—those with whom she might not necessarily agree, a philosophy that became a natural extension of her yoga practice.