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May Newsletter

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YOGA NEWS: WHAT REALLY  GOES ON IN YOGA CLASS? MAY 2018
Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,
Most of you have sampled enough yoga classes to know that something different goes on during our shared yoga than in any other fitness class or, for that matter, any other gathering of people.
I’ve puzzled over this for years, as I’ve watched the deep and seemingly spontaneous transformations in students’ bodies, minds, moods, and overall energy that occur during practice. And as both student and teacher myself, I’ve experienced these same unlikely shifts. I can enter a classroom feeling tired, distracted, tense, disconnected, whatever, and emerge 90 minutes later restored to my best buoyant self. And while I can get some of these same benefits during my solitary home practice, they never seem quite as deep, and I have to “work” a lot harder for them to occur.
I know that a large part of yoga “teaching” actually occurs as transmission. Sure, demonstrations, verbal cues, and physical adjustments play a part in getting students to breathe, move, and reorganize their bodies. But I believe an authentic yoga teacher is really passing on, on some energetic level, his or her own experience of yoga. Which is why you may not get much from a teacher who just whizzed through a two-week training after a year of practice, while a seasoned teacher can give you a hit just by walking into the room. (If you’ve ever been in the presence of a great spiritual master, you probably know what I’m talking about.)
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And that’s why a teacher’s lineage is so key to the power of their teaching. If they haven’t received “it,” they can’t pass it on. I also believe that transmission happens most powerfully in the physical presence of a teacher—so skip those online courses and show up body and soul if you really want what a teacher has to offer.
How does transmission work? On the cognitive level, it starts with engagement. Swami Vivekananda, one of the great early modern yoga masters, once wrote that the definition of love is “pure attention.” How often does any of us give our pure attention to anything or anyone? Aren’t we always filtering the outer world through the static and perceptual distortions of our own busy minds? Don’t our incessant, basically self-centered thoughts make it near impossible to notice much of anything that we encounter?
Yoga, on the other hand, demands full attention. You’ve got to change the way you breathe. You’ve got to move your body out of its unconscious and often self-destructive patterns and adopt new formations. Initially, this requires all of your mental, physical, and yes, energetic faculties just to keep up with what the teacher is suggesting. But it will never be completely “natural,” and we have to be vigilant to sustain and grow the changes we desire.
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In yoga class, you first pour your pure attention into your teacher, soaking up whatever you can absorb at any given moment. At the same time, you are pouring your attention into yourself, discovering how your breath works, where your body is resistant or pliable, how hard it can be to change habits. If you go deeply enough into the silence of yoga, you will also discover the noise between your ears—the incessant onrush of thoughts, feelings, reactions, and moods that cycle and recycle through our consciousness. You get to witness your own mind—the good, the bad, the indifferent or downright nonsensical (and trust me, there’s plenty of that!).
The paradox is that in turning your full attention to your own body-mind, yoga begins to “empty out” a lot of the busy-ness that you probably thought was “you.” Things just get quieter. It’s not that the thoughts and feelings ever go away; the volume just gets dialed down, like chatter heard a few seats away on a crowded train. The visuals dim as well, fading out to reveal more of the world beyond your own nose.
The result? You hear and see more clearly. You tune into the world like a finely tuned receiver. Your bandwidth expands; your spectrum widens. You see, if not the whole, a larger fraction of it than ever before.
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“Gurus,” or master yoga teachers, are often attributed special, paranormal powers—what are called in Sanskrit siddhis. One of these is being able to see the future, to predict events. I personally believe this has everything to do with being able to see clearly. Example: if I can observe a student with my quiet mind, I can sense relatively quickly who they are. What motivates them. What they love, what they fear. Observing this, I can foresee how they will respond in any given situation (and I get to test my assumptions throughout every class—seeing where I’m right and where my own limited vision has misconstrued them). So it’s easier for me to envision what the future may hold for them. Not because I can predict events, but because I can predict how they might react.
Of course this seeing/understanding is ongoing, because no one ever holds still. We are all always growing and changing, and yoga practitioners faster than ordinary folks. So I have to keep my antennae tuned and never assume I’ve got someone “figured out.” In fact, I love teaching because it requires me to turn my full attention to others.
And every yoga student—each of you—is similarly emptying out and becoming better perceivers. Which is why yogis everywhere seem just a little bit wiser than the average bear. They seem to handle stress better because they’ve stopped sweating the small stuff. The “light” part of enlightening makes them laugh more easily or at least smile wistfully at life’s uneven adventure.
This clarity is of course also tempered by the fact that yoga is constantly challenging—and humbling!—each of us. We get to see where our bodies let us down, how often our attention does wander, how our shortcomings seem to manifest in all dimensions the minute we roll out our mats. Yet paradox that yoga is, it just as often shows us how our perceived defects are actually assets, and the things we most pride ourselves on are what’s blocking our way. Seeing this in ourselves makes us much less quick to judge, and removing this “irritable grasping after reason” that Keats wrote about clears out a lot of headspace. And opens up all kinds of possibilities we shut down when trapped in self-judgment.
I invite you to ponder what I’ve written and begin to notice how yoga is changing you from the outside in.
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Workshop in Beijing
YOGA NEWS: WEST, EAST, AND FAR EAST!
 “Only Connect.” –E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
It’s been awhile since I settled down to share my life and thoughts with you all, but part of spring’s awakening is coming out of my shell. It’s time, as Forster urges us, to connect.
 So here’s a glimpse of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope we’ll all be going!
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As many of you know, I’ve had a long and varied history of traveling the globe to share my knowledge of yoga and yoga teaching. Surprisingly, I have found myself most frequently and persistently called to China—a place with which I had no prior history or experience. (After 20 some trips, I can still only speak about 10 words of Mandarin, five of which are 1,2,3,4,5). I’ve come to think of China as my boomerang: every time I think I’ve finally tossed away any prospect of returning, an offer drops into my inbox and I’m booking flights.
Such was the case in late 2017, when a prominent social media company invited me to create a series of videos for distribution on the PRC’s vast Internet. After a lot of back and forthing, we agreed that the most efficient way to do this would be for me to travel to Beijing for the filming. . Our deadline: December 10, for a launch on January 1. Knowing the Chinese enough to know that a deadline is a deadline, off I went in early December. We shot the 30 videos in 5 days, a mix of practice sessions, lectures, and teacher training demonstrations, with the excellent help of a tirelessly cheerful photographer, a hyper-organized company liaison, a gifted translator, and a couple of students. While I may never know the impact these videos have on the Chinese yoga community, the prospect of virtual exposure so much greater than anything I could achieve with in-person workshops remains exciting. Plus, after a year I acquire ownership of the videos, which I hope to share with my Western students in 2019.
Part of the deal was that I would respond via email to any questions viewers had about the course content. So as winter wore on I was delighted to receive detailed and intelligent queries that proved that I was getting through to my new audience, across language barriers and without the immediate connection of a shared physical space.
When I sent out word to my Chinese teachers, studio owners, translators, and friends that I was coming to Beijing, I received an invite to lead a workshop at a studio owned by someone who had been at my first program in China back in 2008. We enjoyed a mini-reunion, which resulted in my returning to her studio last week to lead a course on treating and preventing injuries on and off the mat.
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Being with this group for five long days offered up another chance to connect—first in my earnest effort to share the practical stuff I know about how the body works, how it breaks down, and how to repair it. Then about halfway through the second day, spurred by the late-afternoon stupor I sensed descending on my students, combined with a personal dive into jet lag fog, I spontaneously started telling them silly stories about some of the ridiculous things that have happened to me during my global travels. I love a good laugh and will shamelessly ham it up to get others to giggle along with me. Somehow those few minutes of irreverent, completely pointless storytelling brought me into the group like no formal lesson could. I’ve seen humor work similar magic on recalcitrant students in my stateside classes. Turns out we’re all goofballs on the inside, and the tickle of relief when one grownup admits that to others is definitely contagious.
My plans to return to teach in Melbourne in June took a funny turn this spring as well. My Australian host has roots in Shanghai, and due to some changes in her personal life she requested that I visit Shanghai and Hong Kong instead. So, if all goes as planned, I’ll be flying over the north pole once again come summer—and hopefully return with a little more Mandarin and a few more lighthearted misadventures to share.
Finally, The Book. “What book?” you may reasonably ask, as I’m now more than three years behind schedule. I’m talking about Hip Op: Beyond Recovery, the tale of how I succumbed to and bounced back from a total hip replacement. Well, it’s written, and it’s undergoing its final revisions before I happily turn it over to my production crew. So please have faith that it will see the light of day. If for no other reason than that I have another book already half-written in my head that I’m itching to begin!
Summer is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with those of you who only enjoy the Hamptons during high season. I’ll be sending out my full class schedule soon, but count on seeing me at my usual venues: Mandala Yoga in Amagansett and Yoga in the Vines at Wolffer Estate Vineyard, as well as some collaborations with other local teachers. And of course, for those of you who prefer yoga one-on-one, or in the comfort of your own home, I’ll be offering private yoga lessons as well as my own unique blend of yoga and injury healing/prevention sessions.
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As this goes to press, I’m still looking for the right person to sublet my New York City apartment, and I also have one room left for summer (or year-round) rental in East Hampton. Feel free to send friends and colleagues my way. Texting (917)-975-8009 the quickest way to reach me.
Namaste,
Lois
(917)975-8009

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