My Yoga Journal Feature: Why it Doesn't "Break It Down"

My Yoga Journal Feature: Why it Doesn't "Break It Down"

So thank you Yoga Journal! Thanks for highlighting what I am not. I do appreciate the press, but what you depict (especially in the online version) has nothing to do with this work. BUT! it does make me feel like working even harder to share what is in my heart and help people find freedom in their bodies and minds. Thank you!

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Shunyata, Groundlessness and Vinyasa

Groundlessness is a concept that Pema Chodron discusses a lot in her wonderful writing and talks. It refers to shunyata, or the buddhist concept of emptiness. This is not emptiness in the sense that nothing is there. It is emptiness in a sense that nothing, including ourselves, is solid and predictable. This is not some myth or made up story to get through hard times, it is actual reality. We can test it and see that our results are always the same. Nothing on this earth, in this universe, stays the same. 

For me the vinyasa practice embodies the sadhana of opening to groundlessness. We traverse from pose to pose with skill because we have studied the postures themselves. We prepare ourselves well for that journey by understanding alignment and actions in each pose. But what about the spaces between the postures? In the process of transforming our body from form to form can we be as present with the spaces between, those inevitable areas of groundlessness? 

As I prepare for my workshop today, I am reminded of this beauty and elegance of attention. Between each shape is a multitude of possibilities and that wide openness is the very same thing as shunyata. Emptiness actually means that anything is possible. 

I look forward to sharing this work with you today and my hope is that it inspires ever more practitioners to take “vinyasa” beyond the athleticism of achieving great stunts and many chaturangas and into the space of shunyata. Skill in action. Opening to possibility. Letting go of where we fixate and seeing that it is wide open.

See you there.

The New Era of Breakti: Beyond me

Perhaps you have been wondering why things have been so quiet on the Breakti front lately.  There are several reasons for that.  I am writing today, at a crossroads, as I prepare to let go of the two weekly Breakti classes that Om Factory has been so gracious to let me try on at their studio.  It is time, for many reasons, to let them go.  

As I always imagined it to be, Breakti has become larger than me.  I never wanted it to be the Anya Show and it initially had become that more than I ever planned - perhaps a necessary step in the process, but it certainly wasn’t my vision of what was ultimately possible.  What is amazing is that now there are many teachers out there who have trained with me who can represent this work in some way.  Some teachers, like Elisa Mangubat, are working with teens and doing incredible things with the meeting points of hip hop culture and yoga.  Other teachers, like Sasha Nelson, are integrating their knowledge of holistic nutrition, wellness and coaching into workshops and retreats that span mindful movement styles and self-awareness on many levels.  Angelina Borodiansky incorporates what she has learned into her aerial classes incredibly skillfully.  Many other teachers who have trained with me incorporate the work in their own ways.  That is amazing.  It is awesome.  It is what I always wished for the work.  And I will continue to mentor them along in that process, however what I recognize is that the capacity for me to mentor them on their own journey is dependent on me letting go of part of my own journey, in some ways.  

In the same breath, I have struggled to make Breakti a codified practice and have realized that it isn’t. Break”dance” is a freestyle dance.  Yoga is a freeform practice that meets you where you are and is meant to be healing and connective on every level.  Hip hop as a movement has evolved, devolved, drifted and meandered in its path.  All of these forms influence who I am and what I teach and so every time I came up with “set sequences”, “set rules”, etc. for the teachings, my own practice would ultimately supersede those structures and I would find myself leaving them behind.  In the times that I have tried to force the expected into a practice that could not, should not encourage expectation, I have been left with frustration and a heavy heart.  

Ultimately I am working with a practice that is continuously evolving, constantly re-integrating and reforming itself.  In other words, it is alive.  To codify the form could perhaps make me a lot of money and help me to easily teach others to teach it as one simple style of class, taught in rote fashion and let that be enough.  But it wasn’t ever enough.  The trainings I have given have been similar but also vastly different.  The material was in many ways the same but even within a span of six months the Breakti practice had changed enough that I was teaching different things to new trainees.  I recognize this is a part of every good practice and every good teacher, but for the companies that wanted to make money off of me and Breakti, it can’t work like that.  And for branding and marketing purposes, it can be hard to pin down the “look” of something that seems to shift as soon as you try to fix anything about it.  I have outgrown the “get down in your dog” tagline of five years ago.  I have outgrown the urban influenced ganesha logo that still represents this class.  I still love those things and the thought and work that went into them, but they don’t speak to what I am doing now.  The more I have tried to rebrand myself, the more I question why?  In another five years I will simply be in the same boat again.  So I’ve decided to take it from a different perspective.

Over time I have realized that Breakti has become just another iteration of what yoga is.  It is a yoga practice, through and through.  There is nothing flashy, trendy or incredibly innovative about it, except that I am constantly present with what I am teaching, constantly looking at my own mindful movement practice and seeking out what is valuable and potent and offering that out, often straying out of the realm of traditional yoga through the influence of other forms I study which inspire me; breaking and contemporary dance, therapeutic body work, and more.  I suppose this could be considered “innovative”, but I also believe that weaving the tapestry of our livelihood through felt experience should be the norm of yoga teachers everywhere.  No matter what we teach, what style or form, we should always be trying it on and questioning what is working, what is skillful; what can be incorporated and what can be let go.  Ultimately, all of the scaffolding that we create for ourselves and in which we learn must also be taken down at some point in order for the inherent grace and beauty of the practice to spill forth.  

What I teach in Breakti-labeled classes is what I teach everywhere - it influences all of the yoga I teach and it always will.  There are certainly some unique and slightly different postures and transitions you may not find in other teachers’ classes, but movement is archetypal and the internet leaves nothing to guessing should you wish to include breakin movement in your yoga classes.  How I teach everything is my very own method, taken from a myriad of other methods that work well and are skillful, put together in a way that makes sense in my body, in my heart and mind.  At the same time, I continue to study.  I continue to be curious about where my blind spots are and I continue to bring what moves me into my classes in a way that connects with people.  That is Breakti.  That is also yoga.  Yoga is Breakti.  Breakti is yoga.  

So what’s in a name?  This name Breakti has both haunted me and cheered me on.  At first it was a meeting point between bhakti and breakdance; still two things I hold dear to my heart and which influence me in numerous ways.  My dear and longtime friend and former Breakti DJ affiliate, Ben “Scribe” Goldfarb came up with the name and it was perfect for the time.  It was a perfect meeting of where I stood at that moment.  It still resonates in many ways, especially for the incredibly fun and bhakti-filled workshops I still lead and for the amazing work myself and others are doing with Breakti Kids.  But somehow the name has also limited me.  It has confused participants or would-be participants at times , and it has alienated perhaps more than included for one reason or another.  

In some ways Breakti has defined me in the same ways that I have defined it, and yet both the practice and I are so much more than the limitations that can be imposed by being viewed as one thing and one thing only.  Without going into much detail, I will say that I have felt confined by the image that the Breakti practice has led others to project onto me and I’m ready to shed some of that.  I am also ready to turn my attention onward and encourage the teachers I have trained to grow in their own way.  Maybe one of them will take Breakti and run with it, and maybe no one will.  But what is important to me is that they all feel supported and I haven’t had the time or energy to give them time even when they asked for it.  That all changes now.  

I began this letter by stating that this work is so much larger than me, and it is.  It will continue to grow in many ways.  I will continue to teach Breakti workshops, and am currently working on a Breakti Kids training; I know other teachers have some really cool stuff up their sleeves as well.  But no longer do I wish for it to be the solo Anya Porter Show.  It was certainly fun for a while, but it gets lonely going solo.  Breakti is about community.  It is about connection, integrity, and acting from a place of skillfulness and realness.  It is certainly about living your potential but it is also about lifting others up along the way.  That hasn’t been happening the way I have wanted it to happen, so here starts a new era.  

I want to thank so many people who have supported me in this process.  I can’t even begin to list you all.  I hope to see you in class sometime soon, or at a workshop or training.  Until then…  keep it real.  

I am a bit emotional and incredibly honored at all the support we’ve gotten thus far.  Breakti isn’t about me anymore (it never was)…  join the movement!  Check out this beautifully shot video and join me for class, immersion or a workshop!

and a deep bow to my critics for always keeping me on my toes…

Paravrtti: Revolving, Re-Orienting and Lightening Up

When I first began to practice and then to teach yoga eight years ago, I was understandably enthusiastic and admittedly naive.  I thought my life had been changed for the better FOREVER.  I was intent on studying and teaching therapeutically minded, vigorous and heart opening yoga that I was sure would help my students as much as I felt it helped me at the time.  Nine years later, my practice and teaching have changed immensely, and through a variety of injuries attained and healed,  physical achievements met (and then met with a desire for more), and successes and heartbreaks both on and off the mat, I have begun to actually learn the value of evolving with a practice that supports the whole person, not just their muscle tone, flexibility or ability to achieve some temporary and surface notion of “inner peace”.  In other words, I have re-oriented my view.  

The word paravrtti (pa ra vrit tee) is often used in yoga asana to refer to the act of revolution in a posture (as in revolved triangle - paravrtti trikonasana).  In looking at Buddhist texts, it can also mean to to transform or re-orient one’s view radically; so radically that it can refer to the actual process of enlightenment…

I’d like to take the concept down to earth and discuss the paravrtti of one’s own practice and LIFE.  The question I ask myself each day as I step to the mat, sit on the cushion, plan a class, or even communicate:  "How can I meet myself and others with humor and compassion, yet consistently challenge and require the greatest amount of self-inquriy so that we can all benefit from this exchange?“  Who knew that was going to be a thing I asked myself often?  The paravrtti, or radical re-orientation of our view in ANYTHING comes from the act of asking ourselves to wake up.  Again and again.  This can be an incredibly re-orienting (and sometimes disorienting) process that is also, at its essence, quite painful, because it asks us to let go of the ways that we fixate.  How do we keep waking up?  By lightening up.  

Last night I had the pleasure of taking class from an amazing and humble gentleman, Gabriel Halpern.  His theme in class was "slacken the reigns” (read, LIGHTEN UP).  He mentioned the notion that our practice should be serious but the attitude on and off the mat should be to “slacken the reigns”.  We approach everything so tightly and with so much fixation.  Even our yoga practice, which is meant to create a sense of balancing opposites, can become too tight, too rigid or too aggressive.  Perhaps this resonates with you?? 

One of the things I have learned through the process of developing Breakti® is that in order for this practice to evolve, I cannot fixate on ANYTHING.  Not one thing.  In addition, if I lose a sense of humor, all else is also lost.  My process has been slow and careful, despite being pulled in different directions to quicken the pace.  The more that I work through the material over time with care and patience, the more I find freedom in letting go of old rigid ideas of what a practice should be.  

Paravrtti is to revolve, but it is also to evolve.  To evolve requires fluidity, grace and humor.  When we get stuck in fixation, nothing is moving, the air is stale and we feel trapped in the sense of deluded comfort we get from believing our ideas to be solid and permanent.  

Can you sense the areas of your own life or practice where you hold on with white knuckles and grit your teeth?  What would it feel like to let things go a bit, to release the grip and lighten up?  Yes, it feels incredibly scary, but I choose the wind in my hair, just over the speed limit and cruising in the sunshine over a sterile and stale safe windowless room any day. 




Fear and Fearlessness - dedicated to my breakti trainees today

The crazy wisdom approach to fear is to not regard it purely as a hang-up, but to realize that fear is intelligent. It has a message of its own. Fear is worth respecting. If we dismiss fear as an obstacle and try to ignore it, then we might end up having accidents. In other words, fear is a very wise message.

You can’t con fear, or frighten fear. You have to respect fear. You might try to tell yourself that it’s not real, that it’s false, but such an approach is questionable. It is better to develop some kind of respect, realizing that neurosis is also a message, rather than garbage that you should just throw away. The whole starting point for working with fear and other emotions is the idea of samsara and nirvana, confusion and enlightenment, being one. Samsara is not regarded as a nuisance alone, but it has its own potent message that is worthy of respect.

Fear contains insight as well as the panicky blind quality we often associate with it. The element of panic has a deaf and dumb quality—you know: doing the best you can, in spite of your fear, hoping everything will be okay. But fear without hope seems to be something very insightful. If you give up your hope of attaining something, then tuning into fear is tuning into its insightful quality. Then, skillful means or action arises spontaneously out of the fear itself. Fear can be extremely resourceful rather than representing hopelessness. It is the opposite of hopelessness, in fact.

-Chögyam Trungpa

I wrote the following passage on my Breakti page yesterday, it applies to the class, but it also applies to anything that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t out of fear of some kind of failure. Go talk to that cute person. Go buy some oil paints and learn to stretch a canvas. Go call your family member that you got in a fight with and apologize. Go take some time for yourself and be still in a beautiful place. ….. 

……The more people tell me they are afraid come to Breakti because they are worried it’s too hard or they are nervous…. The more I realize I have to make myself try things that scare me or are new so I can keep it really real and reinforce for my students that it’s not about being the best or doing tricks. Breakti is about finding ways to approach our experience with open mind and compassion through the process of movement. Start there and no matter what you “get” in terms of the “fancier” postures, it’s really ALL GOOD because you already “got” it by trying. The point is that you show up. You show up for yourself and you might actually surprise yourself. Nothing that is new is really easy. That’s why it’s a PRACTICE. And stepping up to the things that take us out of our comfort zone from time to time is an amazing way to practice being exactly where you are. #love #breakti

Commercialism, Hip Hop, and Yoga: a response to The Babarazzi

I was recently told about The Babarazzi, a blog that satirizes and bashes yoga commercialism (especially the so-called yogalebrity), by a friend and fellow yoga teacher.  I tend to approach most yoga journalism these days with a slight cringe, as so much of what I read is either glossed over with flowery innuendos and  "get thin", or on the opposite side quite damning for either the practice or some member of the community (sometimes quite legitimately).

I was intrigued by the concept and had some spare time the other night so I checked it out.  I scanned the home page and saw several topics I knew would be addressed…  and then one thing caught my eye: an article entitled “If Yoga Culture Were B-Boy Culture”.  Being someone who has explored both yoga and breakin culture to a fairly deep level, I had to look.  What I found there was intriguing and also left me a bit torn about the subject matter.  I could certainly see the writer’s comparison as legitimate one level, however I felt there were some other sides to the coin that could be mentioned.  Also, to imply that something is lost with commercialism is certainly valid, but breakin has now been through almost 40 years of history and the traditional elements are still there for those who seek them out, despite the explosion of popularity in mass media (again).

This is my response below, and you can follow any follow-up by the author or other members on the site.  There is a lot more that can be said, and I welcome the dialogue here or on The Babarazzi.


I think this is a really interesting argument and of course draws my attention as the creator of Breakti (yes formerly Yoga Spanda)… The thing is that despite the fact that breakin’ (I prefer this term because it’s not just b-boy culture but also includes women – as well as indirectly implies that breakers are more than boys and girls but grown men and women) has shifted from its roots due to commercialism and general evolution (or arguably de-evolution in some cases) of music, the roots themselves are still there AND WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. People still practice the traditional styles and then innovate on them in both yoga and breakin. I studied breakin and street dance styles with traditionalists through and through and have studied yoga with traditionalists as well, strictly Iyengar and strictly Ashtanga, etc. I have also studied yoga and dance with non-traditionalists, innovators, and those who are commercially successful, and sometimes walked away jaded or saddened by the alchemy of mediocrity, but at other times been inspired because they are in fact doing something really amazing with their exploration of the practice.

It’s funny because I studied with some of the people in the very movies Breakin’ and Wild Style. I would never call myself a breaker anymore because I don’t practice it outside of my own personal training, nor do I compete anymore, but it is a PRACTICE, and a way of life for many I know. My own teacher is 42 and still breakin, still practicing, still innovating. He, like all of his peers, has had to hustle hard to make a living. Some of his peers were extremely successful and thus often dubbed “sell-outs” by others who were less successful. Others with immense talent have remained on the underground circuit as a matter of choice or circumstance. It’s probably true that some people did less than honest things to get to the top, but the bottom line for all the dancers I know is that it is HARD to make a living (no different from yoga, although a different playing field). It is always a challenge to mix a true personal practice with a need to eat and put a roof over your head, and hustling is necessary to live on what you love, unless you come from money. The outcome of this marriage of hustle and practice is sometimes beautiful, sometimes very damaging, as we have seen in breakin culture.
The same can certainly be said for yoga, and in this free market economy where yoga clothing companies rake in millions and teachers struggle to scrape by, it is hard not to see the comparisons between the commercialism of hip hop/street culture and that of yoga.

What I warn against, however, is the absolute discrediting of commercialism. After all, it is the free market that has inspired so many to bring yoga to the far reaches of this country. Small towns that never heard of yoga 10 years ago now have studios. People of all walks of life are practicing yoga and that’s a great thing. The same could be said for hip hop culture. While there is a sad story line in many ways of the commercialism of hip hop, it is now an integral part of American culture. I think it is very powerful that a way of life that came from the streets of the South Bronx (and frankly from all over the streets of America) now has a voice in popular culture. That voice is often strewn with negative images and has caught a bad rap many a time, but it is there, and it gives rise to people who would never have known about hip hop exploring its roots, its lineage, its culture in a very real way. That is a beautiful thing.

In closing, I’d love to share the innovations of my own teacher, Raphael Xavier. He has been breakin his whole life, he’s not from the Boogie Down Bronx, but from Delaware, and he learned about breakin from TELEVISION on Soul Train for the first time, he took up the practice initially on his own because he was so moved by what he saw, and now his whole life has been shaped by it.

This class is a serious practice. It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced and he created it out of his own lifetime of experience and personal struggles. Truth may not happen often in popular culture, but it is often inspired by it.