practice

the space between, part 1

the space between, part 1

I lie down on a nearly-daily basis and feel my midline with my hands. The space around my belly button seems at times possibly wider and other times narrows to nearly nothing. I have followed its ebbs and flows quietly and with a deep sense of care; perhaps more care than I have ever offered myself in this life. And while I check the width routinely, the residue of this ritual leaves my mind resting not in the space between, but in the quality of attention itself. I am not what one would call a religious person, and I often tend toward the dependabilities of mathematics and science, but through this process I have encountered what feels to be the soft slipperiness of prayer.

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bouncing for fascial health

I recently posted this on my instagram account... it's something I have incorporated a lot more since having a baby. I began to intuit that the bouncing would help me regain the integrity of my fascia after all those pregnancy hormones left me feeling SO lax. It's true! Bouncing aids in the health of our fascia/connective tissue and is said to be good for the lymphatic system and other regulatory systems as well (I read here that doctors are researching super bouncy roller coasters for passing kidney stones!)... 

So incorporate some bouncing into your daily routine as a key component of the health of your fascia. Your body will thank you and it's fun too!

honest, kind expression. true, deep listening.

A recent foray into practice through deeper listening took me to the wall to open my spine while stabilizing my pelvis and SI joint. Deep listening is an implicit aspect of Right Speech.

As I mentioned in last week's post, I am spending these eight weeks on the Noble Eightfold Path as part of the ground for both my weekly teaching and as I prepare for the teacher immersion I am leading in September which has roots in this very same system. This week's focus is on Right Speech, which in sanskrit is Samyag Va, and is part of the Discipline group (Sila, in Sanskrit) of the eight steps. Right Intention, last week's step, is part of the Wisdom group (Prajna, in Sanskrit).

It feels like such a poignant time to contemplate Right Speech with the advent and rise of social media. At a time when our world feels so polarized, we are caught in the crossfire between unprecedented access to news and information and unprecedented amounts of tabloid, extreme or just plain false communication.

When we contemplate the way our voice and communication manifest, we can consider four aspects of Right Speech. The first is refraining from lying. The second and third, which I think work in tandem, are avoiding slanderous speech and harsh words. The final is avoiding gossip and idle speech. Another way to reframe this with a positive spin is to base our communication on honesty, to speak with kindness and compassion, and to speak only when it benefits others and ourselves.

The other half of this equation which is implicit but not explicitly mentioned is what I might call Deep Listening. When we speak we have a basic desire to be heard, and so the act of listening goes hand in hand with the way we speak to others, but also in the way we speak to ourselves. 

As I have grown older and my practice has shifted, most especially since I was pregnant, I have found so much benefit in the art of listening on the mat. I also have spent more time weeding out some of the negative, self-aggressive commentary that perhaps served some purpose at some point, but now that I have a daughter I do not wish to pass on such a torch. Removing aggressive messages and communication leaves more room for listening. More listening creates an environment where informed and honest action can be taken. This is true on and beyond the mat. 

May we all benefit and be of benefit to others through this attention to honest and empathetic communication and deep listening. 


Some ways to play with speaking and listening this week as we contemplate and practice: 

How can we cultivate our communication in person with thoughtfulness and care? Can we listen to our partner or our children more intently? Can we put down the phone or turn off the computer for an extra moment so we can hear what our loved ones wish to share? 

How can we cultivate our communication on social media with greater attention to kindness and honesty? In an age of intensely different opinions, and very serious life and death matters, can we maintain a steady even tone and refrain from slander?  Can we perpetuate a sense of striving to listen rather than a striving to be the loudest or the most incendiary? 

How can we cultivate our communication to and with our own self with more tenderness? Can we notice when we are being self-aggressive and could we reframe our internal dialogue in a sense of self-care instead? What does that look like on the mat or cushion? 

 

 

right intention: weekly theme

I have spent most of my writing time this week pondering the violence that has shown its face in the U.S. yet again, and per my last post, I ended up simply not sharing my thoughts because it all feels too raw and unclear - not a good recipe for starting dialogue about such a sensitive topic. 

I haven't forgotten that I have intended to share a weekly theme for classes and it is still my mission. My apologies for the delay on this week. Between a jet-lagged baby and my whirling mind post-travels, I hadn't been able to land on a topic. 

Finally while practicing today during my daughter's nap I decided to dive into the Noble eightfold path and share a piece of it each week I am teaching. This is leading up to my teaching immersion which is directly influenced by the very same structure. The Noble path has a lot in common with Patanjali's Ashtanga eight-limbed system so if you are more familiar with that, you may see some similarities.

The original order of the eightfold path begins with Right View, but I would actually like to start with Right Intention and END with Right View as the outcome of all seven other aspects of the path. While this may make sense in a linear way, I also recognize and hope to share that the path is circular, or perhaps more like a spiral. The Buddha might say we all already have Right View, we just have to uncover it through practice. But since we are in a learning environment let us turn that on its head and begin first with practice to arrive at Right View. 

My daughter is stirring from her nap so let me at least publish this! 

A few questions to ponder this week:

What is your intention/s for practice? For living your life? Are they different? 
How has it changed over the years and with different life experiences? 
When you set intentions are you also loading yourself with expectations? How can the former exist without the latter? 

Please feel free to write in comments or questions. Much love.

about tonglen - by pema chodron

about tonglen - by pema chodron

Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In the process we become liberated from very ancient patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. Tonglen awakens our compassion and introduces us to a far bigger view of reality.

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Home is where the Kula is

Home is where the Kula is

 

It's good to be back here at @kulayoga tribeca- feels like coming home. 

If you feel like joining for padmasana approaches (or just working on opening the hips and side bodies) tonight I'll be here at 6:30 to share in practice. My last class in NYC for a while!! #nyc #yoga #practice #kula #home #backtozurichsoon

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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…

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

atha yoganusasanam

“here and now begins our yoga.”

the first sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali….  a text compiled and written somewhere in the span of 100 BCE - 500 CE.  this first sutra or “suture” reminds us that now is always the moment in which we can begin, again and again, to practice and take a step on the path.  whether it is in the way we place our foot on our mat or execute our most passionate dance move.  whether it is in the way we speak to our loved ones or in the compassion we hold for ourselves, this is all workable in this moment.  we can always begin again.  

Atha Yoganusasanam.  

"the rectangular plastic rubber bullet" (or "yoga takes forever!")

So much of the time we walk into these beautiful studios and classrooms filled with colorful props and light filled windows and serene floors…  and we expect that our body will reflect that same experience…  clean, clutter-free, warm and inviting…   we step onto our rectangle of plastic or rubber and we hope with all hopes that this next 60 or 75 or 90 minutes is the answer to the hardships of our day, our week, our year.

We set our intentions with the truest and most sincere steps.  We get into awkward poses, struggle to keep our breath steady, press our big toes down and our inner thighs back and try to keep our gaze turned inward and our ears and hearts open… 

And yet there are many times when we walk away still heartbroken, still anxious over work, still worrying about finances and relationships and body image.  Why is it that if we make our intentions clear and we do the “work” that our efforts don’t equal the inner equivalent of the studios we step into or the image we have from pictures in the yoga magazines?

Like any other PRACTICE or PATH, yoga is not a silver bullet for what ails us (or a plastic/rubber rectangular one for that matter), and fully awakening to the wisdom of the body, breath, mind and heart won’t happen overnight.  It won’t happen in a year or 10 years.  This is a journey that takes a lifetime (or lifetimes if you subscribe to that notion), and like other paths, we begin to learn that it is the path itself and the process of awakening that IS the beauty of ourselves in our yoga.

Perhaps over time we get a little more flexible in our hamstrings and a little bit stronger in our core.  Over time we get a little more flexible in our minds and a little bit stronger in a healthy sense of self.  Day by day, pose by pose, we learn when to work harder and when to let go and surrender.  Our awareness of our body becomes more subtle and curious, and in turn our observation of our mind reflects that. 

In a lifetime of physical movement and seven years of yoga practice (and now a burgeoning meditation practice) I can say that I never walked out of a classroom with an epiphany or a new way of living my life.  With my most stalwart intentions, I never came out of Savasana with those intentions fulfilled.  But I can say that over time, little by little, day by day, I have found myself more able to listen to myself and others, more tender and open, stronger and more flexible in mind and body, and perhaps most importantly, more willing to be patient and WITH the process, rather than needing to have some ultimate to reach.

I too still have broken hearts, still worry about finances and career success, still get impatient and say things I regret later…  as do every single one of my students and teacher friends.  But over a long period of time and practice, those things have softened and perhaps lessened in intensity and frequency and my compassion toward myself has grown immensely stronger in those very uncomfortable feelings and moments.

Did I learn it all from yoga and meditation?  Maybe not.  But I like to think that perhaps yoga and meditation have given me the tools to really learn from myself and others in a more genuine and open way.  And to be more open to process rather than product.

And so I say absolutely use opportunities for practice in beautiful settings.  Set your deepest intentions.  Do the work.  Pray.  Hope.  Bask in the bliss of post-savasana or a moment of a still mind.  And in between those moments of sweetness, in the times where you are stressed and disheartened and lazy and hating life..  there is still a glint of light that is the path and the practice.  Stick to it and you may find that in five, ten, twenty or a hundred years from now you are a little bit softer, a little more kind to yourself, and more genuine in all that you do and are.

Love,
Anya