But in the last year of deep introspection and hundreds of hours of self-practice and self-reckoning, I have reached another conclusion. I cannot ignore the magic. it is written in the folds of each breath, every clear moment of attention, every careful and beautiful and compassionate action carried out in the name of yoga or meditation or mindfulness. It is the very reason why I continue to share this work. It moves me at my essence because it is, by its nature, founded in a profound exploration of who we all are. It is founded in magic.Read More
What a shame that we somehow transition from tiny, beautiful, free beings to bigger, older, wiser beautiful beings who somehow hate what they see when they look in the mirror.. I have committed to freeing myself, to whatever degree I can, of the story that I am not enough, that my body is not ok or not beautiful or not capable. I am attempting to emulate my daughter, and be FREE.Read More
If we are to expand and evolve our vision of ourselves and of our society, let us start first with our vision of our own cells; our own physical vehicle, right down to the tiniest building blocks. When we allow our cells to experience movement of all kinds, loads and inputs from all directions, our cells respond by upping their capacity. They evolve. Cell by cell, our body transforms. When we allow ourselves to release our stories about who we are and what we do as categories, our mind evolves. It transforms.Read More
For a period of my life, the yoga postures served me well. I grew through them and they offered healing to my wrecked dancer's body for a time. But then, as many of us do, I allowed the postures to guide my physicality and I ultimately suffered because of that. You could see photos of me in postures or practice next to me in class and think, "wow she is strong and flexible". The problem was that I unwittingly pushed myself to be strong and flexible only in the places the poses required and in the end this was not balanced or wholesome, no matter how much alignment and breath and safe sequencing I applied.
When I was in my final months of pregnancy and just afterward, my body was pulled apart where it was weak and disconnected. I am not alone in this experience and it definitely doesn't just happen to pregnant yoga practitioners, although the elevated levels of relaxin in the body along with the increased abdominal pressure certainly enabled this to worsen quickly. Through the process of reconstructing myself in the last two years and working with many other students who I believe have been harmed by yoga, I have realized how insufficient the posturing, and more specifically how insufficient so much of the instruction in this work is.
I am not saying the postures do not contain insights, for they do, endlessly. I am simply saying that they are not enough by themselves. We have to keep looking beyond, beneath, inside and through them. The postures are patterns we set into bodies that already contain their own patterns, imbalances, incongruencies, imperfections and deeply individual insights. How can we not take the individual into consideration as we apply them? Alignment, as we may witness in some forms of yoga, takes us only so far on a personal level before it causes us to become rigid. Geometry certainly has its merits and beauty in certain yoga styles, but it doesn't break down or build up everything; it doesn't give space for all of the organic nuance and multitudes of asymmetry, in my experience. Flow is wonderful for moving without overthinking but it falls short in the realm of detail and precision, no matter how clear instructions may be. Breath work and opening pranic pathways means nothing if the physical structures are not addressed with integrity and after all, what ARE pranic pathways? What does that actually mean?Read More
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.Read More
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!
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?
When I was living in New York, I marched in the streets for Black Lives Matter. Several times, marches would happen while I was working so I could not attend, but I had the sharply poignant experience of teaching yoga as crowds of thousands marched past our class on Broadway. I remember the roar of the protestors drowning out my own voice as they passed and I stopped class on more than one occasion so that we could listen and offer our silent support, sometimes for many minutes. It was a humbling and important metaphor for how big the movement was and what must take precedence in times like these.Read More
I am intrigued by what is revealed when we practice with real love. I am intrigued by those things that may at first seem limiting but in fact take us on a course to revealing wholeness. I am intrigued by gaps of all kinds, for it is often in "the spaces between" where we find the true treasures. Where once there was a gap, there is now understanding. And where once there was cluttered mind, there is now more gap. And so on.Read More
I am a wholly different being, I feel, when I step onto my mat. My belly is softer. My biceps are stronger perhaps from holding Miya, but everything else feels weaker. My skin is stretchier. I hold some more weight, and I try not to stress about it, which is hard for someone who spent her early 20s battling bulimia as a dancer and the rest of the time since reworking the notion of what it is to feel at home in her body.
But one thing is also for certain: my heart is way more open. My patience has crested to the surface of every moment and overflowed into my reality in a way that it never has before. I move slower. I pay more attention to many things that I do, like how quietly I can put away dishes while my daughter sleeps.Read More
This week I hope to focus practice on seeing things as they are. No filter. No preconceptions. See as if for the first time. See and stay and be with. We will touch on this in meditation but also incorporate it into how we move and rest in asana. How we breathe. How we interact with our practice.Read More
I don't have time myself these days as a new mom to write all I feel on this topic, which is a lot. I am impressed and glad to see this written by none other than a Jiva teacher. Clear and succinct - and a good response to the Slate article. Take a look.
We as teachers must hold ourselves accountable for our actions and fully recognize and respect the seat we hold and how it relates to our students.
Read more here: https://holliesuemann.com/2016/04/09/thoughts-on-the-teacher-student-relationship/
It's true, I'm pregnant, due in about six weeks. I made a special effort not to post anything about my pregnancy on my FB page for nearly the entire term. I made a few hints a month or so ago and then decided to just come out and say the words "maternity leave" fairly inconspicuously in a recent post and another little mention of "after the baby" in another. It's interesting what sparks people's interests and what makes them comment out loud. I knew that an announcement of pregnancy would get a ton of likes, but I also knew I didn't really want that for myself, my baby or my growing family. And yet, this is a huge part of my life. It affects my work (which I do post about regularly) and more importantly my personal life (which I tend to not post about as much). I haven't wanted to make an ordeal, but I also realize that this reality needs to be communicated in some way. So here I am.
Someone asked on instagram the other day about my experiences in pregnancy with practice. I may write more on this at some point, but for now let me say that the most important thing for me has been to have a lot of space. Space to feel, space to connect with my husband and my baby, space to practice in a way that has soothed both me and the growing life inside of me. I have had zero interest in making a production of my process, but I suppose I understand why some other women may.
For now I will say that pregnancy has changed me like nothing else. It has humbled me and amazed me and I have had moments where I felt more scared and more exhausted than ever in my life before (I know this is just the beginning). I also feel more connected to my physical body, the sacredness of life, and to the ways in which practice should subtly and gently underline that sacredness... not ignore, or worse, glamourize it. And for the first time since I can remember, my work does not dominate my life any longer. I had a full page feature in Yoga Journal this month, which is an amazing accomplishment for a teacher, especially one without an agent. But I have to say I feel fairly ambivalent about it (and not just because I'm pregnant, this goes back to all of my frustrations about the perceived flashy trendy quality of Breakti and how I feel totally pigeon-holed by this perception) and it just doesn't matter on the same level that it did four or five years ago the first time my name made it to YJ. This has been eye-opening for me because my career has been priority one for so very long... so. very. long... and I feel that priority diminishing and YET!!! (and YET!!) my work feels more fulfilling and more interesting than ever, especially as I figure out how to connect the dots and teach good work to my students in a new body with new limitations and less ability to practice what I teach.
Finally, I feel connected to women. Everywhere. I feel strongly drawn to support and offer and share with them. My discoveries in pregnancy have pointed again and again to the wisdom of my own body over the direction or advice of any book or "professional". I feel inspired to help and support women and their fertility and pregnancy. Perhaps I will write a lot more one day about this and perhaps my work will shift in that direction. I simply don't know.
But for now... I prefer the space. I have a lot of it, and it sometimes feels a bit lonely but mostly it feels amazing to have the opportunity to connect to myself and my baby so deeply. I feel that we are on this journey together, and all of the practices and knowledge I have acquired as a mover, a teacher, and someone who has investigated healing on so many levels - all of this comes together right now and supports me in this very. sacred. space.
I only have a few weeks to go before I step out of the studio and have a baby. We don't know what it is, it's a surprise. We are so very excited! It is beyond words! It has been awesome being a teacher and practitioner through this process and I am confident it will be awesome on a whole new level once baby arrives.
I am going to be a mom... and as I enter these last moments before the final "push" I return again to space. To sacred space. I can't believe it took me this long to figure out how to give myself that deep and open space. I guess I have someone to thank once I meet him or her.
Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat
of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or
forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?
Behold, I say – behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings
of this gritty earth gift.
Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.
And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.
And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
through with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.
And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
~ Mary Oliver ~
instant film test prints from a yoga shoot i did with my friend Anya Porter at the kula yoga project in downtown manhattan.
shots taken with a hasselblad 501cm and a polaroid back with fuji fp-100c peel apart instant film.
actual photos from the shoot will be posted here soon!
Amazing teaser test shots from my friend Paul-Ryan Mariano… Shot at Kula Yoga Project. Can’t wait to see what else is in store.
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.
Dedicated to my Teacher Trainees…
At night make me one with the darkness.
In the morning make me one with the light.
Don’t pray for the rain to stop.
Pray for good luck fishing
when the river floods.
Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieve to see your house catch fire.
Put your hands into the mire.
They will learn the kinship
of the shaped and the unshapen,
the living and the dead.
When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.
When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.
Let me wake in the night
and hear it raining
and go back to sleep
Make the human race a better head.
Make the world a better crop of ground.
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…